After a strange year, I am back to writing 🙂
Book 3 in the Eira Snow Mysteries, The Witch is in the Fire is out in four days, so I thought I’d hare the first chapter with you (Book 4. Put Your Best Witch Forward is also on pre-order for release in 2 months)
“Finally.” I looked at all the online orders we’d finished packaging and huffed out a deep relieved breath. They easily covered half the counter and made my normally pristine shop look cluttered.
Work had been exhausting lately. The autumnal equinox was coming up and my shop, Crystal Magic, had been doing a roaring trade, and not just online. Today must have been the first in a week when there weren’t several customers in the store at a time.
I popped the kettle on to make a cup of tea, grabbed a sherbet lemon from the bowl on the coffee table, and slumped in one of the overstuffed armchairs. Savouring the bitter taste of the sweet, I closed my eyes, relished the peace and quiet, and wondered how long it would last. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the store being busy. It was just nice to take a moment for myself now and again.
I took a deep, calming breath, breathed in the sweet, scented air, and opened my eyes.
Fleur bobbed across the shop to the window and peered outside. I marvelled at how put together she was, with her obsidian-black pixie cut and perfect make-up. A stark contrast to my bare face and unruly curls. Today, she’d opted for winged eyeliner with a pop of sparkling blue that matched the leggings she wore along with a simple black shirt. I swear the girl could look fabulous in a bin bag.
I’d known her for a while online, but it was only when I moved to Caerleon that I met her in person. She was a bubbly young woman who refused to believe I wasn’t a ‘real’ witch. So much so, she defied every belief I once held with regards to the origins of magical power and manifested some herself. Although I’d taken her on as my apprentice, I’d neglected her training of late. Work overshadowed everything at the moment, and before that we seemed to spend our time jumping from one murder to the next. It was a miracle she’d managed to learn anything.
“Eira!” she squealed, her voice bubbling over with excitement. “It’s happening.”
I smiled, knowing from her tone what must be happening. The house across the street had been empty for years; scaffolding erected along with a plywood fence served more as a permanent fixture than the temporary structures someone originally designed them to be. At least, until we’d notified the council of bricks falling from the roof. They were in fact thrown, but as we came by this knowledge by breaking into the building and using magic to search for the trace aura of the individual responsible, we chose not to share that little tidbit with the council. Our call must have spurned the owners into action as soon after, a team of workmen descended on the building and set to work. The ‘For Sale’ sign appeared not long after that.
I stood, joined Fleur at the window, and peered out from behind the lilac curtains not wanting our new neighbour to catch me spying, and noted the moving van parked outside. The driver and his mate already had the back open and were in the process of hefting a few boxes inside the house.
“I wonder who it could be,” Fleur said. “Do you think it’s a family, or maybe an older couple, or—” she raised her eyebrow at me “— a handsome middle-aged divorcee looking for a new woman to romance?”
I gave her a pointed look and smirked. Even if it was a handsome divorcee, I was done with men. “Maybe,” I said, deciding two can play that game, “he’s actually in his early twenties and just itching to meet an adventurous young woman to show him the sites.”
Fleur scrunched up her nose and poked her tongue out at me. “We’ll find out soon enough,” she said and flashed me a wicked smile while making a point to reach for the moonstone pendulum she wore around her neck. “Actually, I’m pretty sure, I see a romantic dinner for two in your near future.”
“You do not. You’re no psychic any more than I am.” I slapped her playfully on her arm. “I spelled that necklace to enhance your intuition and bring you luck, not for you to use against me.”
Fleur laughed and looked out the window again. “Wouldn’t it be funny if it was someone we already knew.”
“Good grief, I hope not!” My mind flashed to all the people I knew, and everyone I cared to have close, already lived in the village. “Time for a cuppa,” I added and left to finish making the tea.
When I returned a few minutes later and handed Fleur a cup, she was ready to burst with excitement. “I can’t take it any longer,” she said before downing the hot liquid. “We should go over and introduce ourselves. Try and find out what’s going on.”
“I can’t believe you’re this excited.”
Fleur sighed and looked at her empty cup. “I know, it’s silly. I just can’t help it. In foster care, the homes always made a big deal out of new arrivals. It was their way of making sure everyone welcomed the newcomer, I guess. To make them feel at home. Besides,” she added after a moment, “nothing exciting ever happens around here—”
I cut her off with a look and she shrugged. It was true things had been quiet for a while, but after becoming involved with two murder investigations within the space of a few months, I was glad of the lack of excitement.
Fleur returned her watchful gaze across the street, and I joined her, sipping my tea.
“Look at that kitchen dresser,” I said, and shrunk a little further behind the curtain. I definitely was spying now, but it was a lovely dresser with three enclosed cupboards topped by three drawers on the bottom, and two glass fronted cupboards either side of open shelves on the top. “I like the bluey grey. What do you think about that colour for the kitchen walls in the cottage?”
“I love it! Are we redecorating?”
I smiled at the eagerness in her voice. Fleur’s enthusiasm always put a smile on my face. She didn’t talk much about her past, and I didn’t like to pry, but I couldn’t imagine it would be easy bouncing around different foster homes. I made a mental note to bring up her past at some point. I liked to think of Fleur as the daughter I never had. We were close in so many ways and yet still didn’t know that much about each other’s lives before coming to the village. I’d never been in foster care, but I had been shipped to live in a strange place with a father I never knew after my mum died. Maybe I could find some common ground with Fleur besides magic, and we could connect on an even deeper level.
“You know, if you want to redecorate the flat, now’s as good time as we’ll have a little lull in business before Christmas. I set aside a small budget for it when I moved into the cottage. I just never got around to doing anything.”
“Yes, seriously. It’s your home. You should make it how you want it.” I returned my gaze out the window. The movers had lifted the dresser from the back of the van and were in the process of carrying it inside. Just as the last man stepped through the door, the image of a Roman Legionnaire blurred around… or — yuck! — should I say through him. I shuddered. Just the idea made my skin crawl. I’d noticed a larger and larger number of ghosts around Caerleon since I’d arrived and had done my best to stay out of their way. I’d hate to imagine what I would see if a ghost stumbled through my body. I shuddered again at the thought.
“Everything okay?” Fleur asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I have,” I said like it was the most normal thing in the world.
I lifted my chin and motioned out the window, where the Roman Legionnaire was walking along the street in the direction of the Roman baths. “He’s just passing Ye Old Bull,” I said, referring to the Inn.
Fleur strained on her tiptoes as if the additional height would give her a better view, desperate for a glimpse of the ghost.
“We could take a break from learning about crystals and work on connecting your spirit with the otherworld,” I said, believing this would be the perfect thing for Fleur to learn to get her training back on track. She couldn’t spend all day every day just working in the shop.
“Seriously?” she said again. “Do you think I can learn?”
“Of course, you can. You’ve seen the auras of living spirits. Connecting with the energy of the dead isn’t much different.”
“Can we start now. I…” She hopped from foot to foot and clapped her hands together before squealing, “Look! It’s Kate.”
“It’s Kate. She was talking to the removal men. She’s inside the house. I said our new neighbour was someone we knew.”
My heart sank at the thought. I’d first met Detective Inspector Kate McIntyre when I discovered the body of Tanya Smith, along with her ghost. The latter part of which I chose to keep secret. Kate had known I was holding something back, and that, coupled with the fact my ex-husband is currently serving time for fraud, had been enough to make her suspicious of me. We’d developed a sort of truce since then, and at times, we were even friendly. Still, the last thing I needed was her moving across the street where she could watch my every move. Not that I wasn’t always careful. I just didn’t relish the thought of being on guard every moment of every day.
“Look. There she is.”
Sure enough, Kate emerged from the house. Despite the early hour and the clear sky above, it felt like a dark cloud descended over the village, oppressive and low, and sucking in all the light and air. Her usual pantsuit had been replaced by a simple jeans and T-shirt combo, so I knew she wasn’t there in a work capacity. Ever attentive, she spotted us watching through the window and waved before saying something to the workmen and then crossed the street, heading our way. I resisted closing my eyes and willing her to be gone. It’s not like that ever worked anyway.
“Are you moving in?” Fleur asked as soon as she walked through the door; the words spilling from her mouth before I had the chance to utter a greeting of welcome.
Kate almost beamed in response. “I’ve been looking for a new place for a while and when this came up, I jumped at the chance.”
“Yay. This is so exciting. Isn’t it, Eira?”
I plastered a smile on my face and did my best to shake the sudden gloom invading my spirit. “Yes, of course. You never mentioned anything,” I added. Not that we’d seen much of Kate since she’d worked the last murder, we’d found ourselves tangled up in.
“I meant to pop in and have a chat,” Kate said, “but I’ve been too busy.”
“There will be plenty of time for that now with you living across the street,” Fleur said. “And it will be nice to know there’s a police officer keeping an eye on things.”
“There’s always a lot going on in this village that’s worth keeping an eye on,” Kate added and flashed me a smile.
I tried not to squirm under her gaze and added the need to be extra cautious with our powers to the things I wanted to discuss with Fleur. We both liked Kate. I would just like her a little more if she lived far, far away. With that in mind, I darted my gaze to my cat familiar, Niles, who had entered the store around the same time as Kate. He eyed me curiously as if puzzling through my sudden shift in mood.
With our connection, he felt everything I did. I flashed him a smile and sent him to check on Abby, Fleur’s familiar, was behaving herself. The last thing we needed was for the cat to feed off Fleur’s excitement and shift into a panther in front of Kate. I had to admit, Abby had been good of late, and we’d had less instances of her throwing around the furniture and bashing down doors, but it didn’t hurt to be extra cautious.
“Anyway, I’d better get going,” Kate said. “Lots to do, but maybe we can catch up and go for a coffee some time,” she added as she headed out the door.
“Of course. You know where we are,” I said.
“Well, she was super happy for a change,” Fleur said as soon as Kate left.
“Kate. She seemed happy.”
I had to agree. Kate could be as cold as ice at times, and was always a hardened professional, but she was warm and friendly today, and even her comment about keeping an eye on things, she’d said in jest. So why did my chest feel as if it was caving in on itself?
“Maybe it because she’s meeting us for the first time without a murder hanging over our heads,” I mused aloud.
“Maybe.” The word was soft, making me realise that Fleur’s attention had shifted back out the window. “Can you still see the ghost? What does it look like?” she asked.
I cleared my throat and pushed my thoughts aside. “I can’t see him anymore,” I said, as relief washed through me. Now probably wasn’t the best time to go ghost hunting. Not with Kate and the movers outside. But Fleur’s face fell, and I knew she was disappointed to have missed him. “He was a Roman Legionnaire,” I added. “He wore a tunic covered with armour, and you know, one of those helmet things with the horsehair crest.”
“Does that mean he was high ranking?”
“I have no idea. We should pop to the museum on the weekend and find out.”
Fleur’s mood didn’t improve at the prospect. I sighed and tugged on my ear before relenting. There was no need for both of us to be glum. We may need to keep a low profile, but Fleur also needed to learn. “There are plenty more ghosts around the village,” I said and tried to think of one that might be a little out of the way of any prying eyes. “There’s the ghost of an old lady who walks around the amphitheatre with her dog every night at around 9 pm,” I said, thinking that it might be a good time to practise. “It’s a nice day. Why don’t we head out tonight and see if we can spot her?”
“Yes, seriously,” I said, and gave a wry smile at what appeared to be Fleur’s new favourite word.