Once upon a time, Mia Thorne loved birthdays. Then she turned forty and the urge to celebrate ceased. Now that she’s reinvented herself in Newberry, she thinks it might be time to dust off the candles again. Unfortunately, a dead body and a stolen coin disrupt her festive plans.
Can Mia solve the case in time to celebrate another trip around the sun or will her efforts be eclipsed by a killer?
Mint Condition is the sixth book in The Bloomin' Psychic series.
Release date: April 6, 2023
Publisher: Red Palm Press LLC
Print pages: 236
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October in Newberry was the Goldilocks month, sampling warm and cold weather until it settled on a temperature that was just right. It was also my birthday month, so the unpredictable weather pattern seemed appropriate.
Scarlet York sat beside me on the sofa, yawning through an episode of Real Housewives. Her black hair was currently tipped with orange in honor of autumn, and a half-finished cup of peppermint tea rested on her lap. The petite landscaper clearly wasn’t as invested in the manufactured drama as I was, not that I was surprised. Scarlet preferred peace and authenticity in her endeavors, including forms of entertainment. Even the TikTok accounts she followed were mainly comprised of animals and gardens, plus one of a Chinese grandmother who cooks recipes that reminded Scarlet of her heritage, or half of it anyway. She was Chinese on her mother’s side and Scottish on her father’s, which had made a younger Scarlet feel like an outcast.
“Do you want to watch something else?” I asked. “I’m sure we can find an episode of a Great British Gardens competition.” Or something else that might ease me into a coma.
“No, thanks. Television makes me sleepy. I need to get up and move around, or you’ll have to clean salvia off your cushions.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.” I turned off the television.
“Any interest in going for a walk along the canal path?” she asked.
She glanced out the window. “It’s barely drizzling.”
I blinked at her. “Have you met me? I’d sooner meet the lizard people that live in the tunnels beneath New York City than walk through puddles.” The mere prospect of wet stocking feet made me shudder.
“I thought the lizard people were in the catacombs of LA. New York has mole people.”
“I should really know that.”
She jostled my arm. “Come on. It’s only rain. You’re not going to melt.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “Are you sure about that? I have evidence that suggests otherwise.” I waved a hand in the direction of the kitchen, because directly outside of it was the area known as a witch’s garden. It included pots of herbs that could be used in cooking, or to make potions and poultices if you were someone skilled like Aunt Hazel had been. I was lucky if I remembered when to use cilantro as a garnish.
“It’s good to be active even when you don’t feel like it. Movement is a mood booster,” Scarlet said.
“There’s nothing wrong with your mood, Little Miss Sunshine. What’s with the urgent need for exercise?”
“I’m not doing it for exercise. I’m doing it for my clients. I need attractive rocks for Mr. Grayson’s pool garden. We’ll accomplish one job with two stones—or hopefully more than two stones.”
I remained limp on the sofa. “Isn’t there a rock shop? I bet you can order an entire box of rocks from Amazon.” I stretched my legs. “No exercise required.”
Scarlet folded her arms and leveled me with a look. “You might find a few rocks for your garden too.”
“Do I need rocks? Aren’t soil and water enough?”
“Have you learned nothing since you’ve been here? Rocks and stones are inherently magical.”
“What’s inherently magical is Andy Cohen. He hasn’t aged in a decade. There’s definitely a portrait of him in an attic somewhere.”
Scarlet tugged my hand. “We’re going and that’s it. Get your jacket.”
I glanced at Ophelia for help. The ancient cat was sprawled across the floor in front of the television, her belly spread on either side of her like her own personal area rug. She looked at me with sleepy eyes and yawned. I was on my own.
Begrudgingly, I rose to my feet and joined Scarlet outside. I had to admit, even in the autumn drizzle, the canal path was a scenic route. My adopted home of Newberry, Pennsylvania boasted the Delaware River, that divided the state from New Jersey, as well as a parallel canal that served to transport supplies like coal in the 1800s. Although the town had evolved since then, it retained many of its original structures. Red Clover, the cottage I’d inherited from Aunt Hazel, was among them.
With ours hoods up, it was difficult to have a conversation without turning awkwardly to face the other person, but we made it work. I marveled at the scenery and listened to the birdsong while Scarlet went about her rock collecting. I felt simultaneously old and peaceful. There was something restorative about time spent in nature. I’d have to remember the way I felt the next time I plopped myself in front of the television instead of taking advantage of the great outdoors.
Scarlet scooped up a heart-shaped rock and held it in the palm of her hand. “This one is perfect. He’ll love it, no pun intended.”
“Ooh, money. Better than rocks.” I bent over to retrieve what I thought was a coin but turned out to be a flat, circular rock. To make matters worse, I tweaked my lower back in the process. “Not worth it,” I groaned.
Scarlet observed the stone in my hand. “You’re right. It looks like a coin. Those are great for money spells.”
I pointed to the ground. “There’s another one. Can you pick it up for me? At this rate I’m going to be spending the evening snuggling with a heating pad instead of Dane.”
“Why not both?” Scarlet picked up the flat, round stone and handed it to me. “I see a few more. This bodes well for you.”
“My birthday’s coming up,” I said. “Mother Nature probably knows my mother will mail me a check.”
Scarlet raised an eyebrow. “Who mails a check?”
I snorted. “Madeline doesn’t trust the interwebs enough for financial transactions.”
“And yet she’s fine with sending a piece of valuable paper through the postal system?” Scarlet slid the stones into my jacket pockets.
“As long as she doesn’t insist on delivering it in person.” I continued the hunt for rocks. I thought this would be a silly exercise, but I was beginning to get in touch with my inner child. When I was younger, I’d spend hours in the woods searching for one object or another. Tree fort materials. Witch’s brew. Scarlet’s excursion had reminded me how much fun I used to have in nature.
“Any plans for your birthday yet?” Scarlet asked.
“I’ve been toying with the idea of having a little get-together.”
She cast me a sidelong glance. “Only toying?”
“I don’t know. I sort of gave up on birthdays, but now that I’m in a new place with new people, I’m considering firing up the candles.”
“What’s stopping you?” She halted in her tracks and made a noise of excitement. “Hold on.” She bent down to scoop up a shiny black rock. “Didn’t want to pass this one by.” She held up the stone for inspection. “Hello, gorgeous.”
“I’d resist the urge to kiss it and see if it morphs into a royal.”
She tucked the black rock into her pocket. “It isn’t a frog. Sorry, continue telling me about your birthday reticence. I’m all ears now.”
“Long story short is that I’m feeling more inclined to celebrate this year. That’s a win.” The past few years in particular, I would rather have done my own taxes than acknowledge my birthday.
“That’s great news. I’d love to celebrate with you, unless you’d rather have a private party with Dane.”
“I’d like to be surrounded by people who care about me. With cake. The cake is important. Beyond that, I have no strong opinions.”
Scarlet nodded. “I wholeheartedly endorse this plan. Let me know what you decide. I’d be happy to help. You shouldn’t have to organize your own birthday party.”
“You find it relaxing to collect rocks. I’d find it fun to plan my own party.” I shrugged. “It’s a wonder we’re friends.” I glanced at the overcast sky. “Do you think we could have it outside if I borrowed heat lamps from someone, or is the risk of rain too high?”
“It would definitely be a risk but might be worth it. As soon as winter arrives, you won’t want to be outside much until spring,” Scarlet advised.
“How much snow do you think we’ll get?” The weather in Newberry didn’t seem much different from New York City.
“It isn’t the snow as much as the constant sludge. You won’t be able to walk without a good pair of boots.”
I made a mental note to hunt for a pair of cheap boots. I didn’t have the extra money to splurge on a known brand, but I owed myself a birthday present. Boots that allowed me to continue to get fresh air once the ground was a mess. The city sidewalks weren’t great in winter either, but I’d had the option of a subway or a cab. Here I only had Aunt Hazel’s old yellow scooter with a basket, which I doubted would be safe to drive on slick roads. I’d been steadily saving money, but I had nowhere near enough for a car and insurance. It was hard to acknowledge I was in my forties and had made such poor life choices that I now had to worry about how to get to work in the winter. Maybe a birthday celebration was a bad idea after all.
Scarlet interrupted my mental downward spiral with another question. “How’s everything with Dane?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, a tad too quickly, which prompted laughter from Scarlet.
“I wasn’t implying anything. I was only making conversation. That’s what happens when there’s no television and no distractions. People converse.”
I patted my pocket where I’d placed my phone. “My distraction is right here for emergencies.”
“As long as it stays there.” Her arm swept toward the canal. “Look at that view. So much better than a screen.”
I didn’t disagree.
She gave me a sidelong look. “Are you avoiding the question?”
“No, not at all. Things with Dane are fine.” I couldn’t bring myself to say the word ‘good,’ as though the entire relationship might evaporate by the time I reached the ‘d’ sound. “I don’t want to jinx it, that’s all,” I added. “We’re moving slowly, and I’m happy with the pace.”
Scarlet snorted. “Mia, you’re not going to jinx anything. The universe doesn’t work that way.”
I pinned her with a hard look. “You sure about that? Because it certainly seems like it sometimes.”
“We don’t have to talk about him, but I think you might benefit from a little practice.”
Now it was my turn to laugh. “You want me to practice talking about the man I’m dating?”
“I want you to practice talking about something good happening in your life. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll feel. Own it, Mia. Embrace it.”
I drew a deep breath. “Dane is great,” I acknowledged. “He’s a dream come true, which is why I’m worried.”
“Has he given you a reason to worry?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean it won’t fall apart. It doesn’t mean he won’t change his mind about me or meet someone younger and prettier.”
Scarlet nudged me with her elbow. “Amelia Thorne, listen to yourself. I bet you a million dollars Dane isn’t sitting in his office thinking about changing his mind, or meeting someone else. This is all in your head.”
“My head is a very busy place. It’s like Times Square on Wednesdays.”
“That’s very specific.”
“It’s the only weekday for half-price theater tickets. The place gets mobbed. I used to avoid leaving the office on Wednesdays for any reason because the sidewalks were too crowded.”
“Good to know.”
I wasn’t sure whether it was the fresh air infiltrating my mind or the conversation itself, but I decided to tell her what was really on my mind. “What if it isn’t real?”
Scarlet paused, midbend. She plucked a pearlescent white rock from the ground before she snapped her knees back into place. “You think he’s faking feelings for you? Why would he do that?”
I shook my head. “No, I don’t think Dane is deliberately doing anything. I have this fear that Aunt Hazel might’ve had a hand in it.” Hazel was my father’s aunt and the owner of Red Clover before me. I’d never met her, but as her only heir, she’d left her house and all its contents to me. I’d also inherited her psychic skills, which I was still learning to accept.
Scarlet pulled down her hood and fixed her brown eyes on me. “Hazel’s dead, Mia.”
“As the person now living in her house, I’m aware of that.” It was Aunt Hazel’s well-timed death that offered me a port in my own personal storm. She’d died months before my life blew up, but my mother only saw fit to tell me about the house I’d inherited when I hit rock bottom. I’d lost my apartment, my job, and my boyfriend in the span of a single day, and Aunt Hazel’s Last Will and Testament had been a beacon in the night. I’d taken a train to Newberry and never looked back.
“Then why do you think she somehow played a role in your current relationship?”
“She hired Dane as her lawyer. Why? There are dozens of crusty old men she could’ve hired, and a few younger women too.”
“Because Dane has an excellent reputation in town.”
“What if Hazel performed some kind of magic spell on the will, knowing Dane would be the one to give it to me?”
Scarlet choked back laughter. “This again? I thought we moved past it.”
“When have you known me to move past anything that quickly? I keep a white-knuckle grip on anything that hurts me.”
“Fair point. Do you really think Hazel cast a spell to make Dane fall in love with you? It’s absurd.”
“Is it? You know she used to have a side hustle that involved the occasional love potion. Why not use one to help her great-niece settle in? I’m a fixer. A rescuer. What if Aunt Hazel was like me and wanted to rescue me?”
Scarlet looked at me with concern. “Mia, where is this coming from? Did you find evidence of a spell?”
“No,” I admitted.
“Then why are you so convinced Dane would only want to date you if he were under a spell?”
I stopped walking, a realization dawning on me. “Because I think I don’t deserve it,” I said in a quiet voice.
Scarlet stopped ahead of me and turned around. “What did you say?”
“Nothing,” I said, giving my head a dismissive shake. “I’m just having a moment.” It was probably my upcoming birthday. My subconscious was protesting all the positive changes I’d experienced in the past year.
Scarlet pointed to the ground. “There’s one with your name on it.”
I followed her gaze to a flat stone that shimmered in the sunlight. Even through the gloaming, its surface seemed to shimmer with a metallic blend of colors.
“This will be the new currency after the apocalypse.”
“I think Elton taught you better than that,” Scarlet said, smiling. “The new currency will be cans of baked beans.”
“I sure hope not or the foul odor in the bunker will alert the zombies to our location.”
Scarlet looped her arm through mine. “You can share a bunker with me anytime.”
“Okay but be sure to pack clothespins for your nose. Just sayin’.”
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