Eliot Parker's good-for-nothing deceased husband has left her a new lease on life: a house in sleepy Nodaway Falls, New York. But his offer comes with a cost: his ghost...
As if being married to him wasn't hard enough! Nodaway Falls turns out to be a town with more than a little magic in the air. Eliot swore off using her own powers sixteen years ago, thanks to one catastrophic day when she lost the only people who ever mattered to her, and ran away from her spellbinding father and his reckless enchantments. Now, when a chance encounter with quiet, handsome Desmond Lamb results in a magical explosion that rocks Eliot to the core, she can't help but wonder: Has her heart fallen under some sort of spell? Or is this what true love really feels like? The real question, of course, is whether her husband will stop haunting her...and let Desmond give her a chance at happily ever after?
Lucy March's novels are:
"Delightful."-RT Book Reviews
"Touching, sexy, and enchanting."-Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Lucy March is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. In 2010, she started writing her popular blog, A Year and Change, which documented the last fifteen months before her fortieth birthday. On her blog, Lucy worked through personal issues involving her divorce, her sense of self-worth, and her mother; she developed a following that eventually became the Betties, and occasionally opined on things like dieting, the writing process and vajazzling. Now, she is happily remarried and lives with her husband, her two young daughters and her best friend on a river in Southern Ohio, and life is pretty damn good. Her books include A Little Night Magic and That Touch of Magic.
Read an Excerpt
For Love or Magic
By Lucy March
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Lani Diane Rich
All rights reserved.
Let's be clear about one thing, Seamus," I said, giving the bull mastiff the French fry he had been whining about since I pulled it out of the bag. "Just because I'm feeding you doesn't mean you're my dog."
I wasn't trying to be mean, but I didn't want him to start getting all attached just because I gave him a stupid French fry, either. In truth, there didn't seem to be much danger of that; he inhaled the fry and continued to remain indifferent to me, which was really best for everyone.
It was at that moment that the steering wheel in Judd's tattered old sky-blue Chevy pickup truck began to rattle. I hadn't wanted that stupid truck and I didn't particularly like it, but I'd gotten stuck with it anyway. Much like Seamus.
"C'mon, you stupid —" I banged my fist on the steering wheel, and it stopped rattling.
"Hey," Judd admonished from the spot between me and Seamus where he crouched. "Be gentle with my girl."
"You talking to me or the truck?" I said, giving him deadly side-eye.
He made that answer clear by patting the truck's dash. "This truck is awesome. Perfect to haul home all those garage sale chairs and tables. I'm gonna refinish them, baby, sell 'em at a yuge profit, and we'll be livin' like kings."
"It's huge, not yuge, and you never did bring home a single piece of furniture. You couldn't keep your word if it was sewn into your underwear, and I hate this stupid truck." To make my point, I downshifted from fifth gear to fourth, letting the gears grind as I deliberately jammed my elbow into Judd's gut.
Not that Judd had a gut anymore. He was dead.
"You do know that, right?" I said. "You're dead. I'm a widow. Move on already, would you?"
"I've moved on," he said, his South Boston accent just as thick as ever. Even in death, he talked like he had a mouth full of peanut butter. "I'm dead. It's you who's keeping me here."
He pronounced here with two syllables. He-ah. You'd think if I had to be haunted by the imagined ghost of my dead ex-husband, I'd at least give him a reasonable accent. British, maybe. I shot him a sideways look.
"Say 'jolly good,'" I commanded.
He laughed. "You got a wicked sense of yumor, Ellie."
"It's humor. Hu-mor. With an h." I stuffed a fry in my mouth. Seamus whined again.
"I don't care what you say," Judd said, and shot me a sidelong glance, his eyes glinting with yumor. You had to give Judd that; no matter what he was doing, he always had a great time doing it. "You still love me, and you know it."
I glanced in the rearview and saw his cocky smile, the very smile I'd fallen for way back in the day when I was too young and stupid to know better.
"Shut up." I gave Seamus another fry, and he wolfed it down with such enthusiasm that I had to check my hand quickly to be sure all my fingers were still there. They were. They were covered in slobber, but they were still there. With the luck I'd had lately, I guessed I should be grateful. I wiped my hands on my jeans and took the left onto Wildwood Lane, which sounded like it should be really nice, but in reality it looked like the kind of abandoned dirt road where they shoot those the-missing-girl-was-last-seen-here pieces for the local news.
"Are you kidding me with this, Judd?" My heart started racing in response to the panic rushing through my veins. "What the hell kind of place did you buy, anyway?"
Judd leaned forward, grinning like the charming asshole he'd been in life. "Wait for it, baby. You're gonna love it."
"I doubt that," I said, but when I looked to Judd, he was gone, and I was alone in his stupid truck with her goddamned dog, on my way to the only thing I had left to my name, thanks to him.
I hit my foot to the gas, a move which had little actual effect on how fast that old rust heap moved but which did provide some emotional payoff. While I was distracted, Seamus stuffed his massive nose into the fast-food bag and ripped it to shreds. My burger, wrapper and all, was gone in two bites.
"Son of a bitch."
Seamus, as usual, ignored me.
The mailbox was not "rust-colored" as the real estate paperwork had claimed, but rather rust-covered, which I'd like to state for the record, is different. I wanted to drive past it, but unfortunately, the number 144 was clearly painted onto the wooden stake the mailbox was impaled upon, and I couldn't pretend I hadn't seen it.
"Home sweet home," I muttered, and turned down the dirt driveway, although calling it a driveway was a little generous. It was more a visible suggestion that once or twice some sort of vehicle had accessed the house this way. The branches and leaves slapped at Judd's stupid truck and eventually cleared away to reveal the glorified shack that turned out to be the only thing my dead husband owned that his debt hadn't eaten.
Well, that, his dumb truck, and his girlfriend's dog.
I stopped the truck, turned it off, and stared at my future, such as it was.
At least you'll have a place to live, the estate lawyer had told me last month as he closed his leather briefcase and lifted it off the table in the diner where we'd met up. In cases where a husband leaves this kind of debt behind, I've seen widows left without anything. Or worse, with nothing, and bills left to pay. Considering how things could have gone, you're actually pretty lucky.
Yeah, that was me. Lucky.
I tightened my grip on the steering wheel, staring through the windshield and thinking.
"You don't suppose ..." I said to Seamus. "I mean ... you don't think Judd was running some kind of scam out here, do you?"
The dog, apparently uninterested in the why behind Judd's real estate ventures, ignored me, but my mind kept picking at the problem. Judd had traveled a bit, and like most wives of small-time con men, I hadn't asked a lot of questions for fear of getting the truth. Had he been out here, working a scam, during some of those absences? But why? Nodaway Falls, despite the name, had no real falls to boast of; there was little to no tourist traffic, and even less local industry. It was an hour and a half from Buffalo and a whisper away from the Pennsylvania border; the land itself was worth little more than Judd's stupid truck. Not to mention that there were plenty of easy pickins on the one-hour route between Taunton, the small town in southwestern Massachusetts where he'd parked me after we got married, and Boston, where the rich and stupid came to get fleeced by the smart and lazy. The drive to Nodaway Falls, which based on appearances was not a super wealthy community, was eight and a half hours. If Judd had been out here working a scam, it had been for something other than money, because nothing he'd get out here would have covered the gas.
I looked at Seamus and he panted at me, sated and slobbery in the midsummer heat. I wondered if he had eaten the girlfriend's lunches, too.
"Dumb dog," I said, and kicked open the driver's-side door. I stepped out onto a patchy clearing that passed for a front yard, and stared at the run-down shack that was now all mine. It had shutters that were actual shutters, not just decoration, covered in peeling green paint. They might not be terrible with an updated color, maybe. The multipaned front windows were so old that even from what was passing for my front yard, I could see that they hadn't been replaced in at least fifty years. The place was small, about nine hundred square feet, with two bedrooms and one full bath. Not grand by any standards, but hell, it had a roof and a fenced side yard for Seamus, and I wasn't exactly in a position to be picky.
Seamus lumbered out of the truck and stood by my side. His head came up well past my hips. The monstrous canine was a hundred and fifty pounds, more horse than dog. What kind of woman would buy a dog like that, anyway?
Of course, I knew exactly what kind of woman. The Christy McNagle kind of woman, the kind of woman who gets her blond from a bottle and her sexual ya-yas from my husband.
Former husband, I thought. Dead husband.
I looked down at Seamus and contemplated him for a bit. It was nicer to think about the stupid dog than it was to think about Christy McNagle and Judd doing whatever it was they were doing together while I was oblivious and stupid.
"Go on, dog." I nudged him with my knee. "Run around. Get some exercise."
He looked up at me and licked his slobbering jaws, retrieving a sesame seed that had stuck to his nose. He let out a little huff of impatience and lay down in the dirt, settling his big dumb boulder of a head on his front paws.
"Yeah," I said on a sigh. "I know how you feel."
I stared at the house. I didn't want to open that door, didn't want to see what was inside, but I didn't want to sleep outside, either. My dusty, used-to-be-white Keds moved forward step by step, and eventually, I found myself putting the key in the lock. Before I turned it, I looked back at Seamus, who was still lying on the dirt, watching me.
"Coward," I said, and turned the knob.
I had taken a chunk out of my dwindling checking account to hire someone to clean the place. I'd started accounts with the gas and electric companies while staying at Judd's sister's house in Providence, so at least there would be lights and hot water. It was dark inside and I hit the ancient push-button switch. To my utter surprise, it didn't set off a fire, and the ceiling dome light actually turned on, if a little reluctantly.
"See, what'd I tell you?" Judd said from over my shoulder. "It's not so bad, right? I got the furniture and appliances included in the deal."
I ignored him. He was dead. And, according to Dr. Fliegel, he was just my imagination anyway, a hallucination I made up to work through the grief. He wasn't even a real ghost. A real ghost could tell you why, could explain, could apologize. All fake-ghost Judd did was the same stuff he did when he was alive; smile, charm, and lie.
I turned away from Judd, focusing my attention on the place. It really wasn't that bad. To my right was the living room; it was small, but it had a woodstove in the center of the far wall and what looked like usable, if old, hardwood floors.
"You just buff those up, stain 'em, seal 'em, they're good as new," Judd said.
"Where did you even get that money?" I asked. "You paid a hundred thousand dollars in cash for this place, but can't buy a decent truck. What the hell is that about, Judd?"
He grinned at me, and dodged the question. "I'm a man of mystery, baby."
"Shut up," I said absently as I surveyed the place. To one side of the woodstove was an overstuffed chair next to a standing lamp; a reading area. To the other side was a writing desk. In front was a beige La-Z-Boy that had seen better days, and a floral Victorian couch that made your back hurt just to look at it. No television, but that didn't matter much. As soon as I got the wi-fi hooked up, I could watch movies on my laptop.
"What do you think, Seamus?" I asked the dog. "You think it'll work?"
He ignored me.
I looked to the left; there was an eat-in kitchen, also small, but kind of quaint, separated from the cooking area by a peninsula counter that cut the space in half. The dining half had a small farmhouse table with four wooden chairs, no seat cushions. Lace curtains hung over the windows, unmoving in the stilted summer air. I walked to the window, and with a significant amount of effort and cursing, got it open. It didn't let much fresh air in, but it was a start.
I moved farther into the kitchen. The lumbering yellow appliances looked like they were straight off the set of I Love Lucy, with a big double-oven gas stove, and a yellow refrigerator with soft, rounded edges.
"Coldspot," I said, reading the script logo written in metal on the door, and noticed that Seamus was suddenly at my heels. Of course he'd be here now; I was about to open a fridge, and the opportunity to eat more of my food was apparently too big to resist.
"It's an antique," Judd said, leaning one ghostly hip against the counter. "I bet it even works. Go on, open it."
I pulled the large silver lever, half expecting it to fall off in my hand, but the door opened easily. I stuck my hand inside the fridge; it was legitimately cold in there. The freezer chest — I knew what to call it because it had FREEZER CHEST written in scripty metallic lettering on the plastic door — was a separate compartment tucked away up top, but when I pulled the plastic door down and peered inside, I saw that someone had put in modern ice cube trays, and the cubes were frozen solid.
Huh, I thought, closing the fridge. Must have been the cleaning service. My eyes teared up suddenly, and my throat tightened with emotion. It was a small kindness, but when things were bad, it was the small kindnesses that did you in.
"A little work," Judd said, moving into the living room, "a little elbow grease, a little TLC, and this place is going to be our dream, Ellie."
I wiped my eyes, leaned against the oven, and looked out the front windows. In my imagination, I saw pale yellow curtains flowing in the breeze, and fresh cushions on the chairs.
Yeah, maybe, I thought.
I headed down the hallway. The bathroom had mint-green walls with white ceramic tile halfway up, and was oddly large considering the dimensions of the rest of the house. The floor had white honeycomb tiles with dark blue ones marking out little daisy shapes at regular intervals, and I'll admit it; my breath caught in my throat a little bit.
"Look at that," Judd said over my shoulder. "A claw-foot tub. Just like you always wanted. Do I know you or do I know you, huh?"
Seamus pushed himself past me into the bathroom, hitting the backs of my knees and making them buckle a bit. I checked the faucet and the handheld showerhead that was attached to the side of the tub; they were old, but they worked. It took the hot water a little while to come to the party, but hell, I was grateful there was hot water at all. There was no standing shower, but I liked baths well enough.
I could work with this.
I poked my head into the tiny back bedroom, which was empty except for the built-in bookshelves and the plain metal radiator under the window. I could paint the radiator white, and strip the faded pink floral wallpaper, and it would make a decent office. Emotion bloomed in my chest, so powerful and unfamiliar that I had to lean against the wall to hold myself up as it rippled through my being. I recognized the emotion, but just barely.
It was hope.
"See?" Judd said, grinning like a fool. "I knew you'd like it."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." I crossed the hallway, put my hand on the old metal doorknob that presumably led to what the paperwork had described as "the big bedroom," and turned. The knob rolled loosely from side to side, but didn't open.
I jiggled it; I could hear the metal bits clinking around inside. I yanked at the doorknob, cursing and kicking at the door. No joy. Seamus sat a few feet back, watching me dispassionately. I leaned my forehead against the door and let out a breath, my entire body vibrating with nerves as the thought occurred to me.
The knob is made of metal.
A painful jolt of fear ran through me, and I stepped back from the door. My magic was gone. It was gone-gone, had been gone for sixteen years and it wasn't coming back.
"Then what's it gonna hurt to try?" Judd asked from over my shoulder.
I shot him a sideways glance. "You don't know about the magic. I never told you. So shut up."
He grinned at me, and my heart soared a bit, but I couldn't tell whether the flutter was coming from the memory of Judd's intoxicating smile or the momentary power fantasy of having my magic back and not having to dig through the truck to find my tools.
I shook out my hands, released a sharp breath, and closed my eyes. I could feel the workings inside the knob. I'd locked up my ability to manipulate metal, but I hadn't lost my connection to the element. A piece had broken loose inside the mortise latch; I could turn that knob all day and it wouldn't do a damn thing. It happened sometimes with old lock assemblies. Most likely, the cleaning people had shut the door too hard when they'd left, and the lock had finally broken down in protest. Or maybe the house had already made up its mind about me, and the verdict wasn't good.
Excerpted from For Love or Magic by Lucy March. Copyright © 2015 Lani Diane Rich. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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