Knit shop owner and sorcerer's daughter Chloe Hobbs felt the Fates finally got it right when she met Luke MacKenzie. And no one could have convinced her otherwise—including the trolls, selkies, or spirits who also call Sugar Maple, Vermont, home. But then out of nowhere Luke's ex-wife suddenly shows up, claiming to see the spirit of their daughter, Steffie—a daughter Chloe knows nothing about.
Steffie's spirit is being held hostage by a certain Fae leader. And if Chloe weaves a spell to free her spirit, her nemesis will also be free—free to destroy her yarn shop and all of Sugar Maple. But if she doesn't, Steffie won't be the only one spending eternity in hell. Chloe'll be joining her, cursed with a broken heart.
Did you ever have the feeling that you were exactly where you were meant to be, that the Fates had finally got it right and the rest of your life was going to be clear sailing? That was how I felt the first time Luke MacKenzie and I kissed: like I was seeing the world through new eyes.
The first time our hands touched over a basket of alpaca roving, sparks flew. Bright silver-white sparks that shot from our fingertips and lit up the night. It was every love story I had ever read, every romantic movie I had ever wept over, all of my hopes and dreams wrapped up into one tall, dark, and handsome package. It didn't even matter that he was one hundred percent human and I was the daughter of a sorceress. I believed that now that I had finally found love, the rest would fall into place like magick.
Crazy? I wouldn't bet against it. Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, I still believed I was on my way to the storybook happy ending none of the women in my family had ever managed to achieve.
I mean, I even made a sweater for him and every knitter on the planet knows you never knit a sweater for the one you love until you had the ring on your finger.
What was I thinking?
I guess the truth is I wasn't thinking at all. All those romantic movies and novels I had devoured over the years hadn't prepared me for the real thing. Luke and I had gone from zero to sixty in a nanosecond, from strangers to lovers to living together in less time than it took most people to shake hands.
But then this wasn't the real world. It just looked like it.
By the way, I'm Chloe Hobbs, knit shop owner and de facto mayor of Sugar Maple, a tiny little town tucked between two mountains in the northwest corner of Vermont. We're a classic New England hamlet, famous for scenic views and great shopping but, trust me, there's more going on in Sugar Maple than meets the eye.
Up until Luke, a former police detective from Boston, showed up in early December to investigate the drowning death of his friend Suzanne Marsden, I had been the only resident human. Well, half human to be precise but without magick the sorceress side of my lineage hardly mattered.
Remember the old TV show The Munsters? Marilyn was the all-American blonde who stuck out like a sore thumb in her family of irregulars. I guess you could say that was the part I played here in Sugar Maple. When the real world came calling, I was the one who answered.
And even I had to admit I was the logical choice.
A tenth generation witch owns the Cut & Curl across the street from my knit shop. The hardware store is run by the sweetest family of werewolves you'll ever meet. The Sugar Maple Arts Playhouse is under the direction of shape shifters who serve as their own repertory company. Faeries keep the Inn's restaurant fully booked and I guess it wouldn't surprise you to learn that the town funeral parlor belongs to a happily married couple who happen to be vampire.
And that doesn't count the trolls, selkies, goblins, sprites, spirits, and mountain giants who call our town home.
The unexpected success of my yarn shop had brought even more attention to Sugar Maple than our white picket fences and picturesque village green. My shop had been rated New England's number one knitting destination two years running and if the blogosphere had anything to do with it, we were about to make it three for three. A protective spell cast over our town by one of my ancestors made it possible for us to hide in plain sight but when that spell started wearing down last year—well, that was when the troubles really started.
My ancestor Aerynn had fled Salem during the infamous witch hunts and found sanctuary here with other outcasts in search of a home. Aerynn was a sorceress, and she expressed her gratitude by casting a protective charm over Sugar Maple designed to keep the village safe from the sharp eyes of the real world as long as one of her female descendants walked the earth.
I was the last descendant of Aerynn and, in the eyes of almost everyone in town, pretty much of a loser. Oh, they loved me but I don't think even my closest friends believed I would ever come through for Sugar Maple. I mean, I was almost thirty years old with no husband, no kid, and no magic. Even worse, I had no prospects of any kind. The only thing I had going for me was the ability to knit and spin like my foremothers, but even I didn't think I could stockinette my way out of the mess the town was in.
And then Luke showed up and everything changed.
Who would have guessed that love would trigger my inner sorceress and awaken powers I didn't know existed. Suddenly I had everything I had ever dreamed about: magick and love and enough yarn to last ten lifetimes.
And who would have guessed it wouldn't be close to enough to save us.
It all began to fall apart on the day of our monthly town meeting. I'm not ashamed to admit I was grateful we moved it up two days so that it didn't fall on the night of the full moon. Town meetings were crazy enough; they didn't need any help from lunar forces on the loose. The snow had finally melted and while much of the landscape was a giant trough of mud, the promise of spring was everywhere I looked.
The tourist trade had been quiet all week and I spent most of my time playing catch-up with the projects I'd let slide over the winter. (You don't want to know how many things I had on the needles. It's too embarrassing.) I'd been working on the edging of an Orkney Pi for what seemed like three or four lifetimes and hoped to finish it off in time for the Weekend of Lace Workshop I had planned for early May.
Lace knitting has the way of taking over a knitter's brain. Sit down with a complicated lace pattern and I guarantee you won't think of anything else until you finally come up for air. But that day the front door to the shop was open and the air finally smelled of spring and not even the lure of lace could hold me.
Okay. I admit it. It wasn't so much spring fever that made me close down the shop early and pull Luke away from his desk in the police station next door; it was more the sense that something was slipping away from us and I didn't know exactly what it was, much less how to stop it.
Actually it felt more like a certainty. The knowledge that the first part of our journey was over and now the hard part was about to begin.
My surrogate mother Sorcha had warned me that there would be trouble ahead. "Let him go, daughter," she had said. "I'm too late to keep you from falling in love with him but not too late to keep you from ruining his life."
I refused to believe that loving me could ruin Luke's life. I wasn't blind to all he would be giving up if he decided to stay in Sugar Maple permanently. His family and friends were down in Boston. His normal warm-blooded human family who loved him and missed him and wanted him to marry another normal warm-blooded human and have kids and settle in one of the nearby suburbs.
Luke's contract with the state would expire in a little over a month and we still hadn't talked about whether he would sign on as Sugar Maple's permanent chief of police. Last week the powers-that-be in Montpelier contacted me about a few of their own candidates that had literally made my blood run cold. I guess it was na•ïve of me but I'd assumed that since we were a couple Luke would want the job. I mean, it wasn't like there was much call for police chiefs in our part of the state. If he wanted to be an alpha cop, we were pretty much his best bet.
I knew I should talk to him about it. The villagers had been asking about his plans since the day he drove into town. It would be nice to finally have an answer for them.
Which, of course, was a total lie. I wanted the answer for myself and I wanted it to be yes.
And it would be yes. I knew it would be. Except for the whole magick/human problem we were perfect for each other. We made each other laugh. We listened to each other's stories. I loved the way he looked and smelled and sounded. I loved the feel of his hands on me when we made love, the look in his eyes just before he kissed me.
And yes I loved the fact that he was a mortal man. I had never been attracted to men with magick. Over the years my friends had set me up with selkies and shapeshifters and wizards but none had ever come close to catching my eye.
I loved that Luke was full-blooded human. I loved that there was nothing for him here in Sugar Maple. He didn't want to pull the town beyond the mist or make a grab for power. He was still here for only one reason, because he loved me, and that one reason made me the happiest woman in this realm or any other.
My plan was simple: drive out to the waterfall, dazzle Luke with our local scenery, and then casually ask him how he'd feel about signing a three year contract with the county to become our official chief of police. Three years may not sound like much to you but from where I stood it was a major commitment. That meant three years of happiness. Three years of basking in his human warmth. Three wonderful years to hold onto in case the future didn't work out the way I hoped it would.
And it would give me time to knit him some more sweaters . . .
"Must be serious," Luke said as he climbed into the passenger seat of my gigantic 80s era Buick. "You're actually driving."
"I have to," I said. "You're going to be blindfolded."
The gleam in his eyes made my toes curl. "I like the sound of this."
I gestured toward the glove box. "It's in there. Put it on."
His left eyebrow lifted. "You keep a blindfold in the glove box?"
I gave him a wide-eyed look. "Something wrong with that?"
"Not a damn thing." He pulled the black satin eye covering from beneath a stack of expired insurance cards, registration documents, and an owner's manual so old it had actually yellowed. "Am I going to turn into a frog or something when I put this on?"
"That only happened once and it was an accident," I said. "Now put it on or we're not going anywhere."
The possibility of kinky sex in broad daylight bent him to my will faster than any spell I could conjure up. Apparently a girl could get just as far with a blindfold and a dream.
My aversion to driving is legendary. I'm not just a reluctant driver, I'm also a bad driver and a slow one.
"Where are you taking me?" he asked as I approached the township limits. "Afghanistan?"
"We're still in Sugar Maple," I said laughing. "Be patient."
"What are you doing, driving backward?"
"I'm obeying the speed limit," I said, "something that should have special significance to you, Chief MacKenzie."
"How come I never realized your voice was so hot," he said. "Talk dirty to me. It'll help pass the time."
"I have to concentrate on my driving."
"I thought you were a power multitasker."
"It rained last night. You don't want to get stuck in the mud, do you?"
He reached to pull off the blindfold. I swatted him with the back of my right hand. The car swerved toward the shoulder but I quickly straightened it out.
"Don't look so scared," I said. "Everything's okay."
"I'm not scared."
"You were praying."
"I figured we needed all the help we could get."
No argument there.
I made it to the edge of the clearing and found a non-muddy area where I could leave the car without worrying about it sinking into the mire.
"Can I take the blindfold off now," Luke asked, "or is it part of the fun?"
"Keep it on," I said, trying to get into a dominatrix groove. "Put your hands on my waist and follow me."
"You're good at this," he said as I carefully led him deeper into the woods. "What other talents have you been hiding?"
"You'll find out soon enough."
His hands slipped from my waist to my hips. His broad fingers splayed down over my belly and then reached lower. I stumbled then caught myself. His chuckle was deliciously dirty.
"Okay," I said. "Now you can take off the blindfold."
"You'd better be naked."
"Take off the blindfold and see."
He did and the look of wonder in his eyes made me laugh out loud. "What the hell--?" He glanced over at me. "Is this some kind of magic trick?"
I raised my hands in the air. "No tricks. Nothing up my sleeve."
"Where the hell have you been hiding this?"
"Three miles east of my cottage as the crow flies but you'd never find it if you didn't know where to look."
He whistled low. "Sugar Maple knows how to keep its secrets."
Which, of course, was an understatement. Nature had done a good job of hiding the Sinzibukwud Falls from nosy tourists and other interlopers and over the centuries the residents of Sugar Maple had managed to keep it that way. Jagged slashes of granite, darkened almost black with time, provided the back drop for the sixty foot plunge of water.
"Sinziwhat?" Luke asked.
"Sinzibukwud was the Indian name for maple sugar," I told Luke as we walked closer to the falling water. "The native people believed they were closer to their ancestors here than anywhere else. Bet you don't have anything like this in Boston."
"Not even close," he said.
During Sugar Maple's early years, local artists and needleworkers and craftsmen had immortalized the Falls but interest had waned over the years. Now we kept the tumbling waters as an attraction known only to villagers. We had enough on our collective plate trying to control tourists who came to Sugar Maple for the shopping.
There was no denying the power of the place. I don't know if it was all that tumbling water, the lush vegetation, the craggy rocks, or something else but my entire body was tingling with anticipation. I have to admit I'd never been a big fan of the Falls. Sure I could see they'd be a huge attraction if we ever went public, but there was something too overwhelming about the place for my taste, as if the power unleashed by the force of the water was about to break free and take us all with it. When the sun hit the Falls from a certain angle, they took on a living quality that got under my skin and made me want to be anywhere else.
But Luke loved it, as I'd hoped he would and I was all about anything that would keep him here with me forever. He crouched down in front of an outcropping of rock, staring intently at the formation. I watched, fascinated, as he drew his forefinger along the vertical cleft.
"So you're an outdoors boy," I said as he examined another odd formation. "Who knew?"
"These rocks have faces," he said with a slightly sheepish grin. "I thought the damn thing was going to bite me."
"You're probably one of those kids who saw elephants and angels in the clouds."
"You weren't?" he asked.
"I grew up in Sugar Maple," I reminded him. "There really were elephants and angels in the clouds."
"Look at that formation." He pointed to an imposing outcropping. "I wouldn't be surprised if it slid open and revealed a whole other world."
"Too many video games," I said with a laugh. "I know it's hard to believe, considering this is Sugar Maple and all, but those are just rocks."
Human males are fascinating creatures. No matter how old they got, the little boy never went away. "This place is incredible."
"I thought you'd like it." I angled him a smile. "Legend has it this was a busy lover's lane way back when."
He drew me close and I nuzzled against his neck, drinking in his warmth and human essence. "Did you ever come up here with anyone?"
I knew this was one of those times when a lie was the right way to go but I was only half human and opted for the truth instead.
"Once," I said, watching his expression. "With Gunnar."
"I thought you two never—"
"We didn't," I broke in quickly, "but we hung out together in high school." And gave love a try a few times over the years of our friendship but never made it past exploratory kissing.
A little muscle in his jaw twitched. It might as well have been a neon sign flashing overhead. Gunnar's death continued to haunt us in so many ways. My dear friend had loved me enough to save Luke's life at the cost of his own and that selfless act was the five hundred pound gorilla we pretended wasn't sitting there next to us every single day.
I felt guilty that my happiness had come at the expense of a treasured friend's existence in this realm. Gunnar's friendship had been a constant in my life for as long as I could remember and I had believed with my entire heart and soul that he would continue to be part of my life until it was my time to pierce the veil.
And Luke? I knew his feelings about Gunnar were all wrapped up with gratitude, jealousy, and the human male's need to be the hero of his own story. Not an easy mix for a man who was making his way in a very different world from the one he'd left behind.
I reached for the blindfold dangling from his hand. "Put it back on," I said, spinning it around my index finger. "I have another surprise."
The shadows lifted and he flashed me the grin I loved. "I have a better idea. You put it on."
My skin registered his heat and I couldn't hold back a sigh of pleasure. I loved his warm skin, his hot kisses. I had been drawn to his warmth from the beginning.
Excitement snaked up my spine followed swiftly by a long dark ripple of anticipation. My human blood ran hot for him.
"Slow down," he whispered in my ear as he slid the mask over my eyes. "We want this to last."
Forever sounded just about right.
Town Hall – later that evening
Maybe if I hadn't been in the sensual haze that followed great sex I would have seen the signs but a few hours after our blistering lovemaking at the waterfall I still wasn't thinking straight.
See the pattern here? I wasn't thinking at all. I was still pure sensation.
"You look awfully smug for a Wednesday night," Janice said as she joined me near the snack table. She owned the hair salon across the street from Sticks & Strings and was one of my closest friends. "Does it have anything to do with that trip you and the human made to the Waterfall?"
They say that in times of extreme danger your entire life passed in front of your eyes and that was what happened to me, except in most of the scenes I was doing things that could get me arrested.
"Don't look so horrified!" Janice gave me a quick pat on the arm. "I didn't see anything. The spell you cast around the two of you worked too darn well."
I flashed back to some of the juicier moments, especially the one that included a big hard rock, a blindfold, and both of us half-naked. "Sometimes I wish I lived somewhere normal like Philadelphia."
Janice threw back her head and laughed out loud. "Honey, you'd never make it through the day in Philly. Too many humans. You're one of us now."
Meaning my destiny was here in Sugar Maple and always would be. I guess she felt I needed to be reminded of that fact. My half-human blood would always mark me as different.
I poured myself another cup of coffee and debated whether or not this was a sugar-and-cream kind of night. Lynette Pendragon, whose shape-shifting family owned the Sugar Maple Arts Playhouse, popped up next to me. Before my powers kicked in, I would have sworn she was a ringer for Catherine Zeta-Jones. Now when I looked at her I saw a pretty, dark-haired middle-aged woman and not a movie goddess. It was one of the trade-offs that came with the magick and it still required an adjustment on my part.
"Did you tell her?" she said to Janice.
"I thought we weren't—"
"You can't let her be blindsided by—"
I didn't like the sound of this. "Somebody tell me something and fast," I demanded. "The meeting's about to begin."
"We were sworn to secrecy," Lynette said, her voice little more than a whisper, "but Colm Weaver has been trying to put together a committee to find a candidate for chief of police."
"Luke is our candidate."
"Luke is your candidate," Janice pointed out, "which means he's not theirs."
Resentment from the Fae within the community had grown exponentially since I banished Isadora from this realm. I probably shouldn't have been surprised to learn that the Weavers were working against me but I'd hoped a lifetime of friendship would count for something.
"If you're going to install Luke as the permanent chief, you'd better do it fast," Lynette warned. "They're moving more quickly than anyone would have anticipated."
"Fine," I said. "I'll do it tonight."
They exchanged glances.
"I didn't mean that fast," Lynette said.
"Why not?" I shot back. "According to our town charter I can appoint officials to key positions without putting it to a vote. Luke is here. He understands how to work with the bureaucrats. He already knows our secrets and he's proved himself trustworthy."
"Have you talked to him about staying on?" Janice asked.
"Not yet," I admitted, "but I'm sure he'll sign on again."
We were in love. We were happy. What more could he want?
"Watch out for Colm tonight," Lynette said sotto voce. "Cyrus heard him talking about Luke at Fully Caffeinated this morning and it wasn't good."
The truth is I'm not big on confrontation and I was starting to wonder if I was in for a major one tonight. I can hold my own in a fight but for the most part when I sense trouble brewing, my natural inclination is to reach for the Chips Ahoy and wait for the storm to blow over. The vibes in the room were making me think longingly of the emergency bag I had stashed away at the yarn shop. That and a bucket of Ben & Jerry might get me through.
"The natives are getting restless," Janice observed. "You'd better start on time this month."
"I started on time last month but Simone was doing a Welcome to Spring pole dance on the lawn and nobody heard me."
Simone was a sultry spirit who had a way of attracting attention even when she was dematerialized.
"The Souderbushes are here," Lynette observed. "And the Harrises. That will help. They love Luke."
As if on cue, we all turned to look across the room at him. He was standing near the open side door, talking animatedly with the Griggs boys. Judging by his hand gestures, he was probably saying something rude about the New York Yankees.
"Isn't that the sweater you knitted for him?" Lynette asked.
"That's the one."
"You're not afraid—"
"Not even a little bit. I can't believe you buy into those old knitter's superstitions."
"First-hand experience," Janice said. "I made my first boyfriend a sweater. He broke up with me the next day."
"Handknits scare them more than 'I love you.'" Lynette shook her head. "Cyrus didn't call me for two months after I made him a cashmere raglan."
I didn't have the guts to tell them I had started an Aran for Luke and was thinking about a Cobblestone. Every time he slipped on that sweater or grabbed for a pair of socks I made for him, I totally melted like one of those girls in the romantic movies. Believe me, you know you love a guy if you're willing to knit a pair of socks for his size twelve feet.
On US0 needles, no less.
Why couldn't all of life be so simple, so clear?
Across the room Luke laughed.
"Poor human," Janice said without a touch of her trademark sarcasm. "He hasn't a clue what he's in for."
I knew she wasn't talking about sweaters.
"It will be fine," I said, hoping I sounded more confident than I was actually feeling. "He's a known quantity now. It's not like when he first came to town and we had to figure out how to live with an outsider around full time."
Janice was known for her cynical perspective on life and she didn't disappoint. "There's plenty to worry about. Half the town doesn't like humans and the other half doesn't trust them."
We both waited for Lynette's traditional glass-half-full take on the matter but she didn't say a word and I chalked it up to the fact that she seemed to be occupied aiming daggers at her husband Cyrus who was engaged in animated conversation with one of the Weavers' beautiful Fae daughters.
Most of the villagers trusted Luke even if they didn't want their daughters to marry him. Hadn't he proven himself that terrible night in my knit shop when it seemed like Isadora had garnered the forces of hell in her attempt to destroy us?
He was a cop who knew all of our secrets. He could have made a fortune selling those secrets to the world beyond our township limits.
But he didn't.
He could have left Sugar Maple and never turned back.
But he hadn't.
That had to count for something.
Lynette and Janice took their seats as Luke joined me near the podium. Our fingers brushed and, as always, sparks flew.
"I don't think I'll ever get used to that," he said. "It's like the Fourth of July every time."
We couldn't have kept our love secret if we had wanted to.
My human father had lived among the villagers for over six years and they still hadn't totally accepted him as one of their own before he died. Even now, many years later, there were still flashes of resentment over the human who had lured my mother from her path.
But Luke hadn't lured me from my path. He was part of it and I liked to think that would make a difference.
Then again love makes you crazy. Love crawls into your brain and plays games with your neurons. All the things you thought you knew about yourself fly out the window when love flies in.
I mean, I was the mayor of a town that thrived on secrets so why was I so surprised when I found out Luke had a few of his own?