Authors: Kimberly Frost
Tags: #Romance, #Paranormal, #Fiction
Table of Contents
A would-be battle—with a very real zombie.
The boys from Texas don’t stand around and talk when there’s trouble, and they especially never hide from a fight. So five of them, with various bloody wounds, wrestled with the slimy, charcoal gray corpse of Mrs. Barnaby, who was tossing them around like she was a mad bull just out of a pen.
I yanked the lid off my Tupper ware and waited to glimpse some body part of hers, the swampy smell of decay choking me. Then her gnarled black hand thrust out and grabbed Stucky Clark’s beefy arm.
I propelled myself forward, raising my voice. “Go now and peace do keep. Return at once to your sleep.” I tossed the passionflower potion, splashing it on the pile.
The room sucked all the air from my lungs, and I dropped to my knees, gasping, trying to pull some breath back in. I couldn’t. I was dying, suffocating for real. My mouth moved, screaming soundlessly for help, then everything went black.
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This is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
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. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2009 by Kimberly Chambers.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
eISBN : 978-1-440-69814-9
1. Witches—Fiction. 2. Heirlooms—Fiction. 3. Texas—Fiction. I. Title.
I would like to thank the following people:
My parents, Chris and Audrey, who listened indulgently to my endless childhood monologues. It turns out you were building an author. My closest childhood friend, Sandy, who read my writing before it was fit to print. Thanks for being an audience of one for many years.
Members of the Houston Fiction Cartel, especially Gene and Bethe, who taught me how to critique. All my charismatic and witty friends from WRW, especially Lorin, Brenda, Roman, John, Jason, Donna, Christine, Susan, Dennis, and Beth. Nancy Pickard for the first encouragement I ever got from a published novelist. My new friends at the Houston-area chapters of RWA for providing me with a great writing community in my own back yard.
All my family and friends, too numerous to mention here, who have encouraged me along the way, especially Michael, Vincent, Diane, Melissa, Sherry, Sandy and Dan, Stephanie, Rick H., John S., and Mrs. Millie Mohan. My wonderful and numerous friends from the medical community, especially Margaret, Brent, Larry and Jane, Sally, Shelley Halley, and Elizabeth Jones Cochran.
My agent, Elizabeth Winick, for your faith and guidance. It was a fortunate day for me when we met. My editor, Leis Pederson, for your wonderful insights. Books are very lucky to find themselves in your hands.
My best friends and critique partners, David Mohan and Bonnie Johnston. I am grateful to you for far too many things to mention here. I’ll just say . . . Thank you for everything.
Jenna Reitgarten is awfully lucky that my witch genes are dormant, or I’d have hexed her with hiccups for the rest of her natural-born life. She stared at me across the cake that had taken me thirty-six hours to make, a cake that was Disney on Icing, and shook her head.
“Well, it’s a really pretty cake and all, Tammy Jo, but it’s got too much blue and gray. It might be good for a little boy, but Lindsey
“The castle stones are gray and blue, but the princess on the drawbridge is wearing pink. The flower border is all pink,” I said, tucking a loose strand of hair behind my ear.
“Uh-huh. I’ll tell you what. I’ll take this one for the playroom. I’ll put the other cake, the one with the picture of Lindsey on it, in the dining room. And I can’t pay two hundred thirty dollars for the castle, since, after all, it’ll be a spare.”
“Why don’t I just sell you the sheet cake?” I asked, glancing at the flat cake with the picture of her three-year-old decked out in her Halloween costume. Lindsey was dressed, rather unimaginatively, in a pink Sleeping Beauty dress.
“And what would you do with this one, honey?” Jenna asked, pointing at the multistory castle, complete with lakefront and shrubbery.
“Maybe I’ll just eat it.”
She laughed. “Don’t be silly. Now, you’ll sell it to me for a hundred thirty dollars or I’ll have to complain to Cookie that you didn’t follow my instructions, and then—”
“I followed your instructions,” I said, fuming. “You said ‘think fairy-tale princess.’ Well, here she is.” I flicked the head of the sugar-sculpted princess, knocking her over on the blue bridge.
Jenna gasped. “I’ve had just about enough from you,” she said, standing the princess back up. “You know we order once a week from this bakery for our Junior League meetings. Cookie will have your hide if you lose my business.”
Cookie Olsen is my boss, and “Cookie” fits her like “Snuggles” fits a Doberman. As a general rule, I don’t want Cookie mad at me, but I was in the middle of remembering all the reasons I don’t like Jenna, which date back to high school, and I really couldn’t concentrate on two annoying women at the same time.
“You can buy the sheet cake, but you can’t have the castle cake.”
She huffed impatiently. “A hundred seventy for the castle cake, and that is final, missy.”
I’d never noticed before how small Jenna’s eyes were. If she were a shape-shifter, she’d be some kind of were-rodent. Not that I’d seen any shape-shifters except in books, but I knew they were out there. Aunt Mel’s favorite ex-husband had been eaten by one.
I come from a line of witches that’s fifteen generations old. They’ve drawn power from the earth for over three hundred years. Somehow I didn’t think Jenna would be impressed to hear that though.
Jenna flipped open her cell phone and called Miss Cookie. She explained her version of the story and then handed the phone to me.
“Yes?” I asked.
“Sell her the cake, Tammy Jo.”
“I’m not losing her business. Sell her the cake, or you’re fired.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said.
“Good girl,” Cookie said.
I handed the phone back to a very smug Jenna Reitgarten.
“Bye-bye,” she said to Miss Cookie and flipped the phone shut. She dug through her wallet while I put the castle cake into the box I’d created for its transport. I took out the sheet cake, which was already boxed, and set it on the counter.
“That’ll be forty dollars,” I said.
“Cookie said I could either sell you the castle cake or get fired, and I’m going with option B. A cake this size will feed me for a month,” I said. “Longer if I act like you and starve myself.”
Jenna turned a shade of bright pink that her daughter Lindsey would have
. Then she tried to reason with me, and then she threatened me, waving her stick arms around a lot.
“Sheet cake, forty dollars,” I said.
Her complexion was splotchy with fury as she thrust two twenty-dollar bills at me. “Lloyd won’t hire you. Daddy uses him to cater meetings and lunches. And there are only two bakeries in this town. You’ll have to move,” she said.
“Well, I’ll cross that drawbridge when I come to it,” I said, but I knew she was right. Pride’s more expensive than a designer purse, and I can’t afford one of those either.
Jenna stalked out with her sheet cake as I calculated how long I could survive without a job. I’m not great at math, but I knew I wouldn’t last long.
Oh, to heck with it. Maybe I will just leave town.
If Momma and Aunt Melanie came back and found me gone, it would be their fault. I hadn’t even gotten a postcard from either of them in a couple months, and the cards that came were always so darn vague. They never said what they were doing or where they were. I really hoped they weren’t in some other dimension since I might need to track them down for a loan in the very near future.
Like most ghosts, Edie arrives with the worst kind of timing. It’s like getting a bad haircut on your wedding day, making you wonder what you did to deserve it.
There was a strange traffic jam on Main Street, and as I was trying to get around Mrs. Schnitzer’s Cadillac, Edie materialized out of mist in the seat next to me. It certainly wasn’t my fault that it startled me. I rammed the curb and then Mrs. Schnitzer’s rather substantial back bumper.
I held my head, wishing for an ice pack or a vacation in Acapulco. Then I got my wits together and moved my car into the drive of Floyd’s gas station and out of traffic. I grimaced at the grinding sound I heard when I turned the wheel too far left. I hoped the problem wouldn’t be expensive to fix, given my new unemployed status. With my luck, it would be. Maybe I could just avoid left turns.
Mrs. Schnitzer didn’t bother to get her Caddy out of people’s way. She slid out from behind the wheel of her big car and sidled up to mine. She wore a lime green polyester skirt that showed off her own substantial back bumper, which, except for the dent, matched her car’s perfectly.
She asked me a series of questions, like what was wrong with my eyes (plenty, since I can see Edie, my great-great-grandmother’s dead twin sister), was I on drugs (not unless you count dark cocoa), and what did I think Zach would say when he found out (which I decided not to think about).
Edie was decidedly silent in the copilot’s seat. She was dressed in a black-sequined flapper dress, which is a bit much for daytime, but I guess ghosts can get away with some eccentric fashions, being invisible to most people and all.
“Here Zach comes now,” Mrs. Schnitzer said, beaming.
“Great,” I mumbled and checked my rearview mirror. Sure enough, a broad chest of hard muscle covered by a tight, white T-shirt was approaching.