- Book info
- Author updates
Pepper enlists the help of her family in the search for her animals, but what they discover is terrifying. A creature is inhabiting the sewers and Pepper is convinced there is a sinister reason behind it. On top of that, one of her closest loved ones is acting strangely and she's sure that person has been replaced by someone else.
Will Pepper get to the bottom of the mystery of what happened to her animals? Is the creature in the sewer related? And what's happened to her loved one? Will everything be revealed, or will her life go up in smoke?
Find out now!
Release date: February 6, 2022
Publisher: LADYBUGBOOKS LLC
Print pages: 190
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Of all the days and all the moments in my life, both good and bad, this one would go down in the history books as the worst.
It was after Christmas; winter was in full blast. But you know in the South we have really weird winters. It can be thirty degrees in January with a hot sun and then in February it can go all the way up to sixty-something degrees, then a day later the temperature will drop and we’ll have a snowstorm. Everything will shut down.
And when I say everything, I mean all businesses. Nothing will be open for about a day. But by the next afternoon, it’ll be sixty degrees again, the sun will be high in the sky, and the snow will melt.
But this day had nothing to do with snow. It had everything do with my shop, Familiar Place, where I matched witches to their pet familiars.
For those of y’all who don’t know me, my name is Pepper Dunn Reign and I’m a witch. I live in the small town of Magnolia Cove, Alabama, with my husband, Axel, and our daughter, Gisela, or Gizzy for short.
That morning, I had walked to work along Bubbling Cauldron Road, and when I rounded a corner and laid my gaze on my shop, the world stopped.
The front windows had been bashed, leaving shards of sparkling glass glinting in the sun. The door was also broken; it sagged sadly from the frame. The sound of groaning hinges sent a shiver whipping down my spine.
My heart nearly halted. I stared at the store, unable to form a coherent thought. It’s strange what happens to your brain in times of great stress—which this was.
A scream didn’t force its way out of my throat. I didn’t immediately reach for my phone to call anyone. Instead I charged toward the store. Not because I wanted to face whoever had done this, but because there were no signs of life coming from the shop.
My store was supposed to be filled with animals—birds, kittens, puppies, snakes, mice. Any creature that a witch could possibly need to help her wield her magic, I had it in stock, ready to be purchased.
So yes, I was afraid for my animals.
I picked my way over the broken glass and opened the door. It swayed out and then crashed to the ground. I jumped as both fear and anger bubbled in my gut.
Who had done this? Why had someone wrecked my life? None of the other shops had been touched. Just mine.
There was no doubt that I had enemies. There had been plenty of people I’d sent to prison. But that was because they’d committed some sort of crime. And others had tried to kill me. Some of them had wound up dead themselves. Did they have relatives who were now hunting me down, wanting to take from me what I’d taken from them?
My heart started to race even more than it already was, if you could imagine that. No. I could not let my anxiety and worry get ahold of me. I first had to go inside and make sure that none of the animals were hurt.
There was so much glass. What if…?
I shoved thoughts of harmed animals from my mind and stepped inside the store. Glass crunched under my feet. It appeared as if when the windows broke, the debris had gone in many different directions. The glass didn’t just go inside; it was outside, too.
How was that even possible?
I picked my way into the heart of my shop and found that my creatures were gone. They’d either been taken or set free.
It was time to make a call. I found my phone in the bottom of my purse (the place where old tissues and ponytail holders went to die, I often joked) and dialed Axel.
“Hey, babe,” he said in a sultry voice.
As much as I wished this was a casual call, there was nothing casual about what I had witnessed. “Something’s happened at Familiar Place.”
Alarm instantly filled his voice. “What?”
“There’s been a break-in. All the animals are gone.”
“I’ll be right there. Get outside in case whoever did this is still there, waiting for you.”
We hung up and I did as he said, stepping out to wait, the whole time wondering just who had done this and why. But also, where were the animals? Were they safe?
I pulled my coat tight as a wind sliced through me, and prayed with all my might that every creature was okay.
“This is how she found it,” Axel said a while later to Sheriff Mullins Rob, the new law in town.
Now Mullins Rob was not a pretty face. Not by a long shot. He wore a black patch over a missing eye and had a hook for a hand. Only one hook. He had another hand, luckily.
I’d jokingly referred to him as Sheriff Pirate when we’d first met. He’d been rough as sandpaper along the edges but was slowly coming around.
And right now Sheriff Rob’s single eye was scouring the premises of Familiar Place as a crowd gathered outside. “And no one was here when you arrived?”
“No,” I answered, shaking my head. “Every animal was gone.”
“Interesting,” he told me. “I need to find out if you were the only business hit, or if any of the others were affected as well.”
I spotted Harry and Theodora from the shop next door to mine, Castin’ Iron. I waved them over. “Did anyone break into y’all’s shop last night?”
Harry scratched his head. “Let me think a minute.”
Theodora smacked his chest. “You ain’t got to think about it. No. Nobody broke in. Everything’s exactly as it’s supposed to be. ‘Let me think a minute,’” she mumbled, mimicking her husband. “Harry, I swear, if you weren’t old and ornery, I’d get rid of you.”
He shrugged. I had a feeling they went through this argument a lot.
I winced at Mullins Rob. “I guess there weren’t any other break-ins, or breakouts, whichever the case may be.”
Mullins opened his mouth to say something as a new voice broke through the murmurs and whispers that filtered through the crowd.
“Out of my way. Coming through!” Betty waddled into the sea of witch and wizard spectators, elbowing them aside. “I said, move! That’s my granddaughter’s shop that’s been attacked. She needs my help.”
The crowd parted, though I had the feeling that if it had been up to them, none of them would have moved a muscle. They wouldn’t even have blinked.
What tipped me off was the way they crossed their arms, fingernails digging into their biceps, or that they cinched closer together when Betty started shouting at them to move.
Even witches liked to have a front-row seat at a spectacle. They were sometimes a little possessive about it.
Anyway, the crowd released Betty from its hold like a leech letting go of warm flesh.
She glanced back at them and scowled. “All some people care about is getting their picture in the paper.”
I shook my head. Did she really think there would be a big write-up in the local rag?
Next thing I knew, a reporter poofed onto the scene. I groaned. It wasn’t just any reporter. This was Victoria Vshara. She was the worst. Always butting her nose into business that wasn’t hers.
Well, I supposed that was what reporters did. But I had no interest in having my store be front-page news.
Victoria sidled like slime up to Mullins Rob. “Sheriff, what do you know so far about the break-in?”
I shot Axel a pleading look. He nodded and crossed to her. “Victoria, so good to see you. How about I tell you everything that I know?”
Which I knew would be nothing. But Victoria appeared confused. She slowly closed and opened her heavily lashed eyes (I’m not kidding when I say heavily—the lashes were so thick that I was surprised she didn’t fall over from the weight of them).
“Oh, okay, Axel. Sure, if you have something to tell me. I’d love to hear everything.” She licked her ball point pen and conjured up a notepad. “I’m ready.”
Axel started talking, but I didn’t hear what he said because Betty took charge of the situation. She pushed up her sleeves, pulled her pipe from her pocket, stuck it between her teeth and started puffing. Apparently it had been lit while in her clothing.
Talk about a fire hazard.
“What theories do you have, Sheriff?” she asked Rob.
He looked momentarily confused until I mouthed to him, Just go with it. Then he cleared his throat. “It seems no one saw the perpetrator.”
She tapped her chin. “They didn’t, huh? Any other stores vandalized?”
Theodora shouted, “Unless you count Harry’s flatulence as vandalization, then no!”
The crowd laughed at that. Great. How had this break-in become a three-ring circus so quickly?
Betty strutted toward the front door. “Let me have a look.”
Sheriff Rob cut her off. “I’m sorry, but as much as I hate to say it, if you go inside, you’ll be destroying evidence, Betty. Now, your family has been good to me, very kind, very loyal and generous.”
Had we, actually?
I supposed we’d offered friendship when Rob wasn’t very deserving of it. Betty had invited him for dinner several times, and he had come. So I guess, maybe we had been kind, loyal and generous—to use his words.
But then he continued. If he’d just stopped there, everything would’ve been okay. But no, Sheriff Rob kept on a’blabbing. “But even though you’ve been all those things, I can’t let you into that shop. It’s a crime scene.”
Betty’s gaze raked over him as if he was a slug sitting on her shirt and she was about to flick him the heck off. “Listen, Sheriff, what you don’t know is that I am a VIP in this town. My family has helped out with plenty, and I mean plenty of crime scenes. In fact, if it wasn’t for us, half the criminals in this town would never have been caught.”
“Right. I’ve read the previous sheriff’s notes about that.” Rob scrubbed a hand down the stubble peppering his cheeks. “Seems half of the time y’all just about got yourselves killed in the process.”
“Details, details,” she mumbled. “If you don’t let me through, I’m going to force my way inside. Do you really want to have to arrest an old lady?” She leaned forward and whispered, “It won’t look too good on you, being fairly new and all, ruffling an old lady’s skirts, making her wig fall off, and letting the town see her bald.”
“What?” Sheriff Rob recoiled. I almost recoiled, too. What in the world was Betty talking about? “No one here is going to accost you.”
“That’s what I thought.” Betty hmphed. Then she lifted her nose high in the air (so high I was afraid she might trip on the curb) and strutted inside Familiar Place.
I shot Axel a look that asked, Is she really doing this?
He nodded. She was, indeed. That was when my husband disentangled himself from the nosy reporter’s grasp. “I’m going in, too.”
Sheriff Rob slapped his thighs. “Well, if half the town is going inside, then I am as well.”
“Me too.” I wasn’t going to be left out alone. It was my shop, after all. “I’m right behind you.”
We stepped inside, me walking in next to Axel, who placed a comforting arm around my shoulders. My stomach was a mess of butterflies, a wad of nerves. I curled inward, trying to protect myself from what we would uncover on the shelves and the floors of Familiar Place—besides glass, that was.
Betty charged in like a bulldog, peering into the cages. “Very interesting,” she murmured as if she were Sherlock Holmes—an older, fatter, feminine version of the detective, that was.
She moved spryly over the glittering glass, making it pop and crackle under her feet. Good thing she wasn’t wearing her house slippers.
After placing her hands on the bottom of the bird area and glancing inside the puppy’s window, she whirled around, lifted a finger. “I know exactly what happened! Let me tell y’all all about it.”
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...