Read Midsummer Night's Mayhem Online

Authors: Lauren Quick

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Occult, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Cozy, #Supernatural, #Witches & Wizards

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BOOK: Midsummer Night's Mayhem
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“My condolences,” Clover said and extended her hand. “I’m so sorry about your father’s passing.”

“Thank you,” he said. His eyes were red-rimmed, and he seemed not to remember her at first glance.

“I live next door,” she prompted.

“Ms. Mayhem.” His eyes blinked rapidly. “Thank you for coming. My father always enjoyed your solstice party each year.”

“I’m glad he enjoyed himself.”
Up until someone poisoned him.
Talk about an awkward moment for the two of them. “Your father will be missed.” A bead of sweat rolled down her back. The room felt stifling. There were too many witches crowded into the formal living room. Someone really needed to crack a window or perform an icy cooling spell.

“I don’t know about others, but I will miss him greatly. I realize my father was a difficult wizard. Sheriff Gardener and Assistant Deputy White paid me a visit yesterday after viewing the scene next door.” His jaw tensed. “They don’t know how it happened.”

Clucks and whispers rose in the background. Clover pulled nervously at her dress. She suddenly doubted herself for coming. She wanted to pay her respects, maybe do a little snooping, but she didn’t want to make it worse for Austin. More grief was the last thing she wanted.

“It’s a terribly sad predicament. I’ll do whatever I can to help the sheriff with his investigation.” She swallowed. Technically she wasn’t doing
everything
she could, but she was trying, and seeing Austin only fueled her into doing more to help.

The witch with frizzy blond hair, who’d answered the door, returned with two additional witches in tow. “Sorry to interrupt.” She glared at Clover. “But the Snow sisters are here to offer their condolences. May I introduce Dovy and Cookie.”

A waft of perfume filled the room, making Clover’s eyes water. Two older witches draped in gauzy black gowns and dripping in black glass beaded necklaces floated into the room, literally, using a basic levitation spell. A grand entrance to be sure.

Besides being heavily scented, the two witches wore thick makeup, waxy red lipstick, and spidery false eyelashes. Clover was surprised they could hold their wands steady with their talon-length lacquered fingernails. They immediately began to coo and purr over poor, dear Austin. Dovy shoved Clover out of her way with a sharp elbow.

Clover took the hint and made her way into the dining room. The table was covered in casseroles, platters of cold cuts, cheese, and vegetables. Desserts crowded one end. Her pie was nowhere to be seen. After Oliver’s untimely death at her party, the frizzy witch probably thought it was brimming with nightshade and wanted to keep it far from the guests. Clover bit into a carrot and listened to a pair of witches clucking away in the hall.

“I hear her sister has a shop called The Potion Garden. Maybe she has a poison garden in her backyard. You know those Mayhem sisters, trouble always follows in their wake.”

“None of them is married, no children, either. Something’s just not right with them. Even their mother left them for ten years. What kind of witch would do that?”

“A smart one.” Cackles rose in unison.

Clover rolled her eyes. She’d heard it all before, but the sting never truly went away. She strolled out of the dining room and went to the kitchen in search of her pie, which was crammed into a corner with a dishtowel over it. At least it wasn’t in the trash. She cut two wedges, placed them neatly on pretty china plates, grabbed a couple of forks, and headed back to Austin. Listening to hurtful gossip was getting her nowhere. It was time to go to the source and see what she could dig up about the victim and his acquaintances, in a causal and caring manner, of course.

“I absolutely adored your father,” Cookie Snow cooed. “He was such an important wizard in our little neck of the woods.” She smiled, her teeth yellow as parchment.

“Everyone adored Oliver,” Dovy laid it on thick. “He had a strong
persuasion
, such a talented horticulturist. What will happen to his grand labyrinth? I do hope you maintain his pride and joy. As you know, witches and wizards come from miles around to see it each year. It would be a shame to lose it.”

Austin gave them an exhausted smile. “I’ll certainly do my best.”

Clover handed Austin a plate and pulled a chair up next to him. “Would you like a piece of pie? It’s blueberry.”

“Thank you. It’s my favorite.” He drove his fork into the tender crust and shoveled a big bite into his mouth. The crowd sucked in a mortified gasp as he hungrily shoveled more pie into his mouth.
Really,
she thought. Did they really think she’d poison her neighbor and his son in two days? The Mayhem curse wasn’t that bad. Talk about drama witches.

“Lucky guess. Everyone loves blueberry.” Clover smiled and took a bite of her pie.

“As I was saying, the labyrinth is legendary.” Dovy tried to wedge herself back into the conversation. “It’s been around since you were a boy.”

Oliver’s
persuasion
had been in horticulture, making him a plant mage and a garden wizard. After he retired, he moved to the Meadowlands to focus on his magic and new creation—an enchanted labyrinth. Clover had invited Oliver to her party mostly out of courtesy, but also because she wanted to attend the yearly reveal of the labyrinth. Being an amateur gardener herself, Clover relished the chance to wander around his magnificent gardens, instead of just drooling over her property line.

Every summer Oliver opened the labyrinth up to the public and allowed visitors to explore his grounds and the maze garden. The labyrinth was an impressive hedge maze that also included trees, fountains, and a few bridges. The interior hedges were carved into decorative shapes with plants and flowers woven throughout, which would have been an accomplishment for any wizard, but Oliver had taken the maze further by including magical enchantments and illusions. Navigating the labyrinth turned into a game of tricks, clues, and mild dangers. From what Clover knew, only a handful of witches and wizards had ever made it all the way through and that was after attempting it many times. The maze was a local enigma, nearly impossible to crack.

“Yes, I know the labyrinth well. I saw it every day as a child and continue to see it every time I look out the window,” Austin said. “That maze meant everything to him.” His brow furrowed.

“It’s a tough memory.” Cookie patted his shoulder and the two witches retreated, levitating over to the rest of the group, dragging their long black skirts behind them.

“Is Felicity here?” Clover asked and glanced around the room, not seeing the witch who was so concerned about Oliver the day before.

“No. Why would
she
be?” Austin asked with an air of annoyance.

“I figured since she worked for your father at one time, she’d want to pay her respects.” Clover set her fork down. Had she read Felicity wrong? The poor witch had seemed utterly shattered yesterday morning with the news of Oliver’s death.

“Well, she isn’t here. She hasn’t worked for my family in years.” With a grimace, he set his plate on a side table, no longer interested in finishing his pie.

If there was tension between the Yearlings and Felicity, then why was she so worried about him the morning of his death? Something was going on. Clover shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She excused herself and headed back to the kitchen where she dropped her plate off in the sink. She stepped out on the back stoop for a little fresh air.

A witch wearing a sleek black pantsuit and dangerously high heels followed her outside. “You really put your foot in it back there, asking about Felicity.”

“I guess I did.” Clover sighed, letting out her frustration. “I didn’t mean to upset him. I thought they were on good terms.”

“Oh, honey, you don’t know the half of it. Felicity and Austin used to date back in the day. He was madly in love with her. They were going to be engaged, according to him. He’d even bought the ring and then she went and dumped him for another wizard.”

“That explains it. I wouldn’t want to see her, either.”

“Totally scandalous. I’m surprised you hadn’t heard.”

Clover shrugged. “I’m terrible at keeping up with the local gossip. Do you know who it was she dumped him for?” Curiosity spurred her on. She was catching the gossip bug, or maybe just learning to sharpen her nose like a good investigator.

“Nope. The trail went cold. Felicity never spoke about her mysterious wizard. No one actually thought she would end up with Austin anyway. She was Austin’s tutor. He was too immature for her.” The witch coiled her hair up under a black cap. “Gotta fly. Nice chatting with you.” She lifted off the ground and hovered for a few seconds before taking flight and clearing the treetops. No wonder she was able to wear those high heels. As a flyer she didn’t have to walk very far.

Clover stared out over the grounds. The landscape was breathtaking—neatly cut grass, trimmed hedges, and elegantly designed pathways between large planters and sculptures. But the real beauty queen of this garden was the labyrinth that stood as the centerpiece of the yard. Clover strolled toward it as if pulled by an invisible thread. Over the years she’d woven her way through the enchanted maze, but never found her way out. The thick hedge was filled with tricks and illusions to lure a witch or wizard deep inside. That’s what made it so much fun, that and the magical creatures and scenes inside of it that Oliver spelled to appear each year.

The surface of the hedge undulated. Clover looked again. It was probably a bird or squirrel nesting inside. She heard a whisper, a giggle, but when she jerked around it was only Austin, appearing as if out of nowhere.

“Curiosity killed the cat,” he said, his weary eyes locked on hers.

Clover stumbled back and smiled guiltily. “I’m sorry. I was intrigued. The maze draws you in. It’s just so hypnotic.” She stepped toward the arched opening of the hedge. A ruffle of leaves rolled up the side of the thick wall of foliage as if it were shuddering.

Austin grabbed her arm, his soft fingers sinking into her skin. “Please don’t go near the labyrinth.”

“Oh. I won’t,” she said, startled. His grip tightened, burning into her skin like a vice. “Ouch,” she yelped and yanked her arm away. Maybe he was more like his father than she thought. “I was just admiring it. I thought I saw the hedge move. Are the spells active?”

“Father was working furiously preparing the maze for the exhibition at the end of the summer. He said it would be his best one yet, but I haven’t had time to secure it.”

Secure it.
What an odd way to describe a garden. She’d never thought of the maze as dangerous, though it did have its tricks. “It looks locked anyway.” Clover pointed to the huge metal gate.

“Yes, of course.” He straightened his jacket. “My father locked it up tight, and I can’t seem to find where he put the key.”

“I’m sure it will turn up somewhere. Will you still have the unveiling? Sometime this summer, maybe?”

He ran a shaking hand through his hair. In the bright sun, his face looked even paler, his cheeks drawn. She decided to cut him some slack for grabbing her arm. The events of the past two days were obviously wearing on him. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything right now. My father was working on some advanced illusions, and I don’t know what he was up to.” Austin shook his head.

Now that sounds interesting.
She fingered her amulet, but the stone was cold and still. Nothing to worry about. “I’ve always thought of the labyrinth as more of a game. A fun and entertaining maze.”

“Mostly it is. Mostly,” Austin said.

Oliver Yearling’s familiar, Cocoa, sauntered up to Clover and rubbed against her leg, but when Austin reached down to pet her, she hissed and darted off.

“That cat really hates me,” he said and wandered back to the house.

6

I
n comparison to Oliver’s yard, Clover’s was an untamed wilderness, but it was all hers and that brought a smile to her face as she trudged home after the vigil. With the wagon, tables, and tents packed up and gone, her yard felt strangely empty, similar to the pit in her stomach. Derek was sitting on the porch swing, thumbing through the pages of a book. “I hardly know what to do with myself since we can’t get much work done. How’d it go over there?”

“Not so good, but what would you expect? Austin seems to be holding up as well as possible. I think he’s still in shock, but at least he isn’t alone. There’s quite the crowd of witches gathered.” Clover kicked out of her shoes and plopped down on the swing next to Derek, sending it sailing back and forth.

“That was fast even for the locals. But I’m sure the circumstances spurred them on. It’s a tragedy. He’ll need the support.”

The lost-and-found basket was once again stationed on the front steps for this year’s loot. After every solstice party they found loads of stuff that had been forgotten, lost, or just plain left behind after the party was cleaned up. The basket was created and placed on the porch for witches and wizards to drop by and check if they were missing something. Clover went by the honor code, trusting witches to retrieve their stuff only.

Clover peered curiously into the basket, but as she reached inside, her hand bumped against a soft force field and a pale cloud formed above the basket and quickly took the shape of a young witch’s face. “Please come inside to retrieve your belongings. Clover or Derek will assist you,” the image said and then disappeared.

“What’s this all about?” Clover jerked up on the swing, her lips pursing in annoyance. “Why do I think this has something to do with the investigation? I’m shocked Juniper didn’t confiscate the basket immediately.”

“She went through it and documented everything inside. I swear she’s a miniature bloodhound in disguise. I have strict orders to record anyone who shows up to claim an item and report back to her so she can do a follow-up interview. That’s why I put the guardian spell on the basket, so we can keep a record. Not that I think the witch who left her ratty old shawl draped on a bush committed murder.”

“Anything interesting in there?”

A wicked smile curled up Derek’s lip. “Well, there were your typical bits of clothing, the shawl I mentioned, a hideous poncho, a stinky sandal, sunglasses, two wands, a string of tacky glass beads, and a harmonica. Nothing scandalous.”

“Sounds harmless. But the wands are interesting. The owners will definitely be back sometime soon to claim them. I’m surprised Juniper didn’t confiscate them.”

“She ran some tests, but the fingerprints were too smudged to identify. She wants to see if anyone comes back for them.”

“There’s no such thing as a poison spell, so they aren’t the murder weapon. I’d like to know what kind of spells they performed last. That would tell us a lot.” Clover’s brow furrowed in thought. Magic always left a trail.

Derek grimaced, not so easily convinced. “Exactly why a killer wouldn’t leave his or her wand on the ground. I don’t think a murderer would accidentally misplace his wand. But I guess you never know.” He shrugged. “You’re always losing yours. Maybe one of them belongs to you, Miss Suspect.” He wiggled his brows and Clover let out a loud cackle.

She elbowed him in the ribs. “They wouldn’t leave it on purpose. Anyway, it could have been a crime of passion or an argument gone wrong. What if there was a struggle or the killer was interrupted and had to flee quickly and dropped the wand?” Her imagination had gone into overdrive. “We don’t know. Now I’m really interested in seeing who drops by to pick up their wands.”

“When you put it like that, if it were my wand, I’d never come back for it.” He smiled and shifted the book from his lap, hiding the cover.

Clover shifted her weight, trying to get a peek. “Whatcha reading?”

“Oh, nothing.” He blushed, faintly.

Clover grabbed the book and made a mock gasping sound. “How could you?” She growled, a playful snarl curled up her lip. She admired the dazzling cover. Her biggest competitor, Lucinda Lace, had written the book.

Derek reached over and snatched it back. “I couldn’t help it. There’s nothing to do around here, since I obviously can’t get any work done with the commotion. Your stuff is all locked up, and I’m going a little stir-crazy, pacing around the house.”

“By reading the book, technically you are working. It’s research, right? Gotta keep up with the competition. So, tell me, is the novel any good?” The cover depicted a witch wearing a tight pink velvet corset, brewing up a steaming concoction in a huge copper cauldron with a half-naked wizard peering over her shoulder.
The Brew Mistress
was a bestseller and the third in a devilishly good series with just enough suspense and romance. Clover was a fan with a pang of envy.

Derek’s face lit up, glowing with approval. “Yep, it’s really good, Clo. That word witch can really write. Wait till you read it. You’re going to want to up your game.”

“Sounds like a challenge. I like it. Keeps us on our toes.” She ruffled his hair. “Leave it on my bedside table when you’re done with it. Lucinda spins a romantic romp like no other.”

“What are your plans for the rest of the day? Any more amateur sleuthing going on?” he asked.

“I need to figure out what to do next.” She twisted up her lips and fingered the edge of the novel.
How could my persuasion help me solve this case?
Inspiration striking, she jumped up and sent the swing and Derek careening toward the porch rail.

Clover headed to the library. She grabbed a piece of parchment, a tiny bottle of ink, and a reed pen from the desk drawer. Spinning a story spell was practically second nature to her. She cleared her mind and imagined her characters moving forward through a story, and then a pulse of magical energy flowed through her mind, a thread of possibilities moving in different directions. She decided which threads to chase and dodged the twists and turns, being pulled along for the ride.

With the inky pen poised over the page, she imagined Oliver at the solstice party. He just stood there looking grumpy, stinging anyone who got too close to him with his gold ring. She couldn’t picture him chowing down on food or tossing back a few beers. Dancing was out of the question. A blob of ink fell to the page.

“I’ve got nothing. I can’t picture him doing anything but snooping around,” she said, blowing a rogue curl out of her face. “Honestly, besides snooping, I don’t know why he even came.”

“I don’t remember seeing him at all,” Derek said, standing in the doorway. “He didn’t come for food and fun. Maybe he’s lonely, living by himself.”

“Maybe he came to see someone?” Clover was stumped.

“You need another angle. Try focusing on a clue.”

“You’re right. I don’t know Oliver, so all I can do is follow the one thing we know for sure—the poison.” A burst of renewed energy filled her.

He rubbed his hands together. “Great. Where are we headed?”

“I’m going on an errand all on my own. You’re taking the rest of the day off to relax and have some fun. You deserve a day off.”

A bright yellow bicycle with a woven basket was parked in the shed. Clover had nicknamed her favorite mode of transportation
Marigold
and over the years the two of them had ridden all over the Meadowlands. After changing into some comfortable clothes and gathering up some clippings from her garden, Clover rode Marigold down the hill and across the village. She coasted by the orchards of Gwen and Grady Winter’s Sugar Snap Farms, which interestingly enough had numerous strange white tarps draped over sections of plants.

Next Clover cut across a patchwork of fields and biked down to a picturesque stream where a thatched-roof cottage sat. Local herbalist and medicine witch extraordinaire, Tabitha Rosewood, had been running The Wild Rose Apothecary for decades and was the go-to witch for herbal remedies in the area.

A divinely rich fragrance enveloped Clover when she entered the shop, reminding her a little of her sister’s potion shop. The windows were open wide and vases brimming with wildflowers covered every table. Bunches of sunflowers, roses, and cornflowers, just to name a few, dangled overhead to dry. The shelves were crammed with glass jars filled with herbs for every use imaginable, but Tabitha was a healer at heart and many of her customers came for medicinal herbs.

Clover resisted the urge to browse the shop and went directly to the counter. There was a customer in front of her in line—a witch in the hag stage of life with fingers bent with arthritis. Tabitha poured a dried mixture into a glass jar, slipped it into a pouch, and handed it to the witch. “Soak this in warm milk and apply it nightly to the joints,” Tabitha said, her voice filled with compassion. She unrolled a small parchment and wrote down a series of runes. “Chant this spell three times and you’ll be right as rain in the morning.” Pale white runes marked the back of Tabitha’s hands and another series edged her hairline, the earth magic symbols giving her an exotic allure. A smile brightened her tanned face when she looked over at Clover.

“What brings you out my way?” Tabitha asked after the customer had left.

“Bad news, I’m afraid,” Clover said, placing the bunch of herbs on the counter. “These are a gift.”

“You shouldn’t have.” Tall and big-boned, Tabitha was a strong witch with muscular arms from working in the garden that supplied her shop. She wore jeans, work boots, and a T-shirt with a rose emblem embroidered on the front. A thick black braid trailed down her back. The white earth runes practically glowed against her skin.

“I’m looking for a little information,” Clover said.

“Sure, what do you need?” A splash of freckles softened Tabitha’s face.

“What can you tell me about belladonna?” Clover untied the bunch of herbs and arranged them on the counter. “Do you sell it or know where I can buy some locally?”

Tabitha drummed her thick fingers on the scarred wooden counter, eyeing Clover. “What gives?” she asked. “The last time you were in you asked for an herbal tea to help you sleep and a salve for butt cramps from sitting for long periods.”

“Hey, we agreed not to mention the butt cramps. I’ve been walking to help with them and the salve was a lifesaver. But it’s our secret.”

“I don’t believe for one second you’re looking to buy deadly nightshade. Belladonna’s not your style.” A smile hitched up one side of her mouth. “You might as well spill the details. What’s got you on a poison hunt?”

“I’m sure you’ve heard about Oliver Yearling.”

“I’d heard the cranky goat of a wizard died and that handsome devil of a sheriff suspects murder, but I didn’t believe it. How could that happen here in the Meadowlands?” Her brow creased.

“It’s true, so believe it. That’s why I’m here, unfortunately.”

“I knew that deadly nightshade would get me into trouble one day.” Tabitha let out a long heavy breath. “You might as well tell me everything.”

“Juniper’s been digging around my garden all morning. I don’t want to undermine their investigation, but I thought I’d be neighborly and give you a heads-up. They’ll probably pay you and every other herbalist and gardener in the area a visit soon.”

“Aren’t you sweet?” She smirked. “Now, go on. Why else did you pedal that cute little bike of yours all the way out here?”

Clover grinned sheepishly. Not much got by Tabitha. “I wanted to talk to you about your
other garden
,” Clover said, casting her eyes around the room. “Not the flower and herb garden, either.”

Tabitha shifted through the herbs Clover had brought, nervously scooping them up into separate bunches. When she was done, she gazed directly at Clover with her midnight blue eyes. “I don’t let many witches or wizards back there.” She straightened, her demeanor shifting. “But I guess you did come all this way to warn me. I could be neighborly in return.” She snorted, tied twine around a bunch of herbs, and hung them from a nail in the rafter to dry.

Clover didn’t think Tabitha was directly involved in the murder. “Everyone knows you’re the queen of poison, so what’d you expect? About time you let someone see your deadly specimens. It might as well be me.” She smiled, hopefully.

“I’ve been dreading this day for a long time. With deadly plants it’s only a matter of time. Oliver Yearling has been a customer of mine for decades. It’s not a secret. I’ve sold herbal mixtures to him for many uses.”

“The belladonna being one of them?” Clover asked.

Tabitha scratched her head. “That’s where this gets interesting. One of my employees sold belladonna recently, but I don’t think it was to Oliver, if I’m remembering correctly. Let me check to be sure.”

“It wasn’t? Can you tell me who you sold it to?”

Tabitha pulled a thick parchment ledger out from under the counter and wiped off a layer of what looked like topsoil. She turned to a section marked with a black ribbon. “Technically I’m required by law to track all sales of poisonous plants as a matter of public safety record, so being that it’s a matter of record, I don’t see the harm in sharing the details with you.”

Clover craned her neck to get a look at the list of names. She made an unfortunate conclusion. “If it’s a public record, then it’s also a foolish way to murder someone if there’s a record left behind, don’t you think?” That complicated matters.

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