Keli’s looking forward to Beltane, the time-honored Wiccan holiday that celebrates life with feasting, ceremonial dancing, and ancient Celtic rituals. But since recently leaving her law firm and opening her own practice, Keli has more on her plate than simple abundance. Still, she always has time for a friend. Erik, a Druid from a neighboring town, has had a run of bad luck he blames on a curse cast by his ex-girlfriend Denise, a practicing witch whose expertise in the dark arts can’t save her from her own deadly end.
When Keli finds herself a person of interest in the investigation, she begins to wonder if she herself might be cursed. With a little help from her friends, including her devoted boyfriend Wes, Keli aims to find out who poisoned Denise. What she uncovers is a witch’s brew of spells, hexes, and black magic that raises questions about her own Wiccan worldview. As the community gathers for the May Day festivities, it’s up to Keli to stop a killer from springing ahead to another murder . . .
Praise for the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries
“A perfect read.” —Library Journal on Yuletide Homicide
“Enjoyable . . . A wintry, woodsy setting.”
—Kirkus Reviews on Bell, Book & Candlemas
“A good atmospheric read for fall.” —Parkersburg News & Sentinel on Samhain Secrets
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My trouble always begins in the most innocent of places. I was in the back of my friend Mila's New Age gift shop, Moonstone Treasures, intently examining a bowlful of polished stones, when her bubbly, tinkling laugh carried from the front of the store. I peeked around a row of shelves to see Mila chatting at the checkout counter with a nice-looking guy I had never seen before. He wore a loose-fitting fatigue jacket over a brown T-shirt. Judging from the laugh lines around his eyes and the silver glints in his dark blond hair, I guessed him to be in his early forties.
I ducked behind the shelves and resumed my quiet browsing. As usual, I tried not to draw too much attention to myself when shopping at Moonstone. Since it was Saturday morning — and a wet and chilly April morning at that — I was fairly certain I wouldn't see any other lawyers. But if I did happen to bump into any clients or acquaintances, I had my excuse at the ready: I would say I was trying to find a gift for my twelve-year-old niece. No one needed to know the real reason for my visit to Moonstone Treasures — that I was searching for the last ingredient I needed for the magic spell I planned to cast at the stroke of midnight tonight. No, that would never do. My Wiccan religious practices were my own business and no one else's.
I jumped at the sound of my name.
"Keli, can you come over here for a minute? Maybe you can help."
I closed my eyes and allowed myself a brief sigh, then I came out from behind the shelter of the shelves. "What's up?" I asked, as I tentatively approached the pair.
"Erik is trying to sell these books." Mila lifted a stack of five hardcover books, the sleeves of her peasant blouse fluttering back to reveal colorful bangles on both of her wrists. "As much as I'd like to, I don't buy used books for Moonstone. But I remembered you know someone who does, don't you?"
I nodded. "Sure. T.C. Satterly. He deals primarily in rare books, but not exclusively." I tilted my head to read the titles on the counter: Dark Secrets of the Occult; Rise of the Golden Dawn; The Shamanic Way; Old Spells for a New Age; and Fairies, Sprites, & Other Magical Creatures. "He might be interested in these. I can ask him if you'd like. I'm actually heading that way next. I have an errand near his bookstore."
"Oh, yeah?" said Erik. "Think I could catch a ride with you? My car is in the shop and my buddy Billy dropped me off here. I have a few hours to kill before he can pick me up again. I live over in Fynn Hollow, so I don't know a whole lot of people here in Edindale."
"Um ..." I hesitated and glanced at Mila.
She clapped her hands together and beamed. "How serendipitous! I love it. Erik, would you excuse us for one second? I just remembered something I have to show Keli."
Feeling confused, but not too surprised considering Mila's spontaneity, I followed her through the tinkling, beaded curtain into her divination parlor in the back room. "What is it?" I asked, looking around.
"Oh, there's nothing. I just didn't want to put you on the spot. Would you mind giving Erik a ride to the bookstore? He's an awfully sweet guy, and I'd like to help him out. Plus, it's too perfect that you're heading there anyway. As I always say, everything happens for a reason."
I had to smile. She and a whole host of other people say everything happens for a reason. But I trusted her instincts. "Okay, sure. It's no problem."
We returned to the front where Erik stood flipping through one of his old books. His face lit up when I agreed to give him a ride. Of course, I could have pointed out that it would have been a short walk for him to the bus stop, then a short ride to the old business district. But, as it happened, it was raining buckets outside — April showers in power spray mode — and I was feeling charitable. I even offered to share my umbrella with the guy after Mila had rung up my purchase and he had shoved his books into a recycled plastic shopping bag. Since he was taller than me, Erik held the umbrella. We dodged puddles and laughed at the futility of trying to stay dry in the midst of the sideways rain shower. As we dried off in the confines of my car, I had the fleeting thought that my live-in boyfriend might not appreciate the humor of the situation.
Nah. Wes trusted me. Besides, there was nothing to be jealous about.
Starting up the car, I flicked on the windshield wipers and looked over at Erik. "Did your books stay dry?"
He peeked into his bag. "Yeah, thank goodness. I kind of hate to sell these, but I need the money. Anyway, I haven't read most of them in ages. Not since I was a much younger man, trying to find the right path for me."
We stopped at a stoplight, and I spared another glance at him. He flashed me a crooked smile. "I'm a Druid, in case you were wondering — land lover and follower of the Celtic Virtues. How about you?"
"Me? Oh, I'm a ... Wiccan. I practice solo, sort of my own brand, rather than any particular tradition."
Did I really just say that? I could count on one hand the number of people who knew I was Wiccan. Well, make that two hands now, counting Erik. There was something about him that made me feel comfortable opening up.
"I've studied Wicca," he said. "It's pretty similar to Druidry. We follow the Wheel of the Year, too. In fact, my ex-girlfriend is a Witch." He chuckled. "I mean that in the nicest possible way, even though she hasn't been very nice to me. It's her fault I'm broke. She hexed me."
"She hexed you?"
"Yeah, that's kind of her specialty. I should have known better than to cross a Witch who makes her living dealing in curses and dark magic."
I glanced at him to see if he was joking. He stared straight ahead, a somber expression on his face. "First, I was laid off from my job," he continued. "Then, just when I had a line on a new job, my car broke down. So, I missed the interview."
"Bad luck," I said sympathetically.
Erik shook his head. "Bad mojo. I knew it was Denise's spellwork when the first dead bird appeared on my doorstep. That's so like her."
"The first dead bird? How many have there been?"
"Just two so far. I'm going to have to go see her and pay back the money I owe her. Hopefully, that's all she wants." I pulled into a parking spot in front of Satterly's Rare Books and cut the engine. "Here we are. It looks like the rain is letting up. Maybe your luck is starting to turn around."
Erik grinned at me. "Well, it was certainly lucky meeting you. Thank you for the ride."
We got out of the car and stood for a moment on the sidewalk. I peered in the window of the bookstore and saw my old friend, T.C. Satterly, perched on his stool behind the counter. He appeared to be flipping through a graphic novel. He always did strike me as someone who would be more at home selling comics than rare books. I smiled as I made out the C.S. Lewis quote printed on the T-shirt straining over T.C.'s ample midsection: EATING AND READING ARE TWO PLEASURES THAT COMBINE ADMIRABLY. I turned back to Erik. "That's T.C. He's a good guy. I'm sure he'll help you if he can. I'd stop in and say hi, but I need to get going to the civic center. I want to make sure I catch the community director before she leaves for lunch." I gave Erik a little wave and started to leave.
"Hey, are you going to the Beltane Fire Festival?"
I paused, confused. "The one in Scotland?"
He laughed. "No, a little closer than that. It's at a private nature sanctuary outside Craneville. It's loads of fun. My Druid fellowship is leading the drum circle this year. There will be a maypole ritual, of course, and a bonfire. Lots of good food and music, too."
I knew Beltane, otherwise known as May Day, was only two weeks away, and that many Pagans celebrated with bonfires. After all, the word Beltane came from the Celtic word Bel-Fire, referring to the bright fire of Bel, the god of light. But as a solitary practitioner, I usually stuck with candles or torches to honor the start of the bright half of the year.
"I don't usually attend public rituals —"
"Everyone's friendly," he said. "But it can be kind of tricky to find the place if you've never been. If you give me your email address, I'll send you directions." He pulled out his phone and looked at me expectantly.
I opened my mouth to protest, then shrugged. "I doubt if I can make it, but you can send me the info." I gave him my email address, then we shook hands and parted.
I took off down the sidewalk thinking it wasn't likely I'd ever see the out-of-town Druid again. By the time I reached the civic center, a sprawling two-story brick building that housed a banquet hall, recreation facilities, and several meeting rooms, my mind had turned to my job and the presentation I was scheduled to give that evening. Since I had opened my own law office at the start of the year, I was trying to be more visible in the community. I needed to actively seek new clients and promote my services — a responsibility that was proving to be much more time-consuming than I had anticipated. As much as I enjoyed working with clients and handling their legal matters, I didn't exactly relish the idea of spending my Saturday evening giving a lecture on estate planning and will preparation.
Stop complaining, I told myself. You're your own boss now. Put on your big girl pants and play the part already!
I found the community director, Chelsea Owen, in her office on the second floor. I gave her the handouts I had prepared and confirmed the details for the presentation that evening. Nearly forty people had preregistered, which, Chelsea assured me, was an impressive number. She then showed me the meeting space and explained the room's technology system. After testing the microphone and projection screen, I thanked her and headed for the exit. I was almost to the door when I heard a noise behind me. Then someone touched my shoulder, and I jumped.
"Whoa, there! I didn't mean to scare you."
I whirled around and found myself face-to-face with Erik the Druid. He pushed his sandy hair away from his eyes and gave me a sheepish grin. "Sorry about that. I wanted to catch you before you left."
"Oh. Okay. What's up? Did T.C. buy your books?"
"He did! And I have you to thank for that. He said he normally offers store credit for used books that aren't particularly valuable, but he made an exception since I'm a friend of yours."
"That's nice." Inside I was thinking, A friend of mine? We only just met.
"Unfortunately, I'm in a bit of a jam now," Erik went on. "My friend Billy called and said he can't come back for me. None of my other friends are answering their phones, and I can't get a taxi to drive me out to Fynn Hollow. Of course, ride-sharing services haven't made it to Edin County yet. I hate to impose, but is there any chance you have time ...?" He trailed off, apparently too embarrassed to finish the question.
Time? Time was the one thing most lacking in my life lately. I started to shake my head, but then I remembered something. "Fynn Hollow is on Rural Route 17, isn't it?"
"Yeah. It's only about fifteen miles from here. Pretty drive, too." He batted his eyelashes, making me laugh.
"I have a client who lives out that way," I said. I knew it was difficult for Mrs. Millhorn to leave her house, and I didn't have access to a courier anymore. Use of a messenger service was just one of the perks I'd lost by leaving the firm. I had to be more frugal now. Every dollar spent on my business was a dollar out of my own pocket. "I told her I'd bring her some papers I need her to sign. I've been carrying them in my briefcase for the past few days." I checked my watch. "If we go now, I can make this work."
"Thanks! You're the best."
We exited the civic center and headed toward my car. We hadn't gotten very far when a gust of wind shook the branches of the boulevard trees, spraying our faces with a stream of water droplets. We stopped in our tracks and laughed as we wiped ourselves off.
"Mother Nature will not be ignored," Erik joked.
"She can't accuse me of ignoring her," I retorted. "Before the rain rolled in this morning, I was barefoot in the woods, welcoming the sun's first rays." Once more, I surprised myself at my openness with this guy. Mentioning a nature ritual wasn't something I'd do with most people I'd known for years, let alone someone I'd just met.
Erik gave me an approving smile. Then he turned his head and sniffed the air. Someone had opened the door of the diner we happened to be passing, releasing the tantalizing scent of salty French fries.
"This place is supposed to have good Portobello sandwiches. I'd love to treat you, only I don't have any spare cash ..." He trailed off with a sigh, as he rubbed his stomach.
I checked my watch again. "You know what? Let's pop in and grab a bite. It's on me."
"You sure you have time?"
"I'll make time. I don't function very well when I skip meals."
During lunch, Erik regaled me with stories of his pilgrimage to Stonehenge and a shamanic vision quest that led him to pursue a career in the healing arts. Before I could ask him what that meant, the check came, and I realized we should get going. This day was getting away from me.
As we left the restaurant, I called Mrs. Millhorn to let her know I was coming. A short while later, we finally pulled up to her charming old farmhouse on a gravel lane about a mile off the highway. Erik waited while I went inside to take care of business. Of course, everything took longer than expected. I emerged from the house twenty minutes later with the signed papers in one hand and a bunch of cut tulips in the other. My clients tend to be very sweet people.
"At least that's one less item on my never-ending to-do list," I said, as I handed Erik the flowers.
Regarding them thoughtfully, he remarked, "'And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes.'"
I faced him in surprise.
He shrugged. "I read it someplace."
"You read it in a poem by Wordsworth." I'd read lots of poetry in college. It was rare to encounter anyone else who remembered those old lines. Interesting guy, I thought, as I shifted into reverse and returned to the highway.
The sky had cleared, allowing the afternoon sun to cast a pleasant light on the newly sprouted fields and colorful wildflowers along the side of the road. To make conversation, I asked Erik about his friend Billy who had driven him to Edindale.
"So, he just left you high and dry, huh? That doesn't seem very nice."
"Well, it wasn't really his fault. He had to bail out our other friend, Viper."
Erik snickered. "It's a nickname, based on his power animal. Lately, he's been short on power, though. Viper is another victim of Denise's curses — Denise is the ex-girlfriend I was telling you about. Viper was pulled over this morning for speeding, even though he swears his speedometer showed he wasn't. It was his third strike. On top of that, he was busted for possession of weed."
"Wait a minute. So, when you said Billy had to 'bail out' Viper, you meant that literally?"
Nice friends. "So, Erik, how long have you known Mila?"
"Mila. Mila Douglas? Owner of Moonstone Treasures?"
"Oh, I didn't know that was her name. I've been in the shop only a couple times."
Suddenly I felt a strange sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach, and my earlier warm feelings toward Erik rapidly cooled. Wasn't he a friend of Mila's? I could have sworn ... If he wasn't, then that meant I was giving a ride to a complete stranger. On a lonely country road. How could I have made such a dumb mistake? That was so unlike me. Usually I was much more cautious.
It was all Mila's fault.
I trusted her like a sister. After all, she was a Wiccan High Priestess and natural-born psychic, not to mention a close friend. Of course, she was also friendly with everyone she met and always eager to be of service. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have been so quick to assume the stranger in her shop was anything more than a pleasantly charming customer in need.
I peeked at Erik, who was drumming his fingers on the dashboard, oblivious to my sudden nervousness. Luckily, we were nearing the village. We passed a cluster of signs advertising Fynn Hollow's attractions, which included a covered bridge, a dairy farm with an ice cream stand, a stable offering horseback riding lessons, a winery, and several churches. Another small sign informed us the population was 4,100.
"Which way?" I asked, as we stopped at a four-way intersection.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "May Day Murder"
Copyright © 2019 Jennifer David Hesse.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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