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Spellbound in Sleepy Hollow
A Von Tassel Sisters Anthology
By Patricia Eimer, Rosalie Lario, Boone Brux, Allison Blisard
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Patricia Eimer, Rosalie Lario, and Boone Brux
All rights reserved.
"Come on, you stupid thing." I narrowed my eyes at the computer screen. I was dying to give it a good zap of witchy power but knew from experience that nothing fried a monitor like a misplaced spell. Instead, I resorted to the non-magical technique of smacking the side of the screen and hoping it would jolt the secondhand computer back to life. "Come on."
Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. The damn thing was frozen. Then, the screen brightened and my spirits started to perk up. Could it have been that easy? One good smack to the side of the screen and we were back in business? Maybe it was possible to get a good computer system for under $100 online. Or at least one that sort of worked. Not that it mattered much—we'd had $100 to buy and ship, and that meant this little beauty was ours, troubles and all—our troubles, not the computer's. The computer had no troubles because it was going to work or I was going to blast it into next week.
The screen went black and a blue box popped up in the center of it. Computer Error 45666. Computer must be restarted to correct.
Oh, in the name of pink pixies on crack, what the hell was this? Right now I had half of a website online for my new B and B. Well, it was a third mine. My sisters were equal partners. They were probably more than equal partners if I wanted to look at qualifications necessary for owning a place like this—or any business for that matter. But no matter how unqualified I was, I now owned a third of the Inn of the Headless Horseman and I had two responsibilities. The first was to make sure all of our paperwork was in order.
My second responsibility? Keep the website running so we could bring in paying guests and turn a profit. I should have had this in the bag. Five years in Salem, working as the personal assistant to Agnes Nog—bitchy witch extraordinaire—and as the part-time web developer for the New England Regional Witches' Council should have made one teeny, tiny web page with reservations capabilities as easy as my first brussels-sprouts-to-chocolate-cookies transformation spell. Or, it would have been easy if the internet connection here in Sleepy Hollow wasn't patchy, and patchy was giving it an ego boost at the best of times.
The computer went black and then the fan began to whir. The screen brightened again, and I breathed a sigh of relief when it came back online without any hassles. Maybe I could get lucky and this time we'd get the entire site working before my internet froze again?
I had the home page online, lots of pictures of Sleepy Hollow and the Inn of the Headless Horseman, but not the secondary links that had the rates, or the widget that allowed people to reserve a room or email us about hosting a special event. So potential guests could see the inn, but they couldn't stay here or host a fancy event. Shit.
Not to mention, I'd promised my sisters—Lexi and Brianna—that I would have the website up before they got back from picking up the last of the immense amount of stuff we needed to host this weekend's wedding. I'd promised and I'd screwed up enough in my life that I was determined to do this right.
The computer sang a low, electronic whine of a dial tone, and then began to beep as it tried to connect into the substandard local service. A second later I was on the website's developer page and ready to publish. One click and we'd be all set. No more catering exclusively to the witch and wizard world. We would be open for business to the wider—and much better paying—non-magical world.
If we were lucky, soon we wouldn't have to take in magical guests at all. No more ghosts on sabbatical. No more witches on road trips. Normal people. We'd be a nice, regular bed-and-breakfast where eye of newt was not on the menu, and we could make all our monthly expenses without punishing our credit limits.
When our web hosting site came back online I checked over my code one last time, found the error that had prevented the page from running, and then hit publish. As the page refreshed I glanced over at the provisional business license for magical merchants and smiled. We were now—officially—in business. The phone beside me rang and I raised an eyebrow. We'd published the business line's phone number to the web less than a minute before and we had a call that quick? Damn, talk about the power of the internet. I snatched the phone up and put it to my ear, my stomach tumbling like pixies had taken up residence inside it at the idea of taking our first normal reservation.
"Good afternoon, this is the Inn of the Headless Horseman, and I'm Stephanie von Tassel. How can I help you today?"
"Stephanie, dear." I froze at the sound of Agnes Nog's voice on the other end of the phone. Shit. What did she want?
"I saw that your charming little website has gone online. Congratulations. Very good work."
"Thank you," I said and my knees knocked together. Agnes Nog was the grand high mistress of the National Witches' Council—my former boss. "Your little website is very—" She paused like she was trying to find the best word to describe my work, and I prepared myself for an insult disguised as a compliment. "Cute."
I bit my lower lip and tried to keep my temper in check. I knew Agnes had been banshee levels of pissed when I'd resigned from my position as her assistant to help my sisters turn our family home into a bed-and-breakfast—especially since personal assistants who also doubled as doormats were hard to find in the magical world.
She'd been even less happy about our desire to open the von Tassel estate to outsiders. To prevent us from getting a business license, she'd tried to nail us with magical back taxes, but we'd managed to prove that my parents had been paid up. Then she'd offered to buy us out, but we hadn't been interested in selling. This had been our family home since the von Tassels arrived in America from Holland and we weren't about to give it up.
"We're all very excited to be expanding the inn and taking in a wider, more diverse range of guests, and of course we appreciate the council's support. Your faith in our success means a lot to us," I said, once I was sure something sarcastic wouldn't come out of my mouth by mistake.
"Of course." Agnes's voice was sharp and bitter, like she'd just taken a bite of a particularly noxious piece of unicorn jerky.
I knew that she'd tried to fight our business permit, but she hadn't had a leg to stand on. There was no reason we shouldn't take on non-magical guests. The Inn of the Headless Horseman was a quaint piece of American folklore. Just ask the travel guide writer I'd bribed into saying so.
"If only you could have done as good a job arranging a car for us," Agnes sniffed.
"For Vienna and me."
"Vienna St. James." She said the name slowly, like she was talking to a particularly dim child. "The bride whose wedding you're hosting this weekend. We're both standing here at the airport and there is no car waiting for us."
"I know who Vienna is." I flipped through the pages on my desk to find the car service reservation I'd made. "But why are you with her?"
"Vienna was my apprentice," Agnes said. "I'll be helping perform her wedding ceremony."
"You will?" I coughed, trying to keep my voice from squeaking. Agnes Nog was coming to our inn to perform a wedding? How had that detail slipped our notice?
"If we ever manage to get out of this extremely busy, crowded airport. Which is looking more and more unlikely every moment."
I snatched the car reservation off of a pile of papers and scanned it. Vienna St. James and one additional passenger from JFK Airport to the Inn of the Headless Horseman. Four p.m. pickup. I glanced at my watch. Two p.m.
"Agnes, Vienna's flight wasn't supposed to land until four. That's when I arranged for the car to pick her and her guest up."
"We got an earlier flight. So could you please call the car company and arrange for our pickup?"
"Um." I grimaced. "I'll see what I can do and call you back."
I hung up and quickly dialed the limo company, hoping they would be able to get Agnes and Vienna now so that neither witch had a conniption fit and started doing nuisance spells on random passersby. A dispatcher, a secretary, and two managers later, I'd bribed the car service into picking them up—pronto—in a stretch limousine, and it had only cost me a free weekend in our best suite so the car service's owner could surprise his wife for their anniversary.
"Tell me you have this fixed," Agnes said, her voice harsh the instant she picked up the phone.
"The driver should be there within half an hour. You're supposed to meet him at the taxi stand." I held the phone away from my ear, cringing, as I waited for her to start yelling.
"Outside?" Agnes's voice was low. Not good. So very not good. A quiet, pissed-off Agnes was much deadlier than a yelling one.
"It's the best I can do, Agnes." I tried to sound as meek as possible. Agnes liked meek. Agnes thrived on meek.
She let out a loud, melodramatic sigh. "Why am I not surprised? I told Vienna that if she had her wedding at your inn it was going to be a fiasco, but does anyone listen to me? Of course not.
"You have handled all the preparations haven't you?" My former boss was using the same tone she always did when I'd handled major events before, talking to me like she would an irresponsible high school freshman planning the homecoming dance.
The only reason I'd put up with it before was that good jobs for witches who lacked apprenticeships were hard to find, and in this economy it was almost impossible to earn a living wage with a C average in high school and no college degree. That had left me with the choice of Agnes Nog or checking groceries, and I hadn't made a very good impression during that interview at the Pick 'n Save when I'd applied there last Thanksgiving.
"We have everything in order for Vienna's wedding. It will be a magical day for everyone." I gritted my teeth and tried to think happy thoughts, thoughts that involved leaving Agnes as a sacrifice for overly cranky dragons who didn't mind fighting with their food first.
"I certainly hope so. But I was talking about your new venture serving the less capable among us."
"Of course. The inn has been in business now for the past twelve weeks servicing magical guests so there wasn't much additional work to do. A few new storage cupboards for coven materials and summoning gear. Then, we converted the back of the dovecote for spell work and broom storage so our magical guests will still have a place to do their work while the non-magical guests will simply see the area as a picturesque, abandoned relic. The hardest part has been transferring our website from the Witchweb to the regular internet so normal guests could find us, but like you said, we've even got the bugs worked out of that now."
"What about the ghosts?" Agnes asked. "You have broken their curse and arranged for them to travel to the Summerlands, haven't you?"
"What do you mean?" I asked. "What does the Aunties' curse have to do with our B and B?"
"Didn't you receive the council's memo? The one regarding the appeal of your magical merchant license?" Agnes's voice had turned sugary sweet, and I knew she was doing her best bitchy smile that made her look like a constipated Mrs. Claus impersonator at a crappy West Virginia flea market.
"What appeal?" I sat up and fixed my eyes on the paper tacked to the wall of our office.
"Well, you see," Agnes said, her voice even more syrupy now that she thought she'd won, "an appeal was filed against your license and it was brought to the council's attention that the presence of ghosts on the von Tassel estate could be harmful to non-magical guests."
"And who filed the appeal?" I asked, my voice flat, as anger flared in my veins. Forget the dragons, I'd give my left arm for the chance to beat that woman over the head with her own broomstick.
"You know I can't tell you that," Agnes said. "It's confidential. But after hearing this very well thought out and rather charmingly presented appeal, the council has decided that your license can only be kept current by exorcising your current poltergeist problem. For the good of your potential guests. After all, it would be a tragedy if one of your Aunties decided to go on a malicious haunting spree."
"The Aunties wouldn't dare haunt someone," I said stiffly, letting my annoyance at her suggestion come through in my tone. How dare she accuse the Aunties of having such bad manners? Sure, they were young and somewhat impetuous by poltergeist standards, but they were still well-bred young witches who had been taught basic manners in their mortal lives. They knew better than to scare the guests.
"Yes, well, get rid of them, and we can all be as confident in your inn's success as you are. Otherwise, you'll only have two choices. Allow us to bring in the council's official necromancer to banish them or cancel your plans to open the inn to a wider audience."
She wanted to bring in the council's necromancer to banish the Aunties? No way. If a necromancer got his claws on the Aunties, he'd bottle them—like genies—leaving their souls in the nothingness, unable to enter the Summerlands. Then he'd ban them from earth except for when they were helping him perform truly nefarious deeds.
It would be an eternity in hell for the Aunties. Worse. At least in hell there was a chance of redeeming yourself enough to get out at some point. There was no escape from a necromancer.
"You have no right to interfere in our family situation," I protested. "The Aunties are von Tassel ghosts, and as such, we have the right to choose whether or not to exorcise them. The Witches' Council can't force us to make them break their curse and move into the Summerlands if they don't want to go. Trust me. Auntie Katarina and her sisters have no intentions of going anywhere. They like being earthbound."
"Your choices are clear, Stephie dear. Get rid of the ghosts or the council will. Otherwise your charming little inn will never host a non-magical guest—not while I still have my wand."
"And next time make sure the car is waiting."
There was a sharp click and then nothing. I gaped at the phone and stifled a small scream of frustration. She had the nerve to hang up on me? First, she threatened our inn, and now she was hanging up on me? Oh, when this was handled I was going to hex her so hard those ugly labradoodle-schnauzer mixes of hers were going to feel it across their fat backsides, even Mitzi, I didn't care if the dog was suffering from arthritis and blind in one eye.
"I never could stand Agnes," a faint voice said from the bookshelf. Auntie Katarina materialized on top of a stack of area maps that advertised local winery tours.
"Even when we were girls she had a holier-than-thou approach to life, her bloomers always in a twist, trying to find ways to curry favor with the Witches' Council. It's a family trait, of course. There were always rumors that her great uncle consulted Judge Hathorne at Salem, helping him kill all those people. Not to mention that poor harmless pooch. Mother said when they brought him up for trial he'd claimed he'd been doing it on behalf of the council, protecting the real witches from being exposed during the trials. Not that anyone believed him."
She floated over to peer at the web page and scrunched her nose at it. "If I were you, I'd lighten the background on this front page a pinch, more of a lilac rather than lavender. It'll make the house stand out more in the pictures."
"Agnes said that we have to lift the curse against you and the other Aunties." I opened the master copy of the website to try out the changes to the background color that she'd suggested. The lilac did make the images pop more. I hit publish and watched as the site updated. "She thinks you need to be exorcised."
"Bah." Auntie Katarina floated to the window and looked at the family cemetery where her body was buried. "That sanctimonious, overgrown twerp. What does she care how I spend my eternal rest? My sisters and I aren't vengeful spirits; we pose no threat to mortal kind."
Excerpted from Spellbound in Sleepy Hollow by Patricia Eimer, Rosalie Lario, Boone Brux, Allison Blisard. Copyright © 2014 Patricia Eimer, Rosalie Lario, and Boone Brux. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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