Chloe - Sugar Maple, Vermont
What would you do if the people you loved, the places you knew, disappeared without warning? Your town, your home, the knit shop you'd built from scratch, your best friends, your enemies, the familiar landmarks that had been part of your world since the day you were born, all of them suddenly wiped off the face of the earth in the time it took to take your next breath.
You would probably think you had too much to drink or that maybe someone had slipped a weird mushroom into your salad when you weren't looking. People disappear. Cats and dogs go missing. Car keys, stitch markers, your favorite sunglasses.
But not your home town.
Home towns aren't portable. You can't load them onto the back of a flat bed truck and roll them to a new location. Every now and then Mother Nature reaches into her bag of tricks and tests the mettle of a small town. She flings tornados and blizzards, fires and floods, at them then watches in admiration as they bend, but never break.
And they definitely never disappear without a trace.
At least that's what I thought until it happened to me.
I'm Chloe Hobbs, a half-human sorceress-in-training. When I'm not studying the Book of Spells, you can find me either at Sticks & Strings, my wildly popular yarn shop, or at our Town Hall where I serve as de facto mayor of Sugar Maple, a small tourist town in northern Vermont.
But there's a whole lot more to Sugar Maple than meets the eye. Our folksy small town faŤade hides truths that could endanger our existence. Sugar Maple is inhabited by the descendants of oppressed creatures who fled Salem during the Witch Trials. Desperate for sanctuary, my ancestor Aerynn led other endangered souls north to an Indian town named Sinzibukwud where they were welcomed with open arms and generous hearts.
Our hardware store is owned by a family of werewolves. Our head librarian is a gorgeous Norwegian troll. My best friends are a shapeshifter and a witch. A family of vampires runs the funeral parlor. Traveling house sprites handle most of our home repairs. And who could forget Forbes the Mountain Giant who walks in his sleep.
And that is only a tiny portion of our current population.
Most of the time the human side of my lineage doesn't win me any points with the townspeople but it does come in handy when we have to deal with the bureaucrats down in Montpelier. For the most part, we haven't had to deal with them much over the years but lately it seemed as if we had been getting more than our share of attention from the fine folks at the State Capitol.
The shocking death of a tourist named Suzanne Marsden at Snow Lake last December was a good example. We had flown under the radar for so long that I guess we'd grown complacent. That was what centuries of being a town without crime could do to you. You dropped your guard. You forgot that evil actually existed and that sometimes it was right there sitting next to you.
The one good thing to come from that tragedy was Luke MacKenzie. Luke was 100% homo sapiens and our newly minted chief of police.
More important, he was also the love of my life, a fact which seemed to have turned Sugar Maple on its collective ear.
Isadora, the powerful leader of the New England Fae, had never been one of my biggest fans but we had somehow managed to coexist until Luke came to town to investigate Suzanne's death.
From that moment on Isadora and I were at war. The thought of a full-blood human living in Sugar Maple pushed her over the edge and she set out to find a way to pull the town beyond the mist into the realm of the Fae where she could reign supreme.
She knew before I did that love was the key to unlocking my inner sorceress and that my emerging powers would turn our fight into a war between (almost) equals. I thought I had managed to banish her back in December but I had underestimated the Fae warrior's need for revenge. She had found a way to break through the banishment shield and tonight, at the once in a lifetime moment when the sun and stars were in magickal alignment and I was at my most vulnerable, she struck.
I won't lie to you. It was touch and go there for awhile tonight as we battled for the spirit of a little girl and the future of Sugar Maple. When the earthquakes started and that crazy light show flashed across the sky and Luke's ex-wife–well, let's say that I had to call upon every secret I could access from the Book of Spells to come out on the winning side.
Not to brag or anything, but in the space of an earth hour I had fought the battle of my life, defeated my arch-enemy, reunited a mother and child, and saved my home town from certain disaster. Finally I was in sync with my magick. The non-human part of my lineage didn't scare me any longer. (Okay, maybe it still scared me a little but I was on my way.)
And even better, it didn't scare Luke. Flying cars. Enchanted waterfalls. Demons with an axe to grind. Most other human males would have headed for the exit the first time they found themselves accidentally turned into a Ken Doll, but not Luke. He hung in there through it all and a few minutes ago he had said the words I had always wanted to hear.
You're not alone any more.
Chloe Hobbs, the woman who had pretty much been alone her entire life, had finally found her soul mate. Now when I looked into the future I saw a home and a family of my own which, for a Hobbs woman, was the ultimate pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Hobbs women loved only once. I know that sounds crazy and kind of 18th century but that was how we were made. When a descendant of Aerynn fell in love, she fell in love forever and there wasn't enough magick in the Universe to change that simple truth. Wouldn't you think one of us would have managed to get it right in three hundred years?
But not one Hobbs woman had until now.
Luke loved me for who I was, magick and all, and he didn't want to change me. He knew that my destiny was tied up in my quirky little Vermont town and he was okay with it. To my delight he loved Sugar Maple as much as I did and was looking forward to building a future here with me.
The battle with Isadora had been decisive and brutal. She had slammed Luke against the rocks repeatedly as he tried to save his daughter's soul from eternal damnation and I had been terrified that his all-too-mortal body would succumb to the punishment Isadora flung his way. My sorceress genes had protected me from the worst of Isadora's attacks but my human side still took a beating.
Finally I linked the power of my ancestors with the pre-ordained future of the solar system and banished the Fae leader forever or until the sun died. Whichever came first. No matter how you looked at it, she was history.
And now the rest of my life was about to begin. Luke and I were going to settle down together in the cozy cottage I had inherited from my surrogate mother Sorcha. He would keep the town safe from harm in the form of nosy bureaucrats and rowdy tourists. I would grow my yarn business and together we would bring another generation of Hobbs women into the world.
With a little luck (and maybe a touch of magick) we might even end up like one of those wonderful old couples who ate dinner at four o'clock and finished each other's sentences.
I looked over at the man I loved and my heart melted. So this was how it felt. Who knew? His left eye was swollen shut, his right cheekbone had a wicked gash slanting down toward the corner of his mouth, and he was covered in grime. His breathing was shallow and he walked slowly in an attempt to keep the pain from his battered ribs from knocking him down for the count.
He caught my eye. "You don't look much better," he said with a tired grin.
"You look pretty good to me," I said. He was alive. It didn't get much better than that.
"Pancakes," he said and I laughed. "A tall stack with eggs, bacon, and a gallon of that syrup you guys are always bragging about."
"No pancakes," I said. "I want a big fluffy omelet with melted cheddar and jalapeno peppers." Who knew that fighting the forces of evil could make a girl so hungry?
"Lots of coffee."
"With cream and sugar," I said. "This is no time to count calories."
"Fully Caffeinated won't be open for at least another hour," he said.
"Who needs Fully Caffeinated? I make a mean breakfast."
He looked skeptical. I didn't blame him. So far my Food Network addiction hadn't translated into more than an infatuation with butter and garlic.
"You do the pancakes," he said. "I'll make the eggs."
It just kept getting better and better. We were the ultimate dream couple. We could battle demons and make great breakfasts without missing a beat. If this was how being happy felt, I could definitely get used to it.
See where I'm going with this? I should have known it was too good to be true.
The faintest light of approaching dawn filtered down through the towering trees as we approached the clearing less than twenty feet ahead. I heard the rustle of leaves off to my left and the faint hooting of an owl somewhere in the distance. We were almost home.
The happy ending my ancestors had been searching for was within reach. Next to me Luke reached for my hand and I felt the golden circle close around us. This was it. This was my path. This was my destiny.
The brush was badly overgrown. I followed him single-file into the clearing. The set of his shoulders changed and the air around him went still in a way that almost buckled his knees.
He turned to face me. Our gazes locked. He didn't need to say the words because I felt them deep inside my bones.
Sugar Maple was gone.