With guilt-inducing speed, my mind flashed to Jed, who was proving to be a considerate neighbor. He’d swept off my side of the porch and placed one of his rickety rocking chairs next to my front door. Apparently, he’d been given permission to fix my back patio, too, because this morning, he began breaking up the old one with a sledgehammer just as the sun came up. And he looked like Hephaestus’s well-built, better-looking brother while doing it. That was not right.
Since I was most definitely awake and alert, I took a cup of tea out to him after changing into some shorts and completing several rounds of anti-morning-breath tactics. He seemed a little chagrined to see me, his face flushing an adorable pink as I approached with my carefully balanced tea mugs. “Mornin’,” I called.
“Mornin’.” He cleared his throat, wiping his forehead with a red bandana. “I, uh, should probably apologize for the other night. As pleasant as it was to have my hands full of naked new neighbor, my mama wouldn’t have approved of the way I behaved. My only defense is that I’m not used to ladies introducin’ themselves by climbin’ me like a jungle gym . . . Well, that’s not true; it does happen on occasion. But that’s why I stay away from bachelorette parties nowadays.”
“Are you blaming this on me? You groped my ass while I was terrified.”
The worry clouding his expression faded away, shifting from tense to playfully indignant.
“It was a comforting grope,” he protested.
“I don’t think there’s any such thing as a comforting grope.”
Jed’s lips twitched. “Clearly, you’ve never met a man who did it well.”
I really wished this wasn’t working on me. Smiling at lines this lame was demoralizing. “You know, you’re not nearly as attractive as you think you are.”
He snorted. “Well, that can’t possibly be true.”
It was just quick, cheeky conversation over tea, after which Jed went back to work, and I went upstairs to organize my meager belongings. But it had left me confused and twitchy. I was not a cheater. I was not the sort of woman who flirted with other men while her boyfriend waited at home. I was going to have to find a way to interact with Jed that didn’t involve cheekiness. Or shirtlessness.
And so I’d walked up and down this generally abandoned street all afternoon, working off excess energy and gauging what I might be able to see through the front windows of Specialty Books. (Thanks to thick metal sunproof shades, nothing.) Whether the shop could be accessed from the back door during daytime hours, when there were no vampires lurking about. (No.) And if there was a position available at the consignment shop next door. (Also, no.)
Eventually, I’d returned to my car to wait for Jane Jameson and her staff to arrive. Like clockwork, as soon as the sun set over the horizon, a large black SUV pulled into the spot directly in front of the shop. Two women piled out, one a redhead, one a brunette, chatting animatedly as the brunette unlocked the heavy front door.
I waited, watching through the front windows as they moved about inside. A half hour passed, and I ambled casually across the street as if I hadn’t stalked the place for most of the day. I wiped my sweating palms across my dark jeans and straightened the casual green top I’d chosen. Why was I so nervous all of a sudden? It wasn’t as if I’d done anything wrong—yet. And it wasn’t as if I needed the approval of a vampire shopkeeper, even though she could prove to be a great help or hindrance in accomplishing the task at hand.
I wasn’t sure what I would say to Jane Jameson when I met her. It depended on what I found in her shop and the impression I got from her. If she seemed untrustworthy, I would pretend to be selling calendars for an orphans fund and run as if the devil was chasing me. If I got a good feeling from her, well, I hadn’t worked that out just yet.
“Please stop giving yourself pep talks, Nola,” I grumbled to myself. “Or your next stop will be a narrow window ledge.”
Taking a deep breath, I opened the door, the tinkling of a little bell overhead announcing my arrival. This was my grandfather’s shop? It looked so modern and . . . well, girlie.
The view from outside hadn’t done the place justice. Specialty Books’ decor was playful and whimsical, not at all what you would expect from a vampire-owned shop. The walls were painted a cheerful blue, with a sprinkle of twinkling silver stars. There were comfy purple chairs and café tables arranged around the room in little conversation groups. Little pewter fairies danced on the shelves around rings of marble eggs and geodes.
A large cabinet to the left of the register displayed a huge collection of ritual candles. Although they weren’t the sort of candle I needed, I picked up a pink pillar marked “Romantic Love” and sniffed the wax. Rosemary and marjoram, not your usual rose-scented mix. I could appreciate that. Candle magic was one of the more approachable arenas of magic for a “dabbler.” While most people were uncomfortable with rituals and poppets, they didn’t see any harm in lighting a candle. You just chose a color based on your needs—red for passion, green for monetary gain or fertility—inscribed the candles according to what you wanted, and lit them up. But you had to be careful what you asked for. Spell-based love was notoriously fickle. Casting for financial gain often resulted in quick money fixes but long-term crises. As with most areas of the Craft, I didn’t bother with it. But I liked the smell of Nana’s homemade candles, made with herbs and oils from her garden, and sometimes burned them just for the pleasure of the scent.
Most witches consecrated their own candles with special oils, herbal mixes designed for their particular purpose. But if you were dealing with novices, which this shop likely would, it made sense to sell candles made of prescented wax. And the candles seemed to be of high quality, good strong scents without being overpowering. Even if Jane Jameson wasn’t a practitioner, she seemed to appreciate what her customers would want and tried to give them a little more than was expected. That made me smile.
Beyond the candles, the leaded glass and maple cupboard that held the cash register displayed a collection of ritual knives. My heart seemed to stutter a bit. Ritual knives? Athames, right up front? My hands shook slightly as I looked over the display. It couldn’t be that simple, could it? I couldn’t just walk into my grandfather’s shop and find the first two items on my little shopping list.
I looked over the neatly arranged knives and candles. I’d only seen sketches of the athame in question—silver, with a black enamel handle, inlaid in perfect silver spirals, a large cloudy blue gemstone set in the center of the handle. The candle was thick, white, and round, standing nearly a foot tall, inscribed over and over with a distinctive double version of the Celtic knot.
My buoyant little bubble of hope popped and deflated as I scanned the items in the cabinet. The shop had a fine collection, but none of them matched the descriptions I’d been given.
Sighing, I wandered a bit around the neatly arranged bookshelves, running my fingers over the spines of the books. Jane Jameson had scattered large black-and-white framed photos on the walls, smiling people, happy to be together. Was this her family? There was a wedding picture of the tall brunette and a handsome dark-haired man, though they looked to be dressed like something out of a BBC Jane Austen production. A holiday picture involving some hideous sweaters. I recognized Mr. Wainwright in a few of the shots—much older than he was in Nana’s photos, wizened to the point of being rather adorable, with a fringe of frazzled white hair and bifocals perched on top of his head. His face nearly crackled with laugh lines. He looked so happy, grinning broadly at the camera, particularly in the photos with the others. In one shot, near the register, the brunette had her arm slung around Mr. Wainwright’s shoulders, both laughing at something behind the camera.
I didn’t know how to feel about this. I’d pictured Mr. Wainwright as this lonely little hermit, living above his shop. And somehow, that’s what I wanted. He’d left my Nana Fee alone all those years. Some part of me was unsure that I wanted him to be this happy. I’d never understood why Nana Fee never married Jimmy O’Shea, a charming bachelor who lived down the lane. He had been courting Nana Fee since they were in school. But she’d refused him, so many times. His failed proposals were the stuff of legend in Kilcairy.
The single most depressing thought I had was that Nana Fee had truly loved Mr. Wainwright. And all the while, he’d moved on. Had he ever thought of her after he returned to America? My Nana Fee was a good woman. She’d deserved second thoughts.
Not to mention that Mr. Wainwright seemed to have replaced me with taller, prettier granddaughter models, which was causing no small amount of latent jealousy.
Abandonment issues aside, I was comfortable here. There was a good energy in this building, as much as I hated to admit it. The rental may have been Mr. Wainwright’s house, but this was his home.
Stepping closer to one of the shelves, I noticed a title. Miss Manners’ Guide to Undead Etiquette? Chuckling, I continued down the shelf.
From Fangs to Fairy Folk: Unusual Creatures of Midwestern North America.
Have You Ever Seen a Dream Walking: A Beginner’s Guide to Otherworldly Travel.
When, What, Witch, Were, and Why? The Five W’s of Safe Interactions with the Paranormal.
I picked up a trade paperback, arching an eyebrow. “Tuesdays with Morrie?”
From the back of the store, I could feel a little mental tickle, a nudge at the back of my brain. Holy shit! A mind-reader? I wasn’t prepared to deal with a mind-reader now! I stopped in my tracks, closing my eyes and sliding down what Nana would have called my “mental shield,” picturing a rather large Jell-O mold forming around my head, protecting my brain from intruders.
Yes, it sounded silly. It’s my brain, and I’ll protect it however I want.
The tickle turned into an all-out poke. The slim brunette from the photos stepped out of some nook in the back, followed by an irritated-looking redhead. The brunette gave me a warm, if perplexed, smile. She was wearing jeans and a beautiful red silk blouse. The redhead, cool and elegant and far more wrinkle-free than anyone had a right to be at this time of night, was also featured heavily in the photo display. She was more subtly attired in a candy-floss-pink blouse and gray silk slacks.
“Can I help you find anything?” the brunette asked, her eyes narrowing at me slightly. She blinked a few times and shook her head, as if she had water in her ear.
“Just looking around,” I said, holding up the paperback.
“This one again?” The brunette groaned, taking Tuesdays with Morrie back to the section marked “Fiction” and reshelving it. “I swear to you, Andrea, this book is possessed. It’s like the stories about those porcelain dolls that move around while you sleep.”
Andrea, the gorgeous redhead, rolled her eyes. “I’m ninety percent sure Dick moves that book every time he comes into the store, just to mess with you.” She turned to me. “Jane has issues with dolls . . . and puppets . . . and clowns. We keep a list in the back, if you’re interested.”
Despite myself, I found myself snickering. I cleared my throat. “You have an interesting selection here. You stock ritual items?” I nodded toward the display cupboard.
The redhead frowned a bit. “Some. We’re primarily a bookshop, but the previous owner had quite a collection, and we keep the athames and candles around as sort of a tip of the hat.”
Jane stared at me, blinking as if she was having trouble concentrating.
“That’s very sweet,” I said, ignoring her blatant perusal and pointing to the little ownership plaque by the register. “So I take it you’re Jane Jameson, proprietor?”
Andrea sighed. In a lifeless, resigned tone, she said, “I will never be as smart as Jane Jameson-Nightengale.”