Magic & Malice, page 1part #7 of Starry Hollow Witches Series
Magic & Malice
Starry Hollow Witches, Book 7
Red Palm Press LLC
Also by Annabel Chase
“I can’t possibly go to school today.” Marley flopped onto the sofa with a dramatic flair usually reserved for Broadway actresses and passive-aggressive mothers. Never one to miss out on body heat, Prescott Peabody III, or PP3 as our ancient Yorkshire terrier was affectionately called, took the opportunity to curl up at her feet.
“What’s wrong?” I hustled over to inspect her, fearing the worst. Marley never wanted to miss school.
“My stomach and my head,” she said, touching each body part she named.
I pressed my lips to her forehead. “You don’t feel warm.”
“Not a fever,” she said. “A headache. And stomach pain.”
“Hmm.” Marley and I were so rarely ill that I didn’t have a lot of experience with treating maladies. I’d need to find the magical equivalents of Tylenol and Pepto-Bismol. I wasn’t even sure if I could mix the two, that’s how limited my nursing skills were. “Are you hungry?”
She considered the question. “I could eat.” She sat up and swung her legs to the side of the sofa.
I studied her closely. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Marley blinked at me. “To make breakfast.”
“If you’re too sick to go to school, then you’re too sick to make breakfast.”
She frowned. “Well, I’m not going to let you do it. I’m not interested in feeling any worse.”
“Hey!” I objected. “I don’t mess up breakfast.” Not when it involved a box of cereal, milk, and a bowl. Anything else was up for debate.
Marley fell back onto the sofa. “Fine. I’ll take the risk. Maybe use a spell.”
“I don’t need a spell for something as simple as this.” I walked into the kitchen and surreptitiously pulled my wand from my back pocket. Okay, maybe a spell was the way to go.
Raoul, my raccoon familiar, poked his head in the window above the sink. His fur was sticking up in all directions and he looked like he’d come straight from the nearest dumpster. Who does magic at this ungodly hour?
“Who drops in unexpectedly at this ungodly hour?” I shot back.
He dropped to the countertop and then to the floor. I couldn’t sleep.
And I knew you’d be getting the kid out the door and we could chat over coffee before the crazed clown gets here. It’s her day, isn’t it?
I laughed. “Yes, Hazel and her Big Book of Scribbles will be here soon.” Hazel did her level best to teach me how to read and draw runes. Suffice it to say, she’d have an easier time teaching Raoul, despite his lack of opposable thumbs.
Raoul did a sweep of the kitchen and harrumphed. Nothing’s ready.
“Why do you think I have my wand out?” I said. “Marley’s hungry and not feeling well. I need to be quick.”
I vote for pancakes, Raoul said. With burstberries and heavy on the syrup. He held up a paw. And a whipped cream face on top.
I peered at him. “You seem to have me confused with someone who takes orders.”
Raoul stared at me with puppy dog eyes—or as close to puppy dog eyes as a raccoon could get. Pretty please with a whipped cream smiley face on top? I never ask for favors.
I barked a short laugh. “Raoul, that’s all you do is ask for favors. Just one chicken bone and I’ll never ask for another thing again. Just this last piece of cake for a poor, starving raccoon.” I mimicked his pleading tone.
The raccoon clasped his paws together. Please? I’d be doing you a favor, really. You need all the practice you can get before Marley’s birthday sleepover.
I froze. “What do you mean?”
She’s having friends sleep over for her birthday, right? What do you think they’ll expect to eat in the morning? You won’t get away with cereal. They’ll vilify you.
My eyes widened. “But there will be, like, six girls here.”
Then you’d better start practicing, Raoul said. The party’s practically tomorrow.
“It’s not practically tomorrow,” I said. “Your sense of time is really questionable.”
He shrugged. I’m a raccoon. What do you expect?
A few hurried spells later, Raoul and Marley sat at the table, happily devouring stacks of pancakes.
“This was a good idea, Raoul,” Marley said. She swallowed her last forkful and washed it down with a glass of chocolate milk. I still wasn’t sure what voodoo my child with stomach pain managed to use on me to extract a glass of chocolate milk, but there it was.
I’m full of ‘em, Raoul said.
“Raoul says he’s full of it,” I said aloud. I ignored the raccoon’s obscene gesture so as not to draw Marley’s attention to it.
“I hope my familiar is as clever as Raoul,” Marley said. She dragged herself back to the sofa, where PP3 continued to rest.
“Marley, let’s not worry about familiars until we’re sure about your magic,” I warned. I hated to be the voice of doom, but we wouldn’t know whether Marley had inherited my witchy genes until her eleventh birthday. Because her father had been wholly human, she had a fifty-fifty chance, assuming biology worked the same in the paranormal world—which it probably didn’t.
A knock on the door signaled Hazel’s arrival. Thanks to Marley’s calming presence on the sofa, PP3 barely lifted his head in response to the sound.
I aimed my wand at the door and said, “Aperio.” The door flew open and Hazel stood on the doorstep with her bag and her red curls bouncing like springs.
“Your laziness knows no bounds,” Hazel said.
“That’s called practice,” I said. “I thought you’d be proud of me.”
While I sat at the table, Raoul took the opportunity to return to the kitchen for a sniff around. Apparently, pancakes and chocolate milk weren’t enough to satisfy him.
As Hazel retrieved the Big Book of Scribbles from the bag, she noticed the lifeless figure on the sofa. “What’s happened to this one?” she asked.
“Head, stomach, probably her spleen, too,” I said.
Hazel opened the book to the page were we’d left off during our last lesson. “Let’s try to finish this page today,” she said. “We’ve spent enough time on this section, I think. I’d like to actually make progress for a change.”
Marley moaned softly from her place on the sofa and I glanced at Hazel. “I don’t think I’ll be able to focus while my precious offspring is suffering in the background. Maybe we should reschedule.”
The mere suggestion that we reschedule was enough to send Hazel into detective mode. She waltzed over to scrutinize the child on the sofa. “Are you sure she’s sick?” she asked, looking at me. “I sense a Code Wool.”
“What’s a Code Wool?” I asked.
C’mon, genius, Raoul interjected. You’re smarter than that. Pulling the wool over someone’s eyes. Clowny McCircus over here found a way to make it sound cooler.
I don’t know that it sounds cooler, I said. Nothing Hazel said was of the ‘cooler’ variety.
Raoul shrugged and climbed onto the neighboring chair. What do we have here? These look like my scratch marks.
“Except she isn’t unwell,” Hazel insisted.
“Am too,” Marley said from her prostrate position on the sofa. “Completely and totally unwell.” A cough erupted from her.
“Since when is a cough an element of this sickness?” I asked.
Marley coughed again. “It’s the weirdest thing. It just started now.”
Hazel offered a triumphant look. Sweet baby Elvis. That crazed clown was obsessed with being right about everything. She marched over to the sofa to observe Marley more closely, ignoring PP3’s growls of protest. My daughter offered the red-haired witch her most pathetic look in return.
“Let’s see your tongue,” Hazel demanded.
Marley dutifully shoved out her tongue and Hazel leaned forward to inspect it.
“What is it, Hazel?” I began to feel anxious. Was there a magical tongue disease? What if something was seriously wrong with my child?
Hazel straightened and placed her hands on her round hips. “Your daughter has an acute case of performance anxiety.”
Marley and I exchanged confused glances. “But Marley isn’t expected to perform,” I said. Not to mention that she was an excellent student. She never worried about the quality of her presentations or papers.
Hazel faced me. “I’m not talking about academics. Her eleventh birthday is on the horizon and she’s concerned that she won’t come into her magic. It’s making her feel sick.” She inclined her head toward Marley. “Or she’s so anxious that she’s willing to pretend to be sick to avoid her life until the day arrives.”
What do you know? Raoul said. Bozo is good for something aside from juggling balls and drawing stick figures.
“Marley, is this true?” I asked. I perched on the arm of the sofa by her head.
Marley forced a cough for good measure. “Everything hurts.”
Hazel patted her leg. “You have to remember, Marley, that your mother was a late bloomer. Even if you don’t come into your magic on the day, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of luck. Try not to worry so much.”
“My mother was only a late bloomer because her father suppressed her magic in order to hide her from Aunt Hyacinth,” Marley replied.
Hazel flicked a dismissive finger. “Details, details.”
“And look how that turned out?” I said. “We live in a cottage on Aunt Hyacinth’s estate and we’re both thriving. Who would’ve thunk it, right?”
“Rose Cottage is rightfully yours, Mom,” Marley said. “Aunt Hyacinth isn’t doing us a favor by letting us live here.”
I sighed. “Still, we should be grateful. If it weren’t for my cousins coming to our rescue and whisking us off to Starry Hollow, I don’t know where we’d be now.” Most likely dead—a fact I preferred not to dwell on.
Marley’s blue eyes brimmed with tears. “What if I never come into my magic? What if I’m a regular human in a paranormal town? I’ll be reviled.”
“You could never be reviled.” I bent over and kissed her forehead. “You’ll be so unique that everyone will want to be friends with you.”
“And you’ll still be a Rose,” Hazel said. “Don’t underestimate the value in that name, especially in this town.”
Marley rolled onto her side and closed her eyes. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to take a nap now. Feigning illness has taken a toll on me.”
“I would suggest taking your nap upstairs,” Hazel said. “Your mother tends to get a bit aggressive during our lesson. She’s likely to disturb you.”
I scowled at Hazel. “I do not get aggressive.”
Hazel folded her arms. “I believe that, during our last lesson, you threatened ‘to go Jersey on my magical clown butt.’ I’ve come to recognize that ‘going Jersey’ doesn’t mean putting on an athletic top.”
Raoul snickered. Man, I love when you go Jersey. It’s my favorite thing next to finding a half-eaten pepperoni pizza in the street and no witnesses around.
I arched an eyebrow. “That’s highly specific.”
Marley sat up and scooped PP3 into her arms. “So you’re not going to make me go to school?”
“No, I’m not.” I raised a finger. “But only today. You’re not getting time off from school until your birthday rolls around.”
Marley headed for the stairs. “Thanks, Mom. You’re the best mom in the history of moms, paranormal and human.”
Hazel rolled her eyes. “Don’t let it go to your head.”
Raoul snorted. Too late.
I held open the front door to the Vox Populi offices, using magic to levitate three latte cups in front of me. Bentley Smith, my colleague and resident pain-in-my-rear, managed to snatch one out of the air before I even had a chance to make it over to the desks.
“How do you know one is for you?” I asked.
Bentley inhaled deeply. “Because I smell the fresh aroma of Daytime Nightmare coffee blended with a shot of Make Him Tolerable and I can only assume you intended that for me.”
I flashed a smile. “You know me so well.”
Our office manager, Tanya, fluttered over to snag the other cup. “You shouldn’t be bringing lattes to me. It’s my job to bring them to you.”
“You know I love to swing by the Caffeinated Cauldron,” I said. “It’s part of my ritual.”
“Her rituals are any excuse to avoid actual work,” Bentley said. The elf returned to his desk beside mine and resumed tapping away on the keyboard.
A loud voice drew my attention to the back of the room, where Alec Hale’s private office was located. The editor-in-chief never raised his voice—as a fearsome yet dapper vampire, he never had to—but I couldn’t imagine who would dare yell at him. My eyes popped when his girlfriend, Holly, emerged from the office and slammed the door behind her. She stormed through our section of the office before pausing to notice the last latte, still floating in the air in front of me. She plucked the cup from the air and sniffed the lid.
“Is that Bittersweet with a shot of Give Me Strength?” she asked.
“Your noses are all ridiculously impressive,” I said.
“Thanks.” Holly sipped from the cup before disappearing out the door.
Although that latte had been meant for me, I didn’t stop Holly from taking it. Whatever was happening with her, she seemed to need the drink more than I did.
The three of us stared blankly for a moment, contemplating the scene. “Well, that was interesting,” Tanya finally said. “Should I check on…?” She didn’t get to finish. Alec stepped out of his office as though his girlfriend had not just screamed at him within earshot of his employees.
“Miss Rose, so glad you could join us,” the vampire said in his usual smooth tone. As always, he looked like a million bucks in his custom suit and not a blond hair out of place. Great balls of masculine perfection. Couldn’t he have visible earwax or something equally gross? Even his fangs were a turn-on.
“I had a lesson with Hazel and Marley’s home sick,” I began.
Alec’s brow lifted with concern. “Marley’s unwell?” Whatever the vampire’s flaws—and they were too numerous to list—I had no doubt that he cared for my daughter.
“She’s fine, really, which is why I came to work.” I sat behind my desk and turned on my computer.
“You left her alone?” Alec queried. “Isn’t that an issue for her anxiety?”
“Relax, Alec,” I said. “Mrs. Babcock is with her. Like I said, she’s faking an illness, so it seemed unnecessary to miss a day at the office.”
“Why is she faking?” Bentley asked. “I mean, I would have done that as a kid, but Marley loves school.”
“She’s stressed about her birthday,” I said.
“Oh,” they all said in unison. Everyone seemed aware of Marley’s impending magic.
“She’s a descendant of the One True Witch,” Tanya said. “I’m sure the magic will be flow
“Thanks, Tanya.” I tried to focus on my screen, but I felt the razor sharp gaze of the vampire still pinned on me. Finally, I dared to look at him and my heart hammered in my chest. It was still difficult to be in close proximity to Alec, even though I’d made the choice to pursue a relationship with Sheriff Nash. Unfortunately for me, feelings didn’t dissipate overnight just because it would make my life easier.
“Miss Rose, I have an assignment for you,” Alec said.
I tried to mask my disappointment. Of course, that was the reason he was fixated on me. Work. Alec buried himself in it. If he wasn’t busy with Vox Populi, he was buried in one of his fantasy novels that Marley loved to read.
“That’s why I’m here,” I said cheerfully.
“What about me?” Bentley asked. “I’m here more often.”
“And why is that, Bentley?” Alec said. “A real journalist would be out finding stories, not in here sipping decadent coffees. Even Miss Rose is ready to go at a moment’s notice. No coffee in sight.”
The pointed tips of the elf’s ears reddened. “I was polishing a story for this week’s edition.”
“Excellent.” Alec turned to me. “Now, Miss Rose….”
I looked eagerly at the vampire. “Yes, sir?”
“I’d like you to cover Hattie Rollins-Mahoney’s two hundredth birthday party tomorrow at four o’clock. She’ll be expecting you.”
Bentley smothered a laugh, while I stared slack-jawed at the editor-in-chief. “You want me to go to what now?”
“A party,” Tanya said. “How delightful.”
I tried to recover gracefully. “You want me to cover a birthday party for Vox Populi?” I asked. “Should I throw in notes on Marley’s upcoming sleepover party for good measure?”
“Oh, you’re throwing her a sleepover party?” Bentley asked. “Make sure you stock up on burstberries for the pancakes. Kids expect it.”
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