cover of Midnight Web
Part of the Moonshadow Bay series:

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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Twenty dark and ghostly faerie tale retellings from the NYT, USA Today and internationally bestselling authors in the award-winning Once Upon Anthologies series! Push open the creaky cellar door and prepare for chilling re-imaginings of Sleeping Beauty, Goldilocks, Rapunzel, and Bloody Mary. Or breathe a sigh of relief with brighter twists on The Little Match Girl, Hansel & Gretel, and The Bremen Town Musicians.

But beware! Blood and revenge, creepy haunted houses, and evil magic lurk within the pages. Are you brave enough to enter?

INCLUDES:

A HUNTER’S MEMORY OF WINTER - Annie Bellet
HAUNTED - Kay McSpadden
FAERIE SONG - Anthea Sharp
FORGIVEN: A Djinn Wars Story - Christine Pope
WHAT MAGIC LIES BENEATH - Shawntelle Madison
THE GHOST OF BEILSTEIN CASTLE - Alethea Kontis
SNOW WHITE BETWEEN TIME - Julia Crane
QUEEN JOANNA.- Kate Danley
RAPUNZEL DREAMING - Yasmine Galenorn
WHAT TALES SPECTERS TELL - Kasey Mackenzie
THE DEVIL’S DUE - Melissa Marr
THE BREMEN SHIFTER BAND - Debra Dunbar
THE BANSHEE OF LIATH WOOD - Jenna Elizabeth Johnson
THE GHOST QUEEN – Nikki Jefford
IMMORTAL PORTRAIT - Colleen Gleason
TO BE REMEMBERED - Jamie Ferguson
THE SOUL CAGES - Phaedra Weldon
ELLA AND THE HAUNTED HOUSE - Sarra Cannon
THE THORN KING - Alexia Purdy
LITTLE FLAME - Devon Monk

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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?

Published:
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Excerpt:

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.

READ MORE

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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When fun-loving witch Maddy Gallowglass moves to Bedlam to turn an old mansion into a magical bed-and-breakfast, the last thing she expects is to meet her match in the gorgeous vampire Aegis.

As Maudlin and Aegis prepare to open the Bewitching Bedlam B&B to guests, they immediately find themselves embroiled in a battle for customers. Ralph Greyhoof, the owner of the Heart’s Desire Inn, doesn’t like to share. The conflict heats up when Maddy finds a local witch dead in the rose garden. The woman looks a lot like Maudlin and suspicion falls on Ralph. But Maddy knows that as competitive as Ralph is, he wouldn’t resort to murder. Maudlin and Aegis set out to find the killer, even as their own relationship is put to the test. Aegis’s old flame has returned, determined to win him back, no matter what it takes.

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Chapter 1

"BUT WHY WON'T you paint it pink?"

Franny was standing in the middle of the kitchen. She also happened to be standing in the middle of the kitchen island, which gave the effect that she was cut off at the waist. Disconcerting to say the least, but I had quickly learned to keep my complaints about her displacement to myself. She took criticism hard, and I wasn't up to the fallout, which included full-scale whining and moaning à la Jacob Marley. There's nothing like waking up in the middle of the night to see a weeping ghost by your bed, staring at you with puppy-dog eyes, which was why I had banned her from my bedroom.

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"We've been over this at least a half-dozen times. I hate pink, unless it's fuchsia or magenta. I am not painting the kitchen pink just because you like it." Hands on my hips, I stared at my uninvited roommate. I might have to live with her, but I didn't have to let her call the shots. I had paid for the mansion. She just happened to be an added bonus, although I used the word "bonus" loosely.

"How do you think I feel? I can't leave this house. You changed my favorite parlor into a media room and put that horrible monster you call a television in there. You chased me out of your bedroom. And you're letting that...that...vampire live here." She spat out the word so vehemently that I was grateful that she wasn't corporeal, or I would have been hit with a mouthful of spit.

"That vampire is my boyfriend, who also happens to be one of the sweetest men around. You know perfectly well that Aegis doesn't harm his..."

I stopped. Technically, "victim" really would be the appropriate choice of words, but I felt like a traitor using it. Aegis didn't hurt anybody he drank from. Not unless they tried to stake him. And he never chose anybody who was anemic or diabetic. Vampires had the ability to tell when someone was low on their favorite flavor of fruit punch, or when that said punch had too much or too little sugar in it.

But Franny refused to see it my way, and I was tired of the argument. Every time she wanted me to change something, she fell back to "You let that vampire live here." I had heard it-or a variation thereof-so many times the past month that my head was spinning.

"Franny, get this through your misty mind. You have to deal with it. Aegis lives here. He sleeps with me. Well, technically we have sex in my bedroom. He sleeps in his coffin. But whatever the case, this is my house and I'll let whoever I want live here." I straightened my shoulders. "Count yourself lucky that I haven't hired an exorcist to deal with you."

"I wish you would! I hate being trapped." But Franny didn't sound like she meant it.

"I could evict you myself, you know. I could banish you. Bingo! One easy spell and boom, you'd be out on your ass, wandering the highway like some lost mournful spirit. But did I do that when I found out you were haunting my home? No. I did not."

I paused, suddenly deflating. I wasn't going to exorcise her ass and she knew it. Oh, I was trying to sound intimidating. But considering that I was holding a stuffed unicorn under my left arm and a tray of cookies in my right hand, the threat just didn't have the impact that I hoped for.

Franny huffed, then turned and flounced off, the long skirts of her muslin gown sweeping the floor with a ghostly swish as she vanished through the wall. She was still wearing the dress she had died in. Franny had lived around these parts of Bedlam until August 1815, when she died. She had been so wrapped up in reading her book that she missed a step and went tumbling down the staircase, breaking her neck. It was over quickly, but somehow, she had become trapped in the house. I felt sorry for her, but Franny needed to find a sense of humor, and find it quick if she wanted to go on living with me.

Shaking my head, I set the cookies down on the counter and carried the unicorn over to the rocking chair. Made of polished mahogany, the rocker was wide enough to curl up in. I had chosen it specifically for the kitchen. I had always wanted a kitchen big enough to have a rocking chair in and this mansion fit the bill perfectly. As I nestled into the seat, tucking the unicorn onto the table beside the rocker, I closed my eyes. I just needed a little rest. Just a little time out.

"Maddy? Maddy. Oh Maddy, wake up, pretty girl." A sinuous voice echoed through the fog.

I blinked, suddenly aware that someone was kissing my nose. Jumping in my seat, I opened my eyes to find Aegis leaning over me, a grin spreading across those gorgeous lips of his. The tips of his fangs were showing-spotless and glowing white. I'd warned him to watch how much of the whitening toothpaste he used, but television commercials had convinced him that his pearly whites needed to be even brighter. I kept telling him his teeth were practically fluorescent, but they didn't detract from just how pretty the man was. Handsome. Gorgeous. Insert adjective of your choice.

"What the-?" I blinked. "Is it night already?"

Aegis had turned on the light. Outside, the dusk was growing. I had obviously slept away part of the day, and it had to be after sunset for him to be awake.

"Enjoy your nap with Drofur, love?" His voice wrapped around me like a silken scarf, its resonance tickling me. Even though witch's blood was an aphrodisiac for vamps, this particular vampire's voice was an aphrodisiac for me. His voice...his hands...his body...his...

Shaking my head to clear my thoughts before they reached the X-rated stage, I looked down to see that I was holding the unicorn. I must have picked it up again in my sleep. With a blush, I realized that I had been cuddling it. I hastily returned Drofur to his spot on the table.

"Um, yeah. I guess I was more tired than I thought." I cautiously stood, stretching as my knees and back protested the un-horizontal nap they had taken.

He was dressed for his gig, wearing tight leather pants and a leather jacket. His muscled chest was bare, his abs rippling and pale, and he was wearing a thin gold chain around his neck. Even though it was the dead of winter, he wouldn't get cold. Or rather, he was already so cold that the weather wouldn't faze him. Vampires didn't emit body heat.

My breath caught in my throat. I wanted to rub my hands all over him. His hair hung loose around his shoulders, long and dark, and his eyes were the color of rich, black coffee tinged with clouds of cream. When he was aroused or hungry, crimson rings appeared around them. To top it off, he smelled like vanilla musk with a hint of cinnamon, thanks to his shampoo.

Aegis slipped his arms around my waist and pulled me toward him. "You too tired to spend a little time cuddling?" Leaning down-the man was a good seven inches taller than me-he nuzzled my neck, gently nosing behind my ear where he left a trail of butterfly kisses.

Everything in my body tensed, but it was a good tension. I wanted to rip my clothes off and press my breasts against that bare chest of his. My taut nipples pressed against the silk of my tank top. Even through the lace of my bra, the silk seemed to rub them ever so deliciously. Meanwhile, my lower region was starting to clamor, wanting in on the action.

"As long as that cuddling includes sex." I wrapped my arms around his neck and grinned up at him.

"Then we'd better get busy."

He swept me up in his arms. I wasn't a lean woman. I was curvy and busty with thighs that made the floor quake when I was angry. But Aegis carried me as though I was as light as a feather. I laughed, holding on as we headed toward the staircase. My laughter echoed through the far-too-barren living room, and the sight of so much empty space sparked off a random thought.

"We need to buy furniture this week." The furniture from my old condo just wasn't enough to furnish a Victorian mansion, especially one I was turning into a bed and breakfast. I needed to get my ass in gear and start prowling the thrift shops.

Aegis shushed me. "Hush."

He paused on the landing, pressing my back against the wall as he nestled himself between my legs. I wrapped them around his hips. With one hand supporting my butt, he slid the other around my shoulders, then pressed his lips against mine, kissing me so deeply I forgot about furniture and thrift stores and everything else. His tongue gently flickered in and out of my mouth.

I moaned, pressing against him. My breasts were threatening to burst out of the bra all on their own. "Upstairs. Now."

"At your command."

And we were on the move again, up to the master bedroom. While it was technically my bedroom, since Aegis and I had different schedules and he didn't dare sleep above ground just in case of an accident with the curtains, it was all ours when it was time for sex.

He tumbled me onto the bed, wedging himself between my legs as he held my wrists over my head. "Command me, woman."

A jolt of hunger raced through me, slashing like lightning from my breasts down to my pussy. I wanted out of my clothes. Their restraint was driving me nuts. I closed my eyes, focusing, and the zipper on my jeans began to slowly open. I urged it on, feeling the belt buckle shift as I willed the prong to slip out of the hole.

"You're very hungry, aren't you? You want me in you, don't you?"

His voice echoed through me, like the rich, deep notes of a song. Eyes flashing, he shifted position, sitting back on his knees as he let go of my wrists. Reaching down, he slid my belt out of its loops, tossing it aside. Then, with one swift yank, he pulled my jeans down as I raised my butt and bent my knees. I was going commando beneath, and Aegis let out a growl of delight as he worked the jeans off over my feet. They landed on the floor next to the belt. I sat up, yanking off my top. The hunter green tank joined the pile of clothes, and my bra was the cherry on the top.

Aegis was on his feet, unzipping as he eased off his leather jeans. His cock sprang to attention, hard and smooth, as cold as the rest of his body. He started to shrug off his leather jacket but I stopped him.

"No. I love the smell of leather." I knelt on the bed, my breasts rising and falling with each breath. The chill of the room shrouded me, and my nipples grew as hard as his shaft.

"And I love your breasts," he said with a low growl. "I love how ripe and round they are, how smooth they feel under my fingers." He grinned. "And I love how they jiggle when I touch them. Your nipples drive me crazy."

I squirmed, wet and hungry for him. "Touch them. Touch me. Please?"

"I'm taking my time, woman. I want to watch you. Lie back and bend your knees. Spread them so I can look at you." His gaze rested greedily on me as I obeyed.

I lay back, spreading my legs as I reached down and slowly rolled a finger around my clit, then spread the lips of my vaj. "You want a taste?"

With a grunt, he dove deep between my legs, pressing his face between my thighs as his tongue worked overtime to swirl over my clitoris. I jumped at his touch, a peal of laughter dancing out of me as my desire began to build.

"Oh gods, oh gods, don't stop!" I fisted his hair as he lapped at me, tonguing my sex until I was dizzy. Catching my breath, I let out a choked shout as he drove me higher and higher. I couldn't stop if I tried. The past six weeks with Aegis had been the best sex of my life. I'd never had it this good, and I'd had my share of lovers, my ex-husband being the worst of the lot. After what had felt like a long, dry desert in my life, everything was growing again, vibrant and humming along like a top-of-the-line vibrator.

"Come on, Maddy, come for me. Come on," he coaxed. His voice muffled by my snatch, he increased the speed of his tongue. He was always careful with his fangs, making certain to keep them at bay when he was eating me out. We'd already had one accident and I didn't care to repeat it.

"I'm coming, trust me I'm co-co-co-" And the words stopped there as I began to come, my orgasm vibrating from my core out through my fingertips. The world exploded with color and then, as the waves rippled in rings and slowly began to subside, I opened my eyes to find a trail of rose petals drifting down around us. They landed on the bed, on my nose, on Aegis's hair.

He laughed softly.

"I love how you bring the roses when you come," he said.

I sighed, settling in beneath him. The roses didn't happen every time, but when they did, I felt like I was dancing in a garden under the moonlight.

Aegis rose up with a steaming look, then nestled between my legs as he drove himself deep inside me. As we began to move in rhythm, his girth stretched me deliciously wide. I let out a soft moan. He rested his head on my breasts and I slid my arms beneath his, embracing him. He thrust deeper, penetrating every inch of me until there was no part left untouched. He slipped one hand down between my legs, tweaking my clit, and that one touch was all it took. I climaxed yet again, and another time as he stiffened, tilting his head back as he let out a long throaty groan.

As he relaxed into my embrace, I drifted and the rose petals kept falling.

At that moment, Bubba landed on the bed beside us and let out a loud purp. Aegis glared at the huge orange cat, but then broke into a wide, toothy grin.

I gave the cjinn a shake of the head. "Dude, really? Please, we're in the middle of something here."

Bubba snorted then hopped over Aegis's back and jumped off the other side, yowling as he stared out the French doors leading to my balcony. He swatted at the glass, hissed, then turned around and raced out the door into the hall.

"Well, that's enough to dispel the mood, don't you think?" I leaned back, breathing deeply as a wave of laughter raced through me. The past six weeks had been easily the oddest of my life, and the best.

* * *

SO, INTRODUCTIONS ALL around. My name is Maudlin Gallowglass. Maddy for short. I'm older than the hills-or at least older than most of you. I was born on October 28, 1629. Figure that I'm 387, going on thirty. Nobody could ever accuse me of being mature, though I'm fully grown and a damned powerful witch.

The Gallowglass family has magical roots going back to the days of Stonehenge. You know that folk song "Boys of Bedlam" that a gazillion groups have covered? There's a girl mentioned in it-"Mad Maudlin goes on dirty toes, for to save her shoes from gravel." And the Bedlam in the song wasn't anything like the Bedlam that I live in now.

Yeah, that girl was based on me. Nobody in the history books seems sure who wrote the song, although there are claims that someone named Thomas d'Urfey penned it. But I happen to know the truth. Tom (the Tom of the song "Mad Tom of Bedlam") was my boyfriend and he wrote it. D'Urfey just swiped it. There was a lot of literary pilfering going on back then.

Tom (my Tom) wrote a number of songs as we escaped England to return to Ireland. We traveled for years, trying to evade the witch hunters. We passed as wandering minstrels and never stayed in one place too long. But it wasn't the witch hunters who finally got him. No, it was the vampires. They trapped us, but I escaped, thanks to him. I've never forgotten his sacrifice. And I remembered the vamps who turned him. They paid. Mad Maudlin made sure.

So yes, I'm Mad Maudlin, though these days I tend to go by just plain Maddy. I left Mad Maudlin in the past, which is the safest place for her. That part of myself can be a lot of fun, but she's scary as hell and not always nice. I've kept her under leash and key for nearly three centuries. The day I let her loose, heaven help whoever I'm targeting.

Six weeks ago, I was living in Seattle in a condo I had won from my ex in our divorce settlement. I was also bored out of my mind. On a drunken dare from my best friend Sandy, I decided to take a look at an old mansion on Bedlam-an island in the San Juans.

The look turned into the decision to buy. From the moment I laid eyes on it, all I could see in the decaying old mansion was a beautiful bed and breakfast. I admit, not all of my reasons always came with the best of intentions. Selling the condo and using the money to buy a dilapidated old house would piss the hell out of my ex, Craig. That alone was enough to make me hand over the check. Anything I could do to thwart his scrawny, pompous ass, the better. But something about the mansion also charmed me.

Moving to Bedlam had been an eye opener. As I said, Bedlam's both an island and a town-in fact, the entire island is the town. Founded by magical folk, it's a wonderland for the Pretcom-the preternatural community. All sorts of Otherkin live here-Weres and shifters, witches and Fae. In other words, just about anybody with magical powers or a supernatural background is welcome, though there were a few humans around, too. Although vampires are kept under strict observation. They aren't exactly welcome, but neither are they shunned. They just have to mind their manners and not feed on the locals. We do have a local vampire queen living here, which is a tad bit scary, but there's not much we can do as long as she follows the rules.

It's not that Otherkin avoid humans. In fact, some of us like humans a lot. Hell, I married one, till that went south. But one bad human doesn't mean they're all bad. However, Bedlam offers us the opportunity to be ourselves without feeling like outsiders. We need a place to call our own. In this corner of the nation, Bedlam is it.

When Sandy convinced me to move back and I bought the house, I wasn't aware that a vampire came attached, as well as a ghost. While I can handle Franny, Aegis and I had a few scuffles about whose house it actually was. We settled the argument in bed and that's all she wrote. Instant connection: instant sparks. We seem to have a connection that goes back a long ways. Past-life stuff, perhaps. But the end result is that he's my boyfriend. He's also a rock star. Or at least an up-and-coming one. I try to balance my natural antipathy toward vamps with my attraction for him.

Franny, of course, is the house ghost. She also came with the mansion and I don't have the heart to chuck her out. And Bubba-well, he came with me. Bubba's a cjinn, but more about that later. He's a little butthead, mostly, but I love him and he loves me, as much as a cjinn can ever love anybody but himself.

End result? The four of us are settling in, trying to learn to live together as one odd little family. Aegis and I are overhauling the mansion into a bed and breakfast fit for a king. Or at least, a guest with a fat wallet. And I've named it "The Bewitching Bedlam Bed and Breakfast." It only seems fit.

* * *

I GLANCED AT the clock. It was going on seven-thirty. Outside, the dusk was deepening. "You'd better get a move on. You know that Jack-Az doesn't like the entertainment to show up late."

"Jack-Az can bite me," Aegis said with a smirk. He slid out of bed and wandered over to where his clothes were scattered together with mine.

I couldn't stop staring at his butt, which was one of the finest butts I had ever seen. Tight, muscled...firm ass. Oh yes.

"Or rather, I wouldn't mind taking a bite out of him," Aegis continued. "He's a pain to work with."

Jack-Az was the owner of Utopia, Bedlam's biggest nightclub. He wore his name well, although his real name was Johann Azrial Bähr. He was a bear shifter who had been active in both World War I and II. He had a crusty temperament, but he provided free eats on the side, and right now, the Utopia offered a continuing gig for the Boys of Bedlam, Aegis's band.

The Boys of Bedlam were in the process of making a demo tape, but they were having trouble making the connections they needed in order to get it in front of any big-name DJs. They planned on releasing their first CD under their own label but getting airplay, especially among the growing surge of indie bands, was even harder than it had been before the big labels started to fall off in popularity. It didn't help that Sid, the band's bass player, had just had his fifth kid. His wife needed him around a lot, so it was difficult to tour while he was in the throes of being a new father again.

I let out a soft sigh, wrapping the blankets up around my shoulders to keep warm. "Jack-Az has a good reason for his issues. He still suffers from PTSD from World War II. You know how rough it was over there. He lost a lot of family members who were part of the Black Forest Pretcom Resistance."

The Black Forest Pretcom Resistance had been a united group of Otherkin who were connected to the Yugoslavian resistance movements against the Nazis. A lot of them had died, but they had been instrumental in fucking over the German troops who entered the woods. They had helped sabotage Hitler's war machine in ways most people never knew about. They had also run an underground railroad, aiding the escape of a number of humans who were targeted by the Nazis.

Aegis grunted. "I know, and you're right. Jack-Az deserves to be as crusty as he wants, given his service. We could use more like him. I'm just talking trash. I don't mean anything by it." He began to squeeze into his leather pants.

I watched as his balls and dick disappeared under the front of the tight jeans. "Um, aren't you going to shower first?"

"Nope," he said with a wicked grin. "I like having your smell on me, you gorgeous witch. You smell like honey and cream and peaches." He zipped up, then turned around. "Dust me off for the show? It sucks not being able to use a mirror."

I laughed. "At least I can play your personal stylist. Come here, you big lug."

I slid out from beneath the silk sheets. I was happy with Egyptian cotton, but Aegis liked silk. With a critical eye, I circled him. His pants were clean and still a little too new. They hadn't reached that creased-comfort zone yet. His jacket was heavily adorned with hardware-studs, chains, zippers. I adjusted a couple of the zippers and he stroked my face. On his right index finger, he wore a large square ring. Gold, it was engraved with a sunburst pattern on the flat surface, and a carnelian cabochon nestled in the center. The ring was a memento left over from the time when Aegis had been a servant of Apollo.

Aegis had been cast out on the whim of a god, turned away from the sun, which he worshipped, and changed into a vampire-one of the Fallen. But he hadn't let it destroy him, nor would he destroy others through his powers. Not willingly. The other thing Apollo left him besides the ring was his voice. Aegis's voice was as sensual as Jim Morrison's when the lizard king was at his best. Aegis actually looked a lot like Morrison, too-only with longer hair, larger muscles, and a vampire glamour.

"Do I clean up well?" he asked, tapping my nose with his finger.

"You clean up so yummy that I'd yank you back into bed if we had time." Satisfied that he was ready, I stepped back and patted his chest. "You're good to go, gorgeous. Remember, we're having the after-show party here. We may not have much furniture, but we've got the space and it's the first time..."

I paused. I had been about to say it was the first time we had planned a party together, but that sounded way too clingy, considering we had only been together six weeks. But he understood.

"I'm excited too. The boys in the band know you, but now I get to show you off. And maybe this will help the neighbors quit being so prissy about having a vampire for a neighbor." He laughed, then zipped up his coat and headed for the bedroom door. "You'll have everything ready when we get back?"

I nodded. "Sandy's coming over to help." Sandy and I had seen the bottom of way too many wine bottles together. She was the friend who would help me hide the bodies in the middle of the night.

"Don't start the party early, please." He wiggled his eyebrows at me.

Laughing, I threw a pillow at him. "Get out of here. I'm going to shower and dress and then start setting up."

As Aegis darted away from the pillow and slipped around the door, I padded into the bathroom for a shower. The first thing on my renovation list for the mansion had been to hire the Alpha-Pack-the local werewolf pack that owned the main contracting company on the island-to revamp the bathrooms. They had reno'd all six of them first thing after I moved in. Now, in my en suite, I had a huge spa tub, a walk-in shower, and a two-sink vanity.

I turned the water in the shower and slipped beneath the rainshower showerhead as the pulsing side jets beat a welcome tattoo on my body. Leaning my head back, I settled in as the warm water washed over me. The day had been long and chilly, sex had been sweaty, and there was nothing like a shower of warm water and amber-scented soap.

As I loofahed my arms and legs, exfoliating everything I could reach, a faint click caught my attention. The bathroom door had just opened.

What the hell? Had Aegis forgotten something? Bubba couldn't open doors, at least not that I knew of. I cautiously wiped away a patch of condensation from the shower door and cupped my eyes to peer out. Sure enough, there was somebody in the bathroom with me, and it wasn't Bubba. No, whoever this was was bipedal, at least.

I considered my options. I was stark nekkid, but I didn't need clothes to use my powers. I could attack first-send out a nasty ball of energy to whap whoever it was, or I could try a paralyzing charm.

The former would hurt anybody who wasn't immune to fire and lightning, but if it was a friend, they'd be fried. Not that most of my friends came creeping into my bathroom, but I wouldn't put it past a few of them. The latter would only work on humans, and there just weren't many humans on Bedlam. As I squinted, trying to figure out my uninvited guest's motives, I detected the scent of musk and wine beneath the lingering fragrance of the amber bath gel I was using.

Hell. Musk? Wine? Those scents were all too familiar. I slammed open the shower door, almost breaking the glass, as I managed to startle the satyr. Standing there large as life, his denim shorts sporting a tent pole that would do any male proud, Ralph Greyhoof was holding my hairbrush in one hand, a plastic baggie in the other.

I stepped out of the shower, planted my hands on my hips, and barked out, "What the hell do you want in my house, Ralph? And what are you doing with my hairbrush? You have ten seconds to answer before I fry your freaking ass right into the hospital."

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Jill Smith on RT Book Reviews wrote:

The awesomely talented Galenorn launches a fun and exciting new series set in the small town of Bedlam, Wash., where centuries old witch Maudlin “Maddy” Gallowglass has decided to settle down and open a B&B. Bedlam is chock full of magical and supernatural creatures all “attempting” to live in harmony. As she does so well, Galenorn immediately develops a host of intriguing characters whose interactions and confrontations lay the groundwork for a memorable story. This is a great introduction to this world and its inhabitants.


Playlist:

Air: Napalm Love,
Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare, Some Folks, Poison,
Asteroids Galaxy Tour: Bad Fever, Sunshine Coolin', My Club, The Sun Ain't Shining No More, X
AWOLNATION: Sail
B-52's: Quiche Lorraine, Love Shack, Is That You Mo-Dean?,
Beck: Que Onda Guero, Cellphone's Dead, Nausea
The Black Angels: Always Maybe, Indigo Meadow, Don't Play With Guns
Blondie: One Way or Another, I Know But I Don't Know
Boom! Bap! Pow!: Suit
Butterfly: Crazy Town
Cake: The Distance
The Clash: Should I Stay or Should I Go
Cobra Verde: Play With Fire
Damh the Bard: The Cauldron Born, Obsession, Willow's Song, Gently Johnny, John Barleycorn, The Wicker Man
David Bowie: Fame, Let's Dance
Dead or Alive: You Spin Me 'Round
Elektrisk Gonner: Uknowhatiwant
Eurythmics: Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
Fatboy Slim: Praise You, Weapon of Choice
Fergie: Fergalicious
Fluke: Absurd
Gary Numan: My World Storm, Are 'Friends' Electric, Voix, My Shadow in Vain, Bridge? What Bridge?, War Songs, Outland, Praying to the Aliens, Soul Protection, I, Assassin,
George Benson: On Broadway
Gorillaz: Demon Days, Dare, Clint Eastwood, Hongkongaton, Feel Good Inc., Stylo, Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head,
Hayzi Fantayzee: Shiny Shiny
Hella Good: No Doubt
Hollies: Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)
Justin Timberlake: SexyBack
Kills: Dead Road 7, Sour Cherry, You Don't Own The Road, Wait, Nail in My Coffin, U.R.A Fever,
Kirsty McColl: In These Shoes?
Ladytron: Black Cat, Ghosts, I'm Not Scared
Madonna: Beautiful Stranger, 4 Minutes,
Men at Work: Down Under
Men Without Hats: Safety Dance
MIA: Bad Girls
People in Planes: Vampire
Puddle of Mudd: Psycho, Famous
Pumped Up Kicks: Foster the People
The Pussycat Dolls: Buttons, Don't Cha
Ruth Barrett: Faeries Love Song
Shriekback: Big Fun, Intoxication, Underwater Boys, Now These Days Are Gone, The King in the Tree, The Shining Path
Spiral Dance: Tarry Trousers, Boys of Bedlam, Rise Up
Steeleye Span: Blackleg Miner, The Fox
Stone Temple Pilots: Atlanta, Sour Girl
Talking Heads: Burning Down the House, I Zimbra, Life During Wartime, Moon Rocks
Tempest: Nottamun Town, Queen of Argyll, Black Jack Davey, Mad Tom of Bedlam,
Thompson Twins: The Gap, Watching
Tuatha Dea: Irish Handfasting, Long Black Curl, Tuatha De Danaan
Wendy Rule: Let the Wind Blow, Dance of the Wild Faeries, Elemental Chant, The Circle Song

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