- Book info
- Author updates
The only thing more twisted than a cursed witch is her family tree.
For the past fourteen years, Edgehill’s resident secret witch, Amber Blackwood, has been haunted by her parents’ deaths. The whole town knows about the tragedy, but the details remain a mystery even to Amber. From her tiny studio apartment above her shop, The Quirky Whisker, Amber can see her partially rebuilt old house out on the edge of town. Although she now has a good life—delighting children with her magically infused toys, concocting healing tinctures for Edgehill’s residents, doting on her cats, Tom and Alley, and sitting on the committee for the town’s annual Here and Meow Festival—she feels stuck in the past.
Amber suspects the fire that killed her parents was set deliberately by a witch from the cursed Penhallow clan, from whom no one has heard even a whisper since the night her parents died. The clan’s sudden disappearance is no coincidence to Amber, but her aunt Gretchen refuses to believe there’s a connection and urges Amber to stop looking for someone to blame. So Amber is shocked when Aunt Gretchen shows up unexpectedly, claiming the Penhallows have resurfaced and that one of them is heading for Edgehill with Amber in his sights.
Aunt Gretchen knows more about the fabled clan than she’s letting on. Amber is determined to find out what her aunt is hiding, and what the Penhallow seeks, before the same treacherous force that took Amber’s parents’ lives claims her own.
Release date: September 10, 2019
Publisher: Ringtail Press
Print pages: 360
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
Melissa Erin Jackson
“Get back here!” Amber called, crawling on hands and knees after the toy lion that bucked and thrashed under her coffee table like an agitated bull. Every time she reached for it, the little thing jumped away from her on its tiny beige plastic paws. Amber wasn’t quite sure what the little creature was up to—it seemed possessed, if she was quite honest with herself—but whatever it was, it couldn’t be good.
Amber’s specialty was using her magic to animate plastic toys she then sold in her shop below. But every once in a while—like now—one of the toys took on a personality of its own. And it was rarely a pleasant personality.
A low, guttural growl reverberated next to her, and she turned to see her cat, Tom, watching the flailing toy with unmitigated alarm, his pupils blown wide.
At the sound of Tom’s distaste of the situation, the lion stilled, halting its little plastic meltdown, and focused its attention squarely on Tom.
Oh no. “Tom Cat,” she said, voice low and even, “don’t run. If you run, it’ll chase you.”
The tiny lion adjusted its posture, its feet solidly on the ground in a wide stance, threw its head back and roared. The sound was loud enough that Amber felt a slight vibration in the floorboards beneath her hands, but it wasn’t a display she would have labeled terrifying or even awe-inspiring. Tom, however, arched his back, tail puffed out, and hissed with a ferocity that even made Amber flinch.
Tom took off in the other direction, nails scrabbling on the wooden floor as he struggled to find purchase to aid in his escape. He didn’t have far to run in Amber’s tiny studio apartment. The lion gave chase. The thing was surprisingly fast—a little too fast. Amber lunged for it as it went tearing past her, but her hands met only air.
“Hold still, Tom!” she called as she hopped to her feet, not sure where the cat was now. Another roar sounded from beneath the bed, followed by Tom hissing and spitting in response. The dust ruffle flapped as Tom went sprinting from his usual safe space, the tiny lion hot on his tail.
Amber scurried after them, yelling at the lion to stop and for Tom to calm down. They ran under the dining room table, wooden table and chair legs smacking together like discordant wind chimes. Amber darted around one side of the table, then the other, hardly able to keep up. The lion was no bigger than a cell phone and its teeth were made of plastic—they couldn’t do that much damage. But she couldn’t very well explain that to Tom.
Alley sat on the kitchen counter, keeping a reasonable distance while she watched with mild concern, her tail wrapped around her paws.
“Are you going to help your brother?” Amber asked.
Alley squinted her eyes closed.
Amber dropped to her knees again, just in time to see the lion lunge for Tom’s tail and chomp down on the tip of it. Tom screeched like he was being skinned alive, then bolted out from under the table, the horrible lion holding onto the end of Tom’s tail even as the cat bucked and flailed, trying to dislodge it.
This was even worse than the time Scarlet the dragon had come to life, and then released a ball of flame that melted her own body just before that same flame set the curtains on fire. The dragon had terrified Tom, but hadn’t gone after him directly, at least.
This lion had pegged Tom as his next meal and wasn’t letting up.
Finally thinking to use her magic, Amber focused on her magic thrumming beneath her skin like a dull electric current and willed a burst of it outward. She imagined it like wisps of swirling blue smoke, even though her magic was invisible even to her. She pictured it forming two hands that scooped up either creature, and just like that, the pair was quickly lifted from the ground just before Tom attempted to seek safety under the bed again. The lack of gravity’s pull startled both animals enough that Amber was able to run over and grab Tom. She tucked him under one arm and used her free hand to detach the crazed lion. Once her focus shifted, the spell was broken, and the lion was newly possessed by the desire to rend flesh from bones.
Amber extracted the lion—a tuft of white-and-orange fur clutched in its tiny jaws—then tossed Tom onto the bed. He hit the fluffy comforter with all four paws, hissed once more for good measure, and zipped to the floor and underneath the bed.
The lion wiggled frantically in Amber’s grasp, all the while attempting to spit out the fur so its mouth was free to attack her cat. It clearly had no desire to go after her despite the grip she had on it; it only had beady little eyes for Tom. The thing was surprisingly hard to hold onto, keeping her so focused on not dropping it—this one had taken a lot of work to craft—that her mind was unable to conjure up a helpful spell.
Her magic still thrashed beneath her skin, though. It always got riled up in highly emotional situations.
Amber yelped and let out a string of colorful curses as the lion sank its fangs into her thumb. It didn’t break skin, but the teeth clamped down on her nail so hard, her vision swam for a moment. Without thinking, she shook out her hand, desperate to knock the thing loose, and it went flying off her finger. Some of her pent-up magic was involuntarily released at the same time, causing a gust of wind to help free her of the tiny beast. The lion smacked into a wall with such force, it shattered on impact into several large shards of painted plastic.
Amber groaned loudly and tipped her head back to stare at the ceiling. Her thumb throbbed in time with her racing heart. Her magic had calmed down, at least.
She didn’t need this. Not today.
The lion had been a special request from a woman who was throwing a circus-themed birthday party for her six-year-old son.
She really needed to perfect the design soon. What would happen if the same thing happened at a party full of little kids? She supposed the children might get a kick out of it, but she couldn’t imagine the parents would once the toy started biting people. No one in town knew that Amber’s infamous toys were animated by magic; they all thought she was merely an engineering genius.
Amber walked over to the small pile of lion pieces. A few of the plastic bits were reduced to tiny shards. And one of the delicate plastic discs she’d infused with a movement spell had snapped clean in half.
Why hadn’t she kept her wits about her so she could perform a deactivation spell?
Now she’d need to start over.
She glanced about her studio apartment and winced at the mess. Plastic pieces lay in heaps on her dining table. Boxes of completed cats sat in a corner, set aside for the Here and Meow Festival. A series of half-crafted animals littered her coffee table along with sheets of paper covered in scrawled spells. Most of the words were scratched out, marking them as defective. Her personal grimoire lay open next to an eyeless flamingo.
The toys had completely taken over her apartment.
She had more room to work downstairs in her shop—plus it would give Tom a break—but ever since Chief Owen Brown had seen her using her magic two weeks ago, she’d been too anxious to use said magic where she might be caught in the act. She and the chief had worked together to solve the murder of Amber’s friend Melanie Cole; Amber and the chief had finally started to form something close to a friendship. But that had all fallen apart now. She suspected her anxiety over the whole thing was making her magic glitch.
She’d replayed the scene countless times over the past two weeks—the way he’d been standing outside the Quirky Whisker, eyes wide, just moments after she’d used her magic to float an ill-behaved toy cat back to a table. How he’d hurried away.
She hadn’t seen or heard from him since, but she could only guess what he was thinking. He’d known for a while that something about her was off. He’d linked her to dozens of odd incidents around town but hadn’t been able come up with an explanation. When he’d nervously posed the possibility that she was psychic, she hadn’t corrected him. She’d needed his help to solve the mystery of her friend Melanie’s death; he could have thought whatever he wanted.
Once he had something concrete to hold onto—an explanation for her odd behavior and even odder store—he’d started to treat her better. But now? Would the no-nonsense police chief be able to swallow the “I’m a witch” pill as easily as he’d accepted her supposed psychic ability?
There was precedence for police working with psychics. Witchcraft, however, was meant for the pages of fantasy novels, not real life.
She sighed to herself. Getting the lion finished was what was important here. Not what the chief thought of her. The townsfolk hadn’t shown up wielding pitchforks and torches, so she had to assume he was keeping his discovery to himself. Assuming he even had a word for this discovery. The Edgehill rumor mill would have been working overtime if news got out that odd Amber Blackwood was a witch.
At the very least, Amber could paint the plastic pieces needed for the new lion toy—she couldn’t get in trouble doing that.
But first …
Lying on her stomach, Amber lifted the dust ruffle to peek underneath. “Come on out, Tom,” she cooed, reaching an arm out toward him.
He scooted back so he was just out of range of her fingertips.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I really am.”
The orange-and-white tabby remained unconvinced.
Amber sighed. She’d already fed him and Alley breakfast, but she knew food was the only way to get back into his good graces. She got to her feet. “Fine. You win.”
She walked the few feet to the cats’ little nook and grabbed a bag of treats. Giving it a crinkle, she looked over her shoulder to see a pink nose peeking out from underneath the dust ruffle.
Alley lay curled on the bench seat now, but a black ear swiveled in the direction of the crinkling. Though Alley hadn’t lifted a paw to aid her brother during his time of torment, she would no doubt happily gobble down treats she hadn’t earned.
Once Amber opened the bag, Tom scurried out of his hiding place and sat obediently in front of his bowl. A pink tongue snaked out in anticipation. Amber wondered if Tom had been a dog in a past life.
She plinked three treats into either bowl and Tom dove for them. Alley soundlessly hopped to the floor to eat hers before Tom did. After he’d licked the bowl clean, he stood and rubbed against Amber’s ankles, purr cranked up to level ten. All was forgiven.
Now to work on this dang lion toy …
Collecting her supplies in a tote bag, she called a goodbye to her cats and made her way down the stairs from her apartment to the shop below. The store wasn’t due to open for another half hour, so she would have some quiet to herself to get the painting done.
Though the Here and Meow Festival wasn’t until May—three months from now—Edgehill was experiencing a rare uptick in winter tourists. Posters advertising a trial run of the junior fashion show were plastered all over town. The adult fashion show had been a staple of the festival for years, but this year, there would be a junior version as well. The trial run for the juniors was scheduled for later in the month. Amber didn’t have the faintest clue why people were so invested in the event, but she was glad the young designers were getting recognition for their talent. Amber wondered how Sydney Sadler, a participant in the show, was faring in the wake of her mother’s arrest. Sydney’s mother, Whitney Sadler, had teamed up with another Edgehill resident, Susie Paulson, to discreetly poison Melanie. While Susie had only wanted to make Melanie sick so Susie could take Melanie’s position as the head of the Here and Meow Festival, Whitney had wanted Melanie gone for good.
Amber hoped the looming fashion show was keeping Sydney busy and distracted.
Personally, Amber was being kept busy by the stack of animated toy orders waiting for her. Willow, her younger sister, was due to join her in a month or so to help—it couldn’t happen soon enough. Amber needed all the extra help she could get.
Once downstairs, Amber turned on the hot plate in her little cooking alcove so she could make herself a cup of her signature hot chocolate. Then she laid out her supplies on the worn wooden counter that ran along the back of the shop, the wall of dried herbs, teas, and tinctures stored behind labeled drawers taking up the space behind her.
Fifteen minutes later, mug of steaming chocolate nearby, Amber was absorbed in the task of painting the lion’s long, thin tail. The creature was a jumble of white pieces at the moment; she always made extra parts just in case. A small pile of miniature talons here, the curved haunch of a leg there. The round, pale face of the lion stared at nothing from its place on the countertop, its eyes two small, empty holes.
Amber had just brushed on the last touch of muted yellow onto the elongated, oval-shaped tip of the tail when she heard the unmistakable click of her front door unlocking.
She froze, paintbrush gripped in one hand, eyes wide. No one in town had keys to her shop. Had the chief decided he could no longer allow a witch in his town and had come to cart her away?
The rational part of her mind told her that if he really had come after her with that pitchfork-wielding mob, they would kick the door in, not quietly pick the lock.
She glanced up just as the door swung open. The person who walked through was not the six-foot-tall police chief, but a much smaller older woman.
Amber grinned. “Aunt Gretchen!”
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...