After a long (long) wait, we are finally returning to Rosella’s adventures in Winterspell. Mermaids and Meringue will release on October 28th. It’s not a Halloween story—it’s actually starts on New Year’s Eve—but I promise it’s packed full of magic and mystery!
Read on for the entire first chapter and then head over to Amazon to pre-order/wish list. And if you haven’t read both of Rosella’s existing stories, now is a great time to start!
If you want more of the Winterspell world, you’ll love the “sister” series, Nine Lives Magic, which features air witch Cora Hearth and her snarky inherited familiar, Selene. There are three books out now and book four will be out sometime after Thanksgiving.
“I still can’t believe you’re going on a New Year’s Eve date with a monster hunter.”
Sighing, I paused my careful eyeliner application long enough to shoot my little sister Candice an impatient look. “He’s not a monster hunter.”
Which, technically, was true. Mostly, anyway.
Candice giggled and rolled onto her back. She was lying on my bed, watching as I applied my makeup at the small vanity table near the window. “He is pretty dreamy,” she said, smiling as she stared up at the ceiling.
“Don’t you have your own date to get ready for?” I asked as I shifted my attention back to the mirror. Like my hair, my eyelashes were a silver-white color, and it took a few coats of mascara to even make them show up, let alone pop.
Jasmine, our middle sister, appeared in the doorway. She was the opposite of dressed up for the evening, wearing a matching set of olive-colored sweats that looked clean but wrinkled, as she’d been living in them all day. Her mahogany waves were tied up in a big, unwieldy blob atop her head and she’d spackled some kind of purple clay mask across her T-zone. To top it all off, she’d stuck a pair of gel patches to the skin under her hazel eyes.
“Well, aren’t you a sight,” Candice quipped, dropping her head to one side.
Jasmine stuck her tongue out.
Candice laughed and rolled off my bed. “Last chance if you want to come with me,” she told Jasmine. “Max will be here in less than an hour to pick me up.”
“Where are you guys going, anyway?” I asked.
“His brother rented a house on the other side of the lake and is throwing a huge party,” Candice replied. “They’ve got fireworks and a ton of food for everyone. Max said there’s a hot tub, too.”
Jasmine arched a brow as she met my gaze in the mirror. “And lots of drinking?” she asked.
“I’m sure,” Candice replied, using a tone that suggested she already knew the lecture she was in for. “I’m not going to be drinking. I mean, at least, not a lot or anything.” She shrugged.
She’d be twenty-one in a few months. And neither Jasmine nor I had squeaky-clean reputations to stand atop in that regard. I’d probably gone a little crazier than Jasmine, but we lived in a small town and teenage bonfires and house parties always included someone’s older sibling or cousin who could buy booze. Regardless of my own antics, Candice was my baby sister, and it was impossible to ignore my protective instincts.
“Just be smart,” Jasmine told her. “Don’t take a drink from a stranger. Don’t leave your cup unattended. And make sure your phone is fully charged before you go.”
Jasmine glanced at me and I nodded in agreement. “If you need a ride home, call me. I’ll have my phone on.”
Candice rolled her eyes. “Okay, grandmas. Yeesh. You two act like I never leave the house on my own or something.”
She flounced out of the room before either Jasmine or I could offer further advice or admonishments. Jasmine sighed as she took Candice’s place on my bed. She perched on the edge and smiled at me. “You look pretty.”
“Thanks.” I blinked at my reflection. My hair was pulled back in a low, twisted style to keep it out of my face. Before I could go on my date, I had to make a delivery for Sugar Shack, our family’s bakery. It wasn’t technically my job, but when the normal delivery driver called in sick, my mother made Candice, Jasmine, and me draw straws—a tried-and-true selection process in the Midnight household—and I managed to grab the short one.
“Where is Orion taking you?” Jasmine asked.
“He won’t tell me,” I replied with a slight frown as I reached for a tube of lip gloss. “I offered to help, but he insisted on making the plans.”
Jasmine smiled. “Sounds like a real Neanderthal.”
A laugh bubbled out of my mouth as I swiped the gloss over my lips. “Totally. I’m still not quite sure how I managed to get talked into going out with him. After that whole thing with the Christmas elves and Santa, I guess I got caught up in the moment.” I smiled, realizing how insane the sentence sounded.
Jasmine noticed, too. “You’ve only been back in Winterspell for a couple of months and already your life is farmore interesting than mine.”
Setting the lip gloss aside, I twisted on the padded stool and faced her. “Is everything all right, Jazz? Why aren’t you going anywhere tonight? Surely, there’s something more interesting to do on New Year’s Eve than sitting around here, watching Grandma Rose’s favorite romance flicks till you pass out.”
Jasmine tried to smile as she shrugged off my question, but none of her usual warmth showed in her eyes. “Hey, at least there’s bottomless popcorn and a solid bottle of merlot included in the deal. I could do worse.”
My heart twisted. “I’m not going to tell you how to live your life, but Jazz, at some point, you’ve got to break the ties of your old memories; otherwise, you might miss the chance to make new ones.”
Jasmine’s jaw flexed as she looked down at her hands. “I know,” she said, her tone strained.
“Come with me tonight!” I blurted.
She looked up, her brows drawn. “On your date? Yeah. I’m sure Orion would love that.”
I flapped my hand. “It’s not like it’s even a date date, anyway.”
One of her brows peaked into an arch.
“Well, I mean, at least I don’t think it is,” I added. “Ugh. I’m thirty years old. Why does it suddenly feel like I’m going to a high school dance or something?”
Jasmine laughed softly. “Because you’re being stubborn and refusing to admit you might kinda sorta like the guy.”
Grinning, I shook my head. “No, that doesn’t sound right.”
Our dad, James Midnight, appeared in the doorway and rapped his knuckles against the wooden doorframe. He wore a navy suit—likely the only suit he owned—with a white shirt and silver-and-blue-striped tie. “Evening, ladies.”
“Whoa, Dad! You look all snazzy,” Jasmine said. “Bring me a doggy bag with something chocolate, will ya?”
Dad laughed. “I’ll see what I can do. Are you staying in tonight?” A glimmer of concern showed in his eyes, though it faded quickly enough I hoped Jasmine might not have noticed it. “I heard there’s a singles event going on at Merlin’s Well tonight. You might meet someone new.”
Jasmine groaned. “New? In Winterspell? I hardly think so unless they moved in since yesterday and the gossip grapevine hasn’t spread word of it all over town just yet.”
I suppressed a smile. She was right, of course. Winterspell wasn’t Mayberry tiny, but it was small and close-knit—and since it was a secret community, composed solely of magical beings, the residents didn’t tend to change as much as they might in a non-magic town. Someone new moving in was big news and not likely to have missed notice, especially this time of year when there wasn’t much to do besides sit in cozy coffee shops and gossip.
“Well, what about you, Rosella?” Dad asked, nervously shifting his attention away from Jasmine. “You look a little overdressed for a simple delivery job. Do you have plans for the evening?”
“I’m going out with a friend,” I replied.
Jasmine coughed into her closed fist. “Friend.”
Narrowing my eyes, I shot her a look. “Very mature.”
She flashed me a grin.
“Right. Well, have a good time,” Dad said. “If you have questions once you get to the bakery, just give us a call. We’ll have our phones on.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. “Thanks, Dad, but I think I’ve got it.”
He nodded, gave Jasmine one last glance, then pushed away from the doorframe and headed off down the hall, his shiny dress shoes smacking against the hard floors.
I stood from my stool at the vanity and smoothed my hands down the sides of my purple party dress. It fell a little past the knee in a flirty A-line silhouette and was a good mix between dressy and formal. Since I didn’t know where Orion was taking me, I’d gone for something versatile. I wrapped a beaded black shawl around my shoulders, secured it in place with a sparkly pin, and then slipped on a pair of black faux-suede booties. I had a knee-length gray peacoat that I planned to layer over the top to keep out the biting chill. Central Washington was cold this time of year—even more so in Winterspell, which sat at a higher elevation than the neighboring non-magic communities. We’d had a few snow days already this season, with more to come, no doubt.
“Last chance for escape,” I told Jasmine, as I spun back around to face her, one hand resting on the light switch near my bedroom door.
She waved me off, then pushed up from my bed. “I’m fine. Really. You’d better get going or you’ll run late on the delivery, and believe me, you don’t want that lecture tomorrow. I’ll keep my phone on in case Candice gets herself into trouble. You just have fun. Enjoy your caveman,” she called as I slipped into the hallway.
“Thanks!” I scurried through the large farmhouse, my childhood home, and stopped just long enough to slip into my coat before hurrying out the door. My phone, car keys, and other essentials were stashed in a silver wristlet dangling from my right forearm.
Careful to watch my step on the frost-coated stairs and driveway, I made it to my mostly functional Ford Focus and climbed in behind the wheel. I turned the key and breathed a sigh of relief when the engine revved to life. It was the hatchback model and was large enough that I likely could have loaded the cake and pastries into the cargo area, but when I arrived at Sugar Shack, I stepped into the office and grabbed the key ring to the branded delivery van parked out back.
It took all of three minutes for me to wish I’d worn sneakers and swapped them for the booties after making the delivery, but it was too late to go home and find a pair. The order I needed was plainly marked in the walk-in, and I carefully loaded each box into the back of the van (pleading with whatever goddess might be listening to keep me from spilling anything along the way).
When the last box was loaded up, I breathed a sigh of relief, strapped everything into place, and closed the back doors—
And promptly had a heart attack when I turned to find a man standing beside me in the alleyway behind the bakery.
“Matty!” I screeched, one hand clenched to my chest to keep my heart from catapulting right out of it. “Don’t dothat!”
Matty winced. “Sorry, Ella. I thought you would have heard me walk up.”
I shook my head. Matty O’Lear was one of my oldest friends, our relationship having deep roots back in our elementary school days when we’d bonded over our shared love of macaroni crafts and stories about dragons. He stood a couple inches taller than me but was nearly twice as broad, with thick shoulders and a squared-off jawline. He could look intimidating if the occasion called for it, but most of the time he was grinning and cracking jokes. He had thick auburn hair, eyes the color of evergreens, and a splash of freckles across his nose.
“I just stopped by your parents’ place and Candice said I might catch you here,” he explained. “She also told me that you have a date tonight,” Matty added with a wide grin as he planted one large palm against the back of the delivery van.
I laughed at the feigned sternness in his eyes. “I was going to tell you.”
“Oh, yeah?” His smile widened. “When?”
“It’s really not a big deal, okay?”
“I know you kind of met him in that whole sea monster-slash-kidnapping thing last month, but I didn’t realize you two were even friendly, let alone anything more.”
I licked my lips and plucked the correct key from the delivery van key ring. “I don’t even know if date is the right word. He’s in town taking some vacation time and asked if I was free.”
Matty’s amusement only seemed to grow. “He just happened to be vacationing in Winterspell? What are the odds of that?”
“I need to make this delivery,” I said, pushing his arm away from the van. “So, unless you want to come with me and sling boxes of tarts, you need to scoot. What are you doing tonight, anyway? Shouldn’t you have a date of your own to get to? Don’t tell me one of Winterspell’s most eligible bachelors is spending New Year’s Eve solo.”
Matty snorted. “Now you’re starting to sound like my mom. She’s been trying to set me up with her friends’ daughters for months now. I’m not sure who’s the bigger nag, her or Sonia.”
I smiled, though the edges felt a little bittersweet. Sonia Reyes, Matty, and me had been a trio—the Three Musketeers—all through school and beyond, but Sonia and I had drifted apart over the years I wasn’t in Winterspell, and since my return, things between us felt strained. “Where is Sonia tonight?”
“She’s out with her girlfriend. Dinner and dancing. She tried to make it a double, but I turned her down.” He sighed and let his gaze drift for a moment, back toward the street. His breath floated between us, a puff of white mist. “I don’t know, Ella. It just seems like every date is the same as the one before. Somewhere along the way I got bored. I have more fun hanging out with my friends, people I know, than I do spending hours trying to find common ground with a stranger in a bar or sitting through an awkward dinner.”
Smiling, I wrapped my arms a little tighter around myself. “I hear ya. I think that’s part of the reason I stayed with Leo as long as I did. We kept gravitating back to one another, not because we were meant to be or whatever, but because we were comfortable. Familiar. We’d reached that broken-in phase of the relationship. It’s hard to resist.”
Matty bobbed his chin, his gaze still distant for another moment. When he dragged it back to me, he slipped on a gregarious smile and slapped his hand against the back of the van. “I should let you get going. Good luck with the delivery, and the date.”
“Are you going home?”
He thumbed over his shoulder. “Picking up my takeout order. I ordered enough for a small army.” He chuckled. “I thought you might have been free.”
“Sorry.” I offered a sympathetic smile. “You could go save Jazz from her movie marathon with Grandma Rose.”
He laughed and took a few steps backward, toward the sidewalk. “I just might do that. Catch you later, Ella. Have a good time tonight.”
“Thanks, Matty.” I held up a gloved hand. “See you next year.”
“That’s right! See you next year.” He laughed and turned away.
He reached the mouth of the small alley when I called out his name. “Yeah?” he said, glancing over his shoulder.
“Do you know anything about a big party at one of the lake houses across the way?”
Matty hitched one broad shoulder. “Luke Perish is supposedly throwing a kegger out at his parents’ place. Why?”
“That’s where Candice is heading.”
“Ah.” He raised his fingers to his brow. “I’ll swing by around midnight and see if she needs a ride home.”
He flashed a smile. “Absolutely. Have fun on your date. I expect the full rundown tomorrow.”
I laughed as I headed for the back door of the bakery to lock up. “You always were a gossip.”
He chuckled and stepped out of the alleyway. “Happy New Year, Ella!”