Welcome to Blinney Lane, a historical Salem shopping district controlled by a witch's curse.
Sarah Allister just wants a normal life running her bookstore and daydreaming about the handsome deliveryman. Contentment seems within reach, even if she has to deal with the daily phenomena that occur in her shop.
But when her spirited nephew shows up to spend the summer, all bets are off. Now Sarah must keep Ricky from discovering the curse of Blinney Lane and awakening its full power.
Will Ricky heed Sarah’s warnings? Or will he accidentally awaken the magical weeping books and send Sarah back to a land she swore to forget?
Get ready for a modern fairy tale that will sweep you away to lands beyond your imagination.
About the Author
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Of all the comforting objects in this world, few things are as reassuring and accepting as books. Books keep and reciprocate our secrets, dreams, regrets, and hopes better than any friend in the world. Sarah Allister took comfort in this thought as she walked past the shelves in her bookstore. They were full of countless stories she knew by heart. When she passed by the books she had read, they would remind her of what had been happening in her life at the time, as well as the people who had been there. Living alone wasn't lonely when you were surrounded by that much history.
Sarah settled into the stool behind the old mahogany store counter and leaned back against its upholstered cushion. Glancing across the showroom floor, she surveyed the customers. They were a mix of regulars and Salem tourists — all of whom appeared content. She enjoyed quiet mornings like this in her store on Blinney Lane. It gave her time to catch up on paperwork and sift through the plethora of mail.
Bill. Bill. Junk. Membership renewal. Sarah tossed the unwanted envelopes into an old wooden milk crate on the floor that served as her recycling bin. She turned her stool and tucked the bills into the narrow banker slots of the antique bureau behind her. As she swiveled back around, she noticed movement beyond the letters of her shop window.
From the back of the painted burgundy-outlined cream letters of Allister's Books, she spotted Francis Doltman hurrying across the cobblestone street of Blinney Lane from her own shop. Francis, or "Franci" as all the shop owners on Blinney Lane called her, wore one of her long, high-necked black dresses that were her usual attire. The spindly woman looked the same as every other day Sarah had seen her since their childhood — a tightly bound bun of charcoal-colored hair atop her head.
Franci had brought her coffee every morning before their stores got too busy, for as long as she could remember. The sight of Franci racing on tiptoe with two cups in her hands should be a dull replay to Sarah, but it made her chuckle. Her friend's tall, slim stature and arms held high with a container in each hand made her look like one of the old-fashioned lampposts that lined Blinney Lane.
Sarah got to the door just as Franci bounded up the two stone steps to Allister's. The shop bells jangled as she pulled the heavy door open for Franci and smiled at her dear old friend.
"Good moooorning!" Franci called. Her high-pitched voice was like a bird's at an unwanted hour. "Fresh from the pot!"
"What have we got today, Franci?" Sarah sniffed the steam rising from the coffee cup Franci handed to her, as she returned to her stool.
Franci leaned against the edge of the counter, beaming through her thin lips, and peered at her over her round bifocals. Franci prided herself on her brew-making skills and played an undeclared guessing game with her each morning.
Sarah let the steam from her cup waft under her nose once more and noticed several of her customers gawking curiously at Franci. She could be an old schoolmarm or librarian, Sarah mused. No. Franci was too cheerful to be a schoolmarm. Librarian, Sarah thought as she watched Franci's anticipation grow. That didn't seem appropriate either, since she was the one who dealt with books, not Franci.
Franci ran Spices and Stems across the street, specializing in herbs and flowers that she grew herself in a greenhouse behind her shop. She made a variety of tonics and brews that were either medicinal or mood inspiring, especially her teas and coffees. Sarah had often been her guinea pig for such concoctions over the years. Even after a few-day bout of paralysis several years prior from a "bad batch," as Franci had called it, she still looked forward to being her friend's secret taste tester each morning. When it appeared Franci was about to burst, Sarah finally took a sip of her coffee.
"I've got it. Cinnamon, clove, and something else."
"Lavender and, yes, a little something else." Franci smiled like she had a secret.
Sarah raised a brow and pursed her lips. "Okay. What's the deal? I know your premonitions for this mix and please don't tell me it's Blinney's lavender," she said, referring to the special qualities of the lavender that grew on Blinney Lane.
Franci gave an innocent shrug and simply said, "It's Monday."
"Just like it is every day after Sunday ..."
Franci made an exasperated noise and gestured to the window. "I saw Henry Teager down the street making his deliveries." Sarah gritted her teeth and rolled her eyes, as Franci jabbered on. "Have you noticed how he always wears uniform pants on Mondays but then if he makes another delivery later in the week he wears blue jeans? Seems to get more casual as the week goes on —"
"Mm-hmm," Sarah muttered unenthused. She began to flip through her mail again. Her territorial bubble was squeezed when she felt Franci lean on the counter, resting her chin to a fist.
"— It's like he's saying he's ready to let loose the closer it gets to the end of the week, when our true selves come out. I can't decide what I like better, though: the uniform slacks or the jeans. The gray slacks are so tight in the buttocks because he wears a belt and it sort of cinches everything up, you know? The jeans, though, kind of rumple up in the front. Always makes me wonder just how much is going on down there."
Sarah was intoxicated by the inviting scent of the coffee and, as she raised the cup to her lips, breathed in the steam. Publishers Clearing House. Electric bill. She took another sip to involve herself in something other than Franci's Henry monologue, but she felt a flutter in her stomach when Franci mentioned Henry's butt.
Sarah imagined Henry strolling down Blinney Lane, pushing his hand truck full of heavy boxes — his tanned biceps trying to breathe under the restraint of his polo shirt's elastic sleeves, solid thighs effortlessly guiding the hefty load closer and closer to her shop door. Suddenly, she was sure her pale skin matched the hue of auburn in her hair. Damn it!
"Franci! Really? Come on! He's not a piece of meat!"
A young couple looked over at them, and she couldn't miss the sound of their giggling. Her cheeks grew hotter as she pinned her eyes on Franci, who remained unabashed where she rested her elbows on the counter.
Sarah lowered her voice and said, "Why do you always do this? Is this what the lavender was for? Damn it!" She turned and spat some coffee-flavored saliva into the garbage can, then slammed her coffee cup down on the counter, releasing her grip on it like it was on fire.
She eased back against her chair, gazed out the window, and folded her arms across her chest. Her hands detected moisture that had seeped through her thin blouse under her arms. A dull burning began to dwell at the base of her sternum and she pressed her shirt inward between her breasts to apply pressure to the pain. "Ugh, I think you gave me heartburn," she said, groaning. "What was this one supposed to do? Encourage hot-bloodedness?"
"Oh, come on, Sarah. It's powerful stuff, but coffee or not, you can't deny the pull toward a man like Henry Teager. You two have danced around each other like school children for years," Franci added matter-of-factly and laid a knowing stare on her.
Sarah rubbed at the discomfort in her chest and sighed. "Franci, nothing changes here in our little part of the world. We both know that. I'm not going to insult years of friendship by denying that there's ..."
"Okay! Some kind of pull, but you and I both know it's not that. It's just that I ... choose to ignore it. I have to ignore it. And we both know why," Sarah said firmly.
Franci's mood crumpled like a paper doll. She picked at the plastic lid of her coffee cup in silence, muttering dejectedly, "A girl can dream, can't she?"
Sarah fought back a laugh, shaking her head. If ever a bubble had burst. Poor Franci. The woman seemed to live vicariously through her and this obsession that she should end up with Henry Teager. In some ways it was flattering, but for the most part, it was just sad.
Franci was thirty-eight and had lived her whole life with her widowed mother above their shop. Sarah pitied her plain yet hot-blooded friend more than most of the other shop owners on Blinney Lane. They were all trapped there by the same curse with only each other to keep them company. Any one of them looking for love was like a spider, waiting in its web for someone to venture down the dead-end street that held them all hostage.
Sarah had never "built a web." She'd had enough of a run-in with love to last her a lifetime. Franci, however, was a very hungry spider, but to her disadvantage, she was an awkward, plain, old-fashioned looking spider. And those kinds of spiders didn't turn many heads. To her credit, anything Franci lacked in beauty she made up for in compassion toward others. Her friend mostly fed her aching heart with the passing smiles and occasional compliments from the nerdier male tourists who happened through Spices and Stems and found her quirkiness appealing.
Sarah was grateful she didn't long for companionship, lust, love, or whatever it was that Franci so desperately wanted. Sarah was only two years her junior, but she never thought of herself as a doomed spinster. She was perfectly content with her solitary lot in life. Content except for the occasions when Franci vocalized her observations about Henry Teager. In spite of having to ignore Henry's charm, kindness, and abundant sexuality, as she would never be able to divulge the secrets of Blinney Lane to him, she had other reasons to deny the annoying pull she felt to him.
She had loved once in her life, maybe twice. The last time, she'd fallen for a handsome customer who loved books as much as she did, but as time passed, he grew less and less patient with her refusal to wander very far from Blinney Lane. She hadn't been able to muster telling him why she couldn't take vacations or go out for dinner more than three blocks away from her shop. He would have thought she was insane if she had, and he would have gone insane if she'd actually shown him proof as to why.
And the first time she fell in love ... There was no doubt that it had been honest-to-goodness, head-over-heels love, but it had ended in such tragedy and heartache that she was sure she'd taken a second chance simply to erase the pain and memories of the first.
In the midst of the memories, she became cognizant of the silence that sat between her and Franci as they stared out the window. Apparently, they had both become lost in their thoughts. She shifted her attention back to the mail for something mundane to do but there was nothing dull about the sight of the next letter in the stack. It was from her brother Richard in New York City.
"Hmm?" Franci peered over at the letter. "From Richard?"
"Yes. The only time I get a card from him is on my birthday or Christmas."
She sliced the letter opener through the top of the envelope and pulled out two sheets of paper that bore the unmistakable penmanship of her brother. As she read the pages, her heart began to race.
Franci clasped her shoulder.
"He's sending my nephew Ricky ...here."
"Oh, how nice! He hasn't been here in a few years. It'll be nice to visit with him. How long is he staying?"
Franci's perpetual optimism shook Sarah from her trance. She met her friend's gaze with a stern look. "Franci! He's sending him here to stay with me ... for the whole summer. By himself."
Franci's exuberance crumbled from her face. "The whole summer? But that's too long! Doesn't Richard remember anything? He should know that's too dangerous. It's too long for an Allister to be here."
Sarah let the letter fall to the counter. "He should know, but apparently he seems to think Ricky will be safe, since I'm here to look out for him."
"Safe? Ha! What a fool! Men are just as susceptible to the curse of Agatha Bl —"
Franci slapped her hand over her mouth and gasped. "Oh, goodness. I'm sorry."
It wouldn't be the first time someone had nearly uttered the name of Agatha Blinney, nor would it be the last. A mere slip of the tongue could spark the ever-lurking energy of the curse that so tightly confined their lives already.
Sarah let out an exasperated breath as Franci glanced around the room. She knew Franci was looking for signs that the curse had been fanned to fuller flames. She never worried too much about saying Agatha's name. Sometimes nothing would happen. Other times it merely caused a few days of manageable chaos — books falling off shelves for no reason, complaints of blisters from customers who bought lotions at the holistic shop across the street, or bouts of shouting from people who drank Franci's coffee. It created just enough havoc to remind the shop owners that Agatha's power was still very present. Like they could ever forget. What worried her at the moment was the situation she was about to be faced with — the situation they were all about to be faced with. The arrival of another Allister could tilt the curse off course enough to make life temporarily unpleasant. No one minded much when seasoned relatives visited Blinney Lane, ones who were aware of the curse and its rules. She and her brother, however, had never uttered a word about it to Ricky. They thought he deserved a normal life.
Franci attempted her rant about Richard's request again. "Men are just as susceptible to the curse as women. How old is Ricky now?"
"Seventeen," Sarah muttered; she could hear the defeat in her voice as she said the word.
"Oh dear. Almost a man." Franci grabbed the phone on the counter and shoved it toward her. "Call him. You call that silly brother of yours right now and tell him he can't do this to you or to his own son!"
"What do you mean you can't? What's the number? I'll call him myself! That Richard. What an idiot!"
If she were in better spirits, she would laugh at Franci's unintimidating display of hostility. "Ricky arrives tomorrow. Richard is leaving to go overseas on business this week."
"Tomorrow! He sure didn't give you much notice, did he?" Franci adjusted her bifocals and then chewed on her thumbnail.
"Yeah, it seems he planned the arrival of his letter perfectly. No time for rebuttals." Freaking Richard. He was going to owe her for this.
"What about Allison? Does Ricky ever see his mother anymore?"
"No. She's been out of the picture for four years now, and she wasn't much of a mother to begin with." Pity began to creep over her now that she'd had some time to absorb the situation her brother had relayed in his letter. He really didn't have much choice but to send Ricky to Salem.
Franci began to pace, but she stopped biting her nails to add, "Surely, they have friends in New York he could stay with or Richard could take Ricky with him on his trip."
Sarah picked the letter back up, knowing full well what it said. She spoke in her learned calm manner she used whenever one of her neighbors went into a tizzy about the curse. "Richard will be gone for three months, to six different countries, with the CEOs of his firm. And Ricky." She let out a sigh. Maybe her tone wasn't so polished today. "My dear little nephew seems to have thought car theft and joyriding were rites of passage amongst his friends. 'Court-ordered familial supervision and community service.' I guess leaving the country for the next few months with all the work he has to do would limit Richard's ability to properly 'supervise' Ricky. It sounds like Richard really didn't have any other options. He told the judge I agreed to let Ricky work here and stay with me."
"Without your actual consent first? That's — that's illegal!"
Sarah laughed, but it came out more like a cough, as she slumped into her chair and ran her hands through her long, thick hair. "No, Franci. That's family." She rested her elbows on the counter and dropped her face in her hands. "Ugh. I hope to hell nothing happens to him. What am I going to do with him? What if he gets trapped here like the rest of us?"
She felt Franci's hand pat her on the back. "Don't worry, Sarah. We'll help you. I'll whip up the best protection blends I have, and Mary can do the same with her masking soaps. Do you want me to go ask her for you?"
"Would you mind?" she asked, trying to sound hopeful. Really, though, she didn't want to be the one to break the news to their neighbor, Mary. If Franci got shaken up over the news of Ricky coming, Mary would cause an earthquake.
"No, no. Not at all. And we'll get Ricky out of the shop as often as we can."
"Ha! So he can go lift cars downtown? How am I supposed to bail him out if I can barely make it to the jail?" she asked, lifting up her wrist and shaking the charm bracelet on it. The trinkets that dangled from it rattled together.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Weeping Books of Blinney Lane"
Copyright © 2018 Drea Damara.
Excerpted by permission of BHC Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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