Ready for More Beechwood Harbor? Holly’s Back!

Book Four in the Beechwood Harbor Magic Mysteries Series will be available next week! I’ll have a special, first week sale price to say “thank you!” for waiting so patiently. In the meantime, here is an exclusive sneak peek at chapter one.

**Please note: This is the rough draft that was sent to my editor for a final polish so please excuse any errors or typos, they will be sorted out before publication! 🙂

CHAPTER ONE

 

It was strange how much a place could change and yet look exactly the same.

The last time I’d stepped foot inside the Seattle have, the secret community hidden somewhere between the human and supernatural world, it was the place I called home. Now, standing on the main street that wound through the heart of the city, I felt like a complete stranger. During my year of banishment I’d grown detached from my old life inside the busy city. Magic pulsed through the haven, an undercurrent of all the powerful forces and beings that walked the glittering streets. In the past that swirl of power would have excited me but instead it felt overwhelming and confusing.

Then again, the reason for my trek to my former home wasn’t exactly cause for celebration. In less than twenty-four hours I’d be standing before the powerful Haven Council, waiting to see if I would ever be allowed to practice potion magic again. My lawyer was confident but his assurance hadn’t quite yet rubbed off on me. I mostly felt like I’d just stepped off a merry-go-round that had been spinning at a hundred miles an hour.

However, I was determined to ignore the urge to hurl long enough to have lunch with one of my longtime friends—and paranormal party-planning extraordinaire—Anastasia Winters. So after stopping off at my city central hotel long enough to drop off Boots and get him settled with a bowl of cat kibble, I headed out to meet Anastasia at one of the haven’s best cafe’s, Finnegan’s. Their claim to fame was the hearty soups they prepared and served in miniature cauldrons. Old world style. All the charm; none of the barbaric treatment. Not to mention that the cherry cider was the best thing to ever come out of a barrel.

Walking the streets of the haven was a surreal experience. All of the shops and restaurants I used to frequent were bustling with witches and wizards, shifters, were-creatures, and goblins. I even spotted a majestic looking centaur striding down the street. The farther I walked, the more comfortable I became. The anxiety ebbed and I actually started to smile as I drank it all in. The sights, the sounds, the smells. Beechwood Harbor was populated with supernaturals. I was hardly alone. But there was something about being immersed in it. The freedom of not having to hide. I could let my witch-flag fly high and proud. I could send up a shower of pink and gold sparks that would rain down as glittering butterflies and no one would bat an eye.

Still smiling, I turned the corner and veered away from the main street through the haven’s mercantile district. Finnegan’s was the anchor, centered in a small cluster of shops. Wedged between a handcrafted potion shop that I used to frequent and a bookstore that sold enchanted books that read aloud as the pages were flipped. I had quite a collection of them as they proved to be very handy tools while doing potion work that required getting a little messy. Which, for some reason, seemed to be most of the ones I made.

I stopped short when I rounded the corner. The potions shop was gone. The windows boarded up and dark. I moved closer but didn’t see any signs that the building was for sale or lease. I cupped my hands and peered inside the dirty caked windows. The shop appeared dank and grimy, as though no one had been there in quite some time. My heart sank at the sight of what the once-charming and vibrant shop had been reduced to. I also wondered what had happened to Mrs. Clairmont, the owner of the shop. A widow of nearly a decade who’d always kept the shop stocked with carefully crafted homemade potions. She’d run the place single-handedly but never hesitated to stop and answer my questions when I was first learning the process to make custom potions. I hadn’t thought about her in quite some time but suddenly missed her as I stared inside the abandoned shop.

“Holly!”

I whirled around at Anastasia’s voice and saw the pretty brunette running delicately in her impossibly high stiletto boots. I liked nice shoes as much as the next witch, but I honestly had no idea how Anastasia made it through the day without breaking both of her ankles.

She leapt up onto the sidewalk and grabbed me in a tight embrace. “I can’t believe you’re here!” she said into my long auburn hair as it whipped through the wind.

I smiled. “And I’m not even in disguise!”

She laughed, the sound melodic like a tinkling wind chime. When she pulled away, she kept her hands on my arms. We’d spoken on the phone many times since my banishment and met for lunch a couple of times in Seattle proper, but the visits had been few and far between. Seattle was over three hours away from Beechwood Harbor so visits usually involved a long train ride and a hotel room for the night. Anastasia had officially moved inside the haven following her big promotion at work and my banishment prevented me from staying on her pull out couch. At first I’d tried to use my Larkspur necklace but found—after several uncomfortable attempts—that it only allowed me to jump short distances.

“How are you?” Anastasia asked, finally releasing me. “How does it feel to be back?”

“It’s kind of weird,” I replied with a smile. “In Beechwood Harbor there’s a certain charge, I think from the ocean. My magic responds to it. But here, it’s like a loud crashing of all these different types of magic. A totally different rush.”

Anastasia flapped a hand. “I’m sure you’ll settle right back in!”

“Well I don’t know if I should get too comfortable.” Reminded of the vacant potion shop, I craned around and hitched my thumb. “Although that’s new. What happened?”

A troubled look crossed Anastasia’s face. She linked her arm through mine. “Come on, let’s go order some lunch. It’s freezing out here. You’d think with all the magic housed within this haven, we could at least work out how to keep the weather a stable seventy-five!”

I frowned at her sudden change of topic but let her steer me through Finnegan’s doors. The owner, Walter Finnegan, greeted us warmly and for a moment, I forgot all about the shop next door. We were promptly seated at a table with a window and without consulting the menu ordered two huge cauldrons of soup. While we waited the owner brought out a still-steaming loaf of bread with a thick crust and we both dug in.

“Tell me about work. Still loving it?” I asked, unsure if I should ask about Mrs. Clairmont’s shop again.

Anastasia nodded, her mouth full of bread.

I smiled and dragged my chunk through the basil-infused olive oil. “That’s good to hear.”

She wiped her fingers off on a linen napkin and then dabbed at her mouth. “It’s been wonderful so far. Planning weddings, especially ones where I can kind of go a little crazy with magic, is so much more fun that birthday parties and retirement shin-digs.”

I laughed. “I’ll bet.”

“My calendar is booked for the next eighteen months. Solid!” A wide smile crossed her face as she leaned in slightly. “However, I could definitely squeeze you and Adam in…”

I choked on a mouthful of bread and quickly reached for my water glass. Shaking my head vigorously, I replied, “No chance of that. At least, not in that time frame!”

Anastasia pursed her lips. “Why not? I could do so much with your big day!”

I smiled politely. “Stace, I hate to break it to you, but that’s not a super convincing reason to rush into marriage.”

“Why not?”

I arched a brow. “Are you serious? You actually need me to spell that argument out for you?”

She held her pout for another moment and then waved it off with a flap of her hand. “Fine, fine. But I reserve the right to at least a six month lead up when it happens.”

When was more like if, but I wasn’t going to argue the semantics with her over lunch.

Walter brought out two cauldrons of soup and I smiled all the more gratefully at the timely interruption. When he was assured that the soup was to our liking, he bowed out and went back to the kitchen. The small dining room was full of late-lunch patrons and the steam from all the soup made the air thick and warm and filled with the scent of flour and seasonings.

Anastasia stirred the contents of her cauldron and glanced up at me. “Tell me about this meeting with the council. Are you nervous?”

I swallowed hard. “Nervous is an understatement.”

Anastasia gave a sympathetic smile. “I can imagine. I had to go before the Haven Council once. It was years ago. A disgruntled client filed a complaint against A Touch of Magic and I had to go to provide testimony. It was … intimidating. To say the least.”

“Teddy, my lawyer, says that as far as he can tell, the whole thing is more of a formality, but I think he might be glossing over the situation a little bit.”

“Why’s that?” Anastasia asked, cocking her head slightly.

I drew in a deep breath. “Because of everything with Gabriel and the past. Teddy says that as my name was cleared years ago, it shouldn’t be an issue, but you remember what happened right before Harvey shipped me off to Beechwood Harbor. I was in a jail cell faster than you could say “chocolate volcano centerpieces.”

“Not a bad idea. You mind if I jot that one down?” Anastasia teased. “A riskier version of a fondue pot.”

I smiled and scooped up another bite of my soup. “Let’s just say that I think Teddy might have a tougher fight that he’s prepared for. He’s from the Los Angeles haven and has a solid practice built up there. And sure, maybe some of the council members here have heard of him, but I don’t think that’s going to matter very much when it comes right down to it. There’s a bias that follows me around and I’m not sure they will be willing to hand over a pardon just because I have a flashy, out of town lawyer.”

“Didn’t you say that your SPA agent is testifying on your behalf? That’s gotta carry some weight!”

I nodded. “Harvey promised to be there. I helped him with a case a few weeks back. He’s definitely the wild card factor.”

Anastasia frowned. “I’m sorry this has been such a mess for you, Holly. I can only imagine.”

“Thanks.” I shrugged and took another bite, savoring the blend of spices. “Worst case scenario, I’ll at least be able to come and go from the haven. But if I can’t open my potion business again, I’m not sure how much good that will do me.”

“And if you get your license, or at least the chance to apply for one, will you move back? What about Adam?”

“I don’t know yet. We haven’t really talked about it.”

She furrowed her brows. “What would you want?”

“There are things I’ve missed about haven life,” I replied with another glance around the cafe and the occupants of the other tables. “But I have a feeling that if I moved back, I might actually miss Beechwood Harbor even more.”

Anastasia gave a sad smile, almost like that was the answer she’d expected. “I won’t beg you to move back, but I will require that you visit more. Especially since you’ll be able to stay with me in my condo!”

“Definitely! I’ll be happy to be able to shop for potion ingredients in person instead of over the Witches Web. There’s just no replacing the in-person experience when you’re picking out the right fekir salve or pickled silk worms.”

“Lovely.” Anastasia’s face went a little green as she considered her next bite. “Call me crazy, Holly, but I think I’ll stick to shoe shopping.”

I laughed and broke off another piece of bread. “Fair enough.”

We finished our lunches and after Anastasia out-wrestled me for the check, we headed out of Finnegan’s. We stopped at the edge of the sidewalk to bundle back into our coats and I glanced at the abandoned shop next door. I gestured toward the blackened windows. “What happened? Is Mrs. Clairmont all right?”

Anastasia sighed. “This has been happening a lot, actually. A lot of these smaller shops are closing down. There are some new chains that moved into the area. Their prices are half what Mrs. Clairmont could afford to charge. Personally, I think the charms and potions are a little weak and forget it if you need something custom, but the supers around here seem to gobble it up.”

I shook my head. “Don’t they realize the kind of ingredients that go into those fast food potions?”

“If they do, they don’t seem to care. The Jewelbox Apothecary has been stocking more custom potions lately. Maybe Mrs. Clairmont has been selling hers there. Do you want to swing by on the way back to your hotel?”

I shook my head. “No, that’s all right. The last thing I need to be worrying about is the future of the potion making market right now.” I brightened a little and glanced down the street in the opposite direction, realizing what was only a few blocks away. “You know what I do need though…”

Anastasia grinned. “Don’t tell me, you’re still obsessed with Lemon Clouds?”

I laughed and looped my arm through hers. “Hey, I haven’t had a fresh one in over a year. Humor me.”

After stocking up on all manner of sweets and treats at my favorite bakery, Anastasia walked with me back to the stately hotel I’d checked into a few hours before. The three-level building had a brick facade with lush greenery that framed the wide stairs that led to the front doors. I glanced up toward the room I’d checked into a couple of hours earlier. The room was sandwiched on the second floor and had a view of the street. I smiled when I spotted an orange backside pressed up against the glass. Clearly Boots was making the most of the last bit of sunlight breaking through the gray clouds.

“Holly!”

I turned and caught sight of Teddy as he jogged across the busy street, one hand raised in greeting, the other clutching the handle of a leather briefcase. “Hello Teddy!”

His blonde hair flapped in the breeze and his usually rosy cheeks were even more colorful in the chill of the late winter afternoon. “Did you just arrive?” he asked when he came to a stop.

I shook my head. “I checked in a little while ago. Teddy, this is Anastasia Winters. We’re old friends. Stacy, this is Teddy, my lawyer.”

Anastasia smiled warmly as they shook hands. “Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

 She eyed Teddy skeptically. “I hope you’re the shark that Holly’s been promised.”

“I don’t know about that.” Teddy chuckled. “Besides, I don’t think she’s going to have much need for a shark. Things seem to be pretty cut and dry at this point. I can’t see one reason why they would bar her from obtaining her license.”

Anastasia smiled but I knew that we both held our own opinions on the ease of the matter. “I suppose we’ll find out tomorrow. Is that right?”

Teddy nodded and shifted the case from one hand to the other. “Hopefully that’s all it will take, but if they ask for further information it could potentially take a little longer.”

“Well I wish you both luck! Teddy, it was nice to meet you. Please, take care of my dear Holly.”

Teddy gave a winning smile and brushed a hand on my arm as he started up the stairs of the hotel. “I’ll get checked in. Holly, please let my know when you have a minute so we can go over some last minute details.”

“Of course.”

He waved and then disappeared inside.

“He seems nice,” Anastasia said once the front door flapped closed again. “He doesn’t quite fit the image I had in mind though. He looks very young.”

“Well you know, that’s LA for you. In any case, Evangeline speaks highly of him and I trust her judgment.”

Anastasia embraced me. “I’m sure it will all work out. Like he said, it should be open and shut.”

“Thanks, Stacy.”

Beaming, she pulled away and squeezed my shoulders. “Call me before you head out of town, all right?”

“I will. Thanks for lunch.”

“Anytime!”

Anastasia waved her hand and a sleek black car pulled up at the curb. She’d given up having her own car when she moved from Seattle proper into the haven. She was within walking distance to her work and said there was no need to pay the absurd parking fees when there was a plethora of cabs within the haven.

As soon as her cab was out of sight, I drew in a sigh and headed up the stairs to the front entrance of the hotel. The afternoon with Anastasia had served as a wonderful distraction from the real purpose behind my visit to the haven, but in her absence, all of my underlying anxiety rushed back like a tidal wave.