Wedding bells are in the air...

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

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Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ve got a problem,” Sandy said.

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

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

“That’s ridiculous. Everybody loves you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think so. I wish they weren’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought about it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the ever-loving fuck?” I asked.

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

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

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

“I will.” I pulled out my phone.

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

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

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

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

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

“What are they fighting over?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

“What’s wrong?”

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

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

“That’s what I want to know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COLLAPSE

Playlist

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

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

A WISH FACTOR: (Bubba's Origin Story): When the baby cjinn, Younger Son, attempts to find his name, he ends up in a world he did not expect, filled with dangers he never dreamed of.  (Bubba's origin story). Takes place when Maddy was young.

BLOOD MUSIC:  Prequel-novelette to the Bewitching Bedlam Series. When fun-loving witch Maddy Gallowglass moves to Bedlam to restore an old mansion and turn it into a magical bed-and-breakfast, the last thing she expects is to meet her match in the gorgeous vampire Aegis, a former servant of Apollo.

BLOOD VENGEANCE: (Takes place between BEWITCHING BEDLAM and MAUDLIN'S MAYHEM)

When Maddy and Aegis go on vacation, a blast from the past threatens to destroy them both.

Maddy and Aegis need to relax after opening the Bewitching Bedlam B&B, so they go on a post-New Year’s trip up to a mountain chalet. But what neither realizes, is that a dark cloud from the past is shadowing them both, and a resulting avalanche holds them hostage, at the mercy of a menace from Maddy’s past, who is ready to destroy Mad Mauldin and all she holds dear.

TIGER TAILS: (Takes place between BEWITCHING BEDLAM and MAUDLIN'S MAYHEM)

When Sandy needs help rescuing her ward, she never dreams that she’ll end up with a tiger by the tail.

Sandy Clauson is Mad Maudlin’s best friend. When Sandy’s ward Jenna goes missing on Paulson’s Peak, Sandy must face the wrath of a major storm to find her. When weretiger Max Davenport—new to Bedlam—offers to help, Sandy finds that, not only does he guide her through the ice and snow, but he comes dangerously close to melting the walls that guard her heart.

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When the baby cjinn, Younger Son, attempts to find his name, he ends up in a world he did not expect, filled with dangers he never dreamed of.  (Bubba's origin story). This is a short story--taking place when Maddy was young.

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Release Date: September 26, 2017

When Sandy needs help rescuing her ward, she never dreams that she’ll end up with a tiger by the tail.

Sandy Clauson is Mad Maudlin’s best friend. When Sandy’s ward Jenna goes missing on Paulson’s Peak, Sandy must face the wrath of a major storm to find her. When weretiger Max Davenport—new to Bedlam—offers to help, Sandy finds that, not only does he guide her through the ice and snow, but he comes dangerously close to melting the walls that guard her heart.

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THE PHONE BELTED out Highway to Hell at an alarmingly loud level. Startled, I yanked off my sleep mask and shot straight up in bed, grabbing my phone by sheer force of habit. I pressed the TALK button as I brought it to my ear.

"Unnh?" was the only word I could muster up.

"Cassandra Clauson?"

The voice was no-nonsense, registering as male through the hangover haze that had knocked me on my butt. Alex and I had polished off a blender full of daiquiris the night before and my head felt like it was stuffed full of dryer lint.

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I squinted at the phone, holding it away from my ear. Without my contacts, the Caller ID was blurry, but I could just barely make out the letters. The moment I recognized the name-Neverfall Academy for Gifted Students-I leaned back against my pillows and tried for force some semblance of diplomacy into my voice, even though I wanted to ask them what the fuck they meant by calling so early. It could be bad news, so I needed to clear my head and listen.

"This is Sandy. Clauson. Is everything all right?"

"Ms. Clauson, tomorrow is the Seventh Term's elemental nature hike. We still haven't received your written permission for Jenna to accompany the class."

Oh crap. Last night I kept thinking I had forgotten something, and now I knew what. Jenna was my ward-at least temporarily. Derry, a friend of mine, had undertaken a world tour that would last at least two years. She hadn't wanted to drag her daughter all over Timbuktu and beyond, so I had agreed to oversee Jenna's welfare. Jenna lived at the Neverfall Academy for Gifted Students, and I had temporary custody. I was still getting used to the Mom thing, though I doubted I'd ever win any accolades for mother-of-the-year. While Jenna lived at the academy, she would be staying with me on some weekends. I wasn't sure exactly how it would work out, But Derry had chosen me and nobody else but me, so I was determined to return her daughter to her in one, happy, well-adjusted piece.

"Listen, as soon as I'm up for the day, I'll fax over a permission slip. Email me the information you need, where they're going, and I'll get right on that when..." I paused to glance at the time. Fucking hell. Six AM?

"Really? You are really calling me this early?" So much for diplomacy. Nobody ever called me before ten unless it was an emergency. Not even Maddy, my best friend.

"I'm sorry Ms. Clauson. We always call parents and guardians early when something like this comes up."

"Fine...fine. Just send me the info. Thanks." As soon as the line went dead, I slid the sleep mask over my eyes again and settled back under the covers. I was out like a light, before I could even ponder just how much this guardianship gig was going to affect my life.

***

TWO HOURS LATER, I had showered and dressed. I had dressed for comfort-yoga pants, a gauzy peasant shirt, and a pair of Uggs-and I hurried toward the dining room, determined to get a clear-headed start on the day. As I passed Alex in the hall, he pressed a cup of coffee into my hand. He was swiping away on his phone.

"Here's your coffee. Texting you your schedule for today. Your bear claw is on the table." Alex pulled out a chair for me. "I also took the liberty of printing out the permission slip from Neverfall for Jenna's hike tomorrow." He slid the paper onto the table and handed me a pen. "Sign there, and there, and I'll fax it right back to them."

I sat down and, taking the pen, scribbled my name on the appropriate lines. "Where are they going?"

"The Wonderland Trail up on Paulson's Peak. Elemental magic lesson-out in the wild, so to speak. How old is she again?" Alex hadn't met Jenna yet.

"She's thirteen and smart as a whip."

I flipped open my tablet and, picking up the tongs, selected a bear claw, dropping it onto the waiting plate. The pastries were fresh, a yeasty, rich smell filled the room. My stomach rumbled. I loved bear claws, and cinnamon rolls, and anything else that had a thick layer of glaze on it. The coffee was Kona-deep, dark, and strong, just the way I liked it. I settled back with a satisfied sigh. "That hits the spot. Where's Mr. Peabody?"

Mr. Peabody was my new pet. He was a skunk who had been de-scented by a previous owner, then abandoned to the wild. A few weeks ago, I had found him in a snow bank, as he desperately tried to scurry over to me. It quickly became apparent that Mr. Peabody had only ever known a domestic life, so I gathered him up and brought him home.

We got on well. He was an independent little guy, but we had our cuddles, and he was good at keeping away door-to-door salesmen. All I had to do was call him over when I answered the door, and the solicitors ran for the hills. My vet had given Mr. Peabody a clean bill of health, had microchipped and vaccinated him, and I decided to name him after one of my favorite cartoon characters. Since he'd been living with me, Mr. Peabody had developed a fondness for Alex and hung out with him during the day.

"Mr. Peabody is having his breakfast in the kitchen. His highness deigned to eat turkey gravy platter this morning. He's decided that chicken liver pate no longer appeals to his palate." Alex snorted. "Goofball. Anyway, as to your schedule, I've added a party tonight. I know you didn't want to attend any more social events this week, but this sounded like one you really should make an appearance at."

I wrinkled my nose. My schedule was meeting-heavy today. While I had money to burn, I wasn't one to sit around idle. I was on the board of directors of the Sand Witches-a chain of upscale eateries my ex and I owned. We had opened them before he discovered his attraction to Robert, a twenty-two year old waiter. But as shocked as I had been, I knew better than to blame either one of us. After I had processed through the loss, I decided we might as well stay friends. We made good partners in business, and in my over three hundred years, I had learned a lot about human nature, and one thing I knew for sure: you don't throw away people because they come late to an understanding about themselves.

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Release Date: September 12, 2017

When Maddy and Aegis go on vacation, a blast from the past threatens to destroy them both.

Maddy and Aegis need to relax after opening the Bewitching Bedlam B&B, so they go on a post-New Year’s trip up to a mountain chalet. But what neither realizes, is that a dark cloud from the past is shadowing them both, and a resulting avalanche holds them hostage, at the mercy of a menace from Maddy’s past, who is ready to destroy Mad Mauldin and all she holds dear.

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IT SEEMED LIKE a good idea in theory. Just Aegis, Bubba, and me, tucked away in an alpine chalet high in the Cascades, along with the rest of his band. We were enjoying the post New Year winter and winding down from a very busy holiday season, which included a murder case which had me as the main target, and the opening of the Bewitching Bedlam B&B. We needed the break, given all the mayhem we had been through. So here we were, at the bottom of a very snowy mountain, curled in front of the gas fireplace in our room.

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The Boys of Bedlam, Aegis's band, were scheduled to play three nights out of the four we were here, but only for an hour each time. Thanks to the gig, our rooms were comped and so was the food. Of course, come sunrise Aegis had to hide out in the spare coffin down in the basement so all my snow-covered walks during the day were spent with the band members. So the trip wasn't quite as romantic as I could hope for, but sunshine had a way of playing havoc with vampires. As in burn to a crisp kind of havoc.

Bubba stretched out on the bed, arching his back to show the long swell of fur on his belly. The cjinn had insisted on coming along when he found out we were going to be gone for a long weekend, and given Bubba's nature-he was all cat, part djinn-I didn't feel like arguing with him. Bubba had been with me for over three hundred years. We had come to rely on one another, and even though we didn't speak the same language, we understood each other perfectly. Bubba was as much a part of my life as Sandy was, and as much as the little bugger could be a butthead, he was also a blessing.

"We're all here except Franny," Aegis said. "I have to say, it's kind of nice to have a vacation from her."

I laughed, then immediately felt guilty. "She can't help her complaining. She's a very unhappy ghost. She didn't ask to be trapped in the house and I still haven't figured out how to help free her." I leaned back, closing my eyes as my head sank into the pillow. I had changed into a loose flannel nightgown and was wearing fuzzy slippers. This weekend was all about comfort.

"You look delicious," Aegis said, and I opened my eyes to find him straddling my lap, his knees on either side of my hips. His eyes flashed, and the tips of his fangs showed from below the curve of his smile. "I could eat you up," he whispered, leaning down to kiss me.

His lips were cold against mine, but they set me off in ways that had become so very welcome over the past couple of months. He gently nipped my bottom lip as he brought his hands up to cup my breasts. As he fingered my nipples through the soft knit of my sweater, I caught my breath, shifting beneath his weight. I wanted nothing more than to strip him naked and slide on top of him, to ride him hard and fast. Yee haw, I thought. The wild witch of the west ropes herself a cowvamp...except my 'cowboy' was a rock star, and I might own a few blades, but nowhere in my closet did I have a pair of spurs.

We were about to move things to the bed, which of course meant chasing Bubba off, when a knock at the door interrupted our sex play. With a grunt, Aegis pushed himself off my lap and, giving me a playful wag of the finger, headed toward the door.

"Keep my place warm," he teased me. "I'm done with the gig tonight so I'm all yours, all night long."

As he crossed the room, I licked my lips. Aegis was delicious, all right. He was tall and muscular, and his jet hair fell to his shoulder blades. His eyes were coffee brown-rich Kona coffee, so deep they might as well be quicksand. Ringed with crimson, they reflected his moods unerringly. He was wearing a pair of black jeans, but had ditched his shirt and shoes. The only other thing he was wearing was the square gold ring with a sun in the center, and a carnelian cabochon in the center of that.

Aegis peeked through the peephole.

"It's the bellhop," he said, cracking the door. "Yes?"

"Message from the front desk for you, Sir."

The bellhop handed him an envelope and Aegis fumbled in his pocket for a tip. "Maddy, do you have any change?"

Sighing-I didn't want to get up from the comfy cushion of my seat-I opened my purse and handed him three dollars. I wasn't sure what the going rate for tipping a messenger was, but given he was a bellhop, that should be okay.

The bellhop stared at my chest as I handed him the money, stammering out Thank you before stumbling back out the door.

Aegis laughed as he closed the door. "Leave it to your boobs," he said, ripping open the letter. "Even behind that flannel nightgown, they're monumental." As he scanned the paper, his expression grew somber.

"What is it?"

He shook his head, turning on the overhead light. "I don't know, not for sure." He handed me the note. "What do you make out of this?"

I glanced at the handwriting. It wasn't familiar. The letter read, "I need to talk to you privately. Can you meet me behind the gift shop?"

"Who sent you this? Do you recognize the writing?" It seemed troublesome-but then again, it could be some groupie from the dinner show, looking to get some action.

"No, I don't. I have no idea who sent it." Aegis shook his head. "And why meet whoever it is all the way over at the gift shop? That's not even in the hotel. Why not just come to our room?"

"Are you going to find out, or are you going to just ignore it?" Just ignoring it seemed like a good idea to me.

"I think...I better find out what this is about." He shrugged on a hoodie and zipped it up in lieu of a shirt. "I'll be back in a few." With a grin, he added, "Don't start without me. Or if you do, don't finish without me."

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Through the sands of time, an ancient evil is waking, and Maddy’s standing right in its path…

A November windstorm smashes through the roof of the Bewitching Bedlam, and the damage exposes a hidden room containing a dark secret. An ancient force has been unleashed, and a curse is endangering everyone who Maddy loves, and everything she’s worked for. With her loved ones in danger, Maddy must undergo an arcane ritual in order to lift the curse and exorcise the angry spirit. But, her magic is on the fritz, and without the use of her powers, will Maddy be able to face Ereshkigal, the goddess of the Underworld, and survive?

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Chapter 1

THE WEATHER WAS raging. We were in the throes of a classic November windstorm, with gusts predicted to clock as high as seventy miles an hour, not uncommon during autumn storms in Western Washington. Sustained winds had already reached a steady thirty miles per hour, and outside the trees swayed, lashed by the wind, as rain sleeted down sideways. A number of people didn’t believe me when I told them that it rained sideways here, but anybody who had ever lived in the Pacific Northwest could attest to the phenomenon.

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I was standing at the counter, staring out into the yard, hoping that all our trees would hold steady. There were several that I was suspicious of, but I hadn’t had the chance to have an arborist in to look at their root systems yet. We’d just have to cross our fingers and hope. That was another lovely product of our storms here—downed trees, power outages, and landslides. Every year several people were killed by falling timber when the ground became saturated and the shallow roots gave way.

“Steaks will be ready in ten minutes.” Max was out on the back patio, grilling steaks and corn on the cob. He had waved me off when I asked if he wanted to cook them inside. “If I can’t handle a little rain, I’m not the weretiger I claim to be,” he had said. After ten minutes, he had put on a rain poncho and looked altogether miserable, but he wasn’t giving up.

Aegis took an apple pie out of the oven and slid in a pan of biscuits. He was wearing my retro-1950s ruffled polka dot apron that I had bought, hoping to entice myself into cooking more. The apron hadn’t proved incentive enough to lure me into the kitchen, but Aegis looked adorable in it. He happily tied it on over his black jeans and muscle shirt, making for one very cuddly goth.

Sandy and I were also in our element. Max and Aegis had designated us the drink department.

“Margaritas?” Sandy asked.

I shook my head. “Hot rum toddies.”

She glanced outside. “Yeah, the rum wins out.”

As I stirred the base—water, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves—she opened a bottle of dark rum. As I moved the pan off the flame to add the alcohol, she shook her head.

“More.” She gave me a long look.

I added another splash.

More.” She motioned to the bottle and it jerked in my hand, tipping back into the pan.

I laughed and gave up, upending the bottle into the base. I returned the pan to the flame and gently stirred the contents, then lowered the heat to let it simmer for a few minutes. I ladled the drink into a mug and handed it to her. She sipped and gave me a nod of approval.

For once, she wasn’t wearing her usual getup of yoga pants and a crop top. Sandy was a gym bunny, rich enough to buy and sell most of the town. She loved her designer bags and sunglasses, but getting her out of her gym clothes was like trying to keep a fish alive out of water. But given the storm, she had opted for a pair of jeans and a powder blue turtleneck that set off her spun-gold hair.

“So that’s enough booze?” I restrained a grin.

“No, but it will do.”

Laughing, I turned off the flame and leaned back against the counter. It was true—Sandy and I liked our booze. Our witch’s blood gave us a high tolerance to alcohol, though we were also party girls at heart. But the past year, our primary parties had been at home with our boyfriends.

A brilliant flash of lightning split the sky, illuminating the kitchen. I shivered as a crash of thunder began to rumble so long and loud that the windows rattled. It felt like the thunderbolt was never going to end, but when it did, a massive deluge of hail splattered against the deck.

Max let out a curse from the patio. Aegis hurried out to help him carry in the food, and by the time they had carried everything inside, they were covered with tiny chunks of ice.

“Freaking hell, it’s coming down out there.” Max’s hair was plastered to his head, and he had a couple bright pink spots on his face where the hail had stung him. “The storm’s really picking up. I’m going to secure your barbecue so it doesn’t go flying across the yard. In this rain, I doubt if the briquettes would start a fire if they fell out on the grass, but there’s no point taking any chances.”

He headed back outside, moving the grill so that it was resting under the eaves of the house. Short of chaining it down, there wasn’t much else he could do.

Inside, Aegis and Sandy arranged the food on the table as I poured tall mugs of the hot buttered rum. By the time Max returned, the biscuits were ready. I grabbed the remote and lit the battery-operated candles in the center of the table. While I preferred flame to batteries, I wasn’t betting on having power by morning, and flameless candles were just safer in a power outage.

We were eating in the kitchen rather than at the dining room table, because the dining room table was piled high with linens and china, in preparation for our guests who were coming in tomorrow. But for tonight, the Bewitching Bedlam bed-and-breakfast was ours and ours alone.

Well, that wasn’t exactly true. Mr. Henry Mosswood was holed up in his room. Our semipermanent lodger had opted for dinner alone with Franny, our house ghost. The two had somehow ended up in what I assumed was a doomed-to-fail love affair—they didn’t talk much about it so I wasn’t sure exactly how far it had progressed. None of us understood how they were making it work, but it wasn’t any of our business and I did my best to keep my nose out of it.

Another massive lightning bolt forked across the sky. I held my breath, counting. One and two and three and—boom. The house shook and I grabbed hold of the table.

“Holy crap,” Sandy said.

Outside, hail began to bounce on the ground again.

I picked up my buttered rum, taking a long sip to soothe my nerves. “The storm is supposed to be rough, but I didn’t think it was going to be this bad. I hope everything’s okay up at the school.”

Sandy’s legal ward, soon to be her adopted daughter, lived at the Neverfall Academy for Gifted Students, a magical boarding school for witches. Children of all ages, from all parts of the country, attended the academy, from Hexengarten to grade 12. One of the largest and oldest educational institutions for members of the Otherkin community, Neverfall was also one of the most prestigious.

“Jenna is probably safer than we are. That place was built to withstand an earthquake up to a nine-pointer. So it should be able to withstand a thunderstorm.” Sandy buttered a roll and bit into it, a look of bliss washing across her face. “Aegis, if you ever decide to give up the music business, you should open a bakery. I’m not kidding—you are the best baker in town.”

Aegis waved her off, but he his grin told me he was gratified.

“I actually worked as a baker, about two hundred years ago. It was ideal because I worked the night shift and baked all the bread before morning. They never figured out I was a vampire, and thanks to my sourdough and rye, that shop made a killing. When I left, they begged me to stay. They offered me twice my salary because they knew they weren’t going to find anybody as good as I was. At least not in that area.”

As we dug into the steaks, the wind outside grew stronger. The gusts were sending branches sailing through the yard. At one point I glanced out to see a trash can go racing by. I thought I’d managed to secure them, but apparently not.

“It hasn’t stormed this hard in a while,” I said. “Even the storm that Fata Morgana brought with her wasn’t this strong.”

“If the weather doesn’t let up, you two should stay here,” Aegis said. “It’s a rough night to go driving around the island.”

We lived on Bedlam Island, a small isle out in the San Juans off the coast of Western Washington, near Lopez and Orcas islands.

Bedlam—both the island and the city that pretty much sprawled across it—boasted a population of 6,000, give or take a few. While a number of the other San Juan islands were actually protected from extreme weather, Bedlam was farther north, angled perfectly to receive the brunt of weather coming down through the Haro Strait. The island was like a storm magnet. All the magical power acted like a lightning rod for bad weather. We got heavy snow in winter, and wild windstorms in the autumn.

Founded by witches, Bedlam could cloak up to prevent too much unwanted attention. But generally, we were open to tourists, though most were from the Otherkin community, and a ferry ran from the northeastern part of the island over to Bellingham, once an hour every hour from five a.m. until two a.m. But tonight, it wasn’t running anywhere, given the rough waves on the sound.

“Did the weather report say how long it’s supposed to last?” Sandy finished her dinner, and carried her plate over to the counter. “Anybody ready for pie?”

At that moment, the lights flickered and went out.

“Well, at least we got dinner before the power went out.” I crossed to the counter, where I had already laid out another array of flameless candles. I used the remote to turn them on, as well. “I’ll go start the fire in the parlor. It’s going to get chilly really quick in this drafty old mansion. Aegis, can you check with Henry to see if he’s all right? I’m pretty sure Franny’s up there with him, but make sure everything’s okay. I gave him a flashlight and a couple battery-operated candles earlier this afternoon.”

Aegis pushed his chair back and stood. “I’ll be right back. I’ll also light the candles in our room. Do you want regular ones, or fake?”

He didn’t seem to appreciate the flameless candles. They went against his sensibilities. But I had heard too many reports of houses burning down when careless people left the real ones unattended. A fireplace was different. They were built for containing a fire, and a good screen kept the embers in. Clean it once a year and you were generally home-free.

“Fake, and be glad that we have them. Check on Bubba too, and Luna.”

As Max and Sandy cleared the table and cut slices of pie, I found a flashlight and, turning it on, headed into the parlor. After turning on the candles that lined the shelves, I knelt by the fireplace. I had already prepped a fire, and now I reached out, holding my hand toward the wood. I closed my eyes and whispered, “Fire burn bright” and the flame flickered to life in the kindling. Within moments, a merry fire was crackling away, safe behind the metal screen.

Max and Sandy carried the pie into the parlor, and then Sandy returned to the kitchen to bring in the rest of the hot buttered rum. We curled up next to the fire, waiting for Aegis. He returned, Franny floating behind him.

Franny had been trapped in this mansion for over 200 years. She had died at a young age, at twenty-four, when she went tumbling down the stairs. We had discovered that she had been cursed—bound to the house—but we still hadn’t figured out how to break the hex yet. Meanwhile, she wandered around in her blue muslin gown, doing her best to mesh with our lifestyles. She loved to read so I had set her up in the library with a computer that I kept on twenty-four seven, an e-reader app, an account for an online shopping site that I could monitor, and I had rigged it all with voice software so she could turn the pages and select what books she wanted to read. It seemed the least I could do for her, given her circumstances.

“Henry decided just to go to bed. He’s all right. He’s got his flashlight and candles. He said to wake him up if anything monumental happens.”

Franny let out a disgruntled snort. “This little storm is nothing. You should have seen some of the storms that raged when we first came to the island.” She floated over to the window, looking out. “I used to love storms when I was alive. They always made me feel so awake and aware.” She turned around, hugging herself. “I miss feeling the rain on my skin. Don’t ever take things like that for granted. When you lose them, and you know you’ve lost them, it can make life seem bleak.”

I was used to her angst, but I wasn’t used to her being so philosophical. Franny was, in the nicest terms possible, a habitual complainer and a perpetual victim. In fact, sometimes I thought she wasn’t happy unless she was complaining.

“Is everything okay?” I scooted over, making room for Aegis. He sat down beside me, wrapping his arm around my waist and giving me a kiss on the forehead. His lips were cool, almost icy, but I was used to it. Dating a vampire had taken some getting used to, especially for me.

Franny shrugged, but she didn’t turn around. She seemed glued to the storm. “I suppose. I suppose it’s as good as it’s ever going to get, given my circumstances.” She let out a sigh, then glanced back at us. “I think I’ll go rest. Good night.” And with that, she vanished into the wall.

“Where does she go when she disappears?” Max asked.

I shrugged. “I have no idea, and I’ve never asked. The question has always seemed invasive to me. She seems awfully solemn, though, not at all her usual self. I wonder if she and Henry had an argument.”

“It can’t be easy, being in love with somebody when you’re a ghost and they’re corporeal. I mean, is there any real future for them? I wonder if she’s beginning to realize the obstacles they face.” Sandy paused, then lowered her voice. “Do you think she can hear me?”

I shook my head. “Franny’s very good at tuning out. I can’t be sure, but I think she has enough sensibilities not to eavesdrop. Why?”

“I had a sudden horrible thought. You don’t think she’d ever encourage Henry to kill himself so that he could be with her, do you?” She looked almost ill at the thought.

I blinked. “What kind of late-night horror show have you been watching? Of course she wouldn’t do that.” I paused for a moment, then added, “At least, I don’t think she would.” I turned to Aegis. “What do you think?”

He held up his hands, leaning back. “Nope. Don’t get me involved in this. I am not about to speculate on something so horrible. Franny’s a good egg, and Henry’s pretty damned smart. That’s all I’m going to say about the idea. And I suggest that we drop it right there.” Aegis was pretty laid-back but when he put his foot down, he put it down hard.

“Fine,” Sandy said. “Just don’t blame me if something happens.”

“Sandy’s been watching a lot of Ghost Inspectors.” Max laughed. The weretiger was bulky, or rather muscled, and when he laughed, his neck muscles popped. “I swear she’s been binge-watching it for the past two weeks. How many seasons of that show have they made, anyway?”

Sandy stuck her tongue out at him. “Eleven. And I’m on season eight, so I have three more seasons to watch. You’ll just have to deal with it.” Max had recently moved in with Sandy, and even though she owned a sprawling estate, the two were in the throes of growing pains as they learned to live together. They were engaged, but neither one liked to compromise.

I lay down on the rug, staring at the ceiling. I loved this—cozy evenings spent with Aegis, Sandy, and her fiancé. Parties were fun, but I preferred small gatherings of people I loved. My former life seemed far removed—all of my former lives, really.

I was 388 years old, and I had lived a number of lifetimes within that block of time. Some of them blurred together, while others stood out as stark and harsh. But they had all played a part in bringing me to Bedlam. To who I truly was—Maudlin Gallowglass, High Priestess of the Moonrise Coven, witch, and owner of the Bewitching Bedlam bed-and-breakfast. And right now, I was the happiest that I had ever been.

I turned to Aegis. “By the way, how’s Bubba? Did you find him and Luna?”

Bubba was the cjinn with whom I had shared most of my life. He was a big fat sassy orange cat. Originally from the realm of fire, cjinns were rare over here. Basically a djinn born into a cat body, cjinns were both delightful and dangerous.

“He and Luna were stretched out on your bed. They didn’t seem perturbed by the thunder at all.”

I snorted. “It figures. Not much bothers Bubba. I’m glad they aren’t freaked, though.” After a pause, I added, “Anybody want to play a game?”

“I’d rather just sit here and watch the fire and talk, if you don’t mind,” Sandy said. “I’m not feeling particularly festive. Or maybe I’m just lazy. After the Samhain ritual the other night, I’m pretty wiped out. I’m surprised you aren’t more exhausted, considering you had to lead it.”

Sandy was one of the higher-ups in the Moonrise Coven as well. We were expected to lead group rituals for the entire town on the quarter days—the solstices and equinoxes. When it came to the cross-quarter days, the coven celebrated them privately. But that still meant an incredible amount of planning, and energy expended during the ritual itself, four times a year, every year.

“I guess I’m still coming down off the adrenaline rush. Plus, we’re headed into the holidays so I don’t have time to let my energy flag. We’ve got nonstop guests booked through the end of the year, starting tomorrow. It will be good for our bank account, but I’m going to be run ragged. Add to that, the coven has to prepare for the Bedlam Yule ritual. I just don’t have time to be tired.”

But as I started listing off the things on my to-do list, I felt my enthusiasm wane. I loved having a bed-and-breakfast. That was one of the reasons I had moved to Bedlam. But the realities of owning a business proved far more involved than the fantasy. Plus, I hadn’t counted on being elected as High Priestess of the coven. And given all that had happened over the past year, including a few dead bodies along the way, it was a wonder that I was still bouncing around as much as I was.

“I take it back. I don’t want to play a game. I just want to crawl under the covers and hide.” I flashed a smile at Sandy, and she laughed.

“I wondered when you would finally realize how much you’ve set yourself up for. Maybe you need to hire more help. Kelson does a wonderful job, but even she’s going to be hard put to keep up with things if the next few months are as busy as you say they’re going to be.”

Aegis stretched. He would have yawned, except vampires didn’t breathe. “I’ve been telling her to hire another housekeeper for the past six months. We can afford it—I’ll pay for it, and Kelson will welcome the help.”

“Why don’t you? There are enough people on this island who are looking for part-time work that you should be able to find somebody without any problem. What about Snow White?”

I blinked. “Sandy, the last person I want to hire is an ex-porn star who literally jumped out of the pages of a storybook. Although, I have to say, what she’s doing now is a whole lot better than what Ralph had her doing.”

“Oh yeah? What’s Snow up to?”

“She’s helping out at the library, reading to some of the younger kids for story time.”

The Snow White incident, as we called it, was better off left in the past. Except you couldn’t leave something in the past when there was no way to send it back to where it came from.

When Ralph Greyhoof had summoned Snow White and her band of dwarves out of the storybook, he had roped them into working as porn stars in his cheap homemade movies. Luckily, fate had intervened and Snow White and her band of merry men were no longer part of the sex worker industry. Come to think of it, Ralph Greyhoof had grown up a little bit too, although I never expected the satyr to lose his lecherous ways. It was just part of his nature.

I was about to say as much, when a tremendous crash shook the house. Jumping up, I raced for the stairs. The noise had come from upstairs and I was worried that Mr. Mosswood had taken a tumble, although that wouldn’t have been enough to create the shake that we had felt.

Aegis was hot on my heels, and Sandy and Max right after him.

When I got to the second floor, I saw that Mr. Mosswood was standing outside of his room, his flashlight trained on the trapdoor in the ceiling that led to the attic crawl space.

“The noise came from up there,” Henry said, pushing his glasses up on his face. He looked like he was right out of the 1950s, with thinning hair and round glasses. He reminded me of an accountant, but he was actually a historian who was writing a massive tome on the history of Bedlam. He was human, but he was born in 1840. Thanks to a curse cast on him when he was twenty-five, he was destined to never find true love, but to live for a very long time.

Aegis motioned for us to stand back. “Let me take a look first.”

Max joined him. “I’m coming with you, dude.”

Sandy and I stepped back against the wall along with Henry. We cautiously watched as Max gave Aegis a boost up to catch hold of the trapdoor’s handle. As he jumped down, holding on to the door, a folding ladder extended to the ground. But the moment the trapdoor was open, I could tell something was wrong. For one thing, I could smell the rain coming through the roof.

Aegis scrambled up, holding the flashlight between his teeth. Once he disappeared through the opening, Max followed him. A moment later, Aegis poked his head back through the hole.

“It looks like a branch blew off a tree and crashed through the roof. A big branch. It’s a mess up here, with debris everywhere, not to mention a couple puddles that are rapidly increasing in size. It’s pouring outside. If we don’t get this tarped off, by morning we’re going to have a flood.”

“I think we have tarps in the basement.” Even though I had hired contractors to renovate the mansion when I bought it, we had purchased a number of supplies, given Sandy and I had taken on some of the painting ourselves.

“I’ll get them,” Sandy said.

“Are you sure? It’s pretty dark down there anyway, and going with the flashlight isn’t all that easy.”

She shrugged. “I’m not worried about it.”

As Sandy headed off for the basement, I began to crawl up the ladder, dreading what I was about to see. Roof damage was always problematic, and when I had bought the mansion, the inspector had estimated I had about five years left before I would need to completely replace the roof. Visions of dollar signs floated through my head as I poked my head into the attic. Aegis held down his hand, and I took it, hoisting myself into the crawl space. Sure enough, there was a massive hole in the roof, with a very large Douglas fir branch poking through it. It looked like the wind had ripped it off a tree and aimed the projectile directly at my house. At least it had missed the bedrooms.

“This is not my idea of redecorating,” I said, staring at the branch. I reached out and poked it, reassuring myself that it was actually real.

“I suppose we’re going to have to look for someone to replace the entire roof,” Aegis said. “I want you to let me pay for it. The Bewitching Bedlam isn’t quite making its expenses yet.”

“That’s an understatement,” I said, stepping back as the rain began to really pour, quickly enlarging the puddles on the floor. In the dim beam of the flashlight, it was difficult to tell just how much damage there was. I hated accepting Aegis’s offer to pay for the roof, but I knew that I couldn’t swing it myself at this point. And my boyfriend was flush with money from all his years as a vampire. I hadn’t known that when we first met, but it was a nice perk once I found out.

Max returned with the tarp, and together, he and Aegis managed to cover what they could see of the hole, nailing the tarp as best as they could to the ceiling. I held the flashlight for them, praying that Aegis wouldn’t slip and impale himself on one of the branches forking off the giant limb. The last thing we needed was accidental death by tree.

Once they had finished, there wasn’t anything else we could do. Nobody would be able to get over here in the middle of the night, and with the power out, it would be dangerous on the country roads anyway. I let out a long sigh, more out of frustration than anything else, and scampered back down the ladder. Aegis and Max followed, closing the trapdoor as they exited the attic.

“Well…I’m not quite sure what to do now,” I said. “That was quite enough excitement to end the evening on, but I’m almost afraid to go to bed. What if the storm gets worse and causes more havoc?” Right about then, we heard a piercing noise coming from the yard. “Lovely, whose car alarm is that?” I glanced at both Sandy and Aegis. I didn’t have an alarm on my car, and I didn’t think Max did either.

“I’ll go check. Chances are something brushed against the door,” Aegis said.

“I’ll go with you in case it’s mine,” Sandy said. She drove what looked like a retro hippie bus, but it was an expensive one and about as green as a car could get—both environmentally and in color.

As they started downstairs, I looked at Max.

“Seriously, you better stay here tonight, given the state of the storm. If it’s bad enough to throw a branch through my roof, you know trees are going to be down on some of those roads that lead to your place. The guestroom is all made up, so you guys can sleep there.”

“Where’s Kelson? I haven’t seen her all evening,” Max said, following me toward the guestroom.

“I gave her the night off, considering she’s going to be busier than hell the next few weeks. I hope she’s okay. I haven’t heard from her since she took off for the movies.” I pulled out my phone, punching in her number. After three rings, it sent me to voice mail and I left a message asking her to call me.

After making sure that there were battery-operated candles in the guestroom, I laid out the bathrobes that Sandy and Max had left at my place. They stayed here often enough that we finally encouraged them to bring pajamas and robes from home and leave them for when they needed to stay.

Aegis and Sandy returned, looking glum.

“Well, my van is trashed. One of the trees lining the driveway toppled over onto it. Damn thing is crushed.” She shook her head. “That cost me a fortune to have retrofitted. I’m going to have to have it completely rebuilt. Either that or I just commission a new one.”

“How’s the storm?” There was no way to console her. That van was her baby, and she had guided the mechanics who worked on it in everything from what she wanted under the hood to the exact color to every single option that she had chosen for it.

“I’m hoping that we’re near the peak,” Aegis said. “We can’t afford much more damage. This is one of the worst that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen storms over my lifetime.”

“I’d swear those are hurricane-force gusts out there,” Sandy said. “It was hard to stand up out there. I think I’ll give Jenna a call, just to make sure that she’s okay. I know Neverfall is built to withstand a war, but you never know.”

As she moved off to the side, I walked over to the window to stare out into the darkness. The entire neighborhood was black. It suddenly occurred to me to report the outage, and I pulled out my phone. I kept the power company’s number in my contacts, just for times like these. I placed the call, waiting and punching in the numbers as the options kept coming. Finally, the automated voice on the other end told me that my outage had been reported, and that most of the island was without power. There was no estimated time of restoration.

I was about to tell the others when a shriek echoed down the stairs.

“What the fuck—?” Aegis whirled around.

“Was that Bubba?” I raced toward my bedroom, slamming open the door. But Bubba and Luna were there on the bed, staring at me with looks of alarm on their faces.

“Mr. Mosswood? Are you all right?” Sandy knocked on his door.

“I’m fine,” Henry said, poking his head out. “Who screamed?”

“We’re not sure. We were worried it might be you.” I popped back into my bedroom. Looking at Bubba, I said, “Listen, Bubs, you and Luna stay here. Don’t go prowling around, okay? It’s a dangerous night.”

Bubba let out a purp. “Murrow.”

That was Bubba-ese for “Okay, I promise.” I shut the door after making sure the doors to my balcony were tightly shut and locked. Then, returning to the hall, I found that Aegis and Max had gone down to the first floor. Cautiously, Sandy and I followed.

Once downstairs, we searched through the house, but we couldn’t find anything. But the shriek lingered in my ears. We had all heard it—I knew it wasn’t my imagination.

“Maybe it was a cougar—there are cougars in the hills here on the island. Also, plenty of shifters. Maybe somebody is hurt out there in the storm.” Sandy pressed up against the kitchen window, staring out into the rough-and-tumble night.

“Possibly.” I joined her. “But we’re going to have to wait until tomorrow to find out.” And right then, I realized we were in for a long, exhausting night.

COLLAPSE

Playlist

A.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
M.I.A.: Bad Girls
Marilyn Manson: Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin-Geddon; Personal Jesus; Tainted Love
Motherdrum: Big Stomp
People In Planes: Vampire
R.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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Can you ever really trust ghosts from your past?

As the mist rolls off the ocean and into Bedlam, October brings with it all manner of haunts and spooks. But the mist doesn’t arrive alone. Fata Morgana returns from the depths of the ocean, bringing with her a message. One of the ancient vampires has risen. He’s coming for Maddy, and he’ll eliminate anybody who stands in his way. Now, the witches wild must band together one more time, if they can keep from destroying each other first.

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Chapter 1

The club was alive, filled to capacity with a bizarre mix of goth kids and pagan metal heads. Aegis's band attracted an oddly diverse audience, from the hampires-humans who desperately wanted to join the fangster set-to the audiophiles who loved the mix of Celtic folk and darkwave metal. They came together in a startling meet up, dancing and drinking from the first song to the last encore. It didn't hurt that Aegis's voice was heady, deep and rich and reminiscent of a certain "Lizard King's" voice. Or that he was more than easy on the eyes.

Up on stage in his black leather pants and jacket, his open-to-the-naval silk shirt, and shit-stomper boots, Aegis was the living embodiment of sex on legs. His jet black hair hung down his back in smooth waves and his natural glamour gave him a dangerous, intoxicating allure.

I was sitting at a table to the left side of the stage, nursing a drink, watching as the Boys of Bedlam rocked the house.

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The Vulture Underground was a new club in Seattle. With a capacity of five hundred people, it was one of the largest clubs around. The guys had managed to pack it, making the manager happy. Word about their music was starting to spread, and they were getting more and more calls from events wanting to book them for gigs.

Ferris Parks, their rep from DreamGen Productions, was sitting beside me, watching them with a critical eye. She jotted down notes as they played. Part of me wanted to sneak a peek over her shoulder to see what she was writing. It was bound to be something nasty. I didn't like Ferris, and she didn't like me, but we did our best to coexist because I sure as hell wasn't going away, and unfortunately, neither was she.

A woman ran up toward the stage. Before security could catch her, she had scrambled onto the raised dais and was yanking off her underwear. The bouncers managed to catch her but not before she had tossed her panties in Aegis's face. I let out a groan and rubbed my head.

Lovely. Just lovely.

Aegis swatted them away, managing to finish the song without a glitch. Then, grabbing the mic, he raised his hand for attention. "We're grateful how many of you came out to cheer us on tonight. Thank you, Seattle, for an awesome reception! Remember, rock on! You can find the Boys of Bedlam merchandise tables out in the hallway. Good night!"

Amid cheers and whistles, and cries for another encore, the guys exited the stage as security escorted the panty-less woman through the exit.

Ferris glanced at me. "That was a good set. I have a page of notes for the guys, but overall, not bad."

I stared at her. "Not bad? I thought they were brilliant. They set the room on fire. Couldn't you feel the energy of the audience? They were begging for more."

Ferris arched her petite, exquisitely groomed brows. "I wouldn't expect you to see the imperfections. It's a professional thing. Just nuances, places where they could have made the audience cream themselves had they taken advantage of it."

I gave her a long look. The heat they had set off in the club hadn't touched her at all. She was still dewy fresh and polished. Then again, Ferris never looked ruffled. That was only one of a number of things that bothered me about her. She could have passed for one of the winter Fae, she played the ice queen so well.

"True enough, focusing on minor imperfections seems to be your job, doesn't it?" Without skipping a beat, I was out of my chair and headed backstage.

***

The club was more than just a hole-in-the-wall. The Vulture Underground actually had a dressing room, as well as a green room. Aegis had already changed into dark jeans and a V-neck sweater. The other band members were in the middle of shedding their stage clothes, as well, but I didn't blink an eye. Nakedness wasn't an issue, at least not for me.

"Great job, guys. You brought the house down." I slid into Aegis's outstretched arm, nestling against him. His body was cool, even though he had been playing nonstop for two hours under stage lights. He never sweated. Vampires were always crispy cool, like cucumbers.

I had gotten used to it, though now and then I missed snuggling with somebody who generated actual body heat. But I produced enough for the both of us, given my proclivity with fire. If I got too cold, I just raised the temperature of the air around me by a couple of degrees. I couldn't hold it for too long, but it was enough to keep me from freezing. If I happened to get lost in the snowy woods for days without the fuel to start a fire, I'd slip into hypothermia, but otherwise, I could take the edge off the chill enough make myself comfortable.

"You think so?"Aegis gave me a quick kiss.

"I know so, regardless of what her majesty's going to tell you."

He sighed. My ongoing feud with Ferris both annoyed him and yet seemed to comfort him, most likely because I always took the band's side against her.

"She had some issues with the gig?"

"Apparently, you didn't make the audience cream themselves enough." I zipped my lip as she walked through the door.

Ferris's gaze bounced briefly onto Aegis, then flickered over Keth and Jorge, but lingered on Sid. I squinted, staring at her for a moment. There was a subtle shift in energy as she watched the bass player. That cold exterior slipped ever so slightly, to one of a tiger waiting to pounce. Could Miss Prissy Pants have a thing for Sid? If so, bad news since he was married with five kids and Sylvia, a wife who adored him.

Aegis seemed to sense the shift too. He frowned and gave me an ever so subtle nudge, pressing against my side with his fingers. I gave him a curt nod. We had worked out our own form of silent communication, and it seemed to be growing stronger every day.

"I have some notes for you." Ferris glanced at me, as though she expected me to interrupt.

Ignoring her, I yawned and wandered over to Aegis's stage wear, folding the leather pants and tucking them into the duffle bag, along with the slinky shirt.

"Aegis, you're stroking the audience but damn it man, when a woman throws you her panties, acknowledge the offering. As long as they don't belong to a blimp, or aren't grandma panties, whirl them around your head or take a sniff. Just do something to show you appreciate the gift from her pussy."

I froze. For one thing, none of the band members ever looked at their audience as meat. For another, her crudity made me wince.

Aegis cleared his throat. "The only underpants I'll ever be likely to smell belong to Maddy. I'm not in the habit of flirting with my fans."

"It's all about flirting with your fans, and you'd better get used to it," Ferris said, her mouth folding into a frown. "At least acknowledge the gift." She turned to Jorge, the weretiger in the group. "You ever thought of shifting into your tiger shape on stage?"

He stared at her like she was crazy. "For one thing, I'd have to strip and I'm not showing my bits to the audience. For another...Just...No. No, no."

"You don't have to get snotty. A simple, ‘no, Ferris, but thank you for the suggestion' would do. I thought it might be fun. You could shift and go around the room, let people pet you-" She stopped as he let out a low growl. "All right, it seems my suggestions aren't going over well tonight. Keth, you're next. The horns-will they ever grow out? You ever thought of getting them extended?"

Keth was half-satyr. Satyrs were always male. When a satyr mated with a human, their sons were half-satyr, their daughters, full human. When satyrs mated with wood nymphs, their sons were full satyr and the daughters were full wood nymph. Keth's mother had been human. As a result, the residual horns on his head would never grow longer. He was heavily tattooed with a Mohawk, and had a trippy, freakster vibe to him. All the men in the band were gorgeous, though.

Keth finished pulling on his sweater. "Woman, you have a lot of balls asking that. Are your boobs ever going to grow? Have you thought of having implants?" Sweeping up his pea coat, he glanced at Aegis. "I'm going to warm up the bus. Come on, Jorge. Help me? The guys should have broken down our equipment and loaded it by now."

The Boys of Bedlam had bought a used school bus, and they were now using it to haul the equipment to their gigs. They had found an artist who had done a film noir-ish painting of the band on the side.

Ferris let out an exasperated sigh. "Don't get your balls tied in a knot. DreamGen is doing its best to get behind you. We just need you to cooperate. You're a great band, and we wouldn't be backing you if we didn't believe in you. But you have to meet us halfway. If you ever hope to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, you have to get with the program." She shook her head. "Go ahead. Hey, Sid? Can you stick around for a moment? I want to talk to you. I have some detailed notes for you. The rest of you can leave."

Sid looked uncomfortable. "All right, but we should hit the road soon or we won't be home till dawn. Aegis has to get home."

"You'll make it in time." She hustled the rest of us out of the green room.

I conveniently left my purse on the chair next to me as I exited the room. Jorge and Keth had already headed to the bus. I pulled Aegis off to one side, watching until they left.

"What the hell is going on with her and Sid?" I was friends with Sylvia. They had five kids and with the exception of a few glitches along the way, they were happy, in love, and all about their family.

"I don't know," Aegis said, glancing back at the door. "Sid hasn't said much, but he wasn't very enthusiastic about the gig tonight. That much, I do know. I wish I had an excuse to go back in there."

"I don't need one." I strode over to the door before Aegis could stop me. As I opened it, I said loudly, "Forgot my purse."

Sid was leaning back on the sofa, with Ferris looming over him. She had one knee on the cushion to his left, and looked about ready to straddle his lap. Her clipboard was on the table, and she had taken her hair down from the chignon she wore it in. He was holding up his hand as though he were trying to ward her off.

"I can't-" Sid was in the middle of saying.

"Looks like I crashed an impromptu party," I said. "I forgot my purse. Sid, we're waiting in the bus, if you're done here."

He flashed me an incredibly grateful look. I was surprised. It wasn't at all the look of someone angry I had interrupted. Sid shifted around Ferris so that he could stand up. Ferris, on the other hand, looked like she wanted to kill me.

"Here's your purse, Maddy." Sid grabbed my bag off the chair. "I'm ready. I'll walk you out." He glanced back at Ferris and his voice dropped into a mumble. "Thanks for the...notes."

As I hustled him out the door, I whispered, "What the hell is going on?"

"Wait till we're on the bus," he whispered back. "But thank gods you came in when you did."

Aegis was staring at the two of us, a perplexed look on his face. But he turned and followed us as we made a beeline for the bus. Jorge was driving-he was good with big vehicles-and we buckled ourselves into the cushioned seats the boys had retrofitted the bus with. Without another word, we pulled onto the street and Jorge pointed the bus north as we headed home to Bedlam.

***

I waited until we were underway, then swiveled around to look at Sid. "You have something you want to tell the band?"

"What's going on?" Aegis asked.

"I think Jorge better find a parking lot because this is something you all need to address. Isn't it, Sid?" I knew what was going on.

He blushed, but nodded. "Maddy's right. Jorge, find us a place to park, please."

Five minutes later, we turned into the parking lot of a Target store and parked near the end of a row. Nobody was out at this time in the morning, save for the homeless, the night owls and whatever vampires might be roaming the streets. October in Seattle was blustery enough, but we were into a strong La Niña, and the weather had shifted to extremely cold and wet. The sky was dark, not a star to be seen, and the clouds hanging thick and heavy, ready to burst at any moment.

I glanced out the window at the street running past the store. I didn't miss living here. In fact, while Seattle was one of the best big cities I had lived in, I was far happier living in Bedlam. Too much congestion, too much traffic, too many sirens blaring along the dark, concrete streets.

"All right. Tell us what's going on," Aegis said.

Jorge joined us, after making certain the bus doors were locked. "Yeah, I want to get home before it's morning and I know Aegis wants the same. So what's up?"

The guys were all good friends, but after a gig, they were all a little wound up and snippy. But beneath all the snark and jostling around, they had forged a bond that was all but unbreakable. I just hoped Sid's news wouldn't shake it.

Sid blushed, staring at the floor. Finally, I decided to take the reins.

"I found Sid on the sofa. Ferris was coming onto him so hard I thought she was going to rip his clothes off. Sexual harassment, plain and simple. Isn't that right, Sid?"

He blinked, then nodded, looking miserable. "I've tried to ignore it but she's been getting more and more blatant. Tonight, well, that's the farthest she's gone. I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't come back for your purse, Maddy."

"What would have happened, is you would have told her to go fuck herself with a dildo if she's so hard up." I was angry. Sex was a wonderful thing, but not when it was coerced.

"Is this true?" Aegis asked Sid, the bewilderment on his face turning to understanding.

Sid nodded, still looking miserable. "Yeah, Ferris has been trying to...seduce isn't even the right word. She's been pushing me to fuck her for weeks now. Ever since we signed with DreamGen. I was hoping that she was a temporary rep and that they'd replace her, but when she told us last week that she'd be traveling with us on tour, I knew things were going to get ugly. She knows I love Sylvia, but she just keeps badgering me."

"Why the hell didn't you say anything, man?" Keth looked pissed. "She's been a thorn in our sides ever since she started working with us. I can't stand the bitch, to be honest."

I knew why Sid hadn't said anything. "Guys, he didn't say anything because he saw this as your big chance and he didn't want to muck up the works. Am I right?"

Sid nodded, staring at his feet. "We might never get another chance. Opportunities like this don't come around very often. I didn't want to screw things up by complaining."

Aegis closed his eyes for a moment, looking pained. "You thought that you had to put up with her crap just for the band? Listen, nothing's worth harassment like that. Nothing. Not the band. Not a gig. Not a record deal."

Jorge cleared his throat. "Well, as long as we're all being honest, I've missed just...being us. I mean, we were going to put out our own album, our own way, weren't we? Now, we have to change our act to please DreamGen. We're not a bunch of drunken idiots, but that's what Ferris and DreamGen want us to be. I don't know about you, but I liked the way we were. I'm not having fun anymore."

"What exactly are you trying to say?" Aegis slumped back, his gaze flickering up to the guys. "Do you want to kill the contract? I think we can, but if we want to go back to being an indie group, we'd better do it now before they can claim we owe them a fuckton of money."

Sid slowly raised his hand. "I think, if my marriage is to survive, I have to quit the band or quit working with DreamGen. If we complain to them about Ferris, you know they'll laugh off my concerns."

Keth shrugged, tossing his drumsticks on the floor. "We were doing fine before we signed with them. We'll do just fine without them. I'm up for going back to being a garage band."

Aegis straightened his shoulders. "All right, then. We'll break the contract with DreamGen. But if we do, we things our way from now on, because a bigger company would be even worse. I guess it's hard to find a producer who isn't out to screw over the band in one way or another, isn't it?"

"Or, in Ferris's case, just screw the band," I said. "Seriously, guys, you have a sound that's hard to match. You start slanting it the way she's pushing you to, and you're going to sound like a canned act. You've got a solid audience and you can build your way up doing things the way you want. And that doesn't include encouraging groupies to throw their panties on stage or fucking your handler because she can make life miserable if you don't."

Sid paused. "Do you think they'll try to sue us?"

Aegis grinned and shrugged. "There's only one way to find out, now, isn't there? We'll look over the contract and figure out how to break it at our next meeting."

And with that, Jorge returned to the driver's seat, and we headed back to Bedlam.

***

Aegis and I hopped out of the bus and waved as Keth drove off toward his place. He lived with his mother and father on ten acres just outside of town. There was plenty of space to park the bus there.

I glanced at the sky. It was four-thirty and we still had almost three hours till sunrise. Aegis stretched, bringing his arm down to wrap around my shoulders. As we headed toward the kitchen slider, it occurred to me just how lucky we were.

The town of Bedlam was located on the island by the same name. Located off the northern edge of the San Juan Islands, Bedlam was overlooked by most humans. We didn't exactly cloak the town, but rather, used some of the magical energy that permeated the area to keep ourselves from being noticed. The town had been founded by my kind-witches-and had a population of around six thousand permanent residents. A quirky, old fashioned charm surrounded the area, and truly, it was beautiful here. The foliage was much like the rest of the west coast of Washington-with tall firs and wide, drooping cedar trees, and juniper and other evergreens that kept their needles year round. Intermingled with the conifers were oak and maple trees of all varieties. Birch, black chestnut, and alder dappled the heavy forests, and the ever present scent of moisture filled the air.

Bedlam experienced about sixty-five cloud-free days a year. The rest of the time the sky was partially or fully overcast, with a silvery sheen that soothed the heart and emotions. Rain was ever present, whether in drizzles or in downpours. We received more precipitation in terms of rain and snow than the rest of the San Juan Islands because the magical energy of the island and its inhabitants acted like a magnet for storms, drawing them in. So here, rain shadows were few, and we could always expect snow during winter and the gales of autumn to blow through.

A ferry ran from Bellingham over to Bedlam, docking once per hour most of the night. On weekends, it ran later, which was good for us or we would have had to find a vampire-safe hotel over on the mainland.

The Bewitching Bedlam-my bed and breakfast-was an old house. It had been built over two hundred years ago. We knew that because our house ghost, Franny, had been born here in 1791. She had died in 1815. I wasn't sure how much older it was, but the foundation was solid, even though the weathering stone walls showed their age. The house had been abandoned when I found it, falling apart on the surface but with good bones. I had restored it to its original beauty on the outside, and had fully modernized the inside.

The Bewitching Bedlam had room for four guests, if I counted our private guestroom. The house had fifteen rooms, not counting the bathrooms, and was two stories, not including the basement and the attic.

As we unlocked the slider leading to the kitchen, I made sure Bubba and Luna weren't poised to run out. Sometimes they would lie in wait, then pounce when I opened the door. Bubba was my massive red boy of a cjinn, and Luna was his girlfriend, a lovely calico who didn't seem to mind that she was ‘dating' a magical creature.

But Bubba and Luna were nowhere to be seen. I flipped on the light, and Aegis immediately headed toward the fridge.

"You must be hungry. They didn't have any food at the club. At least, nothing substantial."

In addition to being one hunka hunka burning vamp, my boyfriend was also an excellent cook and baker. He loved mysteries and jigsaw puzzles, and had an intense fondness for kittens. When he found out I had taken in Luna, he had been delighted.

My stomach rumbled. "Actually, I am. I was going to just go to bed. It's been one hell of a long day, but I don't know if I can sleep if I don't eat first. Leftovers are fine."

He poked around. "There's some chicken left from lunch yesterday. And some macaroni and cheese. That work?"

"Yeah." I yawned again, my eyes heavy. "I'm so tired. Just nuke them."

The chicken was from my favorite chicken joint-Chicken Chicken. It kept crisp after being reheated, and the breading was so good just thinking about it made my mouth water. As Aegis fixed a plate for me and popped it in the microwave, I let out another yawn.

"So, what did you make of the way Ferris was acting to Sid?"

"It pisses me off," Aegis said. "Nobody harasses the people I care about. I don't care whether you're male or female, you don't get a free pass to force yourself on anybody else."

"Sylvia would freak if she knew. They've been working out some relationship issues and this wouldn't help at all. I think we should keep quiet about it unless Sid decides to tell her. After all, you guys have decided to stop working with DreamGen." I paused. "How do you really feel about it? I know you had a lot of hopes pinned on this."

Aegis shrugged as he set my plate in front of me and handed me a fork. He slid into the chair next to me, a beer in his hands. Vampires could eat and drink all they wanted without ever being affected by the food, but blood was still their actual sustenance.

"Disappointed, I won't lie about that. But I refuse to work with someone who pressures one of my boys to go against his wishes. Sid doesn't even like Ferris. After the initial rush of signing the contract, he told me that she made him uncomfortable."

"Ten to one, she was working on him even then." I bit into the chicken and scooped up a forkful of mac ‘n cheese. The creamy, salty taste melted in my mouth and I let out an audible sigh, relaxing as the food slid down my throat. I hadn't realized just how hungry I had gotten.

"You're probably right. Well, I'll talk to DreamGen after the guys and I go over the contract. Even if I have to pay a penalty to break it, that's fine. I won't ask the guys to chip in. I know none of them can afford it." He watched me eat for a moment, then reached across the table. "I want to thank you. I wouldn't have gone in there, and Sid would have been screwed over, in more than one way. Thanks for recognizing a problem that I hadn't put my finger on yet."

I finished my food and, carrying my plate to the counter to rinse it off and put it in the dishwasher, I froze. There was an urn on the counter with a note attached to it. It hadn't been there when we left in the morning. I picked up the note and read it silently, then set the paper down and backed up a step.

"What is it?" Aegis asked.

I couldn't answer. I hadn't thought this would affect me so bad, but now that the time had actually come, my heart rose into my throat. Pressing my lips together, I mutely turned toward Aegis, feeling a thousand years old.

"Maddy, what's wrong?" Aegis took a step toward me.

I tried to answer, tried to form the words but they didn't want to come out. It was as though my lips were frozen and, no matter how much I wanted to say something, they wouldn't move.

"What the..." Aegis paused by the counter and stared down at the urn. He slowly picked up the note. "May I?"

I gave him a faint nod. He picked up the paper and began to read aloud.

"Dear Ms. Gallowglass:

We wish to express our condolences in your time of sorrow. We have enclosed the urn with your mother's ashes in it, as you requested, and you will also find a copy of her death certificate. We are the legal team representing your mother's posthumous wishes. She asked that her remains be returned to you for dispersal, and that all her personal magical effects and family photographs and documents be sent to you. In accordance with her will, we will be packaging her magical supplies, photographs, and papers, and mailing them to you shortly. Everything else will be sold and the proceeds will be remitted to you after payment of any outstanding debts, according to her instructions. If there's anything else we can do, please ask.

Sincerely,

Jessie Midas

Midas, Timmons, & Smith, Solicitors

I stared at the stone urn as though it was going to jump up and bite me. Zara, my mother, had died a few weeks ago, and now she was home with me. I had spent a lifetime despising her, and only in the last months of her life had I come to understand-if not exactly love-her. We had parted as friends, as mother and daughter rather than antagonistic relatives. But seeing her remains on the counter brought home, once again, the realization that we had been robbed of nearly four centuries together, thanks to my grandmother and my father. My mother had been forced into living a lie all her life. For that, I would never forgive them.

I reached out and slowly touched the urn as Aegis watched me, a cautious look on his face. Finally, I slid my fingers down the cool stone and over the name they had etched on it. Zara Malina Gallowglass. She had kept her mother's name, as I had kept mine even though I had been married for a time.

Trying to navigate the minefield of emotions that were waging war in my heart, I closed my eyes and whispered, "Welcome home, Mother." And then, slowly, the tears began to fall.

COLLAPSE

Playlist:

A.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
Amanda Blank: Make It Take It; Something Bigger, Something Better
Android Lust: Here and Now; Saint Over
Arch Leaves: Nowhere to Go
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour: Hurricane; X; Around the Bend; Out of Frequency
AWOLNATION: Sail
Beck: Loser; Sweet Sunshine; Broken Train; Devils Haircut
The Black Angels: Indigo Meadow; Don't Play With Guns; Always Maybe; Young Men Dead; Phosphene Dream
Black Mountain: Queens Will Play
Black Sabbath: Lady Evil
The Bloodhound Gang: Take the Long Way Home; The Bad Touch
Boom! Bap! Pow!: Suit
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Charlie Murphy: Burning Times
Clannad: I See Red; Newgrange
Cobra Verde: Play With Fire
David & Steve Gordon: Shaman's Drum Dance
Donovan: Sunshine Superman; Season of the Witch
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being (original edit)
Eels: Souljacker Part 1
Elektrisk Gonner: Uknowhatiwant
Eurythmics: Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
FC Kahuna: Hayling
The Feeling: Sewn
Fluke: Absurd
Foster The People: Pumped Up Kicks
Gary Numan: Down in the Park; Cars; Bridge? What Bridge?; My Shadow In Vain; Soul Protection; My World Storm; Dream Killer; Outland; Remember I Was Vapour; Are 'Friends' Electric?; Praying to the Aliens; My Breathing; Telekon; Petals
Godsmack: Voodoo
The Gospel Whiskey Runners: Muddy Waters
Gotye: Somebody That I Used To Know
Gypsy Soul: Who?
Hedningarna: Ukkonen; Juopolle Joutunut; Gorrlaus
The Hollies: Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)
Huldrelokkk: Kirstin; Huldrehalling
In Strict Confidence: Forbidden Fruit; Snow White; Tiefer
Kerstin Blodig & Ian Melrose: Kråka
Jessica Bates: The Hanging Tree
Jethro Tull: Overhang; Kelpie; Rare and Precious Chain; Something's on the Move; Old Ghosts; Dun Ringill
Julian Cope: Charlotte Anne
The Kills: Future Starts Slow; Nail in My Coffin; DNA; Sour Cherry
Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker; The Future
Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat; Royals
Low with Tom and Andy: Half Light
M.I.A.: Bad Girls
Marilyn Manson: Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin-Geddon; Personal Jesus; Tainted Love
Matt Corby: Breathe
Motherdrum: Stomp
Orgy: Social Enemies; Blue Monday
People in Planes: Vampire
PJ Harvey: Let England Shake; In the Dark Places; The Colour of the Earth
R.E.M.: Drive
Rob Zombie: Mars Needs Women; Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red Kroovy); Living Dead Girl
Saliva: Ladies and Gentlemen
Seether: Remedy
Shriekback: Running On The Rocks; The Shining Path; Underwaterboys; Shark Walk; Over the Wire; Dust and a Shadow; This Big Hush; Nemesis; Now These Days Are Kong; The King in the Tree
Spiral Dance: Boys of Bedlam; Tarry Trousers
Steeleye Span: Blackleg Miner; Rogues in a Nation; Cam Ye O'er Frae France
Sweet Talk Radio: We All Fall Down
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 Davey
Thomas Dolby: She Blinded Me With Science
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
The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony
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 the fog rolls in from the sea, sometimes ghosts from the past follow it...

Sandy’s under attack. First, she’s almost mowed down at the supermarket, then her new shore-front burger stand is destroyed on its grand opening day. But when Sandy is found unconscious, the danger heats up. As she falls into a coma, parts of her dreaming world escape into reality. Now, Maddy, Aegis, and Max must find the cure for the mysterious disease Sandy is suffering from, before she's permanently trapped in the realm of dreams.

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Excerpt:

Chapter 1

"Maddy Gallowglass, if you called us here without a good reason, I swear, I'm going to tell people to boycott your bed and breakfast. I'm paying the babysitter by the hour, and Joe's out of town. My washer broke this morning and I am not in the mood."

I knew Tanith was joking about the boycott. At least, I thought she was, but she sure as hell didn't look happy. I glanced at the clock. It was eight-thirty and getting later by the minute. With a sigh, I pulled out my phone.

"I'll text her again."

WHERE ARE YOU? WE'RE WAITING AND TANITH IS STARTING TO BOIL.

I waited for a moment. No answer. "I don't know what's holding her up. That's the third time I've texted her. It's not like Sandy to ignore her phone."

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"Maybe you should call her. Maybe she took a nap?" Angus McAllister crossed his right ankle over his left knee. At least this time, he didn't treat us to an unexpected peep show. He was wearing a kilt-he always wore a kilt-and the last meeting, he had managed to expose us to the fact that yes indeed, men in kilts often did go commando. At least Angus did.

I started to mutter that Sandy didn't take naps, but then stopped. It wouldn't do anything to help the situation.

"I'll give her a ring if she doesn't answer in another five minutes."

I tossed my notebook on the table and leaned back, chugging the last of my iced mocha. So much for getting through the meeting in good time. The inner council of the Moonrise Coven was supposed to deconstruct the Litha ritual that we had led for the town and discuss what had gone right, and where we had missed the mark. There were always glitches. My plan was to learn from every ritual we did, trying to minimize future screw ups. But on summer solstice, we had really lost control. The magical Wishing Tree we had set up for the children of the town had gone amok. Five of us had ended up chasing a drunken unicorn through Turnwheel Park as it careened through the ritual staging area, tearing up the decorations and charging a group of werewolf tourists out for a stroll. In turn, the werewolves had been so startled, they had shifted, destroying their clothes in the process, and Delia and her deputies had to lock them in jail till they shifted back for everybody's protection. It had cost the city money, and there was a good chance that Bedlam had been blistered on Yawp-the online supernatural review site.

"We're going to have to discuss Litha at some point," I said, wondering whether to start the meeting without her. But Sandy was one-fifth of the inner council. We needed her input.

Terrance rolled his eyes. "How many times do I have to tell you that I had no clue Sean O'Donnell would be drunk off his ass?"

Sean O'Donnell was the local leprechaun who Terrance had "volunteered" to enchant the Wishing Tree for us. I had been surprised that he was so helpful, though now I suspected it was because he was constantly liquored up. But I hadn't known about his problem with booze when I agreed with Terrance's idea that Sean would be the perfect candidate.

"You should have known because Sean's always in the Boil & Squeak, chugging down ale." Tanith shook her head. "Really, talk about a Darwin Award situation."

Terrance gave her the finger. "I don't happen to frequent bars, especially the Boil & Squeak. If I had known he's a regular there, I would never have suggested him."

"Children, children, enough!" I tried to smooth things over. "Now we know. Asking the local leprechaun for help? Not such a good idea. At least nobody was hurt."

"Thanks to Auntie Tautau." Tanith fell silent again.

As High Priestess of the coven, even though I had only assumed the leadership six months before, all the responsibility and blame fell on my shoulders. I knew how to lead smaller groups-I was extraordinarily good at it. But large groups of people, hundreds at one time? I was still finding my way. Sometimes, even the best laid plans ended up in a heap on the floor.

The warmth of the day filtered through the building and I thought maybe it would be a good idea to consider air conditioning. At least a couple room-sized units for our main meeting room and our practice area. Today the temperature had reached eighty-five-unseasonably high-and thanks to the humidity, it was sweltering.

Tanith blew a strand of bubble-gum pink hair off her forehead. "Can we start without Sandy? I'd like to get home before the babysitter eats me out of house and home." Her hair color suited her, even though I personally detested pale pink. Tanith was tanned and lean. She lived for jogging and sunbathing and all those other activities that made me want to run the other way, but she was an accomplished witch and-usually-friendly enough.

"I know we're all hot and frustrated, but I'd rather not. I want everybody's input on how to handle the autumn equinox, especially in light of the Sean incident. Thank the gods we don't have to lead the cross-quarter holidays. The quarter days are enough to make me tear my hair out." I rolled my eyes, and the others laughed, even Tanith.

Besides Tanith and Angus, and Terrance, the inner council consisted of me, and my best friend, Sandy Clauson, who was noticeably late and not answering her texts. Finally, I caved and called her. Her phone rang once. Twice. Three times. On the fifth, it switched over to voice mail.

"Where are you? Did you forget? You making time in the sheets with Max? Call me." Frustrated, I ended the call. "I don't know where she is. Maybe she just forgot and is out on a date with Max or something." I tossed my phone on the cushion beside me.

We were meeting in the Temple Arianrhod, a three-story brick building that had once been a private schoolhouse. It had belonged to a Fam-trad, a family-oriented tradition, who were very peculiar in their beliefs. Much like homeschooling, they had brought their children up fully in their own beliefs, including their general education. The Fam-trad had been an obscure one, and had died out with the last of the family. After that, the Moonrise Coven bought the schoolhouse at an estate sale, along with the five acres it sat on.

Over the decades, we had transformed the schoolhouse into the Temple Arianrhod, and the acreage into a lush woodland, including a private grove and a fire pit reserved for our coven. We rented out one meadow to the public for rituals, although the town-wide celebrations took place in Turnwheel park downtown, and the temple had a large auditorium where we often held community meetings. One of our coven members, Jonquil Adams, lived in the temple as the caretaker. We paid her a salary to keep it clean and to watch over the building.

"So, I suppose we should plan to meet another night." My suggestion met with an irritated groan from Tanith, and steady stares from Angus and Terrance. But I was the High Priestess. They could complain all they liked, but they'd come through in the end.

"All right, what date?" Tanith pulled out her phone, staring at her schedule.

I opened my day planner. I preferred paper to my phone when it came to appointments. I'd missed too many meetings because I entered the information wrong. It was just easier to write it down. But everything this week was booked.

"Seriously? I can't believe my schedule. You know what? I'll get in touch with Sandy and find out why she couldn't make it, then will CC an email to everybody with a choice of dates. That work for you guys? All right, then we're good. Let's head out."

I gathered my notebook and planner and shoved them into my tote bag. As I stuck my phone in the pocket of my sundress, Tanith scrambled out the door with barely a 'goodbye' over her shoulder. Terrance followed her, more slowly. Angus, however, hung back to help me as I began to straighten up. I always tossed our used coffee cups and napkins, and wiped crumbs off the table. I didn't like to leave a mess for Jonquil.

Angus carried the empty cookie plate over to a small sink in the corner and washed it off, drying it on the crisp white tea towel that hung over a rack on the wall. He placed it in the cupboard above the sink as I began to turn the chairs upside down on the table so Jonquil could vacuum.

"So, how are you enjoying leading the coven?" he asked.

I paused, my hands on the back of a chair. "To be honest? I enjoy it, but it's overwhelming at times. I don't know how Linda kept track of everything. I worry that I'm not doing a good job. I know I'm more than capable on a magical level, but the administration? I'm not so keen on."

"I think any position of leadership is going to have issues in that regard." He hesitated for a moment, and I could tell he was debating whether to say something.

"What is it?" I preferred it when people were straight up with me. It made life simpler, if at times a little uncomfortable.

"I just wanted to say, I think you're doing a pretty good job. The coven is facing growing pains. Any transition in power is bound to bring a period of adjustment. Some of the coven members might be a little testy because they were close to Linda. They don't blame you, but the whole situation was odd. I wouldn't worry if I were you." He smoothed the skirt of his kilt.

I flashed him a smile. "Thanks. You're talking about Tanith, aren't you? I knew she and Linda were friends, but I didn't think the transition would be this difficult for her. I would have chosen someone else for the inner council to take my old seat if I had known. Thing is, Tanith always seemed to like me, so I wasn't expecting her to brush me off."

When Rose had been murdered in my garden and, during the subsequent investigation, the High Priestess had vanished and the coven leadership passed to me. I knew Linda was in the Witches Protection Program, but I couldn't tell anybody. And, even though I had been one of the founding members it didn't mean that I kept up to date on every coven member's life. But Tanith and I had always gotten along, so I wasn't expecting trouble. However, for the past few months-ever since our Ostara ritual in March-she had become distant and moody, arguing with me during meetings.

"I suppose I need to have a talk with her. I can't let resentment fester."

Again, Angus looked slightly uncomfortable. "I think she's having problems at home. Her husband isn't doing much to help out with the kid, and she not only has to work a day job, but she has to come home and take care of the house and their child. I think she's just overwhelmed with responsibilities."

Tanith had married a human, and they had a two-year old. I didn't know much about her private life, but that could explain a lot.

I nodded. "Thanks, I'll walk softly, but she needs to talk to me. I suppose that's part of my job now. I haven't really been paying much attention to anything outside the rituals and trying to sort out the books. Linda left the coven files in a bit of a mess and it's all because..."

I paused, not wanting to say too much. There were certain things the coven was better off not knowing about. And the fact that Linda's files were a mess because she had been in collusion with Essie Vanderbilt, the queen of the Pacific Northwest Vampire Nation, was one of them. Regardless of the reason-and it had been a good one-Linda had sold the coven short.

Angus frowned and stroked his long red beard. It reached the top button of his shirt. "I know there's more to it than you can tell me, but what I know is probably just enough to be dangerous. I'm just going to put this out there: if Essie Vanderbilt gets her hooks in the coven, I'm quitting."

I held his gaze. "I promise, she won't, not if I can stop her. I have my reasons for keeping in the loop with Essie, but you're right about one thing. You are better off not knowing." I glanced around. "All right, we're done. Let's head out. I'll see you Wednesday." I glanced at my phone again. Still no message from Sandy.

I locked the door behind us, he walked me out to my car.

"Night, Maddy. And...thanks." Angus hopped on his motorcycle and gave me a wave.

I waved back, then slid into my CR-V. I paused, texting Sandy again, but to no avail. Where the hell could she be? Maybe she had lost her phone, or broke it, and couldn't answer. Comforting myself with that thought, I eased out of the parking lot.

* * *

Dusk was falling on Bedlam, the sky tinged with streaks of grays and blues as it faded into the indigo of the approaching night. June was usually a mild month, with temperatures into the upper sixties and a drizzle of rain now and then, but we were in the middle of a heat wave. The flowers and trees were in full swing, and the air smelled clean, salt-water fresh from the surrounding ocean that flowed in through the straits.

The city of Bedlam spread across the entire island-which was also named Bedlam.

A small island located in the San Juans off the coast of Washington State, Bedlam was near Lopez and Orcas Islands, in the Haro Strait. Bedlam's climate was anomalous to the rest of the nearby islands, due to two factors. One, it was further north than the rest and was therefore at the perfect angle to receive the brunt of the storms that whistled through the straits. The second reason was that the magical power of the land attracted storms like a magnet. Bedlam's aura might as well reach out to pluck the clouds and rain and snow out of the atmosphere. We received more snow and rain than the surrounding islands, and our springs were milder, if drizzly, and summer was sun-baked during the months of July and August.

There were about six thousand people living in Bedlam, and most of us were Otherkin-members of the Pretcom, the supernatural community. The town had a quirky old-world charm to it, and the houses were a blend of Victoria, ramblers, and gingerbread cottages. Most people kept their homes in good shape. There were a few abandoned buildings littering the island, but mostly, the oldest buildings were very old, having been brought over piece by piece from other countries and rebuilt in Bedlam, and they were still being used.

I eased onto Rosewood Road, which encircled the island. I thought about going home, but Aegis was out of town on a gig so I decided to stop in town for dinner. The guests at my B&B-the Bewitching Bedlam-were well-taken care of by Kelson Farsight, my new housekeeper and general receptionist. She was a whirlwind of activity, a werewolf on a mission, so to speak. She loved keeping busy. Not only did she keep the house spotless, she also made the guests feel right at home. I did my best, but I had to admit that Kelson could run rings around me. I made sure she was paid well because I really didn't want to lose her.

I thought about going to the Blue Jinn, but I didn't feel like a sit-down meal. While I had been working out regularly, and eating better the past few months, I knew I would never lose my love of fried foods, and right now, I was in the mood for fish and chips.

I eased into the parking lot of the Clam Shack. As I leaned against the take out window of the combo food truck/take out joint, it occurred to me that in a few days, I'd be able to drop in at Sandy's new venture. She was opening a small oyster bar down on the shore, complete with waterfront views.

I ordered fried halibut and chips, and a cup of clam chowder, and then drove down the street to Eygar's Park, a small park with picnic tables that was directly on the shore. After finding a table and setting out my dinner, I pulled out my phone. Time to try Sandy again.

Again, no answer. Where the hell could she be? I was starting to get worried. I wondered if I should call Max. She might be over at his place. Finally, in between bites of the fish and the chowder, I called him. This time, I got an answer.

"Maddy? What's shaking?" The weretiger didn't sound worried, which gave me a momentary relief. He and Sandy were quite the item and things were really heating up between them.

"Listen, Max, I've been trying to reach Sandy all evening. She was supposed to be at a coven meeting tonight, and she didn't show. I've been texting her and calling her, but she hasn't answered. Is she at your place, by chance?"

A breeze sprang up, wafting the scent of roses past me. Floral and spicy, they smelled like some exotic perfume. I inhaled deeply, wondering where the bushes were. Whatever variety they were, I wanted some for my garden. I wanted to make essential oil from them.

"That's odd," Max said. "When I asked her to dinner tonight, she said she couldn't make it-that she had a coven meeting. So I know she was planning on attending."

"I wonder if there was some emergency with Jenna." Jenna was Sandy's ward, attending the Neverfall Academy for Gifted Students, which was on the northeastern side of Bedlam. It was up the coast a ways, on a campus that overlooked the water.

"Do you have her number?" Max paused, then added, "Never mind, I do. I'll call her and then call you back."

"Don't worry the girl, though. Sandy could have lost her phone."

"I won't. I'll ring you right back."

After he hung up, I polished off my chowder, staring out at the water. Bedlam was a far cry from Seattle, where I had lived for a number of years. While I had come here for coven meetings since the 1950s, I had only moved over to the island nine months before, on a drunken whim. So much had changed since then. I had met Aegis, my vampire boyfriend, I had opened the Bewitching Bedlam bed-and-breakfast, and had settled into a life where I felt comfortable and happy. But there were shadows brewing, and I had lived long enough to know that nothing was ever perfect. And that joy was always intermingled with sorrow.

* * *

My name is Maudlin Gallowglass, Maddy, for short. Among my nicknames, though, is the one I'm most famous for: Mad Maudlin. And that name, perhaps, represents my essential self. I was born on October twenty-eighth, in 1629, in Ireland, and spent much of my early life traveling between Ireland and England.

Long ago and far away, I was in love with Tom-Tom of Bedlam, as he was called. A different country, a different Bedlam. He was also a witch, and we roamed the countryside, staying a hop and a step ahead of the witch hunters. We posed as minstrels, or rather, my sweet Tom did. He wrote a song that's now a famous folk song. Mad Tom of Bedlam, or as it's often called, the Boys of Bedlam, was about our life, and the "Mad Maudlin" in the song refers to me.

As I said, we journeyed through the countryside, casting our spells and making music and having fun. Tom, I met him through one of my best friends, Fata Morgana, who now runs with the wild ocean. I found Bubba in 1687, who I found as a kitjin-a baby cjinn-and he traveled with us. Eventually Sandy joined us in 1699. We made quite a crew, and we were well known across the lands. Luckily, there was no such thing as the internet then, or GPS systems, and we were able to evade the Inquisition and their tortures.

But in 1720, Tom and I encountered a group of vampires. Tom summoned a Faerie warrior, who saved Bubba and me, dragging us into a barrow mound. But the vampires caught hold of Tom, and they turned him. And my sweet love was no more, lost forever to the night.

When I emerged from the Faerie mound in 1740 and found out what had happened, Mad Maudlin took over, and I ran wild. I took up hunting vampires, and together with Fata Morgana and Sandy, we stalked and staked them-as many as we could. The world became a river of blood as I sought revenge for my Tom.

Until one night we stood on a hill above a village of the creatures, and I rained fire down from the heavens to destroy every vampire in the village. That night, something snapped, and we walked away and threw ourselves into a wild, raucous life for decades. And then...sanity returned, and Fata left for the waves, and Sandy and I left for other places, and other ventures.

Now, I'm here. And I'm in love with a vampire-yes, I recognize the irony. Bubba's still by my side, and Sandy and I are best friends. As for Fata...who knows where the waves took her? But I'm content. The world is a different place, and life evolves. And I'm happy.

* * *

Max called back a few minutes later. I had just finished the last piece of fish and my fingers were greasy, so I grabbed a napkin and used a voice command to answer the phone.

"Hey, did you find out anything?"

His voice shaking, Max said, "Yeah. Jenna hasn't heard from her, but just as I was getting off the phone, a call came in from Delia."

Delia Waters was Bedlam's sheriff and mayor. She was also a werewolf, and had become a good friend over the past few months. In fact, my new housekeeper, Kelson, was Delia's cousin.

"What's wrong? I can hear it in your voice. What happened?"

Max took a deep breath. "I'm headed to Straitwater Hospital. Sandy was sideswiped earlier in the parking lot. She's just regained consciousness. She's alive, but she's pretty shaken up-that's all I know."

"I'll meet you there." I hung up and jammed my phone in my pocket. Damn it, here I'd been ticked off at her for not answering and she had been lying hurt in the street. Feeling seven shades of guilt, I headed to my car, dumping the rest of my dinner in the garbage can.

COLLAPSE

Playlist:

A.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
Amanda Blank: Make It Take It, Something Bigger, Something Better
Android Lust: Here and Now, Saint Over
Arch Leaves: Nowhere to Go
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour: Hurricane, X, Around the Bend, Out of Frequency
AWOLNATION: Sail
Beck: Loser, Sweet Sunshine, Broken Train, Devils Haircut
The Black Angels: Indigo Meadow, Don't Play With Guns, Always Maybe, Young Men Dead, Phosphene Dream
Black Mountain: Queens Will Play
Black Sabbath: Lady Evil
The Bloodhound Gang: Take the Long Way Home, The Bad Touch
Boom! Bap! Pow!: Suit
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Charlie Murphy: Burning Times
Clannad: I See Red, Newgrange
Cobra Verde: Play With Fire
David & Steve Gordon: Shaman's Drum Dance
Donovan: Sunshine Superman, Season of the Witch
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being (original edit)
Eels: Souljacker Part 1
Elektrisk Gonner: Uknowhatiwant
Eurythmics: Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
FC Kahuna: Hayling
The Feeling: Sewn
Fluke: Absurd
Foster The People: Pumped Up Kicks
Gary Numan: Down in the Park, Cars, Bridge? What Bridge?, My Shadow In Vain, Soul Protection, My World Storm, Dream Killer, Outland, Remember I Was Vapour, Are ‘Friends' Electric?, Praying to the Aliens, My Breathing, Telekon, Petals
Godsmack: Voodoo
The Gospel Whiskey Runners: Muddy Waters
Gotye: Somebody That I Used To Know
Gypsy Soul: Who?
Hedningarna: Ukkonen, Juopolle Joutunut, Gorrlaus
The Hollies: Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)
Huldrelokkk: Kirstin, Huldrehalling
In Strict Confidence: Forbidden Fruit, Snow White, Tiefer
Kerstin Blodig & Ian Melrose: Kråka
Jessica Bates: The Hanging Tree
Jethro Tull: Overhang, Kelpie, Rare and Precious Chain, Something's on the Move, Old Ghosts, Dun Ringill
Julian Cope: Charlotte Anne
The Kills: Future Starts Slow, Nail in My Coffin, DNA, Sour Cherry
Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker, The Future
Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat, Royals
Low with Tom and Andy: Half Light
M.I.A.: Bad Girls
Marilyn Manson: Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin-Geddon, Personal Jesus, Tainted Love
Matt Corby: Breathe
Motherdrum: Stomp
Orgy: Social Enemies, Blue Monday
People in Planes: Vampire
PJ Harvey: Let England Shake, In the Dark Places, The Colour of the Earth
R.E.M.: Drive
Rob Zombie: Mars Needs Women, Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red Kroovy), Living Dead Girl
Saliva: Ladies and Gentlemen
Seether: Remedy
Shriekback: Running On The Rocks, The Shining Path, Underwaterboys, Shark Walk, Over the Wire, Dust and a Shadow, This Big Hush, Nemesis, Now These Days Are Kong, The King in the Tree
Spiral Dance: Boys of Bedlam, Tarry Trousers
Steeleye Span: Blackleg Miner, Rogues in a Nation, Cam Ye O'er Frae France
Sweet Talk Radio: We All Fall Down
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 Davey
Thomas Dolby: She Blinded Me With Science
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
The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony
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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Someone’s out to terrorize Maddy and her friends, and they’re doing a good job…

When chaos descends on the Bewitching Bedlam B&B, Maudlin's bank account gets hijacked, Bubba ends up showing his all-too-gorgeous human side, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves descend on the B&B, and to top it all off, Aegis gets stuck in his bat form. But the mayhem take a dark turn when Maddy's new employee turns up dead. Now, Maddy and her friends must find out who’s trying to hex the Bewitching Bedlam, before the deadly curse kills again.

 

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

"I CAN'T BELIEVE I have to interview for a new housekeeper. Trina didn't even work here two months and she up and ran off." I slapped the table with the newest copy of the Bedlam Crier, which contained the advertisement I'd submitted the day before. Hopefully, someone would answer it before the end of the day, because I was getting tired of wasting my spells on creating holeos to clean the B&B. I might be a powerful witch, but I didn't have unlimited energy, and at some point, I wanted to do something besides create automatons to scrub the toilets.

"What happened to her? She get pregnant?" Sandy took another sip of her drink.

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We had decided to celebrate the upcoming holiday by getting a jump start on spring. Since we were nearing Ostara-the spring equinox-we decided on a tart, bright flavor to fit the bill. The blender was full of a mixture of lemon sorbet, spiced rum, limeade, and a little grenadine. The drink was surprisingly nifty, especially after the third round.

"Trina and her boyfriend are selkies, you know. Well, he was headed out to live in a new Pod-he got a job out on the peninsula near Port Townsend. So if she continued to work here, that would put a damper on their relationship. I get it, but damn it. She was a pretty spiffy worker." I tossed back the last of my drink and held my glass out for a fourth round.

Sandy poured out the last of the drinks and held up the empty blender. "Another batch?"

I shrugged. "You know, we really should have something to eat. I forgot lunch and I doubt if I'm going to be in any shape to make dinner."

"When are you ever in shape to make dinner? You're lucky Aegis is a good cook." She snorted, peeling herself out of her chair. "Potato chips? With all the lime in this, it feels like we should have some salt to go with it."

"You're thinking of margaritas. Yeah, in the cupboard." I started to hum the "Coconut" song as she foraged for goodies. Sandy and I had a high tolerance for mind-altering substances. After all, we had three hundred years of practice at being party-girls. But I wasn't going to find my answer to the cleaning problem at the bottom of a blender.

I let out a sigh. "Well, the ad just came out today so hopefully, I'll get some sort of response."

"M'rrow." Bubba wandered in, swishing his tail. He had a feisty look in his eye, one that only led to trouble. As the gorgeous, massive yellow tabby leaped up on the table to stare me in the face, I reached out, singing as I gave him an ear rub. He began to purr and I swept him into my arms, dancing with him.

"You want some catnip, Bub?"

Bubba liked to party as much as we did. I found his stash and sprinkled some on the cat bed that was near the kitchen door leading out to the backyard. He bounced down and began to purr, rolling on the green fleece.

Sandy gave him a long look. "He's been awfully good lately. You think he's up to something?"

"I never know what's going on in that furry brain of his," I said. "Cjinns are always cunning. They pride themselves on it. But he's saved my ass more than once, so you know, if he acts out now and then or wants to get stoned, I say go for it." I tossed him a squeaky mouse and he rolled over, raking it with his back claws in a nip-induced frenzy.

"All the same, I wouldn't touch his belly if I were you." Sandy handed me a bowl that she'd filled with potato chips, along with a package of lemon bars. "A little sugar wouldn't hurt us either."

I glanced at the clock. Five PM. "Crap, I wish Aegis could wake up sooner."

"How long till sunset?" Sandy peeked out the sliding glass door.

"About seventy minutes, give or take a few." Vampires were bound to sleep during the day. At least most of them. I'd recently had quite an eye-opening experience that had almost landed me dead, but had also netted us some pretty powerful information about Aegis's kind. Even he hadn't been fully aware about it, but we were keeping quiet because the ramifications were huge and I really didn't want to set myself up as a target.

I was about to dive into the lemon bars when my cell phone rang. Or rather trumpeted. I grimaced. I had recently bought a new phone and hadn't bothered to set new ring tones yet.

"I don't recognize the number. Maybe it's somebody answering my ad. I need to take this."

Sandy nodded, pulling out her own phone to check her texts while I took the call.

"Maudlin Gallowglass here."

"Ms. Gallowglass? I'm Thornton Weston, calling about your ad in the Bedlam Crier. I'd like to apply, if the position's still open." His voice was deep and rich, and made me think of smooth, black coffee with just a hint of sugar.

I blinked. I had no problem with the idea of a man applying, but apparently, my subconscious had been expecting a woman because he threw me off guard.

"Why...well, of course you can. The job's still open. Can you come by for an interview at ten tomorrow morning?" I thought about setting up the interview for evening, when Aegis was awake, but the last thing I needed was him chasing off a potential employee just because he was male. While Aegis was all kittens and cupcakes when he was in his domestic mood, my vampire boyfriend had a protective streak a mile wide, and it reared its green-eyed head at the most inopportune times. I needed a housekeeper now, not ten days from now after we had sorted through his "but it's a man, will you be safe" rhetoric.

"I'll be there at ten, resume in hand."

"Good. See you tomorrow." With that, I hung up and Sandy and I went back to our impromptu pre-spring party.

* * *

"I DON'T CARE what you say, you're not going to hire him until I get to meet him. You just call him back and make the appointment for when I'm awake." Aegis tried to stare me down but I was having none of it. Besides, he might have been imposing if he wasn't wearing my kittens-and-bows apron over his black leather pants. As it was, he was holding a copper mixing bowl in one hand, and a wire whisk in the other.

"If I think he can do a good job, you damned well bet your pearly fangs I'm going to hire him. Why don't you just use the mixer for that?" All of the yummy afterglow of the booze had fled my system. I was perched on the counter near Aegis, and I reached out with one foot to lightly tap his ass.

He gave me one of his, ‘are you kidding' looks.

"Because egg whites are best whipped by hand in a copper bowl. Faster than using a mixer and you get better results. So if you really want lemon meringue pie for the guests tomorrow, you'll quit back-seat baking and let me do my job. And don't you and Sandy go eating it all before we have a chance to offer it to the paying customers. I can't just whip another one up in the middle of the day." He paused, leaning against the counter next to me. "Did you really eat the entire pan of lemon bars I made? I'm glad you liked them, but it's a wonder you both aren't puking your guts out."

"We have a high tolerance for booze and sugar, built up through centuries of practice." I wrinkled my nose. "Don't guilt trip me about my love for food and drink."

"I won't, if you quit complaining about the fact that I want to make sure you're safe," he shot back.

I rolled my eyes. "We have strange men in the house anyway. Don't forget, we take in strangers and give them a place to sleep. That's what it means to own a bed-and-breakfast. Maybe kindly old Mr. Mosswood is a serial killer."

Aegis laughed, setting the bowl down. "Oh, Maddy, I love you. You crack me up. If Mr. Mosswood is a serial killer, then I can walk out into the sun and just get a nice tan."

Mr. Mosswood was rapidly becoming a long-term guest. He had checked in three weeks ago, and kept extending his stay. He was slight, about five-seven and thin as a reed, and he was quiet and polite to the point of annoying. He wore a suit and hat that reminded me of something out of the fifties-and I lived through the fifties, so I knew they were genuine vintage.

Mr. Mosswood had thinning hair and wore round glasses. I thought of them as spectacles, because he seemed to be stuck in a time period long past. He was human, and he said he was gathering information for a book he wanted to write about the history of Bedlam. He paid on time, tipped well, and was a tidy man, so I welcomed him as long as he wanted to stay.

"Don't you dare. But, seriously, you never really know. Some of the worst killers have been the quietest. I'm sure Mr. Mosswood is thoroughly benign, but let's not take chances." I leaned forward. "But he proves my point. We don't know much about his background, but he's staying here, and he's up and around while you're sleeping. If he were a murderer, you wouldn't be able to save me during the day. So why worry when I interview someone for a housecleaning job?"

Aegis pressed his lips together, regarding me like I was an annoying gnat, and I knew I had won the argument. Finally, he plastered a kiss on my forehead, then bopped my nose with his finger. He smelled like musk and cinnamon, like dark knights on an autumn evening. My knees quivered as I stroked his wavy jet hair back from his face. His eyes were pools of strong coffee, tinged with crimson around the edges, and he was strong and fit, with a voice that made me melt.

"You know, you should finish that pie, before the egg whites go flat," I murmured.

"I don't care about the egg whites," he whispered, gathering me into his arms.

I squirmed, feeling him press hard against me. The egg whites might be going flat but something else wasn't. But I didn't complain as he carried me up the stairs, ending the conversation with a long, sweaty session in bed.

* * *

THE NEXT MORNING, I slid into my new jeans-black stretch denim with a lot of give to accommodate the padding of my butt which was, as I liked to call it, curvaliscious. I pulled on a short sleeved V-neck silk shirt with cap sleeves. The deep green set off the teal of my eyes, and the rich brunette of my hair. I also had big boobs, which was fine with me. In fact, I was about as hourglass as they came, in terms of my figure.

I scooched my feet into a pair of black leather ankle ballerina flats-I was about five-eight so I could do flats without feeling short-and draped my pentacle over my head, along with a rope of moonstone beads. The pentacle was about two inches in diameter and stood out against my shirt. I fastened on freshwater pearl chandelier earrings, then took a few minutes to slap on a quick ten-minute face at my vanity.

Bubba was next to my makeup mirror, watching. He cocked his head as I pursed my lips to apply my lipstick-a bright fuchsia. I hated any pinks that weren't magenta or fuchsia, but neon colors and jewel tones rocked my world.

"Mrow." Bubba reached out one paw to tap my arm.

I paused, trying not to jog the lipstick onto my face. "Bubs, hold on. I'll feed you in a minute. I'm almost done."

Bubba waited a beat until I raised the lipstick to my lips again, then-more firmly-smacked me on the hand with his paw.

"Bubba! Look at what you did!" I frowned at my reflection. A bright pink line of lipstick ran jaggedly down my chin. "Gee, thanks, Bub."

As I reached for the makeup remover, I swear, Bubba snickered at me. He pulled his paw back, then began to groom it as though he had no clue what I was talking about.

"That cat is a menace." Franny rose up beside me. As in, through the floor, to hover a foot above it.

I jumped. "I told you to stop doing that! And Bubba's not just a cat. He's a cjinn."

Franny was the house ghost-or B&B ghost, now that I'd converted the place. And she was moody as all get out, always finding something to bellyache about. But over the past six months, I had actually gotten used to the bereft spirit and she had lightened up a little.

I poured a little makeup remover on a cotton ball and wiped the lipstick off my face. "I haven't seen you for a couple of days. Where have you been keeping yourself? You can't leave the house, so I know you weren't on vacation."

She shrugged. She was dressed in the dress she had died in-a muslin gown a la Jane Austen, which was a pale blue. She had been wearing an ivory corset, and a matching lace shawl. She was pretty in a serious sort of way, with blue eyes and blond hair spilling out of a constant, messy bun.

"Oh, this and that. I watched the gardeners plant the new roses from out of the library window. Thank you, by the way, for setting up the computer e-reader for me." Franny flashed me a rare smile. "I just read a marvelous book by a Mr. Mark Twain-Tom Sawyer."

I grinned. I had been around during Twain's time, and figured she would like some of his work. "Glad you liked it."

Franny loved to read. In fact, that's how she died. On an August day in 1791, Franny had been walking along the second floor hallway, toward the stairs, reading, and she had missed the first step as she turned to go downstairs. She broke her neck in the fall and had been trapped here ever since. Franny had spent a long, lonely time until I had bought the old mansion. Those who could see her, had run in fear, until Aegis moved in. And he had pretty much ignored her until I gave him hell for treating her like she didn't exist.

So I had set up a spare computer in the library. Constantly on, the computer was open to an e-reader program, and I had programmed it to voice control. Since Franny could speak as well as I could, it could hear her. I programmed in some basic commands-Turn Page, Go to Page, Open New Book, Close Book. Now she could read to her heart's content.

I finished with my lipstick and sat back, thinking that I was entirely presentable. Bubba let out another squeak.

"Yeah, yeah, Bub. I'll feed you. Franny, come on down to the kitchen if you like. I have someone coming at ten, but if you want to talk..." I left it open ended. Franny resented any trace of pity, for which I didn't blame her, but she also liked to chat. Granted, she was angsty as hell, but I couldn't help but feel that I should treat her as one of my permanent houseguests. You didn't just ignore someone because she had a chip on her shoulder.

She brightened. "All right. I can tell you what I found out about your guests-"

I stopped in the doorway, glancing at her. "What did I tell you about spying on the paying customers?"

She rolled her eyes. "I know, but can I help it if I happen to be around when they don't know I'm watching?"

Shaking my head, I headed down the stairs, listening to her ramble on about Mr. Mosswood's habit of rubbing his scalp with rose-scented lotion, and how Mrs. Periwinkle, a very old witch who seemed to have misplaced her marbles along with her late husband, had been trying to convince the grandfather clock to tell her where we kept the hidden treasure. What treasure she was talking about, I had no idea.

* * *

AT TEN O'CLOCK, prompt to the second, Thornton Weston was sitting in my parlor. He was human and in his early thirties. He was also a fine looking piece of manflesh. Five-ten, pale blond hair in a Euro shag, trim but not overly thin, with a wisp of a beard and deep blue eyes that sparkled when he said hello. He was dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, but it was obvious he belonged in a leather blazer. I could easily seeing him driving some classy little number like a Jaguar or a Lotus. In fact, everything about him smelled like old money, so why was he applying for a housekeeping job?

"Are you sure you're interested in this job? It's not very glamorous. You'd be cleaning the mansion every day. You won't be responsible for laundry, except for the sheets and blankets in the guest rooms. We have three rooms for paying customers, a personal guest room and my bedroom. You'd be cleaning the guest rooms every day, my room and the other bedroom once a week. We have six baths-those need cleaned every day. The kitchen as well, and it must be spotless due to health code regulations. You won't need to cook, however you may be called upon to wait table occasionally. Then, there's the daily dusting and straightening in the living room, library, parlor, and grand ball room. I hire someone to wash the floors and windows once a week, so you won't have to worry about those."

As I paused, he shrugged. "I've had worse jobs. I'm not afraid of a little work."

"We have a maid's room on the main floor, which would be your living quarters, and a butler's pantry. You'll eat in there. I take care of Bubba's litter box. Oh, whatever you do, please don't pet his belly." I didn't want to tell him that Bubba was a cjinn. There were people who weren't above trying to steal the creatures for their own use.

"I'm definitely interested. What are the hours?" He surprised me given my preconceptions based on his looks.

"The job is full time, but I know you can't be on call 24/7, so housecleaning, other than the guests' rooms and their baths, is off the list for Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which are our least busy days. Longer-term guests agree to waive daily cleaning for a reduced rate, so you only have to clean their rooms twice a week."

I glanced over his resume. It was actually sparse, especially the past five years. Before that, he had worked in a number of hotels in housekeeping, as a bellhop, and desk clerk.

"That sounds good to me. I'm between apartments right now." He flashed me an easy grin.

I glanced down at the resume again. "Why the gap in work the past few years?"

He shrugged. "Let's just say I've been in an abusive relationship. We recently had a bad break up. I had to leave quickly and all I have is a couple of suitcases and nowhere to go. I happened to see your ad in the Bedlam Crier yesterday and thought this would be perfect with my background."

As someone who had spent too many years in a bad marriage, I knew how easy it was to get suckered into a relationship that tangled you up.

"Well, I have your number. Let me run your references and see what they have to say. I'll call you by tomorrow with an update." I shook his hand and walked him to the door. As we passed through the living room, Franny popped out, took one looked at him, and vanished.

He paused, letting out a short laugh. "Let me guess. House ghost?"

"Right. She's disruptive at times, but overall she's a good egg. We've adopted her." I shook my head. "Sometimes it's just easier to deal the hand you've been dealt. She came with the property and so she's part of the B&B."

"Who's the "we" you refer to? You and...are you married?" He glanced around as though he expected to see someone else magically pop into view.

It was my turn to laugh. "I'm not anymore, but my boyfriend helps me run the place. I should tell you, just in case you have a problem with the idea. I'm involved with a vampire. His name is Aegis and he's the lead singer of the Boys of Bedlam, an up-and-coming band. You might have heard them down at the Utopia nightclub."

Thornton stiffened. "Aegis? The rock star vampire?"

"That would be him. But he has a heart of gold. Loves kittens and cupcakes. He bakes most of the goodies for our guests." When I had first encountered Aegis, in addition to his gorgeous bad-boy self, I had come face to face with his private passions-baking, kittens, jigsaw puzzles, and mysteries.

Thornton thought for a moment. "I guess it could be worse," he said, reaching for the door. "I'll wait for your call."

As I walked him down the porch steps, I found myself very much hoping his references would check out. Not only did he have experience, but he seemed personable and he could probably charm the pants off my guests. But then, as I turned to go inside, a large crow appeared on the porch railing and began cawing at me.

I started to ask it what it wanted, but a shiver raced up my spine as clouds began to sock in, covering the pale blue sky. Within less than sixty seconds, lightning flashed, thunder roared, and I was soaked to the skin as the skies opened up. The crow let out a single echoing caw.

Chilled to the bone, I turned and ran inside, wondering why I was suddenly frightened.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Jill Smith on RT Book Reviews wrote:

Running a B&B is already turning out to be a lot more complicated than centuries old witch Maudlin “Maddy” Gallowglass expected, but when you add in a nasty hex things take on a nightmarish tone! Galenorn’s back with the second installment of her terrific Bewitching Bedlam series. This book makes it clear that whether she likes it or not, Maddy is going to have to dive deeper into local politics and keep a wary eye on some percolating issues. Developing layered and intriguing characters is something Galenorn does extremely well and readers are going to enjoy getting to know more about Maddy and her crew. There is an ominous feel to this story that portends dangerous things for the future. It is going to be a wild ride!


Playlist:

AC/DC: Back in Black, Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution
Amanda Blank: Make It Take It, Something Bigger, Something Better
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour: Zombies, X, Sunshine Coolin', Heart Attack
AWOLNATION: Sail
Beck: Qué Onda Guero
The Black Angels: Don't Play With Guns, Always Maybe, You're Mine, Phosphene Dream
Black Mountain: Wucan, Queens Will Play, The Way to Gone
Blind Melon: No Rain
Boom! Bap! Pow!: Suit
Cake: Short Skirt/Long Jacket, The Distance
The Clash: Should I Stay or Should I Go
Cobra Verde: Play with Fire
Crazy Town: Butterfly
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Susie-Q, Green River, Run Through the Jungle, Born on the Bayou
David Bowie: Diamond Dogs, China Girl, Cat People
The Doors: Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar), Hello, I Love You, Hyacinth House, Moonlight Drive, My Wild Love, We Could Be So Good Together
Elektrisk Gonner: Uknowhatiwant
Eurythmics: Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
The Hollies: Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)
Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit, Plastic Fantastic Lover
The Kills: Nail In My Coffin, You Don't Own The Road, U.R.A. Fever, Sour Cherry, No Wow
Ladytron: Paco!, Ghosts
Lord of the Lost: Sex On Legs
Men Without Hats: The Safety Dance
Nilsson: Coconut
Nirvana: Heart Shaped Box, Come as You Are, Plateau, Lake of Fire
Oingo Boingo: Dead Man's Party, Elevator Man
People In Planes: Vampire
Rob Zombie: American Witch, Living Dead Girl
The Rolling Stones: The Spider and the Fly, Mother's Little Helper, Lady Jane
Shriekback: Underwaterboys, Over the Wire, Big Fun, Dust and a Shadow, This Big Hush, Nemesis, Now These Days Are Gone, The King in the Tree
Simple Minds: Don't You (Forget About Me)
Tom Petty: Mary Jane's Last Dance
Warrant: Cherry Pie

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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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