Read an Excerpt
Nothing about that day went the way we thought it would. We got back to the store a little after dark because we stopped to have a bite to eat. We weren’t really hungry. That was just an excuse to recover from our conversation with the moms and to work up the nerve to speak with Myrtle.
Before we’d left to drive to Cotterville, Tori and I had debated about taking the time to unpack the boxes of supplies the UPS guy delivered the day before, but neither one of us was in the mood to get the job done. Since the boxes were gone, Darby must have tackled the chore for us.
Normally, when we came through the back door, he would have been waiting for us, but this time, the place was deserted. Then we saw the basement door standing ajar, casting a rectangle of light across the floor.
“Does that look like an invitation to you?” I asked Tori.
“Oh, yeah,” she agreed. “Myrtle is a step ahead of us, as usual.”
“Two steps,” a woman’s voice called from the basement. “Please come down and join us.”
“Us?” I mouthed to Tori.
She shrugged, and gave me a silent, “Who knows?”
We did as we were told, and promptly got the surprise of our lives.
Myrtle was sitting in the “lair” under the stairs. The basement itself is filled with endless rows of industrial storage shelves four levels high. They extend as far as the eye can see, covering far more real estate than should be contained under the footprint of my store. Darby spends a great deal of time down there “cataloging” for Myrtle.
To be perfectly honest? I have no idea what the two of them are up to.
But in the corner under the stairs, Myrtle has created a workspace for us that looks like it belongs in an English manor house on some PBS show. The walls are covered in dark paneling, except for the space on either side of the fireplace. That’s dominated by floor-to-ceiling-bookcases holding elegant old leather-bound books.
An oak table fills the center of the area, which is carpeted in beautiful Oriental rugs. Typically there are two leather wingback chairs on either side of the fireplace, but we found three chairs holding three people–a brownie, and a rat.
I know. I know. The next line should be “walked into a bar.”
Frankly? A drink probably was in order, but no one had yet shared with me that Myrtle keeps a cabinet full of single malt beside the roll top desk.
There was a cheerful little blaze in the fireplace. The basement is always several degrees colder than the upper floor. But that’s not why an icy sensation went through my veins. Chase McGregor was sitting right there with Myrtle as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
Darby was perched on the arm of his chair, and there was a third, older man whom I didn’t recognize. Rodney, our resident black-and-white domestic rat, was sleeping peacefully on the shoulder of Myrtle’s gray sweater.
When Myrtle chose to appear to us in human form, she picked the most stereotypical librarian look you can imagine, including a gray bun high on her head secured with a yellow No. 2 pencil. She was now regarding us kindly from behind the round, black spectacles she didn’t need, but which suited her new persona perfectly.
“Come sit with us,” she said, gesturing to two empty chairs that completed the loose circle and were obviously meant for Tori and me.
When I remained frozen in place, Chase said nervously, “Please, Jinx. I know this is a shock, but we’ll tell you everything if you’ll just sit down.”
He looked as sick to his stomach as I felt.
I looked at Myrtle, a note of accusation in my voice. “My mom called you, didn’t she?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Myrtle answered, unflappable as always. “It’s been years since I’ve heard from Kelly. I was surprised she even remembered how to reach me, but she wanted to give me time to prepare.”
“You mean to figure out how much you’re willing to tell me?” I asked, trying not to give over to my rising anger, but the words were unmistakably hostile.
Half-truths were bad enough, but if Chase was sitting there, had I even been getting quarter-truths?
Here I’d been turning myself inside out to make certain he never saw anything strange in the shop, only to discover he was one of the people hiding things . . . no, not hiding, lying.
I thought Chase was trustworthy. So trustworthy, in fact, that I’d been losing sleep trying to figure out the best way to come clean with him about being a witch. I felt like a complete fool.
The sharpness of my question didn’t phase Myrtle, who continued to regard me placidly. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “We have every intention of telling you the entire story. It is, however, rather a long tale. I think you’ll be more comfortable if you join us.”
Beside me, Tori said, in a low voice, “Come on, Jinksy. Hear them out.”