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Would-Be Witch

Would-Be Witch
Berkley Mass Market Paperback
Southern Witch Series #1
ISBN-10: 0425267555
ISBN-13: 978-0425267554
September 3, 2013

Southern Witch series — Book 1

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Read an Excerpt!

In the small town of Duvall, Texas, the only thing that causes more trouble than gossip is magic.

The family magic seems to have skipped Tammy Jo Trask. All she gets in the way of the supernatural are a few untimely visits from the long dead, smart-mouthed family ghost, Edie. But when her locket, an heirloom that happens to hold Edie’s soul, is stolen in the midst of a town-wide crime spree, it’s time for Tammy to find her inner witch.

After a few bad experiences with her magic, Tammy turns to the only one who can help: the very rich and highly magical Bryn Lyons. He might have all the answers, but the locket isn’t the only thing passed down in Tammy’s family. She also inherited a warning…to stay away from anyone named Lyons.

Watch the WOULD-BE WITCH trailer

Praise for WOULD-BE WITCH

Blue Ribbon Favorite of 2009 ~ Romance Junkies

May 2009 Recommended Read ~ PNR Reviews

“If Janet Evanovich wrote fantasy, this would be the result!”
Recommended Read, Murder By the Book

Hilarious start to the new Southern Witch Series that will keep you laughing long into the night! Kimberly Frost’s WOULD-BE WITCH is the first in the Southern Witch series and is laugh-out-loud fun. Tammy Jo is a hoot as she stumbles through her attempts at making magic and dealing with the men in her life. Zach is a stereotypical good ol’ boy, and Bryn Lyons is powerfully sexy! Ms. Frost is an author to watch for in the future.”
FreshFiction.com

“…I can’t even explain the complete and utter charm this book holds. Frost has captured something truly magical between the pages of this book. Amazing debut novel, a must read for fans of the paranormal. Witty and wickedly sexy you’ll be hooked in an instant. Frost has cast a spell you won’t be able to resist. A fabulous new series that’s being added to my list of must have reads.”
5 Fangs, Fang-tastic Books Review

“Kimberly Frost has created a wickedly funny romp in her debut, WOULD-BE WITCH, the first volume of her SOUTHERN WITCH series. Set in the small town of Duvall, Texas, she brings the characters and the atmosphere of the town to life… I highly recommend this debut and look forward with relish to the next installment in the SOUTHERN WITCH series.”
5 Blue Ribbons, Romance Junkies Reviews

“Delightful, witty, and full of sass, this new series promises mega action, comedy, and romance. With this first Southern Witch novel, Kimberly Frost has made a fan of me. NOT to be missed!”
5 Stars, Huntress Reviews

“This is the first installment of the Southern Witch series. Ms. Frost blends myth with a whole lot of magic, giving readers a wildly entertaining read. WOULD-BE WITCH has its dark and dangerous moments that should satisfy the reader’s appetite for action, and the heroine’s unresolved love life adds seduction and love to the mix. I’m looking forward to Tammy Jo’s next adventure in magic.”
Darque Reviews

“WOULD-BE WITCH has one of the best love triangles I’ve ever seen…Ms. Frost was very careful to tie up every plot thread…it means that this novel would hold up well for a rereading, which I can see myself doing, because WOULD-BE WITCH is one for the keeper shelf.”
5 Stars, FantasyLiterature.net

“…quite refreshing. The characters are lively with some delicious moments that circle each of their lives…What is so fun about the story is that each player has a fault making none of them perfect, allowing the reader to feel the realism that flows with each of the consequences they meet. Accompanied by some ghosts, zombies and quirky episodes, along the way, Kimberly Frost sketches quite a tale with many different adventures that kept this reader turning the pages of this light-hearted read.”
4 Cups, Coffee Time Romance Reviews

“This amusing urban fantasy is fast-paced from the opening cake sale and fender bender and never stops for a breather…Fans will enjoy this humorous lighthearted chick lit fantasy as Tammy Jo finds her groove fighting vampires and reanimated dead.”
Genre Go Round Reviews

“WOULD-BE WITCH is one heck of a debut from Kimberly Frost. From one misadventure to the next, I was kept turning pages to find out how everything was resolved in the end. We have everything from ghosts and zombies to… werewolves in this story. And how Tammy Jo managed to end up going from the frying pan into the fire kept me laughing all the way through the story. This is definitely an excellent read, and for a debut, it’s nothing less than fantastic. This is one author I’ve added to my auto-buy list and I intend to watch her releases very closely in the future. I sure don’t want to miss what further misadventures Tammy Jo becomes involved in. I very highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good paranormal read.”
May 2009 Recommended Read, PNR Reviews

“…a delightful and charming story…I loved Tammy Jo. She is so sweet, fun and ready for action…WOULD-BE WITCH is novel that should be read.”
4 Angels, Fallen Angel Reviews

“A love triangle that delivers real sex appeal! The first in a fantastic new Southern Witch series. Tammy Jo is a delight…Zach is cowboy sexy and I couldn’t stop rooting for him and Tammy Jo, despite the divorce…The darkly sexy Bryn won me over early in the book, and for the first time in a long time, I found myself enjoying a bonafide love triangle…this was one sexy story. Kimberly Frost has written a true delight with WOULD-BE WITCH. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and has true southern charm. Tammy Jo brought so much personality to this story that I absolutely hate the idea of waiting for the next book—I want it now. WOULD-BE WITCH is a book worth devouring, and I certainly did devour it in one sitting. Excitement, action, and men to die for makes Would-Be Witch easy to love! If you find humor sexy, you won’t want to miss this one.”
Rating 8/9, The EroticReader.com

“…this is definitely an author to watch out for. I would recommend that you add this book to your TBR pile today. If you love a paranormal novel that is funny and somewhat of a mystery, then you will love this book.”
5 Tombstones, BittenByBooks.com

“…left me wanting more. I adored Tammy Jo’s plucky behavior, from the first page where she doesn’t back down from her rival to the last, where she stands up for herself again…This tale was nonstop, from the first page to the last and when I was done I found myself pining to see what came next. That makes WOULD-BE WITCH a definite Recommended Read for me…Ms. Frost has penned the start of an interesting new series that is sure to win her many fans.”
Joyfully Recommended, JoyfullyReviewed.com

“…this book flawlessly incorporates all sorts of fun elements and crazy creatures from the paranormal realm. From the git go I was entertained and thoroughly captured by the fun world created here in the tiny Southern town of Duvall, Texas. That being said, I can hardly wait for September when the next installment of Frost’s Southern Witch Series is due to hit shelves. WOULD-BE WITCH is quite simply a remarkably fantastic debut!”
BookishMomReviews

“…a hoot of a paranormal romance. You can’t help but admire the spunky Tammy Jo and wish her story would never end…a terrific page-turner that had me reading into the wee hours of the morning! …I’m craving another Tammy Jo’s story!”
4.5 Lips, Two Lips Reviews

“More magically delicious than Lucky Charms—Kimberly Frost’s WOULD-BE WITCH is bewitchingly fantastic!”
Dakota Cassidy, author of The Accidental Werewolf

“WOULD-BE WITCH is an utter delight. Wickedly entertaining with a surprise on every page. Keeps you guessing. Kimberly Frost is a talent to watch.”
Annette Blair, National bestselling author of Never Been Witched

“Kimberly Frost makes a delightful debut with WOULD-BE WITCH. It’s witty, sexy, and wildly imaginative. Great fun to read. A terrific new series from a wonderful new author.”
Nancy Pickard, Agatha award-winning author of The Virgin of Small Plains

“WOULD-BE WITCH delivers a delicious buffet of supernatural creatures, served up Texas style—hot, spicy, and with a bite!”
Kerrelyn Sparks, New York Times bestselling author of The Undead Next Door

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Jenna Reitgarten is awfully lucky that my witch genes are dormant, or I’d have hexed her with hiccups for the rest of her natural born life. She stared at me across the cake that had taken me thirty-six hours to make, a cake that was Disney on Icing, and shook her head.

“Well, it’s a really pretty cake and all, Tammy Jo, but it’s got too much blue and gray. It might be good for a little boy, but Lindsey just loves pink—”

“The castle stones are gray and blue, but the princess on the drawbridge is wearing pink. The flower border is all pink,” I said, tucking a loose strand of hair behind my ear.

“Uh huh. I’ll tell you what. I’ll take this one for the playroom. I’ll put the other cake, the one with the picture of Lindsey on it, in the dining room. And I can’t pay two hundred and thirty dollars for the castle, since, after all, it’ll be a spare.”

“Why don’t I just sell you the sheet cake?” I asked, glancing at the flat cake with the picture of her three-year-old decked out in her Halloween costume. Lindsey was dressed, rather unimaginatively, in a pink Sleeping Beauty dress.

“And what would you do with this one, honey?” Jenna asked, pointing at the multi-story castle, complete with lakefront and shrubbery.

“Maybe I’ll just eat it.”

She laughed. “Don’t be silly. Now, you’ll sell it to me for a hundred thirty dollars or I’ll have to complain to Cookie that you didn’t follow my instructions and then—”

“I followed your instructions,” I said, fuming. “You said ‘think fairy tale princess.’ Well, here she is.” I flicked the head of the sugar-sculpted princess, knocking her over on the blue bridge.

Jenna gasped. “I’ve had just about enough from you,” she said, standing the princess back up. “You know we order once a week from this bakery for the Junior League meetings. Cookie will have your hide if you lose my business.”

Cookie Olsen is my boss, and “Cookie” fits her like “Snuggles” fits a Doberman. As a general rule, I don’t want Cookie mad at me, but I was in the middle of remembering all the reasons I don’t like Jenna, which date back to high school, and I really couldn’t concentrate on two annoying women at the same time.

“You can buy the sheet cake, but you can’t have the castle cake.”

She huffed impatiently. “A hundred seventy for the castle cake, and that is final, missy.”

I’d never noticed before how small Jenna’s eyes were. If she was a shape-shifter, she’d be some kind of were-rodent. Not that I’d seen any shape-shifters except in books, but I knew they were out there. Aunt Mel’s favorite ex-husband had been eaten by one.

I come from a line of witches that’s fifteen generations old. They’ve drawn power from the earth for over 300 years. Somehow I didn’t think Jenna would be impressed to hear that though.

Jenna flipped open her cell phone and called Miss Cookie. She explained her version of the story and then handed the phone to me.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Sell her the cake, Tammy Jo.”

“No, ma’am.”

“I’m not losing her business. Sell her the cake, or you’re fired.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“Good girl,” Cookie said.

I handed the phone back to a very smug Jenna Reitgarten.

“Bye-bye,” she said to Miss Cookie and flipped the phone shut. She dug through her wallet while I put the castle cake into the box I’d created for its transport. I took out the sheet cake, which was already boxed, and set it on the counter.

“That’ll be forty dollars,” I said.

“What?”

“Cookie said I could sell you the castle cake or get fired, and I’m going with option B. A cake this size will feed me for a month,” I said. “Longer if I act like you and starve myself.”

Jenna turned a shade of bright pink that her daughter Lindsey would have just loved. Then she tried to reason with me, she threatened me, and she waved her stick arms around a lot.

“Sheet cake, forty dollars,” I said.

Her complexion was splotchy with fury as she thrust two twenty-dollar bills at me. “Lloyd won’t hire you. Daddy uses him to cater meetings and lunches. And there are only two bakeries in this town. You’ll have to move,” she said.

“Well, I’ll cross that drawbridge when I come to it,” I said, but I knew she was right. Pride’s more expensive than a designer purse, and I can’t afford one of those either.

Jenna stalked out with her sheet cake as I calculated how long I could survive without a job. I’m not great at math, but I knew I wouldn’t last long. Oh, to heck with it. Maybe I will just leave town. If Momma and Aunt Melanie came back and found me gone, it would be their fault. I hadn’t even gotten a postcard from either of them in a couple months, and the cards that came were always so darn vague. They never said what they were doing or where they were. I really hoped they weren’t in some other dimension since I might need to track them down for a loan in the very near future.

* * *

Like most ghosts, Edie arrives with the worst kind of timing. It’s like getting a bad haircut on your wedding day, making you wonder what you did to deserve it.

There was a strange traffic jam on Main Street, and I was trying to get around Mrs. Schnitzer’s Cadillac when Edie materialized out of mist in the seat next to me. It certainly wasn’t my fault that it startled me. I rammed the curb and then Mrs. Schnitzer’s rather substantial back bumper.

I held my head, wishing for an ice pack or a vacation in Acapulco. Then I got my wits together and moved my car into the drive of Floyd’s gas station and out of traffic. I grimaced at the grinding sound I heard when I turned the wheel too far left. I hoped the problem wouldn’t be expensive to fix given my new unemployed status. With my luck, it would be. Maybe I could just avoid left turns.

Mrs. Schnitzer didn’t bother to get her Caddy out of people’s way. She slid out from behind the wheel of her big car and sidled up to mine. She wore a lime green polyester skirt that showed off her own substantial back bumper, which, except for missing the dent, matched her car’s perfectly.

She asked me a series of questions like, what was wrong with my eyes (plenty since I can see Edie, my great-great-grandmother’s dead twin sister), was I on drugs (not unless you count dark cocoa), and what did I think Zach would say when he found out (which I decided not to think about.)

Edie was decidedly silent in the co-pilot’s seat. She was dressed in a black, sequined flapper dress, which is a bit much for daytime, but I guess ghosts can get away with some eccentric fashions, being invisible to most people and all.

“Here Zach comes now,” Mrs. Schnitzer said, beaming.

“Great,” I mumbled and checked my rearview mirror. Sure enough, a broad chest of hard muscle covered by a tight, white t-shirt was approaching.

Mrs. Schnitzer said, “Tammy Jo ran right into the back of my car. And I’ve got to get home to get ready for the mayor’s party. I don’t have time for this nonsense today, Zach.”

In other words, “Deputy Zach, straighten out your flaky ex-wife.” I clenched my teeth, resenting the implication.

He played right along with her. “Y’all go on, Miss Lorraine. I’ll deal with this.”

She wiggled back to her car and drove her dented bumper off into the sunset. Zach tipped his Stetson back, showing off dark blonde curls and a face that inspires women to cat fights.

“Girl, you’re lucky your lips are sweeter than those cakes you bake, or I’d have revoked your license a long time ago.”

I’d had a fender-bender or two in the past. Mostly, they weren’t my fault.

“Edie showed up—”

“Tammy Jo, don’t start that. It still chaps my ass that I paid that quack Chulley sixteen-hundred bucks to get your head shrunk, and all I got for my trouble was a headache.”

“I told you it wouldn’t work.”

“Then you shouldn’t have gone and wasted my money. Now listen, I’m busy. You go on home and get ready for Georgia Sue’s party, and I’ll talk to you there.”

“We’re driving separate?” I asked. Zach and I have an on-again-off-again relationship, but we were supposed to be on-again at the moment, as evidenced by the fact that he’d slept over the night before last and I’d made him eggs and bacon for breakfast.

“Yeah, I’ll be late,” he said. “I was at T.J.’s when they called me to give them a hand with this. Longhorns were on the thirty-yard line. You believe I’m out here today?”

On game day? Frankly no. If there’s no ESPN in heaven, Zach will probably pack up and move to hell. The fact that he forgets our anniversary and everybody’s birthdays every year, but has the Longhorn and Cowboy football schedules memorized as soon as they come out is just one of the reasons our marriage didn’t survive. Another small problem was the fact that I still believe in the ghost sitting silently in my passenger seat, and he felt a psychiatrist should have been able to shrink her out of my mind with a pill or stern talking to.

I looked around at the traffic jam as Zach examined my front end. “So what’s going on here?” I asked. He didn’t answer, which is kind of typical. “What’s happened?” I repeated.

He looked at me. “What’s happened is you crashed your car, which means I’ll have to call in another favor to get it fixed. Unless you’ve got the money to pay for it this time?”

Now didn’t seem the right moment to mention I’d gotten fired. “I’m going home,” I announced.

“You think you can handle it?” he asked, his lips finally curving into that sexy smile that could melt concrete.

“Yes.”

“Good. Gimme some sugar.” He didn’t wait before stealing a wet kiss and then sauntering off just as quick.

“Hi, Edie,” I said, as I maneuvered back into traffic. “I really wish you wouldn’t visit me in the car.”

“He still has quite a good body.”

“Yes.”

“Are you together?”

“Kind of.” Like oil and vinegar. Mix us up real good and we’ll work together, but sooner or later, we always separate.

“So it’s just sex,” she said, voice cool as a snow cone.

I sighed. “You shouldn’t talk like that.”

“He is forever preoccupied and yet often overbearing, an odd and terrible combination in a man. It wouldn’t matter so much if he could afford lovely make-up gifts, like diamonds.”

“Can we not talk about this please? I’ve had a rough day.”

“I heard you quit your job. Well done.”

“I didn’t quit. I can’t afford to quit. I was fired.”

“That’s not what I heard.”

“Well, what did you hear? And who from?” It unnerved me that there were ghosts that I couldn’t see strolling around spying on me. Did they watch me in the shower? Did they watch when Zach parked his boots under my bed? I blushed. Edie noticed and laughed.

I stole a glance at her exquisite face. With porcelain skin and high cheekbones, she was prettier than a china doll. She wore her sleek black hair bobbed, either straight or waved, depending on her mood and her outfit. Her lips were painted a provocative cherry red today. Rumor had it that Edie had inspired men to diamonds…and suicide. It was generally accepted in my family that one of her jilted beaus had murdered her, but she never shared the details of the 1926 unsolved New York homicide of which she’d been the star.

“How are you?” I asked.

“I’m dead. How would you be?”

I opened my mouth and closed it again. I had no idea. Was it hard being a ghost? Was it boring? She was very secretive about her life, er, afterlife.

“What made you visit today?” I asked, still trying for polite small talk.

“I heard you showed some backbone. I decided to visit in the vain hope that you might be turning interesting.”

I frowned. Edie could be as sweet as honey on toast or as nasty as a bee sting. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “For a minute I forgot that this isn’t my life. It’s your entertainment.”

Her peridot eyes sparkled, and she favored me with a breath-taking smile. “Maybe not vain after all. Did I ever tell you about the time I stole a Baccarat crystal vase from the editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair and gave it as a present to Dorothy Parker? I liked the irony. He fired her, you know.”

“Who was the editor?”

“Exactly,” she said with a smile. “Getting fired isn’t such a bad thing. You just need a present to cheer you up. As luck would have it, one is on the way.”

“One what?” I asked, peering at her out of the corner of my eye. She couldn’t take a corporeal form. There was no way for her to pick something up from a shop or even to call into the Home Shopping Network, which was really a very good thing. From what I knew of Edie, she had very expensive tastes. There was no way in the world I would have been able to pay for any “presents” she sent me.

“What’s this?” Edie asked as she moved through the passenger seat to the back.

“A cake,” I said.

“It’s a Scottish castle. Eilean Donan. Robert the Bruce still visits there. You’re such a clever, clever girl. Only you have the bridge a bit wrong.”

“I’ve never been to Scotland. It’s just a castle I made up.”

In the rearview mirror, I saw her tilt her head and smile. “Did you see it in a dream perhaps?”

“A daydream,” I said hesitantly.

“It’s about time, isn’t it?”

“About time for what?”

“I’ll see you later.” She faded to mist and then to a pale green orb of light that passed out of the car and was gone.

I was happy that she’d liked my cake, but troubled by what she’d said. I was afraid she was thinking, as she had before, that I was finally “coming into my powers.” She’d proclaimed as much on other occasions and had always been disappointed. No one in the history of the line had ever had their talents appear after the age of seventeen. Here I was twenty-three years old now; I knew I was never going to be a witch. In a lot of ways, it was a relief. Magic always tempted my mother. She’d mixed a potion to help her track down a lost love, and she hadn’t made it home to Duvall in over a year. Finally her twin sister, Aunt Melanie, had gotten worried and had gone after her. Now who knew where they were? And what about Edie? She was said to have had remarkable powers, but they hadn’t saved her life, had they? They may even have drawn something evil to her. Magic was dangerous, and I was glad I didn’t have it. Really, I was.

* * *

Like a lot of things about our family, our home is more than it seems to be. From the street, it’s a Victorian cottage that yuppie couples find quaint and offer us lots of money for. But they can’t see over the big wooden fence. The back yard hides a darkly shaded gothic alcove with a collection of brooding gargoyle statues and a garden with poisonous plants and plenty of stuff for potion making. It’s the kind of place where Edgar Allan Poe would have felt right at home but that I try to avoid except for an occasional round of fertilizing. You’d be surprised how well witch’s herbs respond to Miracle-Gro.

I was relieved to find a package on the front step. My friend, Georgia Sue, had remembered to drop off my Halloween costume for me. I scooped up the box and went inside. I was going to be Robin Hood this year. I had already practiced getting my long, red hair squished down under a short brown wig.

I zipped back out to the car and retrieved the cake. As I set the cake on the countertop, I noticed that the answering machine was flashing and pressed the button.

“Tammy Jo, it’s me. I got your costume. I thought you were going to be Robin Hood, honey? Well, at least it’s blue and green, and those are good colors for you with your hair. But hoo-yah, I don’t know what Momma’s going to say. And Miss Cookie. Tongues will be wagging. You know how the ladies of First Methodist are. Katie Dousselberg still hasn’t lived down singing that Britney Spears song on Talent Night…”

I scrunched my eyebrows together, advancing on the box suspiciously. Georgia Sue’s voice kept going. I love her dearly, but she’s the sort of person who can’t see why anyone would say in one sentence what could be said just as well in three.

“Did you hear about the sheriff’s house? There was a crazy traffic jam on Main, Tommy Hilliard said. If Zach told you anything, you better call me up. I want to have the best gossip tonight. I am the hostess, after all. Don’t hold out, sugar. Call me up.”

I pulled the wide cellophane plastic tape off the box and peeked inside, blinded for a moment by the reflection of a million little sequins.

I pulled out the gown, which had some sort of stiff-spined train on it and a plunging neckline that would embarrass a Vegas showgirl.

“What in the Sam Houston?”

I shook out the dress and realized that the back was a plume. In my costume I would be something of a pornographic peacock. I tilted my head and wondered how I’d gone from a sprightly Robin Hood to this. Then I remembered Edie’s comment from the car. She’d sent for a present.

Our town, Duvall, Texas, prides itself on having all the things that the big cities have (on a slightly smaller, but still significant scale) and Johnny Nguyen Ho created diversity for Duvall in several ways. He was our Vietnamese resident, our community theatre director, and our not-so-secretly gay hair salon owner. Recognizing his talent for costume-making during his early play productions, most people in town sent him orders starting in February for their Halloween costumes.

Johnny Nguyen, in addition to his other considerable talents, fancied himself a psychic. And crazily enough, Edie had found a way to be partially channeled into his séance room, a spare bedroom he intermittently converted for the purpose by using a lot of midnight blue velvet and a bunch of scented candles from Bath & Body Works.

As I looked at the dress, I clenched my fists. There was no time to get a new costume, and I could not skip my best friend’s Halloween party.

“Edie!” I called, wanting to give the little poltergucci a piece of my mind. But Edie is not the sort of ghost to come when called.

“Edie!” I snapped, as a new thought occurred to me. Mr. Liberace had had less beadwork on some of his costumes. How much would this upgrade cost me? I didn’t need to be psychic to have a premonition of myself living on peanut butter and Ramen noodles.

If Edie could hear me, she ignored me. “Typical,” I grumbled. One of these days all the people and poltergeists who didn’t take me seriously were going to need me for something, and I just wasn’t going to be there—or at least I wasn’t going to be there right away.

Of course, my day of vindication would likely be sometime after Sheriff Hobbs, a serious church-going man, arrested me for indecent exposure. He’d probably give me a stern lecture on how short the path could be from poultry to prostitution.

CHAPTER 2

I had done my best with strategically placed safety pins and double-sided tape to restrain my boobs from making any unscheduled appearances, but I still wasn’t making any sudden moves as I walked into Georgia Sue’s annual Halloween party.

I was sure my face blushed as red as my hair when people turned to stare at my outfit.

“Hey, y’all!” I said with a cheerful wave.

“Hey there,” Zach’s brother TJ said, looking me up and down with a grin, while Mrs. Tabacki pursed her lips so hard they turned white.

Hellfire & biscuits. I am never going to live this down. I wondered how many of them had heard I’d been fired. Maybe I could chalk it all up to temporary insanity. I put my hand over Edie’s locket, which hung down the expansive front plunge of the dress. The starburst of diamonds under my palm was familiar and reassuring. I walked a little taller. I wasn’t going to let anything rattle me, I decided, and pushed through people as I tried to get to the kitchen, where someone would hopefully be making frozen margaritas or tequila shots.

Georgia Sue intercepted me before I could find a bottle. She swooped in, pecked me on the cheek, and started right into things.

“Well, you know what the traffic jam on Main Street was all about, don’t you?” Georgia Sue asked, her dark brown corkscrew curls bouncing.

“Something to do with the sheriff. He’s okay, isn’t he? No heart attack or anything?” I asked.

“No heart attack, though with all the steak and cheese the man eats it’s a minor miracle he got through the day without one. I’ve told Miss Marlene she really needs to watch his diet better. You just can’t let a man eat whatever he wants. You know Kenny would eat bacon with every meal if I—”

“Georgia Sue! What happened?”

“Well,” she exhaled, giving me a whiff of her crème-de-menthe breath. She’d had a grasshopper or two in the past hour. “Apparently while Miss Marlene was at her Friends of Texas Fish and Fowl fundraiser lunch, the burglars attacked their house in broad daylight.”

“Someone broke into the sheriff’s house?” I asked, with a slight smile at the irony.

“Yes, can you believe it? Waltzed right in, bold as brass, and stole that nearly original Thomas Kinkade painting they have, which is worth almost two thousand dollars. And they got into the safe hidden in the floor and took everything in there.”

“What was in the hidden safe?”

“The sheriff hasn’t said so far. But the thieves found it, so what does that tell you?” she asked in an urgent whisper.

“That they’ve chosen the right line of work?”

She giggled. “That too maybe, and the sheriff’s spitting mad. But how could they have found it? Unless they knew it was there? This was an inside job.”

The use of the word “job” made me feel like we were in a 1970’s movie like The Getaway with Steve McQueen. I just love old movies.

I cocked my head. “‘Inside job’ means inside the house. You’re saying you think the sheriff or Miss Marlene set up a fake robbery?”

“What? Oh, of course not! No more liquor for you—”

“I haven’t had any,” I protested.

“By ‘inside,’ I mean inside the town. Must have been.”

“Hmm,” I said, chewing on the thought. The sheriff and his deputies were considered a pretty competent outfit. They didn’t always arrest people for causing trouble, but they always knew who deserved arresting. No one in town would be hot to tangle with the sheriff once he was good and pissed off.

“Why would someone from town steal the painting? Not like you can hang it or pawn it around here without someone knowing,” I said.

“That’s right. You’re absolutely right. See what good it did you being married to Zach? You guys should get remarried. You’re already sleeping with him again, for Pete’s sake.”

“I don’t like being married to him. Then when we start fighting, I have to stay over someone’s house, carting my pots and pans all over town, people shaking their heads at me like they saw it coming again. This way when he starts bossing me around too much, I can just throw his clothes on the front lawn and be done with it,” I said.

She giggled. “You know you love that man.”

“Love is most definitely beside the point,” I said. Married and divorced before we were twenty, Zach and I had probably set some kind of Duvall record.

I needed to stop messing around with him, but old habits die hard, and I’d been crazy in love with him since I was ten. Emphasis on crazy. I looked around, wondering if the reason he hadn’t shown up yet was because he was still busy with the case at the sheriff’s house.

I froze in place when I saw Edie. She was sitting on top of the armoire next to Georgia Sue and Kenny’s big screen T.V. Edie wore a large black and white hat and a drop-waist dress. She held a martini in her hand, looking flawless and elegant, and not at all out of place near the pinstripe-clad gangsters with plastic Tommy guns hovering near the buffet table. She waved with her free hand, and I wondered: where did she get gin and olives in the afterlife?

“…and there’s going to be a big surprise later,” Georgia Sue said, giving my arm a squeeze.

I wondered if the party would turn into a murder mystery. She’d done that one year, and it had been fun. I’d gotten to play a gumshoe.

“…mingle and have a good time before Zach gets here and has a fit about that dress.”

I pursed my lips defiantly. “Zach can’t tell me what to wear. I’ll wear what I want to.” Or whatever I’m forced to by a manipulative ghost and her sequin-sewing sidekick.

“Uh huh,” she said, not sounding convinced. Then she was off to greet some more people.

“Hello, Tamara.”

The hair on the back of my neck rose, and I shivered. Very few people call me Tamara, and only one of them has a deep voice that’s sexy as sin and smooth as molasses. I turned to find Bryn Lyons. With his black hair and cobalt-colored eyes, you could have handed him Edie’s martini for a prop and passed him off as the real James Bond. Tonight, he was dressed as Zorro.

“Hi,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest, trying to cover up as gooseflesh rippled over my arms. “I’m surprised you’re not at the mayor’s party.”

“Care for a drink?” he asked, handing me one of Georgia Sue’s fancy wine glasses with magnolias hand-painted on the side. “Chambord margarita.”

I took a sip. Delicious raspberry flavor burst over my tongue, and then I felt a strange reverberation coming from Bryn’s general direction. Magic. He’d been using tonight. I was surprised that I could tell since as a non-practitioner I can’t usually detect magical energy.

“What have you been doing?” I said.

“Why do you ask?”

“Well—” I paused, leaning closer to him. He inclined his head, which I supposed was to let me whisper in his ear rather than to get closer to my barely covered body. Still, my heart hammered with sexual heat. Bryn had always been dangerously gorgeous, but he never sought me out. He tended to import his girlfriends in from Dallas. They were often tall, tan, and too perfect to have been born looking the way they did. I don’t think he worked any glamour on them, but maybe he paid for their plastic surgeons. He was certainly rich enough to afford it.

“I didn’t know you were active,” I said.

“Active in what way?” he asked. His teasing voice had that faint Irish lilt that I sometimes detected. I wondered again where he was from. He and his father had moved to Duvall when Bryn was around thirteen. Being six years younger, I didn’t meet him right off. Our paths crossed by accident for the first time when I was sixteen, and I’d been curious about him ever since. Momma, Aunt Mel, and Edie had immediately shut down my questions though and forbid me from talking to him, but I always listened with interest to anything they said about him and his father Lennox.

I raised my eyebrows. “Never mind,” I said. “I really can’t talk to you.”

“Why is that?”

I took a gulp of my margarita to stall. I couldn’t tell the truth…that for reasons I didn’t understand, I’d been made to memorize Lenore McKenna’s List of Nine. Lenore was my great-great-grandma and Edie’s twin sister, and she’d written down nine last names that a McKenna girl was never supposed to associate with. Something to do with the family being destroyed for all eternity. On Lenore’s list, Lyons was smack-dab in the middle at number five. Since the list was a secret though, I didn’t know what to say to Bryn about why I couldn’t talk to him.

I guess I could have blamed it on Zach, saying he’d get jealous, but Bryn would probably think me getting involved with Zach again was as stupid an idea as, well, it was.

“I can’t really say, but it was nice seeing you.”

“Why can’t you say?” he asked.

“Beautiful and deadly,” Edie said. I turned my head to find her standing next to me. “He’s a Lyons. Off limits, and you know it. Too bad, too. I wouldn’t have minded the show. He’s spectacular out of those clothes.”

I gasped. How did she know what he looked like out of clothes? Did she have Superman x-ray vision? Or had she haunted his house for fun?

I could forgive Edie being a ghost voyeur, after all, what was there to do after death besides people watch—and, apparently, drink martinis? But I did not want to hear about it if she watched me making love.

And if she’d been kinky before death, that was her own business and not mine.

Bryn’s blue-violet eyes narrowed, and his gaze focused on the spot where Edie stood staring back at him. She smiled and blew him a kiss. He didn’t respond, but he didn’t look away either.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him, wondering if he could see a faint outline, or more, of her.

“There’s something here. Do you feel it?” he asked.

Uh oh. “No.”

He mumbled something, and I felt a sudden rush as Edie slammed her way back into the locket. The only remnant of her was a faint bluish afterglow near my shoulder. I wondered if his spell had hurt her, and it upset me to think so.

“Well, if you’ll excuse me,” I said, backing up.

His eyes moved up one of the twin slits that kept showing flashes of thigh when I walked. “That dress suits you.”

“Oh, I hope not.” I said, escaping to the screened porch.

* * *

There were a dozen of us in the back room when Georgia’s surprise started. Two guys dressed as old-timey bandits collected loot from everyone. I hoped I’d get to be on the posse hunting them down during the game.

I noticed that Elmer Fudd, Mr. Deutch, hesitated to let his wife, a cross-dressing Bugs Bunny, put her big canary diamond ring into the pillowcase sack.

“C’mon, Pops, get with the program,” the old-timey bandit with the red bandana over his face said as he grabbed Mrs. Deutch’s hand. He wrestled the ring off her finger and dropped it in the case.

Then he moved in front of me. I dropped my beaded, little clutch purse into the sack.

“I’ll take that too,” he said, nodding to the locket.

“Oh, no,” I said. “I can’t take it off here.”

“This is a stick up, Birdie. Everything goes into the bag.”

“No.” I put my hand over the locket pressing it against my chest.

Old-timey Red pointed his old pistol at the mounted moosehead, who’d already been shot once in Alaska by Kenny in 2003, and pulled the trigger. The pistol’s report startled us all into silence, and Old-timey Red pointed it at my head. “Put the necklace in the bag,” he said.

“A loaded gun? The sheriff will kill Georgia Sue,” I muttered.

The second old-timey bandit with the green bandana over his face caught my arm and yanked it down. The locket pulled out of my hand, and Red snatched it and dragged it up and over my head.

“Wait,” I yelled and grabbed Red as he turned to leave. Red broke free, and both bandits waved their guns menacingly as they ran toward the door. “No,” I shouted, stumbling after them. Mr. Deutch grabbed me around the waist to stop me.

“Let go! They’ve got Edie,” I snapped.

“You named your locket?” Mrs. Deutch asked.

I jerked free of Mr. Deutch’s hold and rushed out of the room. The bandits had left the front door wide open, and I hurled myself through it. They were actually leaving, actually stealing the locket!

“Hey!” I sprinted toward the driveway, coming right out of my shoes when the heels got stuck in the lawn.

“I’ll pay you for the locket. I’ll pay a lot!” I screamed as they peeled out in Councilwoman Faber’s brown Jaguar.

I ran after the car, pounding the pavement with my bare feet until they turned a corner and I lost sight of them.

“Oh no,” I whimpered, holding my head as I panted for breath. How could you have let them get it? Why didn’t you hide it when you saw them taking things? You were supposed to keep her safe, I shouted at myself in my head.

“I thought it was a game. Another murder mystery game,” I whispered to no one. “Oh, this is bad. This is so bad,” I mumbled. October 24th was only six days away. I had to get Edie back by then or she’d be destroyed forever. And what if she came out before that? What if she came out again tonight? She’d be lost without someone from the family to connect to and then she’d get sucked into whatever darkness had almost gotten her twenty years ago.

I turned and ran back to the house. Everything was in an uproar. People were yelling at Georgia that she’d gone too far with this game, that letting the actors carry real guns was madness. I rubbed the tears off my cheeks with the heel of my hand, hoping the others were right: that it was a game and that the bandits would bring the locket directly back.

“Just shut up!” Georgia Sue snapped in a voice that could’ve pierced armor. “I did not hire them! My surprise was a magician. Those men with the sack must be the same ones who robbed the sheriff. It’s a crime spree is what it is.”

“Oh dear Lord,” Mrs. Deutch wailed.

“They took my Jaguar. I’ve got to get it back,” Mrs. Faber said, her patrician nose turned up.

I stood numbly in the corner. I hung my head looking at pale pink toenails. I needed to do something, but I didn’t know what.

“Tamara, your feet,” Bryn said. “Come and sit down.”

I didn’t resist as he led me to a wingback chair at the edge of the foyer.

“They took my locket. It’s a family heirloom. It means the world to us,” I mumbled, sinking down. “Has someone called the sheriff?”

“Yes, the police are on the way,” he said, shaking his head as he looked at the bottom of my feet, which were dirty and skinned.

“Did they take anything of yours?”

“My Rolex. My fault. Zorro didn’t wear a wristwatch. I should have left it at home.”

“I’m sorry about your watch,” I said, but I didn’t really mean it. I was so preoccupied with my own trouble that I didn’t have a bit of sadness to share for someone else’s.

“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll be compensated when they’re found.”

I looked at him suddenly. Bryn Lyons knew magic and was rich. That combination meant he usually got whatever he wanted. If anyone could make sure the thieves were caught quickly, he could.

“I need my locket back as soon as possible. If you find them will you make sure that I get it? It can’t be stored in evidence or anything like that.”

“If I find them before the police, you’ll have it back immediately.”

“Thank you,” I said, clutching his arm. He was on one knee in front of me and looked suave enough for celluloid.

He smiled.

We heard sirens and both looked toward the door. “The cavalry,” he said.

“I should rinse my feet and put my shoes on.”

“I’ll get your shoes.” He stood. “It’ll be all right,” he added.

“I nodded with a weak smile and limped off to the half bathroom.

By the time I had my feet clean, Zach and the others had arrived. The sheriff had a colicky look as he tried to calm folks down.

I grabbed Zach’s arm and pulled him toward the back room.

“Easy now,” he said, extracting himself. “I need to listen to the sheriff and so do you.”

“They got my locket, Zach. The Edie locket.”

“Well, good riddance,” he said, moving back toward the people crowded around the sheriff.

I felt like he’d dumped a pitcher of ice water over my head. I stood rigid as a steel beam and stared after him.

I would wait my turn to tell him and the sheriff what I’d had taken. And, for Edie’s sake, I would pester him as much as I could to get them to find the thieves, but, once I had her back, I wouldn’t bother to cross the street to talk to my cold-blooded bastard of an ex-husband. Good riddance, indeed.

I looked around and saw Bryn Lyons sitting on the back porch swing, talking calmly into his cell phone. I hoped he was hiring a band of mercenaries to hunt down the criminals. I hoped his people found the loot first and made the sheriff and his deputies look like fools. And I hoped really hard that he did it all before the 24th of October.