When the bewitching Diana Ravenscroft comes to quiet Tinker's Cove and opens Solstice, a quaint little shop offering everything from jewelry to psychic readings, Lucy Stone writes her off as eccentric but harmless. Even after Diana gives her a disturbingly accurate reading, Lucy can't help but befriend the newcomer. But not everyone in town is so enchanted. And when Lucy stumbles upon a dead body near her home, she can't shake the feeling that something sinister is lurking in the crisp October air. . .
Convinced Diana is an evil witch, prominent businessman Ike Stoughton blames her for a series of recent misfortunes, including Lucy's gruesome discovery and his own wife's death, and rallies the townsfolk against her. But after Lucy learns the murder victim was a magician and close friend of Diana's, she starts to wonder who's really stirring up a cauldron of trouble. By Halloween, her suspicions lead her to a deadly web of secrets--and a spine-chilling brush with the things that go bump in the night. . .
"Clever. . .a neat little cozy." --Publishers Weekly
"Keeps fans coming back for more." --RT Book Reviews
"The warm, small-town ambiance and the persevering Lucy Stone make this a winner for cozy fans." --Library Journal
"I like Lucy Stone a lot, and so will readers." --Carolyn Hart
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WICKED WITCH MURDERA Lucy Stone Mystery
By LESLIE MEIER
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Leslie Meier
All right reserved.
Chapter OneShe didn't believe in any of it, not for a minute, thought Lucy Stone. She was a hardheaded reporter for the Pennysaver, the local weekly newspaper in Tinker's Cove, Maine, and being skeptical was part of her job. No wonder, then, that all this nonsense about second sight and spells and magical powers didn't impress her in the least. It was all fakery and trickery; you couldn't fool her. So when Pam Stillings announced she'd made an appointment for them all to have a psychic reading after their regular Thursday morning breakfast, she'd been less enthusiastic than the others but didn't want to be left out either. But as far as she was concerned, the only reason she was going along with her friends on this late June morning to Solstice, the new shop in town owned by Diana Ravenscroft, was to see if she could figure out how it was done. That was the only reason. Period. She was happily married, had four well-adjusted children and an adorable grandchild, and she wasn't at all interested in meeting a tall, dark stranger or going on a long trip. And so far, none of her dear, departed relatives had tried to contact her, and that was the way she liked it.
"I've been dying to come here, ever since it opened," said Pam as she slipped her aged Mustang into a parking spot in front of the little shop. "It's so cute." Pam was married to Lucy's boss, Ted, and still retained the enthusiasm she'd displayed as a high school cheerleader.
The shop was cute; there was no denying that, thought Lucy, reaching for the car door handle. It was located in a quaint antique building that used to be a shoe store, with a little studio apartment upstairs. It was a bit like a child's drawing, a cockeyed little square with a triangle perched on top. Even though it was at least a century old, maybe more, it had gone largely unnoticed, tucked behind an overgrown garden, until Diana moved in and painted it lavender with purple trim. The rampant vines and weeds had been tamed, window boxes overflowing with petunias accented the mullioned display windows that were filled with crystal pendants that caught the light, an assortment of bath and body products were arranged in pyramids, and there was a smattering of books and hand-made jewelry. A black cat was curled up on a thick green velvet cushion, asleep in a patch of sun.
"This ought to be a hoot," said Sue Finch, flipping down the sun visor and checking her lipstick in the mirror before opening the door and gracefully exiting the car. Sue was the only woman in the little seaside town who consistently wore high heels, and she got her hair done in New York City when she visited her daughter, Sidra, who was an assistant producer for The Norah! Show. "I hear psychics are all the rage now. All the stars have their favorite fortune-tellers, and Sidra says Norah's even doing a show on them."
"That doesn't surprise me one bit," said Rachel Goodman with a nod that sent her black-rimmed glasses sliding down her nose as she scrambled out of the backseat. "There are mental forces we don't understand. The mind is very mysterious." Rachel had been a psych major in college and had never really gotten over it.
"It's just a lot of hooey," muttered Lucy as they trooped through the shop door. "Unhappy, desperate people will cling to anything."
"If you really believe that, then why did you come?" asked an ethereal voice, coming from above.
Lucy followed the sound and found Diana Ravenscroft perched atop a tall ladder in the corner, watering a hanging plant. Her long hair flowed over her shoulders in a tumble of auburn waves, and she was dressed in a form-fitting velvet gown the color of a fine aged wine. A graceful alabaster arm extended from the loose sleeve as she tipped the watering can and released a stream of silvery water into the hand-crafted pot containing a lush fuschia dripping with purple and magenta flowers.
"Why not?" responded Lucy, rising to the challenge. "Are you afraid I might see through your tricks?"
Diana smiled sweetly. "Not at all," she said, descending with a light step and setting the watering can on a table, beside a display of variously colored candles. "I'm the genuine article, a high priestess in the Wiccan religion. I even have a title: Lady Diana."
Give me a break, thought Lucy.
"You actually consider yourself a witch?" asked Rachel.
"Oh, yes," said Diana. "I've even got a familiar, my cat. His name is Piewocket."
"Do you belong to a coven?" asked Pam.
"I do, but not all witches belong to covens. There are a number of solitaires, who practice alone."
Sue, ever the shopper, was examining a display of gemstone and silver jewelry. "How do you become a witch? Is it something you can learn, or are you born with it?"
"A little of both," said Diana. "I always knew I was a bit different. They called me 'sensitive' as a child. I remember bursting into tears one time, apparently for no reason at all, and then we got a call that my brother had been hit by a car while bicycling and was taken to the hospital."
"Oh, my goodness," gasped Pam.
Diana smiled. "He was fine, just a broken arm." She paused. "But it made me wonder about myself. And then when I heard about Wicca, I began to read and study and eventually found others like myself. I guess I have always been a witch, but I've been in the coven for only a few years now."
"And are there a lot of witches around here?" asked Lucy, sensing a possible story for the Pennysaver.
"The ordains, the rules of the coven, prohibit revealing the identity of other witches," said Diana. "I'm sure you understand, since witches have often been persecuted by those who fear the craft." She smiled, making eye contact with each of them in turn. Lucy was surprised to feel a sense of warm relaxation when Diana's gaze met hers. "There's nothing to fear," continued Diana. "The first and last rule of witchcraft is 'An ye harm none, do as ye will.' So, shall we begin the readings? I can do them individually or as a group."
"Group?" asked Pam, checking with the others. Receiving nods all around, they followed Diana toward a curtained doorway in the rear of the shop. When she pushed it aside, they stepped into a small circular space hung all around with richly colored curtains in red, green, blue, and silver. A round table stood in the center, containing a crystal ball. The sight made Lucy giggle; it was such a cliché and she'd expected Diana to be a little more original.
"You're laughing at my crystal ball?" asked Diana, amused.
"I'm sorry," said Lucy. "It just struck me as corny."
"I know," admitted Diana. "But I'm fond of it. It was a gift from someone who is terribly dear to me." Her back was to them as she busied herself at a small table covered with a cloth and two tall white candles at each corner, like an altar. A green candle stood in the center, along with two bowls. "I use a variety of methods: cards, palms, tea leaves. Whatever seems appropriate." She turned and faced them, holding a dagger in one hand and a bowl in the other. "Seat yourselves and I will begin by casting a magick circle."
The four friends obeyed, glancing at each other.
"Please join hands," instructed Diana.
Lucy linked hands with Sue on one side and Rachel on the other; she smiled across the table at Pam, then turned to watch Diana.
"Watery cradle of life, bubbling source of creation, cleanse this space of any and all impurities and evil," recited Diana, dipping the dagger into the water. Then she replaced the bowl on the altar and picked up another bowl containing salt. "Salt born of seawater, allow only good and beneficent forces to enter here and aid me in my work." She dipped the dagger into the salt, then raised it. "So mote it be!"
Replacing the bowl of salt on the altar, she proceeded to walk clockwise in a circle around the table, holding the dagger. "I conjure and create this circle as a sphere of protection, free from all evil and negative forces. I now bless and consecrate this circle to be a place of peace, love, and power." Then, taking her place, she set the dagger on the table and gazed into the crystal ball. Placing her hands over the ball, she made circular motions, then turned them palm sides up. "Visions now appear to me; only true ones will I see."
She remained still, eyes closed, for a long few moments, then turned to Pam. "I see money. You're anxious about money."
Pam chuckled. "I think this recession is making everyone a bit nervous. We're seeing all these foreclosures; the stock market is down; gas and groceries are up."
Silently, Lucy agreed. Everybody was concerned about money; it was a sure bet for a so-called psychic.
"No, this is something to do with your husband. Perhaps he's made an unwise investment?"
"Only if you call a newspaper an unwise investment," replied Pam.
"No, not the newspaper. A car."
Not exactly rocket science-everybody had a car, thought Lucy, but Pam was impressed.
"The hybrid?" she screamed, raising her eyebrows. "He just bought a hybrid!"
Diana shook her head. "I see him, parked on the side of the road, with the hood up. And there's an odd sound, like clucking. Birds, maybe chickens." She shrugged. "I'm not at all sure what this means."
In spite of herself, Lucy felt the hairs on the back of her neck rising. "Ted was going out to Clark's Chicken Farm to do a story about the rising price of eggs," she blurted out. She stared at Diana. "How could you know that?" she asked, then quickly supplied an explanation. "You ran into him earlier, didn't you? He must have told you!"
Diana smiled. "I haven't left this building all day, but you don't have to believe me." Once again, she leaned over the ball and repeated the words: "Visions now appear to me, only true ones will I see." She stared into the ball for a long time, then raised her head and looked at Sue. "I see worry and dollar signs and small children."
Lucy's skepticism returned as she thought she detected a method in Diana's readings. The setting and the mumbo jumbo set the mood, and then she threw out some general ideas and waited for her clients to respond. But Sue, Lucy noticed, wasn't playing along.
"What else do you see?" she asked.
"Another woman, a younger woman. She's knocking on a door. It's the door to a bank."
"I don't know how you could possibly know this," mused Sue. "Chris went to the bank to apply for a loan this morning." Chris Cashman was Sue's partner in Little Prodigies Child Care Center, and they'd recently had a cash flow problem.
Diana smiled at her. "It's just a temporary situation," she said. "You'll be able to pay off the loan in six months, and all will be well."
Once again, Lucy found her skepticism returning. It was no secret that Sue was part owner of Little Prodigies; her photo was in every ad. And as for money troubles, the recession had hit a lot of families hard, and it was only to be expected that some would be struggling to meet their child care expenses.
Sue, however, had no such doubts. She seized on the good news, letting out a big sigh and laughing. "I can't tell you what a relief this is. I was really worried."
"No need to worry," said Diana, bending once again over the crystal ball. "Mmm, this is odd," she said, bending closer, then looking up at Rachel. "I see a very old woman, but she's no relation of yours. A friend, perhaps?"
Rachel nodded. "I provide home care for an elderly friend."
"That explains it," said Diana, returning to the crystal ball. "Your friend is very old, right?"
Rachel nodded. "I worry about her. She's well over ninety and increasingly frail."
"No need to worry-she's a tough old bird," said Diana. "She's going to be around for quite a while."
Rachel pressed her hands together and beamed at Diana. "That is wonderful news. Thank you."
Lucy, however, wasn't convinced. Women their age were usually caring for at least one elderly person; it was yet another safe guess for Diana.
"Now for my doubting Thomas," said Diana, repeating her invocation over the crystal ball. "Visions, now appear to me, only true ones will I see." Then she opened her eyes, stared into the ball, and recoiled as if she'd been stung. She repeated the process, but it didn't seem to work. Whatever she was seeing was still there, and Lucy knew it wasn't good. "I don't like what I see," said Diana, pulling a pack of cards from beneath the table and shuffling them. "I'm going to try a different method-the tarot," she said, laying out five cards and turning the first one over to reveal a figure hanging upside down. "The Hanged Man, Le Pendu."
"That sounds ominous," said Lucy.
"It's not bad," said Diana. "It means devotion to a worthwhile cause, but you might find that circumstances are turned upside down for a bit. Change is in the air."
Lucy nodded and watched as Diana turned over the next card, revealing a knight on a handsome white stallion. This must be something wonderful, she thought. Her knight had come to rescue her. But Diana's face was grave.
"Le Mort, Death," she said, sighing. "Of course," she added, "it can mean the end of a phase, not necessarily the end of life."
"Absolutely, the end of a phase," said Lucy, determined not to let this nonsense rattle her. "Let's look on the bright side."
But the next card, which pictured a blindfolded and caged figure, didn't seem to offer much hope.
"The Eight of Swords. It generally indicates major difficulties and adverse circumstances," said Diana.
"Well, I've still got two more," said Lucy.
Diana revealed the fourth card, which showed a lively figure in medieval garb who seemed to be dancing. "This is better," she said. "The Fool. I see energy and optimism, perhaps the beginning of a journey or an unexpected happening that will challenge you."
"I'm up for it," said Lucy, laughing, as Diana reached for the fifth and final card, which pictured a group of figures battling with staves.
"Five of Wands, the Lord of Strife," said Diana, sounding disappointed. "I'm glad you're ready, because it looks as if trouble is coming and it can't be avoided." She looked at Lucy. "I'm sorry. I wish I had better news for you."
"Oh, well," said Lucy, shrugging. "I don't suppose it matters, because I don't believe in this stuff anyway."
Diana pressed her lips together, as if debating with herself. After a moment or two, she spoke. "I think you need to be careful."
Her tone was so serious that it gave Lucy pause. "What did you see in the crystal ball?" she asked.
Diana's face went pale. "I didn't want to tell you-that's why I used the cards. I was looking for more information so I could understand it better, perhaps find a broader context." She paused and reached for Lucy's hand. "It was fire," she said, "and that's not all. There were screams ... screams in the night."
Lucy considered for a moment, then smiled. "Well, as it happens, I put new batteries in the smoke alarms last week. So I think we're covered."
"I hope so," said Diana, smiling back. Then, signaling that the reading was over, she covered the crystal ball with a cloth and collected the tarot cards. Rising from her seat and holding the dagger, she walked counter-clockwise around them. "O mighty circle that has preserved and protected us, I now withdraw your force and release thee. So mote it be."
Understanding that the session was now concluded, Sue asked how much they owed her for the readings.
"I cannot request or demand payment," she said. "That is not the way of the craft. But if you would like to offer me something in return for my time, I would be honored to accept it."
The four friends looked from one to the other, unsure what to do next. Finally, Rachel spoke. "Is there a customary offering?"
Diana produced a printed card. "Here are some guidelines," she said, handing it to Rachel and then withdrawing through the curtain to the front of the shop.
Rachel held the card and they gathered around, looking over her shoulders at the neat list. In addition to readings, they saw that Diana offered spells, charms, and potions.
"Maybe you should get a protective charm, Lucy," advised Pam. "They're only fifteen to thirty dollars."
"Everything is fifteen to thirty dollars," observed Sue.
"Let's give her twenty apiece and be done with it," said Lucy. "As far as I'm concerned, it's all a big scam. She scares you and then offers protection-just like the Mafia!"
Excerpted from WICKED WITCH MURDER by LESLIE MEIER Copyright © 2010 by Leslie Meier. Excerpted by permission.
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