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.
“Celia always pays me in advance for the items I bring in.” The silver-haired woman glared at Holly Bennett, who stood behind the glass-topped counter of Celia’s Closet.
“Mrs. Benson, I cannot make any payments without Mrs. Parker’s permission. We generally work on consignment, and since she hasn’t marked any special instructions on your previous paperwork, my hands are tied,” Holly explained, wishing she didn’t sound so helpless. The other woman had the instincts of a shark looking for that spill of blood. “Of course, you will receive payment at the beginning of the month for anything sold, and when Mrs. Parker comes back in a few days, you can speak to her about your usual arrangement.”
Mrs. Benson started to pick up the items of clothing scattered across the counter, then abruptly moved away. “I’ll leave them with you, but I want Celia to know about this the moment she returns. She can make the necessary changes in my files so this doesn’t happen again,” she said haughtily, walking out of the store. The bell hanging above the door tinkled madly as the door swung shut.
Seconds later, a blonde swept in, her bright purple dress swirling around her calves.
“I see Winnie the witch was here.” Ivy Elliott, a “professional divorcee,” as she dubbed herself, and Holly’s best friend, held up a steaming mug. “I figured you’d need some refreshment after the ordeal.”
“You figured right.” Holly gratefully accepted the black coffee. “No herb tea today?”
Ivy shook her head. “I was up till all hours yelling at Kevin. He was out doing God knows what until after midnight, and now I’m the one suffering from the lack of sleep while he’s probably still in bed. Although, I told him if the lawn isn’t mowed and the shrubs trimmed by the time I get home tonight, there’s going to be hell to pay. I just know that kid will either end up in jail or in the marines when he turns eighteen. And I already feel sorry for both institutions.” She leaned against the counter, waving an arm laden with multicolored bangle bracelets. “Then, to top it off, I’ve discovered that the antique volume of Elizabethan spells I found at that estate sale a month ago is missing. I had a buyer for it, too. Maybe my little angel found a way to make some money off it by hocking it, no doubt.”
Holly chuckled. “Come on, Ivy, Kevin’s not all that bad. He’s just having his identity crisis early in life.” She scooped her bright auburn curls off her neck, pulled them up high and tied a wide band around her hair.
“It’s disgusting that you have all that natural curl while my mop won’t even hold a perm.” Ivy wrinkled her nose. She wandered through the shop, picking up a blouse here, a scarf there. “You’ve got a lot of new things in.”
Holly nodded. “Celia visited quite a few people before she left on vacation.” She picked up a sheaf of inventory forms and said wryly, “Naturally, she was kind enough to leave me with the paperwork.”
Ivy flipped through a jewelry carousel holding necklaces and bracelets. “I’m sure she deeply appreciates your efforts,” she murmured sardonically.
“Don’t start, Ivy.”
The blonde was undeterred by her friend’s quiet censure. “Come on, Holly, we both know who really does all the work in this shop, and it isn’t Celia Parker. Her idea of work is sipping tea with the moneyed classes and chatting them up while she looks over the wardrobes they replace each season. She takes their castoffs on consignment and acts as if she’s doing them a wonderful service. You’re the one who coordinates outfits, displays them to their best advantage, and sells them as fast as they come in. Not to mention inventorying them, of course. It s you who keeps this place going, not her.”
“I only wish my castoff clothing looked so good,” Holly said dryly, gesturing toward a designer dress displayed on the wall with appropriate accessories. “Besides, Celia lets me work around the kids’ schedule, and you know how difficult it is to find an employer who will do that.”
“Holly, I’m not trying to knock your job. I just wish-”
“Ivy,” Holly interrupted, “when Ron left me, I had no job skills and no prospects. Celia was willing to take me on and train me. I know you don’t like her, but she did take a chance in hiring me, and I’m grateful to her for that.”
Ivy looked chastened. The Bennett divorce had provided the kind of juicy gossip any small town thrived on. But she, more than anyone, truly knew what Holly had been through since Ron Bennett decided he preferred the attentions of a local junior college prom queen to those of his wife and two young children.
“You’re right,” she ruefully admitted, placing a vibrant silk scarf on the counter. “Can you hold this for me and I’ll pay for it when I close up next door?”
Holly picked up the scarf. “No problem.”
Ivy glanced out the front window to see if anyone was lingering near her bookshop. Prospective customers for her stock of the latest thing in New Age occultism were valuable, and those looking for rare volumes dealing with ancient lore and authentic remedies from generations of wise women even more so. “It’s been slow all day, even with the tourists wandering around looking for signs of witches.”
She lowered her voice and grinned. “Of course, perhaps they should come in here and meet the descendant of Priscilla Drake, the only witch in Salem to have been burned at the stake. You know, sweetie, if you’d lived back then, they probably would have taken one look at your ‘witch’s mark’ and fiery hair and burned you, too.”
Holly touched the small mole near her upper lip. “Maybe I would have been one of the lucky ones and only been hanged,” she said wryly. “Isn’t it amazing how this town’s colorful seafaring history is completely overshadowed by our more violent past?”
“Yes, but it brings customers into my shop, so I can’t complain,” Ivy replied, brightening as she spotted two women entering her bookstore. “See you later.” She scampered off, pausing to toss over her shoulder, “How much you want to bet one of those ladies hopes to find a spell that will help her lose twenty pounds overnight? Lord,” she muttered, “if I had that kind of spell, I’d have given up dieting years ago!” With that, she was gone.
Holly turned to the pile of clothing Mrs. Benson had left. She figured she had a good hour’s work ahead of her, listing each item by design, label, color, size, estimated retail price and the price Celia’s Closet would sell it for. A copy of the list would be sent to Mrs. Benson and the original kept for the shop’s use. Then she would have the task of making price tags and attaching them to each piece of clothing. She didn’t mind the detailed work; it kept her mind off worries about finding the money for new storm windows for the house before the cold weather set in and wondering if the furnace would last another winter or choke to death in the middle of a snowstorm.
“It’s only June, and you’re already worrying about storm windows,” she muttered, reaching for the inventory sheets. She was soon lost in her chore until the bell tinkling over the door alerted her to a prospective customer. She summoned up a smile. “Hello, Sally.”
“Holly, my dear, how are you?” the slightly plump, dark-haired woman gushed as she swept through the shop, stopping every now and then to examine a dress or blouse. “My, you have some lovely things here. Of course, I would never dream of purchasing a piece of previously owned clothing. In my business, I have to project a successful image, and wearing last year’s dress just wouldn’t do.”
Holly’s smile froze. Temptation prompted her to ask why the gossipy Realtor was here then, but past experience told her Sally Adams would get around to the reason for her visit sooner or later.