Authors: N. J. Walters
Tags: #Romance, #Paranormal
To everyone who believes in magick.
Rhiannon Sparks stared at the bright orange candle, willing it to light. She focused all her concentration on the cotton wick, picturing it in her mind as a flickering light. She’d made the candle herself for the Samhain season, pouring the wax carefully into the mold even as she charged it with magick.
Beads of sweat popped out on her forehead and her breath caught in her throat as the wick smoldered for a moment, sending wisps of grayish smoke into the air. It sparked and then fizzled, leaving the candle unlit. She released her breath on a long sigh and swiped the back of her hand across her forehead.
Glaring at the orange pillar, Rhiannon grabbed a box of wooden safety matches and opened them. The silver bangles on her right arm tinkled as she plucked out a match and struck it against the side of the box.
She held the match up, staring at the bluish-white flame for a moment before touching it to the wick. The candle flared to life and then settled to give a soft glow to the table and the colorful arrangement of fall leaves and gourds sitting in the center.
“Some witch you are,” she muttered as she tossed the spent match into a waiting ashtray. She didn’t smoke, but she kept an ashtray handy for such occasions. She used a lot of matches.
Still smarting over her failure to produce even a tiny flame, Rhiannon turned to her cat, Abigail, who sat on the windowsill calmly licking her dainty gray paw. The other members of her family had black cats with mysterious names like Midnight and Shadow. She had Abigail.
“It’s not fair,” she informed the cat, who raised her silky head to stare at her person. Rhiannon wouldn’t dare call herself Abigail’s owner. She knew better. There was no doubt, at least in the cat’s mind, that she ruled the roost.
Sighing, Rhiannon rubbed her forehead. She could feel a headache brewing right behind her eyes and willed it away. “Magick shouldn’t be this hard,” she informed Abigail, who just stared at her with wise green eyes.
Most people didn’t believe in magick, wouldn’t even consider that it really, truly existed. But Rhiannon knew better. She came from a long line of witches. Very powerful witches.
She was the only one in the history of her family who had never been able to master the most mundane skills—such as lighting a flame. It was demoralizing and depressing, which is why she’d packed her bags and left her family home in California and moved clear across the country to Burnt Cove, Maine.
The ocean was in her blood and she couldn’t bear to be far from its pulsing rhythm. There was something elemental about the sea that fired all her senses—the crash of the waves on the rocks and rise and fall of the tides. She’d thought a change of scenery might help her. That and being away from her well-meaning, if frustrating, relatives.
Her family loved her. Of that she had no doubt. But they just couldn’t understand why she was so different, how the failure to create even the most basic of magick set her apart, making her feel like an outsider in her own family. Between their well-intentioned advice and shared looks of pity, she felt smothered by them.
She mystified her family, and although they hid it, she knew they were disappointed in her lack of control over her abilities. Yes, her spells worked. Sometimes. But never with any consistency.
What Rhiannon had a talent for was business. She’d taken the skills she’d learned working in one of her family’s many successful businesses on the West Coast and decided to open her own shop here in Burnt Cove.
The town was a fair size but not too big. Situated on the coast, it boasted a large tourist trade that started in the spring and lasted way into the fall. People here worked in the fishery or in tourism for the most part. The local mill had closed years ago and was now nothing but barren, boarded-up buildings.
People flocked here every year to spend time at the ocean, making it an ideal location for her shop—A Touch of Magick. Pride welled up inside her as she thought about her store. This was hers and hers alone, not tainted by her failure as a witch. She sold books on every subject, incense, candles, stones and jewelry. She’d also added a small café section and sold a selection of coffees, teas, imported chocolate and tempting sweet treats.
In the year she’d been here, her business had taken off and was now running quite successfully in the black. Not that it had been easy. The locals had been very suspicious of her and her new-fangled store at first. They’d come around, but it had taken some time.
Rhiannon credited their eventual acceptance to the fact that she now employed several local women, including the gossipy Ada Briars. The woman talked too much about everyone, but she could bake like an angel. Thankfully, the muffins, cookies and cakes that were served at A Touch of Magick were made off-site. Rhiannon didn’t think she’d have been able to keep her sanity if she’d had to listen to Ada gossip all day long.
Life was good, if she ignored that pesky little problem with her magick. Okay, so it wasn’t a small problem. It was huge. But she didn’t want to think about it now.
Her head jerked around. “They’re here,” she informed Abigail just before the doorbell chimed. Tucking her worries aside, Rhiannon headed for the front door, flinging it open.
Esther Roberts and Maggie O’Neill stood on her front porch, each of them carrying a parcel. “Come in.” She motioned them both inside and closed the door, shutting the world outside. Tonight was about friendships and good times. No room for gloomy thoughts.
Esther hugged her, squashing the package between them. “I brought a bottle of white zinfandel to go with supper. I didn’t know what you were cooking, but I figured I couldn’t go wrong with this.” She stepped back and handed Rhiannon the bag before slipping off her coat, which smelled of the crisp October air.
Maggie carefully handed her bundle over to Rhiannon before whipping off her thick oatmeal-colored cardigan. “Cheesecake from Clancy’s Bakery.”
Enough said. Cheesecake from Clancy’s Bakery was a decadent treat to be savored. Each rich mouthful would melt in her mouth. She was already salivating at the thought.
Rhiannon carried both packages carefully into the kitchen, her friends trailing behind her. They were an unlikely group, all physically different and two of them transplants from other places.
Only Maggie had any ties to the area. She’d spent time growing up in Burnt Cove until the age of eleven when her mother had remarried and the family had moved. Tall and full-figured with waist-length reddish hair and green eyes, Maggie looked more like a witch than Rhiannon did. She’d moved back here six months ago after her grandmother had passed away, leaving her a cottage by the sea and a sizeable inheritance.
Then there was Esther. Average in height, she had pale blue eyes and medium-brown shoulder-length hair. Esther gave off an air of confidence Rhiannon admired, but given her profession it wasn’t surprising. Her friend had moved here several years ago, taking a job as a dispatcher with the Burnt Cove police and fire departments.
Both women had become regulars at Rhiannon’s shop. Esther as soon as the doors opened for business, and Maggie from the moment she’d moved back to Burnt Cove. For the first time in her life, Rhiannon had felt a kinship, a sense of belonging. With these women, she wasn’t an outcast or a misfit.
“Hello, Abigail.” Esther went straight to the cat, rubbing her soft gray head. Abigail purred, taking the greeting as her due.
“I swear that cat is more human than animal,” Maggie remarked as she waited her turn to pet Abigail.
Rhiannon laughed. “She’s got all of us wrapped around her dainty little paw.” The other women laughed, but didn’t disagree. Rhiannon popped the cheesecake in the refrigerator, opened the bottle of wine and poured three glasses. Both women left the cat to her own devices and wandered over to the counter to pick up a wineglass.
“To us.” Rhiannon held up her glass.
“To us,” both women echoed.
“So, what’s new?” Rhiannon asked her friends. Esther hesitated slightly and Rhiannon’s well-honed instincts zoomed right in on her friend. “What?”
“Ryan asked me out again.”
Rhiannon knew Ryan was Ryan Jamieson, a new firefighter recently hired by the Burnt Cove Fire Department.
“And you said no again.” There was no question. They all knew Esther never dated firefighters.
“I said no. Again.” Esther took a sip of her wine and plunked it down on the counter. “I won’t go through what my mother did.”
Rhiannon felt sympathy well up inside her. Esther’s father had been a firefighter and he’d died in the line of duty. Her brothers were firefighters as well. It was little wonder she didn’t want to date one, although her aversion seemed to go even deeper than that.
“Men are nothing but trouble.” They both stared at Maggie, noting the bitterness in her tone. Maggie shrugged and rubbed her finger over the rim of her glass. “Neither one of you found your fiancé cheating on you.”
Rhiannon reached out and impulsively hugged her friend. Maggie had experienced a lot of loss in the past few years. Not only had she lost her parents to a car accident and her grandmother to old age, but there was the incident with her boyfriend as well. Releasing her, she stared up at Maggie. “I know it hasn’t been an easy time for you, but I’m selfish enough to be glad that at least it brought you here. I’d never have met you otherwise and you’re one of my best friends.”
Esther sniffed and blinked hard. “Stop it, you two. We’re supposed to be eating, drinking and enjoying ourselves, not wallowing or getting maudlin.”
Maggie chuckled and raised her glass. “You’re absolutely right. No more bad thoughts.”
That set the tone for the rest of the evening. They sat around Rhiannon’s antique trestle table and ate the spicy, cheesy lasagna she’d made, along with crusty garlic bread and more of the crisp white wine. For dessert, they each devoured a huge slice of the New-York-style cheesecake.
Abigail sat on the windowsill overseeing the proceedings, but took herself off to another room when they started to get too loud.
“What we need is to get laid.” Rhiannon had no idea where that pronouncement came from. It just seemed to pop out of her mouth. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d had sex it was so long ago.
Okay, that wasn’t strictly true. She was desperately trying to forget the last time she’d had sex. It was two years ago and had been a total fiasco. But the idea of having sex was in her head now, and the more she thought about it, the more she liked it.
Hot, steamy sex. Silky limbs entwined with harder, hairier ones. Bodies pressed together. Soft sighs. Sharp cries of fulfillment. She could picture it, almost feel it. Rhiannon brought her hand up to fan her face. Too many more thoughts like that and she’d cream her panties.
Esther giggled. “How much wine have you had?”
Rhiannon thought about it, squinting at the now-empty bottle. “Enough, but not too much.” After all, she could still feel her fingers and toes.
“You’re crazy.” Maggie raised her glass in salute before sipping.
“No.” She shook her head, thinking it through. “Esther needs some guy to get her mind off Ryan. You need to get your mind off your ex-fiancé.”
“What about you?” Esther asked.
“Me,” she replied, thinking hard for a moment. “I just need to get laid.” The three women went off into peals of laughter.
“No, really,” Rhiannon continued when she finally caught her breath. “What we all need is one or two nights of hot, sweaty, grinding sex. It’s good for you.” She nodded decisively when they both stared at her as if she’d lost her mind. And maybe she had, but for some reason, she just couldn’t let go of the idea. “It’s a medical fact.”
“It’s fine in theory,” Maggie began. “But it’s not that easy to find a good man you’d want to do—” she motioned with her hand, “—that with.”
“Sex, Maggie. Sex.” Rhiannon stood and began to clear the dishes from the table. She needed to distract herself from the growing discomfort as her body responded to all the talk about sex. Her breasts felt swollen, her nipples tight. Her core ached to be filled. And her panties were definitely damp. She took a deep breath and continued. “And there are ways to attract what you want.”
“What? We should cast a spell or something?” Esther teased.
Rhiannon rinsed the dishes and piled them in the dishwasher. “Why not?”
“Come on.” Maggie stared at her. “You don’t really believe that stuff works, do you?”
She’d never told her friends she was a real witch. They thought she was Wiccan, which was a set of particular beliefs many lived by. But Rhiannon was a hereditary witch, which wasn’t quite the same thing. Not by a long shot. Taking a deep breath, she let out her secret. “I do believe. I’m a witch.”
“Of course you are,” Esther nodded. “It was obvious the first time we met.”
Rhiannon dragged her fingers through her short black hair in frustration as she made her way back to the table. Her bracelets jingled, chiming out her agitation. “No, I’m not Wiccan.” All humor fled as she raised her arms above her head and chanted a few words. She mentally crossed her fingers and hoped for the best. Almost immediately the air stirred and a breeze began to blow around them. “I really am a witch.”