Chapter 1

Grandma always said youth and beauty didn’t amount to much in the long run and, from the way Palmer was looking at me, she might be onto something. He had a way of making me feel like I was the only person he was interested in, the only person in the room. Growing up with two cousins the same age as me had often made me feel like I was one of three, and not always an individual. The aunts often spoke about “the girls,” rather than each of us separately. Don’t get me wrong, I knew how much they loved me and how difficult being a single parent was. It must have been easier for the aunts to work together and treat us as though we were all the same.

I picked up my coffee mug and took a long sip. When I set the opening time of my business to ten in the morning, it was because I wanted to sleep in, not to race to seven o’clock breakfast dates with my boyfriend. And yet, here I was, sitting across from him at the Crispy Biscuit. The February sun wasn’t up high enough to warm the air, and today felt like a day for a never-ending mug of something warm. I’d rolled out of bed with just enough time to brush my hair and teeth, get dressed, and meet him in my parking lot. No time for makeup, but it didn’t seem to matter to him.

February always brought out the winter doldrums in me. Not enough sun, not enough fresh air, not enough of anything that made me happy. I’d taken to spending more time in my heated greenhouse, breathing in deeply the earthy scent of living plants, and even that hadn’t helped much.

Palmer waved his hand in front of my face. “Hey, are you listening?”

I frowned. “Sorry, I drifted off for a minute. I told you I wasn’t great first thing in the morning. What were you saying?”

He flashed me a grin. “Drink more coffee, it’ll help.”

I took another sip as he repeated his question to me. “What do you want to do for Valentine’s Day? And do you even celebrate it?”

I’d never celebrated Valentine’s Day with a boyfriend before. “What do I want to do? How about a cruise in the Bahamas? I need some bright, warm sunlight. And no, we don’t celebrate it, but it’s not like it’s off-limits. Saint Patrick’s Day is right out, though.”

Emma stopped at our table with breakfast. I’d ordered orange buttermilk pancakes with citrus syrup in an attempt to capture a tropical feeling in my day. “Here you go,” Emma said. “Let me know if you need anything else. And Isabella, I’d love to catch up today. Do you have any free time?”

Emma and I had been friends since sixth grade and, in all that time, she’d never asked to catch up—she usually just launched into whatever she wanted to say. “I’ll be at the apothecary all day, why don’t you stop in when your shift is over?”

She smiled. “You bet. I’m off at eight.”

“I wonder what that was about,” I said to Palmer after Emma walked away.

Palmer took a bite of sausage and shrugged. “Don’t you two talk a lot?”

I took a bite of pancake and closed my eyes. The tropical flavors reminded me of long sunny days on the beach. “Not as often as you might think.”

“I can’t get that much time off, but let me look into something a little more local.”

I hadn’t expected we’d go on a cruise. We weren’t at the shared vacation stage in our relationship. “That was just wishful thinking. Something closer to home would be great. You plan fantastic dates and haven’t failed me yet.”

We continued to eat, but I could tell there was something he wanted to ask me. “Out with it.”

He looked uncomfortable. “It’s not a question for here. I’ll ask when we’re done.”

That was intriguing. Was it a personal question, a sorority question, or witch question? Did he have something entirely different on his mind that I couldn’t imagine? I ate more of my pancakes. The sooner I finished, the sooner I’d find out. “Have you got any interesting cases going on?”

“Nah. Seems like no one wants to go through the effort in the cold. Kate and I are working on some shoplifting cases, but that’s it. How’s business at the apothecary?”

“It’s good. Tea sales are through the roof, and it’s hard to keep anything with cinnamon in stock. Mackenzie and I are spending today bagging loose leaf tea so people can buy it right off the shelf.”

He put his fork down, his breakfast eaten. “Cinnamon?”

“It’s great for winter. If you’ve got just a bit of cinnamon, you get that feeling of warm baked goods. If it’s a stronger flavor, it’s spicier and you can feel heat on your tongue. I’ll make you some and you can see what I mean.”

My pancakes were gone, and the citrus had made me feel a little sunnier on the inside. I was counting on spicy cinnamon tea to do the rest for me today.

Palmer dropped money on top of our bill. It was a very rare date that I got to pay for. When we first met, I was basically broke, working two jobs to make sure I could pay bills every month. With each passing month, I was getting closer to what the internet told me was an average detective salary. In another year, I might make more than he did.

I waved to Emma as we walked out. “I’ll see you later on.”

I wrapped my arm around his and looked to see if we were alone on the sidewalk. “Now that we’re out here, what did you want to ask me?”

He pulled his scarf up. “If you want to go somewhere warm and sunny, why not just teleport yourself there?”

I laughed. “I thought you had a serious question that I should be worried about. It’s hard work to teleport and, the further you go, the more problems you have. I can’t teleport myself anywhere yet, and it would be exhausting for Jameson to bring me that far.”

He steered me around a slushy puddle. “But what about when the sorority members went to and from California?”

“I can’t imagine how difficult it was for them. I suppose if I needed to go somewhere, my mother could take me, or Grandma, but can you imagine me asking Grandma to take me on a vacation?”

He frowned. “But she’d be on vacation too.”

He had a good point. “Maybe it’s just not a thing my family does. I’ll have to ask.”

I opened the apothecary door. “Are you ready for some fantastic tea?”

He stomped the snow off his shoes and followed me in. “You bet, I’d like the spicier one, please.”

I started my morning routine of putting my things away, lighting Trina’s candle, and saying a few words to her. Today I was self-conscious talking to a lit candle, but I did it anyway. “Hope it’s warm and sunny where you are, Trina. I don’t think we’ve seen the sun for two weeks at this point, and I’m in serious need of sunlight.”

Palmer waited respectfully until I was done speaking. “Do you talk to her every day?”

I turned to him. “Yes. I started because I missed her so much and had no idea how to run this business. I was scared, and talking to the candle and her photo helped me imagine what she’d say to me.”

He looked around the apothecary with the new displays I’d installed to hold the expanded inventory. “Looks like it worked. I think she’d be proud of you. I know I’m proud of you. You’ve done amazing things here, made a place for yourself in the sorority, and helped me solve more cases than I’m comfortable admitting to, and you’re still just you.”

I smiled. I come from an old New England family, and random compliments aren’t a part of everyday life for us. “What do you mean I’m just me though?”

“You’re still kind, still thoughtful, still fun and funny and, even though you’ve seen a lot of death, it doesn’t seem to have affected you too badly. Unless you’re not telling me.”

He was right. The death I’d seen hadn’t fundamentally altered my outlook on life. “Does that make me weird? Shouldn’t I be more affected than I am? Because I’m not holding out on you—no nightmares I don’t tell you about, and I’m only worried when we haven’t caught someone yet.”

He picked up a piece of quartz and inspected it. “Have you ever considered joining the police, officially? You’ve got the right mindset for it, and I bet having the chief and me as references would get you in.”

I shook my head. “Absolutely not. I’ll stick with the sorority.” I started to make hot cinnamon tea for the day. “Not that I don’t like working with you on cases, but I like having a few things to focus on. Maybe that’s why I’m okay with all the violence, because it doesn’t take up my whole day. I also have to spend a lot of my time thinking about new tea blends, or what I need to order for the shop, or how the cats are doing, or any of the other hundred things I have to keep track of in my day. I don’t have time to obsess over murders once they’re solved.”

I handed him a mug. “I like it best plain but, if you don’t, there’s cream and sugar on the table.”

He sipped and his eyes flew open. Once he swallowed, he started to cough. “Spicy!”

“I warned you,” I said, taking his mug back so he wouldn’t spill the tea.

“I see what you mean about it keeping me warm. This would be perfect for a cold winter stakeout.”

I handed him his mug. “I bet it would. How many stakeouts do you do?”

“Not many. I leave them to Papatonis.”

I reached up to take a box of the tea off the shelf. “Here. Give this to him with my thanks.”

He took the tea and pulled me into his arms. “This is exactly what I mean. You’re incredibly thoughtful and that hasn’t changed.”

I turned my face up to his. We weren’t a kiss-in-public kind of couple, but we’ve had our moments. His lips brushed mine, and the door chimes rang. We moved apart, and I turned to greet my very early customer.

Chapter 2

Oh, sorry,” Emma said. “I’ll wait outside.”

We quickly separated. “Don’t be silly. Come on in.”

Palmer gently shook the box of tea. “I’ll bring this to Papatonis this morning. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.”

Once Palmer left, Emma squealed. “You were kissing!”

I poured myself a mug of tea. “Want some? It’s spicy.”

Emma took her coat off and draped it across her messenger bag. “I’ll take some, but tell me about the kissing.”

I handed her the mug and poured another one. “It was just one little kiss. We’ve been dating for a while now, and I think it’s about time.”

She followed me as I walked to the back of the apothecary. “You can put your coat and bag in the office, then we’re going to work in the prep room.”

“You two always look so . . . platonic whenever I see you. It’s hard to tell you’re a couple at all.”

I pulled down four boxes of tea ingredients and set them on the counter. Emma must not have been paying close attention, because Palmer had a look that he reserved for me. A look that said I was all he was paying attention to in the entire universe. “Just because we aren’t all over each other in public, doesn’t mean we’re not a couple.”

“I know, it’s just, I want you to be happy.” She sat on one of the stools. “And speaking of happy, I’ve got something I want to talk to you about.”

Her grin was off-the-charts huge. “Let me guess, a boyfriend who kisses you in public all the time.”

She opened the box of lavender in front of her. “Better than that.”

I turned to her and laughed. “Two boyfriends who kiss you in public all the time? That seems like it could be a problem, if they don’t know about each other.”

She pulled the lavender out of the box. “Would you get serious for a minute? I’ve changed my religion.”

I didn’t see that coming. Emma had never been a particularly religious person. She had a Christmas tree every December and an Easter basket in the spring, but that was about the extent of it. “What was your religion before? I don’t think I even know.”

“Episcopal? Presbyterian? One of those where I never even understood what the title meant. But Christian anyway.”

“Okay, so what are you now?” I asked.

“I want to see if you can guess. My new religion is more free-form, where you find the things you believe within you instead of being told what you should believe.”

That was an easy one. “Unitarian Universalist. Not even a challenge.”

“No, but I can see why you’d think that. My new religion is much more egalitarian, there’s no guy up at the front of a church telling us we’re all sinners.”

I used a scoop to measure out cinnamon from the box in front of me. “Are you a Reform Jew?”

She shook her head. “No. This religion is much more earth-centric, no monotheistic tendencies.”

I thought for a minute. This was getting tougher. “Uh, are you Hindu?”

Emma laughed. “No. You’ll never guess, so I’m just going to tell you. I’m a Wiccan.”

I almost dropped the scoop of cinnamon I was measuring out. “You’re what now?”

“I’m a Wiccan, and I belong to a fantastic new coven.”

This was bad. Very, very bad. The coven system had been abandoned in favor of family-based groups, because the power dynamics were too complicated otherwise. The closest thing witches had to covens these days was the sorority, but we were more of a watchdog group than anything else. Emma didn’t know that no self-respecting witch would describe her group as a coven. A knot formed in the pit of my stomach, because I knew someone was trying to take advantage of her. I just didn’t know if I was dealing with a witch or a garden-variety con man. “Do I call you a Wiccan, or a witch, or what?”

“We prefer the term Wiccan,” she said solemnly. “Witch has such ugly connotations, don’t you think?”

I didn’t, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. I pushed the boxes out of my way and sat on the stool next to hers. “Can I ask you questions? I don’t know anything about this, so don’t hate me if I sound stupid, okay?”

She beamed at me. “Of course not. Anger is not our way. Ask me anything you want.”

Anger is not our way? Someone should let Grandma know that. “How did you find this coven?”

“I haven’t been happy lately, and I wondered if being a waitress was all my life had to offer. Was there more to life, or could I make my life more meaningful?”

I nodded. If I hadn’t been an apprentice and then inherited the apothecary, I’d have the same thoughts she had.

“One morning, a guy left me a flyer along with my tip. It was an invitation to visit the coven and see if it was right for me. I figured, Why not? The meeting was in a hotel conference room, how dodgy could it be?”

An excellent question. I didn’t think she’d like my answer though. “Okay, so you went to the meeting. What happened that made you think it was for you?”

“Did you ever meet a person and just know you were going to be friends? You just clicked, and that was it? That’s how I felt about Winslow. And it’s weird, because he’s old—at least fifty—and not the kind of guy I’d ordinarily pay attention to unless he was a customer.”

“Could he do magic? Like, did he have real powers that he showed you?”

She took another sip of her tea. “Our coven is devoted to more mental talents. He read my mind and told me about how I was seeking a fresh start in life, and how I felt my parents didn’t always understand me.”

It took all my energy not to roll my eyes at her. Whoever this Winslow was, he was just a garden-variety scam artist. Pretty much everyone at our age felt that way. “Did he ask you for money?”

She frowned at me. “Of course not. The coven isn’t like a regular church that needs so much money for buildings and payroll and flowers and everything else. We’re an earth religion, and Mother Earth provides for us.”

Now I was confused. “How did Mother Earth provide a conference room?”

“I don’t know. It didn’t occur to me to ask. Anyway, there were ten of us in the meeting, and four of us decided to join.”

“Can you show me your magic powers? Like, can you do stuff that most people can’t?”

“Not yet. But I practice every day, and I think I’m getting better. My first task is to choose a goal, meditate on it every day, and create my own spell to get what I want.”

That seemed like the standard advice from every mindset guru, right down to the positive affirmation being relabeled as a spell. “What’s your goal?”

“My goal is to remove all the plastic from the oceans.”

Certainly a worthy goal, but probably not something she could do with the power of thought alone. And while any set of words could be a spell as long as the intention behind them was clear, that only worked for witches. This man was taking advantage of her. Still, I couldn’t let her see how much I disapproved. “That’s a good one. How are you going to do it?”

Her eyes went wide. “I can’t tell you my spell. We’re supposed to keep those a secret.”

I nodded seriously. “I understand. Do you think your spell will start working soon?”

“No. There are steps we have to go through before we can expect any of our spells to start working. I’m on the first one.” She took a deep breath. “Which brings me to why I’m telling you all this. Part of my growth and learning in the coven is to talk to others and bring them to a meeting. Each one of us needs to bring in two other people, so that we’ve got the magic number of thirteen in the coven. Winslow says that’s when we’ll see our power start to show.”

“Oh, Emma, I don’t know about that. You know I’m not a religious person.”

“But think about it, you’re an herbalist. You should feel right at home with the whole Mother Earth vibe the coven has.”

She wasn’t wrong there, but I didn’t want to tell her Mother Earth and I had already met. On the other hand, maybe Palmer could do something about the guy who recruited her, Winslow. I was getting a strong multilevel marketing vibe from her “coven,” and I was afraid Emma would be in too deep by the time he started asking for money. “You know what? Why not? I can’t guarantee that I’ll join, but I can at least go and listen to him.”

Emma jumped off her stool and gave me a hug. “Thank you! I just know you’re going to love him. The next meeting is Friday at seven, at the Marriott. I’ll be there too, so you won’t have to worry about being alone.”

“Before I go, can I do any research on your coven? I’d love to see what I’m getting myself into.”

“I’ve got a flyer for you to read, hang on.” She grabbed her bag from my office and pulled out a printed page.

The first line read Join the coven. “Wait a minute, your coven doesn’t even have a name?”

“Not yet. We won’t choose one until we have all thirteen members.”

I kept reading, but there was nothing useful until I got to the end, where the meeting location, time, and date were listed. “I’ll be there.”

She grinned at me. “Thank you. Do you think your cousins would be interested in going? I could go chat with them about it too.”

I thought about that for a minute. I didn’t want to drag them to some ridiculous coven information session, but it would be good if I went with some backup. “They might. They don’t open until ten, so go ask them later on today.” And that would give me time to call them and let them know they needed to say yes to her.

“You’re the best. I’m going to let you get back to your work, and I’ll at least see you on Friday.”

I hugged her. “Be careful. I’m not sure this sounds like a legit religion.”

I worked until ten, assembling and heat-sealing tea bags. I let in a short, stocky man once I changed the door sign to read Open. “Good morning, are you looking for anything in particular?”

“Is the owner here? I’d like to speak to her,” he said, opening a folder to show a flyer for Portsmouth Palmistry.

I was impressed he didn’t assume the owner was a man. “I’m Isabella Proctor, the owner. How can I help you?”

He ran his hand over his balding head before handing me a flyer. “I’ve just opened my business, out on Lafayette Road, and I was hoping you’d let me put some flyers by your register for people to take.”

As he spoke, his voice cracked and his hands trembled a tiny bit. I didn’t start the apothecary from scratch, but I knew how nerve-racking it could be to have the weight of a business on your shoulders. Add to that, Lafayette Road was busy, but didn’t get the kind of foot traffic Market Square did. If his signage was small, he’d be overlooked in a sea of national chains.

“Sure, I’ll take a few. Can I get you a mug of tea to warm up?” I walked toward the back of the shop and he followed me.

“That would be nice.” He scanned the shop. “This is a nice business. So light and airy. It’s a good vibe.”

I poured him a mug. “Hot cinnamon. It’ll keep you warm if you’re walking to other shops in the area. Do you do all the readings yourself?”

He set his folder down, took the mug, and wrapped both hands around it. “I do for now. I learned from a real master, and he says I have a natural talent.”

He took a sip of tea and made a face. “You weren’t kidding. Maybe some sugar?”

“Help yourself. I find cream and sugar makes the tea taste more like a cookie.”

He added four teaspoons of sugar and filled the mug to the top with cream. I was surprised he didn’t spill any as he took another sip. “Much better. I could do a reading for you, if you’d like.”

Our family had a policy on this. We never had our fortunes read by anyone who didn’t know we were witches. That’s not the kind of secret we wanted getting out, and a truly talented fortune-teller would be able to see our power. I looked at this man and didn’t recognize him. “Are you new to the area?”

He drank more of his tea. “Oh, no. I’ve lived in Portsmouth all my life.”

If he’d lived here all his life, and I didn’t recognize him, I doubted he had any power. I wouldn’t need to worry about him seeing my true future, but I wasn’t going to risk it. “It’s very kind of you to offer a reading, but as you saw, I just opened and I need to get ready for my customers.”

I picked up his folder and took ten flyers. “I’ve got a few customers who would be interested in having their fortunes told. I’ll make sure to tell them about you.”

He drained his tea and held his hand out for the folder. “Thank you. I appreciate it. Can I return the favor for you?”

I gave him his folder. “I’ve got business cards you could hand out. I specialize in teas and other herbal remedies. My customers tell me I make a great sore throat tincture that doesn’t even taste gross.”

He nodded in appreciation. “That’s not easy to come by. I’ll be sure to let my customers know.”

I set his flyers down next to my register and handed him some business cards. “Ten percent off with the card too.”

I waved as he walked out the door and down the street. I doubted much would come from our exchange, but I didn’t want to turn down a chance at new customers.