Conjure Web

Moonshadow Bay…where magic lurks in the moonlight, and danger hides in the shadows.

As January faces the Aseer to find out what her magical strengths are, she also delves into her family history, where she discovers dark secrets about her great-grandmother Colleen and a long lost child. But when she and Ari take on a private case, they find themselves in over their heads. They must ask Conjure Ink for help in solving a riddle where a mother insists that her child isn’t really her child. January’s investigation leads everyone down the rabbit hole of magical intrigue and into the world of the Woodlings, where January finds her worldview of what actually is real changing, even as it puts her life in danger.

 

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Chapter 1

“I refuse to be married in white,” Ari said. “I simply won’t wear a white dress. Neither will Meagan. We aren’t virgins, we’re both forty, and we aren’t even straight. Nobody’s giving away anything that hasn’t already been out the barn door and around the track. Since we’re getting married in summer, I want to wear purple and she’s wearing green.”

I suppressed a laugh and just nodded. Ari and I were flipping through bridal magazines, looking at dresses. She and Meagan were getting married on July 12, and that gave us five months to get everything ready. Since Meagan’s parents refused to take part in their daughter’s big, magical gay wedding, we were coming up with cost-saving ideas that would be beautiful, as well.

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“So, do you have a theme yet?” I asked, picking up another sandwich and biting into it. We were eating lunch on my back porch. Even though it was still chilly—it was a rainy 58 degrees—we both were more than ready for some fresh air and sunshine. The fresh air, we had. The sunshine, not so much.

“We’re thinking of a wisteria garden party theme…Meagan wants a tea instead of a dinner, and I like that idea. Oh, hey, that brings me to another question. Can we hold the wedding in your backyard?” Ari tossed the magazine to the side and picked up another one, starting to leaf through it. “None of these is right. I haven’t seen a dress I like.”

“Of course you can. Hold the wedding here, that is. And may I suggest that you look at ball gowns? I know it’s not the typical thing, but most of them are more colorful than wedding dresses, and usually a lot prettier. I bet you could find something in that direction.” I set down The Mature Bride, which was a magazine that focused on women over thirty who were getting married. Ari and Meagan, like me, were well over that. “Honestly, thirty is not old. Hell, I’m forty-one and I don’t even feel that old—just…a little seasoned.”

As I focused on my lunch, a gust of fresh air whistled past. The wind was coming in off the Salish Sea, and the sound of birdsong echoed from tree to tree. We were due for rain again, but the ground smelled like it was waking up, and I could feel the rhythms of the earth shift and turn as the equinox drew near. We were headed for Ostara, the spring celebration of balance and new beginnings, and everywhere, I could see the signs that the world was preparing to grow and stretch out, like a rose whose petals were unfolding.

“That’s a good idea. I’ll run the idea by Meagan and we’ll look online. We’d rather spend the bulk of our money on a fabulous party and honeymoon than on the dresses and flowers. Though I insist on having wisteria there, and black roses—well, the ones that look black.” She took a long sip of her coffee.

“What does Meagan want?” I finished my ham sandwich and leaned back, sipping my mocha.

“She’s left the flowers up to me. In exchange, she gets to pick our first dance song. We’re both writing our own vows, and we both are agreeing on the menu for the tea and the cake. I wanted chocolate, she wanted tres leches, so we compromised on a chocolate-caramel cake.” She shook her head, grinning. “I never thought I’d be planning a wedding. I really didn’t believe that I’d ever meet anybody I could get along with enough to commit to.”

At first, when I realized that Ari and Meagan were serious, I had a spate of jealousy, worrying that I might lose my best friend. But Meagan—whom I had loathed in high school—had turned out to be a decent adult once she came out of the closet. I no longer worried about that. It occurred to me that Ari might have felt the same way when I had gotten married to Ellison, and I felt embarrassed that I had pulled away from her for so many years, thanks to Ellison’s dislike of all things magical. With me and my best friend both being witches, he really got his nose out of joint when she came to visit. Meagan actually welcomed me in like a sister.

“Well, you picked a winner,” I said. “And you know I’d say something if I didn’t believe that.”

“I know—you sure did when you first found out who she was. No more ‘Mean Meagan,’ right?” Ari laughed.

“Right,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I’m sorry I was so whiny about her.”

“Well, she was a piece of work back in high school. So, are you ready to tackle your attic?”

I nodded, staring into my coffee mug morosely. “Yeah. But the caffeine’s done.”

“Get your butt out of the chair, January. We can have more when we’re done,” she said with a laugh. “Dangle that carrot in front of you.”

I grumbled but picked up my dishes. Ari gathered her things and we headed back inside as the clouds broke and a huge deluge came gushing down from the sky. Grateful that the porch was enclosed, I took one last deep breath of the air that hung heavy with the scents of cedar and fir, of geosim and pungent earth, and we headed inside to clean out the attic.

***

When I moved back to Moonshadow Bay after inheriting my parents’ house, I had changed out some of the furniture for my own, and I had finally faced reality and gone through the closets and cleared out my mother’s and father’s clothing. It had been hard—I still missed them dreadfully—but it was time, and I needed the space. But I’d left the attic alone. Now, it was time to tackle whatever was up there. Ari had agreed to help me.

The attic was accessible through a trap door in the hallway ceiling outside the master bedroom. I carried a stepstool up to the second floor so that I could catch hold of the ring attached to the trap door. As the door opened, a retractable set of stairs eased down. They appeared flimsy, but my father—who had been something of a handyman—had reinforced them so they were strong and sturdy. He had also affixed a locking mechanism to the bottom stair so the steps couldn’t jog loose and fold up when someone was on them.

I moved the stepstool and flipped on the light to the attic. The switch was located on the wall beneath the attic, and that made it possible to see as we headed up the steps. My father had been a practical man and had made life as easy as he could for my mother and himself.

I glanced at Ari. “Ready?”

She nodded. She was carrying a broom and a wet-mop. I was armed with a duster and a box of heavy-duty garbage bags. “And able.”

“Then onward, Wheeler!” I pointed to the stairs. “You first.”

“You just want me to make sure there aren’t any spiders hanging out at the top.”

“You know me well,” I said, laughing. I wasn’t arachnophobic, but I wasn’t that fond of the little buggers. I loved snakes, but spiders were not my favorite creatures.

The attic was well-kept. My mother had deep cleaned the house from top to bottom twice a year, so even though there was dust and a few cobwebs, and an occasional spider web, it wasn’t the attic from a horror movie. In fact, it was rather cozy. My father had tiled the floor, saying that, should the roof ever leak, no hardwoods or carpet would get ruined or spawn mold. The large room was finished, and my mother had painted the walls a creamy white to bring in more light through the windows on either end. The attic was almost the size of the second story.

One side was used for storage, and my mother had turned the other side into a crafting sanctuary. While she had kept her magical supplies in the library for easy access, she stored all her fabric and yarn and scrapbooking supplies in the attic. There was also a long folding table and several chairs, along with a very bright LED lamp. There was also a TV up here. I had only been back in Moonshadow Bay three months, and as I said, I had left the attic alone during that time.

“Wow, your parents really made use of this space,” Ari said.

“Yeah, they did. While I was growing up, the attic was pretty much beams and wood and insulation. But about ten years ago, my father got the renovation bug and my mother told me they were going to ‘optimize’ their use of the house. They must have redone the attic at that point, because I know that with the last set of renovations, they focused on the downstairs and their master bath.”

I looked around, suddenly feeling melancholy. There were signs of my mother everywhere—in the silk flowers that graced the sideboard, in the delicate lace curtains on the windows, in the protection charms that hung on the walls. I wondered if my father had ever felt the urge to join her up here. He thought he was from a weak magical line, but since he actually had a strong witchblood heritage, I wondered if he had ever felt compelled to work with magic. Given he had no clue that Rowan Firesong—the strongest and oldest witch in town—was his mother, I doubted that he had ever been to the Aseer.

“What are you thinking about?” Ari asked.

“The fact that Rowan Firesong is my grandmother,” I said. “I wonder whether my father ever questioned his lineage. He had to feel the energy my mother worked with—it was in his blood. So why didn’t he ever question his roots?”

“Maybe he did, but he never told you,” Ari said, looking around. “Where do you want to start?”

“I guess the craft cabinets. I’m about as handy with a needle and thread as I am with a chain saw. Which is to say, Stand back, the woman is dangerous.” I sighed, opening the first cabinet. There were stacks of neatly folded fabric remnants and yardage. While some of it was pretty, I knew I’d never use most of it. There was also a pile of empty charm bags. Those I would keep. I decided that I could probably sew a straight line, so I would keep the stack of precut squares that sat next to the bags. Everything else, except for the thread and basic sewing tools, went into one of the garbage bags.

“What about the yarn? This is good quality and might come in handy for knot magic,” Ari said, holding up one of the skeins.

I shrugged. “Yes, but I don’t need two shelves of it. Keep one of each of the basic colors—and two of black, red, and white. The rest can go. I’ll keep all the embroidery thread, that can be used in so many charms. But the patterns can go. I’ll never sew a dress, my mother was skinnier than I was, and I don’t entertain any desire to turn into Suzy Seamstress any time soon.”

We moved on to the next cabinet. I kept the modeling clay, but opted to get rid of the papier-mâché strips. I kept all of the blank wooden plaques and paints—they looked like fun and I liked to paint at times—and the sketchbooks. I also kept the rotary tool, and a wood burner and the glue guns.

“I guess I’m keeping more than I thought,” I said. “I can see a use for a number of these things.”

“I can too, and you can always get rid of them later, if you find you don’t use them.” Ari carried the bag of material and other goodies I was donating over to the stairway and dropped it down to the floor below. “All right, the storage side. That will take more time, given there are a number of trunks and boxes there.”

I grimaced. “Right. We may have to ask Killian to come carry things down if they’re too heavy. Okay, let’s dive in.”

The storage area contained at least ten trunks and several pieces of furniture. I eyed the two standing lamps that were in front of the boxes. Neither was my style, and I picked up one.

“These go. Both of them.”

We carried them over to an empty area in the large room and set them to one side. There were also several chairs and a small table. The table was one of those with a built-in chessboard and drawers that held the pieces. And the drawers had beautiful silver pieces inside. I smiled.

“This was my father’s. He and I used to play every weekend. I want to find a place for it downstairs.”

“I remember that—you used to rope me into playing with you. I never told you how much I hated the game because I knew you loved it,” Ari said.

I stared at her. “Why didn’t you say anything? I loved playing but I never wanted to rope you into doing something you didn’t like!”

“You just seemed so geeked out about it. But I’ll play backgammon with you any day!”

“You’ve met your match. I used to play backgammon with my dorm neighbor every evening while we got stoned,” I said, snickering. “I’m a whiz.”

“You’re a whiz at just about everything,” Ari said. “I always envied your brain.”

“And I envied your ability to climb a rope. Good grief, remember old lady Krump? She hated me because I just couldn’t do what the other girls could. I could barely get up on the balance beam, let alone do a flip on it.” I rubbed the top of the chessboard. It was inlaid marble into the oak. “But chess… My father taught me to play when I was five. Every Sunday morning, Mom would make waffles and bacon and sausages…and we would sit and play while we ate. She would paint while we did that. It’s one memory I’ll never let go of.” I drifted off, thinking about my parents. “I’m one of the lucky ones, you know. I had a good childhood. I’ll treasure that always.”

Ari gave me a quick hug and let out a sigh. “I’m sorry, I know you miss them.”

“I do,” I said. “I hope they know how much I wish they were still here.”

They had died in a car crash not yet a year ago, and I still couldn’t get used to the idea that they were both gone. It had been so sudden. The frantic call from my aunt Teran at nine p.m. that my parents were in the hospital, to me speeding up the freeway, praying to every god who would listen that I’d get to the hospital in time and in one piece, to arriving at eleven p.m., only to find my mother crashing just as I got there.

The doctors worked on her frantically as I sat in the hall, numb, unable to speak. She had died before I could say good-bye. My father had already been pronounced brain-dead and I had to make the decision to let him go. That had been one of the hardest things I had ever had to do.

And all through it, my then-husband kept texting me, asking where to find his good shirt, and why hadn’t I asked the maid to clean under the bed—there were dust bunnies there, and had I had the chance to look over the divorce papers and…ya know…sign them yet? That was when I first started getting my voice back—when I texted back that I was done being his servant, he could sweep the fucking floor himself, and I’d sign them when I signed them.

Your mother knows how you feel and remember, she is here with us. She watches over you as best as she can. She knows you loved her and your father, Esmara said.

Esmara was one of the Ladies, my ancestors on my mother’s side—all strong witch women who came back to guard and guide those of us who were alive. Esmara had been my great-aunt, and she was my personal guardian. My aunt Teran was watched over by Prue, one of Esmara’s sisters. I suddenly wondered if my mother had talked to the Ladies while she was alive. It only made sense.

Esmara, who among you watched over my mother?

I did. And so I watch over you, as well.

Tell my mother I miss her. Do you know if my father is still around?

No, love. He’s moved on through the Veil.

My mood shifted and I felt unaccountably sad. If he really was gone, I’d never talk to him again. Once someone moved through the Veil, they were usually gone for good. Feeling a little morose, I turned back to the trunks and Ari.

“All right, let’s get started on these.” I randomly picked one and we set to sorting through the items. Most of the contents consisted of old china and knickknacks that were family mementos. But I also knew that I’d never use most of it, and I hated just packing things away.

“All of this can go,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m not keeping stuff I will never use, and that I don’t have an attachment to just because they’re family history.” I paused, picking up a gorgeous perfume bottle. “This, however, I’ll keep. I have a feeling I’m going to be starting a perfume bottle collection!”

“You think there’s a djinn inside?” Ari asked, grinning.

“I hope not. One was enough.” I popped the top and sniffed. “Ooo, whoever wore this, liked spicy perfume.” I set it aside. “I wonder how Rameer is doing. I hope he comes back to visit like he said he would.” I had freed a djinn trapped in a perfume bottle that I had bought at a thrift store, and after we located his original bottle, he had gone home to his own realm.

“I hope he’s okay. I liked him.” Ari held up a pair of tarnished silver candlesticks. “What about these?”

“Give away,” I said, shaking my head. “I mostly use battery-operated candles due to Xi and Klaus. And when I use actual candles with candle holders, I prefer crystal.” My kittens were barely four months old and far too curious. Candles that produced actual flame I reserved for ritual use, and I scrupulously made sure they were extinguished when I was done.

We had worked our way through eight of the ten trunks when I paused, frowning. I looked around. Something felt off, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. I listened, hard, but heard nothing. A glance around the room gave me no clue, but it felt like a shadow had fallen across the afternoon.

“What time is it?”

Ari glanced at her phone. “It’s almost four. We’ve been at it nearly four hours.”

“Let’s take a break. I’m tired,” I said, setting down the crystal bowl I had just found. It was beautiful. “This is pretty,” I said, holding it up. A delicate rose pattern wound around the side. “But I have one that’s almost identical.”

Ari’s eyes widened. “That’s gorgeous. Meagan would love it.”

I handed it to her. “Then give it to her with my regards.”

“Are you sure?” She took the crystal bowl, examining it. “This looks old.”

“I’m sure. It’s lovely, but I doubt if I’d use it.”

We headed down the steps, Ari carrying the bowl. At the bottom, there were three big bags of things to give away, not counting everything I was planning to ask Killian to carry down from the attic. I did one last sweep, making sure the kittens hadn’t gotten themselves up there when we weren’t looking, and closed up the trap door for the time being.

“We’ll finish later, just leave the stepstool here,” I said, wiping my brow. Even as clean as the attic had been, I felt grungy and dusty.

We stopped in my bathroom to wash our hands and faces, and then headed downstairs for more coffee and a snack. As I pulled shots for the lattes, my mood began to lighten, and I found myself breathing easier. Whatever cloud had sent me into a spiral had vanished, and once again, I relaxed and was able to enjoy the rest of the afternoon, talking to Ari about her wedding plans.

***

That evening, Killian and I returned to the attic. He had been working at the clinic all day—he was a veterinarian—and after Ari left, I had made dinner. While he was also my next-door neighbor, we spent at least three to four nights together each week.

“Love, how are you?” he asked, entering the kitchen. We had passed the key-milestone, and had exchanged keys to each other’s homes.

“Tired. We made a lot of headway, but I need your help carrying things down from the attic that were too heavy or bulky for Ari and me.” I glanced at the oven and set the timer for forty-five minutes. “Lasagna will be ready within the hour, and I made a salad.”

“Today’s the new moon, don’t you have a ritual to perform?”

I shook my head. “I’ll meditate later, but I want to get the attic taken care of tonight, if possible.”

Killian kissed me on the nose, then motioned for me to follow him. “Let’s get busy then.”

Killian O’Connell was a bit taller than I was—I was five-nine—and he had curly, shoulder-length light brown hair and emerald green eyes. A small scar on his cheek gave him a slightly roguish look. He told me he had gotten it from treating a wounded lynx for a wildlife conservatory during his early days as a vet. He was muscled but not bulky, and I felt safe around him.

“You really did go through things,” he said, staring at the pile of items I was getting rid of that had been either too large or too delicate to put in the garbage bags.

“Yeah. While you start carrying them down, I think I’ll tackle the last two trunks tonight.” I glanced around and opened the nearest. To my surprise—and relief—it was empty.

That left a small trunk in the corner, one that had been hidden behind the rest of them. Something about it called to me, and I felt that same wave of uncertainty I had felt earlier. Frowning, I picked up the surprisingly heavy chest and hoisted it over to the crafting table. The chest was about the size of a small footlocker—about two feet long, and fifteen inches both deep and high. It was shaped like an old-fashioned treasure chest, and there was a padlock on it.

“I wonder where the key is for this,” I said. I glanced at Killian. “Can you pick the lock?”

“What makes you think I can pick locks at all?” he asked, laughing. “I’m a veterinarian, not a thief.”

“You never know what talents someone has unless you ask,” I said, grinning. “If you can’t pick it, can you bust it?”

He examined the padlock. “Do you have any bolt cutters?”

I thought through what I had seen in the garage. “If I do, they were my father’s, and they would be in his work area. Let me go look.”

Leaving him with the chest, I dashed down the stairs, then into the kitchen, to the door leading into the garage. Once in the garage, I poked around the tool bench. My father had been extremely organized and I found the bolt cutters right away. They were hanging on the peg board in back of the bench. I grabbed them, along with a crowbar—it seemed like a good idea—and headed back up to the attic.

Killian took the cutters and snapped the padlock as though it were butter. Shifters were incredibly strong, and with the right tool, they could break through a number of things humans couldn’t. Or even those of us with witchblood. He set the cutters aside and motioned to me.

“Your chest. You do the honors.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Silly man,” I said, but I slowly lifted the lid. Most of the chests hadn’t been locked, and that this one had been alerted my attention. I felt pulled toward the chest, as though there was something magical inside, or something important that I needed to see.

The first thing I noticed was that there were initials carved on the inside of the lid: C.O.

“ ‘C.O.’? Who’s that?” I tried to remember my family history, but nothing stood out. Of course, this might have belonged to someone who wasn’t part of the family, but it would be odd that the trunk would be among my parents’ belongings.

Inside the trunk, the contents were wrapped in green velvet. The material lined the chest and had been folded over whatever was inside. I cautiously opened the top flaps, only to find myself staring at a dagger in a sheath, a leatherbound book, and a ring. The silver ring had a bear’s head on it, and it was exquisitely detailed. The eyes of the bear were inset emeralds, and as I reached for it, a humming made me stop.

“What is it?” Killian asked, craning his neck to see.

“I don’t know—there’s strong magic in this chest,” I said. I picked up the ring out and automatically slid it on my right index finger. It fit perfectly, and I instantly felt a glow of protection and fierceness surround me. Next, I lifted the dagger and slid it out of the leather sheath. The hilt of the dagger was made of bog oak. The hilt fit my hand perfectly, and I raised the blade, which was at least thirteen inches long and made of polished bronze. The dagger sang to me, and I felt something shift as I held it.

“Who owned this?” I whispered.

“Maybe it’s in the book?” Killian asked.

The black hand-tooled leather felt smooth under my fingers as I lifted the book out of the chest. I opened the book to the first page and there, in a curving script, I read “Colleen O’Leary Fletcher.” I flipped through the pages briefly but I already knew what this was.

“This belonged to my great-grandmother Colleen—who helped found Moonshadow Bay,” I said. “This is her dagger, her ring, and her book of shadows.” And right then, I knew that I had found a treasure beyond riches.

COLLAPSE

Playlist

I often write to music, and CONJURE WEB was no exception. Here’s the playlist I used for this book.

Air: Moon Fever; Surfing On A Rocket
Android Lust: Here And Now
Arch Leaves: Nowhere To Go
Asteroids Galaxy Tour: The Sun Ain’t Shining No More; Sunshine Coolin’; Major; Heart Attack
Band of Skulls: I Know What I Am
Beck: Qué Onda Guero; Farewell Ride; Emergency Exit; Think I’m In Love; Cellphone’s Dead; Nausea; Broken Train; Where It’s At
The Black Angels: Don’t Play With Guns; Love Me Forever; You’re Mine
Black Pumas: Sweet Conversations
Blind Melon: No Rain
Brandon Fiechter: Night Fairies
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Bobbie Gentry: Ode to Billie Joe
Camouflage Nights: (It Could Be) Love
Crazy Town: Butterfly
D.J. Shah: Mellomaniac
David Bowie: Fame; Golden Years; China Girl; Let’s Dance
Deuter: Silver Air 1; Petite Fleur
Donovan: Season Of The Witch
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being (Original Edit)
Fats Domino: I Want To Walk You Home
Gerry Rafferty: Baker Street
Gordon Lightfoot: Sundown
Gorillaz: Last Living Souls; Dare; Demon Days; Hongkongaton; Rockit; Clint Eastwood
Heart: Magic Man; White Lightning & Wine
Jay Price: Dark-Hearted Man; The Devil’s Bride; Coming For You Baby
Jeannie C. Riley: Harper Valley P.T.A.
John Fogerty: The Old Man Down The Road
Johnny Otis: Willy & The Hand Jive
The Kills: Nail In My Coffin; You Don’t Own The Road; Sour Cherry
Kirsty MacColl: In These Shoes?
Lady Gaga: Born This Way; Paparazzi; Poker Face; Paper Gangsta; Stupid Love
Ladytron: Paco!; I’m Not Scared
Low: Witches; Plastic Cup; Half Light
Mannheim Steamroller: G Major Toccata; Crystal; Interlude 7; The Dream; Z-row Gravity
Matt Corby: Breathe
Men Without Hats: Safety Dance
Nancy Sinatra: These Boots Are Made For Walking
Red Venom: Let’s Get It On
Robin Schulz: Sugar
The Rolling Stones: Gimmer Shelter; Little Red Rooster; The Spider And The Fly; 19th Nervous Breakdown; Paint It Black; Mother’s Little Helper; Lady Jane; Miss You
Rue de Soleil: We Can Fly; Le Française; Wake Up Brother; Blues Du Soleil
Sam the Sham & The Pharoahs: Lil’Red Riding Hood
Screaming Trees: Where the Twain Shall Meet; All I Know
Shriekback: The Shining Path; Underwaterboys; Intoxication; Over The Wire; New Man; Go Bang; Big Fun; Dust And A Shadow; Agony Box; Putting All the Lights Out; The Fire Has Brought Us; And The Rain; Wiggle And Drone; Church Of The Louder Light; Now These Days Are Gone; The King In The Tree
Simple Minds: Don’t You
Snow Patrol: The Lightning Strike/What If This Storm Ends
Suzanne Vega: Blood Makes Noise; 99.9F°; Bad Wisdom; Solitude Standing; Straight Lines
Sweet Talk Radio: We All Fall Down
Tamaryn: While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming; Violet’s In A Pool
The Temptations: Papa Was A Rolling Stone
Tingstad & Rumbel: Chaco
Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Trills: Speak Loud
The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony
Vive la Void: Devil
Zero 7: In The Waiting Line
The Zombies: Time Of The Season

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