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Excerpt for Shadow of Magick by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Shadow of Magick


Jea Hawkins writing as

LUCY TRUE


Copyright © 2017


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is completely coincidental (and pretty darn weird!).

Cover by Rebel X Designs



www.lucytruebooks.com


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PROLOGUE

A letter edged in black.

Who even does that anymore?

I look at it for maybe the tenth or twentieth or hundredth time before placing it atop my clothes and shutting the suitcase, jiggling the reluctant latches into place. It’s a long drive from Massachusetts to Nebraska, but the only way to go for someone like me who loathes airplanes and airports. At this point, I’m not sure if I’m memorizing the letter or using it as a talisman against ill fortune.

“Miss Cadence Gray…”

They got my name wrong. Gray was my mother’s maiden name, but it’s not mine. I’ve never accepted it as mine.

“We regret to inform you…”

I close my eyes.

“Your mother succumbed…”

I take a deep breath.

“If it is any consolation…”

I open my eyes.

“We look forward to seeing you.”

I grasp the handle of my suitcase, mindful that I cannot say the same, that my only consolation is in knowing this will be the last time I ever have to visit that place. Like it or not, I have to live with myself and the choices I made. Like it or not, the time has come to face them.

Like it or not, the time has come to go home.



CHAPTER ONE



Cadence glanced up at the familiar sign and tightened her hands around the steering wheel. There was no erasing the grimace from her face as she drove past the enormous blue and yellow sign: “Ravenna. Nebraska’s Hometown Hideaway. Est. 1886.”

Her hazel-green eyes narrowed and focused back down on the road, a ribbon of asphalt gray winding across the golden prairie. A shaft of sunlight danced through the driver’s side window, giving a shine to her copper-tinted hair. For a brief moment, she appreciated the warm light that told her she was in the Midwest. It was small comfort, though.

Coming back to her hometown was not her idea of a good time and the magick liked to remind her of that. It crackled through her. Cady hated being a human live wire even more than she hated visiting Nebraska.

Not that it would have made any difference if her mother died in Massachusetts, of course. Either way, it hurt. Either way, she wasn’t prepared to deal with the loss. The sudden homecoming simply added a layer of inconvenience, which in turn made her feel guilty for feeling inconvenienced.

What Cady couldn’t understand was why her mother remained here in the first place. She supposed it was a family thing. Her mother’s family had lived in Ravenna for generations. In fact, her mother’s refusal to leave the town for more than a long weekend, let alone to move to the east coast, was one of the reasons Cady’s father had divorced her almost twenty years ago. The divorce had been a rather odd one, with the judge giving Philip Chilton custody of his daughter. Phil had more of a family support system back in Massachusetts, while all of Cady’s mother’s family was deceased. Cady also suspected her mother’s… differences had played into the judge’s decision, though her father never said a word about it.

Like her mother, Cady was an only child. Neither Harmony Gray nor Phil had remarried after their divorce. Phil ran his own construction company back on Cape Cod, while Cady had majored in journalism at Boston University. Working for The Cape Cod Gazette wasn’t exactly glamorous, but she loved her assignments. It was also nice to choose her environment as her mood dictated: the varied city amenities of Boston, the seasonal activities available throughout New England’s mountain ranges, colorful beach boardwalks up and down the coast, or any of the towns in the region that boasted rich history and timeless architecture. From quiet coffee houses to thrilling sports events, Cady felt like she had everything at her fingertips.

Returning to Ravenna was something she hated doing, whether her mother was living or not. It was simply in the middle of nowhere. During one particularly snarky argument with her mother, Cady had referred to it as “an intellectual and cultural void, comparable only to Utah.”

However, like a dutiful daughter, she came back year after year to spend the Winter Solstice, which was also her birthday, with her mother. It meant something to her mother to have her there for the celebration of the longest night. Harmony wanted to pass on the family tradition of witchcraft to a reluctant Cady.

The problem, as Cady saw it, was the kinds of powers she had already marked her as a freak. She didn’t need that kind of trouble, especially since she suspected most of what her mother talked about was just a load of bull. Move along, nothing to see here, she often told herself when strange things happened around her. And happen they did, though she tried to pretend she didn’t see things that didn’t belong or shouldn’t happen. Like the occasional fairy she might glimpse out of the corner of her eye or the time when her emotions over a break-up resulted in every light in her home dimming to the point that she had to replace all the lightbulbs.

In Ravenna, though, the other children had never troubled her despite her oddness. In fact, they stayed away from her, almost as if they were in awe of who her mother was. The way people looked at her sometimes was reverential, and she hated it. It was a lonely life in a small town, surrounded by people who treated her like she was not just different, but special.

When she had gone to Massachusetts with her father and started fourth grade there, life had gotten much better. Children didn’t know who or what she was, so she made friends and had a blissfully normal life for the most part. She wished she could have gotten her mother to leave Ravenna too – to come live near a larger city with better hospitals, heart specialists who could have given her the treatment she needed for her arrhythmia and other health problems.

Instead, she’d chosen to die here, to become part of this fertile, but lonely land forever.

Towns, villages, and cities emerged from the horizon as if by magic when one traversed Nebraska, especially when driving east to west. Cornfields contained civilization neatly within compact little squares of houses and shops, the buildings built only up to two stories in deference to the potential for devastating, tornadic storms.

Cady sighed as she drove along the familiar streets of Ravenna. She supposed an outsider might find the Midwestern town charming in its faded simplicity, but she only felt trapped every time she set foot in its manicured boundaries. “Seriously, Mom, why did you do this to me?”

After checking for oncoming traffic, she turned into the driveway of the funeral home. She would never understand what had kept her mother in this town from birth to death. Now that Cady was here, all she wanted to do was sort through her mother’s belongings, dispose of them appropriately, then put the house on the market, and go back to Massachusetts. She could let the realtor and lawyer handle everything after this weekend, and conduct all her business via email, fax, and Fedex. The sooner she got out of town, the better.

Getting out of her silver Volkswagen Golf, she smoothed her olive green t-shirt and noticed how the humidity made her jeans cling to her legs. It could get much more humid than even the east coast, something she had forgotten since she limited her Nebraska visits to winter. Not that winter was preferable to summer in the Midwest, but she was less likely to feel that tug – that urge to remain if the landscape was cold and desolate, bereft of its innate life magick. Shaking the thought from her mind, she entered Hovey and Sons Funeral Home. The blast of cool air made her feel instantly cleaner.

She stood in the lobby, looking around for an office. There was only one viewing room. The town – a village, really – did not need any more than that.

It was strange to think her mother was somewhere in this building, lifeless and cold.

She took a few tentative steps further in and said, “Hello?” It wasn’t her first time in a funeral home, but she doubted anyone ever felt comfortable in one, except perhaps the morticians themselves. She shuffled her feet against the dark blue carpet and called out again. “Is anyone here?”

“Oh my word, if it isn’t Cadence Gray.” A tall, dignified-looking man in a button-down shirt and dark gray slacks stepped around a corner and approached her, hand extended. “I’m Tom Hovey, the director. Well, this is rather out of season for your usual visit, isn’t it? I’m just so sorry we have to see you under these circumstances.”

“I prefer Chilton instead of Gray, and you can just call me Cady,” she answered, shaking his hand. “And, yes, it’s strange to be here in the summer. I forgot how humid it gets here. What a day.”

“Well, if you don’t mind my saying, you wouldn’t forget these things if you came to visit more often.” There was a twinkle in Tom’s blue eyes and Cady glanced up at his hair. It was dark brown and graying at the temples. “Yes,” he said, seeing where her gaze had strayed, “we’ve all gotten a bit older since you lived here as a child. Of course, I haven’t seen you around during your visits, but we all heard about them from your mother and through the local grapevine. She was never happier than when you came to see her for your birthday. She really wanted you to visit more often.”

A memory jolted Cady out of the fresh swell of guilt that threatened to overcome her. “Oh, right, you’re Quinn Hovey’s father.”

“That’s right. Did you know Quinn has come back home as well?”

She shrugged and shook her head, realizing the gesture probably looked awkward, if not downright rude. Cady knew she was scowling too, but could not stop herself. If this was the first response to her homecoming – to speak to her as if she should care about the residents of Ravenna – she wasn’t looking forward to speaking with other people around town.

“Home from where?” she finally asked, aware it was rather belated to ask the question.

“College, of course.” Tom went on as if oblivious to her apparent discomfort. “She graduated from veterinary school in Kansas last year and started a practice here in town. She’s still very popular, especially with your schoolmates.”

Eager to change the subject, Cady said, “So if Quinn became a veterinarian, I guess this won’t remain in the family.” She had no idea why she bothered to make such an observation. It wasn’t like the future of the village mattered to her. As far as she was concerned, she was here for business – not reminiscences or a guilt trip over her persistent absence.

“Actually it will. This little funeral parlor has been passed down from father to son in our family for almost one hundred fifty years now. My son, Matt, completed his studies in mortuary science just last summer, so he’s joined me here.”

“I didn’t know there was a school for that sort of thing.” Cady repressed a shudder at the concept. Making small talk was odd enough. Making small talk about schools for death studies was downright weird.

“Oh yes, there is, also in Kansas. It was a proud moment, seeing both my children graduate last year.”

“How interesting,” Cady said, though without much feeling. She glanced around the place, taking in her surroundings – not that there was much to see. With the tasteful, yet warm country décor, it looked less like a funeral parlor and more like the uncluttered home of a beloved great aunt. Her gaze roved up and down along the blue and white striped wallpaper before she turned back to Tom and asked, “May I please see my mother?”

“Certainly! After all, that is the reason you drove such a long way. Again, I’m so sorry for your loss. It is a loss the entire town is grieving.” He gestured for her to follow him and led her toward the back of the building.

They stepped through a door into a room that was less cozy and more clinical with its plain white walls and two sets of stainless steel mortuary cabinets with three drawers each. Cady wondered if they ever actually made use of all six drawers, but she doubted that many people had ever died at once in Ravenna. The town was barely a blip on the state map.

“We’re ready for everything to proceed as planned tomorrow. The memorial service will begin at ten o’clock, if that is still acceptable to you.”

“Yes,” Cady answered with a nod. “It’s not something I want to put off, so the sooner, the better. What is the difference between a memorial service and a funeral?”

“Well, since your mother’s remains were cremated–”

“Cremated!” She hadn’t meant to yell, but it slipped out before she could moderate her volume. Lowering her voice, she continued, “I hadn’t realized that’s what…” Words failed and she shrugged as she finished, “What you had done with her.”

“It was your mother’s wish, of course. We don’t make those decisions. It’s up to the deceased or, if they leave no specific instructions, the next of kin. Your mother’s wishes were expressed very clearly in her Will and all paid for before she died. It was to be expected, since all the women in your family choose cremation. It’s a Gray tradition to give their remains back to the earth. Surely you knew that?”

Cady told herself she was overreacting in thinking the look he gave her was one of reproach. He was a funeral director. His job was to be sympathetic, not to scold her. “I guess I hadn’t considered it,” she answered, casting her gaze down at the linoleum floor. “We always visited their graves and I just thought there were people actually interred there…”

“Just because it might be ashes instead of a whole body, doesn’t make the visit any less worth your while, especially with your family.” Tom did not look at all apologetic, nor did he look accusatory, and Cady felt a little better about how casual he sounded when he spoke of bodies and remains. He was the expert, after all, so she supposed very little about death flustered him. “Anyway, here she is. I think she made an excellent choice.”

At first, Cady had no idea what he was talking about. She approached the box on the table he indicated. “I thought when people were cremated, the ashes usually ended up in an urn of some sort.”

“The women of your family always opt for this. It’s more harmonious with the earth, they say. They have no intention of anyone retaining their ashes, so they choose to be interred in something that will decompose over time.”

It felt odd to kneel before the table and regard the wooden box with a critical eye, but Cady did just that. She looked at the designs inscribed on it and tentatively traced her fingers along them. The interlocking vines of ivy scrolled around the sides of the box. On the lid, there was a pentagram with ivy vines twisting around it, and the name “Harmony Renata Gray” etched above the five-pointed star.

“Renata?” Cady flicked a glance at Tom.

“Renata was your grandmother’s name, so of course she passed it on to your mother as her middle name. You’re full name is Cadence Harmony Gray, right?”

“Chilton,” she muttered, turning back to the box. “My parents were married, so my surname is Chilton, like the Mayflower passenger. But, yes, my middle name is Harmony.”

“It’s another family tradition, passing on the mother’s first name as the daughter’s middle name, as well as keeping the Gray surname. I’m sorry for mistaking your name again. We didn’t realize you hadn’t kept it. When Councilman Blair and I composed the letter, we thought…”

“It’s not a problem.” Because in a few days, I’ll be back to my normal life. Cady straightened and thrust her hand into her pocket, curling her fingers around her car keys. Their jagged edges reminded her that all of this was temporary. “I need to go to my mother’s and start going over her belongings. The letter I received from Mr. Blair said I could get the keys to the house from you. I’d like to sort out my mother’s affairs as quickly as possible, so I can return home by the end of next week. I only took five days off from work.”

Tom looked taken aback, but recovered his composure quickly. She wasn’t sure what bothered him so much about her request and, frankly, she didn’t care. Maybe the town of Ravenna remained home to the Hoveys and had been home to the Gray women for a long time, but it was not where Cady belonged.

He took a set of keys out of a small basket on the desk behind him, and laid them in her hand. “I really hope you will reconsider the length of your stay,” he said quietly.

Cady bit back a sarcastic “Doubt it” and simply nodded. After another moment, she found a civil response. “Thank you for all of your help, Mr. Hovey. I will be here a little before ten tomorrow for the viewing… memorial service.”

As much as she hated to leave the air conditioning behind, Cady stepped back out under the blazing Midwestern sun and strode to her car. She wasn’t sure which was more uncomfortable – the heat and humidity, or the mortician’s scrutiny. Opening her door, she saw a black sedan pull up in the driveway, a young woman about her age behind the wheel.  Rather than wait to find out if it was Quinn Hovey, she got in her own car, shut the door, and rammed the keys into the steering column.

The woman who got out of the black sedan was quite a bit taller than her, with black hair and blue eyes. She looked at ease in blue jeans, a plain green t-shirt, and brown boots, and her gaze locked on Cady. It took her a moment to realize it was a very grown-up Quinn Hovey.

Recollection teased at her mind and she felt a blush suffuse her cheeks. So many years ago… my first spell… a love spell…

She fumbled with the keys, not sure why she kept missing her mark. A shock akin to static electricity sparked briefly, drawing her gaze to her hand. That was when realized she was trying to start the car with her mother’s house key. Swearing under her breath at both the magick and the town, she threw the unfamiliar ring of keys against the passenger seat and reached back into her pocket for her own keys. When she hazarded a look up, she saw Quinn standing on the stoop of the funeral parlor, arms folded and lips pursed in amusement.

Cady pretended not to even notice her as she backed out of the driveway and on to the main street. Of all the people in her hometown, something told her Quinn was the last one she wanted to encounter.





CHAPTER TWO



Harmony Gray’s house was a simple but charming little Victorian home on Grand Avenue. It wasn’t nearly as ornate or spacious as the bed and breakfast down the street, or some of the other homes built in the same century, but Cady had lived in it most of her childhood and still felt it was the most beautiful home in town.

Gingerbread trim hung from the eaves and scrolled along the overhangs, connecting the columns and graceful arches. Tracing the light purple woodwork with her eyes, playing mental hide and seek what the variations in the pattern, was something she never got tired of as a child. The house had been in the Gray family since the 1860’s. According to family lore, the husband of one of Cady’s ancestors had built it as a gift to his wife after they immigrated to America and made the journey from east to west.

Staring at the house from the driver’s seat of the car, Cady realized she didn’t know as much about the house as her mother would have liked. But what is there to know about a house, anyway? she wondered. All that mattered was having four walls and a roof overhead. The sense of comfort that came with it was a bonus. For a moment, she thought with longing about her small apartment back on the Cape. Those were four walls she’d made her own, even if they lacked the playful motif that reminded her of the wonders of childhood.

With a sigh, she unbuckled her seatbelt and got out to stare up at the two-story home. It was subdued as Victorian houses go – a deep, almost grayish brown, with that endless cascade of lavender-painted scrollwork trim edging it. For a moment, another memory came to mind, but fled before Cady could grasp at it completely. She turned back to the car for her purse and suitcase, and her mother’s key ring.

When she opened the front door, she half expected it to creak, but the only spooky thing about the empty house was its silence. Cady blinked owlishly until her eyes adjusted to the murky, filtered light. Only then did she step across the threshold. The house still smelled like every single day of her childhood. She pushed the mixed sensations of nostalgia and grief aside, and wondered if the scent would prove detrimental to selling the place. Patchouli and lilac incense clung to the corners, and Cady almost expected to see smoke wafting past at eye-level.

“You’re a freak,” she told herself aloud. “Get over it.”

She turned to her left and, with confident strides, crossed the front parlor to throw open the heavy curtains at the bay window facing the street. Sunlight illuminated the room and Cady turned around, remembering what a cheerful home her mother kept. Whoever drew the curtains in deference to the dead, they didn’t do her mother’s memory honor. There was nothing formal or stuffy about this parlor, with its white beadboard walls, hardwood floors the color and texture of weathered driftwood, and white furniture. Even though Harmony Gray refused to leave Nebraska, the room décor was an homage to the coast. Cady knew from family photos that the front parlor had always looked like this – cheery and bright, as if like drew like.

“As above, so below.” Her mother’s voice filled her thoughts. “Surround yourself with what you want in your life, and it will come to you. Violet Gray wanted only positivity and light after her experiences in England, so that is what her husband gave her.”

Cady snapped her fingers at the memory that had nagged at her earlier in the driveway. Violet Gray – that was the name of the ancestor for whom the house was built, her great-great-great grandmother. She felt a smile tug at the corners of her mouth. If her mother were still alive, she would be pleased her daughter remembered something about their family.

“Such an odd name,” Cady said, half-expecting her own voice to echo back to her.

“I suppose, but I think it follows the usual pattern of things.”

“Oh my gods!” Cady screamed. She spun around, hands flying to her chest as if they could calm her racing heart. Her eyes focused on the middle-aged woman standing in the front doorway. She had dark red hair cut in stylish layers, and wide green eyes that were vibrant in her pleasantly rounded face. The fabric of her turquoise shirt was light and wispy – a tad formal, but it complemented her full figure and was probably comfortable in the Midwestern heat. She wore white capris with white sandals. Cady thought she looked like she belonged on a tropical beach somewhere, enjoying a margarita and basking in the sunshine.

“I’m sorry, dear,” the woman said. “I did knock twice.”

“Of course you did,” Cady said, catching her breath. “Um… I’m so sorry, but I don’t think I know you.”

“I’m Mrs. Bradley.” The woman approached her, hand extended. “Tom Hovey said you would want to sell this place and asked me to speak with you when you arrived.”

“Oh, right.” She shook Mrs. Bradley’s hand and said, “Are you a realtor?”

“I am, but I’m not sure I can help you.”

“Why not?” Cady tilted her head and gestured around the house. “My mother kept this place up very well. It’s one of the nicest houses in town. I realize the market has been a little slow, but I’m sure someone would like a house like this. It should show well.”

“Oh, I know what your mother did to this house. She made some lovely additions to the garden. I’m your neighbor as well, just over there.” Mrs. Bradley pointed outside and at the house next door. “You might not remember me in this form, but I’ve always been around.”

Cady cleared her throat, prepared to rebut the statement about being neighbors and not sure how to respond to a woman who she really should remember if she’d always lived next door. She decided not to pursue either topic. Instead, she said, “So what’s the problem with selling the house? Does it need work? I’d like to get a list of repairs or anything else that needs doing, so I can go home as soon as possible.”

“Well…” Mrs. Bradley dug in her purse to extract a few pieces of tri-folded paper, and handed them to Cady. She brushed her burgundy hair out of her eyes and continued, “The problem is the estate is entailed and I don’t think you will meet the conditions to sell it.”

“Entailed? Like in a Jane Austen novel or something? You’re kidding me.” Cady unfolded the paperwork and scanned it, looking for the pertinent language that would tell her what she was dealing with. This was the first time she’d heard of any sort of conditions on the property. It made no sense, considering her great-great-great grandfather had built it with his own two hands, leaving a house to stand the test of time as it passed from one generation to the next. There was no mortgage and never had been any sort of loan against the property, as far as Cady knew.

“Good analogy. Yes, that is precisely what I mean. Only the eldest living female heir in the Gray family may inherit.”

“Then I don’t see a problem.” Cady shrugged, still trying to make her way through the document’s nine-point font and obscure legalese. At least it wasn’t an unexpected financial obligation. “I’m the eldest living female heir. Well, I’m the only heir, so the house passes to me. Since I inherit, I decide what happens to it. As owner, I choose to sell it.”

“I realize you are now full and sole owner and want to sell, however there are clauses in the original land deed, and all subsequent ones, as well as the Wills of the Gray women, preventing you from selling it.”

“Excuse me?” Cady realized how rude she sounded when she finally looked back up at Mrs. Bradley, but she felt confusion closing in on her. “I’m sorry, but could you please repeat that?”

“In layman’s terms, you aren't allowed to sell it.”

Cady opened and closed her mouth, then opened it again on a gasp. “Can't sell? That doesn't make any sense. What if I die without a daughter to pass it on to?”

“Oh, well, I'm not the expert on this matter,” Mrs. Bradley said, an apologetic frown tugging the corners of her mouth downward. “But as far as I know, you just can’t die without a daughter.”

Growing up with her mother, Cady had seen and heard plenty of strange things. This, however, was the strangest and she wondered if Mrs. Bradley was not a legitimate real estate agent, but instead some random loony off the street.

“I’m sorry. They just entrusted me with passing on this information and keeping an eye on the house since I live next door and, well, being a realtor has its perks as far as houses are concerned. You need to speak with Mr. Willis, the attorney, on the actual legal matters.” Her brow furrowed a bit as Cady gaped at her, and she added, “I’m very sorry. I realize this isn't what you wanted to hear, but I'm obligated to inform you of this complication before you try to proceed any further.”

With a nod, Cady refolded and creased the legal documents, and answered, “I appreciate that, Mrs. Bradley.”

“Oh, please call me Kate. We are neighbors now, after all.” The woman gave her a hopeful smile and Cady fought the urge to rub at her forehead, until after the affable realtor departed. Rather than look at the offending papers again, she turned on her heel and strode from the parlor to the kitchen at the back of the house.

There it was – the room where Harmony Gray had performed her witchcraft and taught her daughter everything she would accept... until the year Cady turned fourteen and begged her to stop trying to turn her into a freak. “I live in the real world now,” Cady snarked at her mother one night that winter. “So stop trying to take that away from me.”

“But all the women in our family have carried on the tradition of witchcraft for years,” her mother had explained.

“Maybe I don't want to be like you or all those women! I want to be a normal person. I want to be just like everybody else! Not like you!” Cady had stood in that kitchen, fists bunched at her sides, her slender form tense and ramrod straight. Whether it was adolescent rebellion or something else that had triggered the tantrum, she really couldn’t recall. She just knew after living elsewhere for five years that witchcraft wasn’t normal outside of Ravenna.

Her mother hadn’t even skipped a beat when she responded, “Someday you'll realize you’re nothing like everybody else. So, how is school going this year?” She poured a cup of tea and pushed it across the gray-flecked marble counter top of the breakfast bar toward her. After a moment, Cady had flumped down on her pink-cushioned stool, foot banging between the green-painted wood of the stool's legs and the breakfast bar itself.

Everything in the kitchen was still painted that same pale, aged green – the cabinets, the shelves, and even the wainscoting on the wall. The kitchen, her mother once told her, was the heart of the house. In Eastern philosophy, the heart chakra was green, so it only made sense to paint the kitchen the same color.

Like everything else her mother tried to teach her, Cady dismissed the idea as nonsense. Looking around the house, she figured one might categorize the overall look of it as “shabby chic” – something that appealed to many people, but not her.

“The trick is to get around this entailment,” she muttered as she drummed her fingers against the marble counter top. It was a nervous fidget she’d never been able to control. If anything, it got worse with time, as if she was filled with energy in desperate need of an outlet. For a moment, she let her mind wander back to the smell and taste of the mint tea her mother served, and the sensation of the warm teacup between her palms.

“Why do you always give me mint?” she'd asked after taking a few sips that time she had told her mother off.

“Because the fire in you burns so strong, you need something to temper it.”

Cady never liked to admit she always felt calmer after a cup of her mother's tea. Instead, she rinsed her cup when she was done and said, “Tell me again about the flowers our grandmothers planted here.” It was her favorite tactic for turning the conversation away from the weirdness of witchcraft and her mother’s expectations of her. At least she could think of her talk about flowers as botany lessons – something scientific and plausible.

At that, and as with all the other times Cady when made such a request, a warm smile would light her mother's face. Harmony always began her narrative by saying, “The Gray women came here a very long time ago to escape a dark evil that wouldn’t leave them alone.”

Digging through the top drawer to the left of the sink, Cady thought, And if this pile of paper is any indication, they’ve been dumping their trash in this drawer since the 1800s.

She found the slender telephone directory for the town of Ravenna and looked up “Attorneys.” There were only three listed. She reached for the cordless telephone – one of her mother's few concessions to modern living, and even that model of telephone was outdated – and dialed the number for John Willis.

“Why is it that every person in this town has such a generic name?” she grumbled, as she held the telephone to her ear and tapped her fingers against the counter again.

By the time she got off the telephone with the attorney’s secretary, she had a late afternoon appointment with him and more questions swirling in her mind.



CHAPTER THREE



Mr. Willis looked down at the papers, his bushy white eyebrows furrowed as he shuffled the documents around in his hands. With his small, round wire spectacles, Cady had the distinct impression of Santa Claus wearing an outdated business suit.

Like Miracle on 34th Street, when he has to appear in court, she thought.

“So, Miss Gray, how can I help you with this?” His deep, gravelly voice didn’t seem quite as old as his face.

“It’s Miss Chilton, and you can tell me how I can… un-entail the property,” she answered with a helpless flutter of her hand. “I want to put it up for sale.”

The attorney removed his glasses and tapped the rim of them against the paperwork. “You can’t,” was his curt response.

“That’s ridiculous. It’s the twenty-first century.” Cady tried to keep her lip from curling with annoyance. Here it was – a prime example of why she couldn’t stand being in her backwoods hometown. “People don’t put provisions like that in their deeds or Wills anymore.”

“Not generally, no, however this deed was written in…” He flipped through the papers on his desk for what seemed like an eon to Cady, while she sunk back into the creaky, hardened vinyl of the chair facing his desk. “Back in 1866.”

“Did you even have a courthouse or registrar of deeds here in 1866? How can an entail written a hundred fifty years ago still be in effect today?”

“Have you read the deed or the Wills?” Mr. Willis jabbed the tip of his index finger into the pile of documents. When Cady shook her head, he said, “I suggest you do that, Miss Gray. A little research will answer your questions.”

She heaved a sigh. Why did everything have to be so difficult when it came to her mother?

“Look, you’re the lawyer. That kind of research is your job, isn’t it? All I want to do is sell the house, so I can be on my way.” She glanced around the small, dark office with its heavy, worn furniture and deep red carpet. The odds of getting out of town before the end of next week weren’t looking so good. “Can I make a power of attorney designating someone to act on my behalf, once I get this all sorted out?”

“You mean to sell the house for you?”

Cady nodded. “That or maybe rent it out to someone. I won’t be staying in town, so if someone can handle these matters on my behalf, that would make things a lot easier for me.”

“You can do that, but how do you propose to sort this out? The deeds and Wills are very specific as to the handling of the house itself.” The portly man eased himself back into the sturdy wooden chair behind his desk and folded his hands over his stomach.

“Again, you’re the attorney. I came to you for answers, so could you please tell me what I need to do?”

Mr. Willis rubbed at his white beard, then leaned forward and rested his jaw against his hand, his elbow on the desk. “You could,” he said, drawing out each syllable, “challenge your mother’s Will. However, I don’t think you will see a favorable outcome.”

“Why not?”

“First of all, you are the heir and executor. Everything is already in your favor. The courts won’t see a reason to remove the entail. Second, there is no legal document in existence that challenges these. You need to show good reason for the court to go against the Will.”

Cady sat back in the chair so hard, her spine twinged. She winced, but said, “What about the fact that I live out of state?”

“You can always move back into the state.”

Don’t bet on it. “Fine, so what happens if I die without leaving an heir of my own?”

“That won’t happen.”

“But what if it does?” she insisted. “Who gets the land then?”

“I already suggested you read all of this for yourself.”

It took more effort than Cady cared to exert not to roll her eyes. The stubbornness of the attorney was off-the-charts and she was less and less concerned about coming off as rude. “Please, Mr. Willis.”

“In that unlikely event, the land would revert to the town.”

Wracking her mind, she said, “The court is in town, isn’t it? It’s local – not in some big, far-off city, right?”

“That is correct.”

“As far as I know, there’s no mortgage or anything like that on the house. There aren’t any liens or other legal claims to it. I own it free and clear, right?”

The attorney nodded.

“So wouldn’t the court be happy to remand the property to the town, then, if I’m willing to simply give up my rights to it? I could donate the house. Hell, I don’t need the money from selling it. I don’t want to be tied to it at all, so if I can just give it to the town – if that’s what it takes, then that’s what I’ll do.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“How can something so straightforward be so difficult?” Cady no longer fought the frustration. She let it rise with every word she spoke. “I’m saying I don’t even care if I can sell it. I just want to give it away at this point. I’m not staying here. I have a home, a job, and a life back in Massachusetts!”

Mr. Willis rose to his feet, his ponderous belly edging over the desk as he did so, and gathered up the papers. “Read these documents, Miss Gray. Start at the beginning and then, when you come to the end, stop.”

“I…” Cady canted her head and narrowed her eyes at him. “Did you just quote the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland?”

“Paraphrased, young lady. There is a difference. Now, go home and read that. Things will make so much more sense to you if you do.”

Realizing he was dismissing her, Cady stood and took the sheaf of papers from the attorney’s outstretched hand. “Thank you, Mr. Willis,” she replied through gritted teeth. “I’ll do that.”

****

The supermarket in town was a squat, square building, but it had everything Cady needed for her couple days’ stay. She brought her cart to the one open cash register, glanced at the unmanned second cash register, and bent her head to her wallet before she could roll her eyes. With the narrow aisles and shelves stacked from floor to ceiling to maximize space, the small-town market felt almost claustrophobic. Still, she wasn’t going to waste gas driving forty minutes to one of the larger grocery stores in Kearney.

“Oh my gosh, it’s Cady Gray! How are you?”

She looked up and realized it was the cashier addressing her in a bubbly tone that reminded her of how a Disney princess might address a random woodland creature. “It’s Chilton, and I’m as good as can be expected,” she answered, her eyes drifting down to the girl’s nametag. “Mary Ann.”

“Mary Ann Johnson, that’s right,” the cashier chirped, her blonde ponytail bouncing with each bobble-like nod of her head. Wide, green eyes dominated most of her otherwise heart-shaped face. “I was two years behind you in elementary, so I’m sure you don’t remember me, especially since you left when you were young.”

“But you remember me,” Cady concluded, watching the girl slide her purchases along the scanner.

“Of course! No one here ever forgets a Gray.” The cashier giggled and rolled her eyes as if Cady had said something utterly ridiculous.

Cady considered pointing out that while no one had forgotten her, no one had ever befriended her either. Except Quinn Hovey… “So,” she said, opening her wallet, “how much?”

“Just thirty-two fifty.” Mary Ann tilted her head a bit to the side and, for a brief moment, Cady remembered the way her mother’s orange tabby used to look at her when she was a teenager – as if she was scrutinizing her, silently judging the not-quite familiar human. “By the way, I’m sorry for your loss. Now that you’re home, I’m sure we’ll be seeing you all the time. Maybe we can get together sometime.”

“I’m not staying in town,” Cady answered, sliding her debit card along the reader, and then punching in her pin number. Jabbing at the rubbery keypad felt somewhat satisfying and she pursed her lips as if to say, So there.

“Well, let me know how that works out for you.”

She froze and stared at the cashier, who still had that impossibly cheerful smile plastered on her pretty face. The other girl didn’t seem to think she’d said anything wrong or weird to Cady. She just continued to regard her with that slightly tilted head and Cheshire-cat grin.

Cady gathered her bags, muttered “Thanks,” and walked to her car as quickly as her legs would move. The next time she glanced up, she noticed the unmistakable black sedan of the Hovey and Sons Funeral Home. Hefting the three plastic bags in one hand, she fumbled in her pocket for the keys with the other. She heard glass shatter and realized the groceries felt lighter. “Shit,” she growled when she saw the jar of green olives on the ground by her foot, the contents rolling through a break in the bottom.

“Having trouble?”

Just go away, she pleaded internally. She found her voice and whispered, “No.”

“Here.” A strong hand reached past her to turn the key that had somehow found its way into the slot, then moved to open the car door. “Please don’t say no. You must be going through a lot right now. Let someone help you, for goodness sake.”

Cady finally mustered the courage to raise her eyes and realized who was standing next to her. “Matthew Hovey,” she said on an exhale of relief.

“Cadence Gray.” He smiled lopsidedly at her, and she decided she was tired of correcting everyone when it came to her name. Even though she’d never found guys attractive, Cady had to admit he was pleasant to look at. He resembled his father with his brown hair and blue eyes, as well as his dignified air. With his chiseled cheekbones, Cady realized it was a waste he had chosen to be a mortician, instead of a model. For a moment, she envisioned him in a Versace suit, striding purposefully along the Boston streets, briefcase in hand, and speaking into a Bluetooth device.

That's what this town does, she told herself. It wastes lives. Look at Mary Ann Johnson – pretty as can be, but so weird and still living here at thirty-two, working as a cashier.

“Thanks,” she said as Matt took the bags and put them in the back seat of her car. “Wow, you look great. Your father tells me you've joined him in the family business.”

“That's right, and someday my youngest son will do the same.” Matt closed the back door and brushed the palms of his hands together as he moved his gaze back to her.

“Oh. Are you married?”

“Not yet, but I hope to be soon.” Matt shoved his hands in the pockets of his black slacks and said, “I’m only thirty-two, so there’s plenty of time for kids.”

“Right, you’re only a year younger than me.” She nodded and asked, “Is there anyone special or are you still looking?”

“Maybe.”

“Um, that was an either-or question,” Cady said with a laugh.

“I know.” His grin told her there definitely was someone, but she didn’t pursue the topic. “So, this may seem like a strange question, considering you come here every Solstice, but how does it feel to be back?”

“A little weird, actually.” Cady allowed another soft laugh to bubble to her lips. “I feel a bit like Alice or Dorothy, or some sort of stranger, and the residents aren't exactly helping.”

Matt chuckled and said, “That's an apropos comparison. Don't mind the old-timers, though. They've always been rather quirky.”

“Are you kidding? Quirky is an understatement. Try downright weird. And how about that Mary Ann Johnson?” Cady tossed her hair, inclining her head toward the grocery store. “What's her excuse?”

“Fine, fine, our generation is pretty awkward… Oh, who am I kidding? We’re weird too. You’re right about that.” The undercurrent of amusement in Matt's voice put her at ease as he spoke. “Call it a side effect of small-town living. I take it this isn't your cup of tea?”

“Never was,” came a voice with an inflection similar to Matt's, only more feminine in tone. “Hello, little Witchlet.”

Cady let out a short laugh and looked up at Quinn Hovey who stood just behind her brother. The resemblance was there – blue eyes and dark hair cut to shoulder-length, with layers framing her face – but Quinn’s features weren’t quite as refined as her brother’s. Neither, as far as Cady was concerned, were her manners. “I'm not so little any more, and I'm certainly not a witch.”

“Aren't you?” Quinn cocked a brow upward as she regarded her. “You did come back here for every Solstice to spend the longest night of the year with her.”

“That doesn’t make me a witch. Unlike my mom, I'm not a delusional cuckoo.” A tingle of energy along her skin told her otherwise, but she quelled it, along with the shiver it threatened to release.

“Ouch. Harsh words for the recently deceased.”

Resisting the juvenile urge to stick her tongue out at Quinn, Cady simply shrugged and said, “What can I say? You can't pick your family.”

“Trust me, I'm well aware of that every time Matt here starts in about how exciting embalming is.” Quinn elbowed her brother.

“I never talk like that.” Matt rolled his eyes and shook his head. “So, Cady, how long are you in town?”

Cady noticed that Quinn nudged her brother again, this time with a stern frown, but Matt simply continued to grin at her. “Um, only a few more days,” she said, focusing her attention on the younger Hovey. He seemed to be the most normal person she’d encountered since arriving in Ravenna. “As soon as I’ve paid my respects and sorted out the house, I'm out of here.”

A moment of silence passed between them and then Matt nodded. “So we'll see you at the memorial service tomorrow.”

“Yes.” Still keeping her eyes away from Quinn, Cady said, “Thanks again for your help,” and reached for the car door.

“Don't you want to replace the olives you lost?”

“No. They weren't essential.” They were merely the one snack food she couldn’t live without, but she’d rather not set foot in the store again today, if ever.

She waved and slid into the driver's seat, grateful to get away from the Hovey siblings and the regrets they set to niggling at the back of her mind. Never had the solitude of her mother’s house seemed more welcoming.

And never had Quinn looked so damn good…



CHAPTER FOUR



After brushing her hair the next morning, Cady turned away from the mirror to look around the room. Her bedroom had changed very little in the twenty years she’d lived in Massachusetts. Since she’d been a once a year visitor with her mother, the room was still full of childhood and adolescent touches. Redecorating had never been a priority for either of them, and now Cady realized the thought of someone else calling the room their own was rather depressing.

She loved the bedroom, which was at the back of the house and had French doors that opened out onto a small balcony overlooking the garden. The room itself had pale laurel green wainscoting up to four feet high, and then white walls up to the ceiling. The windows were framed in the same shade of green, as were the doors. The floor planks were the same material and color as the ones in the living room. It was airy and earthy at the same time, and the western exposure meant Cady could enjoy the golden sunset from her balcony if she wanted.

Cady smoothed the white floral comforter on the bed and then ran her hand over the white wrought iron bedframe. It was a family heirloom, passed from mother to daughter. “Someday, your daughter will sleep in here too,” Harmony had once told her.

“Not likely,” Cady said with a sigh. She walked around the bed to the small secretary-style desk in the corner next to the French doors. A framed picture sat atop the desk and she took a moment to scrutinize it.

There she was, a very pretty six or seven-year-old, dressed as a witch complete with striped stockings and a pointy black hat, standing next to her mother. Harmony looked as proud as could be, her titian hair curling over one shoulder beneath her own witch’s hat.

The thing that’d always struck Cady as funny wasn’t her mother’s belief in magick or her urging that Cady practice it, but the very earthy energy the woman exuded. It was as if earnestness laced everything Harmony thought, said, and did. Try though she might, Cady could never dissuade her mother from her beliefs or attempts at teaching her. She finally gave up and accepted her mother as “quirky,” and found a way to ignore her own powers – to pretend her own brand of freakishness didn’t exist. The onset of adolescence had probably spurred most of this rebellion, that inevitable biological imperative fueling Cady’s attempts to sever herself from her mother’s world.

Another memory came to mind – one of an older man coming to ask for advice. As Cady sat on her stool in the kitchen and watched, her mother murmured a few words over a potted plant and then handed it to the man. The next fall, the town had the best harvest it had seen in a long time, despite a statewide drought.

“That is the power of earth magick,” her mother whispered with pride as they watched the mechanical harvesters lumbering through the verdant fields. “Put to good use, it can help many.”

The ringtone of her cellphone jarred her out of her thoughts and Cady set the picture down on the desk with a clatter. She swept the mobile device up off the small, square bedside table and recognized her father’s number.

“Hi Dad,” she answered, happy to hear his voice.

“Hey there, Cady. How goes it in the land of corn? Have you met any of the children of it, yet?”

She laughed at the literary reference to one of her favorite New England writers and said, “Not bad, though I can’t wait to get home. I want to get this done and over with as quickly as possible.” It felt good to admit her feelings out loud to someone who understood her need to be anywhere but Ravenna.

Her father was quiet for a moment, then he said, “Sweetie, if it takes a while, I’m sure your boss will understand. An awful lot of effort goes into settling an estate. You’ve got your work cut out for you.”

“I realize that, but it honestly shouldn’t be as difficult as…” She hesitated, then shook her head and finished, “As difficult as they’re making it. They claim I can’t sell the house.”

“Do you mean because of the entail?”

Her eyes widened and she blinked a few times as she processed her father’s statement, her heart thudding against her chest. “You knew about that?”

“It’s part of Gray family lore going back at least a hundred years.”

“Well, you could have told me that. As it was, I was totally blindsided when I found out there are restrictions on selling the property.”

“Maybe you should have listened when your mom tried to teach you everything she did over the years.”

“Dad, you can’t be serious. The whole witchcraft thing was just… nonsense.”

She heard him heave a sigh, then respond, “I guess that would be the only thing you remember about everything your mother tried to tell you.”

“I…” Cady looked at the alarm clock and rolled her eyes. “I have to go. Mom’s memorial service is starting soon. Is there anything else I should know about any of this before we say goodbye?”

“Actually, yes, there’s quite a bit you should know, but if you have somewhere to be, there really isn’t time to talk about all of it.”

“Are you serious?” Cady sighed and checked her reflection one more time. As she smoothed her simple black dress, she said, “Mom never bothered with internet, but I can always check email on my phone. So just drop me an email or a text if you need to tell me something. I really don’t need any more surprises.” She scooped her purse off the bed and clattered down the stairs, phone still pressed to her ear.

“You might want to get on that, then.”

“On what?”

“Installing internet. Get it hooked up there,” her father clarified.

Scoffing, Cady stepped out the front door and turned to lock it. “I won’t be here long enough for it to matter. I didn’t even bring my laptop, for goodness sake. I figured I can use my phone for everything while I’m here. But don’t send me some long, crazy story if it can wait until I get home, okay?” When her father didn’t say anything by the time she got to her car, she furrowed her brow and said, “Dad? Are you still there?”

“Sorry, honey. Just thinking. I’ll see you in a few days, then. Don’t forget to give the town my regards and condolences.”

“Of course I’ll tell them for you. See you soon.” She ended the call and got in the car.

The driveway and street in front of Hovey’s was still empty when she arrived, but Cady knew it would only be a short time before people arrived for her mother’s memorial service. She gripped the steering wheel as she sat in the driveway, then took a deep breath and relaxed her fingers.

“It’s not like the whole town is going to be here,” she told herself. “It’ll just be the Hoveys, and maybe Mom’s neighbors and some other folks. All I need to do is nod and thank them for coming, and then I can just focus on cleaning the house. I’ll take it one day at a time, one step at a time.”

Someone tapped on the window and she jumped with a small shriek, her hands going to her mouth. Matt Hovey shrugged apologetically and gestured toward the door. She nodded, unlocked it, and plucked her purse off the passenger seat as he opened the door for her.

“Sorry about that. I shouldn’t have disturbed you while you were lost in your own little world, but I thought you might want some time alone with her before any of the townsfolk arrived.”

“It’s okay and thank you for that. I needed to get moving anyway.” She followed him into the parlor, suddenly feeling cold in the air conditioning. “Do you think…?”

“What?” He turned and looked at her with such concern that Cady realized he expected her to play the part of the mourning daughter today. She was supposed to be full of grief, not anger or frustration, let alone questions.

“It’s fine.” With a wave and shake of her head, she let her questions go and turned to look at the room where her mother’s box sat atop a green fabric-draped table. “How… earthy.”

“That’s how she wanted it. She was very in tune with the earth. Harmony could make a flower bloom without even watering it.”

For a moment, Cady thought Matt was speaking literally. The look on his face was as mournful as she ought to feel and a sense of guilt assailed her – guilt that the only thing she really felt now was relief that she didn’t have to listen to her mother’s nonsense, or visit the town annually… or ever see it again.


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