First chapter Friday: Wounds and Witches

Amorette Anderson

Today I thought I’d share the first chapter to my paranormal cozy mystery Wounds and Witches. This is book number six in my Midlife Medicine series, and it can be enjoyed as a standalone. The story takes place during the holidays in Covenstead, a magical village in the Vermont countryside. 

wounds and witches winter 1 First chapter Friday: Wounds and Witches

Chapter One

“It comes down to the molasses,” Ben said. “That’s what I’m finding. The sweetness brings out the spice.” 

“Mm mm,” Grace murmured as she chewed the gingerbread cookie. “Ben, I think you’re onto something here.” 

She’d had the pleasure of taste testing Ben’s gingerbread for the past week, ever since she’d announced her idea for a cookie decorating party at her cabin, and he’d offered to bring the cookies. She finished another bite. “And is it just me, or is this batch softer?” 

He nodded. “I chilled the dough longer, and worked it less, too.” 

“Well, you’ve hit the nail right on the head.”

He grinned, put down the tray, and then wiped his hands across his reindeer printed apron. “You always say that.” 

“That’s because I’m always impressed.” 

“I think it needs a little more work.” Ben took on a thoughtful look, one that Grace had seen several times since she announced her grown son Oliver’s plans to visit. Oliver would be at the party, too. It was now Wednesday; the gathering was scheduled for Saturday.

She was well aware that the two men she cared about most in the world were going to meet in just a few days. It was clear that Ben wanted the meeting to go well, and the thoughtful look reminded Grace that beneath his somewhat gruff, bearded, mountain-man appearance, her boyfriend Ben had a very soft heart. 

“Whether you use this recipe or one slightly different, I am sure the cookies are going to be a big hit with Oliver,” she said. “I remember how much he used to like it when we decorated gingerbread men, back when he was young. I can barely believe he’s thirty now! I think he’s going to get a laugh out of the activity. It might be a little childish, all of us adults sitting around and pressing candy buttons and smiles onto cookies, but I think it will be a fun way to spend time together.”

And give you and Oliver both something to focus on, which will relieve some pressure, she thought. 

“You’re right,” Ben said, his eyes softening. He grinned in that easy way he had. Whatever worrisome thoughts he’d just entertained now flitted off. “It’ll be fun. And… are you saying baking is childish?” 


“Just the decorating part? Is that it?” he teased. 

“I’m merely observing that decorating gingerbread men cookies is usually an activity for kids.” 

Ben held up one of the little cookie cutouts. “These cookies need buttons!” he joked. “Eyes, noses, smiles… boots.” 

Grace laughed. 

“This is important business, Grace,” Ben went on. “Yes, some folks might join up for cigars and poker, or champagne and caviar, but at your parties we put icing buttons on baked goods—” 

The sound of the bells on the shop door jingling interrupted Ben’s joking. A burst of cold air swirled toward the counter. Grace turned to see Wendy Horton storm into the bookstore-cafe, a look of barely contained fury on her face, and big white snowflakes trapped in her auburn curls. 

“Ben Swanson, I have a bone to pick with you!” she announced loudly. 

In her rush to confront Ben, she failed to close the door. Ben’s shop, Black Crow Books, was packed on this Wednesday afternoon. Townsfolk filled the little tables and mingled next to the many bookshelves. A few kids clustered around the warm fireplace, peering down at a picture book. At the sound of Wendy’s shrill voice, and the feel of the sweeping chill that entered with her, everyone stopped and looked her way. Frosty flakes swirled through the open door in her wake, contrasting with the shop’s warm, sunshine-yellow walls. 

An elderly man seated at a table by the entrance got up, shuffled to the door, and closed it. 

There, that’s better, Grace thought. Goodness, it’s a real blizzard out there. In that little peek outside, Grace had noted that another few inches had fallen since she’d arrived at the shop an hour before. 

Wendy reached the counter and Grace instinctively stepped aside. Wendy was a woman who, despite her smaller-than-average build, took up a good deal of space. She flung her arms wide as she said, “Where are my books, Ben? I ordered them three weeks ago, and my book club meeting is tonight!” 

“Ah. Wendy. Good to see you. How are you today? And how is Morley? ” Ben kept his voice calm. 

“I’m fine, Ben, just stressed! And Morley’s good, at home as usual. He’s got a new model train set in the basement that he’s… Oh, never mind that. I’m here about my books. They’re weeks late. I need to pass them out tonight. If I don’t, I’ll have to run all over town trying to track down every single book club member, and what a pain that will be!” 

“I’ve got you covered.” Ben lifted a stack of books from a space behind the counter and set them in front of Wendy. Then he reached down and retrieved another pile. “Twenty copies of Keegan Lowe’s Last One Standing for next month’s book club meeting. They were just delivered this morning, and I called your place right away. I spoke with Morley and asked him to let you know.”

“You talked with Morley? He didn’t tell me.” 

“He said you were busy as all get out, but that he’d try to get the message to you.” 

“Well, I have been running around all day with errands. It is a lot of work to host a book club for twenty people, let me tell you. And they all expect food! And do they bring it? You can bet they don’t. I have to provide the snacks, and the drinks, and I have to clean my whole house before they arrive, even the bathrooms. Scrubbing toilets is my least favorite thing to do. And Morley doesn’t help at all.” She picked up the top book on one of the stacks. “They’re all here? All twenty?”

Ben nodded. “I counted twice. And I’m sorry about the wait, but thanks for being patient.” 

Patient! Grace did not think that word described Wendy Horton at all. 

Ben went on. “You know how the holidays are. Retail suppliers get backed up, trying to handle the shopping rush. Things should get back to normal in January.” 

“Good.” She frowned and continued looking through the books. Then without meeting Ben’s eye she said, “I’ve been such a mess waiting on these, you know. I always hand out the next book at the meetings. Like I said, if I didn’t have these ready tonight, I’d have to run all over town, tracking down every member of the club and handing out books.” 

She didn’t even stop for a breath, or thank Ben before saying, “I hope you have a bag for these because they’re going to get ruined on my way out to the car without a bag, the way it’s snowing out. Then everyone would be complaining to me about how they paid for a book that’s already water damaged.” 

By the time she finished her sentence, Ben already had the books loaded into a paper bag. He smiled politely as he handed it over. 

Still, she did not thank him. She snatched the bag and spun to face Grace. “Are you coming to next month’s meeting? The book is Keegan Lowe’s Last One Standing. I’m sure you know that because I’ve sent you invitations in the mail to each and every meeting, for the last six months.” 

“I… um... ” Grace felt a flutter of anxiety rise up inside. She did not like being put on the spot like this. “I’m not sure… Let me think about it,” she finally managed. 

In the corner of her eye, she saw Ben trying to hide a smile. 

“Well, don’t stall too long,” Wendy said, “Because apparently it takes almost a month to get a book around here, and you didn’t get in on the bulk order I placed. I have to go; I still have so much to do. Having twenty people in your house is no small thing, you know. I don’t know why I do it… really.” 

As she reached the door she turned and called over her shoulder, “Oh, and Ben, I forgot my wallet. I’ll pay you next time when I put in an order for February’s book. We’re going to vote on that tonight.” With that, she exited into the thick white veil of snow falling outside. 

Once again, she forgot to close the door behind her.

Everyone in the shop seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as soon as she stepped out.

Without her shrill voice, Grace could hear the softly playing Yuletide music. Quiet conversations amongst the folks at tables and clustered around bookshelves resumed. And, once elderly Earl had again shuffled over to the door to close it, the space once again became warm and cozy. 

“Ah…” Grace sighed. “We survived.” 

Ben laughed. “She’s always a whirlwind when she comes in.”

“Why do you put up with it? The way she treats you…” Grace shook her head. “I don’t know if I’d manage to be so polite in the face of her rude and ungracious attitude.” 

“In retail, the customer is always right.” 

“You are a patient man, Ben.” 

Ben pulled out two books. They were the same size as the ones he’d just handed over to Wendy. Grace felt immediately drawn to the paperbacks. “Are those... are those two copies of Last One Standing?” she asked. 

The thriller was a best-seller, and she’d been wanting to read it since it came out that fall. 

“For you,” Ben said, “And an extra in case Tenley wants a copy, too.”

“Is this your way of telling me you think I should join Wendy’s book club?” She eyed Ben.

“You have been saying that it might be fun... ever since you moved to town. You love to read, and you love to discuss literature. Why not?” 

Grace raised her brows. She shifted her gaze to the door that Wendy had just disappeared through. 

Ben picked up on her meaning immediately and he chuckled. “Oh, she’s a character, but she’s more bark than bite. She complains about the hassle of running the club, but she must love doing it. Why else would she host all the meetings? She’s been in charge of the town book club for as long as I can remember, and even though I’ve heard a few folks complain about her, the club keeps growing. My enchanted shelves can’t even keep up with the demand anymore, now that the club’s roster is so big. I have to order from an actual distributor. The meetings must be worthwhile.” 

“Then why don’t you go?” 

“I’d be the odd man out,” Ben said. “The entire club is women.”

“I wonder why?”

Ben shrugged. “It’s just the way things shaped up. Once a year, Wendy hosts a couple’s meeting where all the women bring partners. Usually that one happens in the springtime, March, or April. That one’s held over dinner. Last year they read My Berlin, and everyone brought a German dish. ” 

“Did you go?” 

“My partner didn’t invite me,” Ben replied with a wink. 

“Hm.” Grace knew well that she and Ben had already started dating, last spring. “Well, maybe this year we’ll go. If I join the club, that is. Maybe I’ll start going next month.”

The truth was, the Keegan Lowe book did look very, very good. She’d read the others in the series and loved every word. It would be fun to talk books with a group of ladies. But -- at Wendy’s house? Wendy Horton? 

Grace puckered her lips but picked up the two books, nonetheless. “And even if I don’t join the club, I’ll at least read the book. I’ll pass a copy along to Tenley, too.” She did not want to exhibit the same lack of gratitude that Wendy had, so she added, “Thank you very much for ordering these, Ben. It was really thoughtful of you. How much do I owe?” 

“You know the answer to that.” He grinned and then picked up the tray of cookies. “I think I’ll try a little bit more molasses in the next batch. Just a teaspoon.” 

“You’re becoming a perfectionist,” Grace said with a laugh. She tucked the books into her purse. Ben never let her pay for anything at the shop, and she’d stopped fighting him on it long ago. 

“Tell Tenley I say hello,” Ben said. He leaned in for a kiss. 

Grace gladly gave him one. "I will. Hope your afternoon is just the right amount of busy.” She was sure it would be. Christmas was only a week away, and everyone in the little village of Covenstead, Vermont, seemed to be in a celebratory mood. School was out until after new year, Wanda was offering horse-drawn sleigh rides in the village, the town’s tree was lit up like a beacon in front of the town hall, and local businesses bustled with shoppers preparing for the holidays.

“When does Oliver get in, again?” Ben asked.

“Saturday morning. He’s flying into Hartford, and he’ll rent a car to drive here. I’ve invited everyone for dinner and cookie decorating that evening at five. You, Doc Ham, Ginny, and Tenley. I’m hoping that Oliver will get a chance to take a nap before the party; I’m sure he’ll be jet lagged.” 

“That means I have about 72 hours to perfect this gingerbread recipe,” Ben said with mock seriousness. “And that’s if I skip sleep.” 

“Don’t work too hard at it,” Grace told him. 

She was still smiling as she exited the shop, with her pit bull Lucky at her heels. 

“Do you really think you’ll go to the book club next month?” Lucky asked telepathically as they drove toward home.

“I might.”

“But… you don’t like big groups.”

“If Tenley was there for the first time, too, it might be easier to handle the social aspect. We could ease into the group together. I’ll see if she will go with me.” 

“If I know Tenley, she’s going to say yes,” Lucky guessed. 

Grace petted her dog. “I think that’s what she’ll say, too. Tenley’s always up for a good time. Let’s stop by her cabin on the way home to ask her, shall we?”


Hope you enjoyed this sneak peek! Want to keep reading? Grab Wounds and Witches on Amazon today. 

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