Katherine Fairfield isn’t a typical woman—or a typical witch. Once upon a time, she worked as an agent for Hex Support, a secret division within the Federal Bureau of Magic. Following the tragic death of her husband, she quit to focus on raising their twins. Now the kids are in college, and Kit spends her days at the enchanted family estate known as Dark Hollow along with her two younger sisters and a sanctuary of forgotten familiars. But then duty calls. Kit has no interest in returning to her previous life, but her former boss makes her an offer she can’t refuse. A prominent supernatural socialite has been murdered in Savannah, and Hex Support could really use the talents of a Fairfield witch to crack the case. Begrudgingly, Kit dusts off her badge and heads to Savannah, where she meets the suspects—as well as a mysterious vampire known only as Palmer, who seems to know far more than he should. As Kit closes in on the killer, she’s forced to call upon magical skills she’s long ignored and face the reality of her new life. Will she retreat into the dark recesses of her sanctuary and let a killer go free, or will the Green Witch rise to the challenge and remind the supernatural world who’s boss?
Release date: May 5, 2022
Publisher: Red Palm Press LLC
Print pages: 205
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The grandmother clock chimed twice.
“Incoming,” Grace yelled. From where I had no idea. It was hard to guess when it came to my youngest sister, the whirling dervish. Spinning on a stool in the kitchen. Hanging upside down from the rafters alongside the bats in our belfry. Tormenting the ghosts at the local graveyard. All viable options for Grace Fairfield.
Elizabeth, my younger sister, emerged from the library with her nose in a grimoire so old that its pages slid to the floor as she walked. “Who’s coming?”
“No clue. I’m not expecting anyone.” I brushed past her to answer the door.
“Me neither.” Grace’s voice echoed throughout the spacious house.
I stood at the imposing wooden door and peered through the peephole that gave me a direct view of the bridge across the moat. The glass adjusted itself so that the figure was enlarged.
“It’s Mrs. Diamond.”
My sisters groaned in unison. Donna Diamond was our closest neighbor, which didn’t mean much when our house was located on seventy-five acres that included a lake and a forest. Still, the woman was a nuisance. Head of the Neighborhood Watch, member of the school board, and an all-around busybody, Donna Diamond disliked anything that couldn’t be explained in a single sentence. It made sense that she despised us as much as she did. As witches, we defied simple explanations.
“She has Gertie,” I added.
“Uh oh.” Grace appeared beside me, her blond hair a disheveled mess. I didn’t bother to ask what she’d been doing to acquire such a look. Grace was a Chaos Witch and, thus, always appeared to be in the middle of a science experiment gone awry.
The goat trotted beside Mrs. Diamond as calm as you please.
“Butter wouldn’t melt,” I mumbled.
Mrs. Diamond marched to the door and rapped with intensity, prompting me to recoil from the other side.
The door began to open.
“Not yet,” I hissed.
The door stopped.
I composed myself and threw open the door with a pleasant smile. “Mrs. Diamond. How nice to see you.”
She thrust the end of the leash at me. “I believe this belongs to you.”
I accepted the leash with an apologetic smile. “I’m so sorry. Gertie loves to roam.”
“She has plenty of space to do that here,” Mrs. Diamond said in a clipped tone. “I don’t see why she feels the need to pester the rest of us.”
Appearing to sense she was the topic of conversation, Gertie bowed her head and dragged herself across the threshold.
“You owe me a new leash and a pair of slacks,” Mrs. Diamond said. “Your animal savaged my best pair in my efforts to apprehend her.”
Grace snorted. “She isn’t a criminal.”
Mrs. Diamond turned her attention to my youngest sister. “Assault and battery, young lady. And property damage.” She dusted invisible particles from her floral top. “But I won’t bother to sue. We don’t all have your deep pockets.” She waved a hand airily to indicate the house. “That being said, if this keeps up, I won’t hesitate to object to your protected status. After all, red tape is my specialty.”
“Thank you for bringing Gertie to us,” I said.
“Secure your fences so it doesn’t happen again. You’re lucky it was only the goat this time.” She pivoted on her heel and marched away, along the bridge, across the moat, and back to the Chevy Impala that she likely had parked beyond the entrance gate.
I shut the door and looked at Gertie. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Bleat,” the goat said.
“I’ll take her outside,” I said. “Elizabeth, would you please call Max and ask him to check the perimeter for the broken fence?”
I guided Gertie through the house to another door that led straight into the backyard. I unhooked the leash and gave her back a playful swat.
“No more mischief, please.”
The goat trotted forward and joined a few of the other animals that lingered lakeside. Mrs. Diamond wasn’t kidding. It would only take one so-called vicious animal to escape and our status as a sanctuary for animals would be at risk. Little did anyone in town know that these animals were mostly former familiars—animals that had once been attached to a witch, but for a variety of reasons, were now free agents with nowhere to go. People mainly associate cats with witches, but the truth is far different. Our sanctuary included cats, of course, but also a goat, a variety of birds, a ferret, a raccoon, and even an alligator, for which the moat came in handy. Like those that boarded Noah’s Ark, their goal was survival. The animals arrived through a network of people similar to the way rescue shelters operated. An underground railroad for magical creatures, if you will.
I shaded my eyes and glanced at the lake where a black swan cut across the center. Bella was a gorgeous creature and she knew it. Thanks to an identification spell, I knew that her witch had died in an unfortunate accident. After she tried to bite one too many people, she found her way to our sanctuary to live out her days gliding across the lake unless she became a lucky second familiar, but they were few and far between.
I turned back to the house and, not for the first time, was struck by its grand appearance. At nearly nineteen-thousand square feet, the gothic-meets-fairy tale structure was a sight to behold. A gated entry. Stained-glass windows. Arched doorways. Two verandas. A widow’s walk. Six spires erupted from the building like rockets launching into space. The tallest tower was one hundred and twenty-six feet high. I only knew because my son decided to measure it when he was eleven. Deacon was worse than Grace when it came to raising my blood pressure.
Nobody knows exactly when the castle-like house known as Dark Hollow was originally built. Technically ‘Dark Hollow’ encompasses the entire estate, not simply the house. Throughout the years, however, Fairfield witches have used Dark Hollow to refer to the house itself. After all, an enchanted house requires a name as much as those who inhabit it. Some claim the house was built by a robber baron in the late nineteenth century to show off his newfound wealth, but others argue the building predates names like Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, and Vanderbilt. There are no public records of the structure. The truth, however, would be too difficult for most people to handle. The truth about the enchanted house, about the sanctuary animals, about my family.
All of it.
The door swung open as I approached and I re-entered the house to find Elizabeth hovering inside. She appeared to be waiting for me.
“We have a visitor,” she whispered.
I frowned. “Mrs. Diamond wasn’t satisfied with my response?”
My sister’s face grew solemn. “Not Mrs. Diamond.”
I entered the front hall to satisfy my curiosity. A recognizable figure stood beside the grandmother clock. He looked remarkably the same for a man I hadn’t seen in the better part of a decade. His hair was fully silver now and his gut slightly rounded, but the eyes were the same shade of brown and his mouth still retained the shape of perpetual disappointment. In a rumpled white shirt beneath a tweed jacket, khaki trousers, and brown loafers, he wore the uniform of an absent-minded professor, although he was far from it. Disorganized, yes, but also sharp as a fang when the situation required it. In his line of work, it often did.
He shrugged off the tweed jacket and handed it to Grace. “I was just telling your sisters how much they’ve grown since I last saw them.”
“Not me,” Elizabeth said. “I’ve been this height since I was eleven.”
It was true. Elizabeth was the tallest of the three of us and had begun to tower over me in adolescence.
Martin observed the grand entrance with its wood inlaid floor and antique furnishings. “I see this place hasn’t changed a bit, not that I expected anything else.”
“Last time you were here, the woodwork rendered you speechless,” I said.
Martin turned toward one of the false doors—windows designed to match the arched doorway. Thoughtfully he placed a hand on the trim. “Ten species of wood, wasn’t it?”
“Over twenty-five,” Elizabeth corrected him. “Imported from all over the world.”
Martin released an impressed breath. “The beauty of this place never ceases to amaze me.”
“Is that why you’ve come in person?” I asked.
He turned back to me. “I suppose that’s one reason. Any excuse to admire it again.”
“Peppermint tea?” I offered.
He smiled. He had what Grace referred to as British teeth, although I made her swear never to say it out loud again. There were plenty of British people with very fine teeth.
“You remember,” he said.
“I remember a lot.” I beckoned him toward me and together we walked into the formal parlor room reserved for guests of distinction. As my former boss at the Federal Bureau of Magic, Martin fit that description.
The FBM is a secret sister organization to the FBI and within the FBM is an even lesser-known division known as Hex Support. Whereas FBM agents are usually attached to a specific location, Hex Support agents go wherever they’re needed. The assignments tend to be high-profile or especially delicate matters. As a Green Witch, I excelled in herbal magic, which proved a useful specialty in my line of work.
My former line of work, that is. I left Hex Support behind ten years ago and never looked back.
I sat in the stuffed armchair and left the settee for Martin. A moment later, a tray sailed into the room and landed on the coffee table.
Martin observed the brimming teacup. “And not a drop spilled. Your house is a wonder, Kit.” He lifted the cup to his lips. “Cheers. Wonderful to see you again.”
I crossed my ankles. “I take it this isn’t a social visit.”
“No, but let’s pretend for a moment that it is. How are the twins?”
“Enjoying their first year at college. Top marks for both of them.”
“No. Deacon is at Johns Hopkins and Imogen is at Penn.”
A small smile touched his lips. “I didn’t think she’d wander far from the nest, although I suppose nowhere is very far from Dark Hollow.”
“It’s an hour from here by car,” I said. “That’s far enough to develop independence, but not so far that they never visit.” I felt torn between wanting them to flourish on their own and never wanting them to leave my side. A mother’s conflict.
“It’s good, old-fashioned cars for the twins, is it?” He seemed amused.
“I want their lives to be as normal as possible.”
“They were smart kids. I’m not at all surprised where they ended up.” He took another sip of tea. “I suppose you’ve found ways to keep busy without them.”
“We have the sanctuary. That’s a full-time job.”
Martin grunted. “Is it? I should think between the three of you, you have it well under control.”
“One would think.” I uncrossed my ankles. I was anxious and trying desperately not to show it. “How’s Lucy?”
“Excellent. She retired last year. Been begging me to do the same so we can take more trips together.”
“Why don’t you?”
“Because then we’d take more trips together.” He sighed. “I’ve seen enough. When I retire, I will want to switch off and become a couch vegetable.”
“A couch potato? Or a vegetable?”
His brow creased. “I always thought they were the same thing.”
“I’ll cut to the chase. We’d like you to come back to the FBM. To Hex Support. Your kids have left the nest. Your sisters are older now. You have no excuse.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “Do I need an excuse?”
“It was understandable with James gone that you would feel the need to sacrifice your career…” He trailed off. Martin had never been good with expressions of emotion. I chalked it up to an adolescence spent at an English boarding school.
“I stayed home to raise my children,” I said. “It wasn’t a sacrifice, Martin. It was a privilege.”
“Yes, of course. I didn’t mean anything by it.” He set the empty cup on the tray and the items were whisked away by an unseen hand.
“I find it hard to believe that the bureau is so desperate, they need to recruit women in their forties who are ten years out of the game.”
“You’re not simply a woman in your forties, Kit. You’re a masterful witch and an excellent agent. Hex Support could use someone with your skills right now.”
“Right now?” I knew my frown lines were deepening. Grace could tell me all about it later. “What’s happening?”
“It isn’t what’s happening. It’s what’s happened already.” He licked his lips. “Do you remember Dottie Neff?”
“The name rings a bell.”
I reached into the recesses of my mind. I found it hard to remember names from my old life. I could tell you the names of my children’s friends from high school—could even tell you their birthdays—but names from my professional past were largely forgotten. Intentionally.
“I’ll give you a hint. Savannah.”
Suddenly her file appeared fully formed in my mind.
Dottie Neff was a formidable mage with a large fortune, an even larger mouth, and a fondness for grand parties. An invitation to a party hosted by Dottie Neff was the magical equivalent of being made by the mob. It meant you were somebody in Savannah. She had a reputation for dancing too close to the legal line when it came to magic use. As a result, she’d been put on the Watch List during my tenure.
“What happened? Did she finally cross the line?”
“No, she crossed over. She’s dead,” Martin said.
I didn’t bother to hide my shock. “What happened?”
“She threw a costume party at a place called The Mad Hatter. She was dressed as the Queen of Hearts. I’m sure you can guess the cause of death.”
My fingers inadvertently reached for my neck. “Weapon?”
“To be determined.”
“None. Her head was found atop a statue in the courtyard.”
“A gruesome end.”
He sniffed. “You’re not kidding.”
“Aside from the fact that you’re the best we ever had?”
I pulled a face at him. “No need to flatter me, Martin.”
“We’re in a tight spot. Our current best is on another assignment, a delicate matter involving a politician and a summoning circle gone awry. It has the potential to blow up in spectacular fashion.”
“I find it hard to believe you have no one else qualified.”
Martin rubbed the back of his head, a sure sign of his growing frustration and impatience. It was amazing the small details you could remember about a person you hadn’t seen in years.
“They’re qualified, but they’re not you.”
I knew what ‘you’ meant and it wasn’t as straightforward as it sounded. He wanted someone the caliber of a Fairfield witch.
“I get that Dottie is a high-profile mage and that’s why Hex Support is involved, but what aren’t you telling me?”
Martin cleared his throat. Another detail I remembered. Whatever information he was hiding, he was determined to keep it that way.
“Nothing. We simply want this matter handled as quickly, quietly, and proficiently as possible and that means you, Kit. Dottie’s murder has the potential to draw the wrong kind of attention. If we don’t attend to it swiftly, before you know it there will be a supernatural swarm descending upon Savannah. It will become the Wild West.”
I couldn’t resist a smile. “Don’t you think that might be a slight exaggeration?”
Martin slapped his hands on his thighs. He was getting desperate and ready to negotiate. “How about this? You take this one job as a favor to me. If you’re interested in more work after this, we’ll discuss a contract.”
On the one hand, it would be nice to get out of my comfort zone. Once the twins left for college, I’d struggled to find ways to occupy my time. The kids were thriving. The plants were thriving. The animals were thriving.
But was I?
“We’ll make it worth your while,” he continued. “Tuition is expensive these days, or so I’ve heard. I know James had life insurance…”
I held up a hand. I didn’t want to talk about James. “I’ll do it.”
Martin appeared visibly relieved. “Oh, thank the gods. I was ready to throw in a car. This is a monumental favor, Kit. I appreciate it. I’ll have my assistant send over the pertinent details. How soon can you get to Savannah?”
“I’ll leave in the morning.”
“Perfect. I take it you still have your usual method of travel available to you?”
He stood and stretched his back. “I hope this is a fruitful venture for us both. I would love to have you back on board.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“It was good to see you again,” I said, because it was true. I’d always been fond of Martin. He was the ideal mentor—patient, kind, and incredibly capable. I owed him a great deal, which was the main reason I felt compelled to agree to his request. And the extra pocket money wouldn’t hurt. He was right, tuition was outrageously expensive.
Martin tipped an imaginary hat. “Good luck, Kit. I eagerly await your report.”
Lights turned on automatically as I passed through each room. The house anticipated our needs and seemed to know us as well as we knew ourselves. It made life here comfortable, especially in the months following my husband’s death. I’d been in my early thirties looking after Grace as well as the twins, and I had Elizabeth by my side, but it was Dark Hollow that got me through the most difficult moments. I was never frazzled or overwhelmed, at least not with tasks and chores. Emotionally was another story.
In my room, I packed an overnight bag with enough necessities to last a few days. My familiar climbed into the bag and I scooped her out.
“Sorry, Isis. Only one of us is going.”
She meowed and swished her tail.
“I need you to be my eyes and ears here,” I told the cat. “I haven’t been away on my own in ten years. Watch Grace. Make sure she doesn’t burn the house down.”
Isis rubbed her black fur all over the white shirt folded on the bed.
I cemented a hand to my hip. “So it’s like that, is it?”
The cat looked at me and meowed again. Plenty of witches shared a telepathic bond with their familiars, but Isis was too cool to share her thoughts with me. I chose not to take it personally.
“You’ll want a cardigan,” Elizabeth advised from the bedroom doorway.
I craned my neck to regard her. “It’s mid-April in the deep South. I should probably pack bug spray and sunscreen.”
“I checked the weather forecast. The evenings are still supposed to be chilly.”
Begrudgingly I grabbed a cardigan from a hanger in the closet and tossed it on top of the pile in the bag.
Once I finished packing, I went outside to say goodbye to the animals. Amos, the pot-bellied pig, trotted toward me. He’d come to us from a wizard who suffered from pancreatic cancer and could no longer care for him. The illness had been swift and merciless. Amos had settled in nicely and was a gentle presence amidst some of the more vocal members of the sanctuary.
I caught a glimpse of Midas in the moat and waved. The alligator disappeared beneath the surface of the water. Midas came to live here before I was born, but he was as shy now as he was then. He seemed fond of Grace, though, and would sometimes swim to shore when she was outside.
Next I checked on the gardens and the potted plants on the balconies. Nothing required attention, which was no surprise given that I’d doted on them for years. They were healthy and flourishing.
Now it was my turn.
I returned to the house, looped the handle of my bag over my arm, and approached the large oil painting on the wall in the study. Not only did our house have a moat and spires, it also had a portal. Suffice it to say, these weren’t features generally found in real estate listings.
“Break a leg,” Grace said.
I cast a glance over my shoulder. “It isn’t a performance.”
“It sort of is. You’ll have to pretend to be an agent.”
I tensed. “I was an agent.”
“That’s the operative word right there. Was.” Clasping her hands behind her back, she strolled forward. “For what it’s worth, though, I think you’ll be great.”
“I appreciate the vote of confidence.”
“It’ll be good for you to get away from us. You’ve been in charge of Dark Hollow forever.”
“It only seems like forever because you were so young when…” I stopped, unwilling to finish the sentence.
Grace threw her arms around my waist and hugged me. “Everything will be fine here. Go make the world a better place. The gods know you can’t do that from Fort Fairfield.” She withdrew her arms. “I’ll see you soon.”
I squared my shoulders and concentrated on the painting. It was a pretty depiction of the landscape surrounding Dark Hollow. A crystal blue lake and a dense green forest. A blue sky with the kind of white clouds that gave rise to the imagination.
Placing a hand on either side of the frame, I formed a connection with the portal and said, “Savannah, Georgia.”
The clouds dissipated and the house folded into itself. I wasn’t certain exactly where I’d end up in Georgia’s fifth-largest city. The portal on our end was through the painting, but the destination would be a power point where multiple ley lines converged. Cities like Savannah that were doused in magical energy had multiple portals. When I wanted to return home, I’d have to find the nearest one. Thankfully technology had advanced since my time in the field and there was now an app called APIAS to help me identify energy pockets, including the nearest entry point. Short for Any Portal in a Storm, it was basically Google Maps for supernatural travel.
Wrought iron gates and gravestones replaced the trees and the lake of Dark Hollow. I recognized elements of Bonaventure Cemetery. The location didn’t surprise me. Between the historical city and the Wilmington River, the old cemetery was teeming with magical energy.
Drawing a deep breath, I grabbed the overnight bag and walked through the gate.
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