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Authors: Delia James

By Familiar Means

BOOK: By Familiar Means
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Praise for
A Familiar Tail

“Much like
Bewitched
, the feline in this one is a blast, and Annabelle is perfect when it comes to magical thinking and doing in New Hampshire. It will be more than fun to follow her journey for a good, long time to come.”

—
Suspense Magazine

“Anna is so genuinely likable, the dialogue so cleverly written, and the plot so compelling, that readers will enthusiastically follow her adventures and eagerly await their next chance to enter her world. Continual twists guarantee that readers will be as surprised by the truth as Anna, and the wit and confident writing by the author will cement her place on the list of must-read paranormal mystery series.”

—Kings River Life Magazine

Titles by Delia James

A FAMILIAR TAIL

BY FAMILIAR MEANS

BERKLEY PRIME CRIME

Published by Berkley

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

Copyright © 2016 by Penguin Random House LLC

Penguin Random House 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 Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY is a registered trademark and BERKLEY PRIME CRIME and the B colophon are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

eBook ISBN: 9780698405585

First Edition: September 2016

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

1

I want to be really clear about a few things. I do not follow people into abandoned tunnels, even if they are paying me. I do not remove valuable historical documents from private archives, and I do not believe in ghosts.

At least, I didn't used to.

My name is Annabelle Amelia Blessingsound Britton and I am (in order of appearance):

1) A freelance graphic artist

2) A brand-new resident of Portsmouth, New Hampshire

3) A witch

The last came as a major surprise. I found out about my magical background only when I arrived in Portsmouth. That visit was supposed to be for only two weeks—just long enough to see my best friend, Martine, and find a little relief from a (relatively) recently broken heart. Instead, I was
plunged straight into a murder investigation involving the death of a local witch.

From all this, you may have guessed that my life had gotten a little complicated. This was, however, only the beginning. Now, not only had I invited my grandmother to come visit me; she'd said yes.

And she was early.

“Grandma B.B.!” I shouted as I bolted out the door and down the front walk.

“Hello, Annabelle, dear!” My grandmother climbed out of her massive land yacht of a car and spread her arms.

Grandma B.B. is more formally known as Annabelle Mercy Blessingsound Britton. I was named for her. She's plump and wrinkled and beautiful and tends to dress in the brightest available colors. This time, she'd gone with a distinctly tropical theme: a lemon yellow sweater with a glowing lime green jacket and skirt. Her cat's-eye glasses had rhinestones sparkling at the corners, and coral beads gleamed around her neck and wrists. And, of course, her white hair was covered by a filmy pink scarf, because she was a lady, and she was driving a convertible.

“I can't believe you drove the Galaxie all the way up from Arizona!”

“And why
shouldn't
I drive it? It's mine. Well, all right, it was your grandfather's. But really, for a road trip, why would I want
anything
else?” Grandma spoke in italics. She liked to make sure she was being understood,
exactly
. “You
know
I can't stand these little modern things. They're not cars; they're
roller skates
.”

The car currently blocking my entire driveway was definitely not a roller skate. It was a vintage Ford Galaxie. Picture the ultimate turquoise-and-white 1950s dream machine—one with huge headlights, a retractable hardtop, and chrome everywhere you can think to put it. Naturally, there were tail fins, not to mention a trunk that could hold at least half a dozen bodies. I knew from direct experience that you could take four wriggling kids to the drive-in in that backseat and still have room for stuffed animals,
blankets and popcorn. “Besides, it's a gorgeous drive, and I haven't been on the road in
such
a long time.”

“That means, what? Three months?”

“Six, if you can believe it!”

We both laughed. Grandma B.B. was never anybody's little stay-at-home-and-bake-pies kind of grandma. When she visited us, every day was an adventure. Within five minutes of her arrival, Grandma always seemed to know her way around any town better than the people who lived there. She could (and would) talk to anybody about anything and find out all the important information, like where to get the best French fries and ice cream and what was the coolest stuff for a bunch of kids to do. She could also park that massive car in spaces you would swear wouldn't fit an Austin Mini Cooper.

“Now, let me look at you.” Grandma backed away until she was holding me at arm's length. “Oh, dear!”

“I swear, I've been eating enough.” I crossed my heart.

“You look beautiful, Anna.” She patted my cheek, because she's a grandma and gets to do that. “Portsmouth agrees with you.”

“Well . . . maybe. It's been kind of . . . eventful.”

“Yes. I know,” she said softly, and we were both suddenly looking around for ways to change the subject. Because what I hadn't known until a couple of months ago was that my wonderful, eccentric grandmother was a witch, like me.

This was something we would definitely be talking about, but later. For now, I just grabbed Grandma B.B.'s suitcase and a small, square train case off the Galaxie's passenger seat. “Is this all you've got?”

“Now, Anna, you know I
much
prefer to travel light.”

This is just one of my grandmother's many mysterious talents. She could fit more into a suitcase than Mary Poppins could into a carpetbag. “Well, come on in. Everything's all set.”

“I adore the house!” Grandma beamed at my fieldstone cottage as I led her through the gate and up the (very short) front walk. “Oh, Anna, you didn't tell me it was so lovely!”

Technically, the cottage wasn't mine—I was just renting
it—but it really was lovely. Its slate roof was a complex landscape of peaks and gables topped by a weather vane in the shape of a crescent moon shot through with an arrow. The multipaned windows were glinting in the autumn sun and the spray of gold leaves and bright red rose hips that were what was left of the rambler roses added a splash of color across its mottled gray stone walls.

“I would have thought you'd recognize it.”

“Oh, no,” said Grandma. “I've never been here. When I left town, Dorothy and her family were still living over on Park Street. But I do recognize this beauty!” Grandma exclaimed to the large smoke gray cat pacing back and forth on the porch, blinking his blue eyes as if to say,
What took you so long?
“Hello, Alistair! Who's a
good
kitty?”

Grandma crouched down to scratch Alistair's ears. I wasn't surprised they knew each other. Grandma B.B. and Dorothy Hawthorne, the cottage's previous owner, had been friends back in the day. That day, however, was around fifty years ago, before Grandma decided to pack up and leave Portsmouth for good. Around about that time a very quiet but very intense feud had broken out among certain families in town. Alistair is not the sort to hold a grudge, though, and adopted me fairly readily. He's also ready to accept a good head rub from almost anybody. He began purring immediately, to let Grandma know she was a good human.

He also vanished.

I mean this literally. Like most things connected with the cottage, Alistair is magical. So, one second he was there; then—
blink!
—he was gone and Grandma's hand curled over empty air.

“Erm . . .” I felt myself blushing, which was a weird reaction to having my familiar demonstrate his showiest bit of magical talent, but it was the only one that seemed to be coming to me right then. I felt like I'd been caught sneaking Mallomars out of the back cupboard.

“It's all right, dear.” Grandma straightened up and brushed her sleeves down. “It's nothing I haven't seen before.”

That talk later was going to be a very, very long one.

I let us into the house. Grandma B.B. followed, exclaiming her approval of everything she saw, from the front parlor with its cushioned window seat to the formal dining room with the stained glass window. Even the narrow stairway that ran from the little foyer up to the second floor was “absolutely lovely.”

I had set my studio up in the front bedroom, which overlooked Summer Street, but I'd moved the easel and other paraphernalia into the corner to make more room around the Arts and Crafts–style daybed and small dresser.

“I hope you'll have enough room,” I said as I set Grandma's luggage on the bed.

“This will be
just
fine, Anna. I can fit anywhere.”

The best thing about Grandma B.B. is that when she says stuff like that, she actually means it. She and my grandfather had traveled around the world at least twice. Together, they'd survived hurricanes, holdups and at least one military coup, and that was just the stuff I knew about.

Alistair leapt up on the bed and started nosing the luggage.

“Oh, such a
good
kitty!” cried Grandma, in, I swear, the same tone she used when I won second prize at my elementary school art fair. Alistair meowed his approval. “Yes, I brought you something, of course I did!”

Uh-oh.
“Um, Grandma, you are not about to give my . . . uh . . . that is . . .”

“Familiar, dear. It's all right; you can say it.”

I can, but it was going to take a lot to get used to hearing my grandmother say it back. “You are not going to give my familiar catnip, are you?” I'd recently learned the hard way that it's a bad idea to give 'nip to a cat that can vanish and reappear at will. I still wasn't quite recovered.


Really
, Anna, I do have
some
common sense.”

I looked away, I hoped innocently.

Grandma reached into her purse and pulled out a bag of K.T. Nibbles. Alistair was suddenly purring and rubbing against her hand like he hadn't been fed in a week. There was a reason my cat had that big, soft tummy.

“Well, you've got a friend for life,” I told Grandma as she let Alistair snatch a nibble from her fingers. She grinned
up at me; she also winked in a manner that could only be described as conspiratorial.

That's my sweet little grandma.

A beeping started up from my back pocket. Grandma frowned at me and I blushed, pulled out my phone to check the reminder and shut it down.

“Sorry, Grandma, I wasn't expecting you until later . . .” It was still only ten in the morning.

“I know,” she said as she unzipped her suitcase. “I made the most
amazing
time after I left Hartford this morning. Almost like
magic
.” She smiled, and her blue eyes twinkled behind her cat's-eye glasses.

“Ummm . . . you didn't . . .” I began, feeling suddenly and distinctly non-twinkly.

“Oh, don't I wish I could! But no. Traffic magic is not one of my specialties. I just got up very early.”

“But there is such a thing as traffic magic?”

Grandma looked at me owlishly over the rims of her glasses, and I had no idea whether or not she was actually joking. She must have seen my uncertain expression because she grew suddenly serious. “Anna, we are going to talk, about everything.”

I sucked in a deep breath. “Yes, yes, we are.”

“Merowp.” Alistair peeked out from under the bed, indicating his relief that the humans were finally making sensible noises.

“But, like I said, I thought you'd be getting in later. I've got some things to do this morning.”

“Oh. Now, is this business or . . . is there
somebody
I should know about?”

“It's clients, Grandma,” I told her firmly. I had explained to Grandma B.B. that I was done with men, all of them. In fact, I had gone over this several times, clearly, carefully and in great detail. Somehow she never quite seemed to fully grasp the concept. “At least I hope it's clients.”

“A new writer?” A fair amount of my freelance graphics work comes from independent authors who need cover art for their books.

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