First Chapter Friday!

Written 
07/15/2022
 by 
K.E. O'Connor

It's almost time for a new release in the wonderful witchy world of Crimson Cove.

Everyone says never trust a honey badger, but I'm not so sure...

Crimson Cove already feels like home, but sometimes it's not always sweet. When I meet a misunderstood murder suspect, I know something is wrong. How did one bad-tempered badger destroy an ancient vampire?

With my wonderful witch, Zandra Crypt, by my side, I poke my adorable booping snooter into this mystery to make sure the angels don't make a mess of the investigation. No innocent furball goes down for a crime they didn't commit when I'm around.

While we snoop and question, we discover unhappy drones, an angry ex-girlfriend, and a vampire with designs on Crimson Cove. But which one of them had the power and opportunity to break into a locked room undetected and destroy a 500-year-old vampire?

I'm about to find out. Care to join me?

***

Enjoy this second Magical Misfits Mystery, featuring Juno the adorable talking white cat, her misunderstood sidekick witch, Zandra, and the friendships in the magical town of Crimson Cove.

This is a fun witch cozy mystery with plenty of twists and turns to keep the pages turning. Can you figure out whodunit before Juno and Zandra?

BookBrushImage96368 First Chapter Friday!

Chapter 1

A heated encounter

“You haven’t eaten your fancy fish treats.” Zandra Crypt gently nudged me with her elbow. “Are you feeling okay? You usually inhale them in five seconds and then demand more.”

I stood and circled in my bed in the passenger seat of the work’s van. “I’m not hungry.”

“Hmmm, should I take you to the vet?” Concern filled Zandra’s dark eyes. “You’ve been off your food for days.”

I narrowed my gaze and extended my claws. “Don’t even think about it. Those monsters don’t know what they’re doing.”

“Juno, I need to make sure you’re not ill.” She placed a hand on my head as if checking my temperature.

“I’m an all-powerful, all-magical cat. Of course I’m not ill.” I licked one white fluffy paw. There was nothing physically wrong with me, but my mind was muddled, and when my thoughts were occupied, my appetite took a hit.

It had been three weeks since Angel Force discovered Zandra’s mother’s purse at the ghoul factory. Since then, I’d been doing discrete digging, as had my friendly half-angel sidekick, Finn, but neither of us had found new information as to why Adrienne’s purse would be there.

I wanted to remain hopeful, but my instincts told me something was wrong. Until I had definitive proof about what happened, I wouldn’t worry Zandra.

She reached over and scratched between my ears. “You’re not bored with this job, are you? I know you didn’t sign up to search for misbehaving animals and lots of paperwork. And boy, I didn’t expect all the paperwork that comes with this job. There must be a spell to speed that up.”

“Barney insists on good record keeping, so I can’t fault him for that. And I have no problem working in animal control. So long as you’re enjoying it, it’s good enough for me.”

Zandra’s mouth twisted to the side. “Weirdly enough, I am. Even though I nearly got my arm chewed off by that brown, bug-eyed sloth three days ago, it’s nice we’re restoring order in Crimson Cove. This place has so many weird animals, though. A crazy high percentage of fluffy troublemakers find their way here.”

“There’s no such thing as a fluffy troublemaker, just a badly trained magic user not taking proper care of their charge.” Although, when we’d taken this job, I hadn’t expected the diversity of miscreants who’d landed in our cages to appear so frequently.

Zandra’s mobile snow globe, which was propped on the dashboard in the van, flashed to life. Glenda Ridgeback’s red, sweating face appeared. “One of the baby dragons from Finn’s sanctuary has escaped and is making his way to town. I tried to cut him off, but he almost took my head off with his tail. That thing is madder than a snake who just realized he married a garden hose.”

Zandra was already starting the van, and I was on my paws, listening intently. There was nothing babyish about a dragon, new born or not. They came out roaring and didn’t stop.

“We’re in the center of town,” Zandra said.

“Perfect. He’s crashing his way through the woods. I reckon, so long as he sticks to the path he’s taking, he’ll come out by our office.” Glenda panted as her image jiggled.

“We’re five minutes from there.”

“You head him off from the front. I’ll follow up from behind. If he doubles back, I’ll make sure he doesn’t get past me again. Darned thing nearly blasted my face off. I can still see him, but he’s moving fast.”

“We need to neutralize his fire,” I said. “A dowsing potion will do it, but we’ll have to be close enough for a direct hit, or we’ll only make him angrier.”

Glenda nodded. “Good plan. See you on the other side. Hopefully, not chargrilled and toasted.”

Zandra was nodding as she rocketed the van along the road, heading to Crimson Cove woods. “When we get to the trees, you go one side of the path, and I’ll go the other. You throw out a containment spell and slow the dragon, then I’ll cast a dowsing potion. Be careful of his claws and tail. Even the little ones can shatter bone.”

I wiggled my booping snooter. My magic hadn’t been on its best behavior, and I wasn’t certain I could hold a powerful containment spell for more than a few seconds.

“You good, Juno?” she said. “Happy with the plan?”

“Bring restraining nets, too. It never hurts to have extra supplies. And call Barney. He’ll be closest to the scene.”

“Nope. Barney is in High Woods. He’s dealing with that report about the flesh eating bugs. The mayor’s been on his back again.”

“What about Oleander?” Zandra’s colleague, Oleander Yockley, was a jerk of the highest order, but he could handle difficult animals, being part golden jackal.

Zandra grimaced. “We’ve got this. And Glenda is a pro. I expect she’s already contacted Finn and told him what’s going on. We can tackle this dragon between us.”

I still wasn’t certain, but I had to trust my witch and my magic. It would be there when I needed it the most.

A moment later, Zandra pulled the van to a halt, unclipped my harness, which was attached to the seatbelt, and we leaped out. She raced around the back of the van, opened the double doors, and hunted through the potions.

“Get two dowsing potions, just in case your first one misses the target,” I said.

She pocketed two vials of red liquid and grabbed the magically doused nets. “Any sign of our scaly little friend?”

I scanned the trees, looking for smoke and feeling for vibrations under my paws. “Nothing yet.”

“Maybe he’s changed course and is heading back to Glenda.”

With my magic so unstable, I’d be happy for Glenda to handle this dragon. She was a tiny slip of a woman, but her size meant animals and magic users underestimated her. They always lived to regret it.

“Keep watching for him. He’ll be here any second,” Zandra said.

I scouted for a suitable hiding place for Zandra and selected a large oak with plenty of cover. Even if the dragon hit the tree with fire, she’d be protected.

“Still nothing?” She hurried over, the netting draped across her arms.

“Not yet. Use this tree for cover. I’ll be on the other side of the path.”

Zandra crouched. I hopped my front paws onto her thigh, and we briefly touched foreheads. My bonded witch meant everything to me, and the feeling was mutual. We’d faced plenty of danger in the decade we’d been together and always survived. This time would be no different.

“Let’s teach this dragon it’s rude to cause chaos in our hometown.” Zandra booped the end of my nose and then dashed behind the tree.

I scurried away and hid behind a similar sized oak tree close by. I shut out all distractions and dug deep into the well of ancient magic inside me.

Before I’d been turned into a cat, accessing this power was as easy as clicking my fingers. And yes, I used to have fingers. I hadn’t always been a cat. But three decades had passed since I’d been transformed into this magnificent, beautiful creature, so I was fully adjusted to this way of life. Well, almost.

One increasingly urgent problem was that my magic no longer wanted to perform.

I closed my eyes, relaxed, and hunted for a thread of ancient power that used to course through me like water tumbling down a waterfall. There it was! The power that slumbered inside me and no longer wanted to help. I prodded it until it lazily awakened.

Small, scurrying feet caught my attention, and I cocked my head, swiveling one ear. Something was on the move. It wasn’t a dragon, but it piqued my curiosity.

My eyes opened, and I came face-to-face with a malevolent tree rat. The scourge that is squirrel. I’d had enough acorns and pinecones hurled at my head by these beasts to know they couldn’t be trusted. They looked like cute, fluffy gray angels, but they were devils in disguise.

I growled, and the tree rat chittered and ran up the trunk.

My hunt instinct took over, and I charged after it, digging my claws into the soft bark as I sprinted up the tree.

The squirrel chittered another battle cry and kicked chunks of bark in my face.

It was the ultimate insult, and I hissed and leaped, almost catching its tail, but at the last second, the fluffy beast got away, and I clutched nothing but air. I dug in my back claws and clung on while I steadied myself.

Flames blasted around me, sizzling my fur and dazzling me with an intense, eyeball frying brightness. The dragon! I’d been so distracted by the evil tree rat, I’d lost focus on the mission.

The foul stench of burning fur flooded my nose, and I was horrified to see my beautiful, fluffy white tail on fire. I howled and dropped to the ground, rolling repeatedly in the dry leaves to extinguish the flames.

My rolling stopped with a bone jarring shudder as I hit a rock. I flipped over. Ah, not a rock. I’d arrived under the belly of the baby dragon.

The dragon’s huge green scaled nose dipped down to sniff me. The rank smell of trapped meat between unbrushed teeth and sulfur wafted over me.

I wrinkled my booping snooter. “Greetings. I’m Juno. You may know me as Juno the Magnificent. May I suggest you visit the dentist? That stink won’t attract the lady dragons when you’re old enough to date.”

The dragon pulled back his head and roared.

The stench was so gross I almost passed out. Never a good move when looking up at a mad as a coot dragon. I rolled away just before his huge, clawed foot tried to stamp me into oblivion.

“Juno! Where are you?” Zandra’s voice was tinged with panic.

Her cry alerted the dragon to her location, and his head whipped up, a menacing rumble shuddering through him.

I flipped onto my paws, dug into my sluggish, lazy magic, and fired it to life, but the dragon was already on the move and racing toward Zandra. “Hide! He’s coming your way.”

“Have you slowed him down?”

“Working on it.” Come on, magic. Don’t fail me now. I had to keep my witch safe.

I concentrated so hard my head felt like it would splinter. The magic finally flared to life, and I shot out a restraining spell. It caught the dragon by the end of his tail and yanked him off his feet.

The dragon roared as he lost his balance and hit the ground with an almighty thud.

“You got him!” Zandra said. “Hold him still. I’ll be right there.”

The dragon thrashed his tail twice, shattering my spell’s weak bond. He staggered to his feet, shook his head, and belted out a blast of brilliant flame, setting fire to several trees and skimming the top of my head.

Then the dragon was running again, straight at Zandra, and there was nothing I could do to stop him. My power was gone, and it felt like I had no magic left to use.

But I wasn’t giving up.

I raced after the dragon as fast as my paws would carry me. I had my excellent murder mittens and a fine set of fangs. This dragon would still feel my rage. It would just take longer to destroy him, and it could get messy.

“Out of the way, fluffy knickers. I’ve got this.” Glenda appeared alongside me, magic blazing on her palms. She thrust out the spell, and it covered the dragon from the tip of his tail, swiping along his body and up to his head.

The dragon slowed, shuddered, and fell face-first into the dirt.

A second later, both vials of dowsing potion shattered over him, and Zandra came into view, looking worried as her gaze darted around.

Zandra and Glenda circled the dragon as he rioted and roared under the powerful magic, but he was going nowhere.

“Pipe down. No one’s impressed by your toddler tantrum,” Glenda said. “Nice shooting, Zandra.”

“You weren’t so bad yourself.”

I launched onto Zandra’s shoulder, eager to be close to my witch.

She was focused on the dragon but gently touched my side to acknowledge my presence.

“You both good?” Glenda was panting, her eyes blazing a tawny yellow, giving away her werewolf heritage alongside her witch magic. It was quite a combination.

I nodded, too embarrassed to say anything. I’d messed up. My magic had failed.

“We’re good, thanks. That was a close call, though.” Zandra checked over the dragon, who was already snoring. “What did you use on him?”

“A sleep spell. And those dowsing potions you used were double strength concentrate, so he won’t be breathing anything other than air for weeks. No flames for him. Serves him right, naughty baby.” She petted the dragon’s rump.

While Glenda inspected the dragon, Zandra stood back. She pressed her head against my side. “What happened? I thought you had the dragon pinned.”

I hid my face in her hair. “Sorry. Maybe I’m not feeling quite myself.”

“You should have said you weren’t up to tackling the dragon. And look at your beautiful fur and tail. You’re not hurt, are you?” Zandra gently touched the blackened ends of my once magnificent tail.

“It’s a surface injury. I’ll be back to normal in no time.” My magic would take away the injury, so long as I could get it to work.

“I knew there was something wrong with you. First thing tomorrow, you’re going to the vet.”

“There’s no need. I… I just got distracted.”

“By what?”

I hung my head in shame. “A tree rat. It was being rude. It issued a challenge.”

Zandra sighed. “You and squirrels. You’re almost as bad with them as you are mice.”

“We all have natural enemies. One of mine just happened into view at the wrong moment. It won’t happen again.”

“You’re sure that’s all it is? You’d tell me if something was wrong, right?”

“It’s nothing a good night’s rest and a decent meal of sea bass won’t cure. Let’s help Glenda with the dragon.” I didn’t want to dwell on my humiliating performance. I’d let Zandra down, I’d let myself down, and I’d let Glenda down.

Zandra spent a few seconds fussing over me, but I brushed away her concerns with a gentle paw swipe.

Between the three of us, we wrangled the dragon into the back of Zandra’s van. He only just fit. He was a big baby.

Glenda stepped back, her hands on her hips. “I’ve had enough fun for one day. I’m taking a long overdue break and grabbing food. You good with getting the dragon back to Finn’s place?”

“Sure. And thanks for the save. We couldn’t have done it without you,” Zandra said.

“My pleasure.” She held her hand up for a high-five. “But you owe me.”

“The office cakes are on me tomorrow.”

“I’m buying,” I said. “I should have stopped that dragon on my own.”

“We’ll go halves.” Zandra winked at me, and it seemed all was forgiven.

Glenda strolled away through the woods, whistling, and we headed to the front of the van. Zandra kept glancing at me, but I pretended not to notice she was still concerned.

That had been too close of a call. I had to try harder. No more tree rat distractions, no more troublesome magic, and all my focus needed to be on my wonderful witch.

Otherwise, what kind of terrible familiar was I?

Every Witch Way but Vamped releases on 19 July.

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