Enjoy this FREE peek at the first in the Crypt Witch paranormal cozy mystery series. Get to the end, answer the question in the comments (what is the name of Tempest's business,) and you could win prizes!
As I slid through the familiar tingle of the magic barrier surrounding Willow Tree Falls, I had one mission on my mind. Find the biggest brownie I could and head home for a night curled up on the couch with Wiggles.
I tried to brush green dust from my black pants. It was unpleasantly sticky, and I only succeeded in smearing it down my thigh. That was the trouble with rogue demons. They had no concern about messing up your clothes when you dragged them back to prison.
I’d spent the best part of a week tracking this particular demon. Abigar had been sly and uncooperative. He had not come quietly. In fact, he’d whined and pleaded for a second chance. He’d even offered me a stash of gold if I’d let him go.
I twisted my long dark hair over one shoulder and adjusted the heavy bag containing Abigar on my hip. There was no way I could let a demon who was that much trouble loose on the rest of the world.
My stomach gurgled, and my mission to find the brownie intensified.
A group of young witches raced out of Star Fairfax’s dance studio, almost slamming into me in their haste to escape the sweaty tutus and bouncy floors that were the torture of dance lessons.
Two of the girls pulled up sharply and stared at me before covering their mouths and running away, laughing as they did so.
“That’s Tempest Crypt, the witch I told you about,” the small redheaded girl with an inability to whisper spoke from behind her hand. “She eats demons for breakfast.”
The other girl turned her wide dark eyes toward me before grabbing her friend’s hand and running off.
“You’d better run,” I muttered. “I don’t make a habit of eating demons or little girls, but I might make an exception in your case.”
I slowed as I passed Heaven’s Door, my sister, Aurora’s magic store. The place was bustling as usual. It was the most popular store in Willow Tree Falls. Everyone loved Aurora. She was Little Miss Perfect and never put a foot wrong. If she wasn’t my sister, I’d hate her.
As if sensing my presence, Aurora’s gaze lifted to the window, and she smiled. She beckoned me into the store.
I shook my head and carried on walking. I was too exhausted, and when I was tired, I wasn’t safe to be around, especially not when it came to Aurora.
I inhaled deeply and smiled. My favorite smell drifted out of Sprinkles bakery. Patti must have just taken a fresh batch of goodies out of her oven.
I increased my pace and pushed open the door to the bakery.
Patti Kayes stood behind the counter, loading the shelves with chocolate chip cookies. She did something magical to whatever she baked. It always tasted heavenly and left you wanting more. I was a sucker for her brownies. The bigger the better, and the more chocolate, the happier I was.
I approached the counter, my eyes glued to the sweet treats behind the glass.
Patti tapped the top of the counter with a long finger to get my attention.
I looked up and met her green eyes. “I don’t see any brownies. My mission is brownie retrieval.”
Patti chuckled as she placed the cookies down. Her wild red curls were hidden neatly under a white floppy baker’s cap. “They’re coming. I had a feeling you’d be back today, so I made an extra batch.”
“You’re keeping tabs on me?”
“Nothing so sinister. I had some of Angel Force in earlier today on a coffee run. They were worried because you hadn’t been in touch and were asking around to see if anyone knew anything and if you might be in trouble.”
I shook my head. I’d done this job as a favor for Angel Force. They were kind of like the police in non-magical communities, just not so efficient. The angels monitored illicit demon activity from Willow Tree Falls, keeping an eye on the rest of the world and making sure no demons became too troublesome. “Those puffed up angel farts don’t know what they’re talking about. We don’t all have time to go gossiping when on a job. They know I won’t let them down.”
Patti eyed the lumpy bag I had attached to my belt. “He’s in there?”
“Your family will be happy to have him back inside.”
“This one was a giant pain in the butt. But he didn’t escape from the prison. He escaped Angel Force when they were transporting him.”
“That’s demons for you. Always up to no good.” Patti grinned at me. “How many brownies do you need?”
“As many as you’ve got.”
She laughed. “I cooked a batch of fifty.”
“Oh, well, I’ll take a dozen.”
“Good plan. That’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner sorted for a few days.”
I snorted a laugh. “If I’m lucky.”
“Give me two minutes. I’ll box them up for you. Fresh out of the oven, so they’re still warm and gooey.”
I lounged against the counter as I waited for my brownies, my gaze going around the pretty pastel pink and blue cafe. It was late afternoon, so the only customers were retired people or young moms. Several of the clientele didn’t meet my gaze. I didn’t mind. I had a bitchy side that could emerge at inappropriate times. He was called Frank. Frank was a demon, and he came out when I least wanted him to.
“A dozen brownies ready to go.” Patti placed a box on the counter.
I handed over some money, resisting the urge to rip off the lid and stuff my face full of brownies. “Have I missed anything while I’ve been gone?”
“Only all the nonsense in the build-up to the mayoral election.” Patti handed me my change. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting that job. All they get is hassled day and night about inconsiderate neighbors, overgrown hedges, or boundary disputes. Who wants to deal with that?”
“All the ego maniacs who put themselves forward,” I said. “I saw the bunting up across the street. Is that to do with the election?”
“It’s supposed to make people more excited about them,” Patti said. “I’m not even sure I’ll bother to vote. Maybe I will if there’s an any other option. I don’t know about Axel, Mannie, or Deacon being the new mayor. None of them seem quite right for the job.”
“If you don’t vote, you risk getting some idiot filling the role.” Willow Tree Falls’ incompetent but harmless current mayor, Grenville Kirby, was retiring after twenty years on the job. He was stepping down for a life of blissful peace and a passion for playing golf extremely badly.
“Any idea who you’ll vote for?” Patti asked.
“Whoever is least likely to cause Cloven Hoof any problems.” That was my business. I specialized in providing exotic drinks with a little pinch of magic. I also did a healthy sideline in natural pick me ups that came with a side order of magic bliss. It was the perfect way for people to unwind after a stressful day.
“I heard talk about Cloven Hoof at one of the candidate’s meetings,” Patti said.
I sighed. Not everybody loved Cloven Hoof. “Who’s gunning for me this time?”
“I’m not sure but check what they were talking about. You don’t want to find yourself thumped with a new business tax or restrictions on use.”
“I’d like to see them try.” I grabbed the brownies. “Thanks for the heads-up.” My happy brownie induced mood was dented by the possibility of somebody interfering with Cloven Hoof, and it led me to the door of the Ancient Imp. I needed a drink and an update on who was talking about my business. No one knew the local gossip better than the Ancient Imp’s owner, Petra Duke. People always talked more freely when they’d had a few drinks. Petra was always happy to listen.
She was behind the bar when I entered, wiping a clean cloth over the already clean surface. Her long black hair had a sweep of silver running down either side. Her eyes were lined with black kohl, and her mouth was painted red. She nodded at me as I stopped by the bar.
“Make it a double.” I leaned on the bar, enjoying the woody, earthy scent the building always had. It had a lot to do with Petra’s earth witch roots.
“Are those demons causing you trouble again?” Petra placed a tall glass full of sparkling lemon water in front of me. I rarely drank alcohol. It didn’t do Frank any good.
“This one had his moments, but I squashed him.”
“Cora was in here with your Auntie Queenie last night. She said all the demon cracks are sealed. They’ve had a quiet few days since you’ve been gone.”
“I’ve heard that before,” I said. “There will be someone below causing mischief before too long.”
“You should be grateful. If it weren’t for their mischief, you’d be out of a job.”
“Cloven Hoof keeps me busy enough. Speaking of which, do you know which mayoral candidate is looking to cause me trouble if they get into post?”
Petra laughed. “I wondered when you’d hear about that.”
“A couple of residents who live close to Cloven Hoof have mentioned your late license, and they want to see it restricted.”
“I open late to meet customer demand. I don’t like working past midnight. If there was no demand, I wouldn’t do it. Half of the people who come in after hours live in the houses near Cloven Hoof.”
“I’m not the one with the problem.” Petra raised a hand. “It won’t happen. It’s all hot air to get people interested and get them out voting next week.”
“Whose hot air are we talking about?”
Petra narrowed her eyes, a wicked smile on her face. “Mannie Winter.”
“That self-righteous dwarf comes in at least once a week. Why does he want to shut me down at night?”
“He wants to be seen as the next mayor of Willow Tree Falls. He has to be seen working to meet his followers’ requests.”
“I’ve got a request for him. I’ll tell him what it is when I’ve jammed my foot up his butt.”
Petra chuckled and looked over my head as the door to the Ancient Imp opened.
I groaned as I recognized the smell of sweaty, sulfur coated bodies. Willow Tree Falls did a roaring tourist trade, thanks to its allegedly magical hot spas and healing stone circle. Non-magicals came from hundreds of miles to sample these elixirs of a long life and good health. They either spent their time meditating within the stone circle or splashing around naked in the naturally warm thermal spas that sat on the edge of the forest.
They were tourist gimmicks. Non-magicals couldn’t access the real properties of the stones or the spa water. But it meant Willow Tree Falls was thriving, and local businesses did well out of the tourists who visited throughout the year.
“I feel ten years younger.” A plump non-magical with damp blonde hair sat in the seat next to me.
“Me too,” her companion said. He was equally damp looking and sulfur smelling.
Petra turned her attention to them and took their drinks order.
“We should come back every year,” the woman said, “and bring Denise and Bobby. It will do wonders for his aching hip.”
I took a sip of my lemon water. The non-magicals bugged me. They were so sure of themselves yet had no clue what was going on beneath their noses. If it weren’t for my family, their world would be in chaos. They had no clue what was beneath their feet. If they did, there’d be no way they’d hang out in Willow Tree Falls.
The woman glanced at me and smiled. “Are you here for the thermal spas?”
“Nope, I live here,” I said.
“You’re so lucky. You must use them all the time. Your skin’s glowing, and your hair has a lovely sheen.”
“Thanks, I use a great foundation.”
The woman tilted her head. “Tell me your secret. What is it?”
I glanced at Petra and winked. “Actually, it is the spas. Did you cover yourself in the mud when you were there?”
The woman’s eyes widened. “I didn’t know we were supposed to. We swam about a bit and assumed whatever is in the water would be absorbed through our skin.”
I shook my head, forcing myself to look serious. “You’ll only get some of the benefits if you do that. For an immersive treatment, you need to dive under the water, grab a handful of mud from the bottom and cover your bodies in it. That way, you’ll get the maximum benefits and have glowing skin.”
“We should go back,” the woman said as she tugged on her friend’s hand. “I don’t want to miss this opportunity while we’re here.”
Her friend looked longingly at the pint of beer that had just arrived. “We can go back tomorrow.”
“You should go tonight,” I said. “It’s good to be covered in the mud under a full moon.”
“Tempest, maybe you shouldn’t,” Petra cautioned.
I couldn’t help myself. Non-magical tourists were so annoying. “Lots of mud, a full moon, and then you lie on the banks of the spa and let it dry for at least an hour.”
“That sounds amazing. Thanks for the tip. We’ll do that.”
“My pleasure.” I drained my lemon water. And when they did, they’d be met with our not so friendly toothless werewolf, Brian. He liked to hang out at the spa in full shaggy werewolf form and scare tourists. He could do them no harm with his gums and blunt claws but still enjoyed chasing them out of his territory, especially when they were naked.
I grabbed my box of brownies, nodded a goodbye to Petra, and headed out of the Ancient Imp. I spotted more tourists heading toward the pub and was glad I’d left when I did.
“Coooeeee! Tempest, have you got a second?” The piercing tones of Puddles Lavern drilled into my head.
“Not now. I’m busy.” I kept walking, my head down.
“I hate to trouble you, but I need to check when your rent is coming in.”
I gritted my teeth as I slowed. I was a week late in paying. Puddles ran Gnome Place Like Home, the village’s realtor and letting agency. I leased Cloven Hoof’s building from her, including the apartment above it.
“The money’s on its way. As you can see, I’m back from an out-of-town gig. Angel Force will have paid me by now. I’ll drop off a check tomorrow.”
“That’s good to hear. We can’t have you getting behind on payments. I’ve got several people interested in taking over the running of that building if you’re struggling.” Puddle’s lips were painted a glossy pale pink to match her candy floss hair. She was a short, curvy hedge witch, who thought clashing candy floss colors were the latest trend.
“I’ve been busy. You’ll get your money.”
“Of course, I trust you.” Her gaze landed on the box of brownies. “Have you been to Sprinkles? I’m starving.”
“I have.” She was not getting her hands on my brownies.
“What did you get?”
Puddles mouth formed a little O of delight. “They’re my favorite.”
“Mine too.” My fingers tightened around the box.
She glanced up at me and frowned. “I should get back to work.”
“Good idea.” As I turned in the direction of Cloven Hoof, I saw a blur of movement heading toward me.
Puddles backed up several steps. “You should tell him to slow down.”
“You have met Wiggles?” I said. He was my best friend, a stocky tan mutt, who had the ability to track me down whenever I arrived back from a job. I never knew how he managed to get out of Cloven Hoof. He was a ninja escape artist with a keen sense of smell, especially when brownies were involved.
Puddles scuttled backwards to the safety of the door of her office.
I held up a hand. Wiggles didn’t appear to be slowing down. “Wiggles, stop!” It was too late. He launched himself into the air and straight into my arms.
Wiggles landed on top of me, and we crashed to the ground, the box of brownies squashing between us.
“Stop. Heel. Sit.” I shouldn’t have wasted my breath. Nothing I said would deter Wiggles from his enthusiastic licking of my face.
I laughed as I gave in and ran my fingers through his wiry fur. “I’ve missed you too, you fur ball.” My gaze went to the squashed brownies, and I groaned. I shimmied, and the box plopped to the ground, the brownies flopping out. They looked like sad little puddles of melting perfection.
Wiggles jumped off me and went to investigate his carnage.
I looked up to see Puddles smirk before heading back into her office.
Wiggles made a grab for a brownie, but I stamped on it. “Chocolate is not good for you.”
He made a grab for another, and we did a dance as I kept standing on brownies and grinding them into the dirt to stop him from getting his teeth into them.
Wiggles sniffed the bag containing the demon and growled.
“Yes, I’m still carrying, so be careful. We don’t want to let this guy loose.” I scooped up the destroyed brownies and was about to put them back in the box when I spotted one pristine brownie sitting in there.
I dumped the rest of the brownies in the nearest trash can and reverently carried the single brownie back to Cloven Hoof, Wiggles trotting along beside me.
Once through the black, shiny double doors, I walked into the bar. It was quiet, only a few customers occupying the booths and a couple sitting at the bar. It never got busy here until the end of the working day. It got really frantic at weekends.
Merrie Noble, bar manager extraordinaire, stood behind the bar polishing glasses. “Welcome home. Did you have a successful trip?”
I patted the bag. “Job done. How’s everything been here?”
“No problems. We had a few tourists trying to get in the other day. I gently persuaded them that this wasn’t the place for them and they’d be happier trying the Ancient Imp.”
We were always careful not to let non-magicals into Cloven Hoof. Magic had a strange effect on them. The magic barrier around the building did a good job, but occasionally, they broke through.
“There are a lot of them out there. We need to keep an eye out for them.”
“The non-magical detector is operational,” Merrie said as she flipped her long blonde braid over one shoulder. “They won’t be getting in anytime soon.”
Wiggles rested his paw on my knee as I sat at the bar and opened the lid of the brownie box.
Merrie poked her head in hopefully. “You’ve eaten nearly all of them.”
“I had a Wiggles related incident. He came to say hello. Most of them ended up in the dirt.”
Merrie chuckled. “I wondered if you were back when he barged down the stairs and out the door before I could stop him.”
I grinned as I eased off my boots. I already felt more relaxed being home. I’d run Cloven Hoof for three years, transforming it from a dodgy biker bar into a reputable joint that served high-end products.
“I’ll be in my booth if anybody needs me.” I grabbed my brownie and walked away from the bar.
I’d just settled in my favorite seat and taken the first bite of brownie when I stiffened. Somebody was watching me...
I hope you loved the first chapter of Luck of the Witch, book one in the complete Crypt Witch paranormal cozy mystery series. For the next 12 days (starting on March 17) at noon, a new chapter by a different author will pop up, and you can enter to win that book AND be entered into the grand prize!
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What is the name of Tempest's business?
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K.E. O’Connor is the author of so many books she can't remember them all. Noteworthy mentions include:
Along with other titles available if you cast the right spell.
She can imagine dragons, taste cookies when they aren’t even there, and hear the crack of a witch’s broom at a hundred paces.
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