A Vision in Velvet: A Witchcraft Mystery

BOOK: A Vision in Velvet: A Witchcraft Mystery
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PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF JULIET BLACKWELL

THE WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES

Tarnished and Torn

“This series never disappoints.”

—Mysteries and My Musings

“Blackwell has another winner . . . a great entry in a really great series.”


Romantic Times

“Blackwell mixes reality and witchcraft beautifully . . . fascinating. . . . [This] book sparkles with Blackwell’s outstanding storytelling skills.”

—Lesa’s Book Critiques

In a Witch’s Wardrobe

“A smashingly fabulous tale.”


New York Times
bestselling author Victoria Laurie

“Funny and thoughtful,
In a Witch’s Wardrobe
is an easy read with an enjoyable heroine and a touch of witchy intuition.”

—The Mystery Reader

“A really entertaining read. . . . I look forward to the next installment.”

—Cozy Crimes

“A wonderful paranormal amateur sleuth tale. . . . Fans will enjoy Lily’s magical mystery tour of San Francisco.”

—Genre Go Round Reviews

Hexes and Hemlines

“This exciting urban fantasy murder mystery . . . is an entertaining paranormal whodunit.”

—Genre Go Round Reviews


Hexes and Hemlines
carries you along with an unconventional cast, where nothing is out of bounds. Extraordinarily entertaining.”


Suspense
Magazine

“I love the mix of vintage clothes, magic, and a lingering possibility of romance combined with mystery.”

—Fang-tastic Books

A Cast-off Coven

“If you like your mysteries with a side of spell-casting and demon-vanquishing, you’ll enjoy the second title in Blackwell’s Witchcraft Mysteries.”


Romantic Times

“This awesome paranormal mystery stars a terrific heroine.”

—Genre Go Round Reviews

Secondhand Spirits

“An excellent blend of mystery, paranormal, and light humor, creating a cozy that is a must read for anyone with an interest in literature with paranormal elements.”

—The Romance Readers Connection

“It’s a fun story, with romance possibilities with a couple of hunky men, terrific vintage clothing, and the enchanting Oscar. But there is so much more to this book. It has serious depth.”


The Herald News
(MA)

THE HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION MYSTERIES

Home for the Haunting

“This story, with the usual characters as well as some new faces, is fascinating and keeps readers thinking that there is more than meets the eye.”

—Romantic Times

Murder on the House


Murder on the House
is a winning combination of cozy mystery, architectural history, and DIY with a ghost story thrown in, and somehow manages not to feel overstuffed.”

—The Mystery Reader

Dead Bolt

“Juliet Blackwell’s writing is like that of a master painter,
placing a perfect splash of detail, drama, color, and whimsy in all the right places!”


New York Times
bestselling author Victoria Laurie

“Cleverly plotted with a terrific sense of the history of the greater Bay Area, Blackwell’s series has plenty of ghosts and supernatural happenings to keep readers entertained and off-balance.”


Library Journal

“Smooth, seductive. . . . Fans will want to see a lot more of the endearing Mel.”


Publishers Weekly

If Walls Could Talk

“A terrific blend of suspense and laughter with a dash of the paranormal thrown in make this a great read.”

—TwoLips Reviews

“Kudos and high fives to Ms. Blackwell for creating a new set of characters for readers to hang around with as well as a new twist on the ghostly paranormal mystery niche.”

—Once Upon a Romance

THE ART LOVER’S MYSTERIES BY JULIET BLACKWELL WRITING AS HAILEY LIND

Brush with Death

“Lind deftly combines a smart and witty sleuth with entertaining characters who are all engaged in a fascinating new adventure.”


Romantic Times

Shooting Gallery

“If you enjoy Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy series, or Ian Pears’s art history mysteries . . . then you will enjoy
Shooting Gallery
.”

—Gumshoe

“An artfully crafted new mystery series!”

—Tim Myers, Agatha Award–nominated author of
Slow Cooked Murder

“The art world is murder in this witty and entertaining mystery!”

—Cleo Coyle, national bestselling author of
A Brew to a Kill

Feint of Art

“Annie Kincaid is a wonderful cozy heroine. . . . It’s a rollicking good read.”

—Mystery News

Also by Juliet Blackwell

T
HE
W
ITCHCRAFT
M
YSTERY
S
ERIES

Secondhand Spirits

A Cast-off Coven

Hexes and Hemlines

In a Witch’s Wardrobe

Tarnished and Torn

T
HE
H
AUNTED
H
OME
R
ENOVATION
M
YSTERY
S
E
RIES

If Walls Could Talk

Dead Bolt

Murder on the House

Home for the Haunting

OBSIDIAN

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 375 Hudson Street,

New York, New York 10014

USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC

Copyright © Julie Goodson-Lawes, 2014

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

OBSIDIAN and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

ISBN 978-1-101-62798-3

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

Contents

Praise

Also by Juliet Blackwell

Title page

Copyright page

Copyright page

Dedication

Acknowledgments

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

 

Excerpt from KEEPER OF THE CASTLE

About the Author

 

 

 

To Mary Grae

 

Botanical sorceress, artiste, friend . . . and so much more

Acknowledgments

Thanks to my editor, Kerry Donovan, for her keen critiques and unstinting support of my books. And to my agent, Jim McCarthy, whose counseling and cheerleading keeps me going in this crazy business—so glad you’ve got my back!

Special thanks to Arlene Johnson, clothing conservator, for putting up with my incessant questions. And to the herpetological wonders of the California Academy of Science.

As always, many thanks are due to my sister and writing partner, Dr. Carolyn Lawes, especially for her cogent interpretation of the history of witchcraft in Salem. And to the wonderfully talented, irreverently funny, always-inspiring writer friends, without whom I would be curled up in a corner: Sophie Littlefield, Rachael Herron, Nicole Peeler, Mysti Berry, Victoria Laurie, and all the Pens and the Thursday morning gang. To the entire Mira Vista social club and its unofficial leaders, Sara Paul and Dan Krewson . . . who also happen to be Oscar’s real parents. To my friend Anna Cabrera, for all your support and love and organizing; to Pamela Groves, Jan Strout, Shay Demetrius, Suzanne Chan, Kendall Moalem, Susan Baker, Bruce Nikolai, Karen Thompson, Claudia Escobar, Wanda Klor, and Bee Green Enos, for being so supportive of my writing. Thanks are due, as ever, to my sister Susan and my incredible father, Robert. And to my son, Sergio, who makes me proud every day. And to Eric—for all the meals, the wine, the dancing, and the love. And a special nose-bump to Oscar the cat.

Finally, in memory of all those women and men who have stood accused of witchcraft—as though it were evil—and persecuted and brutalized by those who don’t, or won’t, understand.

Chapter 1

Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between an antiques dealer and a hoarder.

Sebastian’s Antiques
,
a tiny shop on a narrow side street off San Francisco’s Jackson Square, was so crammed with furniture, paintings, carvings, mirrors, rugs, dolls, miniatures, and tchotchkes that it was hard to know whether its proprietor, Sebastian Crowley, was the owner of a vast treasure trove, or simply the unfortunate overseer of a musty, oversized closet full of junk.

Not that I was pointing any fingers. After all, my primary motive for opening Aunt Cora’s Closet, my vintage clothing store, was to indulge my love of fabulous old garments . . . some of which no doubt qualified as “junk” to those who didn’t share my passions.

“’Course, the trunk alone is worth a fortune,” said Sebastian Crowley as we inspected a very old, very damaged wooden chest.

I was skeptical. The chest’s metal hinges were so corroded with rust I doubted they could withstand repeated openings, while the wood sides, bottom, and lid were pitted and crumbling. “It came across the country on the
overland route, all the way from Massachusetts. Back with the pioneers, come to settle the new land.”

“Was this during the Gold Rush?” Like many newcomers to the West Coast, I was a little fuzzy on California’s history. For such a young area of the country, it had a colorful and tumultuous past.

Crowley frowned. “Yeah, um . . . not sure ’bout that. As I was saying, the trunk’s a beaut, but it’s what’s
inside
that’s gonna knock your socks off.”

He heaved open the lid to reveal two neatly folded stacks of clothing.

I drew back as my nostrils were assailed by the intermingled odors of mothballs and cedar. One quick glance, and my heart sank. It didn’t take a close inspection to see these garments had fallen victim to the vicissitudes of age that combine to shatter cloth: rot, moths, and moisture. I keep a seamstress on retainer at Aunt Cora’s Closet to address the minor repairs needed by many of my vintage acquisitions—small tears, lost buttons, frayed cuffs—but at the end of the day I stay in business by selling clothes my customers can actually
wear
. The items in this chest should go directly to a museum-grade clothing conservator. Either that, or straight into the trash can.

Sebastian lifted a simple white shift and shook it open. The aged, yellowed cotton cracked and split along the folds, sending small poofs of dust into the musty air.

“Well, I’ll be
danged
,” Sebastian murmured, studying the shredded garment with a furrowed brow.

It was an expression I’d already grown familiar with. In the half hour we’d spent together, Sebastian’s expression had been a mixture of surprise and confusion, so perhaps that was simply the way he viewed the world. Tall and gaunt, the antiques dealer was in his late sixties, with a weak chin and raised bushy eyebrows that reminded me of Ichabod Crane, a character in one of my
favorite childhood stories, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” He dressed well; I had to give him that: a nice white linen shirt under a tweed jacket. But his wire glasses had a tendency to slip down his large, hooked nose, and he had a habit of pushing them back up. Since everything in the shop was covered in dust, his nose was now covered in gray and brown smudges. I tried not to stare.

“They looked fine when I bought the trunk. . . . I didn’t think to inspect them. I’ll be
danged
.”

“Cloth is tricky,” I said sympathetically. “If it’s not preserved properly, it falls apart with age. Antique pieces were made of natural fibers like cotton, linen, wool, or silk. Eventually, they break down and return to the earth. Dust to dust and all that. It’s rather poetic, in a way.”

The sour expression on Sebastian’s face made it clear that he did not share my appreciation for poetry. He shook his head. “That pretty little thing sold me a trunk full of worthless clothes. Son of a
gun
.”

I wondered how much he had paid for the trunk and its contents, but refrained from asking. I’d been burned once or twice myself. It isn’t a pleasant feeling, but it’s not unusual in our line of business.

“Tell you what: How ’bout you give me eighty bucks for the whole kit ’n’ caboodle?” he suggested, his voice regaining a touch of the salesman’s swagger. “Get it out of my way.”

“I’m sorry, Sebastian,” I said with a shake of my head. “I’d like to help you out, but I can’t use these. The fabric is just too compromised.”

“Nip here, a tuck here, it’ll be right as rain. You’ll see.”

“It would take a lot more than a nip and a tuck, I’m afraid. Maybe a professional conservator could help, but for my purposes they’re beyond repair.”


Humph
. Try to do someone a favor, and what do I get for my trouble? Ripped off, is what.” Sebastian made a face as if smelling something unpleasant and said in a
falsetto: “
‘My uncle needs money; he’s selling off all his antiques. Can’t you help him out?’
Sweet young thing comes in here and twists me around her little finger. I’m just too nice a guy, is what.”

Next time, try thinking with your brain,
I thought, but I did not say it aloud. We stood side by side for a moment, staring at the open trunk.

That’s when I felt it. Something emanating from beneath the stack of linens.

I have a special affinity for clothing. For textiles of all kinds, actually. It’s hard to explain why or how. I’m not sensitive to what most psychics are, such as metal and stone, though maybe that’s because I’m not a psychic. I’m a witch. A powerful witch, too, though not always on top of her magical abilities . . . I never finished my formal training in the craft, so I am still learning as I go along. I can brew with the best of them, but divination and most psychometrics escape me.

But clothes? Clothes, I can read. They absorb the vibrations of the people who have worn them and emit a wisp of that human energy. Before moving to San Francisco and finding a community of friends, I had lived a lonely and isolated life. The sensations I picked up from cast-off clothing had offered solace and connection to others, and old clothes had become not just a passion but a profession.

Even given my particular sensitivities, though, I wasn’t normally able to hear a piece
calling
to me. But there were vibrations coming from something in that trunk. Strong vibrations.

Sebastian slammed the lid shut, muttering under his breath, “Worthless piece of—”

“Wait.”

His eyes flew to mine.

“Mind if I take another look?” I asked.

“Why, surely. You take all the time you need.” A
calculating gleam entered Sebastian’s watery blue eyes as he lifted the trunk lid with a flourish. “Don’t see specimens like this every day; am I right? Work a bit of the ol’ magic on them, and they’ll be good as new.”

I gave a start of surprise, which I turned into a shrug when I realized the “magic” he was referring to was just a turn of phrase. And frankly, I could brew for a week nonstop and still not reconstitute those decaying threads. Even my strongest magic didn’t work that way.

But when Sebastian opened the trunk, I heard it again. Something was in the trunk, calling to me. I heard it,
felt
it, deep in my gut . . . and in a tingling in my fingertips.

“May I?” I asked.

“Just don’t hurt anything or you bought it. Like the sign says.” He jabbed a finger in the direction of a large sign, grimy with age, hanging above the register:
YOU BREAK IT, YOU
BOUGHT IT.

It wouldn’t take much more than a strong gust of wind to damage these pieces, I thought. Gingerly, I lifted the top garments from the trunk and set them aside: men’s clothes in one pile, women’s in another. My practiced eye recognized these yellowing white cotton shirts, petticoats, and bloomers had once been fine, quality garments; but now they were falling apart. The linens beneath them were in somewhat better condition, but still too far gone to sell. Taking care to disturb the clothes as little as possible, I dug deeper.

My fingers touched something soft and fine, like the coat of a baby bunny. I peeked in: velvet.

“What’s this? Do you know?” I asked.

Sebastian shrugged. “I didn’t look through it, to tell you the truth. The girl who brought it in said her uncle was desperate for cash, and the whole trunk came across from Boston back in the day, with the pioneers. Probably some cockamamy story. Tell you what. I have too big a
heart; that’s my problem. She sold me a few decorative items that might be worth something, so I just took this as part of the deal.”

“Would you mind if I examined this velvet piece?”

Sebastian rubbed his hands together. “How ’bout you buy the lot, and it’s yours? Think about it: This trunk came from Boston with the pioneers! Just imagine the history, the stories it could tell. There’s bound to be something really great in there.”

“I thought you said that was a cockamamy story the seller made up.”

“Doesn’t mean it couldn’t be true.”

“So if the trunk came across the prairies all the way from Boston, how come it’s still packed? Why wasn’t it opened and the clothes worn?”

“The owners died on route.”

I glanced up at him, surprised.

“Leastways, that’s what the gal said.” Sebastian stuck out his receding chin. “She said the way she heard the story, her relatives were in a party of wagon trains coming overland, and this trunk and a few other items belonged to a family who died before they got here. Buried somewhere en route. I guess their stuff was picked up and carried the rest of the way by other relatives and eventually ended up here in San Francisco. Listen, I tell you what I’m gonna do: seventy-five bucks and the trunk’s yours, contents included. You can’t beat that.”

I hesitated, calculating the available floor space at my store. The shop was already jammed with racks upon racks of dresses, coats, skirts, jackets, and blouses and shelves upon shelves of hats, gloves, purses, and shoes. There were umbrellas and parasols, shawls and scarves, and a sizable selection of secondhand jewelry. I also had a weakness for antique kitchen gadgetry, which meant a growing collection of vintage cooking items now crowded a cupboard in one corner. Much of the inventory turned
over quickly, but the quirkier items collected dust in nooks and crannies and display windows. So crowded had the shop become in the last few months that my friend and coworker, Bronwyn, had threatened to pack up her herbal stand and leave.

Which was why I sympathized with Sebastian Crowley. Honestly, left to my own devices, my shop would look as bad as his.

“I can’t take the trunk, but I’ll take the clothes.” It was possible we would be able to salvage something from the shattered garments: a few buttons or bits of lace. We might even be able to copy some of the designs to make re-creations. And there was something about that velvet item. . . .

“Hundred bucks.”

“You said seventy-five!”

“That’s for the trunk and its contents. Contents
without
the trunk are a hundred.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Hey, you know how this works!” Sebastian was referring to auctions, where patrons bid on numbered lots that contained numerous items. If you wanted one particular item, you had to take the whole lot. Afterward, you were stuck figuring out what to do with the rest of the stuff. Problem was, few of us junk-hounds were able to toss the worthless items into the nearest Dumpster. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” were words we lived by, which explained why so many of our shops resembled Sebastian’s Antiques.

“These clothes really aren’t worth anything, Sebastian. Let me give you fifty for the clothes, and you keep the trunk.”

“Seventy.”

“Fifty-five.”


Sixty
-five, and you help me carry this beautiful, historic trunk out to the curb. Tomorrow’s trash day.”

I studied the chest one more time. If it really had come across country on the overland route—and it certainly looked old enough—it seemed wrong for it to meet its end in the gutter.

“Oh, fine,” I said with a sigh. Giving in to the inevitable, I handed him three twenties. “Sixty, and you help me carry it out to my van.”

Sebastian beamed. “Pleasure doing business with you, Lily Ivory.”

* * *

“That’s
it
,” declared Bronwyn as my friend Conrad and I dragged the heavy trunk through the front door of Aunt Cora’s Closet.

Bronwyn was a proud fiftysomething Wiccan with frizzy brown hair, which today was adorned with a garland of Shasta daisies.

“You were given fair warning, Lily. I am hereby tendering my notice to vacate these premises. Forthwith and forsooth and all that. Maybe Sandra next door has room for my herb stand in
her
store.”

“I’m not going to
keep
it,” I said, trying to keep the chagrin from my voice. “I just want to find it a good home.”

“You make it sound like a lost kitten,” said our young coworker, Maya, with a laugh. “When in reality it’s . . . a creepy old trunk.”

I had at last returned to Aunt Cora’s Closet after stops at Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and two garage sales. As a result, in addition to Sebastian’s trunk I was in possession of several large bags of clothing. Fortunately, most of these would require little more than washing and steaming or ironing to be ready to sell for a neat profit. Still, I was disappointed; back when I first started my business, a person could pick up a slightly tattered example of a 1940s skirt suit for a song and 1930s satin cocktail dress for not much more. Even
labeled items from Oscar de la Renta and Armani used to find their way into my basket at bargain prices. No longer. The competition for quality vintage items had become fierce.

“Really, Lily, I don’t know where you think you’re going to put this thing,” said Bronwyn.

“It’s historic,” I said. “It came across the prairies. On a wagon train.”

Bronwyn and Maya looked skeptical.

“Really,” I said.

“That may be, but it’s
big
.”

“And ugly,” Maya chimed in.

“And smelly,” Bronwyn continued.

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