Table of Contents
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Madelyn Alt
THE TROUBLE WITH MAGIC
A CHARMED DEATH
HEX MARKS THE SPOT
NO REST FOR THE WICCAN
WHERE THERE’S A WITCH
A WITCH IN TIME
HOME FOR A SPELL
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This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2011 by Madelyn Alt.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
eISBN : 978-1-101-47530-0
1. Witches—Fiction. 2. City and town life—Indiana—Fiction. 3. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. I. Title.
For Josh and Rose, whose dedication has now paid off.
As if we ever thought otherwise!
And for Matt and Lindsey. You know why.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
the mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,”
Cried the Lady of Shalott.
To the world at large, I am Margaret Mary-Catherine O’Neill. A good Irish name for a good Catholic girl, strong, sturdy, steadfast, true to the religion that was bestowed upon me at the moment of my birth.
Most of the time, though, I’m just Maggie, a somewhat neurotic, normal, everyday kind of girl, living large in a small, conservative Midwestern town.
Notice, I did not say
Because my beloved hometown of Stony Mill, Indiana, is as far from normal as you can get these days. But hey, so long as we keep pretending that everything’s still hunkydory around these parts, pilgrim, none of that should matter. It’s appearances that make you or break you.
But it is hard to gloss over murder. Especially when month after month the body count kept rising. Unrelated, all of them, but still sordid. This town evidently carried a lot of secrets.
Always with the secrets.
There was more to the sense of something being very wrong in town—like all the paranormal stuff that didn’t even register on most people’s radar. But as an empath—a person of heightened sensitivities, both intuitive and physical—I was especially atune to extrasensory signals. Had I really been oblivious to it prior to meeting my boss, mentor, and good friend Felicity Dow, aka Liss, owner of the superfab boutique Enchantments? In the last not-quite-a-year, with the help of Liss and the N.I.G.H.T.S., the ghost-hunting group of friends I had hooked up with in my pursuit of understanding the supernatural events that had been haunting our town, I had made a kind of uneasy peace with the forces that seemed to run as a dark undercurrent through neighborhoods and residents alike. Why it was happening, well, I couldn’t pretend to have an answer to that, but perhaps with enough study, understanding would follow.
At least I had some truly great friends to walk the path toward understanding with me . . . including my lovely new boyfriend, Marcus Quinn. Marcus, whose dark and dangerous good looks had once unnerved me as much as they attracted me, even as I tried to deny said attraction. Marcus, whose inner beauty far outshone his outer deliciousness. Was it true love? Meant to be? Were we MFEO? I think we are all looking forward to finding the answer to those scintillating questions.
Stay tuned . . .
I am Maggie O’Neill, empath, intuitive, and sometimes witchy nice girl, and this is my story.
Life . . . happens.
The worn bumper sticker on the aging, oversized sedan taking up the lane in front of us—us meaning Marcus and me—caught my eye as we made our way across Stony Mill proper bright and early that Monday morning as we moved into September.
, I thought as my mouth formed a wry grimace.
Did it ever
. Case in point being the solid lump of a cast that had been my boon companion for the last four weeks. All seven hundred and fifty pounds of it. Seriously. What did they put in these things?
Life had happened to me when I stepped down wrong on a step at Stony Mill General while visiting my little sister Melanie on the maternity ward and—painfully—broke my ankle. Life had then happened to Mel herself when her perfect world shattered into a million jagged little pieces around her when her husband of six years abruptly shocked us all by leaving her and their family, now four daughters strong as of the birth of the twins. None of us, not even Mel herself, had seen that coming. To be honest, life seemed to keep happening around all of us in Stony Mill an awful lot lately. Or should I say, death? Murder, to be more to the point. The multiple murders that the town had endured in previous months had certainly been a shock to the town’s nervous system. Once a quiet, unassuming town of friends and neighbors who knew one another’s comings and goings (not to mention the goings and comings), Stony Mill was changing before our very eyes. Whether it was fate, karma, unerringly bad timing, or just plain, dumb luck, for this town life and death seemed incontrovertibly tied.
That morning Marcus and I were on our way to the X-ray lab at that self-same hospital for follow-up shots of my ankle, and I was sitting on the edge of the bench seat of his old pickup truck with anticipation. Dr. Dan Tucker had written up the orders for the follow-ups. When he’d been reminded that I had lost my family practitioner last December under less-than-auspicious circumstances and hadn’t yet felt the need to find a new one, he’d volunteered to keep an eye on my ankle situation throughout my healing process. Such were the perks of having a doctor in the “family.” Besides, he kind of owed me for having hijacked my thirtieth birthday party in order to propose to the love of his life and future wife, my longtime bestie, Steff. At least that’s what Steff insisted. And who was I to complain if Dan didn’t seem to mind?
We pulled into the circular drop-off zone at the front of the hospital, and Marcus set the emergency brake before coming around the truck to help, but I was too quick for him. I slid from the seat and down onto both feet, including the Casted Glory, which didn’t go beneath his notice.
“Hey,” he protested, “you’re supposed to wait for me, Miss Independent.”
I made a face at him. “I’m fine. Look. See? I can stand.” I mimed a little tap dance, quickly smothering a wince when the foot-in-place movements brought a small jab of pain.
Not quick enough. My lovely honey of a man’s dark eyebrows raised, and he took my hand and placed it on his arm. Pointedly. “
push things too fast.”
“Someone has to look out for you.”
I smiled to myself, recognizing the stubborn angle of his jaw. Protective. But not overbearing. “Well, then, how about you hand me my crutches so we can get this over with?”
If he knew I had been practicing putting weight on my casted foot, testing out a few steps here and there with my arms outstretched for the next handhold like a toddler taking her first tottering wobbles, he might be a little less forgiving of me pushing myself. But what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. To appease him, I dutifully took the crutches in hand and let him guide me through the rotating door and down the hall to the X-ray department.
The X-ray process was over within minutes (one of the benefits of living in a small town, I suppose—there is rarely a line of any length unless it’s at the Friday night game at the high school) . . . which was a good thing, since Minnie—my foundling feline and the best friend a girl could have—was waiting for us in the shade with the windows down. I left my phone number at Enchantments—Indiana’s finest mystical antique shop, where I could often be found tending counter—and my personal cell number with the woman in blue scrubs behind the desk, and moments later we were out the door and on our way.
“Think we can spare a few minutes before I take you in?” Marcus asked as he got into the truck beside me as I gently stroked Minnie’s silky black fur through the mesh opening of her soft-sided carrier. She was still dozing. Kitty bliss. “I need to drop something off with Uncle Lou, and this is right on the way. And since I have rehearsal later with the guys and they’ll kill me if I cancel on them again, this is probably my only chance today.”
I winced, this time from guilt, not pain, and for once his gaze was still on the road ahead and he missed it. He had cancelled on his band’s rehearsals at least twice that I knew of in the last two weeks alone. I also knew it was because of me. He’d gone out of his way to make sure I knew that, at least on those occasions, his presence wasn’t required . . . but a part of me still wondered. Worried. We’d only been seeing each other for five or six weeks, and he’d already been required to go above and beyond. Nothing like throwing a guy into the deep end right off the bat. “Sure,” I told him, hoping my voice wasn’t as weak as it sounded. “Stop away. We’re making good time.”
“Great, I’ll give him a call.”
Uncle Lou would be Louis Tabor, a history teacher at Stony Mill High. Lou was a lifelong Stony Mill resident and also happened to be the stepdad to one Tara Murphy, Marcus’s cousin, a high school senior who now spent many of her afternoons working part time at the store and adding color and mischief to our days. Unlike Tara, Lou was just your regular guy leading a regular life. I had often wondered if he knew he had two witches in the family, or if he knew, if it even mattered? One thing was for certain: he and Marcus were very close. In many ways, Marcus seemed to look up to him as the father he had never known.