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The Witch’s Handbook to Hunting Vampires – Blitz

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Paranormal/Witch Cozy Mystery
Date Published: September 5, 2017
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Andie Taylor is your average single mom. She’s got a beautiful toddler, a great job at the local preschool, a neurotic best friend and one huge secret—she used to hunt vampires. Now retired, Andie would much rather be wiping kid snot off her clothes than stalking the undead.
But after a meteor rips through her small town, strange things start happening—like the school janitor is found dead with fang marks in his neck.
Andie’s retired, it’s not her problem.
Until vampires attack Andie on her front lawn. Now she has to figure out who the head bloodsucker is and stop him from taking any more victims—all while juggling single motherhood, a crazy great aunt, and Andie’s own lust for a fallen angel. Can she solve the mystery before the vampires claim someone else? Or will she become the next target of the bloodsuckers?
Excerpt
ONE
“Expect the unexpected, especially when it comes to relatives.”
—The Witch’s Handbook
My great-aunt Dot decided to poof into my life at the exact same moment I was talking my best friend down from the comet-pocalypse that was about to hit our town.
Literally—on both fronts.
I waved away a shimmering cloud of silver dust and came face-to-face with a pink-haired, feather-jacket-wearing seventy-year-old.
“Andie, get off the phone.” Aunt Dot pulled off a pair of matching feather gloves and tossed them on a side table by my turquoise front door.
I placed a hand over the receiver. “I’ve told you a thousand times, I don’t want you working magic in my house.”
“We’ve got bigger fish to fricassee than your stupid rules.”
“I don’t want Gabby to see.”
Dot’s blue eyes sparkled. “Oh? Where is the little munchkin?”
I nodded toward the bedroom. “In there. Sound asleep.” I wagged a finger at her. “Don’t you change that.”
My newly acquired geriatric companion shuffled off to not wake my two-year-old daughter, who happened to be the love of my life. I sighed and put the phone back to my ear.
Kate panted into the line. “It’s the end of the world, Andie! I just know it.”
I grimaced. Kate McCall, my best friend and cohort in crime, pierced my eardrum with her shrieks of the apocalypse.
“It’s not the end of the world,” I said soothingly.
“Go look. Missy Burke’s already rode down my street calling it that. If she says it’s the end, then it probably is. That woman’s got her finger on the pulse of this town.”
“More like her nose up its rear end,” I said.
“Andie. Be nice.” Kate paused. “Never mind. I love you the way you are.”
I opened my front door and stepped out. A cold October wind ripped over the porch. I rubbed my arms to warm them. Boards in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint creaked under my ballerina flats.
A shiny full-size Ford pickup truck grunted down Cedar Street in my small hometown of Normal, Alabama. The driver bore down on the horn, threw her head out the window and yelled, “It’s the end of the world, y’all! The Lord’s coming in a comet to set y’all straight.”
Missy Burke was nothing if not informative. Dark hair trailed behind her like snakes as the wind whipped across her face.
She pointed at me. “Say your prayers, Andie Taylor. The Lord sees you. He knows where you’re going when you face judgment.”
Which I took to mean I wasn’t going to be standing beside her in heaven. If you asked Missy, she was the most perfect person on the planet and one of the few who’d get through the pearly gates.
I gave a friendly wave. “He sees you, too, scaring the good folks in this town half to death. You should be ashamed of yourself, Missy.”
Missy scrunched up her face and swatted at me as if I didn’t matter.
“Missy Burke just told me I was going to hell,” I said over the line.
“I’ll probably see you there,” Kate said. “I don’t think I prayed enough, Andie. St. Peter’s going to tell me I need to turn right back around and go the other way.”
I laughed. “That’s not going to happen. You’re a great person. St. Peter’s going to be excited to have you.”
With Missy gone, the night had quieted but for a white light shining in the distance. It looked like a star except it was getting bigger by the moment. “It’s a comet. Nothing to worry about.”
“It’s pretty bright. It’s going to hit my house.”
“Listen, I’ll keep an eye on it. If it looks like it’s going to destroy your house, I’ll call you.”
“Thank you. Mwuah.” She kissed the phone. “You’re the greatest friend in all the world.”
“I try.”
We hung up, and I went inside, immediately wondering if I had any chocolate in the house. I entered the kitchen, opened the fridge and found a bottle of syrup. Dot’s presence always stressed me out. I flipped the lid and squirted some in my mouth.
Better. Now I was ready to face my great-aunt. I crossed back to the living room.
Dot entered and started zipping up all the blinds.
“What are you doing?” I said.
“We’ve got to keep an eye on that comet. It’s not a natural phenomenon, Andie. It’s something magical.”
“It’s always about magic with you,” I mumbled. “Did you show up just to make my life complicated?”
Dot plumped her pink hair. “Of course not, but you’re a hunter and a witch. It beats me why you won’t use your powers.”
I crossed my arms and leaned against the front door. “Was a hunter. Witchcraft causes more problems than it’s worth. You of all people should know that.”
Dot withered a bit. I instantly felt a pang of guilt, but the truth was the truth.
“Mom died because of magic.”
Dot shook her head. “Your mother died because she called something she couldn’t control. It nearly killed all of us.”
I flared my arms. “That’s in the past. I don’t need magic and I don’t want it. My life is perfectly normal exactly as it is, and I want to keep it that way.”
Neither of us said anything. I waited a moment, letting the tension in the room dissolve.
Dot shrugged off her jacket and threw it on a chair.
“You’re not staying long, are you?” I said.
Please, don’t let her be staying long.
She plopped onto the couch and kicked up her feet. “I don’t know yet. Depends on what that comet brings.”
“How about some stardust and that’s it.”
At that moment a Magic 8 Ball sailed into the room.
Dot threw up her hands in glee. “Vordrid! Finally, someone with sense.”
Vordrid sniffed. I know that as a Magic 8 Ball he didn’t technically have a nose, but that didn’t stop him from making sounds only a person with a head could create. “I’m twelve hundred years old. I should have some sense.”
Dot turned to me. “For someone who doesn’t want Gabby seeing magic, I don’t understand why you keep Vordrid.”
“Because Vordrid is family, and he doesn’t cause any trouble,” I said, nodding at her.
Truth be told, Vordrid was the only link I had to Dex, my husband, who’d died before Gabby was born.
An arrow of pain pierced my heart. I pushed it aside, doing my best not to fall into the pit of despair that was the longing I still had for Dex.
“I wouldn’t leave Andie if you gave me a crystal skull to live in,” Vordrid said. “And according to that Ancient Aliens show, crystal skulls possess lots of power.”
Vordrid had been my mentor in my hunter days. What’s a hunter, you ask? A select group of witches and wizards employed to seek out and destroy evil beings. Dex and I had specialized in vampires, though plenty of hunters tracked other magical creatures.
Vordrid was the only piece of that old life I’d kept.
The light outside brightened. Dot flew off the couch and to the window. “Quick! This is no ordinary comet.”
“As you’ve said.” I caught my reflection in the mirror above the mantel. My thick honey- and platinum-colored hair lay in sagging curls over my shoulders, and I had dark circles under each eye that even my cute fringe of bang couldn’t draw your attention away from. What I wouldn’t give for some stress relief.
Like a massage.
I yawned. “Wake me when it’s over.”
Dot glanced at Vordrid. “Can’t you do anything with her?”
Vordrid settled himself down on the coffee table. “What can I do with a witch who doesn’t want to be one?”
I smiled. “He’s pretty much right.”
Dot clasped her hands in frustration. “Andie, you must advocate for us. For your profession.”
“Dot, I’m a preschool teacher at Giving Trunk. I advocate for children every day.”
Yes, it’s trunk, not tree. I think there was some sort of infringement thing that kept the place from being called Giving Tree.
Dot choked on something. By the sound of it, I think it was frustration. “You’re a witch.”
“Was a witch. I don’t practice.”
Vordrid pivoted toward Dot. “I haven’t been able to do anything with her for years. Not since that night.”
Dot shook her head and glanced back at the comet. “I don’t have time for your piddling, Andie. It’s coming.”
“It’s not like it’s the end of the world,” I said.
Vordrid hopped a bit. “It could be. You know that’s what killed the dinosaurs.”
“Vordrid, it’s not the end of the world.”
“Stranger things have happened.”
I nodded. “Exactly. Like me living with the spirit of a twelve-hundred-year-old wizard who resides inside a kid’s toy.”
Vordrid rattled his shell. “As I said, stranger things.”
I rolled my eyes. “Thank you for reminding me. I’m going to check on Gabby.”
I padded into the small bedroom off the parlor and placed a hand in the crib. Gabby slept soundly. I pulled the covers down over her legs and made sure she was breathing.
Because that’s what all mothers do—we sporadically make sure that our children are still breathing because we’re a little mental that way.
The house started to shake. I pulled Gabby’s crib away from the wall to make sure nothing would fall on her and went back into the living room. A couple of picture frames tumbled from their place on the mantel.
“Magic,” Dot whispered.
“Natural phenomenon,” I shot back.
“I feel a disturbance in the force,” Vordrid said.
What the…? Seriously? Were they all against me?
I peeked out the window. Yellowish light filled the entire sky. People were coming out of their homes. I rushed back in to check on Gabby, and she was sleeping soundly. I glanced out the window as the comet flew over the street, scorching the tops of the trees.
A moment later it sounded like the world had split in two. A quake rocked the house. Knicknacks fell off the shelves to the floor. The shaking subsided as quickly as it started, and the night retuned to peace and quiet.
Except for the twenty car alarms blaring down my street. I guess the rumbling had set them off.
Gabby slept soundly. Thank goodness. Whenever she woke in the middle of the night, she would cry on and on. It was a nightmare trying to get her back to sleep. I had a feeling Dot may have had something to do with keeping her in slumber.
“I’m going to see what happened,” Vordrid said. His spirit lifted from the ball. It looked like strips of white gossamer as it zipped out the window.
I thought things might get back to normal in Normal for the rest of the night.
Silly me. I realized that wasn’t going to happen when Dot grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me around. Perched on my couch, licking its paw, sat a gray gargoyle. He wasn’t very big, about the size of a pound of flour, but he was still a creature that wasn’t supposed to be in my house.
“What the heck?” I screeched.
Dot pushed me forward. “It must’ve hitchhiked on my back when I came up from Patagonia.”
“Patagonia?” I said.
She wiggled her fingers. “I was there learning how to touch the sky. I must’ve touched something else instead.”
“Yeah, like a monster.”
The gargoyle stopped licking its paw. It opened leathery wings lined with veins, unhinged its mouth, and shot fire at us.
I ducked. “Oh dear Lord!”
“Stop it, Andie,” Dot said, pushing me forward.
I tried to scramble back, but she held me fast. “Why are you shoving me closer to it? Are you trying to fry me?”
Dot clasped my shoulders tightly. “You’re a hunter. Use your power!”
I pressed my heels into the rug, turned around and said, “Would you quit calling me that!”
Another spray of fire shot above our heads.
“Ah,” I screamed.
“You’re going to wake up Gabby,” Dot said, patting down her pink hair.
Holy crap on a stick. She was right. If I didn’t deal with this little turdball on my couch, the toddler would wake up and that would be a crying nightmare worse than my great-aunt visiting me.
I started to pull the energy from the room and bring it into my body. The small taste of power felt good. Almost a little too good, like when you haven’t eaten chocolate in a really long time because you’re on a diet. Then when you taste it, it’s like heaven melting on your tongue.
Yeah, that’s kinda what using my magic felt like.
Don’t worry; I wasn’t going to admit it to Dot.
Speaking of my great-aunt, I glanced over my shoulder. The look of glee on her face made me stop. Something smelled funny, and it wasn’t the streak of blackened ceiling that little monster had caused.
I walked over to the creature and crossed my arms. “Okay, how much is my aunt paying you for scaring me?”
The gargoyle frowned.
I rubbed my thumb over my fingers. “How much? Because what she didn’t tell you is, if I use my power, you will turn to dust. I suggest you get out of here before that money or gold or whatever seems like nothing when you’re sewing yourself back together.”
The creature opened his mouth and screeched. He flapped his wings and, half a second later, vanished in a purple cloud of magic.
I waved the air clear.
“You think you’re so smart,” Dot grumbled.
I grinned. “You almost had me.” I pinched my fingers together. “So close, but you know, there’s a reason why I don’t invite you over often. Oh, and fix my ceiling.”
Dot snapped her fingers, and the smudge disappeared. She clucked at me. “Your daughter needs to learn witchcraft.”
My nostrils flared. “Gabby won’t get her powers until she hits puberty—if she even gets them then. The magic could skip a generation. But until that time, I want Gabby to live a normal, happy life. Magic has taken too much from me—first my mother and then Dex.”
Dot plucked her shirt from the waistband of her jeans. “It wasn’t the magic, per se.”
I shot her a dark look. “It was because of the magic, and don’t you forget it.”
Dot clamped her lips shut.
Vordrid shot back into the house and twisted inside the ball.
I rubbed at the headache that had sprouted in my temples. “What’d you see?”
He jumped up and down, making the knickknacks on the table jumble. “It wasn’t a regular comet.”
“See?” Dot said. “Told you so.”
“It’s really annoying when people use that phrase,” I said.
“We’re related. I can use it as much as I want.”
Vordrid kept jumping. “If it had been a comet, I would’ve expected to see the meteor. But instead of a rock, there was a shape formed into the ground.”
I scratched the back of my head. “Really? A shape? That’s interesting.”
“It was interesting, Andie. Most interesting of all was the shape it had taken.”
“And what was that?” I said, half listening.
Vordrid cleared his throat. “The shape of a human.”
Dot smirked. “Something just landed in Normal. Get ready, Andie. This town is going to need a witch, and that witch is you.” 

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About the Author

Amy Boyles grew up reading Judy Blume and Christopher Pike. Somehow, the combination of coming of age books and teenage murder mysteries made her want to be a writer. After graduating college at DePauw University, she spent some time living in Chicago, Louisville, and New York before settling back in the South. Now, she spends her time chasing two toddlers while trying to stir up trouble in Silver Springs, Alabama, the fictional town where Dylan Apel and her sisters are trying to master witchcraft, tame their crazy relatives, and juggle their love lives.
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Don’t Give a Witch – Reveal

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Witch/Paranormal Cozy Mystery
Date Published: July 19, 2017
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Dylan Apel is at it again…
When the Magical Abilities contest is announced, Dylan couldn’t give a flip about entering. But when she discovers the prize is the coveted Never Forget, a spell that makes you immune to mind erasing, she’s all in.
That is, until the potion is stolen. Now, she’s on lock down in Castle Witch with a thief on the loose. But lucky for her, the witching elite has also arrived, and Dylan’s convinced one of them is the Master, an elusive criminal who she believes committed a heinous murder twenty years ago. All Dylan has to do is slip a magical ring on the right person’s finger and she’s got her killer.
But when the ring is stolen, Dylan’s not sure who to trust. Things get worse when her boyfriend is arrested for a theft he didn’t commit, a close friend can’t remember important details, and Dylan herself is accused of cheating in the contest. Before things get any worse Dylan must find a thief and a murderer—before she becomes the next victim of the Master.
Don’t miss another Southern fried witchery—read Don’t Give a Witch today!
BLESS YOUR WITCH series:
Excerpt

 

An arm snaked around my waist. My breath caught in my throat.
“It’s been too long since I’ve smelled your hair,” came the gruff voice over my shoulder.
I narrowed my eyes. “I didn’t know you had a hair fetish. That’s totally weird.”
Hot breath parted my locks like fingers. “You’ve got a knack for ruining romantic moments. Did anyone ever tell you that?”
I giggled. “Anyone ever tell you that telling a girl it’s been too long since you smelled her hair is weird?”
Roman spun me around. I pitched forward only to be caught by muscular arms as soon as made of iron as they were of flesh and blood.
“Hold on there. Don’t fall over.”
I straightened. Sea-green eyes met my poo-brown ones. Yes, they were poo brown.
Blond hair grazed the top of his shoulders. I wove my fingers through the ends, pretending to be getting out a bit of lint or something, but really I just wanted to touch his hair.
He wrapped me in a quick hug. “You do smell good.”
“I try.”
We parted and he smiled at me. A goopy look filled his gaze. I bit down on the lopsided grin I knew was stitched on my own face.
“So,” I said. “Fancy meeting you here.”
Roman pocketed his hands. “You come to weddings often?”
“All the time.”
“I bet you go to pick up men.”
I rocked back on one heel. “Am I that obvious?”
Roman leaned on one hip, studying me. He rubbed his chin. “You’re not that obvious. It’s more of a sense I get from you.”
I quirked a brow. “Oh?”
“You seem like the type who goes to weddings, picks one guy, dances with him all night. It’s just long enough for that guy to fall a little bit in love with you. Then you dump him.”
My jaw fell. “That’s horrible. Why would someone do that?”
Roman shook his head. “Ever heard of a black widow?”
I rolled my eyes. “You’re terrible. I’m not a black widow. If anything, you’re a dark assassin.”
It was time for Roman to do some major eye rolling. Which he did. Which didn’t surprise me. “Right. Listen, how about you agree that I’m right and we do some dancing?”
I folded my arms over my chest. “Is that the proper way to ask a lady to dance?”
In a flourish of testosterone, Roman dropped to one knee and extended his hand to me. “My lady, would you care to dance with this poor soul?”
I nearly busted my gut laughing. Tears blurred my vision as I said, “Yes.”
Roman guided me out past the chairs. The quartet strings thrummed as he twirled me into the space. Others quickly joined and the post wedding fun kicked into high gear.
I have to tell you, those of us who weren’t centaurs had to make a lot of room for them.
Laughter buzzed in the air as the romance of the wedding took hold of us. Roman and I fell into a smooth rhythm, my head on his shoulder, his arms wrapped around me protectively. There was no place else I would rather have been.
A crack of light splintered into the center of the dance floor. People screamed. Others leaped back. Roman pushed me behind him, shielding me with his body.
My heart hammered against my ribs. Heat rose in my chest, rippling up my neck. I peered over Roman’s shoulder.
A man stood in the center. He wore an ebony cape with lapels starched up to his eyebrows. His amber hair was slicked back and he had a deep widow’s peak that plunged down his forehead.
He clapped his hands. “Greetings, everyone!”
The air stilled. The looks of shock on people’s faces quickly changed to confusion.
The man’s gaze washed over the crowd. He studied the gathering as if analyzing us in bits and pieces. He clapped his hands again. “I’ve come with good tidings to the happy couple.”
From his seat at the wedding table, Pearbottom gave a stiff nod. Eliza clutched his hand, her knuckles stretched to white.
I was surprised that neither Pearbottom or Roman had moved on this guy. The small bit of analytical brain I had quickly realized they didn’t consider him to be a threat. That one notion made me relax a tiny bit, the muscles in my neck and shoulders unknotting.
The man flashed a brilliant smile. “This year’s Magical Abilities contest is open for submissions. The grand prize is a vial of Never Forget.” His eyes swept across us once more, landing on me. His piercing gaze made my stomach knot. Maybe it was the cape, but I felt kinda creeped out by him.
The man raised his hands. “You may enter the contest,” he brought his watch to eye level and said, “starting now!”
A puff of gray smoke billowed up around him. The smoke took on lines, becoming sharper at the edges, more delineated until small circles broke off from the edges. These orbs of gas transformed into doves. Their wings fluttered as they rose high into the sky before disappearing.
A shimmering picture remained where the caped wizard had been standing. A halved roman column sat squat on the ground. Resting on it was a small, golden trophy. A halo shot out around it. After a few seconds the picture faded away, revealing a red banner with yellow script.
REGISTER NOW FOR THE MAGICAL ABILITIES CONTEST!
ALL ENTRANTS MUST BE RECEIVED WITHIN 24 HOURS
From all around me, the wedding crowd released a collective breath.
Roman turned. “You okay?”
I dragged my gaze from the banner. Energy still bubbled in my stomach from where the wizard had stared right through me.
“Hmm?” I said. I shook my head. “Yeah. I’m fine. Wow. That was totally weird. What was that all about?”
“I’ll tell you what it was about, toots.”
I glanced over and saw my paternal grandmother, Milly Jones, caning up to us. She’d dressed up for the occasion. Oh, she still wore black orthopedic shoes, beige support hose, a dark skirt and a shapeless cardigan. But this sweater had sequins!
“Milly, you’ve out done yourself,” I said.
A loud snort jutted from her gnarled hook nose. “I spare no expense when it comes to weddings. What can I say? I love seeing people get married. The only thing better than that is playing with babies,” she said flatly.
I really didn’t know if she was being serious or not. Milly loving babies? That was kind of like an alligator liking small deer.
Not that Milly was going to eat said children. She didn’t do that. Of course not. But she just didn’t strike me as the type to love playing with sweet, cooing babies.
I’d been known to be wrong before, though. It could happen again.
Milly eyed Roman like a pirate eyed treasure—with a glint. The only thing she was missing would have been a metal hand and maybe a gold tooth.
“Roman, it’s good to see you.”
“Good to see you, Milly.”
She studied the magical banner. People were milling about, taking their places once again on the dance floor.
“So I missed the announcement,” she said.
I pulled a tissue from my clutch purse and dabbed a splotch of sweat from my neck. “Where were you?”
“Bathroom.” She drifted toward the banner. “So it’s time again, huh? Time for the contest.”
I shrugged. “Looks like.”
Her neck snapped back to me. “You know you need to enter.”
I dropped the tissue. I shot her a panicked gaze. “Me? Why me? Why do I need to enter?”
She thumbed her nose. “All of you do. You and your sisters.”
“Why do we have to enter?”
Milly’s lips coiled into a serpentine smile. “So that you can win the Never Forget spell.”
I frowned. “Why would I need that?”
Her eyes dragged across the pavilion until they landed in my grandmother Hazel’s direction. “You need the spell,” she said slowly, “so that you can start remembering.”
Confusion fogged my brain. “Remembering what?”
Milly glanced back at me, her eyes stony cold as she said, “Everything your other grandmother makes you forget.”
About the Author 

Amy Boyles grew up reading Judy Blume and Christopher Pike. Somehow, the combination of coming of age books and teenage murder mysteries made her want to be a writer. After graduating college at DePauw University, she spent some time living in Chicago, Louisville, and New York before settling back in the South. Now, she spends her time chasing two toddlers while trying to stir up trouble in Silver Springs, Alabama, the fictional town where Dylan Apel and her sisters are trying to master witchcraft, tame their crazy relatives, and juggle their love lives.
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Scared Witchless Blitz

Mystery, Cozy Mystery 
Date Published:  June 28, 2016
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A witch. A murder. A wedding dress?
Dylan Apel is having one heck of a summer. She knows her hand-made clothing is special, but magical? Discovering that she’s a witch is bad enough, but when Dylan realizes there are folks who’ll kill to possess her witchy powers— that’s enough to make a girl want to hide out in the back of her boutique. Only problem is, Queen Witch is in town, itchin’ to make sure Dylan learns to cast spells, and this witch won’t take no for an answer.
Dylan must learn fast—someone just killed her best client with a poisoned gown meant for Dylan. Was it the tall, mysterious hottie in black, who’s suddenly everywhere she goes? After all, the first thing Roman Bane says is he doesn’t like witches. Is he here to save her, or kill her?
Dylan is barely getting a handle on her new powers when she finds herself surrounded by witches bossing her this way and that, local police nosing about, and wary clients—death by clothing is not good for business. And the solstice is coming … a time when witch powers are at their peak. Can Dylan survive the chaos long enough to figure out her new life?
EXCERPT
CHAPTER ONE
“If that ain’t the other side of stupid, I don’t know what is.”
Reagan Eckhart, all platinum-blonde ninety-eight pounds of her, shoved a newspaper in my face. I winced, barely avoiding a massive paper cut to the nose.
“Those idiots put you in Arts and Leisure. You should have been on the front page of the Birmingham News.” She tapped the newspaper with a single red fingernail. “With as much business as you do, Dylan Apel, you should have been the main story of the day.”
“Don’t you think technically they should have put me in the business section?” I said.
Reagan fluffed the foot of hair teased up at her crown. At least it looked like a foot. Okay, it wasn’t a foot—only six inches. But those were a tall six inches. Big enough to practically be their own person. “Whatever,” she mumbled.
The debutante was in rare form today. Reagan was dressed to the nines in a black halter top and pants that resembled Spandex. Personally, I was waiting for her to break out into the chorus of “You’re the One That I Want,” à la Olivia Newton-John. Harry Shaw, her fiancé—a smallish, bald financial advisor—definitely wouldn’t join her if she did. His idea of playing John Travolta probably resembled hot-and-heavy talk about how gross grease and lightning were and why would you want to put the two together?
I grabbed the paper and scrutinized the picture of me and my sisters, Seraphina and Reid. Bright, beaming smiles on our faces, we stood in front of our side-by-side stores—Perfect Fit and Sinless Confections. Seraphina, tall and slender, her hair shimmering like glass in the sunlight, looked absolutely perfect. Even Reid, my eighteen-year-old baby sis, looked cherubic and innocent, her doe eyes and cheeky smile radiating youthful exuberance.
Then there was me. I sighed. It had taken two hours to smooth my hair, and it had still frizzed on the edges. I wasn’t as tall or slender as Seraphina. But what I lacked in athletic build, I made up for in curves. Good for me. I might not look statuesque and perfect, but I could put on a slutty dress and have enough T and A to get noticed.
Was that a zit on my cheek?
“When I realized you had this store, Dylan,” Reagan said, “and I saw how beautiful the dresses were, I told Harry—I said, ‘Harry, that’s who’s going to design my wedding dress.’ Didn’t I, hon?”
Harry, nose-deep in the business section, remained silent.
Reagan kicked him.
“Ow!” Harry rubbed his ankle. “What’d you do that for?”
“Didn’t I, Harry? Didn’t I say that?”
Harry shrank a little, his bald pate looking even balder under the fluorescents. “Yes, of course you did, dear.”
Poor guy. He probably wouldn’t last a year in the marriage. He’d be whipped, beaten down and likely castrated after two months.
Did I say that out loud?
“Anyway,” Reagan continued, flitting about the room. “I told Harry, Dylan Apel and I were best friends in high school—”
“Mortal enemies,” I corrected.
“—and of course she’s going to be the one to design my dress.” Girlfriend didn’t miss one beat. I don’t think Reagan listened to what people said. Did she even hear them when they talked?
From the corner my assistant, Carrie Dogwood, snickered. I shot her a look of warning. She turned a deep shade of red and pretended to straighten a rack of sequined gowns.
“Reagan, do you want to see your dress again?” I asked.
“Of course,” she squealed. “I can’t get enough of it.”
Carrie crossed to me. She leaned over, kept her voice low. “Wonder what she’ll complain about this time.”
I turned away from Reagan. “Hopefully nothing,” I whispered. “Can you grab the dress?”
“Sure thing.”
An unfinished blue gown caught my attention. The color of a robin’s egg, the dress would be the envy of the Silver Springs solstice banquet, what with its deep vee neckline and overlay of chiffon. I needed to finish it before the dance, which was barely two weeks away.
I sighed. I’d been working a lot lately, thanks to Reagan’s never-ending changes to her gown. There was less than a week until the wedding, and after that I’d have plenty of time to work on my own dress. That is, if I survived Reagan for a few more days.
I stared vacantly at the gown until a bodiless hand thrust the newspaper into my face once more. Reagan popped up in front of me and wiggled the now crumpled article. “But this reporter nails it. She absolutely gets it right. I could have gone anywhere for my dress, but there’s just something about your gowns and your sister’s food. It’s like I’m transported to another place. I don’t know how to describe it.”
I had heard the same mantra over and over from clients. There’s something about your clothes that I can’t put my finger on. It’s almost like they’re magical.
Yeah. Right. Not that I didn’t appreciate the compliment. Believe me, I did. So did Sera. If it weren’t for the folks in our lakeside community of Silver Springs, Alabama, we’d be beggars. Hoboes maybe. Vagabonds most likely. And not the good kind. Not the sexy kind you see on the covers of romance novels.
Wait. There weren’t hoboes on those. Well, anyway, we’d be dirty, covered in rags that smelled of oil and sweat, with grit under our fingernails that not even the best manicure technician could lift.
“Here’s the dress,” Carrie said.
Reagan’s smile vanished. “Oh.”
My dreams, my hopes, my wishes for a beautiful future crashed and exploded like a car careening off a cliff in a 1970s B movie. What could possibly be wrong this time—the hundredth time? I swear, every occasion this girl saw her dress, she found something to criticize. It was a wonder I hadn’t strangled her before now.
I smoothed the lines of frustration that were forming on my forehead. “What’s the problem?”
Reagan wrinkled her nose. “It’s just…well…that’s a lot of sequins.”
I took a deep, cleansing breath and thought happy thoughts. “Last week you wanted more sequins. You said it didn’t have enough bling.”
Carrie bit back a giggle.
I flashed her a seething look. I mean, seriously. I knew it was funny, but it was only good service not to laugh at the customer while she’s standing right in front of you. At least wait until the door hits her backside as she’s leaving.
“Well,” Reagan said, “last week there weren’t any sequins. What were there? Like five on the whole thing?”
I steepled my fingers beneath my chin. “There were two hundred.”
“Oh. How many are there now?”
“Five hundred.”
“It’s too many. Listen, Dylan, just because we were best friends in high school—”
“Mortal enemies,” I said.
“—doesn’t mean you can take advantage of me. If this dress isn’t to perfection by Saturday, then I’m getting it for free. Right?”
Whoa, Nelly. “I’m sorry?”
Reagan batted her fake eyelashes. “That’s just plain old good business. The customer is always right. I mean, we go way back. Too far back to let a little disagreement over some sequins ruin what we had.”
I poked the air with my index finger. “Once again, we were mortal enemies. Reagan, you have brain damage when it comes to what high school was like.”
A tittering laugh escaped her throat. It sounded like a thousand butterflies taking flight. That was right before I lifted my imaginary rocket launcher, aimed high and fired, sending the beauties crashing to the ground in a blazing explosion.
“You’re so melodramatic, Dylan. We had a little disagreement about prom; that was all.”
I crossed my arms. “Reagan, let me remind you of exactly what happened in high school.”
“Why don’t you do that, since you’re so convinced we had nothing to do with each other.” Reagan pulled one of her eyelashes. Ouch. Didn’t that hurt?
I shook my head and said, “You had Colten Blacklock ask me to prom for the sole purpose of standing me up the night of.” I pointed to her and then to me. “You and I—we were never friends, and I’m not giving you this dress for free. We’ve done a dozen fittings, and you’ve found something wrong with each and every one. You can either take it or leave it.”
Reagan’s mouth fell. She swung to Harry. “Are you going to let her talk to me like that?”
Harry squashed the grin on his face and cleared his throat. “Ahem. Well. You have tried the dress on a lot, and Miss Apel has been more than accommodating.”
Reagan stomped her foot. “You,” she said, wagging a finger at him. “You wait until we get home.”
Oh no. I didn’t want Harry to be in the dog house because of me. I reached out and rubbed Reagan’s arm, trying to soothe the savage bridezilla. “Reagan, I’ll lose some of the sequins. Stop by tomorrow and see what you think.”
She flashed a tight, bitter smile. “What you have better be good, or I’m taking my business elsewhere. And that means your sister won’t be doing the catering, either.” She squared her shoulders, swiveled on her heel and stormed out of the shop. Harry gave me an apologetic smile and followed. The little bell above the door tinkled as they left.
“Do you think she’ll back out?” Carrie asked.
I shook my head. “Of course not. Not unless she wants a dress off the rack and a cake from Walmart.”
Carrie laughed. “She’s something else, isn’t she?”
“She’s certainly something.” I rubbed my neck. Tension latched to the cords of muscle. I’d have a headache pretty soon if I didn’t take an ibuprofen. Extending my palm, I gestured for Carrie to hand me the wedding gown. “I guess I’ll alter her dress.”
Carrie stuffed the layers of silk in my hands and nodded to the blue cross-necked dress. “But when are you going to finish that one?”
I peeked out from behind the mass. “I don’t know. We have, what? Two weeks until the summer solstice? I’ll work on it soon.”
The bell above the door tinkled. Seraphina crashed in, a whirlwind of flour following her. Her blue eyes sparkled with delight. How I envied those eyes. Mine were poo brown. Some said chocolate, but I knew better. Those folks were just being Southern polite.
“Oh my God! Did y’all see the article?” She waved the paper like a flag of surrender.
“I did!”
“It’s incredible. The reporter went so far as to say our work is, and I quote…” She scanned the article. “Where is it? Where did that passage go? Oh, here it is.” She jabbed it. “She said our work is ‘inspired by the gods themselves.’ Ha! You couldn’t pay for better advertising.”
“You probably could,” I said.
Carrie flipped the ends of her chestnut hair. “Listen, y’all, I just got this new gel manicure machine in the mail. Do you mind if I go freshen up these bad boys?” She wiggled her perfect coral nails. To my eyes, they needed no refreshing. But hey, every girl has some sort of vice. Carrie’s happened to be that she was ADD about her nails. In the three years she’d worked for me, I’d never seen one chip. Ever. Mine, on the other hand, looked like Godzilla had tried to paint them—there were broken wedges of color that Carrie would have deemed unforgivable.
“Go ahead. We’ll be here,” I said. She picked up a shipping box and exited to the back.
I hung Reagan’s wedding dress on a rack and brushed my hands of any rogue sequins that hadn’t been sewn on properly, which was actually impossible since I’d done the work myself. But my grandmother had always taught me to be humble, so that was my attempt.
Sera chewed her bottom lip. “The reporter says, ‘Dylan Apel’s dresses will transport you to another time and place. A claim I can attest to personally, for I experienced this peculiar phenomenon first-hand when I tried on one of her gowns. When I saw my reflection in the mirror, for a split second I was taken back to the cotillion ball where I met my husband thirty years ago. If that wasn’t enough to put a spring in my step, one bite of Seraphina’s baked treats and I was back in my grandmother’s kitchen as she created confections on the stove. Truly a magical experience.'” Sera paused, looked up at me. “Seriously. That’s some good stuff.”
“Yeah, it’s good,” I said. But the reporter’s description about trying on my clothes bothered me. I shrugged off the uncomfortable feeling and smiled. “Though I have been accused on occasion of drugging my clothes.”
Sera frowned. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
The bell tinkled. I stepped forward, my most welcoming smile on my face.
My sister glanced at me. “You look like a piranha. Tone it down.”
I settled into a half smile. “Good morning! Welcome to Perfect Fit.”
A towering redhead sauntered into the store. Bangles covered both her arms, clinking pleasantly as she walked. Emerald-green eyes fixed on me and Sera. I squirmed. Couldn’t help it. At five-five I wasn’t short. Not by any means. But this was a tall woman. Five-ten easy. And all that hair. A cloud of silky crimson and honey curls cascaded down her back. I don’t even think she had any product in it. It was a totally natural head of hair.
I hated her.
Kidding. But envy did surface.
She smiled brightly. My envy turned into instant like. “Mornin’. I wanted to try on some clothes,” she said in a throaty voice, the kind that drove men mad. I’d never seen her before, and Silver Springs was a minuscule town. From the look of interest on Sera’s face, I guess she hadn’t seen this woman before, either.
I stepped forward. “Absolutely. What are you looking for?”
“Just some regular day-wear stuff.”
My time had arrived. I had a knack, a sixth sense really, about clothes and people. In one try I could create an entire body-fitting wardrobe and not even know the size of the person. What can I say? It came naturally to me.
“Are you looking for sportswear or business?”
“Both.”
Cha-ching! “Let me pull a few items and see what you think.”
“I’m gonna head back,” Sera said. “I’m sure there’s something I need to make.”
I waved. “Bye.”
She waved back and left, leaving me to focus on my client. Five minutes later I had two armfuls of pants, jackets, and blouses. “Let me get you in a dressing room. After you’re done, come out and see what you think in the three-way mirror.”
None of my dressing rooms had mirrors. People thought it weird, but I wanted to be around when my clients saw themselves in my clothing for the first time.
The woman disappeared behind the door, a roomful of clothes at the ready. Two minutes later she reappeared in a pair of jeans and a loose blouse.
“Take a look.”
She stepped forward. The air contracted as if the very atmosphere had been sucked away. The mirror shimmered, and the woman’s image bowed and straightened. It happened fast, so fast no one ever noticed. No one except for me.
So, this is where I tell you what that’s all about. I would if I could. The easiest explanation is that my clothes make people feel great. From what Sera’s told me, putting on one of my garments reminds you of an amazing time in your life. For instance—you’re a fifty-year-old woman buying a dress for your daughter’s wedding. You try something on and poof, you’re transported back to the wondrous feeling you experienced at senior prom. Of course, that would be you, not me. My prom stank thanks to Reagan Eckhart.
At least, that’s what I’d always thought. It’s also why the reporter’s story bothered me. She saw her younger self in that mirror. That had never happened before—at least not that I knew of. My clothes blanketed clients in a wondrous feeling. They didn’t make anyone see visions.
Sera’s baked goods do something similar. Every time I eat something she’s made, I feel amazing, like I could take on the world. One bite of a buttery croissant and I’m totally superwoman. Minus the red cape. And the tights. Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t be caught dead in that outfit.
But why are we like that? We’re gifted; that’s what our grandmother always called it. We have a gift.
“What do you think?” I asked.
She stared at her image. After a long moment her lips curlicued into a smile. She licked the bottom one, her eyes shining.
“Your clothes are breathtaking.”
Thirty minutes and three hundred dollars later, I placed the last package in the redhead’s hands.
“How’d you hear about us?” I asked.
“I saw the article in the paper.”
I clicked my tongue. “Wow. News travels fast.” Sweet. Today might be a crazy, busy day.
She smiled, her eyes glittering. “You don’t even know the half of it.”
“Oh?”
She pinched her brows together, giving her a dark, ominous expression. “In one week I guarantee you won’t recognize your life.”
An awkward laugh escaped my lips. “Oh. Ha-ha. I hope it’s all good.”
She shook her head. “That little article that came out about you? The one that was supposed to help your business? Well, you just did the opposite. You stirred up a bed of fire ants.” She leaned forward and gave me a stern look. “And in case you need remindin’, the sting from a fire ant lasts a long time. Take this as your warnin’.”
I was so confused. “What do you mean, a warning?”
“Watch your back.”
With that she left, her cloud of hair billowing behind her. I stood stone still. Numb shock tingled over my body, filtering down into my fingers and toes.
What the heck just happened?
After living in Chicago, Louisville and New York, Amy Boyles finally settled in North Alabama with her husband.
Along with writing, she has a passion for cooking ridiculously fattening food and complaining about weight gain. She loves to connect with readers.
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