After spending months unable to use her powers, Brynn Warren is once again using her gift and working at her family's bed-and-breakfast. Her heart is full, and although one of her aunts wonders if it might be a little more full with a bit of romance in her life, Brynn is certain that finding love again is not in her future. In fact, she can’t imagine anyone being more certain of anything…except for maybe, the recently deceased Mortimer Sweete. He’s certain he’s been murdered, and he wants Brynn’s help to bring his killer to justice.
Mort is positive he knows who killed him: his business partner's wife, Cookie, who had been trying to get them to sell the candy shop for months. But Brynn doesn't share his conviction. After all, the coroner ruled his death natural causes, and Mort did have health problems in life. But with Cookie putting up a For Sale sign for the shop already, Brynn knows she can't just let it go.
Trying to solve a might-be murder while attempting to stop her aunt from meddling in her personal life seems like a recipe for disaster. If Brynn wants to bring Mort's spirit peace, she'll have to rely on all her skills—both magical and mundane—to uncover the truth.
Praise for In The Company of Witches
“A fun and compelling mystery….A welcome addition to the magical cozy genre.”—New York Times bestselling author Juliet Blackwell
“This is the perfect blend of mystery, magic, and mayhem.”—New York Times bestselling author Sofie Kelly
“Fans of the paranormal will enjoy the series debut of the Warrens, who go way beyond quirky.”--Kirkus Reviews
"More than just a grown-up riff on Sabrina the Teenage Witch in the form of a charming cozy murder mystery, In the Company of Witches is a surprisingly thoughtful meditation on family, forgiveness, and grief....I’d highly recommend this not only to fans of paranormal cozies but to anyone looking for a meaningful but not too heavy and still highly entertaining mystery read."--Criminal ElementAuralee Wallace is the author of multiple novels, including the Otter Lake mystery series. She has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Master's degree in English literature, and she worked in the publishing industry for a number of years before teaching at the college level. She lives in Ottawa with her family.
Pink and peach clouds, fiery in the sun's dying rays, rolled slowly across the baby blue sky. A riot of birdsong rang out from the trees as a gentle breeze twirled fluffy seedpods in the air. Spring had finally come to Evenfall, Connecticut.
"I just love this time of year," the woman beside me said. "That feeling of warm sunlight on your face. The sight of all the flowers popping up their sleepy heads. The smell of rich, fresh earth bursting with new life." She sighed happily. "Isn't it just magical?"
"I've never cared for it."
I darted a look over to the woman seated on my other side, doing my best to suppress a smile. Some things never changed. While my aunt Izzy tended to see the very best in everyone and everything, my aunt Nora, well, she made an art form out of being perpetually unimpressed.
Then there was me. I was right in the middle. Literally.
I was seated between the two of them on the back porch of our family's Queen Anne tower house, Ivywood Hollow Bed and Breakfast. My aunts had suggested we come outside to enjoy the spectacular sunset. It was hard to say if we were succeeding in that particular goal just yet.
"But it's spring," Izzy persisted. "What is there not to like about spring?"
"Quite a bit actually," Nora said, flashing her long, crimson fingernails in the air. "Where should I begin? The sun is blinding in the early morning hours. You can't work in the garden without getting completely covered in mud. And then there is all this nonstop twittering." She cast a disapproving glance at the trees.
In fairness, she was more of an autumn person.
Izzy sat up in her seat. "Well, all that may be true, but-"
"Then there's the people," Nora went on, not quite through with her rant. She propped an elbow on the armrest of her chair and pointed at us. "Everyone behaves so nonsensically this time of year. They're practically overflowing with hope and excitement. And for what? A mild breeze and a bit of sunshine? Ridiculous." Suddenly a bluebird swooped in out of nowhere and landed on Nora's finger. She blinked at it. "You, my tiny feathered friend, are only proving my point."
The bird twittered prettily, then flew away.
"But, Nora," Izzy said with a nervous laugh, "wasn't it your idea for us to come out here to enjoy all that spring has to offer?"
"Oh no, Sister. Don't you dare try to pin this on me."
I frowned. Pin what on who now?
Izzy huffed a breath. "I knew I shouldn't have included you in this." Her eyes widened when she caught me looking at her. "In this viewing of the sunset," she added awkwardly before looking back at Nora. "You haven't liked spring since high school. Wasn't it your junior year when-"
"Absolutely nothing happened." Nora pulled down her oversized black sunglasses to give her sister a ferocious look. "And I do not hate spring." She pushed her sunglasses back up and laid her forearms delicately on the armrests of her chair. "I simply think it's overrated."
Izzy held up her hands in defeat.
"Wait, what are we talking about?" I asked, finally getting a word in. There was clearly a great deal being communicated under the surface here. I had a lot of questions, but I opted to start with, "What happened junior year?"
"Absolutely nothing," Nora repeated in a clipped tone.
I twirled my long black braid between my fingers as I looked back and forth between my aunts.
The two of them painted a contrasting picture. Nora was looking rather elegant this evening-if not a touch severe-in her black silk jumpsuit. She had her fiery red hair twisted up into a tight bun on the top of her head, accentuating her long neck and perfect posture. Izzy, in comparison, appeared fresh and sweet in her pink floral dress with ruffled hem. Her strawberry blond hair sat loose and curling about her shoulders, wavering charmingly in the breeze.
I had to admit I felt a bit shabby in my wrap sweater and jersey leggings. But, in fairness, no one had told me I needed to dress for the occasion. Not that this was an occasion. We were just taking in the sunset. At least I thought that's what we were doing. Suddenly I wasn't so sure.
"Why are we even talking about spring? Or unremarkable junior years?" Nora asked grumpily. "I thought we were supposed to be out here talking about Brynn?"
And there it was. I should have known.
I gripped the armrests of my wingback rattan chair to force myself up into a less relaxed posture. "And what is it exactly about me that needs discussion?"
"I have no idea what your aunt is talking about," Izzy said, forcing an overly bright smile. "Have you tried the tea, darling?" She reached for a cut glass mug. "It's a ginger and jasmine mix. I flavored it with honey, cloves, orange slices, blackberries, and just a touch of red pepper for heat."
I eyed the tall pitcher filled with amber liquid, sparkling in the slanted rays of the setting sun. Beside it sat a plate covered in freshly baked tarts with ruby-colored filling.
"They're raspberry," Izzy prodded, following my gaze. "Your favorite."
They looked delicious. I could practically feel the flaky crust breaking apart in my mouth. But we both knew those weren't just any old tarts. I pinned my aunt in my gaze. Her eyes widened again, this time to unparalleled levels of innocence. It was pretty adorable. But I wasn't about to be distracted by her cuteness. "Izzy? What is going on?"
"Oh, just tell her why you've dragged us out here," Nora said with an exasperated sigh. "I'm about to spontaneously combust in all this golden sunlight."
"Are you sure you don't want to try the tea first, darling? Or the tarts?" Izzy asked hopefully.
I raised an eyebrow. "I think I'll wait."
My aunt sighed, then cleared her throat. "This wasn't quite how I wanted to bring the subject up," she said, cutting her sister a look. "But, well, Brynn, your aunt and I have noticed that you seem distracted lately. Like something might be bothering you."
Was that all this was about? I chuckled with relief.
"And Izzy here has a theory on what that something might be," Nora said with a sniff. "She also has some ideas about how to fix it."
My chuckle died a swift death. My aunts speculating on my well-being was always disconcerting, but the idea of their fixing any of my theoretical problems was downright terrifying. Time to nip this in the bud. "You don't have to come up with any theories. Or ways to fix anything." I stared off into the endless sky beyond the sorbet-colored clouds. "And you don't have to worry. I know I've been a bit distracted lately, but I promise you it's nothing."
"What's nothing?" Nora asked sharply.
I could feel her studying me, but I kept my gaze on the sky. "It's hard to explain, but I've had this funny feeling lately. I think it's the changing of the seasons. Spring fever maybe."
In fairness, I could see why my aunts might be concerned. A few days ago, I had been kneading dough with Izzy, and she had caught me staring off into space. I had been quite still for several minutes without realizing it. Then a day or two after that, I may have snipped the side of my finger with gardening sheers helping Nora trim the dead branches off of a rosebush. It was a little strange. I wasn't normally so careless. When the feeling came on, it was like I had to stop everything I was doing, still all my senses, in order to pick up on whatever it was. It was like listening for a soft noise somewhere in the distance. Or trying to catch a faint scent on the breeze. It almost felt like something might be coming. But the funny thing was, as soon as I did focus on the sensation, the feeling would disappear, like it had never existed at all. Again, I had chalked it up to the season. What is spring if not the feeling of anticipation? I was sure it was nothing to worry about.
I knew my aunts might have a bit of trouble with that though. They had raised me since the age of five after my parents died in a car accident. Worrying was a part of their job description, even if I was now over thirty.
I didn't have to look at Nora to feel her gaze narrow in on me. "Spring fever? Since when do you suffer from spring fever?" The tone in her voice made it sound like we were talking about malaria or maybe West Nile virus. "Are you sure this strange feeling of yours doesn't have something to do with your work?"
"Or maybe something else?" Izzy asked sweetly, clutching her hands to her chest. Stars above, what was going on with her? She was practically batting her eyelashes at me.
I gave her a look that spoke to the fact that I thought she might be a touch dangerous, then said, "I don't know. Maybe."
"You are not doing a very good job of explaining yourself," Nora said.
I let out an exasperated grunt. "Because there's nothing much to explain. I just keep getting this feeling like something is about to happen, but then nothing ever does. Really, you guys don't need to worry." As if on cue, a warm breeze gusted by, making the trees whisper. I eased back against my chair. Hopefully we could let this conversation go now and just enjoy the evening.
"But what is it exactly you think is about to happen?"
I groaned. Loudly. "I don't know. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Oh! Look! Bunny!" I pointed at a small cottontail hopping across the lawn. I darted glances at both my aunts to see if they had spotted it too. But no, they were both still focused on me with matching expressions of concern. "What? Now we don't like bunnies?"
"They eat my vegetables," Nora replied. "Don't change the subject. You do realize that we Warren women are not ones to ignore feelings. Have you spoken to your uncle about this?"
"No, I haven't told Gideon anything. There's no reason to. It's nothing. I'm sure of it." I really was sure. The whole thing was silly. But at least I was getting some tarts out of it. I reached for the biggest one on the plate, picked it up, and took my long-awaited bite. Chills rushed over my body. It was beyond good. Sweet. Tart. Buttery. It was also, funnily enough, quite relaxing, and encouraging, and dare I say, prodding. Like suddenly I had the urge to give up all my secrets.
I shot Izzy a look.
She smiled and scratched the back of her neck.
"Why didn't you guys just ask me what was going on?" I mumbled, bringing a hand up to cover my mouth. "You didn't have to plan this elaborate ruse." Truth be told, though, I already knew why. Not that long ago I had gone through the darkest period of my life, and I hadn't shared much of anything with my family, but I had come a long way since then. They knew that.
"We didn't know how you would react, darling. You can be quite private."
I swallowed hard and wiped the crumbs from my mouth and then my lap. "Okay, well, next time just talk to me." I held my hands up. "Really. I have nothing to hide." I turned my palms inward, looking at the crumbs all over my fingers, then quickly grabbed a napkin. "Now, tell me. What was your theory on what was bothering me?"
"It's nothing," Izzy said, shaking her head so quickly it almost looked like a shudder.
I was about to interrogate her further but was distracted by a young couple entering the garden from the side gate. They were newlyweds spending a couple of days at the B&B. Neither one had spotted us yet. They only had eyes for each other.
"They are so sweet together," Izzy mused, a dreamy look coming over her face.
My chest tightened.
They were so sweet together, and so much in love. It was impossible not to see it. It was in every gesture, the way the distance between them closed when they entered a room, the look in their eyes when they said each other's names, even in the way they held hands. It was precious. Truly precious. I had been in love like that once.
"Ridiculous," Nora muttered.
We watched the couple in silence for a little while before Izzy asked, "Don't you think they're sweet together, Brynn?"
I shot up in my seat. Wait a minute.
"What?" Izzy asked nervously. "What is it?"
"Did you know those two would be out here? Is that what you really wanted to talk about? Love?" I was using the same tone to speak about love that Nora had used when she was talking about spring.
Izzy's hand flew to her chest. "Brynn, do you really think I would be so conniving as to have that sweet young couple involved in some sort of scheme?"
"Hello!" the young man called out to her with a friendly wave. "Did we come at the right time?"
Nora laughed. Actually, it was more of a cackle.
Izzy smiled weakly. "Yes, just in time for the sunset. Lovely, isn't it?" She sank back into her chair. "Nora is so much better at conniving."
"I'll take that as a compliment," her sister replied, turning her face to the sun.
"Listen," I said in a much gentler tone, "I can see what it is you're trying to do here, and I know you mean well, but you are way off base."
I watched the newlywed husband lower a branch from our magnolia tree for his wife to see up close. Just as it neared her sightline, I heard Nora whisper something under her breath, and one of the pink buds swirled open, much to the couple's delight.
When Nora caught me looking at her, she shrugged and rolled her eyes.
"But, darling," Izzy said, stealing back my attention. "It has been some time now. Isn't there a part of you that misses it?"
"Of course I miss it. I miss him. The two can't be separated for me." That was the simple truth of it. I had lost my husband, Adam, to an undiagnosed congenital heart defect almost two years ago. It was a devastating loss. In truth, it had nearly killed me, but I had come a long way since then. I gave my aunt what I hoped was a reassuring smile. "But I can miss those things without feeling like my life is missing something. I am at peace with where I am now. I've had the greatest love anyone could ask for. And even though that part of my life is over, I'm grateful to have had it." I meant the words deeply. It wasn't something I had ever articulated out loud, but I was glad I finally had so that my aunts could understand.
|Title:||When the Crow's Away|