Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Midnight Lady by Linda Wisdom



Kyle – A dangerously handsome temptation …


The reporter expected an unusual greeting when he knocked at the door of the spooky manor house, but Kyle Fletcher wasn’t ready for the fireworks in Samantha Lyons sparkling violet eyes! He’d come to interview her movie-legend grandfather, but the mysterious wildcat who ran Baron Lyons’ film stupid captured Kyle’s interest more … even if courting her meant facing down ghosts!


She made him dream of silk sheets and thunderstorms.


No one else dared call her Sam, dared stroke her with sensual magick until she lost control in his arms – but still she fared Kyle was the enemy; a reporter who might betray her family .. or break her tender heart. She had a talent for making illusions seem utterly real, yet desperately yearned to believe in the truth of Kyle’s love. Could he convince his stubborn witch that he adored the woman she was?


Kyle Fletcher had expected an unusual greeting when he knocked at the door of the spooky manor house, but he wasn’t ready for the fireworks in Samantha Lyons sparkling violet eyes!


Samantha feared Kyle was the enemy; a reporter who might betray her family .. or break her tender heart. Could Kyle’s love convince his stubborn witch that he adored the woman she was?

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Rachel After Midnight by Linda Wisdom



Sardonic homicide detective Jared Stryker didn’t believe in fairy tales or ghost stories. Only monsters of the human persuasion. Things change when he inherits an old ranch and surrounding land with less than law abiding neighbors – and a haunting link to his past …

Savagely murdered by her cruel husband a black magic curse doomed Rachel Bingham to be trapped within the house for eternity, but when the sexy streetwise cop came into her bleak world and showed her glimpses of the outside world, Rachel yearned to find a way to break the curse and become mortal again.

Jared never wanted to be tied down, yet he found himself captivated by the ghostly beauty. But to be together they had to break the curse that imprisoned her – and escape the deadly danger that threatened to take his life.




"You're doing it again, Stryker."

"I am not."

"Yes, you are!"   

"I'm just standing here having a drink!"

"Dammit, you've got your cop face on! What are you trying to do, put me out of business?"

Detective Jared Stryker pulled off the bar towel that had just been thrown at his face and dropped it on the bar. His expression was about as innocent as any bad boy's persona could be. Which meant there wasn’t one hint of innocence on his face. 

"Darlin, I can't help looking that way." He rested his forearms on the bar's scarred surface. A half-empty bottle of beer sat in front of him. Since it had been sitting there for the past hour, it was obvious he wasn't there to drink. No, he came here for the atmosphere.

He briefly looked over his shoulder when voices raised in one corner. A gray haze hovered over the pool tables, proof that no one obeyed the no-smoking laws in this place. Since it looked like no one was going to get into a physical fight any time soon, he returned his attention to the bartender.

Jared liked The Renegade. You didn’t walk into the longtime biker bar looking for frou-frou drinks unless you wanted to be tossed out onto your ass. No candles decorated the scarred wood tables. No plants hung overhead, no Happy Hour specials and no tiny tacos and meatballs on a toothpick were offered to the clientele. If you didn't drink beer or whiskey you didn't belong here. Peanuts or pretzels were considered the only appropriate snacks. And if you didn't ride in on a badass bike, or at least own a heavy-duty pickup truck, you might as well ride on past, because tourists weren't welcome.

The customers were also picky about their drinking partners. Jared Stryker might have a badge that declared him a cop-not one of their favorite types-but he owned one of the baddest of the bad Harleys made, and his pedigree hadn't allowed him to live the life of a good guy. He was grudgingly accepted.

Jared looked more bad boy than cop, just brushing the six­foot-two-inch mark, with sun-streaked brown hair that always looked a couple weeks past due a haircut and deep, golden-brown eyes that belonged on a wildcat. The comparison was appropriate, since he preferred to walk on the side of danger.

A small scar zigzagged across one eyebrow and his nose had been broken more than once, but the imperfections only added to his appeal. Men noted he was an admirable foe, while women viewed him as the kind of man they wanted to bring home to Mom and Dad-when Mom and Dad were out of town.

He didn't hassle anyone for the sheer pleasure of doing it, and he didn't abuse his authority. If you left him alone, he'd leave you alone. If you made trouble, he made sure to set you straight.

He was also a close friend of Lea Raines, The Renegade's owner. Rumor among the scruffy clientele had it anyone giving Jared trouble for no good reason would be banned from the bar for life. So far, no one had tested that theory, along with the one that Lea kept a loaded shotgun behind the bar alongside her trusty Louisville Slugger baseball bat. There was no doubt she would use either if anyone started trouble in her bar.  

Tonight was one of those nights where Jared wanted nothing more than to sit at the bar and enjoy his beer. A few women had broadly hinted he was more than welcome to come home with them, but he politely refused each invitation, much to their disappointment.

"So what really brings you out here if not the ambiance?"

Lea asked as she efficiently parted a bottle from its cap and slid it down the bar to a waiting customer.

Jared hesitated before he picked up his beer and finished it. "It's my birthday, Lea."

Her eyes widened in pretend shock at his muttered announcement. "Really? And to think I thought that watch I gave you was for my birthday."

"You think you're such a smart-ass." He flashed her his crooked grin.

"Now that's the pot calling the kettle black." She took his now empty bottle and set a new one in front of him. "You're cut off after this one, lover. So tell me what else is bothering you besides being a year older."

He looked off into the distance as he confided, 'Trust me, your watch was better received than the damn card my old man sent me."  

Lea winced. She was familiar with Jared's history of being raised by an abusive parent. The only good thing that could be said about his father was that the man spent more time in prison than out. "Don't tell me. He signed it 'Love, Dad.’"

Dark golden-brown eyes narrowed with emotion Jared normally kept tamped down. He had no fond memories of the man who donated half his DNA and he would have been happier if he never heard from the bastard again.

"Maybe he wants me to know he's still in one piece? I don't know. Maybe he's feeling his age or got religion or something. He thinks sending me a card will make it all better."

"We both know that won't happen. He's not getting out of there, babe," she gently reminded him.

Jared looked back toward the pool tables that were set along one end of the tavern behind the small dance floor. He studied one man with dirty blond hair who wore old, faded jeans ripped at the knee and a black T-shirt that strained over a massive chest and bulging biceps. Fancy steel tips decorated the toes of his boots. Jared swore he could have been looking at his father fifteen years ago. Damn. More memories he didn't need. Some nights his shoulder ached from injuries his old man had inflicted.

He should have stayed home.

He would have preferred to sit at the bar and get roaring drunk. But since he knew Lea wouldn't let him use alcohol as a balm as his father did it wasn't going to happen. Besides, he'd learned the hard way that alcohol only caused pain. Usually, his own.

Did his old man seriously think that Jared would forgive and forget his cruel treatment after all these years? The elder Stryker was in Pelican Bay for life because his temper had got out of hand and he'd beaten a man to death. It seemed after more than ten years in a cell he wanted to make amends with his only son. Jared didn't see it happening in this lifetime or any time after.

He considered it pure luck he wasn't sitting in the next cell.

"Jared'?" He felt cool fingertips on his arm. He looked up to see Lea's look of concern. He managed a brief smile.

"I'm okay, babe." He reached for his jacket, which lay on the stool next to him, and shrugged it on.

She didn't look convinced. "Maybe you should stay here tonight. It's raining pretty hard out there. Mud and Harleys don't always go well together."

He knew the invitation was for the guest room, not to share her bed. He also knew she never invited a man to stay over. He wasn't the only one with issues.

Jared took a quick glance around the room. "Any reason why you want me to stick around?" he asked in a low voice, wondering if something was going on he wasn't aware of.

Lea shook her head. "No one's gotten out of hand lately. And the only thing I've heard are some rumors there might be a new meth lab nearby, but I haven't heard anything concrete. They're usually pretty careful about saying anything around me." Her rules about no drugs sold or consumed on the property were as strict as the ones she held for no fighting.

He nodded. "I wouldn't be surprised. A couple of county deputies had shut down that one lab a couple months ago. It's about time for another one to start up. As for gettin' home, don't worry. It's not the first time I've ridden home in the rain. Since I moved into the house I don't have as far to ride than if I had to go all the way into Sierra Vista." He leaned over the bar and dropped a kiss on her cheek. "Thanks for the watch."

"So you're doing it? You're really moving into the house?"

 Jared nodded. "Tonight will be my first night staying there. I'm taking my vacation time to put the place into shape now that the plumbing and wiring is up to code. I'll just be up the road about five miles or so. We'll practically be neighbors," he joked.

"He's never coming back, you know," she repeated as he started to leave. "The judge put him in there for life, with no possibility of parole. He'll die in there."

Jared didn't show any reaction to her words. He'd walled himself off years ago when it came to the son of a bitch who'd fathered him.

He stepped outside of the building and stood for a moment, breathing in the clean night air that smelled of more rain coming.

It appeared to have stopped for the time being. He hoped it would hold off until he arrived home. Nothing worse than riding a motorcycle in the rain, where one slip on the road could do serious damage to a man's bike, not to mention his body. He sidestepped puddles as he headed for his wheels. "Whoever said it never rains in California never lived up this way," he muttered.

Jared was so deep in thought he didn't sense he wasn't alone until it was too late. Before he could react, something connected with the back of his head and he fell to his knees. Nothing more than sheer willpower kept him conscious.

"Keep him down," a rough voice ordered as a booted foot planted itself in the vicinity of his right kidney.

Jared swore out loud and lashed out at his attackers, grinning when he got one of them in the crotch. But his victory was short-lived when his retaliation earned him another blow to the skull.

His head was spinning when he was picked up and thrown into the back of a van, which took off the moment the door was slammed shut, tires spinning in the mud. After that, his existence was nothing more than punches and kicks from what felt like ten men, but was probably only two or three. He absently noted a familiar chemical smell in addition to the usual smell of unwashed male, beer and cigarette smoke.

These guys were definitely not leaders of the community.

What seemed like hours later the van stopped and he was carried into a building. He could barely see out one swollen eye, but he instantly recognized the surroundings.

Happy birthday to me, floated through his mind before blackness took over.


Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Brady's Hellion by Linda Wisdom



Mercenary Brady Hayes hated it when debts were collected. Especially when he was called to the Underworld. But when Lord Shar called him in asking him to protect his sister, Raven, he had no choice but to agree.

What he didn’t know was that Raven would be a gorgeous bundle of demon easy to fall for or that her ex-boyfriend would want to make trouble.

But then, Brady wasn’t known to back down from danger or abandon a beautiful woman, even if she was from the Underworld.


"Hello baby," Brady ignored the nasty tingle on his butt. It was bad enough Shar insisted on marking him, but did he have to mark him there? Brady's argument that Raven would recognize the mark on his wrist for what it was met with a "that can easily be taken care of" and next he knew the mark was burned onto his ass. Shar's argument that it was purely for Brady's protection was bullshit, but no way you could argue with a dark lord and survive being torn limb from limb after losing said argument. Plus since there were no photographs of Raven, he was assured the mark would alert him when she was close by. He was also promised the mark would be removed once his assignment was over. Yeah, like Shar’s promises were ever kept if they weren’t to his advantage.

He had to admit if he was supposed to protect a woman there was no better place to do it than at this exclusive resort set on a remote Pacific island. After a little judicious bribery alerted him to his charge’s presence on the beach he sauntered out to the thatch-covered beach side bar that bisected the pool and beach and settled on a stool. From there, he had a good view of both areas along with an even better observation of the bikini-clad beauties lying out by the pool and stretched out on chaise lounges arranged along the white sandy beach. A few interested looks sent his way indicated they wouldn't mind getting to know him better. Too bad he was on the clock.

Brady learned there wasn’t a problem asking for someone named Raven. He should have known better since Cher and Madonna had no problem just using one name.

"Who do we have here?" Behind the protection of his dark glasses he was able to study the beach. So far, every brunette he noticed didn’t create even a tingle in his ass. Even a dark- haired woman with pale skin that looked as if a dose of sun would set her on fire produced nada. He began to wonder if the mark was put there just because Shar wanted to hear him yelp when he’d been branded.  "So what the hell is the dark lord’s baby sister doing out here in the sun and sand?” he muttered. “You’d think she’d prefer some dark ugly dungeon with all sorts of torture instruments.” He grinned at a shapely redhead in an emerald green thong bikini who twitched her hips when she walked past. “Still, who am I to complain?”

As his gaze again swept the length of the beach, he noticed a feminine figure making her way out of the water. He moved on since he was convinced she wasn’t the one. Then the burning tingle on his ass intensified to an all out burn. He swung back to the woman he'd first dismissed until the stinging wound warned him he was looking in the right direction. The longer he looked at the woman, the stronger the fiery sensation. 

"No way," he muttered, staring at the woman walking up to the registration desk. "Holly shit! I’m expected to babysit Malibu Hellion Barbie?



Sunday, October 15, 2023

The Art of the Zombie Movie by Lisa Morton



Whether George Romero’s implacable, slow-moving monstrosities or the fleet-footed terrors of 28 Days Later, over the last several decades the zombie has ascended into the upper echelon of the of the movie monster pantheon—an elite tier once reserved only for vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein’s monster. Featuring over 500 posters, lobby cards, pressbooks, stills, and props from zombie movies across the whole of cinema history, The Art of the Zombie Movie is an eye-popping, entertaining visual history of zombie films written by six-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author Lisa Morton. Included here is the story of the origin and global reach of the zombie feature film; special features, quotes, and interviews from key creators; a survey of such varied subgenres as Blaxploitation, sci-fi, cowboy, and comic zombie films; and a selection of foreign zombie movies from Mexico, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Japan, and other countries. With unprecedented range and detail, this comprehensive collection of zombie movie art begins in 1932 (when The White Zombie, the first true entrant in the genre, was released), explores the renaissance that was launched by George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and traces the countless variations, innovations, and reinventions that continue to ensure that the zombie genre will never truly die.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Hotel Hex by Linda Wisdom



One Hex of a Weekend

Clue meets Bewitched and Nancy Drew with a touch of Hex!

It was all planned. A weekend away at an exclusive hotel in the Hollywood Hills where vampire PI Nick planned to have some alone time with his hexy honey, Jazz.

Except Stonegate Manor isn’t what it appears to be.

Jazz isn’t impressed. The hotel doesn’t boast spa facilities that seriously upset magick bunny slippers Fluff and Puff. A celebutante psychic is seriously ticking her off. Not to mention the old-fashioned bellhop is a zombie.

Where’s the romance with a kitchen that doubles as a slaughterhouse, guests turning into dry husks, and rooms that change in the wink of an eye. And what exactly is going on with the hotel manager?

There’s no relaxation this hellish weekend for Jazz and Nick as they search for clues on what’s going on at Stonegate Manor. And Jazz goes up against an ancient evil that just might be more than this hexy witch can handle.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Tip a Hat to Murder by Elaine Orr



When the owner of the Bully Pulpit Diner decided to stop letting servers accept tips, he figured the raise he gave them would keep them happy.

Apparently not. Or were some of his other hobbies what got poor Ben Addison killed?

Police Chief Elizabeth Friedman contends with, angry food servers, rowdy frat brothers at Sweathog Agricultural College, a batch of customers who seem to know nothing, and a thief who must have really wanted something from Ben.

One of them keeps a good secret in the small town of Logland, Illinois.

Join Elizabeth, Medical Examiner Skelly, and an offbeat group of characters who will tickle your funny bone.


EARLY OCTOBER WAS USUALLY one of the quietest months in the Bully Pulpit Diner. Students at Sweathog College were six weeks into their semester and scared they would fail at least one class. The Frisky Heifers had lost at least three football games. That shut up the loud mouths. At least during the week.
This was not a quiet October.
“What do you mean no one can tip us?” Marti Kerkoff glared at her boss, one foot tapping on the black and white tiled floor. The right side of her mouth started to turn down. “I pay my chiropractor with that money.”
Nick Hume’s five-foot-ten frame was almost rigid as he stepped closer to owner Ben Addison. “That’s my beer money.” He looked at Marti. “What the hell do you need a chiropractor for? You sit on your butt half the time.”
She stood up from the counter stool, faced Nick, and balled her fists. Marti was short, but no less fierce because of it. “I sit down sometimes because I work my ass off bringing water to other people’s customers.”
Ben stepped between the two of them, which gained his nose some of Nick’s spittle. “The Weed and Feed stopped tips last week. This is how it’s gotta be.”
Nick’s face reddened. “The potheads who eat there don’t care what they pay. You try to increase prices to,” he raised his fingers in air quotes, “pay us more so no one has to tip,” he stopped air quoting and pointed a finger at Ben’s still-damp nose, “and no one will eat here.”
“Leave him be, Nick,” Marti said.
When Nick stood back a few inches, Marti stepped between the men. Because Ben matched Marti's height of five-six, they were eye to eye. Marti glared at him. “Everyone knows you’ve been putting cracker meal in the hamburger.”
Ben reddened. “Only if you told them!”
“The gluten-free mafia said they have to use the can more,” Nick said.
A raised voice came from a nearby booth. “Hey!” Gordon Beals was an actuary with a local insurance firm. “I don’t eat gluten. What you doin’ to me, Ben?”
Ben regarded Gordon and shrugged.
Gordon, his deep voice grumbling, went back to his morning Sudoku puzzle.
 The glass front door banged and the three Bully Pulpit staff turned. Just-Juice Jenson and Herbie Hiccup entered and made for the counter.
The wait staff might not have called them these names behind their backs if Herbie’s hiccups didn’t stink so much.
Just-Juice sat down and spun on the stool to stare at the now silent workers. “What’s up? You squeeze any fresh OJ yet?”
Ben used the towel he always had over his shoulder to wipe an imaginary spot from the Formica counter. “Marti’s just getting on it. Nick’ll take your order.”
Saying nothing, Marti moved to the right of the customer counter and headed for the kitchen. She walked flat-footed, her version of stomping. It let everyone within thirty feet know she was ticked.
Ben turned and headed to a booth at the far left of the counter. Unlike the other booths, its red plastic seats had half-inch wide slits through which white stuffing poked. Ben said it was his office, but half the time he checked his phone for football scores so he could decide which teams to bet on that weekend.
Nick took out an order pad and stood across from the two customers. “Early for you guys. What’ll it be?” He glanced at the pass-through window that separated the kitchen from the eating area and watched Marti mouth two of the expected words.
“Just juice. I’m on that fruit diet thing again.” He shifted his hefty frame on the stool.
“We studied all night,” Herbie said. “Two eggs over easy, and coffee.”
“Except when you slept under the library table.”
“Except for that,” Herbie agreed.
Just-Juice’s voice rose and he laughed as he pointed at the wall. “Check out that sign, Herbie. No more tipping. We gotta tell all the guys!”
Ben called from his booth. “Maybe I’ll put up signs on campus.”
Nick turned toward the kitchen without saying anything else to Just Juice and Herbie. Marti’s slam of the huge refrigerator’s door was probably heard on the street.
Yes, raising Bully Pulpit prices ten percent instead of requiring customers to leave tips seemed like a good idea, but it ended up being a blunder. A really bad one.
Not only did wait staff see no point in smiling when their backs or bunions hurt, the talk around town was that it could have been what got Ben killed.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Under His Spell by Linda Wisdom



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.


"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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