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Authors: Shanon Grey

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The Shoppe of Spells

The Shoppe of Spells

by Shanon Grey

The Gatekeepers

Book One

The Shoppe of Spells

Copyright © 2011, Shanon Grey

2
nd
Edition, November 2011

Print ISBN: 978-0615571621

Digital ISBN: 978-1452481968

Cover Art Design by Dawn Charles of Book Graphics

Trade Paperback release, November 2011

Digital Release, November 2011

Crossroads Publishing House, LLC

PO Box 723

Emporia, VA 23847

Crossroads Publishing House

http://www.crossroadspublishinghouse.com/

Warning: All rights reserved. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work, in whole or part, in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, is illegal and forbidden, without the written permission of the author.

 
 

This is a work of fiction. Characters, settings, names, and occurrences are a product of the author's imagination and bear no resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, places or settings, and/or occurrences. Any incidences of resemblance are purely coincidental.

www.CrossroadsPublishingHouse.com

Dedication

I would like to dedicate this novel to Mary Maloney. Friend, sister, and more mother than I’d ever had in my life, this incredible woman taught me to believe in myself, the universe and things unknown. She believed that the paranormal was just science that hadn’t been proven—yet. She lost her battle with breast cancer last year, as I sat down to write this story. So, Mary, this one’s for you!

Acknowledgments

I want to thank my publisher, Crossroads Publishing House, for being as enthusiastic about this as I am.

 
 

To Becky, for being my beta reader, I can’t thank you enough. You waded through the rough draft with gentle words and constant optimism.

 
 

To Josh and Andy: for reading this more times than I can count and still liking it.

 
 

To
Pookie
: for waiting for her walks until I got finished with a thought.

 
 

To my Mississippi girlfriends, Linda and Judy, thanks for putting up with me, for listening endlessly to my ideas and my hopes and dreams. I love you guys.

 
 

To my cousin and writer extraordinaire, Nancy Naigle, for all the reads, rereads, and last minute reads, for finding things I completely missed, for all the chats and phone calls at all hours, despite your schedule, I give you thanks and hugs.

 
 

To my family: I wouldn’t be here without you.

 

You inspire me every day.

 

You believe in me.

 

Thank you

 
 

Prologue

 
 

Morgan lay motionless, listening, struggling to define what woke her. A faint hum, almost imperceptible, thrummed through her body, battling the very rhythm of her being. There was something familiar about it. Was that hum from a smoke alarm going off in the distance?

The air crackled around her.

She released the breath she’d been holding and opened her eyes. Damp curls clung to her neck as she shifted up on her elbow and scanned the room. Streaks of light spiked beneath the closed bedroom door—the only light penetrating the room’s inky blackness.

Panic seeped into her sleep-fogged brain.
Fire!
She threw back the covers, felt a slight tingle as something brushed against her leg, and watched a faint violet outline disappear into the darkness. Thank God, her cat was in the room with her. Morgan swung her legs over the edge of the bed, felt the soft carpet under her toes and tried to remember all the rules about fire as she rushed closer to the spikes of light snaking toward her feet.

She reached out and patted at the door with her fingertips. The wood was cool to the touch. Her heart hammered as she watched the sparking light sizzle across her feet. Not hot, exactly…more…electric. Her mouth went dry. She forced her hand around the doorknob and, not getting a shock, turned it and pulled the door toward her.

Blinding white light, like that from a welder’s torch, filled the doorway, forcing her to shield her eyes.

“It’s okay,” a deep voice cajoled, “I’ve got you. Close your eyes and let me guide you.”

Squinting, she looked down and saw a strong hand reach through the light toward her. She eased her hand forward to meet his. As their fingers touched, a sudden flash of violet, followed by a bolt of energy exploded between them, thrusting her backward—into nothingness.

Her arms flailed, her hands grasped, seizing empty space.

Morgan screamed—a soundless howl, as her breath was sucked into the void.

She tumbled backward, plummeting into a black abyss.

With a jolt, she sat up in bed, drenched in sweat.

Chapter One

 

Trembling fingers snipped grey-green branches of rosemary. Its delicate fragrance rose from the cuts as she laid them next to the basil. Morgan raised her face to the rays of the hot sun, letting it burn away the remnants of the dream. Her knee crushed a fallen leaf of chocolate peppermint, diffusing its scent into the air. She inhaled memories of hot tea and late night conversations with her mom, replacing the suffocating terror that still simmered beneath the surface.

The hot, humid weather was perfect for the plants and the myriad of butterflies that danced around them. Not so much for her heavy red curls. She pushed a loose lock away from her face with the back of her wrist, gathered her basket, stood, and contemplated the large Terra-cotta pots around her balcony. Someday she would have a real garden—after she left the ranks of the unemployed.

The doorbell chimed, breaking into her reverie.

“Coming,” she called and tugged on the obstinate patio door.

Dropping the basket and garden shears on the counter, she hurried to the front door.

“Yes?” She peered through the peephole. She shut one eye and blinked; she squinted and tried again. A man with knobby knees came into view, impatiently shifting an overflowing mailbag on his shoulder.

“I have a registered letter for Morgana Briscoe,” he called and she watched his face twist into a scowl. “I need a signature.”

She flipped the deadbolt, glanced over her shoulder in case Mrs. T decided to make a break for it and, not seeing the long-haired Russian Blue lurking nearby, slipped into the hallway.

“I’m Morgana Briscoe,” she said, careful not to make eye contact.

He shoved the letter toward her, along with a clipboard and pen. Placing the letter under her arm, she juggled the clipboard and noticed the dirt on her fingers. “Sorry,” she flushed, “I was working in my garden.”

“Yeah…sure,” he smirked.

“I mean the pots on my balcony,” she defended.

He reached out, all but yanked the clipboard out of her hand, and turned. “Have a nice day.” He called the afterthought over his shoulder.

She stepped inside, closed the door with her hip, and twisted the deadbolt back in place. Keeping the letter safely tucked under her arm, she washed the dirt off her hands, slipped a knife out of the kitchen block, and moved to the table.

Knives weren’t meant for ripping paper
, her mother’s admonition played through her mind. Morgan smiled to herself, sat, and slit open the envelope. Bask & Morrisette, Attorneys-at-Law. She shrugged at the unfamiliar name and unfolded the crisp linen paper.

Dear Miss Briscoe:

We are truly sorry for your loss. Please contact us at your earliest convenience regarding a matter of extreme urgency.

Again, we extend our condolences.

Sincerely,

Kristoff Bask, Esq.

The letterhead was longer than the message, displaying the embossed address and phone number prominently in an elegant script. Atlanta, Georgia. She didn’t know anyone in Georgia. She placed the letter on the table and stared at it. Morgan reached for the phone and hit speed-dial.

“Mom?” She was cut-off by the answering machine.

She hung up and hit their cell number. Once again, a voice message. Her stomach knotted. She hung up, scanned the letter, and dialed.

“Bask & Morrisette,” a female voice intoned.

“My name is Morgan Briscoe. I just got a letter from a Kristoff Bask—”

“One moment, please,” the voice interrupted.

“Miss Briscoe?” a man’s deep voice asked.

“Yes. I just got your letter. I don’t understand?”

“We have an important matter to discuss with you. Would Monday be all right?”

“I’m in Virginia. A trip to Georgia is out of the question. Can’t you just tell me what this is about?”

“When
can
you come?” He ignored her question.

“I don’t have the finances...” she let the words trail off. Her finances were none of his business.

“Your travel expenses are covered.” His voice was clip. “Your transportation and accommodations are all included,” he explained, exasperated, as if pacifying a five-year-old.

“What’s this about?” she demanded, growing more irritated.

“We need to speak in person, Miss Briscoe. If you will hold a moment, I will put you through to my secretary so you can make arrangements.”

“But—”

Elevator music droned through the phone.

“Jerk,” she muttered to herself and shook her hair back from her shoulders.

A few quick questions from the secretary and she was set to leave from the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport on Monday morning. A car would meet her at the Atlanta airport and transport her to their offices downtown. Her return trip would be arranged from there. She jotted down the information and hung up, aggravated with herself for being so easily manipulated.

A deep-throated chirp drew her attention. Her cat sat on the balcony, tail aquiver, entranced by a butterfly precariously perched on some feathery dill in the corner. She let the scene on the balcony distract her until she calmed. First the nightmare—now this. That “oogie” feeling—the one she got when she sensed something wasn’t quite right, but didn’t know what—welled.

She hit speed-dial. Again, it went to her parents’ voicemail. “Call me.” Her voice hitched.

Just as the cat crouched, Morgan reached down and scooped her up. “Not today, old girl. With my luck you’ll finally leap and it’s a long drop.” She nuzzled the soft fur with her chin. The cat emitted a low, deep growl. Morgan looked up.

“It’s a butterfly!” She reproached Mrs. T with a smile. As she stepped back through the door, a faint outline caught her eye. She turned quickly. It was gone. She scanned the patio as she pushed the door closed and latched it.

A small current ran up her spine.

She shivered and rechecked the lock.

Mrs. T, having lost interest, squirmed to get down. She released the cat and called another number. Her best friend, Jenn, answered on the second ring, “Hey, kiddo.”

Morgan tried to sound nonchalant as she described her conversation with the lawyer.

“Have you called your parents?”

“I can’t get them,” she explained, then anticipated Jenn’s next question. “It’s not their attorney. I know him. This guy’s a royal pain.”

“You’re not going, are you?”

“I really don’t have a choice.”

“The hell you don’t.”

“It’s not like I’m doing anything.”

Morgan heard Jenn’s muffled voice issue instructions to her assistant through the covered handset. Then she was back. “I’m coming over after work.”

Morgan smiled. That was Jenn, rushing to the rescue. “I’m making rosemary chicken with tomato-basil salad,” she tempted.

“—and your garlic bread? I’ll bring wine.”

“Thanks, Jenn. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Somehow, I think you’d muddle through.” Jenn laughed. “See you later.”

Mrs. T’s soft fur brushed up against Morgan’s legs. Feeling guilty about spoiling her fun, she rattled a box of treats. Enough guilt and her cat could easily become a twenty-pounder.

****

 

Morgan opened the door to, “You look like hell.”

“Gee thanks.” Morgan hugged her. “Just a little tired.”

“Have you lost weight?” Jenn squeezed Morgan’s arms in assessment.

“No,” Morgan wriggled out of her reach. “I just don’t have the curves you do. I never will.” Okay, maybe she had dropped a few pounds, not that she’d admit it to Jenn.

“Are you still having nightmares?” Jenn asked.

“Not so much lately,” Morgan lied and followed Jenn toward the kitchen.

Jenn uncorked the wine to let it breathe and scrutinized Morgan.

“I promise,” Morgan crossed her heart. She’d had nightmares since she could remember. As a child, she’d been diagnosed with night terrors—screaming hysterically, her little body drenched in sweat. Her parents had spent many a sleepless night by her bed. She claimed never to remember. Only she did remember—vaguely—because they were all, basically, the same. Thankfully, in the last few years, they seemed to have lessened. Now, once again, Morgan had awakened drenched in sweat. Only this time it went beyond Mrs. T crouching next to her, staring past the foot of the bed, puffed to the size of an overstuffed porcupine and hissing at nothing.

Morgan reached up and scratched the cat’s chin as she passed the hutch. The cat nipped her fingers in a feline show of affection.

Jenn sniffed the air. “Wow. This place smells fabulous.”

“It’s the chicken.” Morgan pulled out the broiler pan. “Come on. Let’s eat.”

Over plates of savory chicken, they rehashed the cryptic conversation with the attorney.

Grabbing a final piece of bread, Jenn barbarically sopped up chicken drippings, popped it into her mouth and pushed away her plate. “Damn, that was good.”

“Just herbs.”

“Yeah. Well, what you do with herbs amazes me.”

Jenn refilled their glasses as her expression turned serious. “You understand that I’m not entirely comfortable with you taking off at the insistence of some strange attorney from some strange law firm you’ve never heard of. What’d your parents say?”

“They haven’t called back.” Of course, if she hadn’t been so introspective of late, she wouldn’t be wondering where they were. Normally, she talked to them every day.

“You don’t think it could be the Stevens, do you?” Jenn speculated.

“Grace and Bill? Why would their lawyer be contacting me?” They’d been more than employers to her; they’d been like family.

“You didn’t embezzle from them or something did you?”

“Of course not. Stop that.” She laughed and buttered a slice of herb bread.

“I hope not; I like them.” Jenn feigned a pout.

“That’s because they gave you an employee discount.”

“True.” Jenn pondered the wine she swirled. “I’m going to miss that.”

“Thanks for the sympathy. I’ll try to find a job that’ll give you a worthy discount.”

“Regardless,” Jenn ignored the bait, “I bet it has something to do with your job—compensation or something.”

Morgan doubted it. Grace and Bill had demanded she receive a substantial severance package, although it’d been at her insistence that the shop close its doors. As their bookkeeper and friend, she couldn’t recommend anything else. To go on would’ve ruined the old couple. At least they got out before eating up their modest retirement. She should be fine until she got another job, if it didn’t take too long.

She smiled and said nothing, watching Jenn launch into speculation.

“You don’t think they are going to appeal your unemployment.” Jenn’s face twisted. “No, you’d have heard from the Labor Department, not some fancy lawyer. Besides, Grace and Bill love you.”

Morgan only half listened. Another oogie feeling made her shiver. She shook it off and tried to tune into Jenn’s monologue.

“Am I even needed for this conversation?” Morgan quipped.

Jenn ignored her. “Speaking of jobs,” she said, took a sip and set the glass down, “have you told your parents about the lay-off yet?”

Morgan shifted uncomfortably. “I was hoping I’d have a job by the time I had to tell them. I haven’t had a single bite—not even a nibble. I can’t avoid telling them for much longer.”

“You know you have a job with us anytime you want it.”

Morgan knew Jenn meant it. She also knew that the women’s shelters Jenn operated were struggling just like everything else in the sluggish economy. Besides, Morgan needed more money than Jenn could afford. Still, she appreciated the offer.

“I don’t think Claudia would appreciate me waltzing into her domain. I’ll be fine.” She tried to reassure her friend. “Besides, I’ve always wanted to go to Atlanta. I’m looking at it as an all-expense-paid vacation—before I go back to work.”

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