Authors: Sarah Painter
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Women
Step back into the magical world of Pendleford with Sarah Painter’s new book
The Secrets of Ghosts
. Don’t miss the magical, heart-warming story from the bestselling author of
The Language of Spells
On her twenty-first birthday Katie Harper has only one wish: to become a real Harper woman. Mystical powers are passed down her family generation after generation — some even call them witches — yet every spell Katie attempts goes disastrously wrong.
When her magic does appear, it’s in a form nobody expected and suddenly Katie is thrown into a dangerous new world with shadowy consequences. For the realm of the deceased is not as peaceful as she once thought. The dead are buried with their secrets and only Katie can help the ghosts of the past finally find peace.
If that is what they are looking for…
The Secrets of Ghosts
has worked as a freelance journalist, editor and blogger for the last thirteen years, while juggling amateur child-wrangling (aka motherhood) with her demanding Internet-appreciation schedule (aka procrastination).
Born in Wales to a Scot and an Englishman (very nearly a ‘three men walked into a bar’ joke), she now lives in Scotland with her husband, two children and two cats. She loves the work of Joss Whedon, reading in bed, salt and vinegar crisps, and is the proud owner of a writing shed.
This book put up a bit of a fight and it truly wouldn’t exist without the encouragement and editorial support of Sally and Victoria at Carina UK.
Thank you, also, to my wonderful agent, Sallyanne Sweeney, for her continuing enthusiasm and guidance.
I’m so grateful to all my friends and family for their understanding while I wrestled with this book, and to Holly and James for putting up with ‘Deadline Mum’ with love and good grace.
Finally, thank you to my brother, Matthew, for the pep talks and delicious beer.
For Dave, with love.
Katie Harper closed her eyes as the last lines of ‘happy birthday’ finished and blew out the candles on her cake. She concentrated with every ounce of her being, and wished more fervently than she’d ever wished before. More fervently than when she’d been in the middle of her horse phase and been hoping for a pony. More strongly, even, than when she’d thought she’d been in love with Luke Taylor and had tried her first real spell. She squeezed her nails into her palms and bit the inside of her cheek to provide a spark of necessary pain, biting hard enough to draw blood. Wishes could come true. There was magic in thought and intention. Katie knew this and when she opened her eyes, she expected the world to have changed.
The disappointment thumped through her. She saw a flicker of concern on her aunt Gwen’s face and hastily slapped a smile in place.
She kept the smile while the cake was cut, while her uncle Cam gave her a hug and a cheque, and while she thanked everyone in the little group for coming.
Her face was beginning to ache by the time her mum and dad were saying goodbye. Her mum kissed her on both cheeks and apologised for the millionth time for rushing away. ‘It’s an early start tomorrow,’ she said. ‘And you know I get travel sick.’
‘I know, it’s fine.’ Ruby and David were going on a cruise, their third in two years. They were taking their duties as empty nesters seriously and, honestly, Katie couldn’t blame them. She hadn’t been the easiest teenager to live with. She hugged them both, inhaling the scent of Ruby’s perfume and moisturiser. ‘I’m not staying late, either. I’m working tomorrow.’
‘If you’re sure,’ Ruby said, but she was already halfway out of the door.
‘Positive.’ Katie was picking up every extra shift going at The Grange and, truthfully, didn’t really feel like celebrating her twenty-first at all. Coming into her power. Now, that would be a day worth shouting about.
Katie followed her parents to the door, waving as they walked down the garden path and got into their silver Audi. Gwen had lined the path with candles in jam jars and strung tiny lights through the trees and hedges in the garden.
‘You’re working too hard. I don’t like it,’ Gwen said, coming up behind Katie and handing her a plate.
Gwen’s tradition when it came to birthday cakes was to produce different flavour combinations and you had to guess what they were. Katie had caught a whiff of lime when she blew out the candles and she was expecting something sweet to counteract the acidity so the honey wasn’t a surprise. There was something spicy in there, too, but she wasn’t sure what. She took another bite and let it dissolve in her mouth.
Gwen was looking at her expectantly.
‘Cardamon?’ Katie said.
‘Close.’ Gwen shook her head. ‘Cumin.’
Katie struggled to keep her face neutral. She was rubbish at the herbal stuff. What kind of witch was rubbish with herbs? A crap one, that was what.
Gwen was still talking about her birthday plans. ‘You only turn twenty-one once. At least tell me you’re going out for a wild night with your friends later. Clubbing or something.’
‘It’s almost ten already,’ Katie said, then felt embarrassed. Lots of people went clubbing at ten o’clock at night. Maybe not in Pendleford, but still.
Later, picking her way through the candle-strewn path, she tried to rationalise. Her birthday was an arbitrary deadline, a day like any other. There was no real reason to expect her powers to come in on her twenty-first, any more than there had been on her sixteenth or eighteenth, either. She’d held real hope for her nineteenth — her final teenage year — but, truly, there was no reason to believe that it wouldn’t happen tomorrow or next month or on a random rainy Thursday in October. She sat on the wooden bench at the bottom of Gwen’s garden. There was no need to panic.
‘What are you doing?’ Anna had snuck up behind Katie. She was carrying a glass of sparkling wine and a concerned expression.
‘Panicking,’ Katie said. What if she didn’t take after Gwen after all? What if she was actually just like her mother, Ruby? While her grandmother could read fortunes and Gwen could find lost things, Ruby was about as magical as a bowl of cereal.
‘I’m having a mid-life crisis,’ Katie said, shifting over to make room for Anna.
‘You’re too young for that.’ Anna sat down. ‘Quarter-life, maybe. Although, personally, I’m planning to live to one hundred and fifty.’
Katie forced a smile. It was nice of Anna to try and cheer her up. ‘Have you tried the cake, yet?’
‘Twice. I still have no idea. So, what’s the crisis about?’ Anna said. ‘You don’t want to work at The Grange for the rest of your natural born life?’
Anna laughed. ‘Me, neither. I’m going to open my own place. One day.’
‘Are you?’ Katie was surprised. Anna was a brilliant waitress: competent and quick and always smiling. She never seemed dissatisfied but then, Katie knew, she didn’t know her all that well. And, of course, you never knew what was really going on inside people.
‘What?’ Anna looked at her sideways. ‘You think I can’t do it?’
‘You’d be brilliant. You’re so organised.’ Katie nudged her. ‘Unlike say, for instance, me.’
‘That’s true. I might not even hire you as a server. You’re a bit rubbish.’
‘Charming,’ Katie said, mock offended. ‘And on my birthday, too.’
Cam had followed Gwen into the garden and Katie watched as he put his arms around her. Gwen leaned back against him, twisting her neck so that they could kiss.
‘Your aunt and uncle are really loved up, aren’t they?’ Anna said, noticing the floor show.
‘Sorry,’ Katie said, although she didn’t know why she was apologising.
‘At least someone is getting some,’ Anna said. ‘I’m in my prime, here. It’s a crime not to be using this.’ She indicated her body.
‘I think women hit their prime really late. Like in their thirties or something.’
‘I’m not waiting that long to have sex.’
Katie laughed. Katie had been really touched when Anna had asked to come to her party. They worked together at The Grange, and had only known each other for a few months. Most of Katie’s friends had dispersed. They’d gone to university or London or on year-long round-the-world trips. A couple might still have been in Bath, but Katie had moved to Pendleford and, truthfully, not made all that much effort to keep up with anyone from school. As a result, Anna was probably her closest friend, but Katie assumed Anna had a battalion of other mates who, rightfully, came above Katie in ranking for time and energy.
Gwen said she had trust issues, but, as Katie liked to reply, she’d earned them.
She watched her party. Figures moved in the shadows at the edges of the garden, away from the lights. Gorillaz came on and Shari began dancing on her own in the middle of the lawn. She was the kind of person who could get away with things like that. The kind of person who got called a ‘free spirit’ and who always knew where the parties were happening and had exotic boyfriends who made films.
‘Is that your flatmate?’ Anna said, gesturing to Shari.
‘Ex-flatmate,’ Katie said. Shari was nice, but Katie had discovered that ‘free spirit’ translated to ‘no boundaries’ and she’d been relieved when Shari had decided to go and live with her latest boyfriend, Liam.
‘Oh, sorry,’ Anna said.
‘Don’t be,’ Katie said, deadpan. ‘If she hadn’t moved out, I might’ve killed her.’
Anna frowned and Katie wondered if her tone hadn’t been jokey enough. She opened her mouth to explain, but Anna had already moved on.
‘This place is amazing,’ Anna said. She gestured to Gwen’s enormous vegetable patch, which spanned the side of the house. ‘Have you seen what your aunt is growing? Aubergines, peppers, chillies. How does she—?’
‘It’s been really hot this year,’ Katie said. She believed in honesty and never tried to hide her family’s peculiarities, but, equally, sometimes it was nice not to endure a double take, a disbelieving look. She usually went with saying as little as possible. As long as it wasn’t an outright lie, she wasn’t breaking her vow of honesty.
‘Another of her special abilities?’ Anna said. ‘That is so cool.’
Of course, this was Pendleford. It was common knowledge that the Harper family had certain abilities. If you needed to find something that couldn’t be found, if you needed good advice, or a herbal remedy that would work when nothing from the GP had helped, you went to see Gwen. Katie wanted to follow in Gwen’s footsteps; she just needed to find her own power, her raison d’être. She put down the empty cake plate and tried to look happy for the party guests, for Anna, for Gwen. It wasn’t their fault she was a massive failure.
The next day, Katie still felt out of sorts and the flat was cold and empty. She almost wished Shari were still there, walking around in her underwear while talking full volume into her mobile. Or, maybe not. What the place really needed was a cat, but the lease didn’t allow pets. Not even when Katie had explained that it was vital for her work. Every witch needed a familiar.