Welcome to Starry Hollow, where spells were made to be broken.
Bentley Smith is tired of being the red-headed stepchild in the office of Vox Populi and is determined to prove his mettle by warming up the cold case involving Sheriff’s Nash’s murdered father.
The deeper he digs, however, the more uncomfortable he becomes when the information he unearths implicates one of Starry Hollow’s very own. Meanwhile, Ember is dealing with the fallout from her refusal to give Aunt Hyacinth the power she craves, which has greater consequences than she anticipated.
Will Ember be able to sustain the fairytale life she’s built in Starry Hollow or will it all finally crumble to dust?
Magic & Misfits is the thirteenth book in the Starry Hollow Witches paranormal cozy mystery series.
Release date: January 7, 2021
Publisher: Red Palm Press LLC
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Magic & Misfits
“My knees hurt,” I said. I rocked back onto my bottom for a break. Marley and I had been digging and planting along the fence of Rose Cottage for an hour and I’d managed to cut off the circulation to my feet.
Marley cut a sideways glance at me. “You’re wearing knee pads and using a garden kneeler.”
“Imagine how bad it would be if I weren’t.”
“I bet they’d hear your complaints all the way back in New Jersey,” Marley said, smiling. “This is fun. I like that we’re bonding over magic.”
“I’d rather bond over a plate of brownies,” I said. Even so, I sat back to admire our handiwork. My green thumb was usually more of a dirt brown, but I was making a special effort for this particular project and it showed.
My elderly Yorkshire terrier, Prescott Peabody III, wandered over to sniff one of the plants and promptly lifted his leg.
“I don’t think so, mister.” I swiped him off the ground before he could sprinkle the plant with his personal brand of rainwater. I set him down on a patch of grass away from the current project. At the rate he moved, he’d age another year before he made his way back over to pollute my plants.
Marley stopped for a drink from her water bottle. “If you want to go inside to make dinner, I’ll keep going.”
“Do you have any homework?” I asked.
I should’ve expected that answer. Marley didn’t need anyone to remind her. Finishing homework at record speed was as natural as breathing to her.
“How’s that charms class going?”
She’d vaguely grumbled about the teacher a few days ago, which I only noticed because Marley rarely complained about anything school-related.
“Fine,” she mumbled.
I removed my knee pads and tossed them aside. “Doesn’t sound fine.”
Marley patted the dirt around the plant with gloved hands, ignoring me.
“Marley Rose, is there anything I should know?”
“I don’t like the class. That’s all.”
“That’s like saying Santa doesn’t like wine and cheese.”
She gave me a pointed look. “He doesn’t. He likes milk and cookies. You’re the one who tried to convince me he likes wine and cheese.”
“Right. Good point.” I regarded her closely. The slope of her nose. The sprinkling of freckles on her pale skin. Most importantly, the pulsing muscle in her cheek—the telltale sign that my child was trying to hide her suffering. “Sweetheart, if there’s an issue, I want to know about it. Keeping it to yourself will only make it seem worse.”
Marley chewed her lip. “I can handle it on my own.”
“There’s a difference between handle and endure. From the look on your face, I’d say you’re enduring.”
She removed her gloves and clutched them in her lap. “I’m having trouble with a couple witches in the class.”
I peered at her, my tension rising. “What kind of trouble?”
“They keep playing magical pranks on me when the teacher isn’t looking and Mrs. Croft-Merryman thinks I’m to blame.”
“Why are they picking on you? I thought you were getting along really well with the others.”
Her eyes were downcast. “Because they overheard their parents talking about our rift with Aunt Hyacinth. I guess that means it’s open season on me now.”
My mouth dropped open. “You can’t be serious. How on earth do they know what happened?”
“I don’t know that they do, only that you and Aunt Hyacinth aren’t on speaking terms and that we’re no longer welcome at Thornhold.”
I knew we shouldn’t have gone out for Sunday dinner last week. Word must’ve spread that we weren’t partaking in the weekly family dinners and made other residents curious as to why. Or, even worse, Aunt Hyacinth was letting everyone know where we stood in order to ostracize us.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I demanded. Marley and I had always enjoyed a close relationship. It wasn’t like her to keep things from me.
“Because I don’t want you to go Jersey on anybody. It’ll only make things worse.”
I felt awful. The fallout with Aunt Hyacinth was bad enough on the home front. Now it was spilling over into Marley’s academic life.
“I’m so sorry, Marley. I should’ve realized how my actions might affect you.”
“I don’t blame you,” she said matter-of-factly. “I blame Aunt Hyacinth for being greedy and unreasonable.”
My chest ached. I hated to see my daughter reaping what I had sown when I refused to pass our ancestor Ivy’s incredible power to my aunt. “You don’t think I’ve been too stubborn?”
“No way. She used me, Mom. She only gave me Ivy’s wand to see whether I could access the magic. It was cunning and manipulative.”
That described Aunt Hyacinth to a T. Still, I didn’t want Marley to think she didn’t matter. “I’m sure part of her wanted you to have something special, to pass on a family heirloom to the next generation.”
“You don’t have to sugarcoat it, Mom. She wanted Ivy’s power for herself. That was her only motivation.” Marley put her gloves back on. “The truth is she doesn’t deserve us in her life.”
“What kind of pranks have the witches been pulling?” My blood began to boil at the thought of those wretched girls upsetting my sweet daughter.
“Nothing complicated. They’re not talented enough for that.” She allowed herself a small smile. “They did a spell that erased my homework and another one that made me hiccup so much that Mrs. Croft-Merryman asked me to leave class.”
In a show of sympathy, PP3 climbed onto Marley’s lap and licked her arm.
“And you haven’t told anyone at school?” I asked, knowing what the answer would be.
“It’ll only make them dislike me more.” Her lower lip jutted out. “The worst part is that I thought they liked me, but it turns out they only tolerated me because of our family connection.”
“Then better to know the truth,” I said. “You want genuine friendships, not a bunch of sycophants.”
Marley smiled. “Good job on the fifty-cent word.”
“Hey, I think that one’s at least a dollar when you take inflation into account.” I blew out a breath. “Oh, Marley. I hate that you’re dealing with this.”
She shrugged, her expression far too solemn for a girl of her age. “We all have to grow up eventually.”
“Really? That’s news to me. I plan to stay immature forever.”
We were so intent on our conversation that we failed to notice Florian’s arrival until he was just outside the white picket fence.
“Is there a famine in the forecast?” my cousin asked, surveying our endeavor.
“We’re not planting potatoes,” I said, “and I don’t think you’d survive on these.”
“Well, they smell good, whatever they are,” Florian said.
I pointed to the plant directly in front of me. “This is basil.”
The wizard peered over the fence. “Yes, I recognize that one. Why are you growing it here instead of in the herb garden?”
“Because it’s to protect the cottage from negative energy,” I said.
“And this is black cohosh,” Marley added, pointing to her row, “to protect against a magical attack.”
Florian’s brow furrowed as he examined the plants. “All this because you had a tiff with Mother?”
“It’s more than a tiff, Florian,” I said. “We’re officially on the outs.”
He motioned to the proverbial line in the sand. “And you really think this is necessary?”
“Better safe than sorry.” I rose to my feet and dusted off my knees. “You’re always welcome, of course. Want to come inside? I have beer.”
He entered through the gate. “I’m not sure it’s wise. I might get eaten by a carnivorous plant when I’m not looking.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Marley said. “The only man-eater in this cottage is Mom.”
I jerked my head toward her, feeling indignant. “Hey! Uncalled for.”
Marley appeared unapologetic and carried on planting. “We don’t really have time for beer. We need to get these finished by sundown.”
Florian snorted. “Or what? Mother will launch an attack?”
I looked him directly in the eye. “Honestly, I have no idea what she’ll do at this point. I have something she wants and we both know she won’t leave me alone until she gets it.”
Florian pursed his lips. “I don’t like this, Ember. Family squabbles are one thing, but this…” He nudged a plant with his toe. “This is next level.”
“Don’t blame me,” I said. “She’s the one who disinvited us from Sunday dinners.”
Florian balked. “She did? She told me you were both feeling under the weather.”
“She lied,” I said simply. “Simon delivered the message on her behalf. Believe me, he wasn’t thrilled with his role as the middle man.”
Florian dragged a hand through his white-blond hair. “I didn’t realize she’d officially thrown down the gauntlet. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “Like I told you, you’re always welcome here.”
“I appreciate that.” He paused. “Do Linnea and Aster know?”
“I haven’t given them the particulars, no.”
“You should. Don’t let Mother get ahead of you or you’ll be inundated with damage control and little else. You want to be proactive in this situation, not reactive.”
“Thanks for the tip.” I wiped my brow with a gloved hand. “Ready for a break, Marley? I wouldn’t object to an iced tea.”
Marley popped up from the ground. “I’ll get it.” She skipped into the cottage.
I waited until the door closed to speak again. “She’s having trouble at school. Word has spread about our rift with your mother and a few witches are giving Marley a hard time.”
Florian’s nostrils flared. “I’ll have their names, please.”
“No, we’ll handle it. Thanks, though.”
“It isn’t right.”
“Of course not, but your mother’s treatment of us sets the tone for others, whether we agree with it or not. Marley’s putting on a brave face, but I know it can’t be easy. She was finally settled and now this.”
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” he said. “I hate the thought of anyone causing problems for Marley.”
“Believe me, I feel the same.”
He motioned to the ground between us. “I can understand you feeling vulnerable, especially living so close to Thornhold, but I don’t think you need all this defense against the dark arts. She might play her power games and punish you for not towing the line, but I can’t picture her using magic to hurt either of you.”
“Then you haven’t seen the same look in her eye that I have. She’s angry, Florian. She wants Ivy’s power and she’s furious that I have it.”
Florian eyed me closely. “And why is that, exactly?”
“It was an accident. I didn’t intend to absorb all her magic.”
He shook his head. “No, I mean why do you refuse to let it go? If you didn’t intend to take it, then why keep it?”
My eyes popped. “And give it to your mother, already the most powerful witch in Starry Hollow? Gee, I don’t know. Maybe because I dislike the idea of all the power being concentrated in one individual.”
“Now you sound like Sheriff Nash. I think his ideas have rubbed off on you.”
“Do you seriously think I should let her have it?” I asked, surprised. Florian was a mama’s boy, but still. I didn’t expect him to take her side. Not with this.
“She has the same claim to it that you do,” Florian said. “So do I, for that matter. We’re all descendants of Ivy Rose.”
“Except possession is nine-tenths of the law.” I had no idea what that meant, but I’d watched enough episodes of Law & Order to recognize the phrase.
“What law?” Florian asked. “You know your human laws don’t apply here.”
“Even if I could pass it on, I don’t know how it would work. I didn’t access Ivy’s magic on purpose, so I certainly don’t know how to hand it off to someone else.”
Florian offered a vague smile. “Oh, I don’t think you’d have to worry about the logistics. If you were willing to part with it, Mother would find a way. She’s nothing if not persistent.”
I glanced toward the sprawling home of Hyacinth Rose-Muldoon in the distance. “That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”
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