Authors: Lauren Quick
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Occult, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Cozy, #Supernatural, #Witches & Wizards
“We’re making the rounds. Do you have anything suspicious you’d like to report, maybe confess?” Juniper tapped her notebook, indicating her readiness to take notes.
“No. Not yet.” Clover bit her lip. She wasn’t ready to accuse anyone of anything. A land deal was not enough motive for murder. She needed more before implicating the Winters. No matter how snarky Gwen was.
“You should leave the investigating up to us. We’re making progress. If I were you, I’d let us into that closet of yours and end this. Let us do the hard work. It’s dangerous. Someone wanted Oliver dead, and he never saw it coming. I don’t want that to happen to you, especially on my first case.” She nudged Clover with her elbow.
Clover smiled, but she was dug in and determined to keep the closet sealed for as long as possible. She still had time to come up with a suspect. As the two witches turned onto Main Street, Clover saw Bradley Adams hanging outside of The Brewery Tavern, and she quickly upped her pace, seeing her opportunity to chat with him. “Gotta run.”
“Clover, if you need anything just ask. I’m here to help, really.”
“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.” Clover had gained a few feet on the witch without even realizing it.
“Where are you headed so fast?” Juniper asked, a note of suspicion in her voice.
“I’m going to get a bite to eat and think over what you said. Plus, I hear the tavern carries great beer.”
he inside of The Brewery Tavern was cool and inviting, especially after walking around town in the warm summer sun. The U-shaped dark wood bar was lined with leather stools, and cozy booths rimmed the walls of the main room with tables spread throughout the center. Most of the booths were already taken and the tables were beginning to fill up with the dinner crowd. On first glance, Clover didn’t see Bradley, so she sauntered up to the far side of the bar and took a seat between two separate groups of witches and wizards, giving her a perfect spot for surveillance.
Laughter bubbled out of her throat as Hildie Treetorn waddled out from the back room, a pitcher of beer in one hand and a basket of cheese biscuits in the other. Petite and voluptuous, she wore a high-waisted apron that accentuated her curves. Her sparkling green eyes widened when she saw Clover sitting alone at the bar. Hildie and her husband, Max, had run the tavern for the past one hundred and twenty-five years.
“Well, imagine this. Clover Mayhem as I live and breathe. What brings you out to our little establishment? Are your sisters joining you for dinner?” She glanced around as if expecting to see Vivi or Honora.
“No, it’s just me tonight. Thought I’d stop in and get a bite to eat.” Clover shifted on her stool, trying to get comfy.
” Hildie didn’t hide her surprise. Clover wasn’t that big of a hermit, was she? She needed to get out of the Meadowlands more and mingle with the outside world of witches and wizards.
“Good for you. What can I get you to start with? How about a wicked cherry ale to go with some cheesy biscuits while you look at the menu? Very refreshing.” She set the basket on the bar in front of Clover and passed her a parchment menu.
“Great idea, but I think I’ll have a different beer. Bradley has a great new brew. What’s it called?”
“One honey nectar brew coming up.” The tavern maven’s eyes danced.
“He served it at my solstice party and everyone loved it.”
“Oh, the party.” Hildie wiggled her fingers, and the plates of the two wizards sitting next to Clover were magically bused from the surface and dumped into a soapy tub behind the bar. Hildie’s
was memory. She remembered every name and face that came through her door. She also remembered recipes, conversations, and—most advantageous—spells. Over the years she’d sharpened her spellcasting so well that she didn’t need a wand or words to cast spells and still hold a conversation. “Terrible about what happened to old Ollie. He sure was a secretive wizard. Never darkened my doorstep once. Not social at all from what I’ve heard. But I remember his late wife. Now, she was a doll.”
“Really? Has he seen anyone since?” Clover nudged the talkative witch.
“You must mean his
?” She threw back her head and made a sound somewhere in between a cackle and a throaty gasp. “A secret romance! Can you believe it? I wonder who it is.”
That’s what I was hoping to find out from you
, she thought.
But before Clover could say another word, Bradley Adams walked out of the back room and grabbed Hildie around the waist, giving her a playful squeeze. “I bet whoever she is, she isn’t as pretty as you.”
She swatted him with a dish towel, but her cheeks blushed rosy pink. “Put me down or Max will have your head. I’m taken, but our little Clover is single.” Hildie winked at her and a thrill raced up Clover’s spine at seeing the handsome wizard. Bradley smiled and took Hildie’s lead. “I don’t believe that at all. She’s got to have some nice wizard at her beck and call.”
“Nope. Not yet. All work and no play, I guess.”
“We’ll have to change that,” he said with a wink.
Clover swallowed, trying to calm the butterflies in her stomach. Bradley’s rugged good looks, easy demeanor, and pride in his work made him irresistible. It was just her bad luck that when she finally met a nice eligible wizard, he also happened to be a poison-buying murder suspect.
“Clover was just asking about your new brew. Why don’t you grab me some from the back?”
“Sure thing. Glad you like it,” he said with a puppy-dog smile and ambled into the back room.
Hildie wiggled her fingers and Clover’s scarf floated up off the floor. “Here you go, sweetie.”
Clover snatched up the scarf and draped it over her lap. “Thanks, it keeps falling out of my hair.”
Hildie motioned to the menu. “Know what you want?”
“I’ll have a cheeseburger and sweet potato fries.” Might as well go all in and think about her waistline another day. Hildie nodded and went to help another customer, leaving Clover to her own devices.
Clover nervously drummed her fingers on the bar. How was she supposed to dig up dirt on a potential suspect without being obvious? Her social skills were rusty, especially when questioning handsome suspects. Her sisters had often accused her of living her whole life in her head and she had to admit they had a point. Being a shop owner, Vivi had cultivated a more vivacious personality over the years, weaving herself into the fabric of the Willow Realm community. And Honora was as outgoing as a witch could be, opinionated and tough. Private investigating had loosened any fears she had of mingling with witches and wizards of the highest order from CEOs to council members.
But right now, Clover had to channel her inner curious witch if she wanted to get a handle on this case. It was hard for Clover to suspect Bradley of offing Oliver Yearling with his own beer, but she had to find out why he bought belladonna. And what was his connection to Oliver Yearling?
Bradley returned with two bottles of brew and set them on the bar in front of her.
“I’m sure it’s delicious, but I only ordered one.” She smiled.
“I thought I’d join you. If you don’t mind,” he said.
“No, not at all.” Her stomach fluttered with nervous energy as he came out from behind the bar. Maybe this wouldn’t be so hard after all. Luckily, two wizards on the stools closest to Clover stood and made their way over to a vacated booth.
He hopped up on the stool next to her, beer in hand, and clinked bottles with her. She took a long pull off the beer and swallowed the cold, crisp drink. Refreshing was an understatement, the brew was light, not too hoppy, and had a sweet note that wasn’t too sugary. She set the bottle on the bar. “I never got a chance to thank you for bringing your beer to the party, but I was running around so much I didn’t get a chance to talk with you.”
“No worries. It’s a new brew I’ve been concocting all summer, trying to get it just right. Your party was the perfect testing ground. I’m making it my new seasonal beer for summer.”
“That’s a great idea. It’s delicious, and I’m not normally a big beer drinker, but I’ll definitely have a pack of this in my fridge.”
“Thanks. And feel free to recycle any leftover bottles from the party. I give a discount with returned bottles. It was one of your best parties. The fireworks were epic pyro spellcasting. The Linder brothers are going to get a lot of jobs thanks to you.”
“They did all the work.” She had to think of a way of subtly shifting the conversation. “Unfortunately the party didn’t end well.”
“Shame about Oliver, but we reap what we sow in life,” he said cryptically and took another swig of beer.
What does that mean?
“Did you know Oliver well? You don’t sound like a fan of his.”
“Nope. Never met the wizard personally. But my sister has and her experience with him and his labyrinth wasn’t good.”
“Really? That’s too bad. What happened?” She sat on the edge of her stool, her curiosity drawing her closer to him.
He picked at the homemade label on the beer bottle. “I can’t say. I shouldn’t have brought it up. It’s not my place.”
Well, that wasn’t what she’d expected. With the conversation going flat, Clover decided to take another approach. “Working at a brewery must be hard work.” She couldn’t help but admire his bulging biceps.
“It’s my whole life. It’s not hard work if you love it.”
“But it must take a toll on your body.”
“I was at Tabitha Rosewood’s apothecary this morning. She’s amazing if you need any medicinal concoctions.”
Like the belladonna you claimed was for muscle aches.
His brown eyes were soft chocolaty pools, and she tried to focus on her suspicions, but he wasn’t making it easy. “You should check her out for balms and salves. I got a great one for my sore muscles,” she said, but she really wanted to add, “
I could give you with a back rub.
Unless you’re a cold-blooded killer, then I’d have to draw the line.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, but my health’s great. Hasn’t been better.”
Maybe the belladonna wasn’t for him after all. Her shoulders sunk. That was a bust but Clover continued anyway, “I love wandering through her herb gardens. They’re so wild and untamed.”
“That’s what I like about them, too. She lets the plants dictate the shape and life of the garden. Very natural and back to basics. Not like these magical gardens that are cut and configured into weird shapes and things. Not like that labyrinth.” He snorted.
“Not a fan of Oliver’s garden either?” she asked. Now she was getting somewhere.
“Nope. Not a fan of his garden, if you could call it that. The labyrinth is a trick and a fool’s game.” He shook his head. “I’m not afraid to say I hope that now that he’s gone, the labyrinth is gone with him.”
What was so bad about the labyrinth? Sure the crowds were a pain when they descended every year to wander through the magical maze, but it wasn’t that bad. His hand brushed hers, sending a tingle through her. She took a swig of beer and focused.
“Tabitha gave me a tour of her father’s famous poison garden. I’ve wanted to see it since I was a little witch. It’s really amazing in it’s own way.”
He shifted his gaze, summing her up. His look was so intense Clover broke his stare.
“Now that’s something I’d like to see. I’m not afraid of dangerous plants as long as everyone knows they’re dangerous. It’s when gardens are presented as innocent games that I have a problem with them.”
There was definitely more to this story, but before Clover had the chance to ask him anything else, the bee queen, Belinda Nix, descended on them and hopped up on the bar stool next to Bradley.
Belinda lived in the Meadowlands and her
was beekeeping. She was a bee charmer and produced some of the finest honey and honey products in the area. A sheet of strawberry blonde hair fell down her back, her face sun-kissed and glowing. Clover smiled, trying hard not to be bitter that Belinda’s skin was a burnished shade of honey while she burned like a lobster after about ten minutes in an open field, hence her love of floppy hats.
“Hi, you two. Hope I’m not interrupting.”
Actually you are, but not much I can do about it now
, Clover thought.
Bradley smiled politely as Belinda draped her long sinewy arms over his shoulders like an octopus in heat. Clover bit the inside of her cheek and tried not to snarl. Was that a pang of jealousy she was feeling? She had no idea the two were so close.
“Is that honey nectar brew? I’ll have one, please,” Belinda bellowed so Hildie could hear her. “Did Bradley tell you that he used some of my prized enchanted honey as his secret ingredient in his beer?” she asked Clover, clearly bragging.
“No, he didn’t,” Clover said.
“I wouldn’t call it a secret ingredient. I do call the beer honey brew.” He shifted uneasily in his seat and uncoiled himself from Belinda’s tentacles.
“What are you two up to tonight? Hope I didn’t interrupt a date.”
“We’re just chatting. It’s been a long couple of days,” Clover said and Hildie put a heaping plate of food in front of her—a huge burger and mountain of fries.
“Oh my gosh, Clover. That’s a ton of food. Are you eating for two?” Belinda swung her hair and cackled, causing Clover’s face to redden.
“You guys are welcome to share. Hildie loves to give big portions.”
Belinda reached over and snatched a fry off Clover’s plate. “Awful what happened at your party. Kind of ruined it.” She twisted up her lips in a sad pout as she chewed.
Bradley leaned back on his stood and clutched the bar. “No, it didn’t. Clover will be fine. This whole thing will blow over in a few days.” His brow furrowed.
“I wish I could be as confident as you. I think Oliver’s murder is going to hang over the Meadowlands for years to come.” Clover had lost her appetite, so she cut the burger into quarters and pushed her plate between the three of them.
Belinda dove right in and grabbed a wedge of burger. “I bet you both heard about the will. Who do you think Oliver’s secret love is? My bet is one of those weird sisters.” Her eyes widened when she realized what she’d said. “I don’t mean you or one of your sisters.” She snorted. “I meant the floating ones: Bunny and Cupcake.”
“You mean Dovy and Cookie,” Clover corrected.
“That’s them,” she said pointing at Clover with the end of the bitten burger and popped the rest into her mouth. “They’ve been floating around Oliver’s house since his death, offering support, casseroles, and talking up a storm. One of them is the lovebird, mark my word.”
“According to the new will, then one of them just inherited a fortune, including the enchanted labyrinth. Lucky witch.” Clover took a bite of her burger.
Bradley winced and took a swig of beer. “Whoever gets that labyrinth should do what’s right and shut it down. Dissolve the magic for good.”
“I agree. That labyrinth needs to go,” Belinda cooed, rubbing her shoulder against Bradley’s.
“Why do you dislike it so much?” Clover asked, catching Bradley’s gaze, hoping to finally get an answer.
“Let’s just say Oliver Yearling’s magic wasn’t all pretty flowers and shrubs. His illusions could get downright dangerous. Don’t get involved with the labyrinth and whatever you do, don’t ever go inside.”
Clover bit into a fry. Bradley was the second wizard to warn her to stay out of the labyrinth and she needed to find out why.