Once upon a time in Wilmington, North Carolina, three witches ran a curio shop named Smuggler’s Arcane. But as the years passed, their magical powers started to fade—leaving them no choice but to conjure up a retirement package…
Before they could blink their eyes or twitch their noses, Molly, Elsie, and Olivia somehow became eligible for AARP. But they can’t fly off to Boca Raton just yet. First they must give up their magic, recruit and train three new witches, and pass on their cherished spellbook.
They’ve barely begun to consider potential practitioners when Olivia winds up dead and their spellbook is stolen. To honor their friend and reclaim their spells, Molly and Elsie are about to go wand-to-wand with a dangerous young witch more powerful than the trio was in their prime. And this time they’re going to need more than magic up their sleeves...
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Candle flame burning bright, with your flame on this night,
Trap the evil, seal it well, in this stone, make it remain.
Never to be free again.
“Can you see her?” Olivia fussed with her lipstick. “There’s no use in having spelled binoculars if you can’t see anything.”
“I can see just fine,” Elsie snapped back, refusing to allow her friend to take the binoculars from her. “She’s not out there yet. If she were, I’d tell you. Why don’t you get me another cup of tea?”
Olivia gave me the look, a frown between her eyes, her nose wrinkled like she’d smelled something awful.
Her smooth blond hair looked perfect, as always. Her gray eyes were impatient—as always. “Do something, Molly. Do we want to check out this new girl, or what?”
I smiled at her, amused as anyone would be with the comfort of long years of friendship. “I’m sure Elsie can see her as well as you could. She’s facing in the right direction.”
“Thank you, Molly.” Elsie inclined her head, and her large pink hat slid down into her face. “Oh dear. There must be something wrong with the spell. Everything has gone pink.”
I laughed, and Olivia grabbed the binoculars from Elsie.
“Let me see those.” She put them up to her eyes and adjusted the lenses. “Oh yes. There she is now. Pretty Dorothy Lane, librarian. She dropped her bag again. That girl needs some fashion sense. Why is she carrying a purple bag with those blue tennis shoes?”
“That’s not why we’re watching her,” I reminded Olivia. “Do you see anything around her?”
“Not yet. She’s still picking up the books, and her cell phone.”
She put down the binoculars that had been spelled to see through the buildings that were between our shop and the downtown branch of the New Hanover Public Library. “Why don’t we just go talk to her?”
“Oh no. No. No. No.” Elsie clicked her tongue as she said it and then righted her hat. “You know we can’t do that. We can summon her a little and keep feeding magic her way. When she gets the glow about her, we’ll know she’s ready.”
Olivia gave back the binoculars with an impatient sigh. “Ladies, we are never going to get to Boca this way. We’ll be hundreds of years old before Dorothy Lane even realizes we’re looking for her. Is this the best we can do?”
Elsie rolled her expressive green eyes before putting the binoculars back up to her face.
It was a discussion we’d had many times before. The three of us needed Dorothy Lane, who was an orphan and a librarian recently graduated from East Carolina.
She was also an earth witch, with no knowledge of her abilities. She was powerful for a witch with no training, but she had no idea.
Elsie, Olivia, and I had grown up in the practice of magic, with our mothers and grandmothers—along with a few aunts and uncles—showing us the way.
Dorothy had no one. It made a big difference.
Normally a small coven like ours wouldn’t have been interested in an unschooled witch, but we were desperate.
There comes a time in every witch’s life when she realizes that it’s time to retire. For me, it was when I meant to zap a ding out of my new car before my husband saw it and asked what happened. Instead, I changed the color of the blue car to bright purple. Even worse, I couldn’t change it back. How humiliating!
Like everything else, even magic fades with time. Those little things you could once do with a snap of your fingers are now big things that can’t be done at all. I have been reduced to putting dishes in the dishwasher. Manually.
It’s shocking. Shameful!
But it happens to the best of us.
“You know it’s all we can do,” I reminded her. “If we approach her in any way, it could be very bad for us. She needs to come to us on her own. Those are the rules.”
Olivia got up and paced around the counter in our shop, Smuggler’s Arcane. She filled the kettle and then whispered a few words beside it. It only took an instant before it started whistling in her hand without touching the hot plate.
“See there? Things aren’t as bad as we make them out to be.”
Our three signature cups—my goldfish, Elsie’s flamingo and Olivia’s star—were already on the table where we sat. Olivia put some tea into each cup and poured in the hot water.
Elsie picked up her cup to have a sip. She put down the binoculars. “Whatever did you do to this tea?”
Olivia picked up the binoculars again to have another look at Dorothy. “What do you mean?”
“Why is the tea coming out of the cup?”
We all stared at Elsie’s cup. It looked as though the tea leaves had grown tendrils and were reaching out over the edge.
“Oh my heavens!” Olivia knocked the cup out of Elsie’s hand. “What is that?”
I caught the cup, Elsie’s favorite for the past fifty years, and kept it from smashing on the floor.
“It’s nothing.” Elsie chuckled. “I think Olivia got her growth spell mixed up with her warming spell.”
“You see what I mean?” Olivia’s voice was high-pitched in her moment of stress. “How can we live this way? Yesterday, I almost shaved the fur off Harper’s body.”
Harper was Olivia’s twenty-two-pound, gray and white cat. His spirit was that of a British sailor from the 1500s. He told some fascinating tales of his sea voyages.
Elsie glanced at me, her lips quivering. I did the unforgivable and laughed back.
Olivia took all three of our cups to the little sink behind the counter. We’d only recently begun using it to wash our cups and other utensils. Too many were being mangled by our cleaning spells.
“I didn’t even have a chance to take a look at my tea leaves!” Elsie complained.
“I can tell you what you would’ve seen in those tea leaves,” Olivia said. “It’s not going to get better by itself, you know. We need to find those three witches to take our places and hand off our spell book. That’s the only way our lives are going to get any better.”
“Have we thought how things will be better?” Elsie asked. “We won’t have any magic. What’s that going to be like?”
“Better to know a toaster isn’t going to work than to keep trying to use it!”
“I’m sorry, Olivia,” I apologized. “You’re right. But Elsie is right too. We have to be patient. We have to be like spiders, waiting for the right flies to come our way.”
Olivia dropped the kettle she’d begun to fill again. She shook all over. “Why did you have to say such a thing, Molly? You know how I feel about spiders. Being compared to one is only slightly better than that time you actually turned me into one.”
Elsie chuckled. Her chubby, pink hands—covered with rings she’d collected—flew up to her mouth. “Oh yes. I remember that. Funny. I never saw such an angry little spider.”
“You’d be angry too.” Olivia was defiant. “I can’t remember what you were trying to do, Molly. What was it?”
“I was only five, like you,” I reminded her. “We were trying to make butterflies from cocoons.”
“And you turned her into a spider instead.” Elsie rocked from side to side. “It was fun being your babysitter back then.”
Living in a small town, and being witches, the three of us had known each other while we were growing up. Our families had spent time together trying out new spells and looking for magic artifacts.
“Let’s have another look at Dorothy, shall we?” Olivia picked up the binoculars and faced Chestnut Street, even though the old brick wall of our building was only the first obstacle between her and us. “Oh, look! She’s walking now. You know, I think she glanced this way.”
“Really?” Elsie snatched the binoculars and took a peek. “Oh, Molly! She’s right. Dorothy’s looking our way, and I think she has a slight glow about her.”
“All right. Let me see.” I hated to get between the two of them and the game they’d made out of watching Dorothy leave the library each day. I had a good time just watching them!
I peered through the lenses and saw the tall, gawky girl in her early twenties. She was as plain as bread pudding with her brown eyes and brown hair. But I could feel the power in her. It was as strong as mine had once been, even though she was a water-locked earth witch.
I had always been a little more powerful than Elsie or Olivia, even though Elsie was older and Olivia was an air witch. Air is powerful, but being surrounded by the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean in Wilmington, North Carolina, worked nicely for me as a water witch.
“You know, I think the spell is beginning to work.” I smiled as I handed the binoculars back to Olivia. “We may see some success in the next week or so.”
“She’s still raw material,” Olivia said. “We’re gonna have to train her before she’s any use at all.”
“Yes,” Elsie agreed. “But think how strong we’ll be with an earth witch to complement us. Maybe we won’t have to give up our magic entirely.”
“We’ve been through this before,” I reminded her.
“That’s true enough.” Olivia took one last pass with the binoculars. “The spell is fading. All I can see is really big bricks.”
We put the binoculars away, just in time too, as a customer came into Smuggler’s Arcane.
“I’m looking for a love spell.” The handsome young man’s eyes roamed across all the items that we’d collected and stored, both to sell and for our enjoyment.
The mummy wrappings and scarabs we’d found on a trip to Egypt, and the rune sticks we’d brought back from Peru. There were also more generic items of snakeskins and wasp stingers to be used for potions and poultices.
“What do you plan to do with the spell?” Olivia went around the counter, twitching her green skirt.
“Oh, here it comes,” Elsie complained. “If she sees a good-looking young man, she can’t help but flirt. Good thing she’s an air witch instead of fire. I’d hate to think what that would’ve done to her.”
“You have to admit she looks good for being in her fifties,” I said. “Doesn’t look a day over thirty. I don’t know if it’s still magic working or because she’s taken such good care of herself.”
I wished I could say the same. I wasn’t a former high school beauty like Elsie was with her red hair and green eyes. I wasn’t sexy and provocative like Olivia with her natural blond hair and flirty gray eyes.
I was a little on the plain side, like Dorothy. My brown hair and blue eyes were nothing special. I’d sacrificed my figure to have a child, and never completely got it back. I was a fifty-eight-year-old homemaker, mother and wife. I felt as though I looked the part.
“She’s still got some mojo!” Elsie nodded as Olivia slipped her arm around the young man’s back to show him some powdered eyebright that could be used to improve his vision.
“He seems to be enjoying it.” I watched as the curious young man smiled and slid his hand across Olivia’s butt. She squealed and giggled.
“She’s playing games while we’re trying to keep everything together.” Elsie’s eyes roamed the store that we all loved. “I’m older than you two. I don’t know how much longer I can go on. I can feel the fire dying inside me. It used to burn so hot and bright. I don’t want to give up my magic. I want to bring in some new members and make it strong again.”
I put my arm around her shoulder. “It’s going to be fine. I know the idea of having no magic is scary, but magic that flickers on and off, that we can’t control, is even worse.”
Elsie wiped a tear from the corner of one eye. “A witch’s tear. Powerful medicine. Too bad we already have so many stored up. I hate to waste it.”
“I’m going to leave now with Brian.” Olivia looked up at the young man, adoringly. “I’ll see you girls later. Keep an eye on Dorothy. Tomorrow could be a great day for us.”
Brian waved and smiled before the old door to the shop closed behind him and Olivia. He was a witch, of course. I don’t think Olivia had ever dated anyone without magic.
I couldn’t explain it, and didn’t mention it to Elsie—she might take it the wrong way. But I had a sense of melancholy and foreboding.
Perhaps it was only the slow loss of everything I’d held dear in life, not only the loss of my magic. For the first time in my life, I was worried about what the future would bring.
Whatever it was, I left Smuggler’s Arcane with a heavy heart that evening. The weather seemed to mirror my emotions, as frequently happened. Water witches are known as harbingers of changing weather. A large storm was rolling in from the Atlantic. I was afraid what it might bring with it.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the mystery novels of Joyce and Jim Lavene:
“Fast-paced, clever, delightful.”—John Lamb, author of The Treacherous Teddy
“Grabbed my attention on page one… Puzzles are unraveled and secrets spilled in a fast-paced paranormal mystery full of quirky characters you’ll want as friends.”—Elizabeth Spann Craig, author of Death at a Drop-In
“A delightful yarn...Kept me turning pages until it was done.”—Patricia Sprinkle, author of Deadly Secrets on the St. Johns