"Pape has a sure handed balance of humor and action."
-Julie Hyzy, New York Times bestselling author
"Spellbinding, with magical prose, a wizardly plot, and a charming sleuth."
-Janet Bolin, Agatha-nominated author of the national bestselling Threadville Mysteries
"Magic, Merlin, and murder are a great mix for this fun debut cozy."
-Lynn Cahoon, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author
The answer to whodunit may lie beyond the veil . . .
November in upstate New York can be chilly, but Kailyn Wilde's shop, Abracadabra, is a cozy respite where you can find lotions, potions, and plenty of warm, feline company. But what customers don't know is that the proprietor has some unusual powers-and unusual friends, including the renowned magician Merlin, who's been transported into the modern world. All of which comes in handy when there's a murder to be solved . . .
Investigative journalist Ryan Cutler has perished in a car accident in New Camel, and his friend, Travis, suspects foul play-especially when the reporter's notes reveal a mysterious list of dead men's names. Kailyn wants to help, but she's also got her hands full with the curmudgeonly Merlin, who's not exactly maintaining a low profile. Between keeping the wizard under wraps and mixing up cold remedies that work like magic, she'll have to tap into her many talents to figure out a killer's fatal formula . . .
"A charming, must-read mystery with enchanting characters. A fun and entertaining page turner."-Rose Pressey, USA Today bestselling author
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"I'm going to be a pariah. A pariah!" Tilly wailed. "People will avoid me like I've got the plague." She'd come into Abracadabra through the door that connected her shop to mine. Merlin was right behind her, like an odd shadow. Since it was not yet nine o'clock, she found me at my desk behind the counter, paying bills online. She shuffled up to me in ancient slippers she refused to replace, because the soft fabric had stretched to accommodate her bunions and arthritic toes.
"Nonsense, Matilda," Merlin said sternly. "There is naught to be concerned about. On that I stake my substantial reputation. You will never become a nasty little fish! Besides, if it were to happen, I would immediately change you back to your dear sweet self. Kailyn, please tell her that. She refuses to take my word for it."
"I said pariah, you old fool," Tilly muttered, "not piranha. As if I don't have enough to deal with right now." She turned to me. "What am I to do?"
"Why are you worried about becoming a pariah?" I asked, figuring she was back to her original plaint. "Everyone in town loves you."
"They won't once they realize I'm the angel of death," she replied miserably.
"Hold on. You want to catch me up?"
"I had a premonition about yet another murder." Her voice trembled. "First, I stumble across Gary Harkens' body, then Amanda's and now this new murder — well, psychically anyway."
"What did this premonition tell you?" I asked, coming from behind the counter.
"Just that someone else would be killed."
"No images of the victim, no location, no time of the murder?" She shook her head. "Aunt Tilly," I said, "please sit down and listen to me." Tilly settled into the chair I kept there for bored husbands and exhausted shoppers. "You have things a little muddled. First of all, I'm the one who tripped over Gary Harkens. You fell on top of me."
She perked up. "You're right! You found him."
"Secondly, both you and Beverly discovered Amanda at the same time. And this premonition of yours is probably nothing more than a ... a hunch, a bad dream, a figment of your imagination. It could be just another glitch in our magick."
"What a blessing you are," Tilly said, popping out of the chair as if she were reborn. She pulled me to her and hugged the air right out of my lungs. "I'm off to bake some of your favorite Linzer tarts," she chirped. "Traditional raspberry or tangy apricot?"
"I believe I'd like some traditional," I said.
"Then it's settled. I'll make both."
"I am in your debt as well," Merlin whispered, before following her back to Tea and Empathy. He graced me with the modified bow he'd adopted in deference to his age and a growing tendency to fall on his face if he attempted a deeper one.
Sashkatu had been watching us from his private loge on the window ledge. He rose, stretching his sinewy feline body, before he descended his custom-built steps and accompanied the wizard back to Tilly's place, the home of fine aromas and finer tastes.
When I looked at my watch, it was ten past nine. I hurried to open the shop for business. Bronwen and Morgana, my mother and grandmother, would have frowned at my lack of punctuality, although there was no one beating down my door in urgent need of a cure or a spell. My progenitors agreed on very little, but on this subject, they were united. I could only hope they hadn't noticed, but of course they had. My grandmother's cloud of energy popped out of the ether first, my mother's a moment later. Both were calm and white. Maybe I'd be spared a lecture after all.
My grandmother Bronwen spoke first. "You did an admirable job of quieting your aunt's fears," she said, "but there is something you need to know." I was pretty sure I didn't want to know what she was about to tell me.
"At least a few of our ancestors were remarkably talented at predicting death."
And I was right. "Did they have the ability from the time they were young or did it come on later in life?" I asked, looking for a loophole to crawl through.
"I believe it's happened both ways," Morgana said, dashing my hopes.
"But this premonition was very vague," I pointed out. "For all we know, it wasn't a premonition at all." I felt like I was pleading my case before a panel of judges.
"The details may fill in over time," Bronwen said. "Or they may not." I was rooting hard for the may not.
"If it doesn't come to pass this time, can we assume she doesn't have the ability?"
"That would be nice," my mother agreed, "but I'm afraid it's not that simple."
Of course not, why would it be? "I don't suppose there's any way to turn off or blunt this particular talent?"
"None I've ever heard of," Bronwen said, "but I'll ask around." Ask around? Was there a bartender or a manicurist beyond the veil who knew things? A guy on a street corner who could get you information for a price? Before I could ask what she meant, Morgana said they were being summoned and promptly vanished.
"Don't forget that punctuality is a sign of respect for your customers," Bronwen managed to stick in, her voice trailing behind her as she too winked away.
While waiting for customers, I finished paying my bills and caught up on some dusting, trying not to dwell on the havoc my aunt's nascent ability could cause in our lives. I wasn't successful until the bells above the door jingled to announce the day's first customer. The woman looked about thirty, petite and pretty enough to forego makeup and still turn a man's head. She seemed to be blown into the shop by a cold gust of wind, along with the last of the shriveled oak leaves that skittered across the hardwood floor. She had to put some weight into closing the door behind her. "It's awful out there," she said, shuddering in a jacket that was more suited to early September than mid-October.
"Welcome," I said. "It's the sun that tricks you into thinking it's a nice day to be outside. Are you from around here?"
"Sort of." She extended her hand. "I'm Jane Oliver."
"Kailyn Wilde," I replied, briefly taking her hand. It was overly formal for a shopkeeper and a customer, but hey — I'd been taught the customer was generally right.
"I moved to Watkins Glen two years ago. I guess by now I should know what the weather's like this time of year, but I go from the garage where I live to the garage where I work and hardly ever poke my head outside."
"What brings you to New Camel today?" I asked.
"Your shop. I'm on a mission to find a good moisturizer and everyone raves about your products."
"Word of mouth is our best advertisement," I said. It was nice to hear that a customer made the trip to town specifically to visit Abracadabra. In many instances, my shop was an afterthought, a let's-peek-into-the-magick-shop, after the tourist had already bought pounds of candy at Lolly's, skeins of wool at Busy Fingers, or lunch and a shake at The Soda Jerk. My mother had been pragmatic about it. For her, commerce was commerce no matter how it came about. But I got a kick from knowing the shop was the primary reason someone came into our town.
"Let me show you where to find the moisturizers," I said, leading the way to the second aisle. I pointed out a shelf at eye level. "There are quite a few, so take your time. Feel free to ask questions."
"Thanks." Jane sniffed the air. "Where is that incredible smell coming from?" She was doing a pirouette, trying to pinpoint the source. "Do you have a bakery in here too?"
I laughed. "It's coming from next door. The owner is not only a renowned psychic, but also an incredible pastry chef. You can have a glimpse into your future and then enjoy an authentic English tea."
"The tea sounds great," she said, "but I don't believe in psychics or any of that paranormal stuff. I'm a scientist from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head."
I tried to keep my smile from wilting and in the politest of tones, I reminded Jane that she was standing in a magick shop.
"I know," she said. "It's a cute gimmick."
I didn't like it when people shrugged magick off as a children's game, a trick worthy of snide remarks. I understood that being circumspect was for our protection, maybe even for our survival, but it still chafed.
When Jane came up to the counter a few minutes later, she was holding two jars. "I can't decide which would be better for me," she said.
I pointed to the one in her left hand. "That one is better for really dry skin." Jane charged the purchase and went on her way, blissfully unaware how lucky she was that my family never dabbled in black magick.
Only two more customers stopped in during the morning, locals who needed health-related items. One was desperate for a lip balm that would actually work for her kids, and the other bought my last bottle of cough medicine for her husband, an early victim of the flu. I wasn't aware I'd run through my entire stock of it, until she pointed it out. The slow morning instantly turned into a boon, giving me time to whip up more of the three different formulas I sold.
It had been a whole lot easier to keep up with demand and still run the front of the shop when my mother and grandmother were alive to share the workload. But I found that if I left the storeroom door open and didn't listen to music, I could easily hear the chimes marking someone's arrival. That worked well for simple formulas. The more complicated ones required me to add ingredients at specific intervals in the process or complete the recipe without interruption. I had to leave those for afterhours. It made for longer workdays and a glower of cats unhappy about their delayed dinner hour, but I didn't collapse from the longer day and they didn't starve from waiting an extra hour or two to eat. If it wasn't an elegant solution, it was at least an equitable one.
Fortunately, I had all the ingredients I needed on hand. The basic honey, lemon, coconut oil mixture was number one on the hit parade. It always sold out first. The thyme tea only appealed to those who enjoyed the flavor of the herb, but those who did were rabid in their devotion. The ginger peppermint syrup was favored by people who preferred a little zip to the taste of their medicine. They were all somewhat effective in easing coughs. The game changer was the addition of the spell my mother created decades ago. It drew its strength from the power of three. It required three candles, three oils (myrrh, mint, and sandalwood) and three pieces of quartz. I anointed each of the candles and quartz with each of the three oils. Then I placed a candle and a piece of quartz together at each point of an imaginary triangle with three equal sides. The words of the spell were deceptively simple, but repeating them three times imbued them with power if the practitioner came from the right bloodline.
Magick mend and candle burn Illness leave and health return.
I printed out the labels and was applying them to the bottles when I checked the time and realized I was late. I ran out of the storeroom, set the I'll-be-back clock to one-thirty, put it in the window, and bundled myself into my down coat, gloves, and scarf for the two-block walk. No amount of lousy weather was going to discourage me from meeting Travis for lunch. As I hurried to The Soda Jerk, I noticed that most of the shops I passed were decorated for Halloween, their windows filled with images of pumpkins, witches, and skeletons. My family always steered clear of decorating our shop for holidays, believing that true magick isn't seasonal. Not even at Halloween.
I wasn't surprised to find The Soda Jerk less than half full. Folks who didn't need to leave the warmth of their snug homes hunkered down on days as raw as this one. I looked around to see if Travis was waiting at a table. He was usually punctual, but this time I beat him there even though I was five minutes late.
I didn't know any of the other patrons, but I could tell by their uniforms they were deliverymen, cable guys, and a lone mail carrier. For those who worked outside year-round, a warm restaurant was a welcome refuge from the cold.
The wait staff at The Soda Jerk was back to its post summer numbers, one busboy and the two waitresses I'd known all my life. Margie spotted me first and whisked me off to her section, which was fine with me. Her counterpart was often brusque and stingy with a smile.
"There are only two people you'd come out for in this weather," Margie said, seating me at a booth away from the draft of the door. "Who is it today — Elise or Travis?"
"Travis," I said with a grin. "I'll bet you know all the secrets in this town, don't you?"
"Who me?" she said with a wink. "How about I whip you up a cup of hot cocoa?"
"You twisted my arm, though to be honest, it didn't take much twisting."
"One cocoa, double whipped cream coming up."
The door opened and Travis walked in, making my heart trip into the little jig it reserved for him. I waved and caught his eye, but no acknowledging smile lit his face as he headed toward me. He got to the booth as Margie was setting the cocoa in front of me. She must have seen his eyes widen at the sight of it. "Can I get you one too, Mr. TV?"
"Another time, Margie, I'll stick to coffee, thanks." He slid into the booth across from me, looking harried; his thick hair was wind-tossed and stubble darkened his cheeks. "Mind if we order right away?" he asked me, before Margie could leave.
"No, that's fine." I knew the menu by heart anyway. "Grilled cheese and tomato soup combo."
Travis handed Margie the unopened menus. "Make it two." He usually engaged in a little banter with Margie, but today he was all business. It derailed me.
"I'll put a rush on it," Margie said. She didn't seem the least bit surprised by his behavior. She'd waitressed enough years that she could read people and situations better than most psychologists.
"What's wrong?" I asked after she left.
"A friend of mine's gone missing," he said, raking his fingers through his hair the way he did when he was worried or puzzled.
"Oh Travis, I'm so sorry. Are the two of you very close?"
"I've known Ryan since high school."
I sensed there was more to it, but I didn't want to press him on it. "Have you notified the police?"
"The police won't act on a missing person's report for an adult, until the person's been gone for at least forty-eight hours."
"That's crazy," I said.
"Not really. Can you imagine what it would be like if you could call the police and send them searching for everyone who's late arriving somewhere? Or isn't answering their cell? Besides, there's a fine line between protecting people and keeping tabs on them."
"I didn't think of it that way," I said, still far from convinced that forty-eight hours was a reasonable amount of time to wait.
Travis's coffee arrived by busboy. While he was adding sweetener, I took a sip of my cocoa. When I looked up again, he was smiling. "A white moustache is a great look for you." I grabbed my napkin and wiped it off. "Way to win a girl over with compliments." The moment of levity felt good, but it couldn't last beneath the weight of Travis's distress. "You're certain Ryan is missing?"
"Yes, if you knew him, you'd understand. He digs for stories that might be better left unearthed. Stories that can get him killed. And he has a bad habit of trusting the wrong people. This wouldn't be the first time he's needed to be rescued."
"We needed a little rescuing ourselves not too long ago," I said, thinking of our last case. "Things aren't always as dire and hopeless as they seem."
"But we had a secret weapon — he doesn't."
There was a time when the idea of real magick sent him running from me, and now my family's magick had become his secret weapon. Talk about zero to sixty in a flash.
Margie arrived with our lunches, gooey cheese and steaming soup. "Enjoy," she said, off to the mailman who was beckoning her. I took a bite of my sandwich; Travis took two, polishing off half of his.
"When did you start looking for Ryan?" I asked.
"Six p.m. yesterday," he replied between spoonfuls of soup. "We were supposed to meet for an early dinner in Watkins Glen. He never showed. Doesn't answer his cell. I started with all his usual haunts — nobody's seen him. I've been driving around in widening circles, checking everywhere the road drops off, every place his car could be hidden in woods or dense brush."
I nibbled on my sandwich, no longer hungry. "Have you slept or eaten since then?"
Excerpted from "Magick Run Amok"
Copyright © 2018 Sharon Pape.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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