cover of Midnight Web

Be careful what you wish for...

January Jaxson’s settling into her life in Moonshadow Bay, and her new relationship with wolf shifter Killian O’Connell. Her job with Conjure Ink is proving both fascinating as well as dangerous. But little does January realize that she's about to let the actual genie out of the proverbial bottle.

When she bought an old bottle in a thrift shop, January didn’t expect to be purchasing a guest for her home. Now, with a djinn on her hands, she finds herself promising to track down something for her unexpected houseguest so he can finally gain his freedom.

At the same time, she’s thrown into one of the spookiest hauntings she’s ever experienced when a local restaurant suddenly falls prey to ghosts seeking revenge. Will she be able to get rid of her houseguest and keep the ghosts from killing their latest target, or will this job prove too much for January as she faces the big 4-1?

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.” I leaned on the back of the sofa, staring at the coffee table. Ari and I had turned it into a makeshift altar for a ritual, but now I was seriously rethinking the wisdom of what we were about to do.

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Ari snorted, shaking her red hair that was cut in a euro-bob. She was petite, so slight she looked like a gust of wind could have swept her away, but she had an imposing personality and it was hard to say no to her. So when she had suggested a pre-birthday ritual to ring in my new year, I had finally agreed. I wasn’t too sure about turning forty-one, but it had to be better than forty. Forty had been hard. Forty had been hell. Forty had been the worst year in my life. My parents had died, my marriage had broken up when I found my ex with his tongue between another woman’s legs, and I had been bilked out of half the business I built up from scratch. Forty-one promised to be a breeze compared to all that. I had a new boyfriend, I was living in my hometown again, which I loved, and I had a new job that I thoroughly enjoyed.

“Oh come on, you keep complaining that you need to get back into practice with your magic. This is a fun way to do it!” She nodded to the tray of cupcakes on the coffee table. “Plus…cupcakes.”

Cupcakes changed everything.

“Well, when you put it that way…” I shook off the feeling that this might not be the best idea. The Ladies hadn’t warned me off of it and I trusted that they’d keep me out of trouble. “All right, let’s do it.”

“Good…now you just need three things to represent the wishes you’re making,” Ari said. “I haven’t done a wishcraft ritual in a while, so this should be fun. Especially with this to wash everything down!” She held up a bottle of spiced rum, our drink of choice when we were kicking back. It was dark, sweet, and went down with a kick. “And don’t forget to dress the part,” she added as I turned to go upstairs. “Also, put Xi and Klaus in your bedroom. We don’t want them inadvertently getting hit by anything we conjure up.”

Once again, I hesitated, trying to swat away the feeling this might not be for the best. But the fact was, even though Ari was braver than I was, she hadn’t spent eighteen years coping with an ex who constantly gaslighted her. I decided that I was tired of being a worrywart.

“All right, let’s do it. Let’s see…what can I use?”

Since my birthday was the next day, we wanted to hold the ritual before I technically turned forty-one. Also, I was having an actual party the next night, so tonight it was just Ari and me. I had thought about inviting my aunt Teran, but she had a date tonight.

I headed upstairs to my bedroom, thinking about the three wishes I was going to summon into my life, and the best way to set the mood.

Wishcraft rituals were different than actual magical circles. Wishcraft was lighter and usually didn’t work as well, but it was a good way to spend some magical energy without being too worried about screwing up. You could perform a wishcraft ritual while tipsy and it was a pretty good bet the roof wouldn’t cave in.

My gaze fell on the nightgown I had recently bought. Killian, my neighbor and new boyfriend, had been with me when I found it, and I’d fallen in love with the midnight blue gown. A halter top, the skirt was sheer and sequins glimmered like stars across the material. Swarovski crystals sparkled around the plunging neckline. It would be perfect, I thought, quickly changing out of my skirt and blouse. I slid on the nightgown and then re-did my makeup. Immediately, I felt more glamorous.

Looking over the items on my vanity, I caught sight of the bottle I had recently purchased at an antique store. It was an old perfume bottle with a crystal stopper. Unfortunately, the stopper was stuck and I hadn’t been able to use it yet. The bottle reminded me of mercury glass and was the color of lavender smoke.

I picked it up, holding it carefully. There was something about the energy that made me wistful, like a promise trapped away behind a veil, and I kept feeling that if I could just get the stopper unstuck, it would let out a flood of possibilities.

“This will work,” I said, carefully tucking it into a basket that was sitting on my nightstand. Now, I just needed two more items. For the second, I hesitated, then picked up a book that I had been reading titled Ghosts Around Puget Sound and tucked that in the basket, along with a crystal that Killian had given me.

That left one last item, and one last wish. Frowning, I sat down on the bed for a moment, wondering if I should be wishing what I was about to wish for.

Esmara, can you hear me? Am I doing the right thing?

I waited for a moment. My great-aunt Esmara belonged to the Ladies of our family. A group of women who had once ruled the roost, in death the Ladies continued to hold sway over the living. My aunt Teran’s guardian was great-great-aunt Prue, who had been Esmara’s mother. Both were firecrackers, even after death. Both doled out advice when they saw fit, and woe be to the sorry sap who didn’t listen. My mother had recently joined the Ladies after a car crash took both my parents’ lives, but she was getting acclimated to the spirit world and not ready yet to take her place as a guide.

I cleared my throat, waiting, but if Esmara was listening, she didn’t feel the need to answer. I decided to take her silence as tacit approval and dug through my jewelry box until I found a matchbook labeled “Gunther’s.” Gunther’s had been a bar that my ex and I had frequented, but to me it would forever symbolize the memory of Ellison telling me he was bored with our marriage, bored with me, and he planned on marrying someone else. That was the day after I caught him with his head between the thighs of his mistress—now his fiancée.

I flipped open the lid and, finding a pen in the drawer of the rolltop desk that been my mother’s, I wrote Ellison’s name inside the matchbook, and tossed that into the basket along with the bottle and the book on ghosts.

Ready for action, I headed for the stairs. Xi and Klaus were tussling in the hallway so I scooped them up and tucked them into the guest room, making certain they had water. They had already eaten dinner and there was a litter box in the guest room so they would be fine for the evening. Gently shutting the door, smiling, I clambered down the stairs.

In less than a month, I had come to love the cats more than I had thought possible, and I was grateful that Killian was a vet. It had been a long time since I’d been able to share my home with an animal. I was constantly calling him to make certain they were okay, and he’d rest my worries with a smile and infinite patience.

Ari was finishing the setup for the ritual. She glanced up as I came through the door, her eyes widening. “You’re gorgeous,” she said, staring at me. “Too bad I’ve got a girlfriend,” she added, but I knew she was joking.

We had been best friends since childhood, and I had always known she was gay, but it never made a difference and we were as comfortable as two old shoes. I was mostly straight—I had never met a woman who had triggered my interest sexually, but I wasn’t averse to the idea.

“You wish,” I said, grinning.

“Hey, I—” She stopped, snorting. “Never mind. You’re just baiting me.”

“It’s fun to watch you get your feathers ruffled,” I said. “I found the three items.” I set them out on the table.

Ari stared at the collection with raised eyebrows. “I’m not going to ask you what those are for, but…that’s an odd assortment of goodies,” she said. “Are you sure about them?”

I nodded. “About as sure as I can get.” I glanced around. “Are we ready? The cats are in the guest room, and we’ve got cupcakes and rum.” Traditionally, cakes and wine were appropriate for a ritual, but whatever worked was fine, in my opinion. There was a difference between ritual theater, which was best reserved for large groups, and working magic, which could get down and dirty and often called for substitutions.

“Okay, let’s get this party started,” Ari said, dimming the lights.

I lit the candles and stood back, staring at the table.

It was beautiful in the flickering light, with a shimmering black and silver cloth over it, and the crystal ball that sat in the center. To either side of the quartz sphere stood a gold and silver candle, and a double-edged dagger rested in front of the crystal. It was Ari’s blade. I had my mother’s athame—her ritual dagger—but I really needed to buy one of my own. I had spent too long among those who were squeamish about Otherkin, including those of us who had witchblood. I had buried my magic for too long. Now I was letting it out. Like a butterfly, I was coming out of my chrysalis, shaking the dew off my wings, ready to fly.

As Ari picked up the dagger and began to draw the circle, a slow flicker of joy began to spread through my heart. I was home, and I was learning what it meant to be me again.

***

My name is January Jaxson, and I’ll be forty-one years old tomorrow. I’m a witch by birth, born into one of the families known for witchblood. My great-grandfather, Brian Fletcher, and his wife Colleen moved over from England. Our family powers descended through her, and together, they helped to found Moonshadow Bay, a quirky town that welcomed Otherkin of all persuasions, be they shifter, vampire, witch, or something else. And those something elses could be both interesting and dangerous.

I had been married for eighteen years before I realized it had been one long lie from beginning to end. I walked away after torching my wedding dress and Ellison’s tux, and trashing his convertible. He was downright lucky I didn’t cast a spell to make his dick shrivel up for good. Even though I still wanted to see him go down, I had stopped at filling his convertible with water.

Now, a little over a month since I moved home, I have an unexpected new boyfriend who likes the fact that I’m not bone-thin, I’m back in Moonshadow Bay and out of Seattle, and I have a new job that is shaping up to be a crackerjack career. So yeah, forty-one promised to be far less scary than I had first feared.

***

We were a third of the way through the rum when we decided to officially start the circle. Oh, Ari had already cast it, but then we got distracted by the cupcakes and booze. I didn’t drink a lot, but Ari and I had pulled a few all-nighters back in the day, and my birthday seemed like the perfect excuse to let loose and just relax.

“So, how’s work going?” she asked, pouring another shot of rum for us. She held up her glass. “Here’s to you and your new life!”

“I’ll drink to that!” I clinked her glass with mine and we downed the shots, then took another bite of one of the pineapple cupcakes with coconut icing that she had picked up on the way over. Together, the combination was absolutely scrumptious. Piña colada cupcakes for the win!

I settled back against the sofa—we had opted to sit on the floor—and let out a long, contented sigh. “I like work, but I feel like I’m ready for another challenge. The past few weeks I’ve been researching Bigfoot sightings around the area. I have yet to meet Mr. B., but after talking to some of the people who have seen him, I think I’m a believer.”

Of course he exists,” Ari said. “Shifters exist, and vampires, and we’re both witches. Why wouldn’t Bigfoot exist? But I’m not sure I want to meet one. The sasquatch are dangerous and unpredictable, from what I’ve heard.”

“You think?” I asked, taking another bite of my cupcake.

“Oh, I know so. I had a cousin who was chased through a graveyard by one. He almost ended up falling into an open grave awaiting a burial the next day. If he had tripped into it, he’d never have made it out alive. He wouldn’t have been able to escape.” She shifted, crossing her legs into the lotus position.

While I was limber, I had not yet mastered that asana. I had taken up yoga again, wanting to be a little more flexible now that Killian and I were doing the hot-and-heavy several times a week. He was an ardent lover, and I had no complaints. He seemed to be enjoying himself as much as I was, but I wanted to spice it up, and that meant stretching some muscles that hadn’t been used for a while.

“How did he finally manage to get away?” I asked, thinking I should interview Ari’s cousin.

“He ran out onto the freeway. He said he’d rather dodge cars than try to hide from Bigfoot. He was convinced he was on the dinner menu. A police car saw him. He told them what happened and they thought he was drunk and took him into the station. When they found out he wasn’t, and saw how scared he was, they sent a car out to investigate but by then, of course, the creature was gone.” Ari pressed a napkin to her lips and poured two more shots of rum. “All right, let’s get this down and then start your ritual!”

I laughingly clinked glasses again and slammed the rum back, not even wincing at the warm spice anymore. We were both drunk, and it wasn’t the best idea to work magic from an inebriated state, but I was in that headspace where bad ideas often made perfect sense. And I wanted to make sparklies happen.

“All right, how do we do this?” When I turned sixteen, my mother had held a wishcraft ritual for me, but that had been long ago and far away, and fairly tame compared to what I was planning for tonight.

“Lemme think,” Ari said, wincing. “Well, you make three wishes—like the genie in the bottle type of wishes—we seal the energy after each one, and then go back to cupcakes and rum.” She grinned. “I think the ritual’s mainly an excuse to eat and drink, but it seems like the perfect way to cement your focus for the coming year.”

“That’s true,” I said, musing on the thought that I was actually turning forty-one. “I don’t know what I was so nervous about, you know? Right now, I’m having a lot of fun, I’m actually glad to see my thirties behind me, and the coming years are going to be so much more comfortable now that I’m away from Ellison.”

“Okay, then let’s start…what’s your first wish? Hold up the object you found to represent it, then state it aloud while focusing on the energy.” She set down her shot glass and straightened.

I followed suit. Immediately, the old energy that used to rise between us flared up. We had not only been best friends, but there had always been a magical spark between Ari and me. The magic we had crafted together always worked, and we had always achieved so much more together than separate. Ari was my attueind and we had known it since the first day we played together as children. Our mothers had recognized it, too.

There was a theory among the witchblood families that every witch had an attueind—a magical partner—somewhere, kind of like the soulmates theory, except the attueind usually wasn’t a lover. But the attueind was someone with whom the magic worked better, faster, and stronger. Your attueind’s energy would mesh so well with your own that you formed a whole. This wasn’t to say that witches couldn’t be powerful on their own. Some of the most powerful witches in history had been solitary, but sometimes, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

I inhaled deeply, then slowly exhaled as I lowered myself into a warm, fuzzy trance. The rum was definitely affecting me, but in that slightly drunken haze, it seemed to make things clearer. I could see the energy rising around the circle, like a pale purple mist. The color of my magic ran blue, and the color of Ari’s ran red. Together, our energies blended into a violet hue.

I lifted up the book of ghost tales. “I want to tackle a case that truly keeps me on my toes. I want a challenge—I want to be put to the test.” As I set the book back down, I focused on my desire and whispered, “So mote it be.”

“So mote it be,” Ari said, adding her own energy to the spell.

The room seemed to darken a little as the energy thickened. I shook my head, feeling something rumble around me, like thunder, only without the sound. I picked up the matchbook.

“I want everything Ellison touches to burn. I want him to know what it’s like to lose what he loves. I want him to feel the pain that he caused me. I want payback! So mote it be.” I cackled as I set the matchbook back on the table .

Ari stared at me for a moment, then snorted. “So mote it be, hell yes!” She had been badgering me to cast a spell on him since I called her the day I found out he was cheating on me. But I had held off, wanting to gain some distance first. Now I had the distance and I felt I could afford to ask for a little karmic justice.

I picked up the bottle, frowning as I tugged on the stopper. It had been stuck when I bought it, but for some reason I really wanted to open it now. I worked the stopper, trying to rock it back and forth.

“And third, I want to know what’s like to be a sex goddess. I want to know what it feels like to walk down the street and turn heads—”

“You already do,” Ari said. “You’re gorgeous! You just don’t feel that way so you don’t notice it. I swear, you pull a poor-me attitude and I’ll—”

“Stop right there,” I said. “Ari, I know you think I’m pretty, and I know Killian tells me I’m pretty. But let’s face it—I’ve never known what it’s like to be the one people turn and look at…to be the bombshell that nobody forgets. For once, I just want to know what it feels like,” I added, shrugging. “So mote it be.”

“So mote it be,” Ari said, then she held out her hand toward the bottle—which I was still struggling to open. I whispered, “Open, damn it.”

A spark flew from her fingers to mine and boom, the stopper came loose so quickly I almost fell back. A heady floral scent rose from the bottle, rich and not the least bit stale like you would expect from a perfume bottle that had been closed up for years.

Feeling relieved, I set the bottle down, smiling at it. “It’s really beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is. Do you know how old it is?”

I shook my head. “I think it’s mercury glass, but I’m not sure. But it feels old. Anyway, so those are my three wishes. Excitement on the job and a test of my talents, Ellison to suffer as much as I did, and I want to be a hot, sexy, mama.” I laughed, realizing that none of my wishes had been in any way generous. “I almost feel selfish for not wishing for world peace, or something like that.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. We all want world peace but one little wishcraft ceremony won’t ever bring that about, and it’s okay to focus on yourself. Especially when it’s your birthday.” She poured us another round of shots and handed me my glass. “Here’s to you, January, and here’s to the best year you’ve ever had. Hell, I’ll be asking you to throw me a wishcraft ritual for my birthday in May.” Ari was five months younger than I was—she would turn forty-one on May 7.

We tossed back the rum and I reached for another cupcake. As my fingers closed around the paisley cupcake liner, there was a sudden noise—like the hissing of wind—as a plume of smoke began to rise out of the bottle. I stared at it, a little too tipsy to comprehend just what was happening, but then the smoke began to form into a figure over the bottle, a figure that was very large and very muscled and…

“Oh good gods,” I whispered, staring up at the man who was grinning at me. “I didn’t wish for a genie.”

“You may not have wished for one, but that’s what you have,” he said, winking at me. “Your wishes are granted, January Jaxson.” And then he began to laugh.

COLLAPSE

Playlist

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

Adele: Rumour Has It
Android Lust: Here And Now; Saint Over
The Animals: The House Of The Rising Sun; Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood; Bury My Body
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
Beastie Boys: She’s Crafty
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
Bret Michaels: Love Sucks
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Cake: The Distance; Never There
Camouflage Nights: (It Could Be) Love
The Cars: Candy-O; Good Times Roll; Moving In Stereo; All Mixed Up
Chris Isaak: Wicked Games
The Clash: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
Crazy Town: Butterfly
David Bowie: Fame; Golden Years; China Girl; Let’s Dance
Dead or Alive: You Spin Me ’Round
Donovan: Season Of The Witch
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being (Original Edit)
Eels: Souljacker Part 1
Fats Domino: I Want To Walk You Home
Fleetwood Mac: The Chain; Gold Dust Woman
Gary Numan: Cars; Are Friends Electric?; Down In The Park; War Songs; I, Assassin; Bridge? What Bridge?; My Shadow In Vain
Gerry Rafferty: Baker Street
Godsmack: Voodoo
Gordon Lightfoot: Sundown
Gorillaz: Last Living Souls; Dare; Demon Days; Hongkongaton; Rockit; Clint Eastwood
The Gospel Whiskey Runners: Muddy Waters
Gotye: Somebody That I Used To Know
Grand Funk Railroad: We’re An American Band
The Guess Who: No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature
Heart: Magic Man; White Lightning & Wine
The Hollies: Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)
Imagine Dragons: Natural
In Strict Confidence: Snow White; Tiefer
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; I Like It Rough
Ladytron: Paco!; I’m Not Scared
Low: Witches; Plastic Cup; Half Light
Mai Lan: Pumper
Mark Lanegan: Phantasmagoria Blues; Wedding Dress
Matt Corby: Breathe
Men Without Hats: Safety Dance
Nancy Sinatra: These Boots Are Made For Walking
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Red Right Hand
Nirvana: Lithium; Heart Shaped Box; Come As You Are; Something In The Way; Plateau; Lake Of Fire
Orgy: Blue Monday
Outasight: The Boogie; Fire It Up; The Bounce
Pearl Jam: Even Flow; Black; Jeremy
Radiohead: Creep
Red Venom: Let’s Get It On
Ricky Martin: She Bangs
Ringo Starr: It Don’t Come Easy
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
Saliva: Ladies And Gentlemen
Screaming Trees: Where the Twain Shall Meet; All I Know
Seether: Remedy
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
Spiderbait: Shazam
Stealers Wheel: Stuck In The Middle With You
Steppenwolf: Born To Be Wild; Your Wall’s Too High; Magic Carpet Ride
Strawberry Alarm Clock: Incense And Peppermints
Susan Enan: Bring On The Wonder
Suzanne Vega: Blood Makes Noise; 99.9F°; Bad Wisdom; Solitude Standing; Straight Lines
Sweet Talk Radio: We All Fall Down
Syntax: Pride
Talking Heads: Life During Wartime; Take Me To The River; Burning Down The House; Moon Rocks; Psycho Killer
Tamaryn: While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming; Violet’s In A Pool
The Temptations: Papa Was A Rolling Stone
Thomas Dolby: She Blinded Me With Science
Thompson Twins: The Gap
Toadies: The Gap
Toadies: Possum Kingdom
Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Trills: Speak Loud
U2: Vertigo; Elevation
The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony
Vive la Void: Devil
Voxhaul Broadcast: You Are The Wilderness
Warrant: Cherry Pie
Wild Cherry: Play That Funky Music
Zero 7: In The Waiting Line
The Zombies: Time Of The Season

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