The town of Magnolia Cove has lost its magic. It's up to Pepper Reign to reclaim it. When Blake Calhoun sets out to steal the heart fire, the object that makes the town of Magnolia Cove, Alabama, magical, his plan backfires. The heart isn't stolen, instead, it breaks into four pieces and scatters across the state. Now, newly married Pepper and Axel Reign must work to track down each piece. Lucky for them, when a person finds a piece, they are bestowed with strange abilities. This is the final book in the Lost Southern Magic series. In this exciting conclusion, all of Pepper's friends will join her in Magnolia Cove and Pepper will face off against Blake. Can she save her town or will he wind up with all four pieces of the heart fire? Can't wait to dig in? Find out what happens now!
Release date: May 10, 2020
Publisher: LADYBUGBOOKS LLC
Print pages: 199
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Knee-High to a Thief
“I’m doing my best not to be depressed about the fact that Blake Calhoun got a piece of heart fire,” I said, taking a bite of chocolaty Snickers bar that was the closest thing to heaven this side of—well, heaven, I supposed.
Clearly my attempt at not being depressed was failing miserably.
Axel smiled kindly, the corners of his eyes crinkling into fans, which made my heart melt. “Pepper, you can’t change the past.”
Axel and I sat in our new kitchen, a beautiful thing with glossy countertops, dark oak cabinets and of course a fireplace in one corner with a cauldron sitting in it—you know, in case either of us ever got a hankering to work a spell while scrambling some eggs.
Not that I would ever think to work a spell while scrambling eggs. With my luck, the eggs would end up in the cauldron and I’d have a mess on my hands.
But anyway, I sat at the counter while I cradled a warm cup of coffee in one hand, chocolate bar in the other. I finished the last of the bar way too quickly and brushed crumbs from my mouth.
It was impossible to keep my mind off Blake Calhoun and how, at our last meetup, he had managed to steal a piece of the heart fire. We, my family and me, had two pieces, and he had one.
There was only one left to find, and I had no idea where it was.
I tapped the counter. “Where should we start to look? Do you have any idea where the last piece could be?”
Axel rose from his seat beside me and poured himself another cup of coffee. “We’re meeting with Betty this morning to figure out our next move. We need to mobilize more people, more creatures who might help us. I’m going to see if any of the werewolves in my family can come.”
I nibbled the inside of my lip as I considered that idea. “The shields are down so any creature can get into Magnolia Cove—even vampires.” The very thought of Blake Calhoun being able to simply saunter into my town sent a chill all the way down my spine.
Axel reached across the counter and squeezed my hand. “Blake won’t be coming here—at least not until he’s gotten his men out from under the sirens’ control.”
I laughed bitterly. The last time we met up with Blake, the vampires that he had brought to attack us had been lured away by the song of a couple hundred sirens. I wasn’t sure exactly what the sirens had done with the vampires—other than drain some of their life essence, that was—but the vampires wouldn’t be gone forever. They were strong creatures. The sirens were strong, too, but they couldn’t keep a vampire captive for eternity.
Not that I had any science to back that up, just my own personal thoughts on the matter.
“Okay, so let’s assume that the sirens have lost control of the vampires,” I said. “What happens next?”
Axel rapped his knuckles on the counter. “The same thing that happens every time we come back home—we meet and decide where we go next.”
My expression fell. Axel sighed before rounding the counter and folding me in his arms. “Pepper, it’s going to be okay.”
I curled my fingers into his shirt and inhaled his musky, almost animal-like scent. “I know that we need to decide what city or town to investigate next, but I feel so defeated, Axel. I feel like this is getting harder and harder.”
Tears started to fill my eyes. I fought them, biting down on my lip to stop the flow. We had all been under an enormous amount of pressure in the past few weeks. Every moment of every day had been spent working hard to get to the next level, to find the next piece of the heart. That Blake had managed to steal one of them about undid me.
I felt my heart uncoiling along with my hopes and passion. Half of me wanted to give up the fight, but the other half knew that I had to keep pushing myself, had to keep going. We weren’t running a sprint here. The hunt for each of the four pieces of the heart was a marathon, and with only one more piece to go, we had entered the home stretch. I could see the finish line before my eyes—figuratively, not literally.
“You’re burning out,” Axel said, his voice overflowing with sympathy.
I pulled out of his hug and nodded. “It’s just so soul crushing to lose one of the heart stones—to know that Blake has an advantage when we’ve worked so hard to stay ahead of him.”
Axel brought my hands to his lips and kissed my knuckles. “We can do this together. You can do this. Pepper, you are the strongest woman I know. If you want to take a break from searching and let someone else do it—say Amelia or Cordelia—I’m all for it. But you’re good at this. You can sense the heart when it’s nearby.”
I slumped into my chair, feeling as if a boulder sat heavy on my shoulders. Everything Axel said proved true. I could sense the heart, but only if it hovered nearby.
“Everyone,” he continued, “gets depressed one time in their life or another. You are not immune to that.”
I had not exactly welcomed every challenge that I had faced since arriving in Magnolia Cove. In fact, some of them had resulted in serious freak-outs on my part. But nonetheless, I had never run from a challenge. Yet here I sat, bowed over in my chair, wanting to run upstairs to my bedroom and hide under the covers rather than get dressed and track down the final piece of the heart.
Axel took my hands and pulled me to standing.
“Ooo,” I said in surprise.
“Come on.” He tugged me toward the front door. “Let’s get outside, get some sunlight on you, help you remember what it feels like to smile.”
“I don’t want to smile,” I whimpered.
Axel whirled around and wagged a finger at me. “Sunshine, I wouldn’t be a good husband if I let you wallow in sadness.”
I quirked a brow at him.
“So I’m not going to let you,” he added. “I refuse to allow my wife to be sad and unhappy. We all get down, and you know what?”
He cocked his head at me, and a dark curtain of hair fell in front of his eyes. Axel raked it away from his face, lifting his arm just enough that a taut bicep peeked out from under his T-shirt. “Pepper, when you look back on this, you’ll be angrier with yourself for sitting around than you will be for getting out there and fighting.”
I rolled my tongue in the back of my throat to show my frustration. Yep, Axel had hit the nail on the head. I wouldcuss myself if, when this was said and done, I had sat on my tush while everyone else worked their rear ends off in order to find the last piece of the heart.
“You got me, husband of mine. You know just what to say to make a girl wake up and stop moping.”
His lips curled into a seductive smile. “I’m only saying what’s true.” He threaded his fingers through mine and tugged me forward. “Come on. Let’s say you and me go over to Betty’s for our daily briefing. We put all of this behind us and move forward.”
I forced my lips to tip up into a smile. My stomach still knotted, but I had to be present for my family and this town. The fate of Magnolia Cove rested on me and the Craples. I couldn’t let them down now.
Without any argument, I left the house with Axel. As soon as I stepped outside, the trees rustled something fierce. The branches shook as if a tornado had whirled close by. An honest-to-goodness smile stretched across my face because I knew what was happening.
I tented my hand and placed it over my eyes. Hugo screeched in greeting and slowly lowered himself to the ground. The earth rumbled when his feet touched the grass, and the wind died as the dragon tucked his wings to his sides.
“Hugo!” I rushed over and pressed my hand to his head, gliding my fingers over the spikes that dotted his face.
Mama, Hugo said, the words popping into my head.
I nuzzled my nose to his neck and threw my arms across him. If there was one creature that could lift my spirits, it was Hugo.
I sighed into him. “I missed you, buddy.”
I missed you, Mama.
In all the towns that Axel, Betty, and I had visited lately, we had gone without Hugo. Y’all might think that it would be easy to own a dragon, but there was nothing inconspicuous about a two-ton creature. Hugo could not be taken into the human world. He could not be seen by them, which meant that my boy had to live in Magnolia Cove. Hugo didn’t seem to mind, but sometimes I wondered if he would eventually tire of his home and want to see more of the world.
That curiosity could be dangerous for him. My heart would crack in two if anything happened to Hugo. He was as much my baby as any human could be.
I gave Hugo another pat. “We’re on our way to Betty’s.”
Axel let Hugo nuzzle his hand. “Why don’t you ride Hugo over there? I’ll walk. You can take a few extra minutes, do some laps around town. Take your mind off things.”
Oh, how much I loved my husband. He never thought of himself, putting me first so much of the time. That was a good man, right there.
“Are you sure?”
He nodded. “Go on. If you miss anything, we’ll catch you up to speed as soon as you arrive.”
The grin that spread across my face threatened to take over my whole body, I swear.
I flung my arms around his neck and gave him a huge kiss. “Oh, Axel, thank you!”
He wrapped his arms around me. “Whoa, if I’d known I’d get this good of a thank-you, I would have told you to find Hugo earlier.”
I threw my head back and laughed. Sunshine warmed my face, leaving dots of heat on my cheeks. I hoisted myself onto the dragon and grabbed ahold of Hugo’s neck, hunkering down to flatten myself against his spine. “Okay, boy, show me what you’ve got.”
The dragon flapped his great wings and rose into the air, sending leaves scattering. My stomach dropped, and a shiver of excitement zipped to my toes.
I held on tight as Hugo soared over my once-great town. Without the heart fire fueling its magic, the buildings had started to decay—their roofs sagging, their paint peeling. Moss grew on the sides of homes and businesses. The sight brought tears to my eyes.
This was what I needed. Seeing how the lack of magic affected my town made my stomach sour, made anger stir in my gut. I was angry, infuriated that Blake Calhoun had stolen the magic from us.
I wanted to see more, know how other parts of my town had been affected. “Go to the Potion Ponds,” I instructed Hugo.
Hugo roared and I tossed my head back, laughing. The sun burned brightly above me, heating every part of my body. Hugo picked up speed, and I held on tightly as we cut through the sky.
The feeling of elation zipped all the way to my toes. I needed this—yearned to be up in the air even if the town below me looked like an empty shell compared to what it had once been.
Hugo slowed as we reached the Potion Ponds. The once-glittering water looked dull, and I wondered if the magic under the surface had broken.
“Let’s go down,” I said.
Hugo landed as softly as possible for a two-ton dragon, which meant the ground still quaked as his feet touched earth. I slipped from his back and stared at the water. My family and I had wondered if our magic would be affected by the broken heart, but so far we were okay.
However, this was a magical place, the waters themselves holding power. The dull sheen suggested that any spell worked here would now be broken. My theory needed to be tested.
A simple spell would reveal the truth. I plucked a small stone from the ground and twirled my finger over it. The rock started to spin, and I began to chant the words for an easy transformation spell, one that would change the rock a different color.
I brought the spinning stone to my mouth. “Red.” I blew on it and chucked it in the water. After a moment I clapped my hands, calling the stone back to me. It came, a relief. At least the magic wasn’t that broken. But the rock was not the color that I had intended it to be.
“Green,” I murmured as it landed in my hand.
The stone had become the exact opposite of the color that I had wanted. It wasn’t a giant leap to think that the ponds might be off in terms of their power, but the fact that the spell itself had gone completely opposite made me wonder if that signaled what the future of my own magic would be like.
My gut clenched. “Come on, Hugo. We need to let Betty and Axel know that we’ve got a problem—potentially one that is horrible.”
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