July 25, 2017
When chaos descends on the Bewitching Bedlam B&B, Maudlin finds herself at the mercy of Murphy's Law. Everything is going wrong. At first, some of the chaos is just annoying, but then it turns deadly and Maddy finds herself on the wrong side with Essie Vanderbilt, the Queen of the Northwest Vampire Court. Now she must find a way to dispel the hex she's under, before the deadly curse kills again.
"I CAN'T BELIEVE I have to interview for a new housekeeper. Trina didn't even work here two months and she up and ran off." I slapped the table with the newest copy of the Bedlam Crier, which contained the advertisement I'd submitted the day before. Hopefully, someone would answer it before the end of the day, because I was getting tired of wasting my spells on creating holeos to clean the B&B. I might be a powerful witch, but I didn't have unlimited energy, and at some point, I wanted to do something besides create automatons to scrub the toilets.
"What happened to her? She get pregnant?" Sandy took another sip of her drink.READ MORE
We had decided to celebrate the upcoming holiday by getting a jump start on spring. Since we were nearing Ostara-the spring equinox-we decided on a tart, bright flavor to fit the bill. The blender was full of a mixture of lemon sorbet, spiced rum, limeade, and a little grenadine. The drink was surprisingly nifty, especially after the third round.
"Trina and her boyfriend are selkies, you know. Well, he was headed out to live in a new Pod-he got a job out on the peninsula near Port Townsend. So if she continued to work here, that would put a damper on their relationship. I get it, but damn it. She was a pretty spiffy worker." I tossed back the last of my drink and held my glass out for a fourth round.
Sandy poured out the last of the drinks and held up the empty blender. "Another batch?"
I shrugged. "You know, we really should have something to eat. I forgot lunch and I doubt if I'm going to be in any shape to make dinner."
"When are you ever in shape to make dinner? You're lucky Aegis is a good cook." She snorted, peeling herself out of her chair. "Potato chips? With all the lime in this, it feels like we should have some salt to go with it."
"You're thinking of margaritas. Yeah, in the cupboard." I started to hum the "Coconut" song as she foraged for goodies. Sandy and I had a high tolerance for mind-altering substances. After all, we had three hundred years of practice at being party-girls. But I wasn't going to find my answer to the cleaning problem at the bottom of a blender.
I let out a sigh. "Well, the ad just came out today so hopefully, I'll get some sort of response."
"M'rrow." Bubba wandered in, swishing his tail. He had a feisty look in his eye, one that only led to trouble. As the gorgeous, massive yellow tabby leaped up on the table to stare me in the face, I reached out, singing as I gave him an ear rub. He began to purr and I swept him into my arms, dancing with him.
"You want some catnip, Bub?"
Bubba liked to party as much as we did. I found his stash and sprinkled some on the cat bed that was near the kitchen door leading out to the backyard. He bounced down and began to purr, rolling on the green fleece.
Sandy gave him a long look. "He's been awfully good lately. You think he's up to something?"
"I never know what's going on in that furry brain of his," I said. "Cjinns are always cunning. They pride themselves on it. But he's saved my ass more than once, so you know, if he acts out now and then or wants to get stoned, I say go for it." I tossed him a squeaky mouse and he rolled over, raking it with his back claws in a nip-induced frenzy.
"All the same, I wouldn't touch his belly if I were you." Sandy handed me a bowl that she'd filled with potato chips, along with a package of lemon bars. "A little sugar wouldn't hurt us either."
I glanced at the clock. Five PM. "Crap, I wish Aegis could wake up sooner."
"How long till sunset?" Sandy peeked out the sliding glass door.
"About seventy minutes, give or take a few." Vampires were bound to sleep during the day. At least most of them. I'd recently had quite an eye-opening experience that had almost landed me dead, but had also netted us some pretty powerful information about Aegis's kind. Even he hadn't been fully aware about it, but we were keeping quiet because the ramifications were huge and I really didn't want to set myself up as a target.
I was about to dive into the lemon bars when my cell phone rang. Or rather trumpeted. I grimaced. I had recently bought a new phone and hadn't bothered to set new ring tones yet.
"I don't recognize the number. Maybe it's somebody answering my ad. I need to take this."
Sandy nodded, pulling out her own phone to check her texts while I took the call.
"Maudlin Gallowglass here."
"Ms. Gallowglass? I'm Thornton Weston, calling about your ad in the Bedlam Crier. I'd like to apply, if the position's still open." His voice was deep and rich, and made me think of smooth, black coffee with just a hint of sugar.
I blinked. I had no problem with the idea of a man applying, but apparently, my subconscious had been expecting a woman because he threw me off guard.
"Why...well, of course you can. The job's still open. Can you come by for an interview at ten tomorrow morning?" I thought about setting up the interview for evening, when Aegis was awake, but the last thing I needed was him chasing off a potential employee just because he was male. While Aegis was all kittens and cupcakes when he was in his domestic mood, my vampire boyfriend had a protective streak a mile wide, and it reared its green-eyed head at the most inopportune times. I needed a housekeeper now, not ten days from now after we had sorted through his "but it's a man, will you be safe" rhetoric.
"I'll be there at ten, resume in hand."
"Good. See you tomorrow." With that, I hung up and Sandy and I went back to our impromptu pre-spring party.
* * *
"I DON'T CARE what you say, you're not going to hire him until I get to meet him. You just call him back and make the appointment for when I'm awake." Aegis tried to stare me down but I was having none of it. Besides, he might have been imposing if he wasn't wearing my kittens-and-bows apron over his black leather pants. As it was, he was holding a copper mixing bowl in one hand, and a wire whisk in the other.
"If I think he can do a good job, you damned well bet your pearly fangs I'm going to hire him. Why don't you just use the mixer for that?" All of the yummy afterglow of the booze had fled my system. I was perched on the counter near Aegis, and I reached out with one foot to lightly tap his ass.
He gave me one of his, ‘are you kidding' looks.
"Because egg whites are best whipped by hand in a copper bowl. Faster than using a mixer and you get better results. So if you really want lemon meringue pie for the guests tomorrow, you'll quit back-seat baking and let me do my job. And don't you and Sandy go eating it all before we have a chance to offer it to the paying customers. I can't just whip another one up in the middle of the day." He paused, leaning against the counter next to me. "Did you really eat the entire pan of lemon bars I made? I'm glad you liked them, but it's a wonder you both aren't puking your guts out."
"We have a high tolerance for booze and sugar, built up through centuries of practice." I wrinkled my nose. "Don't guilt trip me about my love for food and drink."
"I won't, if you quit complaining about the fact that I want to make sure you're safe," he shot back.
I rolled my eyes. "We have strange men in the house anyway. Don't forget, we take in strangers and give them a place to sleep. That's what it means to own a bed-and-breakfast. Maybe kindly old Mr. Mosswood is a serial killer."
Aegis laughed, setting the bowl down. "Oh, Maddy, I love you. You crack me up. If Mr. Mosswood is a serial killer, then I can walk out into the sun and just get a nice tan."
Mr. Mosswood was rapidly becoming a long-term guest. He had checked in three weeks ago, and kept extending his stay. He was slight, about five-seven and thin as a reed, and he was quiet and polite to the point of annoying. He wore a suit and hat that reminded me of something out of the fifties-and I lived through the fifties, so I knew they were genuine vintage.
Mr. Mosswood had thinning hair and wore round glasses. I thought of them as spectacles, because he seemed to be stuck in a time period long past. He was human, and he said he was gathering information for a book he wanted to write about the history of Bedlam. He paid on time, tipped well, and was a tidy man, so I welcomed him as long as he wanted to stay.
"Don't you dare. But, seriously, you never really know. Some of the worst killers have been the quietest. I'm sure Mr. Mosswood is thoroughly benign, but let's not take chances." I leaned forward. "But he proves my point. We don't know much about his background, but he's staying here, and he's up and around while you're sleeping. If he were a murderer, you wouldn't be able to save me during the day. So why worry when I interview someone for a housecleaning job?"
Aegis pressed his lips together, regarding me like I was an annoying gnat, and I knew I had won the argument. Finally, he plastered a kiss on my forehead, then bopped my nose with his finger. He smelled like musk and cinnamon, like dark knights on an autumn evening. My knees quivered as I stroked his wavy jet hair back from his face. His eyes were pools of strong coffee, tinged with crimson around the edges, and he was strong and fit, with a voice that made me melt.
"You know, you should finish that pie, before the egg whites go flat," I murmured.
"I don't care about the egg whites," he whispered, gathering me into his arms.
I squirmed, feeling him press hard against me. The egg whites might be going flat but something else wasn't. But I didn't complain as he carried me up the stairs, ending the conversation with a long, sweaty session in bed.
* * *
THE NEXT MORNING, I slid into my new jeans-black stretch denim with a lot of give to accommodate the padding of my butt which was, as I liked to call it, curvaliscious. I pulled on a short sleeved V-neck silk shirt with cap sleeves. The deep green set off the teal of my eyes, and the rich brunette of my hair. I also had big boobs, which was fine with me. In fact, I was about as hourglass as they came, in terms of my figure.
I scooched my feet into a pair of black leather ankle ballerina flats-I was about five-eight so I could do flats without feeling short-and draped my pentacle over my head, along with a rope of moonstone beads. The pentacle was about two inches in diameter and stood out against my shirt. I fastened on freshwater pearl chandelier earrings, then took a few minutes to slap on a quick ten-minute face at my vanity.
Bubba was next to my makeup mirror, watching. He cocked his head as I pursed my lips to apply my lipstick-a bright fuchsia. I hated any pinks that weren't magenta or fuchsia, but neon colors and jewel tones rocked my world.
"Mrow." Bubba reached out one paw to tap my arm.
I paused, trying not to jog the lipstick onto my face. "Bubs, hold on. I'll feed you in a minute. I'm almost done."
Bubba waited a beat until I raised the lipstick to my lips again, then-more firmly-smacked me on the hand with his paw.
"Bubba! Look at what you did!" I frowned at my reflection. A bright pink line of lipstick ran jaggedly down my chin. "Gee, thanks, Bub."
As I reached for the makeup remover, I swear, Bubba snickered at me. He pulled his paw back, then began to groom it as though he had no clue what I was talking about.
"That cat is a menace." Franny rose up beside me. As in, through the floor, to hover a foot above it.
I jumped. "I told you to stop doing that! And Bubba's not just a cat. He's a cjinn."
Franny was the house ghost-or B&B ghost, now that I'd converted the place. And she was moody as all get out, always finding something to bellyache about. But over the past six months, I had actually gotten used to the bereft spirit and she had lightened up a little.
I poured a little makeup remover on a cotton ball and wiped the lipstick off my face. "I haven't seen you for a couple of days. Where have you been keeping yourself? You can't leave the house, so I know you weren't on vacation."
She shrugged. She was dressed in the dress she had died in-a muslin gown a la Jane Austen, which was a pale blue. She had been wearing an ivory corset, and a matching lace shawl. She was pretty in a serious sort of way, with blue eyes and blond hair spilling out of a constant, messy bun.
"Oh, this and that. I watched the gardeners plant the new roses from out of the library window. Thank you, by the way, for setting up the computer e-reader for me." Franny flashed me a rare smile. "I just read a marvelous book by a Mr. Mark Twain-Tom Sawyer."
I grinned. I had been around during Twain's time, and figured she would like some of his work. "Glad you liked it."
Franny loved to read. In fact, that's how she died. On an August day in 1791, Franny had been walking along the second floor hallway, toward the stairs, reading, and she had missed the first step as she turned to go downstairs. She broke her neck in the fall and had been trapped here ever since. Franny had spent a long, lonely time until I had bought the old mansion. Those who could see her, had run in fear, until Aegis moved in. And he had pretty much ignored her until I gave him hell for treating her like she didn't exist.
So I had set up a spare computer in the library. Constantly on, the computer was open to an e-reader program, and I had programmed it to voice control. Since Franny could speak as well as I could, it could hear her. I programmed in some basic commands-Turn Page, Go to Page, Open New Book, Close Book. Now she could read to her heart's content.
I finished with my lipstick and sat back, thinking that I was entirely presentable. Bubba let out another squeak.
"Yeah, yeah, Bub. I'll feed you. Franny, come on down to the kitchen if you like. I have someone coming at ten, but if you want to talk..." I left it open ended. Franny resented any trace of pity, for which I didn't blame her, but she also liked to chat. Granted, she was angsty as hell, but I couldn't help but feel that I should treat her as one of my permanent houseguests. You didn't just ignore someone because she had a chip on her shoulder.
She brightened. "All right. I can tell you what I found out about your guests-"
I stopped in the doorway, glancing at her. "What did I tell you about spying on the paying customers?"
She rolled her eyes. "I know, but can I help it if I happen to be around when they don't know I'm watching?"
Shaking my head, I headed down the stairs, listening to her ramble on about Mr. Mosswood's habit of rubbing his scalp with rose-scented lotion, and how Mrs. Periwinkle, a very old witch who seemed to have misplaced her marbles along with her late husband, had been trying to convince the grandfather clock to tell her where we kept the hidden treasure. What treasure she was talking about, I had no idea.
* * *
AT TEN O'CLOCK, prompt to the second, Thornton Weston was sitting in my parlor. He was human and in his early thirties. He was also a fine looking piece of manflesh. Five-ten, pale blond hair in a Euro shag, trim but not overly thin, with a wisp of a beard and deep blue eyes that sparkled when he said hello. He was dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, but it was obvious he belonged in a leather blazer. I could easily seeing him driving some classy little number like a Jaguar or a Lotus. In fact, everything about him smelled like old money, so why was he applying for a housekeeping job?
"Are you sure you're interested in this job? It's not very glamorous. You'd be cleaning the mansion every day. You won't be responsible for laundry, except for the sheets and blankets in the guest rooms. We have three rooms for paying customers, a personal guest room and my bedroom. You'd be cleaning the guest rooms every day, my room and the other bedroom once a week. We have six baths-those need cleaned every day. The kitchen as well, and it must be spotless due to health code regulations. You won't need to cook, however you may be called upon to wait table occasionally. Then, there's the daily dusting and straightening in the living room, library, parlor, and grand ball room. I hire someone to wash the floors and windows once a week, so you won't have to worry about those."
As I paused, he shrugged. "I've had worse jobs. I'm not afraid of a little work."
"We have a maid's room on the main floor, which would be your living quarters, and a butler's pantry. You'll eat in there. I take care of Bubba's litter box. Oh, whatever you do, please don't pet his belly." I didn't want to tell him that Bubba was a cjinn. There were people who weren't above trying to steal the creatures for their own use.
"I'm definitely interested. What are the hours?" He surprised me given my preconceptions based on his looks.
"The job is full time, but I know you can't be on call 24/7, so housecleaning, other than the guests' rooms and their baths, is off the list for Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which are our least busy days. Longer-term guests agree to waive daily cleaning for a reduced rate, so you only have to clean their rooms twice a week."
I glanced over his resume. It was actually sparse, especially the past five years. Before that, he had worked in a number of hotels in housekeeping, as a bellhop, and desk clerk.
"That sounds good to me. I'm between apartments right now." He flashed me an easy grin.
I glanced down at the resume again. "Why the gap in work the past few years?"
He shrugged. "Let's just say I've been in an abusive relationship. We recently had a bad break up. I had to leave quickly and all I have is a couple of suitcases and nowhere to go. I happened to see your ad in the Bedlam Crier yesterday and thought this would be perfect with my background."
As someone who had spent too many years in a bad marriage, I knew how easy it was to get suckered into a relationship that tangled you up.
"Well, I have your number. Let me run your references and see what they have to say. I'll call you by tomorrow with an update." I shook his hand and walked him to the door. As we passed through the living room, Franny popped out, took one looked at him, and vanished.
He paused, letting out a short laugh. "Let me guess. House ghost?"
"Right. She's disruptive at times, but overall she's a good egg. We've adopted her." I shook my head. "Sometimes it's just easier to deal the hand you've been dealt. She came with the property and so she's part of the B&B."
"Who's the "we" you refer to? You and...are you married?" He glanced around as though he expected to see someone else magically pop into view.
It was my turn to laugh. "I'm not anymore, but my boyfriend helps me run the place. I should tell you, just in case you have a problem with the idea. I'm involved with a vampire. His name is Aegis and he's the lead singer of the Boys of Bedlam, an up-and-coming band. You might have heard them down at the Utopia nightclub."
Thornton stiffened. "Aegis? The rock star vampire?"
"That would be him. But he has a heart of gold. Loves kittens and cupcakes. He bakes most of the goodies for our guests." When I had first encountered Aegis, in addition to his gorgeous bad-boy self, I had come face to face with his private passions-baking, kittens, jigsaw puzzles, and mysteries.
Thornton thought for a moment. "I guess it could be worse," he said, reaching for the door. "I'll wait for your call."
As I walked him down the porch steps, I found myself very much hoping his references would check out. Not only did he have experience, but he seemed personable and he could probably charm the pants off my guests. But then, as I turned to go inside, a large crow appeared on the porch railing and began cawing at me.
I started to ask it what it wanted, but a shiver raced up my spine as clouds began to sock in, covering the pale blue sky. Within less than sixty seconds, lightning flashed, thunder roared, and I was soaked to the skin as the skies opened up. The crow let out a single echoing caw.
Chilled to the bone, I turned and ran inside, wondering why I was suddenly frightened.COLLAPSE
AC/DC: Back in Black, Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution
Amanda Blank: Make It Take It, Something Bigger, Something Better
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour: Zombies, X, Sunshine Coolin', Heart Attack
Beck: Qué Onda Guero
The Black Angels: Don't Play With Guns, Always Maybe, You're Mine, Phosphene Dream
Black Mountain: Wucan, Queens Will Play, The Way to Gone
Blind Melon: No Rain
Boom! Bap! Pow!: Suit
Cake: Short Skirt/Long Jacket, The Distance
The Clash: Should I Stay or Should I Go
Cobra Verde: Play with Fire
Crazy Town: Butterfly
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Susie-Q, Green River, Run Through the Jungle, Born on the Bayou
David Bowie: Diamond Dogs, China Girl, Cat People
The Doors: Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar), Hello, I Love You, Hyacinth House, Moonlight Drive, My Wild Love, We Could Be So Good Together
Elektrisk Gonner: Uknowhatiwant
Eurythmics: Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
The Hollies: Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)
Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit, Plastic Fantastic Lover
The Kills: Nail In My Coffin, You Don't Own The Road, U.R.A. Fever, Sour Cherry, No Wow
Ladytron: Paco!, Ghosts
Lord of the Lost: Sex On Legs
Men Without Hats: The Safety Dance
Nirvana: Heart Shaped Box, Come as You Are, Plateau, Lake of Fire
Oingo Boingo: Dead Man's Party, Elevator Man
People In Planes: Vampire
Rob Zombie: American Witch, Living Dead Girl
The Rolling Stones: The Spider and the Fly, Mother's Little Helper, Lady Jane
Shriekback: Underwaterboys, Over the Wire, Big Fun, Dust and a Shadow, This Big Hush, Nemesis, Now These Days Are Gone, The King in the Tree
Simple Minds: Don't You (Forget About Me)
Tom Petty: Mary Jane's Last Dance
Warrant: Cherry Pie