For a tiny town, picturesque Wilfred, Oregon, has everything, including an impressive library housed in a Victorian mansion, a touch of magic in new librarian and fledgling witch, Josie Way, a visiting movie star—and a curious tendency toward murder . . .
Josie and all of Wilfred are buzzing with excitement. A-list movie star Daphne Morris has chosen to interview Roz, assistant librarian and novelist, for her book club. But when the glamorous actress quickly charms both Roz's long-time love and sheriff Sam, the object of Josie's unrequited affection, Josie turns to the whispers from her beloved books for ideas on revising the plot. Yet soon there's another twist . . .
At a party to celebrate the interview, Daphne's personal chef is found dead in a scene that all too closely echoes one in Roz's novel. It's clear to Josie that someone's idea of a happy ending means framing her friend. She'll have to read between the lines with the help of the library's enchanted stacks, guidance from her magical grandmother's letters, and her cat familiar, Rodney, to solve this murder before someone decides to stage a deadly sequel . . .
Release date: July 26, 2022
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 304
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Witch and Famous
Angela M. Sanders
“What do you think of this?” I asked Roz, my assistant librarian. “We’ll set your novel in the background, cover out, so the audience sees it.”
Roz paced Circulation—once the mansion’s sitting room—and batted her fan at her neck. Hot flashes again. “What does it matter? The whole thing’s going to be a disaster, anyway. I’ll freeze up. Worse, I bet I pass out. Or get an explosive nosebleed.”
Roz’s dire predictions didn’t faze me. She was a confirmed pessimist, and I’d have been more shocked if she were upbeat. Besides, Roz had been over the moon when Daphne Morris’s personal assistant called to say The Whippoorwill Cries Love had been selected for the actress’s televised book club.
When we learned Daphne Morris planned to spend a whole week in town before the interview, Wilfredians went wild. A movie star? Vacationing in tiny Wilfred? This was almost as exciting as when Mrs. Garlington’s epic poem about the passing of her beagle made it into the News-Times.
My black cat Rodney chose this moment for an attack of the zoomies. He leapt from the desk and sped through Circulation into the atrium.
“Seriously, though, what do you think?” I asked. “Should they stage the interview here, in front of the books?”
The books whispered yes, yes, here in response. Practice had allowed me to keep a neutral expression. No one knew books talked to me. The skitter of Rodney’s toenails on parquet resounded from Popular Fiction next door.
From the New Releases shelf came the vroom-vroom of engines revving. Shoot. It was that history of the Indy 500 again, trying to race from the stacks. Its author must have been manic with energy while writing the book. I slid discreetly in front of the shelf just in time for the book to charge smack into my hind end before I pushed it back. I was going to have to move the book somewhere safer until a few readers could absorb its enthusiasm and chill it out.
“Not bad, but too much light from the French doors,” came a firm, feminine voice through the doorway. “Let’s consider the atrium, instead.”
Roz’s head swiveled toward the voice, and her fan-wielding hand dropped. She’d clearly expected Daphne Morris. Although this woman had the same shoulder-length waves as the movie star, she was younger. Her patrician nose was more angular, and her bearing more businesslike than ingenue.
“You must be Morgan Stanhope,” I said, extending a hand. “I’m Josie Way, librarian.” Morgan—the actress’s personal assistant—and I had traded emails about setting a date for the interview. I joined her in the center of the library’s three-story atrium.
“Pleased to meet you,” she said.
Accompanying her was a tall man about my age with thick glasses held together on one side with duct tape. His light brown hair was pushed behind his ears, and his smile was wide. “Hi.” He extended a hand to me. “Leo Wilkington, production manager.”
His handshake was warm. I felt an immediate kinship. The man was a nerd, just like some people might describe me. Bookish and curious.
Rodney skidded through the atrium at top speed and disappeared into the conservatory.
“Was that a cat I just saw?” Leo asked.
“That’s Rodney,” I said. If I knew him, in a few minutes he’d halt the zoomies just as fast as he’d started, and I’d find him sleeping in the banana tree pot in the conservatory.
Leo laughed. “I’ve never been to Oregon. The landscape here is amazing. The mountains, the trees—they’re so green, even in August. Now I learn their libraries have cats that could double as cruise missiles.”
“I had no idea the library was in an old mansion,” Morgan said, craning her head like every newcomer did.
Rodney strolled from the conservatory as if he’d never hurried a day in his life and plopped in front of the library’s main stairwell to groom a hind leg.
“Used to belong to the town’s founder,” I said.
“I think this will work all right. Depending on where the sun is, we could drape off these doorways.” Morgan waved toward the ceiling. “The light through the stained glass on the cupola is fine. If Daphne agrees to bring in the bodyguard, we’ll have him check it out, too.”
“A bodyguard?” I asked.
“No need to worry about it, Josie. What do you think, Leo?”
The production manager poked his head into the kitchen to the right of the main staircase facing us, then into the conservatory to the staircase’s left. “I agree. Let’s stage it back here with the light of the conservatory facing Daphne. We can run power from the kitchen.”
“How long will the interview take?” I asked. I planned to close the library for the day, but that didn’t always stop some Wilfredians from trying to drop by for a cup of coffee. If they knew Daphne Morris was in the house, I’d have to double-bolt the doors.
“An hour for setup and makeup, another hour and a half for the interview. Not long,” Leo said.
“I hope Daphne Morris likes it.” I glanced from her personal assistant to her production manager. I wondered if they had any idea how big a deal her arrival was to us.
“She hardly cares these days,” Morgan said. Ignoring my questioning look, she gestured toward the upper floors. “What’s up there?”
“The house’s old bedrooms. They hold books now.”
“We can use one of the rooms for makeup,” Morgan said.
We stood in the library’s atrium and looked up past two floors and the polished wooden railings encircling them. The top floor was my apartment, accessible through the service staircase. Beyond the main staircase, at the atrium’s rear, was the library’s kitchen and my office, housed in the old pantry. A mahogany Eastlake table at my elbow held a tangle of hollyhocks and daisies. A rose-scented summer breeze drifted through the open French doors. Behind us, the life-sized oil portrait of Marilyn Wilfred, the library’s founder, surveyed us with benevolence from her station over the entrance.
And all around us were books. Thousands of books, teeming with war, love, history, and tips on raising boxer puppies. Open one volume, and the sounds and smells of Tahiti enveloped you. Another book soothed with Emily Dickinson’s verse. Yet another novel transported you into the galaxy, among the stars.
I took in these details with pride. This was my home, my work, and the place I loved most in the world. I looked at Morgan expectantly.
“It’ll do,” she said and turned for the exit, Leo behind her.
All day, the patrons who’d stopped by the library hadn’t come for books, but to see if anyone had caught a glimpse of Daphne Morris yet. She’d arrived in Wilfred sometime that afternoon. Her Escalade was parked in front of the farmhouse she’d rented for the week, and people walking their dogs past the house had seen curtains open and lights go off and on. But no one had seen her. There would be a lot of tired dogs in Wilfred tonight.
At last I closed the library for the day and wandered next door to Big House. I’d come to relish my evenings with Sam on the kitchen porch. Over the months since he’d returned to his childhood home, we’d drifted into the habit of meeting for a mug of chamomile tea after dinner. Sam would lean back and rest his feet on the porch railing, while I relaxed in the Adirondack chair next to him, a chipped red side table between us. We’d talk through our days, Sam treating me like a sister, me trying to tamp down my mad crush on him.
Tonight, we faced the view down the bluff, over the Kirby River, to Wilfred. One by one, lights flickered on at the trailers at the Magnolia Rolling Estates, and the sun set to our left, over the old mill site where a crane popping above the trees signaled the new retreat center’s construction. Meanwhile, Sam’s son Nicky played at our feet. At ten months old, he couldn’t walk yet, but he liked to bat his toys around him on an old quilt, and he was good at scooting toward Rodney, who’d learned to leap to the porch railing when the baby let out a certain assertive coo.
Tonight the air was especially soft. Days were long now, and the pink of twilight was reluctantly turning dusky. Seeing the lights still on in front of the This-N-That, we knew a small group lingered.
“They’re waiting for Daphne Morris to walk by,” I said. “Apparently, she hasn’t left the farmhouse today. I hope she doesn’t hide out all week.”
That afternoon, the only place to be had been the front yard of Patty’s This-N-That shop. Normally, Wilfredians would have gathered at Darla’s café to talk about the movie star’s arrival, but the café had been out of service since last spring’s floods had eroded it into a concrete shell. Darla herself was touring Georgia. She’d long admired Southern culture—everything from gumbo to the region’s famed hospitality, and it showed in her menus—but until now she had never visited.
“Still getting pestered about turning the library into the substitute café?” Sam asked.
“Duke gave me the pitch again today about keeping the library open later, and on Sundays, too.” I let out an exasperated groan. “I hope Darla comes home soon and starts to rebuild. As it is, I spend half my day clearing beer out of the fridge and reminding people that some patrons actually come to the library because of the books.”
For the past few months I’d battled Wilfredians who seemed determined to turn the library’s kitchen into a substitute for the tavern. I was constantly clearing food wrappers and beer bottles and asking the revelers to pipe down. Mona kept bringing in animals from the shelter, and I suspected another resident of setting up a small-time gaming operation. The worst was when Mrs. Garlington decided to entertain from the music room. She pulled out all the organ’s stops and once even tried to organize a square dance in the atrium. The high school debate team studying upstairs was not impressed.
Right now, the This-N-That featured kitchen appliances, a change from the usual rotating fare of small goods that varied with Patty’s mood. Four vintage stoves, two refrigerators, and a pink sewing machine were lined up perpendicular to the walkway, interspersed with lawn chairs and a vinyl recliner, where Patty held court. Orange extension cords ran to one of the refrigerators and stoves, and Patty had been known to fry up the occasional plein-air grilled cheese sandwich for visitors.
Now even the string of lights zigzagging the This-N-That’s front yard flickered off.
“Daphne Morris’s security team contacted the sheriff’s department a few weeks ago and gave us strict orders to keep her stay in Wilfred secret. I guess she gets her share of weirdos following her, and there’s one stalker in particular she’s worried about,” Sam said.
“Her assistant mentioned something about bringing in a bodyguard.” Sam had been Wilfred’s sheriff for less than six months now—a real change from his former job as an FBI agent. “Having a movie star in town must feel like Los Angeles again. Do you ever get tired of small-town cases?
“Nope.” He gazed over the valley, his face half-shaded by the porch roof. “The motivations for crime are the same. Greed, jealousy, anger. It’s just that the stakes are lower here.”
“What came up today?”
This was my favorite part of our talks. Sam ruminated over his caseload, and I helped him think through it. My magic came from my love of books, and my gift was an unusual one—I was a truth teller, a witch compelled to seek justice. Witches in my family tended to be healers and seers, but every few generations a truth teller was born. Added to that, the birthmark on my shoulder identified me as having especially strong powers, powers I was still exploring. Talking through Sam’s cases satisfied my truth-telling urges.
“Here’s one for you,” Sam said, pulling his feet down from the railing. “Someone is stealing Ned Jolson’s eggs. He said it’s been going on for weeks now.”
“From his box?”
Ned Jolson was a retired schoolteacher and widower who’d carried on his wife’s tradition of selling eggs from the hens that clucked and scratched in his garden. The eggs were sold on the honor system. Wilfredians dropped a few dollars into a jar and filled a carton with eggs from a wooden box in his front yard.
“Yes. Sometime during the night.”
“You said ‘eggs.’ They’re not taking the money?” I asked.
“He told me he empties the jar after dinner, when the hens have gone to roost and he’s restocked the box with the day’s eggs.”
“In other words, some omelet maniac is sneaking by after dark to rob him.”
“It’s up to about five dozen eggs now. Ned says his dog has barked a few of the evenings, but when he goes to the window to look for the thief, no one’s there.”
We pondered Ned’s situation. Nicky crawled to my chair and looked up. I nudged Rodney to the side and hoisted the baby to my lap. Nicky’s mother had died in the spring and although Sam wasn’t his biological father, he’d embraced the baby as his own and even christened him Thurston Wilfred, as the firstborn Wilfred sons, including Sam, had been named for five generations. Of course, they’d all had nicknames, too.
“So, he’s had maybe fifteen dollars’ worth of eggs taken,” I said.
“It’s not the money. It’s the idea that someone in Wilfred would actually steal from him.”
“Hmm. Ned was a teacher. Could the thief be a former student who bears a grudge and wants to get under his skin?”
“Good question,” Sam said. “I thought of that. He had the reputation of being a tough grader. I checked in with Roz, and she says that although he was strict, he was always fair.”
“And he hasn’t seen anyone at the egg box at night,” I confirmed.
“Nope. No one.”
I let my mind relax. Sometimes, if I was still, information slid into my brain, especially if books were present to feed me their energy. Big House had a small collection with the usual assortment of reference books, plus Sam’s cookbooks and opera scores. I didn’t imagine egg stealing figured in anything by Verdi. The library was across the garden—maybe twenty yards—too far for the books’ energy to reach me.
Yet a book title did appear, a vintage children’s book, possibly one of Sam’s from when he was a boy. Little Raccoon, it was called. I saw its cover of a smiling raccoon holding a dandelion. I sensed it near Nicky’s crib upstairs.
“I have an idea,” I said. “An azalea hedge grows up against Ned’s front windows, right?”
“I see where you’re going with this, but I checked when I talked with him, and anyone taller than a kindergartner would show above it.”
“What if the thief isn’t a person at all? What if it’s a raccoon? A raccoon would have no problem opening the egg chest, and he’d have no interest in money—leaving it or stealing it. Ned might simply need a raccoon-proof latch.”
Sam’s lip turned down—he always frowned when he was amused and smiled when he was unhappy, a habit that confounded strangers—and he laughed softly. Nicky sat up from resting against my chest and held out his arms to his father.
“I think you’re right,” Sam said as he took Nicky. “A raccoon. Of course.” Still frowning, he shook his head. “You’re good, Josie.”
Warmth diffused through me, starting from my heart. Sam appreciated me. I knew that, but he never gave a hint of turning that appreciation in a romantic direction, no matter how ardently I hoped he would.
“I bet it’s time to get Nicky to bed.” I stood. “Wilfred might only have small-town crimes, but Daphne Morris’s stay here is a big deal. Not every town, big or small, can brag that.”
“True.” Sam patted Nicky on his diapered hind end. “But like I said, it’s all the same, no matter where you are.”
I pushed open my bedroom window to let in the cool night air. A hint of an overture—Aida, maybe—drifted from Big House. Sam must have put Nicky to bed and was winding down with a beloved opera.
I looked over my apartment with satisfaction. Earlier in the summer, I’d discovered that the back attic was packed with old furniture. I’d never cared much about my surroundings before I’d come to Wilfred and found my magic, but now colors sang and textures beckoned. I’d salvaged a couple of Victorian side chairs and upholstered them in brocade from a set of heavy curtains folded in a trunk. An embroidered fringed piano shawl looked great draped over the couch. By the time I’d added dahlias to a chipped Lalique vase and hung houseplants here and there, my tiny apartment felt like a gypsy caravan perched up high.
Home was not just a refuge, it was a place I could practice magic. Tonight, I’d start my next lesson.
I slid a green wooden chest out from under my bed and unlocked it. No one knew I was a witch, and I planned to keep it that way. Rodney peered over the chest’s edge, then hopped in, settling himself among dozens of sealed envelopes, all witchcraft lessons my grandmother wrote before she died, before I knew I’d inherited her gift. Before I chose a lesson, I placed a hand on Rodney’s back and let myself slip into his body to feel the lessons, the murmuring of my grandmother’s voice all around me. As I settled into his body for a few seconds, I vibrated with purring and felt my own palm, firm and reassuring, on my back. I drew a breath and returned to my own body.
I opened my eyes and plunged a hand into the chest, letting my fingers slide between the envelopes until they tingled. Then I grasped the nearest letter and pulled it from the pile. As with the others, this one had no label. I held it to my heart. Experience had taught me that whatever its contents were, they were something I needed to learn right now.
What would tonight’s lesson be? I’d been having trouble controlling my energy lately, and when I was emotional, magic sometimes erupted in bursts powerful enough to make the lights flicker. Once, when I was frantic because Rodney had disappeared for a few hours, light bulbs shattered. I wouldn’t mind a lesson with exercises for moderating my energy.
My fingers trembled as I slid a paper cutter under the en. . .
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