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Not all secrets are meant to be kept.
After two stressful months, Amber Blackwood is determined to have a few weeks of peace before the Here and Meow Festival descends on her small town of Edgehill, Oregon. That peace doesn’t last long; when she and the committee attend a meeting at the mayor’s house, Amber is pulled aside by the mayor’s daughter, Chloe, who Amber babysat for in high school. The mayor has forbidden Chloe from dating, but she recently met an older boy through a chat app and is desperate to meet him. Amber advises Chloe to tell her father about the boy.
Hours later, Mayor Deidrick frantically puts in a call to Amber: Chloe, the always well-behaved teenager, seems to have snuck out her bedroom window—and now she’s not answering his calls. When Amber helps search the town for the girl, she happens upon Chloe’s abandoned car. Her driver’s side door is open, and while her purse is inside, her phone is gone.
Working alongside Chief Brown, Amber uses her magic to figure out what might have happened to Chloe. The more they dig, the more they unearth secrets about the mayor. The charismatic politician has both a hair-trigger temper and a suspicious death linked to his past.
As if the mayor’s increasingly strange behavior isn’t bad enough, Amber and the chief also contend with an out-of-town private investigator, nosy reporter Connor Declan, and an even nosier population of Edgehill residents who start to question why Amber and the chief are spending so much time together. Undaunted by these obstacles, Amber races against the clock to help ensure Chloe doesn’t become another statistic—assuming the mayor doesn’t stop her first.
Release date: December 10, 2019
Publisher: Ringtail Press
Print pages: 284
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Listen to a sample
Melissa Erin Jackson
Amber Blackwood’s magic was restless.
Though the clouds were a dark and dreary slate gray, the voice of Kimberly Jones was chipper as Kim drove them toward the center of town. Given Kim’s tendency to hit the brakes for any minor disturbance in the road—such as a streetlight turning yellow a mile ahead, or a leaf falling on the sidewalk—Amber often volunteered to drive. But, thanks to the events of a few weeks ago, Amber had found herself without a vehicle.
“The Hair Ball is proving to be even more stressful to coordinate than the Here and Meow,” Kim said in her signature breathy way. “Just the other day, Ann Marie said she saw Janie Howard, you know, the newest cashier over at Holly’s Harvest? Well, Janie was supposed to help with some of the decorations for the Hair Ball because she majored in artistic something or other, and she’s back in Edgehill now because her mother has a bad case of gout. Or was it arthritis? Anyway …”
Amber tuned back out, letting Kim’s voice become a dull hum in the background. She watched the passing landscape out the window, trying to ignore how antsy her magic felt beneath her skin. This always happened on the eve of a bad storm. Though they were well into March and had a relatively calm winter, as far as Oregonian weather went, this felt like a storm for January, not nearly spring.
The impending storm was a big part of why she’d asked Kim for a ride, rather than making the trek on the bicycle she’d pulled out of storage a couple weeks ago. She hadn’t ridden her bike this much since she was a teenager. As she cruised down deserted residential sidewalks in the evenings and wove in and out of traffic on her lunch breaks, she’d fallen for her feline-obsessed town all over again. It was still the town of her childhood, but it had evolved bit by bit over the years, just as she had. Grocery shopping, unfortunately, had proven to be a nightmare, but at least she was getting her cardio in. She’d lost four pounds and her calves looked great.
Calves that thanked her today for opting to carpool with Kim to the mayor’s house. Her calves and her itchy, twitchy magic. Amber wished she could release some of the building pressure with a simple spell or two, but if Kim had an overactive brake foot now, Amber could only imagine what would happen if she changed the color of Kim’s steering wheel or dashboard for a few moments. They would surely get into an accident.
For the briefest of moments, Amber wished Kim knew her secret—wished she could change the color of the dashboard and that Kim’s only reaction would be “Ooh, try orange next!” She wished Kim could understand her the way Willow and Aunt Gretchen did.
Her thoughts strayed to Jack. Jack, who had learned all her secrets on the same night Amber had lost her car to the magic of the cursed Kieran Penhallow. And, once the threat of Kieran’s magic had been dealt with, Jack had asked Amber to make him forget. It had been too much for him. She’d been too much for him.
He’d known her secrets—known her—and rejected it all.
So, no, Amber would never have someone like Kim know her secrets. Amber’s parents had kept even more secrets than Amber had and had taken dozens more to their graves—because it was better to die with Blackwood secrets than to share them. Amber knew this was true. Deep down, she knew her parents had been right to choose safety over all else.
But it made for such a lonely existence.
“And then,” Kim said, “Nathan told me that the centerpieces we had planned on are on backorder, and they likely won’t be back in stock for another two months which simply won’t do. The Hair Ball is only two weeks away! I don’t know what we’re going to do. I really need an assistant, but I don’t have time to find one. My mom was saying she thinks little Abby Dryal might be a good fit, but we went to high school with her brother—do you remember him?”
Amber turned to look at Kim, but gasped as Kim suddenly slammed on the brakes, the seatbelt tightening on her chest. Amber’s back hit her seat as the car came to a complete halt in the middle of the road. Luckily, no one was behind them.
Kimberly laughed nervously, fluttering a hand in the air as if trying to wave away Amber’s brush with a heart attack, then continued driving. “Sorry, sorry! I thought that squirrel was going to run into the street, but he went up a tree instead. Ha. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, yeah, do you remember Brian Dryal? He was really into found art when we were in high school. Like he made his own shoes out of old car tires or something weird? Well, Brian …”
Amber sighed, her heart still thudding hard thanks to their near miss with the supposed squirrel, and prayed to whoever was listening that they’d make it to the mayor’s house before the storm hit. Amber couldn’t imagine Kim was a calm driver during lightning and thunder either.
She supposed that part of the reason why Kim was even more chatty and anxious today than usual was because the Here and Meow Committee was meeting with Mayor Deidrick himself. Kim had attended the pre-Here and Meow meeting with mayors in the past, of course, including this mayor last year, since she’d been on the committee in some capacity for a couple of years now. This would be the first meeting with Kim leading the whole thing. The committee’s last head chair, Melanie Cole, had died two months prior at the hands of the former financial leader, Whitney Sadler. Kim had assumed the role after Melanie’s death and had tried to do Melanie proud ever since.
Since his election as mayor nearly two years ago, Mayor Deidrick had done his best to be as hands-on with as many events as possible in Edgehill. This was partly due to the fact that the last mayor had committed the worst faux pas in the history of the world during his first—and last—term: he opted to only attend the first day of the three-day Here and Meow Festival, and then sent his assistant in his stead for the following two days.
A rumor started to circulate that the old man “didn’t even like cats,” and that was it: Mayor Proust was out, and the much younger, charismatic, cat-loving Frank Deidrick was in. It had been a landslide.
A political newcomer and lifelong resident of Edgehill, Victor Newland, had tried for the position as well. It had been a contentious campaign season; Victor Newland had been out for blood. For months, both Victor’s and Frank’s faces had been plastered all over town. Then, one day, Victor abruptly dropped out of the race and Frank ran nearly unopposed.
“It’s just so sad, you know?” Kim said now.
Amber had no clue what Kim had been talking about. “Sorry. I zoned out there for a minute. What’s sad?”
Kim made a sympathetic cooing sound and removed her hand from the steering wheel just long enough to pat Amber’s knee. “Oh, it’s okay, hon. I’m amazed you’re keeping it together as well as you are, if I’m being honest. You’ve been through so much lately.”
Kim wasn’t wrong—and she didn’t even know the half of it.
“I’ll be more focused at the meeting,” Amber said. “Promise.”
“Oh, I’m not worried.” When said in Kim’s usual dramatic tone, it sounded like she was the exact opposite. “Everyone already knows what’s going on with you; you have everyone’s support. I swear. Truly. Just go at your own pace, okay?”
Amber nodded and looked out the window at the passing landscape again. People were out walking their dogs, ducking into Edgehill’s many cat-themed restaurants and shops, or stopping to talk to friends. A perfectly normal day.
None of them knew that sitting beside Kimberly Jones was Edgehill’s resident secret witch. They didn’t know Amber had two cloaked grimoires hidden in her studio apartment, one that was so highly coveted, witches had killed over it. They didn’t know Amber’s aunt and sister, who’d recently left town, were also witches. Or that the Blackwood parents had been killed by a cursed witch. Or that there were other Penhallows out there somewhere, possibly on their way to Edgehill, who wanted to claim the book Kieran had come so close to taking.
A book with a powerful time-travel spell in it that could rewrite history for witches and non-witches alike.
Absently, Amber put a hand to her throat, remembering how Kieran had tried to choke the life out of her with his magic. She had nightmares about it nearly every night.
Despite her wildly caterwauling thoughts, she stifled a yawn. She really needed to sleep.
“Oh my God, Amber. Have you heard?”
“John Huntley might perform the last night of the festival!”
Amber blinked again. She was a total dunce when it came to pop culture, but even Amber knew who John Huntley was. “The country singer slash actor?”
“Mmhmm,” Kim purred.
“How’d that happen? Isn’t he on the cusp of superstardom?”
John Huntley had just finished up a season as a bad-boy vampire on some ridiculous TV show Amber had unabashedly binge-watched recently. He’d been such a fan favorite that the writers were apparently scrambling to add him back into next season despite unmistakably being reduced to ash in the season finale.
“Get this!” Kim said, grinning. “He’s a huge fan of cats. He’s got three of his own that go on tour with him and he donates large chunks of money to animal rescue organizations every year.”
And he was a dreamboat. It was unfair that so much genetic luck had been crammed into one person.
“Edgehill will be swarmed with women if John Huntley shows up for the festival,” Amber said. “Even worse than when Olaf Betzen was here.”
“I’ll be at the front of the line!”
Amber laughed. Remembering pieces of that last season—namely when John was shirtless, bloody, and scowling—she grinned as well. “I’ll be right behind you.”
“I thought you were dating Connor Declan,” Kim said. “Are you telling me that tall glass of water is back on the market?”
Amber frowned slightly. “If he was ever off the market, it had nothing to do with me.”
“Really?” Kim sounded genuinely baffled. “I heard he’s been talking about you to people all over town like some lovesick teenager.” She paused thoughtfully. “Rumor had it that you and Jack were an item too, though. Is that one true?”
Something twinged in Amber’s chest. “Nope.”
“I need better sources,” Kim said, huffing. “Are the two of them close? Connor and Jack, I mean. I didn’t think so, but Ann Marie said she’s seen the two of them chatting it up lately. I guess Connor comes in to Purrcolate a lot and he and Jack get into these long conversations. Dina over at the Catty Melt mentioned that she saw the two of them meeting for lunch there a couple times last week, too.”
Amber’s brow furrowed. Other than the time Jack had given Connor a ride back to the Sippin’ Siamese the night of Connor’s birthday celebration, Amber hadn’t known the two to be on friendly terms. Now they were getting lunch together on a regular basis?
Maybe they had bonded over the fact that Amber Blackwood was a terrible date.
“Weird,” was all Amber said.
They cruised down tree-lined Scritch Boulevard, branches almost forming a canopy over this stretch of road. Leaves were just starting to grow back now that the promise of spring was near. Tiny buds dotted branches.
The little patches of sky that peeked through the branches were still dark, so dark the clouds were nearly purple. Perhaps once they arrived at the mayor’s house, Amber could duck into the bathroom and change the color of the walls a few times to release this buildup of magic. This storm was sure to be a doozy.
There was a sudden break in the foliage as Kim’s car followed the road’s curve. The mayor’s house, which sat nearly in the dead center of Edgehill, appeared on the corner. It was three times larger than any other residence in town. It was a modest house as far as mayoral homes went, but it was the most impressive building in Edgehill aside from the sprawling Victorian-like Manx Hotel a few blocks away.
The house was two stories, had a large wraparound front porch, and was painted a sunny yellow.
Once Kimberly parked at the curb, she hunched down to peer at the house through Amber’s window. The second floor’s balcony was lined with a white wooden railing, and a tabby cat laid on the middle of it, tail twitching as he watched the world go by.
“I’ve never actually been in there,” Kim said. “Have you? Last year was at the Community Center.”
“Nope,” Amber said. “I used to babysit Chloe when I was in high school, but they were in a tiny apartment back then.”
Kim sat up straight. “I’ve always liked the Deidricks. Good for them, you know? He went from being a single dad in an apartment to being mayor. He’s full of perseverance and gumption and all that. Can’t believe he’s still single, though. I really thought he and Francine Robins were going to become a thing, but even someone who works as closely with him as Francine can’t seem to crack that nut.”
Kim flushed. “Oh! I didn’t mean for that to sound so dirty!”
Francine Robins had only been living in Edgehill for a few months before she’d landed a job with Frank. She’d started off as his campaign manager and then, once elected, had become his right-hand woman. They were seen together in town so often, people had started to speculate that the perpetually single Frank Deidrick had finally snagged himself a girlfriend. Frank hadn’t grown up in Edgehill like Kim and Amber had, but he’d been a resident here for sixteen years. And in those sixteen years, Amber was fairly certain Frank had never been in a truly serious relationship.
He’d shown up with little one-year-old Chloe one day and had never left. Chloe’s mother, Shannon, had died in some tragic way—the most common theories were either a car crash or an accidental drowning—and Frank’s heart seemed to have shut itself off from loving anyone again. Other than being a devoted father to his daughter, of course.
While he’d clearly folded himself into Edgehill easily, his personal life had been a subject of conversation in town for years. Even Amber, who had helped him out while she was in high school, babysitting the always well-behaved Chloe, had never learned much about the Deidricks’ past. Chloe seemed happily clueless about it, and Frank had always skirted the subject with the agility of a politician. Amber had wondered if his dirty laundry might get aired during his election campaign, but nasty Victor Newland hadn’t uncovered anything before he mysteriously dropped out. Nothing of note had ever surfaced about Frank, and Amber liked to believe that was because there had been nothing for anyone to find.
“Ready?” Kim chirped from the driver’s seat.
Amber nodded, emerging from her ever-bouncing thoughts, and the two climbed out of the car. They walked up the short brick path to the door, either side lined with neatly tended grass. Glancing up, Amber met the semi-interested gaze of the tabby watching them from his perch on the second story’s railing.
“I’m so nervous,” Kim muttered, smoothing down her already-smooth brown hair that hung around her shoulders in wide waves.
“You’ll be great,” Amber assured her. “Mel would be proud.”
Kimberly stopped walking abruptly, hand to her chest, eyes welled with tears. “Do you really think so?”
Amber faced her, taking Kim’s free hand in hers. “Absolutely. You’ve made the best of a horrible situation. She loved this festival and she would be grateful that you’ve been working your butt off to make sure it runs as smoothly as possible. I mean … John Huntley might grace one of the Here and Meow stages? Mel would be ecstatic.”
Kim nodded, doing her best to get her emotions under control before she actually started crying. She took a fortifying breath and gave Amber’s hand a squeeze. “She’d be proud of you too, you know. Melanie was a fighter and so are you. Life might be kooky right now, but you’ve got people around you who love you and are here for you, okay? We’ll get through this together.”
Amber fought her own sudden flood of emotion, surprised at how suddenly it worked its way up her throat and burned her eyes. “Together,” she agreed, giving Kim’s hand one more squeeze.
They walked the rest of the way to the mayor’s front door and Kim gave the black door a quick series of confident knocks. It was pulled open seconds later by the mayor himself, a bright smile on his face.
“Welcome, ladies!” he said, ushering them inside with a grand gesture. “Come on in.”
As Amber stepped in after Kimberly, following the sound of happily chatting voices and laughter somewhere deeper in the house, Amber wondered how truly together she and Kim—she and anyone—could ever really be.
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