Berkley Mass Market Paperback
Southern Witch Series #4
May 6, 2014
Southern Witch series — Book 4
With two kinds of magick at odds inside her and two gorgeous men vying for her attention, Tammy Jo Trask is used to being pulled in opposite directions. But in the latest Southern Witch novel she’ll have to make some serious decisions—like how she intends to stay alive.
Tammy Jo’s romance with the wizard Bryn Lyons is on hold while her ex-husband is in town trying to remind her of the good old days. Choosing between them isn’t easy, and it doesn’t help that a skeletal creature is spying on her, a faery knight is hunting her, and she just made friends with Evangeline Rhodes—a rich witch who thinks her own family is trying to kill her.
When Evangeline disappears under suspicious circumstances, Tammy Jo is determined to find out what happened. As she uncovers a secret more dangerous—and personal—than she could have imagined, she also discovers that, in both love and magic, you can’t stay neutral forever.
Read an Excerpt
No matter how many times people try to kill me, I never seem to get used to it. That goes for spying, too. I’m always startled to find a Peeping Tom . . . or Craig . . . or fire warlock creeping around. The thing is they’d better not let me catch them at it. I’m a redhead. I’m armed. And I don’t take kindly to interruptions when I’m trying out a new cake recipe.
I didn’t always have a hair-trigger temper, or a hair- trigger weapon tucked in the top kitchen drawer behind the salad tongs, but a couple of months ago, my life changed. My name is Tamara Josephine Trask, Tammy Jo to most of my friends. I’m twenty- three years old, and I’m a witch. Or I should say I come from a long line of witches. Until recently, I thought the family magic skipped over me. It turns out that I actually got a double helping of magic and that my two types of magic, like the creatures they come from—witch and faery—don’t get along. It might have stayed that way, with the two magicks canceling each other out, if I hadn’t had a close encounter with a wizard named Bryn whose own magical heritage is also mixed. From the moment my magic met his, it was trouble for us and anyone within a twenty- mile radius.
Now it was late December, and the supernatural drama had died down. Country music Christmas carols played on the radio, and in my kitchen I was minding my own business as I sometimes do.
I wore a white T-shirt, boot-cut Levi’s, and a black apron with a Julia Child quote in white letters that said, If you’re afraid of butter, just use cream. I was in the middle of stirring cake batter that had both butter and cream in it when the trees started kicking up a fuss.
I don’t speak tree, but after an unfortunate incident involving pixie dust, I’m usually able to get the gist of what they’re trying to tell me. Woody limbs scratched the roof and scraped against the kitchen window, making me look up from the bowl.
I slid open the window and said through the screen, “I’m not coming out to visit right now. I’m busy being a regular person.”
The leaves crackled, and I rolled my eyes. A chilly breeze blew in. I shivered and closed the window. When I turned up the radio, Martina McBride drowned out the trees. My ocelot, Mercutio, who’d just woken up, strode into the kitchen. It seemed like God couldn’t make up his mind when He painted ocelot fur. There are stripes on their faces and necks like little tigers, but spots on their bodies like leopards. One thing’s certain, they’re the cutest cats of all, big or small, foreign or domestic. A person might say I’m biased and that person would be right, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong about ocelots being extremely cute. Just ask the Internet to show you some pictures.
“The racket woke you up?” I asked as I dripped a couple of drops of cream on my finger and held it down to him. He licked and swallowed. Another scrape against the roof made us look toward the yard.
“For foliage, that’s pretty pushy,” I said. “I’m not fixin’ to go out there with bare feet. It’s full-on winter and that ground’s cold.” Mercutio tipped his head down, touching his nose to the top of my bare foot. “I meant I wouldn’t go outside barefoot. In the kitchen with the oven on is fine,” I said. “In here it’s seventy-five degrees. Out there, it’s forty- eight, and rumor has it it’s going down to thirty. By Texas standards, that’s blizzard cold. Now I ask you, would anyone in her right mind go out in a blizzard without socks and boots?”
Mercutio cocked his head and opened his mouth to answer.
“I meant that to be rhetorical, Merc.”
I leaned over the bowl. I added finely chopped Texas pecans, a dash of chili powder, and another splash of cream to the cocoa cream cake batter. “Besides, I’m real busy.” I stirred and then dipped my finger into the bowl. As soon as the batter hit my tongue, I smiled. Now we’re talking. I added pinches of nutmeg and pepper.
Mercutio jumped onto the counter, nearly knocking the mixer off, and darted to the window that’s above the sink.
“Watch your step,” I said, moving the mixer to the middle of the counter.
Mercutio’s low growl raised the hair on the back of my neck. When it comes to announcing trouble, Mercutio’s more accurate than a police scanner. I reached into the corner and turned down the radio, then opened a bottom drawer and pulled out a flashlight. I turned it on and shined it out the window.
I jumped when I caught a glimpse of a figure in the tree. I instantly lowered the light and yanked open the top drawer. Reaching behind spatulas and tongs, I closed my fist on the handle of my gun. I tucked it into the back of my jeans and moved away from the window. I yanked on the socks that were sitting next to my cooking clogs and slipped my feet into the shoes.
“What do you think, Merc? A neighbor boy trying to sneak a peek at me in my undies again? Or real trouble?”
Mercutio crossed the counter in two strides and pounced down to the floor. I watched him approach the back door. He kept his body low, in full-on stealth and ready-to-rumble stance.
“All right, then,” I said, and reached over to turn off the kitchen light. “Someone more sinister than a teenage boy it is.”
I crouched next to Merc. “Even with the lights off, he’ll see the door open. So we’ll have to move fast,” I said, and then rolled my eyes at myself. I didn’t need to tell Mercutio about speed. He could give lightning a run for its money. I moved the flashlight into my left hand so it was ready to be flipped on and gripped the door handle with my right. I took a deep breath and opened it.
We burst into the yard. Claws out, Mercutio went up the trunk. I drew my gun with my right hand and shined the flashlight at the treetop. One glimpse told me the figure was all wrong. For a split second, I froze, staring at the gaunt face. His skin was so thin I could see stark white bones beneath the surface as he gnashed his teeth at me. Was there even flesh on those bones? Or just a translucent phantom covering?
Is he alive or dead? I wondered frantically.
A bright flash of light blinded me as the man—or what-ever he was— jumped. I dropped to my knees and rolled for cover. He didn’t land on me—or the ground that I heard. Tangled among the azalea bushes, I pointed the flashlight beam at the treetop.
Mercutio howled a protest at the fact that the intruder had escaped before he’d gotten to him. I moved the light all around the yard, scanning every inch. I also checked the sky and the fence. No sign of the peeping skeleton.
Mercutio returned to the ground, strolled past, and padded into the house. My heart thundered in my chest.
“What the heck?” I muttered, rolling onto the patio. “We’re done, Merc?” I asked, following him inside. “Just like that?”
Apparently so. I locked the door, set my gun down, and brushed off my clothes.
“Well, what was that? I didn’t hear it hit the ground. So was it a ghost, then?” I frowned. “I haven’t seen all that many ghosts, but the ones I have seen look like people. A little more transparent than a regular person sometimes, but not like a skeleton.”
“And maybe I’m old- fashioned, but I think skeletons ought to be either covered with flesh and blood or buried in a coffin waiting to turn to dust as God intended. They don’t need to be creeping around in a person’s backyard, annoying the trees and giving me a heart attack when I’m trying out a new cream cake recipe.”
Mercutio yawned and curled up on the floor a few feet from the door. I turned off the oven and put the batter in the fridge.
“I’m going to consult some witches’ books. Not that I have many here to consult. But I’m not going to Bryn’s house. I’ve made it twelve whole days without sleeping with him, and no scary skeleton standing in a tree is going to send me to Seduction Central now that Bryn’s big case is finally over.”
Mercutio didn’t move a whisker. When it comes to fighting for my life, Mercutio’s the best friend I could have. When it comes to my messed-up love life, I’m on my own. And actually it’s okay that Mercutio’s not into that kind of drama. That’s what the rest of the town is for.