Authors: Stacey Kennedy
Tags: #Witch's Brew#1
The Cat’s Meow
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Stacey Kennedy. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
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Cover design by Pj Edwards
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Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Pet Cemetery, Hummer.
For Kerry Vail, who believed in Libby and Kale and wanted the best for them, and for always believing in me.
Fur. Guts. Blood.
I scrunched my nose as my spaghetti dinner threatened to make an appearance at the sight of the slaughtered black cat on the forest floor. The kitty’s stomach gaped open and its intestines spilled out along the ground, as well as other grossness I’d rather avoid.
Not how I intended to spend my night, or any night for that matter. I turned to my fellow witch, Peyton. “Of all the hobbies to take up, taxidermy isn’t something I’d peg you as interested in.”
Flicking her blond bouncy curls over her shoulders, her baby-blue eyes narrowed on me. “This isn’t a time for jokes, Libby.”
Not as if her wrath had the desired effect; an angry Peyton looked as deadly as a growling puppy. She placed her hands on her tiny waist, pursing her lips. Too bad, I only paid attention to her cute knee-length black baby-doll dress, a tad jealous I didn’t own it. “Look at the poor kitty. Its guts are hanging out.”
“Yes, I see that.” Even if I wanted to pretend I didn’t. In fact, I would have preferred to enjoy the dark night surrounded by the rich earthy scents of the large trees hugging the trail. Sadly, that wasn’t an option. Once again, I glanced down at the disgustingness at my feet.
From all viewpoints, this appeared to be an open-and-shut case. “Looks like a wild animal wanted a snack.” Evil warlocks, I’m there. A dead cat was not a priority. “You better have a good reason for bringing me here.”
“An animal didn’t do this. There’s magic present.” She fiddled with the hem of her incredibly cute dress. “Besides, it’s the fourth gutted cat in three days.”
I paused at that bit of weirdness. I had dealt with at least a hundred cases in the five years I’d worked for Charleston’s coven, and out of all of those cases, none had ever involved animal murders. Four cats in three days was staggering.
I sighed, beginning to understand my presence there. “Four, really?”
Worry darkened Peyton’s eyes. “Each death the coven has sent me to, there has been this weird magical presence.” She rubbed her arms, shaking her head at the dead cat. “It’s peculiar.”
The leaves beneath the cat’s body were soaked in enough blood that I assumed it had been killed at this location. To my disappointment, even with that knowledge no answers materialized, and actually more questions were raised. “If this is the fourth cat, why is this only coming up now?”
“At first, it didn’t seem malicious and no human deaths resulted from the dead cats.” She shrugged. “Now, with this many felines dead, it could be an animal ritual.”
“Possibly,” I agreed. Charleston’s last case of a warlock tapping into dark magic happened only a week ago, but it got cleaned up quickly enough and the warlock received his death sentence. Compared to that, a few dead cats wouldn’t concern the coven, but then why did it now?
Furthermore, why hadn’t the coven contacted me? Peyton held the ability to sense magic’s presence. I am an Enchantress,
a witch gifted to work spells. We both held an important role in the coven, as did every witch and warlock who worked for them. Peyton located the scenes tainted with magic, I found the offenders, other witches assisted with different gifts, and warlocks killed the guilty.
If the coven had been as concerned as Peyton seemed now, I would’ve been brought into this a lot sooner. They would’ve requested I take on the case to search around and see if I discovered a reason behind it. That I knew with total certainty. The coven didn’t take chances on these things. The longer we waited to act on someone who harbored evil, the higher the chance they would succeed.
“The coven clearly wasn’t worried about the past deaths, so what’s happened to change their opinion?”
Peyton nibbled her lip. “They didn’t think much of it before because the level of magic isn’t dangerous. Strong, yes, but not dark.” She continued to rub her arms, shifting uneasily on her feet. “I’ve been watching over the matter to see if things worsened, but the only change has been more deaths.” She tilted her head. “One cat can be shoved aside as maybe someone who practiced their magic. This many deaths can’t be overlooked.”
The coven obviously requested that she see if the levels of magic had increased. Yet, why did Peyton call me and not the coven? An order had never come to me in this manner before and it made me curious. “Who told you to ask me to come here?”
“Glenda.” Peyton grimaced at Fluffy. “There’s a reason behind this. The Goddess is warning me.”
I refused to look at the mangy beast and attempted not to inhale the odor of decomposed flesh beneath me. Instead, I scanned the area. Within the dark night the old trees around me created shadows. The stars above twinkled in the sky and the damp grass below my boots glistened with dew. A typical night for me—I hadn’t seen a sunny day in the five years I’d been employed by the coven.
Danger happened during the witching hours of midnight to three in the morning because magic held the most strength then, so the coven stuck to the night shift. I’d become so accustomed to it I never missed the days I had lounged in the sun anymore.
On a sigh, I continued to ponder the fluffball at my feet. If magic were present, clearly someone had either spilled its blood as an offering to dark magic, or simply practiced a spell to kill. Either one sucked, at best. Resolved I’d get nowhere in discovering the truth right now, I moved along. “What does the coven expect me to do about this?”
Peyton rolled her eyes, giving her customary flippant look. “Find who’s responsible.”
I snorted. “What am I, a pet detective?”
“Yes, Lib, that’s exactly what you are.” She frowned. “Must you be a smart-ass all the time?”
I grinned. “I must.”
She ignored my dig—as usual—and carried on in a hurried tone. “Stop stalling, conjure a spell, and fix it.”
“You know I can’t—it’s dead.” I glanced at the cat and groaned. Yes, still
dead. “The coven would wring my neck if I brought it back to life.”
The role as Enchantress with the coven came with one rule—never step out of
boundaries. Resurrecting a dead cat hit the no-no list. My job within the coven: stop those who went against the coven rules to protect human lives, since the last thing we needed was the human population going out on a witch hunt. The coven existed to keep witches in Charleston safe. That one law ruled my life.
Peyton’s shoulders slumped and her eyes saddened. “Okay, okay. I know we can’t, but it’s so sad, the poor little kitty.”
My best friend at her finest: her soft heart in this cold magical world had never changed over the years. Yet Peyton’s innocence had once been damaged by loss and pain over the death of her mother, and ever since she’d been emotionally fragile. Three years ago, I’d seen her go into a deep depression at the death of a teenager, and it took her a good month to recover. I would give my life to ensure she stayed away from anything that could damage her again.
Especially now, seeing the vulnerability in her eyes, confirming that any death still rattled her. “Who’d do this?”
“Someone after a higher power.”
At the low velvety voice, I glanced over my shoulder, scowling at the approaching warlock. The coven’s muscle came after I found the offenders. I preferred no help, so his presence at
scene awakened my inner bitch.
Not to say I didn’t realize their worth to the coven. I might be brave, but I couldn’t kill, and warlocks held that desire in spades. However, his presence this early in an investigation meant this matter leaned to the serious side. The coven wouldn’t have called him in if something wasn’t up. More to the point, called in a warlock I’d never seen before. Two strikes against
coven on the “what the hell are they doing” meter.
“Go away.” I pushed the bitch to the forefront of my voice and snapped, “I’ll call the coven when I’m done.”
“I’m looking for Libby Jenkins.” The warlock stopped a foot away by a fallen tree, ignoring my demand, and in the same low voice with a slight Southern accent said, “Would that be you?”
I grunted, not at all impressed with the confidence he exuded, either in his voice or his powerful posture. Doubly annoyed, in fact. “I’m Libby. You are?”
As he took a step into the moonlight, the shadows of the night left his face. He appeared relaxed, shoulders back in his black T-shirt, chest out, and chin lifted. Typical
I am a fine specimen of man
His eyes were a shadowy gray and his face was defined by hard angles, from his high cheekbones and sculpted jaw to lips that seemed carved out for a serious smooch. His chocolate-brown hair reached the bottom of his ears, all scruffy and sexy-like, and he filled out his pair of faded blue jeans well enough.
impressed me either. Warlocks tended to be
Maybe to some I’d be easy on the eyes with my small frame, longish light-brown hair with honey and auburn highlights, and my dark-blue eyes. But it came from the magic, not a natural gift. Besides, witches aged the same as the humans we lived among. We just tended to do it a little more gracefully, and typically lived to be over a hundred.
The warlock’s focus swept over Peyton as if he took a measure of her before his firm gaze returned to me. “I’m Kale Griffin. The coven requested I join you on this case.”
Great. What serious danger had I landed myself in? “They what?”
Sure, Kale looked nice, but I didn’t want—or need—his help. The idea of being teamed up with a warlock interested me about as much as if someone pulled out my hair strand by strand. Besides, never in all the years I had worked for the coven did they team me up with a warlock, which only made me wonder why they’d done it. I thought back over the past cases I’d worked. Perhaps some cases took longer to solve than others, but why in the hell had they sent me a babysitter now?
With more confidence than I felt, I returned his look of challenge, and had the urge to take my clenched fist and send it into his flat stomach. “Go tell the coven I refuse your help.”
His eyebrow arched, an emotion close to amusement crossing his face. “The choice isn’t yours. I’ve been instructed to take over this investigation.”
My already hot blood took a nosedive. I might abide by the coven’s orders, even if I had no idea what they were up to now, but it didn’t mean I had to like it. This brute needed to get one thing straight. “
are taking over the investigation.”
He smirked. “Is that so?”
Damn the warlock for making the smile look sexy and damn me for noticing it. “Yes, that’s so.” Warlocks could kick some serious ass, and the coven needed them, but they were so haughty and always the ones to grab the glory.
Of course, I might be—scratch that,
—the only witch in Charleston to dislike warlocks, since most swooned over them. Well, the witches did. Non-magical folk lusted after their hot butts, never knowing what they were up against.
After the Salem incident, we magical folk kept our powers to ourselves and hid from the humans for good reason; a repeat in history wasn’t on anyone’s to-do list. Especially not mine.
Inhaling to shed my frustrations, I fought my gag reflex as I drew in the cat’s putrid scent. “Know this, if you get in my way I’ll hex you.” I poked his chest and met taut muscle.
With indifference, Kale watched my finger hit his hard, delicious pectorals. Seeing that my action unsettled me more than him, I withdrew my finger and shoved my hands into the pockets of my skinny jeans. His head slowly lifted, and when his eyes settled on me, they had darkened. “Warning noted.”
The weight of his smooth voice melted across me like a warm bath. I bit my lip and refocused my thoughts to my angry position. “Good.” My voice sounded harsh, pleasing me since on the inside I’d become gooey. “As long as we understand each other we won’t have a problem.”
Peyton stifled a laugh by coughing. No doubt she’d taken notice of Kale’s
too. “I guess I should be…uh…going home to Jace. Call me…ah…” Her eyes twinkled as she fought her smile and turned. “Just call me later, Lib.”
I snorted softly, only imagining what she’d go home and tell her boyfriend, Jace, about this moment. I could do without him having the knowledge that I tried to dominate a warlock and failed miserably, even if Jace was the only warlock in existence I tolerated. “Let me know if the coven contacts you again,” I called after her.
“Will do.” She waved a good-bye, striding down the trail, and her laughter followed her out of the forest.
I watched Peyton until she faded into the shadows before I finally looked at Kale. He regarded me with such a probing look it became all the more irritating. “Before we start, I need to give the cat a proper burial. Which I’m sure you won’t understand since you’re a big ol’ bad warlock.”
His gray eyes sharpened, voice equally so. “You appear to have misconceived notions about warlocks.”
“Sure I do,” I muttered, grabbing the cat by the tail and ignoring the guts flapping in the wind. Without a glance back, I headed out of the forest.
The trees passed by in a blur as I hightailed it out of there. The sooner I got to my SUV, the sooner I could stop pretending I wasn’t holding a dead cat. Thoughts of Kale’s arrival worried me and I didn’t like it. Had the coven hired a new warlock without my hearing of it? While that wouldn’t surprise me, since I tended to stay away from the coven unless I
to be there, it did shock me they didn’t throw a welcoming party for him. Moreover, why would they send a
warlock to me, and not one experienced in Charleston?
If the matter were serious, which I suspected it was if he was there, then why were they taking chances? It didn’t add up. This, I’d get to the bottom of. For now, I focused on getting rid of the stinky cat.
Kale followed behind me for only a moment before he easily caught up with his lengthy strides. When he settled in next to me, he slowed down since my five-foot-five frame couldn’t match his six-foot-three, and he stayed silent.
Fine by me.
At the edge of the forest, I spotted my black Benz parked on the grass near the entrance. My SUV wasn’t anything sporty like I’d prefer, but my M-Class sport utility vehicle made sense. The SUV was safe, big, and powerful. All good things to have in my line of work. Besides, it also had a big-ass hatchback to put things like dead cats in.