Sunday, October 31, 2021

Halloween: The History of America's Darkest Holiday by David J. Skal


$13.77

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Acclaimed cultural critic David J. Skal explores one of America's most perplexingly popular holidays in this original mix of personal anecdotes and social analysis. Skal traces Halloween's evolution from its dark Celtic history and quaint, small-scale celebrations to its emergence as mammoth seasonal marketing event.


Skal takes readers on a cross-country survey that covers remarkably divergent perspectives, from the merchants who welcome a money-making opportunity that's second only to Christmas to fundamentalists who decry Halloween a form of blasphemy and practicing witches who embrace it as a holy day. He also profiles individuals who revel in this once-a-year occasion to participate in elaborate fantasies. Their narratives, combined with the author's cultural analysis, offer a revealing look at an intriguing aspect of our national psyche.

 

 


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Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury



$10.99

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Make storytime a little spookier this fall with fantasy master Ray Bradbury as he takes readers on a riveting trip though space and time to discover the true origins of Halloween.

Join the shadowy Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud as he takes eight trick-or-treaters on an unforgettable journey to find their missing friend, Pip. Travel through space and time, from the tombs of ancient Egypt to the gargoyles of Notre-Dame Cathedral, all the way to the cemeteries of Mexico on el Día de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Is Pip still alive? And if so, can his friends save him from a ghastly fate before it’s too late?

"If you want to know what Halloween is, or if you simply want an eerie adventure, take this mystery history trip. You couldn't ask for better than master fantasizer Ray Bradbury." --The Boston Globe
 
 
 
 
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Friday, October 29, 2021

Rest for the Wicked - The Claire Wiche Chronicles Book 1 by Cate Dean

 



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From the author of The Maggie Mulgrew Mysteries...

She's running from her past - and running out of time.

Claire Wiche is an ordinary woman, running her Wicca shop in an ordinary California beach town.

But Claire wasn't always ordinary, and she isn't quite human. She hides a secret, and a past she thought she had put behind her.

A past that is about to explode into her present.

When it does, and everyone she loves is in danger, Claire must face up to her past - and become what she left behind in order to save them.

The Claire Wiche Chronicles:
Prequel - More Than A Feeling
Book 1 - Rest For The Wicked
Book 2 - A Gathering of Angels
Book 3 - Carry On Wayward Son
Book 4 - Annie's Song
Book 5 - What Doesn't Kill You



ONE


Claire Wiche guided her unhappy customer through her shop, one arm around the woman’s hunched shoulders.
“You know I don’t do love spells, Mildred.”
“But I know if he could see me, really see me, he’d fall desperately in—”
“Would it be real, if he’s under an enchantment?”
Mildred pouted, not a pretty sight on an eighty-year-old woman. “What happened to the customer is always right?”
Biting her lip on a smile, Claire walked her through the open door.
“Never been my policy. And I have good reasons for that.” She rubbed the old woman’s arm. “You go on home now. I’ll phone you when my new shipment of crystals shows up.”
Leaning against the narrow porch post, Claire watched her toddle down the sidewalk, sunlight bouncing off the thin silver poodle curls. The morning gloom had burned off early, and it looked like the start of another beautiful day.
She crossed her arms, cold despite the sweater she slipped on earlier. It took longer to warm up lately, a fact she did her best to ignore.
“Are you cold again, Claire? It’s got to be at least 80 in the store.”
Unless, of course, a well-meaning friend shoved it in her face.
She turned around, forced a smile. “Is it, Annie? I must have forgotten to turn it down this morning.”
“How could you not notice? The candles are sweating.” Annie Sullivan—the lively, no-holds-barred friend Claire never expected to have in her life—stepped across the small porch that ran along the front of the shop, her almost six foot height topping Claire by a good ten inches. She caught one hand before Claire could shove them in her pockets. “You’re like ice. Again.” She looked down at Claire, concern in her warm brown eyes. “And you’re avoiding. Again.”
With a sigh, Claire squeezed her hand before easing out of it. The warmth in Annie’s fingers made her skin tingle, yearn.
“Time to turn that heat down before the candles become a puddle.”
Annie followed her back inside, hovering while she adjusted the thermostat to a more reasonable temperature. She would need a heavier sweater.
“Come on,” Annie said, hands on her hips. “Give.”
Shaking her head, Claire smiled, a real smile this time. “Would I’m just cold and tired do it for you?”
“Hardly.” Annie stood in front of the counter, looking like a golden Amazon ready for battle. “But it’ll have to until I can get you drunk and pry the truth out of you.”
Laughter burst out of Claire. “I’d like to see that.”
“Yeah, so would I. If you actually touched the stuff.” She gave Claire a wicked smile. “I could always slip you a mickey.”
“You could—if I wasn’t able to smell it from across the room.”
“Slapped down again. Hey—what if we just tried—”
“Not again. Never again.” Claire still felt the residual agony from her one failed attempt at social drinking.
“How do you do that?” Those warm brown eyes narrowed as they studied her. “How do you always know what I’m going to say?”
Claire reached up and patted her cheek. “I’m a witch, sweetheart. It’s what I do.”
“Wait.” She grabbed Claire’s hand, pushed her sleeve up to reveal the bandage that peeked out. “Is that another tattoo? What is it this time?”
Claire flushed. The second reason she put on a sweater this morning.
“A triquetra.”
“More protection? Jeez, Claire, the pentacle on your hip isn’t enough?”
“There is no such thing as too much protection.” She pulled free and walked around the counter. “And the subject is closed.”
“Okay, I can take a hint. I’ll drop in sometime tomorrow, see if you need any help during the festival madness.”
“That will be most appreciated.”
Annie strode to the door, her long legs taking her through the small shop in a few paces. She paused in the doorway. “Hey, Claire—I’m worried, and I poke when I’m worried. I’ll leave it alone for now. But if you don’t get better, I’ll do more than poke.”
“Annie.” She stuck her head back in. “Don’t you even think about taking on Mildred’s love spell.”
Color rushed into her cheeks.
“I wasn’t—”
“I mean it. Last time you nearly had your victim falling in love with her cat.”
“Never gonna let me live that one down, are you?”
Claire smiled. “Not if it keeps you from trying again.”
Annie cursed under her breath and stalked out.
Chuckling, Claire made a mental note to put feelers out. Annie had more than enough power, and just enough knowledge to make her dangerous.
Without warning the pain stabbed her; a blade of ice in her gut.
Bracing her hands on the counter, she fought to breathe, fought to keep herself upright. Shaking so hard her rings clattered against the granite countertop, she gained enough control to lower herself to the chair that she recently added, out of necessity.
“God above—” She pressed both arms against her stomach, prayed for a slow morning. If she believed God would actually listen to her, after all this time, she’d ask the single question that haunted her.
Is this how it feels to be dying?

*

Eric watched, helpless, as the beautiful creature tortured his sister Katelyn.
Not a woman, not anymore—but she may have been human once. She had looked human, and harmless, as she stood on the porch when Eric opened the door to her this morning. But now power coiled around her, dark and ugly. Power she’d hidden under a smile, and the name of a mutual friend who had recommended his clinic. That power held him against the wall with invisible chains, locked his voice in his throat. He tried to scream as she dragged the knife across Katelyn’s bare stomach.
“She will feel that, and not know why.” The creature trailed one hand across the shallow wound, studying the blood that tipped her fingers. “You are so delicate, so easily broken. Why would she choose such a life, when immortality is hers?”
Katelyn no longer tugged at the ropes that tied her down to their heavy farmhouse table. She stared up at the creature bent over her, the bright light of the chandelier washing out her pale skin, and moaned deep in her throat every time those narrow hands touched her. Wearing only her faded jeans, she looked fragile, defenseless.
Fight her, Kate—damn it, you have to fight her until I can free—
“You would do best to save your strength, Eric. I have an important task for you.”
He would kill himself before he agreed to any bloody deed she had for him.
Katelyn recoiled, gasping as the tip of the blade moved up her torso, stopping just below her ribcage. Eric fought against the invisible restraints, his heart pounding so hard he could barely hear the silken voice over it.
“Your life, your soul, will help me crack open a door. Soon I will be able to return home in triumph, with the most coveted prize in my grasp. Sweet Katelyn—I will owe you all that I become.” The creature leaned in and pressed her lips to Katelyn’s cheek. “Thank you. Now I will send her a message she will not soon forget. Close your eyes, my innocent girl, and there will be no more pain.”
Eric’s scream echoed in his head as the creature shoved the knife into Katelyn.
She arched off the table, then collapsed, blood spilling down her skin, pooling on the scarred wood. Eric slumped against the wall. He didn’t care what the devil did to him now. He had just watched her kill the only important part of his life, his only family. Now he wanted her to end him, before the pain kicked in. Before he started to feel again.
She glided over to him, a beautiful, deadly predator.
“Now, my darling Eric.” He tried to jerk away from the hand caressing him. She simply smiled, and the restraints tightened until he fought to breathe. After an endless minute they loosened, just enough for him to take in a ragged breath. “I will not tolerate defiance. Do we have an understanding?”
“I won’t—obey you, bitch.” He sucked in another breath, bracing himself for the final blow. “So just kill me.”
“Ah, Eric. Your bravado is refreshing. Most of your kind simply cower, or grovel. I do abhor the groveling.”
She sounded like someone out of an old novel. He searched for the term—then forgot everything when she kissed him.
Heat scorched him. He gasped against her lips, agony following the trail of fire straight to the center of him.
“There.” She whispered into his mouth, her hand on his chest, the touch like a branding iron.
He moaned, and she took it in, her lips claiming him. When she finally tore away, he felt like part of him had been torn away with her. Struggling to catch his breath, he lowered his head, and saw the amulet in her palm. A stylized goat’s head, the gold edged with black, like it had been—burned. Just looking at it had dread and unnamable terror slithering through him. Then her hand dropped out of sight, and he forgot what he was thinking, and why sweat slicked every inch of him.
The woman smiled at him, and dark lust squeezed his gut. “You will find her, Eric, and bring her to me. Hurt her if you must—and you most likely will need to, in order to subdue her. But I want her alive.”
“Whatever you want. I am yours . . .”
“Natasha. You can call me Natasha. Now watch, darling Eric, and remember.”
He stared into the dark green eyes, watched in wonder as her image shimmered, and another face laid over hers, an opaque mask. Her green eyes became a silvery blue. The mask expanded, and color bled out of her black hair, replaced by a rich brown. It grew, long and waving, until it reached her waist. He followed the progress of the shimmering mask, the part of his mind not trapped by her screaming in horror. Her touch silenced it.
Looking up, he met the soft, silver blue eyes, the sculpted face framed by masses of hair that seemed to engulf her delicate figure.
“Find me, Eric. It is time for me to go home.”
Fingers slid over his face, burning the image of her into his mind. He sank into the waiting darkness, followed by a single word. A name.
Claire.




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Read an Excerpt from Trial by Fire by Taylor Lee

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Riveting Full Length Sequel to Bestselling Sizzling Romantic Suspense “Playing with Fire”.

“The sexiest, most outrageous hero I’ve read in a long time. Snappy, laugh out loud dialogue, and a Sizzling HOT romance makes this wildly exciting murder mystery a true page-turner.” J. John
“A spellbinding police mystery thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. Pulse pounding action and steamy romance. A cast of unforgettable characters that will capture your heart.” Action Junkie

•A badass cop flaunts every regulation and finds himself the # 1 suspect in a violent murder
•A vicious killer who makes Hannibal Lecter seem tame
•Two wounded lovers haunted by the past

“A love story so poignant makes you want to cheer for Nate and Erin as they struggle to overcome the ugliness from the past.”RomanceReviews

Love Kaylea Cross's heart pounding romantic military thrillers? Sylvia Day’s and Maya Banks red hot sexy heroes, feisty heroines and high adrenaline action? Fern Michael’s compelling characters? Grab Trial by Fire and prepare to be addicted. 

Excerpt:

“What have we got, Jim?”

 

Seeing the Medical Examiner huddled with a cluster of techs and members of the evidence team, Nate Stryker waited for the verdict. Jim Thompson’s face flooded with relief and something akin to wonder when he saw Nate. Nodding to Dan Coulter, the wizened little man turned his attention to Nate.

 

“We’re waiting for you, Nate. I’ve kept everyone out. Knew you’d want this one clean until you saw it. Plus, I wanted to get your first impression. Sure as hell, it’s something I never thought I’d see in Chicadia Falls, Minnesota.”

 

“Point me to it.”

 

 “Fuck.”

 

Dan’s muttered expletive said it all.

 

 Nate nodded to his partner. “That about sums it up, Dan.”

 

Exchanging a glance with Dan, who was rooted to a spot by the sofa, Nate moved toward the makeshift cross in the middle of the room. Jim Thompson didn’t exaggerate. Wasn’t only Chicadia Falls that hadn’t seen a scene like this. Nate was damn sure this one would go down in police annals everywhere. Hell, their little township could become famous. Or infamous, Nate snorted. Leave it to Peterson to go out in style. Fucking show-off. Couldn’t even be murdered without drama.

 

Nate approached the naked man hanging on the cross. Fortunately for Mike, he’d relied on his wealth to attract women. Sure as hell wasn’t his physique. Scrawny, sagging skin liberally sprinkled with age spots, and a pendulant belly about summed up the former ladies man’s body. And granted it wasn’t fair to judge a guy’s dick when it was stuck in his mouth, but c’mon! The best that could be said was at least Mike didn’t choke to death. It was a cinch that little nubbin didn’t reach much past his front teeth.

No, more likely Mike bled out. Inch-deep cuts marked his torso and limbs. Systematically placed, the slashes were made by a pro. Someone well-schooled in the art of slowly whipping a man to death with as much pain as possible.

 

Of course, that open area between his legs that used to anchor his manhood, contributed to the blood clotting on the floor. From the way the blood had dried on his pale skinny thighs, that unkind cut was made early on. Either Mike was unwilling to give up the information his tormentor wanted or the end goal was torture, plain and simple.

 

Dan’s voice was shaky. Smearing a gob of mentholated ointment under his nose, he offered Nate the slim metal tin. “You want some of this, Nate?”

 

Nate shook his head and moved closer to the cross. Over the years he’d become inured to the smells of death. Particularly violent deaths. Mike’s qualified—big time. The acrid smell of blood, piss and evacuated bowels were all common odors at a violent death scene. Mike’s had all three and then some. The stench was enough to deck a rookie officer. Nate barely noticed it.

~~~

Nate trudged up the circular staircase, running his hand over the opulent hand-carved oak railing. Damn, he knew Mike was a lumber baron, but why include every kind of wood known to man in his home? In the library alone there were four different varieties of wood. By the time Nate made it through the grand foyer he’d counted two more. Given Mike’s penchant for pretention, what should have been beautiful was overkill.

 

Overkill didn’t begin to describe the bedroom they entered.

 

If the library was the epitome of masculine opulence, and the foyer was an adventure into a Tuscan grand hallway complete with columns and multicolored tile floors, the bedroom was Barbie’s playhouse. The last time he’d seen this much pink and white was when his little cousin forced him to be Ken in her never-ending nine-year-old’s version of grown-up play. Once again, in the Peterson household, the motto seemed to be, if it worked once, why not use it multiple times? And in this bedroom, just in case you were sight-deficient, two of the walls were floor to ceiling mirrors. Nate stifled a laugh at the incredulous expression on Dan’s face when he glanced up and spotted the huge mirror above the bed. Apparently his straight-laced partner didn’t know the woman dramatically stretched out on the pink velvet chaise lounge. Nate could have told Dan, wherever Laura was, there were mirrors.

Laura was surrounded by worried-looking medics and a short, graying man Nate presumed was Dr. James.

 

 Moving through the throng that separated to let him pass, Nate made his way to the semi-conscious woman. He spoke quietly. “Laura, its Nate.”

 

Laura immediately came to life. With a wild cry, she jumped up and threw herself at him.

“Oh God, Nate. Oh thank God you’re here. You need to help me. Please! Somebody needs to help me. Mike… Oh God, Nate. Something awful… somebody hurt Mike… I need you, Nate!”

Her stammering, incoherent speech ended in an uncontrolled wail.

 

Nate let her cling to him for a moment, then carefully unwound her hands from his waist and helped her sit up against the back of the tufted lounge. His voice was calm but loud enough to be heard over her jerky sobs. “Yes, Laura. I saw him. Dan and I just left the scene. I’m sorry. It is a terrible crime. I’m especially sorry that you had to see him like that.” He  stepped back, putting distance between them. “I’m going to need to ask you some questions, Laura.”

 

At the sound of a small cough, Nate glanced at the clearly concerned little man hovering by Laura’s side. Nate raised a questioning brow.

 

The doctor shook his head and motioned for Nate to follow him. They stood at the side of the room.

“I’m Dr. Andrew James. She’s in shock, Detective Stryker. This is not a good time to interview her. You are unlikely to get useful information. She’s coherent for short moments and then becomes agitated, then hysterical. I’ve given her a significant amount of Valium, a much larger dose than I like to give. I’m hoping that it will allow her to sleep.”

 

As if to punctuate his point, Laura’s head lolled to the side. Her breathing deepened perceptibly and she appeared to fall asleep. Nate grimaced. Although she’d just discovered her murdered husband’s body, and her life had turned upside down, Laura looked as beautiful as ever. Her long blond hair hung down her back in shiny waves of gold. Dark lashes shadowed her rosy cheeks. Her plump bee-stung lips were moist, even inviting. The peek-a-boo clothing she always wore showed her voluptuous body to perfection. Her bountiful cleavage spilled out of her abbreviated halter top. And, even asleep, she’d managed to hike up her short skirt, revealing the lacy edge of her panties.

Seeing the EMT’s trying to look away, not to gawk, Nate gave a soft snort. He could have told them not to bother. It didn’t matter. Even sleeping, Laura made sure she got attention. Always had. Always would.

****

The library buzzed with activity. Well-equipped technicians, EMT’s and cameramen were hard at work, in colonies of specialized activity. From the doorway Nate took a last look at the pitiful shell of the man still hanging on the cross. No question that in life Mike Peterson was an arrogant asshole. Hell, so was he. Nate grimaced. He and Mike had something else in common. They’d both had the misfortune to have been married to Laura.


Thursday, October 28, 2021

SLEEPY HOLLOW (Sleepy Hollow Series Book 1) by Dax Varley


 

$2.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers

Amazon

Katrina is still haunted by her encounter with the Headless Horseman - the night he beckoned to her. Now he has risen again, slashing heads and terrorizing the quiet countryside.

Her only joy during this dismal darkness comes when Ichabod Crane, a gorgeous young man from Connecticut, moves to Sleepy Hollow and their attraction turns to romance.

When the Horseman marks Ichabod as his next victim, Katrina, despite dangerous efforts to save him, sees no other choice than for them to flee.

But the Horseman awaits. Now it’s up to her to sever the horror and alter the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.



I absolutely LOVE retellings of old stories. Sleepy Hollow by Dax Varley is such an awesome retelling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. If you loved the original tale, you're definitely going to want to read this. And, if you haven't read the original tale, I still recommend this book. 

 

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Xander - Winter's Warmth: Savannah Heat Hockey Romance Book 2 by Jessica McBrayer

$3.99

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NHL right wing, Xander Torgelson, made a lifestyle out of loving and leaving puck bunnies everywhere he went, until he met Rachel Maddox. He's put everything into trying to convince Rachel that his past is never going to be a part of their future. 

But when a former one-night stand shows up on his doorstep with an emaciated baby in hand, it becomes clear that his bad boy behavior is going to have a bigger impact on their happily ever after than he'd ever believed. It doesn't take long for his fling to hatch a scheme to cash in on the baby she's abandoned. As her plan unfolds, she'll stop at nothing to score her puck bunny "payday" and Xander finds that saving his new family will be the riskiest play of his life. 

"Definitely a must read for connoisseurs of Hockey romance!" verified purchase

Xander Winter's Warmth is the second book in the Savannah Heat hockey romance series but it can be read as a standalone novel. This book includes a bonus novella download!

 


 

Excerpt:

I’d never been a one-woman man. I tended to gravitate towards tall, blonde, and disposable. Puck bunnies who were chasing hockey sticks were easy to throw away. Rachel was the opposite of that. She was average height, had long sleek, black hair, and amazing blue eyes. At five-six, she was much shorter than my six-five, but somehow, she fit perfectly next to me. She owned her own place and had a stable, respectable job as a vet tech, for Christ’s sake.

After a few days on vacation in Costa Rica, I found myself even crazier about her. She was everything I wanted but didn’t know. Now that I was with her, I felt like the man I wanted to be. Rachel brought that out in me. Not a player with a different chick every night. The thought of going back to that disgusted me. It scared me how much I’d changed. But I didn’t want to be that man anymore.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Isle of Bones (Demon Isle Witches YA Edition) (We Witches Three Book 1) by Starla Silver & Humphrey Quinn


 

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Three witch siblings struggle to balance love, life, and duty as protectors of a magical power source on The Demon Isle—a fresh take on supernatural mysteries that's gritty, compelling, and deeply satisfying...

** We Witches Three is the Demon Isle Witches YA Edition…

The Legacy of the Howard Witches:
Protect the Power Source –
Protect the Bloodline by Bringing New Witches into the World –
Don't Expect to Live Long Enough to Meet Your Grandchildren…

Tourists want to believe the supernatural is real and The Demon Isle delivers—from the moment they step off the ferry and land on the nostalgia inducing, glowy lanterned streets straight off the pages of yesteryear, or wander down foggy cobblestone sidewalks lined with fortune tellers and magic shops or take one of the haunted tours of the Isle in hopes of catching a glimpse of some mythical creature belonging to a fantasy world.

Ghosts, vampires, werewolves, faeries, mermaids—the sightings are endless and it's the perfect cover. Because while tourists bask in the safety and delight of the possibility, the supernatural community is not only real, but thriving, and hiding right under the noses of tourists immersing themselves in the fantasy.

The locals know the truth.
They know the dangers that lurk around dark alleys and foggy beaches.
But they also know who to turn to if they need help.

The Howard Witches.
They've been protecting The Demon Isle and its inhabitants for many generations.

However, there were once generous numbers of witches fulfilling this duty, whereas today, there are only three witch siblings still alive, which makes balancing love, life, and duty, nearly impossible.

Melinda, the youngest, who has prophetic dreams of people about to die.
Michael, the middle child, and an empath and death reader.
Charlie, cursed with a werewolf bite and the eldest of the siblings.
William, an aged vampire, longtime family friend and mentor to them all.

Together, they protect The Demon Isle from non-stop supernatural trouble seeking to control a hidden source of powerful magic. But when the local sheriff calls them in desperate need of help solving a murder, and Melinda has a prophetic dream that could destroy the life of one of her brothers—the two cases intertwine and will forever change the lives of the Howard Witches...

 

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Read an Excerpt from Under His Spell by Linda Wisdom

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One summer solstice, luminous black-clad Jack Montgomery materialized out of the mist in a meadow. He claimed a vacant Victorian lair for his haunt. Then, with all the smooth moves of Dracula, he swiftly began to lure sweet Holly Bennett.

Holly didn't know her kids had cast an ancient spell for a dad. She only knew she was wooed with candlelight, dreamy nights and the fathomless depths of those witchy dark eyes. She hardly cared who Jack really was...not after she tasted his love elixir and reveled in the abracadabra of his secret touch. She just hoped--as All Hallows' Eve drew near--that this magic man would never disappear.

Excerpt:

"Dark of the moon, hear us now, come to our aid and grant our plea."

"That's not a spell! Spells have words that sound the same. Everybody knows that," Ryan Bennett protested.

"Is so a spell. It's written right here in this book. And I have to say all the words before I put out the pictures you gave me."

"Is not a spell!" The little boy glared at the youth standing in the middle of a white circle roughly chalked in the dew-kissed grass. "We want our three dollars back, Kevin Elliott. You lied and cheated. You don't know how to make us a dad from magic."

"Come on, Ryan, if Mom finds out we're not in bed, we'll be in big trouble. Let's forget this," red-haired Caroline Bennett whispered, fearfully looking around the fog-shrouded meadow, as if evil ghosts might suddenly appear and spirit them off. She grabbed her brother's arm and tried to pull him away, but he shrugged her off.

"Not till Kevin gives us our money back," he in­sisted, his squared-off chin jutting out stubbornly. He sneered at the other boy. "We shoulda gone to some­one who knew how to conjure up a dad for us. Some­one smart."

"I know what to do," Kevin argued, holding up a large book with faded gold lettering across its well-worn, water-stained black cloth cover. "Mom's books are authentic witchcraft guides. If you do the spells right, you'll get what you asked for. So let me say the damn words, put the pictures in the circle and you'll get your dad!" he shouted.

"You're not supposed to say the D word," Caro­line primly reminded him, her fear forgotten for the mo­ment. "Your mom said if she caught you cursing again, she'd wash out your mouth with soap."

Kevin took advantage of his greater height and peered into his next-door neighbor's tiny face. "Well, Mom's not here, and I don't think you're gonna snitch on me, since you'd have to tell her where you heard me say damn, and then she'd tell your mom where you were tonight." That foolproof reasoning established, he challenged, "So, do you want me to get on with this or not?"

"I want to go home," Caroline whimpered, look­ing over her shoulder.

"I want a dad!" Ryan wailed, clenching his tiny fists. "A dad who will love us and Mom and not love that dumb Eileen Butkus. I want a dad so I can get into Little League when I'm bigger and so he'll talk Mom into letting us have a puppy." He stomped around the white circle. "I want a dad who will live with us and make Mom happy!" He glared at Kevin as if it was all his fault. "But you can't do it, so I want our three dollars back."

"Ryan, we'd better get home!" Caroline moaned, continuing to look over her shoulder but unable to see much even with the full moon. She was convinced someone was watching them. Even more unnerving was the fog drifting across the dewy grass in their direction. "I wish I'd never agreed to go along with this." She pulled on her younger brother's shoulder again.

Kevin, refusing to be deterred, stood in the middle of the circle and carefully placed the book at his feet, holding it open with the toes of his battered combat boots. He studied the pages again; glad he'd looked over the spell before coming out here. The words were kind of funny to read and he’d have to sound them out. Nodding with satisfaction, he straightened up and raised his arms, his fingers wiggling madly. Dressed in camouflage pants and a khaki T-shirt, with black-and-khaki camouflage paint smeared across his face, he considered himself an eminently appropriate sorcerer. ''Dark of the moon, hear us now, come to our aid and grant our plea. These children ask for a man to be their father, to be there in their time of need, to love their mother and—"

"And give us a puppy!" Ryan shouted at the sky.

Kevin shot him a look fit to kill. "Whose spell is this, anyway?" he hissed. "Just let me do my thing, okay?" He took a deep breath and raised his face, his eyes closed as he continued to chant, "To love their mother and give them all they desire. So that the spir­its might know what these children ask for, we offer up these pictures." He pointed to the ground.

Ryan immediately squatted and carefully arranged several magazine photographs of male models—and a picture of several puppies playing.

Kevin groaned. "What is it with these puppies?"

"I want one," Ryan insisted. "I figure if we can get a dad, we should be able to get one who likes dogs."

Caroline was past listening as, with wide-eyed fas­cination, she stared at the tendrils of fog now snaking around Kevin's ankles. "Look," she whispered to her brother, gesturing toward the ghostly fingers of mist.

Ryan's bravado began to dissipate as he watched the mist drift up Kevin's legs. He stamped his foot. "Now I know he's doing it all wrong," he scoffed. "We should have that fog around us, not him. Now he's gonna get the dad meant for us! Kevin's so dumb!"

Caroline's shriek split the summer night. "Look!" she cried out, pointing where the murky air was the thickest. From out of the ominous gray mist emerged a tall, dark figure—and the figure was walking toward them!

Kevin took one look, uttered a pithy curse, grabbed his bike and bolted out of sight.

"It's a ghost!" Caroline's lips quivered with fear. She stood frozen in place, and Ryan, standing beside her, was likewise too frightened to move. "It's going to eat us, and we'll never see Mom again."

"I see his fangs." Ryan couldn't keep his eyes off the masculine figure approaching them with ground-eating strides. "And his eyes are glowing red. Kevin didn't give us a dad. He used the wrong spell and made up a devil instead." He sounded angrier at Kevin for messing up the spell than terrified at the idea of being attacked by a demon.

Caroline grabbed her younger brother's hand and held on tightly, her lips moving with every prayer she could remember. 

"Shouldn't you kids be home in bed?" The man stopped a short distance from them. His deep bari­tone emerged from the encroaching fog. His dark gaze took in the drawn circle, the antique book lying aban­doned in the middle, and the two children frozen like statues.

"Are you gonna eat us?" Ryan asked, curiosity overtaking fear.

The man smiled. "No, son, I'm not going to eat you, but I do think you should get on home. It's past midnight. Your mother will be frantic if she discovers you gone."

Caroline took an experimental step backward, and when she discovered she could move, after all, she took another step. She pulled on her brother's hand.

The man carefully kept his distance. "You were probably taught not to speak to strangers and such, but I have an idea it's a long way home for you. Would you trust me to drive you?" He suspected he was pressing them to go against parental dictates, but he also knew he couldn't leave the tykes alone in the meadow in the middle of the night.

Ryan studied the man. Tall, with dark hair and eyes, dressed in a lightweight black sweater and jeans, he looked like a modern-day vampire. And vampires drank blood! Still, he didn't jump on them with his fangs bared, and he had a nice voice and smile. Could Kevin have said the spell right after all, and this man was going to be their dad? Hope sprang up in his tiny chest.

"He won't hurt us, Caro," Ryan whispered, his de­cision made.

She wasn't as trusting. "Mom said we're not sup­posed to talk to anyone we don't know or ever get in a stranger's car. Maybe he eats kids," she whispered, her fear making her think the worst.

"That's only in fairy tales," Ryan scoffed as only a big, grown-up five-year-old could. He stared at the man still standing off to one side, his dark figure par­tially obscured by the steadily thickening vapor. "Are you magic?" he challenged.

The man chuckled. "Magic? No, I'm afraid not, son. My name is Jack, and I've recently moved here from a place far away. I can't leave you here this late at night, so what do you say I give you a ride home?"

"We can trust him," Ryan said firmly.

"Ryan!" Caroline was shocked. "I'll tell Mom you talked to a stranger."

"We can't tell Mom anything, and you know it." He lowered his voice. "Besides, I think he's supposed to be here." With growing confidence, he walked to­ward Jack. "And I'm getting cold." The moisture from the night air had seeped through his thin T-shirt.

Caroline was also feeling the midnight chill, but the mysterious man's offer wasn't helping any. Still, she knew she couldn't abandon her brother the way Kevin had abandoned them.

Jack turned and gestured toward the road. He then walked away, aware of the two children slowly fol­lowing him, pushing a rusty little bike.

He smiled as he thought of what he'd heard a few minutes before. So these two wanted a father badly enough to allow that other youngster to feed them a line about magic spells. He sensed three dollars was a lot for them to pay the little con artist in hopes of conjuring up a father. He glanced back at the chil­dren and noticed they'd left something behind. "Shouldn't you bring the book?" he asked.

Ryan looked over his shoulder and shook his head. "Let Kevin get in trouble for taking one of his mom's books. If Mom finds us out of bed, we're gonna be in enough trouble."

Jack smiled. "How old are you?"

"Five. Caroline, my sister, is seven. I'll be six real soon," he proudly announced.

Jack's smile dimmed. Five years old and already acting like the man of the house. Judging from the comments he heard earlier, the father had left the family for some woman named Eileen.

When they reached his parked car, he opened the passenger door for the kids and set their bike in the trunk before he walked around to the driver's side.

Caroline hung back as she studied the low-slung black vehicle. "What if he flies away with us and we never see Mom again?" she whispered.

Ryan shot her a look. "Caro, he won't hurt us," he assured her, pulling on her hand. "Come on."

Nervously recalling every horror story of children being kidnapped and never heard from again, Caro watched the streets whiz by as Ryan directed Jack to their house. What would happen to their mother if they were kidnapped? She didn't have any money to ransom them. Caro had overheard her tell Aunt Ivy their dad's support checks were never any good. She didn’t know what that meant, but she had an awful feeling it had to do with Mom working so hard.

She stifled a sob, but Jack heard the muffled cry. "Here you are, Caroline, home safe and sound," he said quietly as he parked at the house Ryan indicated. He climbed out of the car and walked around to open the door for them. He hefted the bike to the sidewalk.

"We'll have to go in the way we came out," Ryan explained in a hushed voice, staring at the man he be­lieved more and more was the result of Kevin's spell. "Thank you," he said belatedly.

Jack smiled. Children who believed in magic, and well mannered, too. "You're very welcome. All I ask is that you don't do this again," he cautioned. "Next time you might not be so lucky."

Caro nodded her head so hard it threatened to fall off. She edged away, wanting nothing more than to run into the house and hide under her bed. With luck, perhaps she'd wake up in the morning and realize this was all a bad dream.

Ryan remained steadfast. "You were worth the three dollars," he announced. "Don't take too long seeing Mom," he called softly over his shoulder before run­ning off, Caro hot on his heels.

Jack stood by the car, watching the two children quietly park the bicycle near the front porch, then carefully open a window and crawl inside. He looked around the neighborhood, noting its shabby gentility. Despite their carefully tended yards and gardens, the houses had clearly seen better days. He glanced once more at the children's home, with its faded paint and unevenly cut lawn, then shook his head and drove off.

Two pairs of eyes watched him from an upstairs window. "See? The fog is gone now," Ryan whis­pered to his sister. "And his car is black and very fast. He probably only drives it so people won't know he can fly. I told you he was magic.”

"He can't be," Caro argued in a low voice as she jumped under her bedcovers. "Kevin was just play­ing a joke on us, and now we don't have the three dol­lars we saved up."

Ryan shook his head. "No, he's magic that came from Aunt Ivy's book, and he's gonna be our dad," he insisted. "You'll see. After all, everyone knows witchcraft works best here in Salem."


 

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