Appearances can be deceiving.
Amber Blackwood, Edgehill’s secret resident witch, recently found her parents’ grimoires and the powerful time spells within. The malevolent Penhallow clan has been ruthlessly seeking the grimoires so they can travel back in time to undo their clan’s cursed magic. Because the Penhallows will stop at nothing, Amber must find an impregnable hiding place for the grimoires, though she has no clue where to start looking. When her cousin Edgar suggests the game of Magic Cache, a magic-infused version of geocaching played by witches all over the world, Amber agrees to learn how to play. After all, a weird plan is better than no plan.
When the magical search leads her to the neighboring town of Marbleglen—“the safest town in Oregon”—Amber assumes her only problem will be dealing with its snooty residents. Instead, she gets caught up in a murder investigation where one man is dead and a second one framed for the crime. To complicate matters, the framed man’s condescending daughter, Bianca, wants Amber’s help—and Bianca just happens to chair Marbleglen’s Floral Frenzy Flower Festival Committee, the rival to Edgehill’s own Here and Meow Festival Committee. The two women are thrown into an uneasy alliance.
Joined by her new frenemy, her growing inner circle, and Edgehill’s Chief Brown, Amber works to unravel the mystery to ensure the right culprit ends up behind bars and Marbleglen’s safety is restored. But Amber knows that even if Marbleglen’s mystery is resolved, a bigger danger lurks in the shadows. If the Penhallows claim the grimoires of Amber’s late parents, they’ll use the books’ time-reversal spells to try to stop the curse from ever having poisoned their clan—and, in the process, possibly rewriting history.
Release date: June 10, 2020
Publisher: Ringtail Press
Print pages: 353
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Listen to a sample
Melissa Erin Jackson
The mood in the Marbleglen Community Center was somber.
The Here and Meow Committee—Kimberly Jones, Ann Marie Stuart, Nathan Porter, Chloe Deidrick, and Amber Blackwood—was in enemy territory. Amber had weathered a round of complaints about the “injustice” of it all from Kim on their way over. The committee stood in a circle along with Mayor Frank Deidrick. They were, effectively, in a huddle.
“I know none of you are … happy about this,” Frank said, “but it would be a personal favor to me if you could at least pretend you wouldn’t rather stab yourself in the eyes with pencils than be here.”
“Is the pencil thing an option, or …?” Nathan asked.
The mayor shot him a withering look.
Nathan and Ann Marie shared a not-so-secret amused wince.
“Marbleglen has been having a rough couple of months—” Frank tried again.
“Uhh, Dad …” Chloe said, brows raised.
Edgehill had been having a rough few months, the most recent being Chloe Deidrick’s kidnapping by the biological father she hadn’t known existed. If anyone knew the definition of “rough,” it was the Deidricks.
“Chloe, honey, I didn’t mean …” Frank blew out a breath. “Mayor Sable has asked for my help. She offered her resources to help find you. It would be the least we could do to help her town now.”
Chloe seemed mollified by that, given how her arms were folded tightly against her chest, but no one else was.
Amber stood between Chloe and Kim, who clearly had been trying to keep her opinions to herself about this whole thing. Kim’s very strange relationship with authority told her she shouldn’t voice her opinion to someone above her station. But at the moment, Amber could tell Kim wouldn’t be able to keep it to herself much longer. She was like the bouncing lid on a boiling pot of water in a cartoon. Bouncing, bouncing—
“I’m sorry, but can you confirm something for me?” Kim asked in a squeaky voice.
Nathan and Ann Marie shared another amused look, but the mayor didn’t see this one.
“We don’t have to agree to anything today, right?” Kim asked, eyes wide. “Because I have everything for the Here and Meow on a very tight schedule and I’m worried this will throw all of that out of whack. I’ll speak for the group when I say an out-of-whack Kim isn’t good for anyone.”
The remainder of the group nodded vigorously, the memory of Kim the Galazilla no doubt still fresh in all their minds. It had taken an intervention from Amber to bring Kim back from the brink of becoming impossible to work with.
Frank’s hesitation caused Kim to let out a little shriek of indignation.
He held his hands up. “It’s just one event, Kimberly. That’s all. It’s an event that both towns were planning to do anyway, so—”
“Not on the same weekend!” Kim whisper-hissed. “Every time the festivals happen on the same weekend, something horrific happens.”
“Horrific seems a bit dramatic,” Frank said.
There was a collective step back, as if he’d managed to slap them all across the face at the same time.
“The people from Marbleglen—especially the members of the Floral Frenzy Flower Festival—or Floral Frenemies, as I call them,” said Ann Marie, “can’t be trusted. Surely you know that.”
“What I know,” Frank said, “is that this rivalry has been going on for far too long. I’m sure it’s all been a series of misunderstandings and coincidences. Mayor Sable and I have been comparing notes—”
“Excuse me again, sir. I’m sorry,” Kim said, her face growing red. “I know you’re the mayor and everything, and I should show, like, deference or what-have-you, but you weren’t in office when the two most egregious instances of sabotage happened.”
“Deference?” Frank asked, head cocked. “Geez, Kim. I’m not a dictator. All I’m saying is that Marbleglen’s success is our success. This rivalry spills over into everything we do here—not just in relation to the competing festivals. We should be working together so both towns get the most out of this hectic festival season, rather than actively working against each other.”
Chloe seemed to swing back to the committee’s side. “Dad, don’t you think it’s a possibility that they want to mooch off Edgehill’s success? The Best of Edgehill thing is so big now that I’m starting to see it mentioned on my socials by the most random people. The Here and Meow is getting to be huge and hardly anyone talks about the Floral Frenzy Flower Festival. I mean, we’re going to have John-freaking-Huntley here—what do they have? Flower floats?”
Amber knew she should jump in to offer support to her fellow Here and Meow Committee members, but she was just so tired. She hadn’t slept well the night before. It was a miracle she’d made it to this meeting at all.
Kim grunted, clearly on a roll now. “Four years ago, they held their festival on the exact same weekend as the Here and Meow, which severely cut into our profits. And, to make matters worse, on the final day, the stage where Koalafications was going to perform was drenched in green paint. It was poured all over the stage, the equipment, and on the fireworks stored in a locked shed. We had to cancel.”
“And, if I remember correctly,” Frank said, “it was a bunch of graduating seniors pulling a very ill-conceived prank. Edgehill teens.”
“That’s never actually been proven,” said Kim. “Plus, the head of their committee, Bianca Pace, showed up at the community center and said she was so sorry to hear about what had happened to our stage. She was so sorry to hear that Koalafications decided the show must go on and that they were going to play in Marbleglen. All the people who bought tickets for the Here and Meow concert went to the Floral Frenzy instead. The Here and Meow Festival was practically a ghost town the last day! When Bianca came over to ‘apologize,’ I swear to you, I saw green paint under her fingernails.”
“And the year after that,” Ann Marie cut in, “we tried to have a truce. Their committee set up a deal with Angora Threads for custom-made banners and our committee was promised a huge order of decorative flowers at a steep discount. By the time we got the bill, they had charged us full price—plus really ridiculous ‘design fees’—and we didn’t have enough in the budget for it. We had to have that fundraiser at the last minute to cover the cost. It was so embarrassing.”
“And ever since then,” Nathan said, “we’ve refused to work with them. There are too many signs that they’ve tried to sabotage us, so it’s better for everyone if they do things on their own. The Best of Edgehill started the year we cut off ties with them and we’ve been doing great ever since.”
“Amen,” Kim and Ann Marie said in unison.
It fell silent for a few long moments.
“It’s one event,” Frank said again. “We’re already here. It’ll look really bad for me—for all of us—to not agree now. I realize I should have said earlier that this was essentially non-negotiable, but I didn’t think you’d all be this upset about it.” Frank turned his weary gaze to Amber. She stifled a yawn. “Help me out here. Please.”
Ugh. Why was he putting her on the spot? Amber was just as bothered by this as the rest of them, even if all she wanted to do at the moment was curl up on the floor and take a nap. The people of Marbleglen had always had a snooty air about them; every person she’d met from there seemed to judge her simply for being from Edgehill.
Marbleglen had a booming economy even before the festival hoopla had begun. The town got its name from a rare-colored variety of rhododendron that had petals that resembled the swirling patterns found in marble. The variety was endemic to the Pacific Northwest, with an abundance of them growing in Marbleglen. It was said that when the man who discovered a huge field of navy-blue-and-white rhododendrons growing near what is now called Lake Myrtle, he’d dropped to his knees and wept, saying this “glen of marbled flowers” was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
Flower enthusiasts paid a pretty penny for the unique flowers, including several celebrities who wanted the flowers for their weddings and special events. And, like Edgehill, whose residents had built a town around their cats, Marbleglen had built the town around its flowers.
“Since we’re already here, the fallout from denying them in person might be worse than just agreeing. I think our hands are tied here, guys,” Amber said, then winced.
“Amber Blackwood!” Kim said, turning with her hands on her hips so she could glare at the side of Amber’s head. Amber felt like she was a child being scolded by her mother.
Amber turned as well. “Can you imagine what Bianca Pace would do if we said ‘no’ to her right now? In front of Mayor Sable and Chief Jameson?”
Kim pursed her lips, then peeked outside of the huddle. Marbleglen’s Floral Frenzy Committee, mayor, and chief of police waited at the front of the room near the stage. Bianca Pace seemed to sense Kim’s gaze on her and turned sharply in her seat to glare.
Kim squeaked and turned back toward the huddle. “Fine. But let it be known that I’m not happy about this!”
“Oh, that’s been made quite clear,” Frank said. “Let’s go join them, okay?”
He broke the huddle and walked away, knowing the rest would follow like obedient ducklings. Everyone muttered to themselves, but they trailed after the mayor anyway.
Holding the meeting in a room of this size for only fifteen people seemed rather excessive to Amber, but she knew it was a classic Marbleglen power move. The Edgehill Community Center wasn’t going to be featured in a magazine anytime soon, but it was a respectable building. The Marbleglen Community Center, however, from the outside, looked more like a giant greenhouse than a functional building meant for gatherings, with its sharp angles and glass sides. Inside, the floor was made of white marble shot through with swirling gray. The color palate was made up of sleek blacks, shiny chrome, and crisp whites. Even the black plastic chairs with their dark gray legs in the main room where Amber stood now looked expensive.
The same could be said for the Floral Frenzy Committee members. Amber sized them up as the Here and Meow group walked down the middle aisle. They all wore dark, pressed slacks, solid-colored button-up shirts, and crisp black blazers. They sat primly in the front row of chairs, like a row of news anchor robots. The women wore their hair in shiny waves down around their shoulders or up in tight buns. The men—one in his fifties, the other in his thirties—both were clean-shaven with dark, short cropped hair. Not one of them turned toward Amber’s group as they approached.
Mayor Deidrick stood at the mouth of the aisle and gestured for the Here and Meow Committee to fill in the first row on the left side, like children walking into an auditorium for a school assembly. Mayor Deidrick sat in the aisle seat, and Amber took a seat beside him, Kim on her other side.
On stage stood Mayor Sable, a petite woman with curly brown hair, and Chief Jameson. Amber had never met the man before but knew from Mayor Deidrick that Jameson would be here today. He was in his mid-fifties with salt-and-pepper hair and a glassy look to his brown eyes. Amber vaguely wondered if the man might be drunk. When he swayed on his feet, Amber was almost positive he was.
Mayor Sable addressed the group first. She gently pushed a pair of glasses higher up on her nose before she spoke. “Welcome, Here and Meow Committee and Mayor Deidrick. We’re so glad to have you here. Chief Jameson and I wanted to thank you in person for joining forces with us this year for our joint opening festival ceremonies. As you know, one of the Floral Frenzy’s pride and joys every year is our parade. We’re delighted that we’ll be able to combine our parade with your cat adoption event. It’s sure to bring in an influx of visitors for us both. We hope it will be a cat-egorical success.”
No one in the room reacted.
“Tough crowd,” Mayor Sable said, chuckling lightly. Then she turned to Chief Jameson and ushered him forward.
“We’re very happy to put our rivalry behind us,” Chief Jameson said, though his expression said he couldn’t possibly care about anything less. He said the words as if he were reading them off a teleprompter. “Both festivals are great for our local businesses. We hope that this joint event will give way to more collaboration between the towns. Our success is your success.”
He took a step back.
Silence descended on the room like a heavy blanket.
Nodding slightly when she realized he was done talking, Mayor Sable inched forward again, pursing her lips. “Thank you for that … rousing speech, Chief Jameson. We can always count on you to be a team player.”
That got Jameson’s hackles up, and he focused his bleary eyes on the back of the woman’s head like it was taking everything in his power not to clobber her here on stage.
“Bianca?” the mayor said. “Why don’t you say a few words? We can work out a few details while we’re all together.”
Instead of just standing and turning to face those assembled, Bianca Pace walked along the length of the stage to the stairs on the side of the room, then joined the mayor and chief. Bianca took her sweet time getting up there.
“Oh, please can I strangle her?” Kim whispered at Amber. “Just a little. A light strangling?”
“Shh!” Amber said.
Kim huffed and sat back, her arms crossed and one leg bouncing.
Bianca stood tall and proud in the middle of the stage, back ramrod straight, the mayor and chief standing behind her on either side like backup singers for a pop star. Her black hair fell just below her shoulders and was shiny as raven feathers. She wore black slacks, a silk white shirt tucked into it, black heels, and a blue paisley scarf tied around her neck. Scratch that: she didn’t look like a news anchor; she looked like a flight attendant from the 1950s. Amber felt a little self-conscious. She hadn’t bothered to wash her hair this morning; it was in a loose, greasy ponytail now.
Whitney Sadler would have adored Bianca: a well-to-do woman who looked down her nose—literally—at people for not being up to snuff.
Amber felt her lip curl slightly.
Then she tried to think of what her late best friend, Melanie Cole, would have done. Melanie had a knack for defusing uncomfortable situations even when a room was full of too-big, competing personalities.
“Meet them halfway,” she would say. “Just because they look poised on the outside doesn’t mean they’re not full of insecurities on the inside.”
Amber did her best to plaster on a smile.
Bianca swept her piercing gaze from one end of the aisle, starting with the mayor, and down to the other side, ending at Chloe. “Is this … all of you?” she asked, her voice smooth as butter. “Four adults and a child? I heard you were having a hard time keeping the committee well-staffed, fraught as it’s been with scandal and murder, but goodness, I didn’t believe the rumors.”
Chief Jameson choked back a laugh. Mayor Sable paled.
Bianca somehow hiked her nose up further. “No one wants to be here less than I do, and on a Saturday no less, given that I’ve been accused of everything from price-gouging to vandalism. Frankly, I would rather not deal with people who blame others for their shortcomings.” She flicked a lock of hair out of her face unnecessarily. “But when the mayor—” she turned to the woman behind her and nodded, “makes a personal request, we comply.”
Amber’s face flamed further.
“Now, the parade is, as the mayor said, our pride and joy, so we’ll be in charge of the float design, as we have the most experience with it. Not just anyone can design a float; they’re works of art. We have a reputation to uphold. Plus, I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Marbleglen was recently voted—”
“The safest town in Oregon,” the entire Here and Meow Committee droned in unison.
Then a smattering of laughter sounded from the group.
“Oh! That was like a really weird Pavlovian response!” Kim said.
Marbleglen had received that designation for years, and it seemed every resident was keen to remind people of that fact—bringing it up in conversation even when it wasn’t relevant. Amber could only imagine how much more smug they’d grown as news about Edgehill’s last string of hardships had traveled north into Marbleglen’s gossip-hungry ears.
Bianca glared down at Kim like she wanted to heave both her shoes at Kim’s head, but was worried doing so might scuff the material. “As I was saying, since we want to maintain the same level of quality that our attendees expect—with our festival, anyway—we’ll need you to attend the float decorating sessions on the days we assign you. Don’t worry; it’ll be easy: it’s like paint-by-number. Even a child could do it.” She aimed a false smile at Chloe. “And you already have children on staff, so I think you’ll be fine.”
“Oh, good heavens,” Mayor Deidrick muttered under his breath from beside Amber. “I may have made a horrible mistake.”
“Now,” Bianca said, hands clasped in front of her. “What kind of budget are you working with? Do we need to supply the float materials for you? I only ask because your finance chair came down with a bad case of homicidal tendencies, so I don’t know if you’re currently in dire straits. I have a really great accountant who could help you all balance your books, but he’s not cheap and—”
Kim jumped to her feet and everyone flinched. Bianca gasped delicately and held her hands to her chest as if Kim were a rabid dog that might try to bite her. “Now you listen here!”
Amber sunk down in her seat and covered her face as the room filled with shouts and name calling.
“Yikes,” Mayor Deidrick hissed. “Is it too late to move?”
Amber laughed, despite herself. Sorry, Melanie. We tried. But some people are just awful.
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