Wedding bells are in the air...

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and Bedlam is swamped in both snow and manic joy. Maddy and Sandy are planning a double wedding on New Year’s Eve, and they have the winter solstice ritual to plan as well. It seems like the entire town is wired on espresso, and the sheriff is up to her ears in drunken brawls and spells gone wrong. And then, a long lost love from Maddy's past shows up. Can Maddy and Aegis muddle through all the chaos to the altar? Or will Maddy's heart return to her first love, leaving Aegis stranded at the altar?

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Chapter 1

The holiday rush hit us hard, but we were weathering it with ease. Every room in the Bewitching Bedlam was spoken for, and we were booked through the New Year. I had started a waiting list, in case we had any cancellations.

Word had gotten out that Aegis was part owner and his groupies were booking rooms just to be near their fantasy crush. It was good for business, but problematic as far as some of the more eager female guests went. We’d had to turn out a couple of them for walking around the house in their underwear, and one woman even tried to sneak down into the basement to look for his lair.

Because my rib was still healing and my hip was still bruised, thanks to my freakshow ex-husband, I couldn’t do much except supervise. So Kelson hired two interns from the Neverfall Academy for Gifted Students. She kept them busy, leaving me free for admin duties, as well as to plan for my wedding.

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Today marked my first time out of the house in a while. My best friend Sandy and I were downtown, shopping for wedding accessories. We had quickly realized that a double wedding had to accommodate four people’s tastes, not just two.

I was wearing a corset to help stabilize my ribs, and was using a cane because my hip was still cranky, but at least I was out in public.

“I swear, I’ve been going stir-crazy,” I said, as Sandy helped me out of the car. We’d managed to find a spot right in front of the French Pair—a lingerie shop.

“Cabin fever?” She grinned. “I’ll bet you’ve been a delight to be around lately.” Sandy had been my BFF since 1699, when we first met. We had come to America together, after one hell of a spate of fighting vampires and running wild with satyrs.

“Yeah, and after being shut up in the house for several weeks, the town seems like a palatial expanse.”

I paused by the side of the car. I needed to talk to Sandy about something, but it could wait until lunch. As I leaned against the door, a gust of fresh air washed over me. The weather was cold and snowy, and the town looked like a winter wonderland. That sounded cliché, but it was true.

Located at the northernmost point of the San Juan Islands, Bedlam Island had been founded by witches a long time ago, and the combination of the location along with all the magical energy in the town drew in storms like a magnet. Whether it was wind, rain, or snow, Bedlam was a hotbed of meteorological activity.

Bedlam was both the name of the island and the town, and the Pretcom congregated here. A few humans lived on the island, but mostly witches and satyrs, and shifters and Fae folk called Bedlam home. We had a few vampires, too, although they weren’t quite as welcome, except for Aegis. Not only was he my fiancé, he was a musician and popular in the clubbing culture.

“You all right?” Sandy asked as I winced.

“Yeah, the stitch in my side catches me off guard, but Jordan says I need to start moving around. He didn’t suggest running any marathons, but the more I move, the better off I’ll be.” I straightened and, using the cane more for balance than support, followed Sandy into the store.

***

The French Pair was an upscale boutique, specializing in lingerie for special occasions. And you couldn’t get much more special than a wedding.

Bree Silverlight—one of the Summer Fae—had recently taken over the shop. Her eyes lit up as she saw us. “Maddy, Sandy! What can I do for you today? Rumor has it you’re both getting hitched. Any chance you’re shopping for your wedding trousseaus?”

“There’s every chance, Bree,” I said, returning her smile. While Fae glamour didn’t work on witches, Bree’s joy was still infectious.

“What color scheme? Somehow, I don’t picture either of you as the white-lace type.”

“Right again,” Sandy said. She was a blonde, with hair down to her shoulders and the body of a fitness guru. She was trim, tall, tanned, and wore yoga pants and a crop top everywhere. She was also a business mogul and smart as a whip. “Pastels—blue and green are my favorites.”

I, on the other hand, was shorter than Sandy, pale, and definitely well-padded. My hair was the color of a black cat on Halloween. “I do better with gem tones. Purple, green, burgundy…”

Bree went into overdrive, piling teddies and bustiers and gowns into her arms. “I’ll bring these to the dressing room. What size do you need?”

While we waited, I sat down on the bench. My side ached. I was probably overdoing it, but it felt so good to be out that I didn’t want to go home. A little pain was worth the freedom.

“I’ve got a problem,” Sandy said.

“What’s up?” Given all we had been through, it could be anything. “Jenna’s all right, isn’t she? And Max?”

“Yes, Jenna’s fine, and so is Max. It’s just…well…Max’s parents are coming to visit. We’ve never met and I’m terrified they won’t like me.”

“That’s ridiculous. Everybody loves you.”

“Not them, I’m afraid. Max warned me that they’re conservative, but I didn’t realize how old-school they are. They aren’t happy that he’s marrying me. They liked Gracie enough, but they weren’t happy that she was a witch and not a tiger-shifter. But when she died, they expected him to remarry someone from their pride. Now, he’s chosen another witch instead of a shifter, and they’ve been…vocal in their objections.”

“He told you all this?” I was surprised. Max did everything he could to make Sandy happy and that he would actually tell her about their objections surprised me.

She shook her head. “No, I overheard them. He was in the next room, FaceTiming with them. I was passing by when I heard his mother complaining that now she’ll never get the grandchildren she’s been waiting for. He told them he was going to adopt Jenna after we got married, so they’d have a grandchild.”

“What did they say?” I dreaded the answer. Shifters could be pretty rigid in their resistance to interspecies marriages.

“His father said that she wouldn’t be bloodkin and that Max should find a woman who could keep the family line going.” Her eyes watered as she tried to blink back the tears.

The look on her face broke my heart. I wanted to track down Max’s parents and beat them senseless. “I’d like to hex his ass. So what did Max say?”

“He stood up for me. And yes, by this time I was hiding behind the door, listening to everything they said. They argued and in the end his parents cut the conversation short. When Max came out of the office, he was in one hell of a mood. He didn’t tell me what happened and I couldn’t very well ask since I’d been eavesdropping.” She shrugged. “I hate that his family thinks I’m not good enough for him.”

I nodded. Families could be problematic, especially when it came to weddings. “Are they coming to the ceremony?”

“I think so. I wish they weren’t.”

“Do they know it’s a double wedding? If they don’t like the fact that you’re a witch, they’ll just love that their son is getting married alongside another witch and a vampire.”

There had never been any question that Sandy and I would have a double wedding. The guys had agreed from the start. On New Year’s Eve, at twilight, we were getting married in the backyard of the Bewitching Bedlam. We had opted for a theme of red, black, and white. The men would be dressed in black, we’d be dressed in red, and the snow would provide the white backdrop to everything.

And there was plenty of snow. Bedlam had been slammed by a storm in early December that had left the entire island stranded. Two feet of snow covered the island and everything sparkled like a field of frozen diamonds. Since then, we’d had two more storms.

“I don’t know. What makes me angriest is that they won’t accept Jenna. It’s one thing to call me a bitch and tell me you don’t think I’m worthy, but it’s a whole different matter when you attack my daughter.” Sandy had pushed through the adoption papers quickly, and Jenna was now legally her daughter. Both had been thrilled. “They practically called us Dirt Witches.”

Dirt Witches? That was an insult above and beyond good taste. “Real classy. I’m surprised you didn’t grab the phone from Max and cuss them out.”

“I thought about it.”

“If they cause any trouble, that’s the last event on this island they’ll ever attend. I like Max, but nobody messes up my wedding—or hurts my best friend in the process.”

As she stared at the floor, I leaned forward. “You have to talk to Max about this before his parents arrive.”

Sandy gave me a shrug, standing as Bree approached the dressing room door.

“I know,” she said. “I realize that. But it’s not going to be easy. Max was brought up to respect the Pride.”

“Of course he was, but he made it work with Gracie and he can smooth it over for you. Interactions with relatives never are easy. I admit I’m grateful Aegis doesn’t have any living relatives that we know of.”

Sandy took a deep breath and nodded. “We’ll get through it.”

At that moment, Bree opened the door and peeked her head in. “Here you go.”

A half hour and countless items later, Sandy and I left the shop with several bags each. I’d picked up three nightgowns, two bras, and a couple corset tops with matching panties. Sandy had found two nighties, a teddy, and a pair of silk pajamas.

“Where to next?” she asked as we piled our loot in the trunk of the Lexus I was renting. My CRV was too high for me to get into with my injured hip and rib, and Aegis’s Corvette was too low and cramped.

“We have to decide on flowers, so let’s…” I paused as a noise from up the street caught my attention. “What’s going on up there?”

Sandy frowned, shading her eyes. “I don’t know.”

“Let’s go find out.” I wasn’t just being nosy. The Moonrise Coven was in charge of Bedlam, and since I was High Priestess, that meant I was on the city council. What went on in this town was my business.

We started toward the corner, cautious on the icy sidewalks. Even though the shop owners cleared them, black ice built up incredibly fast. A half block away, two sidewalk Santas were going at it. They were in the middle of the snowbank alongside the curb, trying to beat each other senseless.

“What the ever-loving fuck?” I asked.

One of the men had blood spilling out from a busted lip. His fake white beard was a blotchy mess. The other was wheezing so hard I wondered if he was going to have a heart attack. A number of shoppers had gathered around, shouting, egging on the fight. A few children were crying.

“Crap on a shingle,” Sandy muttered. “I wonder if anybody’s called Delia yet?”

Delia Walters, a straw-blond werewolf, was the sheriff and the mayor, and she did a good job of taking care of the island’s security.

“I will.” I pulled out my phone.

But before I could get my phone to my ear, the sound of sirens echoed as a patrol car came shrieking down the street. Delia swerved to the side, parking right beside the snow dune, and she and a tall deputy—Derek Lindsey—jumped out. They waded into the fray, shouting as they separated the Santas.

“Break it up!” Delia was short, but she was strong and people in the town respected her. “What the hell are you two doing? I told you yesterday, no brawling in the streets!”

Both men stared up at her, looking dazed. One of them hiccupped and the smell of stale whiskey wafted off of him.

“You’re drunk?” I said. “You’re supposed to be Santa Claus, not some rummy on the street!”

Delia shook her head. “I knew it had to be this pair when I got the call.”

“What are they fighting over?” I asked.

“Turf war. The drunk Santa is from Yuletide Cheer, a donation center for toys for the kids. The other one’s from Crystal Chimes. They were at it two days ago. Apparently, this street corner has the best draw for donors, and only one person at a time is allowed to solicit on this spot.” Delia stared at the men. “I warned you that the next time you were both ending up in the slammer.” She motioned to Derek. “Cuff them, read them their rights, and put them in the car. Take their donation buckets and have somebody deliver them to their respective charities.”

Derek maneuvered both men into the back of the patrol car. He put the buckets in the trunk.

“How are you doing?” Delia asked me. “I know you’re still feeling rough around the edges.”

I shrugged, wincing as my rib pulled a little. “Like a trussed turkey. My rib’s still cracked. Hip is healing up, but Craig bruised me up pretty badly. He could kick like a son of a bitch. Today’s my first day out of the house and it’s wonderful, despite the twinges. We’re shopping for wedding accessories.”

Sandy gave me a long look. “You’ve been on your feet a lot today. We should sit down somewhere. Let’s eat lunch before we drop in at the florist.”

As we said good-bye to Delia and headed for the car, the weather shifted and the snow began to fall again, big, fat flakes drifting down to add yet another layer on what we already had. I caught one on my tongue. I was a kid at heart, even though I was on the upper side of three hundred. Sandy laughed and did the same. I gently stretched out my arms, looking up into the falling fluff.

“I love snow. I love winter,” I said. “All right, where should we eat?”

“How about the new place that opened up a couple weeks ago? The Mussel Bar? Why don’t you let me drive?” She waited to make sure I was in the car before sliding into the driver’s seat.

“Lead the way,” I said. A steaming bowl of clam chowder sounded perfect.

***

As we settled into the booth and placed our orders—clam chowder, cheese bread, and an appetizer of calamari—I leaned my head back against the seat.

“I’ve got a problem myself, but I wanted to wait until we were out of the house. Aegis is asleep, but I didn’t want Kelson to overhear.” I opened my purse and withdrew an envelope.

“What’s wrong?”

“I received this a couple days ago. I don’t know what to think.” I pushed the envelope across the table.

Sandy stared at it for a moment, then picked it up and glanced at the front. “It was sent from Bedlam, so it’s from someone in town.” She opened it and shook out the single piece of paper that was inside. As she opened it up, she gasped. “What the hell is this?”

“That’s what I want to know.”

She laid the page down on the table so we could both look at it.

Maddy, I love you. I love you so much and it kills me that we’re not together. You know you don’t belong with him. You were meant to be mine, and I won’t stop until we’re together. Let him go or I’ll make him leave. I’m the one you were meant to be with. I’m the one who can make your dreams come true.

“Do you know who sent this?” She looked up at me. “There’s no name, and no return address.”

I shook my head. “I have no idea, but Sandy, I don’t think this is a prank. Whoever wrote the note is unbalanced and dangerous. I can feel it.”

As the waitress brought our food I slid the letter back into the envelope. We waited until she had set out our chowder and bread and calamari and drinks.

After she left, Sandy took a sip of her tea. “Does anybody have a crush on you? What about Ralph? He’s usually behind these stupid stunts.”

“No,” I said. “It’s not Ralph. For one thing, he’s head over heels about Ivy Vine. And two… Ralph may be a big dumb goofus, but I don’t think he’d pull this sort of stunt.”

As we set to our lunches, it felt like a cloud had settled over our heads. Only this one didn’t have snow. This cloud was dark and full of thunder and lightning. A storm was brewing, only I didn’t know when or where it would hit.

COLLAPSE

Playlist

I often write to music, and here’s the playlist I used for this book.

  • J. Roach: Devil May Dance
  • Al Stewart: Life in Dark Water
  • The Alan Parsons Project: Breakdown; Can’t Take it With You
  • Alice in Chains: Man in the Box; Sunshine
  • The Asteroids Galaxy Tour: X; Sunshine Coolin’; Heart Attack; Out of Frequency; Major
  • AWOLNATION: Sail
  • Beck: Broken Train; Devil’s Haircut
  • The Black Angels: Don’t Play With Guns; Always Maybe; You’re Mine; Phosphene Dream; Never/Ever; Indigo Meadow
  • Black Mountain: Queens Will Play
  • Black Sabbath: Lady Evil
  • Boom! Bap! Pow!: Suit
  • Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
  • Cake: Short Skirt/Long Jacket; The Distance
  • Clannad: I See Red; Newgrange
  • The Clash: Should I Stay or Should I Go
  • Cobra Verde: Play with Fire
  • Crazy Town: Butterfly
  • David & Steve Gordon: Shaman’s Drum Dance
  • Donovan: Sunshine Superman; Season of the Witch
  • Eastern Sun And John Kelley: Beautiful Being
  • Eels: Souljacker Part 1
  • FC Kahuna: Hayling
  • Foster the People: Pumped Up Kicks
  • Gary Numan: Down in the Park; Cars; Soul Protection; My World Storm; Dream Killer; Outland; Petals; Remember I Was Vapour; Praying to the Aliens; My Breathing
  • Godsmack: Voodoo
  • Hedningarna: Ukkonen; Juopolle Joutunut; Gorrlaus
  • The Hollies: Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)
  • In Strict Confidence: Snow White; Tiefer
  • Jessica Bates: The Hanging Tree
  • Jethro Tull: Overhang; Kelpie; Rare and Precious Chain; Something’s on the Move; Old Ghosts; Dun Ringall
  • Julian Cope: Charlotte Anne
  • The Kills: Nail In My Coffin; You Don’t Own The Road; Sour Cherry; DNA
  • Leonard Cohen: The Future; You Want It Darker
  • Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat; Royals
  • Low with Tom and Andy: Half Light
  • I.A.: Bad Girls
  • Marilyn Manson: Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin-Geddon; Personal Jesus; Tainted Love
  • Motherdrum: Big Stomp
  • People In Planes: Vampire
  • E.M.: Drive
  • Rob Zombie: Living Dead Girl; Never Gonna Stop
  • Saliva: Ladies and Gentlemen
  • Seether: Remedy
  • 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; The Shining Path; Shovelheads; And the Rain; Wriggle and Drone; Church of the Louder Light
  • Spiral Dance: Boys of Bedlam; Tarry Trousers
  • Steeleye Span: Blackleg Miner; Rogues in a Nation; Cam Ye O’er Frae France
  • Tamaryn: While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming; Violet’s in a Pool
  • Tempest: Raggle Taggle Gypsy; Mad Tom of Bedlam; Queen of Argyll; Nottamun Town; Black Jack Davy
  • Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
  • Tuatha Dea: Kilts and Corsets; Morgan La Fey; Tuatha De Danaan; The Hum and the Shiver; Wisp of A Thing Part 1; Long Black Curl
  • Wendy Rule: Let the Wind Blow; The Circle Song; Elemental Chant
  • Woodland: Roots; First Melt; Witch’s Cross; The Dragon; Morgana Moon; Mermaid
  • Yoko Kanno: Lithium Flower
  • Zero 7: In the Waiting Line
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Demon’s Delight