A Spell Of Trouble – Book 1 in the Silver Hollow Paranormal Cozy Mystery Series. Sneak Peek at Chapter 1:
Isolde Quinn flipped the sign in her shop window, Enchanted Pets, to open. A burst of pride warmed her chest as she looked around at the cages, aquariums, and playpens where she had her beloved charges. Not pets. Not merchandise. Charges. Because that’s how she thought of them—beings that were in her care until the right person came along to give them a home forever.
She loved this time of morning before the streets were full of tourists, when she could come in and check on all her little furry friends.
It was a perfect seventy-eight degrees in the store. Despite the muggy heat outside, Issy made sure it was always pleasant for the animals.
She slowly made her way to the back of the store, inhaling the smell of woodchips and dander, checking on each of her charges, running her fingers over the silky fur of the litter of kittens specially purposed to be familiars to young witches. She used her close-cropped fingernails to scratch the heads of the cockatiels and parakeets who sidestepped their way along their perches to rub their heads against their cages.
In the back, she paused before the very last tank, a special delivery she’d gotten earlier in the week. She bent over, peering into the terrarium, brushing away one of the strawberry blonde corkscrew curls that had fallen into her eyes.
Inside the terrarium, a pair of solstice toads blinked up at her from their bed of moss, their orange eyes bright and alert, their purple necks glowing. The toads were quite rare, coveted by witches who wanted to cast the most powerful spells. They would fetch a pretty penny, but only for the right witch. Issy saw it as her duty to make sure no animal in her care was purchased by a witch—or human—with ill intent.
The saliva of the toads would make any spell ten times more powerful but they had to be handled with care. The saliva could turn poisonous in the wrong hands, which was why Issy had a “lock” charm on the terrarium and also why she kept the toads in the back. Only paranormals looking for something special ever ventured back there.
Satisfied that the toads were in good health, she made her way back to the front, looking over the goldfish, hedgehogs and bunnies that would become familiars to other witches or simply well-loved family pets to humans. She paused to look into a tank full of fire newts. The newts stared up at her in dismay before scurrying under a rock.
“Don’t worry. I’m not after your eyes.” She chuckled and walked away. Witches didn’t really kill newts for their eyes—at least not any witches she knew.
“Yip.” Bella, the tiny red Pomeranian who was her familiar, had been following dutifully at her heels and apparently now wanted some recognition. Issy picked her up and cradled her in her arms, rubbing her cheek against the dog’s silky fur. She plunked a kiss on the dog’s head, her heart expanding at the look of adoration in Bella’s luminescent brown eyes. Bella’s pink tongue darted out, leaving a warm, wet trail on Issy’s face.
She’d been without a familiar for most of her life. One of her first familiars had died young and Issy couldn’t bear the thought of losing another one, especially since she felt responsible for the death. But when she’d seen Bella in a litter of pups, she’d known in her heart that they should be together. Though the dog was still young yet and they couldn’t communicate with each other very well, Issy knew she would be a great familiar and friend in time.
“I don’t know why you coddle the creature. It has minimal intelligence.” The voice came from a chubby gray cat that sat on her counter. Brimstone. He wasn’t one of the pets for sale in the store nor was he her familiar. He was more like a companion.
He’d been hanging around with her and her cousins for as long as she could remember, but unlike a normal familiar he came and went as he pleased and answered to no one. She didn’t know much about Brimstone, just that he was ancient and had the attitude to go along with it.
Bella growled at Brimstone which caused the pudgy cat to laugh. The dog’s growl sounded more like the hum of a bumble bee than the threat of a canine. Issy put Bella down and headed behind the counter to open the cash register and get ready for the day.
As she approached the counter, Brimstone’s orange-golden eyes narrowed and shot to the window. He arched his back and hissed. Issy looked in the direction of his gaze, her heart leaping when she saw the object of his distaste. It was one of her least favorite people, Louella Drummond, and she was heading this way.
Brimstone hopped down from the counter and ran as Issy watched Louella, her dyed auburn hair done up in some sort of modified beehive, charge across the street with bulldog-like determination. Behind her a tall, thin woman in a navy blue suit trudged along as if this was the last thing she wanted to do.
Issy couldn’t blame her. Not too many people got along with Louella. She was just plain mean and she seemed to have taken an extreme dislike to Issy and her cousins—which was odd since most people in Silver Hollow were easy going. In fact, most in the hollow were paranormals themselves. Vampires, witches, werewolves, even demons.
Sometime back in the 1950s, the word had gotten out that Silver Hollow was paranormal friendly and the town had become a mecca for them. Of course there were humans here, too, but for the most part, none of them noticed that some of the residents had special powers. Nobody flaunted their gifts. Heck, most of the paranormals just wanted to live normal peaceful lives. And when something odd did happen, the residents just shrugged it off to quirkiness. Even many of the humans that lived here had a quirky side and they all got along fine.
All but a few. And Louella was one of the few. She liked to get her dander up about a cause and by the way she was heading toward the pet store, Issy was afraid that she was the latest cause.
She reached into her purse, her fist curling around a cold, smooth oval-shaped stone. The stone was her talisman, a polished egg-shaped piece of obsidian. The feel of it gave her comfort and strength. She clenched it tight then let go, dropping it back into the bottom of her purse just as Louella crashed through the door. She ignored Issy and headed straight toward the back.
“They’re back here, I tell you,” Louella shot over her shoulder to the navy-suited woman.
Issy stepped out into the aisle, blocking their way. “Good morning, Louella. Can I help you with something?”
“I’ve got you this time.” Louella smirked up at her then jerked her head toward navy suit. “This is Lottie Owens from the Board of Health.”
Issy’s eyes narrowed. “Why would the Board of Health be interested in anything in here? This isn’t a restaurant.”
Louella tried to sidestep past Issy, but Issy was too quick and blocked her again. “You know why. You have some rare reptiles back there that are a danger to society.”
The solstice toads. When had she seen those? She must have snuck in the other day when one of Issy’s assistants was minding the store. But how did she even know about them or their danger?
Someone like Louella wouldn’t understand how careful Issy was with the toads or how important they were to have available for the witches. Issy took a deep breath, held it and then wiggled her fingertips in the direction of the back of the store. A little monochrome charm never hurt anyone and she was sure the committee wouldn’t mind her using it, especially for this purpose.
“What’s wrong with you?” Louella demanded.
Issy hissed out the breath. Whenever she conjured up a charm on the spur of the moment, she had to hold her breath. It was one of her quirks, but she certainly couldn’t tell Louella that.
“Hiccups,” she said, then added, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have anything dangerous here.”
Issy stepped aside and gestured toward the back of the store. “You’re welcome to go back there and look.”
Louella frowned. Some of the wind went out of her sails as she proceeded toward the back, the heels of her no-nonsense pumps making squishy noises on the tile floor. She stopped in front of the terrarium that held the solstice toads and stabbed an index finger toward it. “See? They’re right there.”
Lottie bent down and peered into the tank. “These look like regular toads.”
Louella’s frown deepened, her eyes widening as she looked closer at the tank, then jerked her head toward Issy, her eyes narrowing again. “You did something, didn’t you? You knew I was coming and you hid the rare purple horn-back toads and replaced them with these common toads.”
That explained it. Louella had mistaken the solstice toads for purple horn-backs. Of course Issy would never sell purple horn-backs. They were endangered and that was against the law. Issy glanced over Louella’s head at Lottie. Thankfully, the other woman looked like she thought Louella was off her rocker.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Issy said.
“I don’t think she would have had time to do that, Louella. I mean, we only arranged this appointment at the last minute an hour ago. How would she have known we were coming?” Lottie asked.
Louella glared at Issy. “That’s a good question. But she’s not like us. Her and her cousins. They act… weird.”
“I don’t know what toads you were looking for, but if you want to buy some tree frogs I’m having a sale.” Issy plastered on a fake smile.
Louella stormed up the aisle toward Issy with the apologetic-looking Lottie trailing behind her. Louella stopped directly in front of Issy and waved a boney finger in her face. “I know you’re up to no good. Switching toads isn’t going to help you much. Your whole family is evil and now I have something to prove it.”
Her eyes slid across the street to the hair salon, Shear Magic, owned by Issy’s cousin, Graeme. Inside, her cousin was styling the hair of a blonde beauty, the green shamrock tattoo peeking out from under the short sleeve of his gray tee-shirt, his large biceps flexing as he cut and fluffed
Gray was a popular hair stylist. Women came from all over New England to experience one of his hair styles and even at this early hour, there was a line of ladies waiting for their haircuts. It was no surprise since women always left his shop with their hair lush and rich with color, the exact color and style to highlight their facial features. It was said his haircuts took ten years off a woman’s age as if by magic. Which, of course, it was.
“What are you talking about?” Issy patted her own strawberry blonde curls, the perfect shade to highlight her sea-green eyes. The medium-length curls floated around her head like a halo. Each curl was a perfect corkscrew and her hair never frizzed. All thanks to Gray. She opened the front door, hoping Louella would get the hint and leave.
“Oh, don’t give me that.” Louella glanced out the open doorway at Gray’s shop again then patted her limp dishwater-colored hair. Issy corrected her earlier thought—everyone that had their hair done at Gray’s came out looking fabulous except a certain chosen few, Louella being one of them. “I know that Graeme is a bad boy and I’ve got pictures to prove it.”
Issy frowned. Pictures of Gray? What kind of pictures could she possibly have? “If you say so.” Issy exchanged another glance with Lottie. Lottie rolled her eyes, apparently coming to the conclusion that Louella was plum crazy. Or at least Issy hoped she was coming to that conclusion.
“Well, if there’s nothing else I can help you with…” Issy raised her brows and gestured toward the sidewalk.
“Fine.” Louella stepped outside, her eyes drifting over to the hair salon again then back to Issy. “You beat me this time but you haven’t seen the last of me. Once I get my computer back and can upload those pictures, I’ll have all the evidence I—”
Her face contorted into a grimace. Her eyes crossed. Her hands clawed at her throat as she tried to suck in a breath. “Arghh…”
She fell to the sidewalk, twitching and gasping. Lottie stared. Issy’s heart took off like a horse at the Preakness as she fell down beside Louella.
“Louella, what is it?” Issy screamed.
The woman’s eyes were practically bulging out of her head as she gasped for air.
“Call 911. She must be having a heart attack!” Issy shot over her shoulder at Lottie, who was already fumbling for her cell phone.
Issy moved Louella onto her back, thinking to do CPR, but as the woman’s mouth fell open she knew it was too late. Her tongue had swollen to several times its size and was a bright blue. Issy recoiled in horror. That could only mean one thing—Louella wasn’t having a heart attack. She’d been killed by magic. Dark magic.
People were starting to gather around and Issy scanned the crowd, which was filled with faceless tourists and a few towns people she recognized. Karen Dickson, another witch who was also not a fan of the Quinns’, stood at the edge of the crowd. Her dark eyes lingered on Louella then darted to Issy.
As a siren split the air, Gray came running from the the salon. He pushed the crowd aside and knelt beside Issy, a jet black lock of hair falling across his forehead, his face tight with worry. His greenish-blue eyes darkened when he noticed Louella’s tongue.
He pressed his fingertips to the side of Louella’s neck for a few beats, then shook his head. Turning to Issy, he said, “This can’t be good.”