Christmas Witch List: A Westwick Witches Cozy Mystery - Colleen Cross - ebook
Opis

About the Author Colleen Cross writes exciting, intelligent thrillers and engrossing mysteries that grip you from the very first page. She took her very own "Exit Strategy" from the corporate world into the book world several years ago to indulge her bookworm wannabe writer self.  She lives with her family on the West Coast. When she's not writing, she loves to run and explore with her rescue dog, Jaeger, who reminds her daily that life's too short to not follow your dreams--or a squirrel or two. Her books have been translated into multiple languages with more to come.  Visit her website at www.colleencross.com and sign up for her twice-yearly private newsletter and be the first to hear about new releases and exclusive subscriber-only offers.  Connect with her on social media: Facebook at www.facebook.com/colleenxcross Twitter: @colleenxcross or find her on Goodreads

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS
czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi
Windows
10
Windows
Phone

Liczba stron: 278

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS

Christmas Witch List

A Westwick Witches Cozy Mystery

Colleen Cross

Slice Mystery and Thriller books

Christmas Witch List

Copyright © 2018 by Colleen Cross, Colleen Tompkins

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written consent of the copyright holder and publisher. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law.

Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Categories: cozy mysteries, witches wizards, paranormal cozy humorous mystery, cosy mystery, funny mysteries, female lead sleuth women amateur sleuths private investigators, cozy mystery books, suspense thrillers and mysteries best sellers, female detectives

eBook ISBN: 978-1-988272-16-0

Published by Slice Publishing

Created with Vellum

Contents

Also by Colleen Cross

Christmas Witch List

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Afterword

About the Author

Also by Colleen Cross

Also by Colleen Cross

Westwick Witches Cozy Mysteries

Witch You Well

Rags to Witches

Witch and Famous

Christmas Witch List

Westwick Witches Magical Mystery Box set (books 1-3)

Katerina Carter Color of Money Mysteries

Red Handed

Blue Moon

Katerina Carter Fraud Legal Thrillers

Exit Strategy

Game Theory

Blowout

Greenwash

Katerina Carter Fraud Thrillers (books 1-3)

Nonfiction

Anatomy of a Ponzi Scheme

Get the latest list at www.colleencross.com

Christmas Witch List

Eat, Drink, and Be Poisoned…

Cendrine West is looking forward to a cozy Christmas Eve dinner when a blizzard blows in, bringing with it a flurry of unexpected guests. But tipsy witches and mischievous magic spell a recipe for disaster, especially when a guest turns up dead. Cen’s sleuthing exposes a Santa-sized sack of trouble and everyone’s a suspect, even her hunky sheriff boyfriend.

Is it a deadly accident by a drunken witch…or something more sinister? Murder is on the menu and only magic can uncover the truth in this witchy, wacky Yuletide thrill ride!

Witch cozy mysteries are for fans of fun, cozy mystery books with a paranormal twist! If you haven’t already read the first 3 books in the series, Witch You Well, Rags to Witches, and Witch and Famous, get them now in a specially priced Westwick Witches Magical Mystery box set.

“Five stars for my favorite combo of magic, mistletoe, and murder!”

"...A bewitching, supernatural treat. If you love witch cozy mysteries you'll love Cendrine West and her wacky witch family!"

"...One of the best paranormal mystery books I've read in awhile. An imaginative detective mystery that combines the best mysteries of an Agatha Christie whodunit novel with a Harry Potter fantasy book, this is magic for grown-ups!" 

Sign up for Colleen's new release notifications at http://eepurl.com/bkYx01 or visit http://www.colleencross.com

It’s Christmas Eve with freshly fallen snow,

Witches kiss loved ones under mistletoe,

The Wests are hosting some unusual guests,

At least one of whom is on a romantic quest.

The witches are up to old tricks again,

Always looking for witch rules to bend,

Until something makes their stomachs churn,

That’s when things take a surprising turn.

The witches imbibe too much food and drink,

Soon it is clear they are all on the brink,

Of magic and mayhem out of control,

That threatens to send them to the North Pole.

Despite all of the holiday good cheer,

One of their guests will pay very dear.

Meanwhile, a blizzard blows outside,

Buckle up for a thrilling Yuletide ride!

1

Christmas is my favorite time of year. This year was extra special because it was my first holiday with Tyler. Just the thought of my tall, hunky boyfriend brought a smile to my lips. I couldn’t wait to see him. He was still at work and running a bit late because of the massive snowstorm that had enveloped Westwick Corners and cut us off from the rest of the world.

His delayed arrival just made my anticipation sweeter. My pulse quickened as I imagined kissing him, his strong arms wrapped around my waist. Our first Christmas Eve would be a holiday we would both remember and cherish for a long, long time.

As Westwick Corners sheriff and only law enforcement, Tyler Gates was always busy. Mostly because of Aunt Pearl, who repeatedly broke the law and generally made life rough for Tyler. Her number one priority was to drive him out of town as she had done to all of the sheriffs before him.

I had expected tonight to be different, partly because Aunt Pearl wasn’t out stirring up trouble for him in the snowstorm. Instead, she had hung out around the house all day with the rest of my family. That was unusual for my anti-social aunt. But the strangest thing of all was that it was Aunt Pearl who had invited Tyler to join us for our traditional family Christmas Eve dinner in the first place.

I had planned our holiday festivities for weeks, down to the tiniest detail. Christmas was the only time of year where we closed our family business and took a break from our busy lives.

Being a witch doesn’t come with a paycheck, so we all needed jobs to make ends meet. We had converted our family mansion into the Westwick Corners Inn, a cozy boutique bed and breakfast. Also on our property was a small estate winery and the Witching Post Bar and Grill, a pub that catered mostly to locals.

Our family home had been repurposed out of necessity because there weren’t any viable jobs in our almost-ghost town. All that changed for one short week at Christmastime when we closed and repurposed the inn as our family gathering place once more.

Aside from my duties at the inn, I also ran a newspaper, the Westwick Corners Weekly. I had just published the Christmas edition and even had my articles written for the following week. Nothing much ever happened in tiny Westwick Corners, so I could afford to shut down my one-woman newspaper operation over the holidays.

I had looked forward to Christmas Eve dinner for weeks and wanted it to be the start of many holidays to remember with Tyler.

Yet it wasn’t working out that way at all.

I had the white Christmas I had been dreaming of, but the winter wonderland outside had morphed into a snowy prison. There were already several feet of snow on the ground and more fell by the hour. All that would be perfect if Tyler and I were snuggled in front of a roaring fire while snowflakes blanketed the grounds outside.

Instead, Tyler was stuck out on the highway helping stranded motorists. I shut my eyes and sighed. If only the storm had held off for one more day. I shivered at the thought of Tyler possibly being stranded. The roads were treacherous. It was already dark outside, and I hadn’t heard from him all day. I worried that he wouldn’t make it in time for Christmas Eve dinner.

Normally I loved the muffled quiet that came with a thick blanket of snow, but tonight was different. The winter storm had blown in quickly and unexpectedly this morning with strong winds and snowdrifts high enough to bury cars. If anything the snow fell harder now. I closed my eyes and imagined Tyler and me finally together and standing under the mistletoe. Now my anticipation was tinged with worry.

I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and called him. It seemed like forever before he answered.

“Cen…I meant to call you.” Tyler’s deep voice sounded distant and staticky. “I just finished dealing with a stalled semi-trailer. The road’s almost impassable now, but I’m on my way. I’ll be there soon. Miss you.”

“I miss you too.” Just imagining Tyler’s warm brown eyes made me smile. We saw each other daily. In fact, it was hard not to constantly run into each other in our tiny little almost-ghost town. Lately though, we had both been working long hours so that we could enjoy some uninterrupted time off together. “I’ll tell Mom to hold off dinner, just get here as fast as you can.”

I sighed as I disconnected. Then I remembered the other wrench in my plans.

Merlinda.

Aunt Pearl’s star student hadn’t gone home to Vanuatu for the holidays as planned. The flight back to her South Pacific tropical paradise had been canceled due to the snowstorm. Now, she was spending Christmas with us.

Merlinda was an extremely powerful witch-in-training. Everything came to her effortlessly. Basically, she was everything that I wasn’t. It wasn’t that I didn’t like her. In fact, I barely knew her at all. She was always immersed in a spell book and mostly kept to herself. I only saw her in passing because she boarded at our family’s inn while Pearl’s Charm School was in session.

Now Merlinda was part of our special family time and I didn’t like it one bit. I almost felt like a stranger in my own home with her here. Aunt Pearl doted on her pet student and basically ignored the rest of us. Even Mom and Aunt Amber seemed completely charmed by Merlinda. Next to her, I felt incompetent as a witch. I also felt invisible.

Merlinda’s spellcasting rivaled the best in the business, and she wasn’t even finished with school yet. She was gorgeous too. Her dark exotic looks turned heads on the few occasions when she ventured into town. She never socialized, but that made her all the more alluring and mysterious to just about every male in Westwick Corners. They were captivated by both her beauty and her charming South Pacific accent.

I should have been helping Mom and Aunt Amber in the kitchen with dinner but steered clear because they were sure to notice my sour mood. Instead, I glanced around the living room, hoping that the festive decor would lift my spirits.

For witches, we were pretty traditional when it came to Christmas Eve. The living room was fully decorated with lights, decorations, and tinsel for the season. A seven-foot Christmas tree stood on one side of the fireplace, and Mom’s handcrafted Christmas stockings hung from the mantle. There was a hand-beaded felt stocking for each of us: Mom, Aunt Amber, Aunt Pearl, and me. And one extra that Mom had sewn for Merlinda this morning after Merlinda found out about her canceled flight home.

Having Merlinda here just ruined everything. I felt guilty thinking that way, but I also had a feeling that her presence would bring out a lot of bad in Aunt Pearl. And, I had to admit, I was more than a little jealous of Merlinda. Witchcraft and everything else just came to her so effortlessly.

As if on cue Merlinda and Aunt Pearl burst through the front door, laughing as they kicked off their snow-covered boots in the hallway.

That was the other thing that annoyed me. My cranky, fire-setting aunt was normally a loner and a troublemaker, keen on stirring up trouble and driving sheriffs like Tyler out of town. Yet in Merlinda’s presence, she had morphed into a giggling do-gooder intent on spreading white magic far and wide. With Merlinda, of course, not with me.

Aunt Pearl and Merlinda spilled out into the living room, seeming not to notice me as they laughed about an advanced spell that was far beyond my abilities. Heck, I couldn’t even understand what they were talking about. Within minutes they were spellcasting holograms of elves and reindeer, trying to outdo each other.

Aunt Pearl had even dressed for dinner. She wore a green velvet pantsuit, probably chosen for practical reasons. It looked festive and dressy while still allowing unrestricted movement for her so-called athletic pursuits. What she called athletic pursuits I considered arson, as did most of the people in town who kept up a fire watch, or rather a Pearl watch, during better weather. Hopefully Christmas Eve dinner and the storm outside provided enough distraction to keep her out of trouble for one night.

Tyler, as Westwick Corners’ only law enforcement, was already run off his feet with today’s snow-related events. He didn’t need to spend Christmas Eve on an Aunt Pearl crime watch. That is, once he finally made it here.

My thoughts were interrupted by the jingle of Aunt Pearl’s charm bracelet as she waved her arm with a flourish.

Merlinda laughed, exposing a brilliant white smile.

Any jealousy I felt was solely my fault. Merlinda couldn’t help being beautiful. And I had only myself to blame for not studying my craft more. No wonder Aunt Pearl was so frustrated with me.

Witchcraft was practically the West family business. It didn’t pay all that well, though. In fact, it didn’t pay at all. That was the reason we each had jobs running the inn. Paying guests brought in much-needed cash. Operating an inn wasn’t quite as glamorous as witchcraft, but at least it paid the bills.

“Too bad Earl couldn’t make it.” It was vindictive of me, but I couldn’t help myself. Merlinda couldn’t stand Earl. He was either Aunt Pearl’s most ardent admirer or her secret boyfriend, depending on who you talked to. He was also competition for Merlinda.

Earl was a sweet, harmless seventyish local, a retired farmer and widower who had recently sold his farm to move into town. I had no idea what an easygoing man like Earl saw in Aunt Pearl or why Merlinda despised him so much. They both constantly vied for Aunt Pearl’s attention. Merlinda’s jealousy of Earl was the only crack I saw in her otherwise perfect demeanor.

“Earl’s not coming,” Aunt Pearl snapped. “The storm’s too much for him.”

“What a shame.” That only reminded me that Tyler was still out in the elements dealing with the snowstorm. As the weather outside worsened, so did my hopes of a romantic, intimate Christmas.

Aunt Pearl scowled. “Cen, pay attention! You might learn something. You’d be a better witch by now if you focused like Merlinda does.”

Merlinda whispered something in a low voice as she swept her long black hair over her shoulder.

The light in the room brightened like a sunny day. As it did, the sound of lapping water turned into crashing waves. A three-foot crystal glass ball floated several inches above Merlinda’s outstretched hands, pulsating with energy and light. Inside was a kaleidoscopic view of a tropical island complete with palm trees, cabanas, and a swim-up bar.

A ukulele strummed softly.

A tropical paradise under glass, complete with a theme song.

How could I compete with that?

Merlinda was at least as good a witch as Aunt Pearl. Or maybe even better. I had never even considered that possible because until now, Aunt Pearl was the most powerful witch I had ever seen.

Not anymore.

Needless to say, Merlinda’s abilities were beyond the realm of my talents by a long shot. I couldn’t even conjure up a glass of water if my life depended on it, let alone create a seaside paradise in the palm of my hand. I fake-smiled, hoping that the resentment burning inside me didn’t show.

“Bravo!” Aunt Amber clapped as she stood in the dining room doorway, an amazed expression on her face. “That’s the best version of that spell I’ve ever seen.”

No wonder Aunt Pearl adored Merlinda.

She was the perfect student and protégé. Nice to a fault, eager to learn, and from what I could see, she pretty much exceled at everything. Merlinda didn’t stand up to Aunt Pearl’s tantrums or ever question her pyromaniac pranks either. In Aunt Pearl’s eyes, she was perfect.

No wonder Merlinda was the teacher’s pet. I couldn’t blame Aunt Pearl. I, on the other hand, was a Pearl’s Charm School dropout. I never really cared about my spellcasting prowess before because sorcery wasn’t my chosen career path.

Yet the path was chosen for me nonetheless. Even if I chose not to use witchcraft on a daily basis it still remained part of my identity as a witch. Aunt Pearl says it’s my destiny whether I like it or not. It’s my duty to cast spells, cook up potions and perform other witchy duties as required. It’s that last item in the job description that nags at me. Why can’t I just exercise my own free will and live an ordinary life?

Because no matter how hard I try, I just don’t seem to possess the family talents. Mom excels at herbal potions and magical amulets while Aunt Amber is an expert spellcaster. Aunt Pearl is an all-around master of all witchcraft disciplines, so she gravitates to teaching. She expects to turn out expert witches at Pearl’s Charm School. Anything less is unacceptable.

I, on the other hand, have mastered none of those things. Partly because I’m risk-averse (definitely not ideal in a witch) and partly because I lack discipline. I’m better at fact-finding, logic, and journalistic endeavors; something Aunt Pearl calls my failed backup plan. She never lets me live it down.

“See how it’s done, Cendrine?” Aunt Pearl only used my full name when she was either mad or annoyed with me. She clasped her hands together as she nodded toward her star student. “You can’t expect success unless you put in the work. Right, Merlinda?”

Merlinda flushed at the mention of her name. Or maybe she was embarrassed by Aunt Pearl’s criticism of me.

“That’s my house next to the coral reef.” Merlinda pointed to a palatial estate on a cliff that jutted above a turquoise blue sea. “I love Westwick Corners, but I really wanted to be back home for the holidays. Seeing Vanuatu under glass is the next best thing to being there, I guess.”

Waves lapped against the glass of the tropical snow globe as if in agreement.

“Wow, such detail. Your globe is beautiful.” Aunt Amber, eggnog in hand, inched closer to Merlinda’s tropical snow globe to get a better look. “Hey, is that your island?”

Merlinda nodded. “It is. Vanuatu in real time.”

“That’s amazing.” Aunt Amber grimaced as she swallowed a mouthful of eggnog. “Something about this eggnog is a bit off. I must have added too much nutmeg.”

We all stared at the globe, mesmerized by the tiny people who moved around the large beachfront estate. Miniature cars drove by on the nearby road. A gray-haired couple sat hand-in-hand on the large terrace while several men tended the large formal gardens that surrounded the mansion. It reminded me of a museum diorama except that everyone was moving. It was a reality show where the stars had no idea they were being watched.

Creepy when you thought about it.

“I can almost feel the tropical breeze. Much better than Google Earth.” Aunt Amber tucked a lock of red hair behind her ear as she gazed at the crystal globe. “You sure are talented, Merlinda.”

“I was just lucky with the spell this time.” Merlinda shrugged.

“How come it’s daylight inside the globe? It’s already dark outside.” I was secretly pleased to point out her mistake.

“That’s because it’s already tomorrow there,” Merlinda said. “Vanuatu is about a thousand miles east of Australia.”

“Oh.” I wished I had kept my mouth shut. I felt dumb for not realizing the time zone difference.

“Which makes your Vanuatu globe even more amazing. It’s your supernatural skills, not luck.” Aunt Pearl beamed at Merlinda. Then she turned to me, a mischievous glint in her eye. “Cendrine, why don’t you give it a try?”

Aunt Pearl knew very well that I wasn’t capable of anything close to that. It was a trap to embarrass me so I changed the subject. “Who are those people?”

“Those are my parents on the terrace,” Merlinda said. “The rest are the household staff.”

“Try it yourself, Cendrine.” Aunt Pearl fake-smiled at me. “Practice for the games.”

Christmas Eve witchcraft games were a West family tradition, but I was mostly an observer. I had done a few spells of my own, but only in the presence of my family. I wasn’t about to spell cast in front of Merlinda. Aside from the intense pressure to perform, I was certain that Aunt Pearl’s request came with strings attached.

“I’d rather not. Let’s just have a normal Christmas Eve,” I protested. “Without witchcraft.”

“But we always do spells,” Aunt Amber protested. “Christmas Eve without spellcraft is like chocolate cake without icing. How else will we pass the time?”

“Other families manage just fine.” I scanned the room for Mom to rescue me, but she was still busy in the kitchen.

“Well, we aren’t exactly a typical family now, are we?” Aunt Amber drained the rest of her eggnog and placed her empty glass on the coffee table. “C’mon Cen, give it a shot.”

I shook my head. “You both promised that we would act normal tonight.”

“Normal?” Aunt Pearl asked. “You mean as in a non-witch family? Honestly, Cendrine, you are so ungrateful. You take your witch talents totally for granted. You just don’t know how lucky you are.”

She shook her head slowly. “Tonight is just like any other West family Christmas Eve. Merlinda is practically family. She has generously shared a snapshot of a Vanuatu Christmas with us. Why can’t you share something too?”

Now she had really put me on the spot. Aunt Pearl was definitely up to something, but what? “Merlinda’s already done a great job. What could I possibly add?”

Aunt Pearl scratched her chin. “You could show Merlinda what a real Westwick Corners Christmas is like.”

I shrugged. “It’s exactly like this.”

“You know what I mean,” Aunt Pearl said. “With all the bells and whistles.”

I didn’t know but got the sense that she was about to show me. I glanced at Merlinda. She remained fixated on Aunt Pearl, adoration in her eyes.

Their mutual love fest was super annoying.

“Wow, Vanuatu sure is beautiful. Maybe we should plan a family vacation there,” Aunt Amber said. “You must be so disappointed to have missed your flight home.”

Merlinda gazed wistfully outside at the large snowflakes that dropped like invading paratroopers. “It’s okay. Now I get to experience a white Christmas. It never snows in Vanuatu, so it never really felt like Christmas.”

She flicked her wrist and the globe floated toward the Christmas tree. It hovered briefly before nestling into the branches about halfway up the tree.

I scanned the living room. Mini snowdrifts adorned the square windowpanes and framed the winter wonderland outside. Our majestic Christmas tree was laden with decorations and crowned with a twinkling star.

And now it was also adorned with Merlinda’s magical crystal globe. Her Christmas takeover was complete.

The yuletide scene was straight out of a Hallmark card. But in the West family emotions always simmered just below the surface, in particular between Aunt Pearl and Aunt Amber. Our dinners usually devolved to bickering before dessert, but with Merlinda here maybe they would put aside their sibling rivalry. They seemed to be making an effort for the moment at least.

I refocused on Merlinda. For the first time, I felt a little sorry for her, away from her own family at this time of year. “I know it’s nothing like what you’re used to, but Westwick Corners is quite nice at Christmas, even with a snowstorm.”

“We can make it even better,” Aunt Pearl said. “We’ll recreate Cen’s childhood Christmas so you can experience it first-hand!”

“What a great idea,” Aunt Amber said. “Total immersion. Bring it on!”

I opened my mouth to speak but nothing came out. Instead, a shock of frigid air invaded my lungs and took my breath away. I coughed so hard I fell backward. I pushed myself back up into a sitting position only to find myself no longer in the living room. What I had mistaken for the overstuffed armchair was actually powdery snow. In fact, I was up to my neck in it. Somehow, I was outside in sub-zero weather half-buried in a snowdrift.

Alone.

I shivered and rubbed my already-numb arms.

If Merlinda was supposed to be experiencing my Christmas, she was strangely absent. In fact, everyone was. Maybe the spell had gone wrong. Or maybe everyone was busy re-living my childhood Christmas except for me.

The low clouds made everything feel close and eerie. There were no recognizable buildings or landmarks that I could see. Just snowdrifts everywhere.

Something else was amiss. It was still daylight. Either it was a few hours earlier in the afternoon, which would have involved a tricky time travel spell, or I was trapped inside a time-delayed winter snow globe. I guessed the latter, because I knew Mom would have a fit if Aunt Pearl had sent me back in time on Christmas Eve.

But if the others were outside the globe, I couldn’t see or hear them. I thought I felt their presence, but maybe that was just wishful thinking. I felt like a zoo animal, on display under glass in someone else’s show. Except the snow was very real. It swirled down around me, the wet flakes coating my bare arms. I shivered and wondered if this was another of Aunt Pearl’s tricks designed to keep Tyler and me apart.

What if he arrived only to find me gone? All kinds of scenarios flashed through my mind. What if Aunt Pearl sent him out in the storm to search for me?

My heart sank with the realization that Aunt Pearl was up to her old tricks again, thwarting any chance of a cozy, romantic yuletide. She despised Tyler because whenever she broke the law, he fined her. He never let her get away with anything. Her grudge against him was now directed at me, in the hopes that I would stop dating him.

Well, I wasn’t giving up that easily.

But for the moment, at least, I was trapped. Locked out of my world at the whim of ornery Aunt Pearl, who acted more like a terrible two-year-old than the seventy-two-year-old she actually was.

I crossed my arms and shivered from the cold. My sleeveless dress was hardly suited to the frigid temperatures and the worsening snowfall. Within minutes I would be hypothermic. Surely Aunt Pearl would rescue me before frostbite set in.

But in case she didn’t, I needed a backup plan. I scanned my surroundings, noting an old-fashioned sleigh nearby that I hadn’t noticed before. I approached it from the rear and noted that the sleigh resembled a horse-drawn carriage, only much larger. The open carriage was piled high with boxes of cargo. The boxes obscured my view and left nowhere to sit or stand.

I trudged through the thigh-deep snow and circled partway around the sleigh before a gust of wind almost knocked me over. I ducked underneath the rear of the carriage for shelter. Snow seeped into my ankle-length boots, and my bare legs grew so numb from the cold that I could barely feel them.

The wind howled and grew stronger. What little shelter the sleigh provided was offset by my skin contact with the snow. Now my butt was numb too. Staying here meant freezing to death. I crawled back out and trudged toward the front of the sleigh.

My hopes soared when I realized I wasn’t alone. They just as quickly faded when I saw the backside of a large man seated in the front seat.

As I got closer, recognition set in.

Santa Claus.

Oh, dear.

No, reindeer.

Eight of them and me.

I laughed out loud at the fake reindeer. The oversized lawn ornaments were signature Aunt Pearl. But if this was Aunt Pearl’s magic, then why was I slowly freezing to death? She was incredibly thoughtless sometimes, but she wasn’t cruel.

She also would have rescued me by now, especially with Aunt Amber in the room. Something had gone terribly wrong. Were the two of them so bewitched by Merlinda that they had forgotten all about me?

I leaned against the sleigh and formulated a plan. At least the sleigh provided a little shelter from the wind. I ducked back under the sleigh again, but the gap between the carriage bottom and the growing snowdrift had narrowed to only about eight inches.

This wasn’t going to work. I stood helplessly as I wondered what to do. The snow was falling so hard around me that I would be buried before long.

I had to get out of this mess.

“Help!” I was close to tears.

Nobody answered. I sighed in defeat. It was almost dinnertime on Christmas Eve, and instead of relaxing with a drink by the fire, I was freezing to death inside a conjured-up Christmas snow globe.

I had to move while I still had control of my half-frozen legs. I lurched forward like a drunk, yet I hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol. Without my bearings, I had no idea which way to go, so I headed in the same direction the sleigh pointed.

The ground beneath me rumbled.

I jumped as something jingled behind me. I turned and froze.

The reindeer.

They came to life in a flash. They snorted and pawed at the snowy ground like racehorses at the starting gate. They strained at the harness, pulling the sleigh with them. I was about to be run over by eight rambunctious reindeer, and there was no one to help me.

I stumbled through the snow, frantically trying to escape the unruly herd. But every time I changed direction, the reindeer did too.

The ground shook even harder, and as I teetered to keep my balance, my elbow hit something.

Glass.

I pounded on it with all my might. “Let me out!”

2

“See, Cen? That’s how you do a proper transport spell.” Aunt Pearl gazed adoringly at Merlinda, completely oblivious to my hypothermia and quite possibly, frostbite.

Merlinda beamed.

“I could have frozen to death.” My memory of the snow globe breakout was hazy. All I remembered was stampeding reindeer and shattered glass. My almost-frostbitten skin was very real, though.

My fingers burned as I gripped my wineglass. I had poured myself a generous glass of merlot before seating myself in the oversized armchair by the fireplace. I gulped it down as I slowly defrosted by the roaring fire. I still had no idea how I had escaped my snow globe prison. Or, for that matter, got back inside the house.

“Some people learn better by doing. Like you, Cendrine.” Aunt Pearl smiled sweetly at me.

Aunt Amber gave me a sympathetic look. “Pearl forgot the last sentence of the spell. I had to help her a little.”

Aunt Pearl rolled her eyes. “Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Amber. I never forget anything. I did it on purpose, to build suspense. All part of the experience.”

I downed the rest of my wine and set the glass down on the side table. I rubbed my hands together in front of the roaring fire. My fingers were still whitish blue, and they hurt like hell. “I think I have frostbite. How could you just leave me outside like that? I could have died.”

Aunt Pearl rolled her eyes. “Geesh, Cen! You’re like a hothouse flower. It’s high time I helped you toughen up a little.”

“You forgot all about me, didn’t you?” I didn’t know which was more alarming: that Aunt Pearl had forgotten me or that she had forgotten a spell. Maybe her age was catching up with her because she seemed a little foggy. A senile witch was no laughing matter.

My thoughts were interrupted by the doorbell.

Tyler. My heart soared as I visualized all six-foot-something of my hunky boyfriend in his sheriff’s uniform. Now that he was here, we could finally start our Christmas together. Aunt Pearl, Merlinda, none of that mattered anymore.

I glanced out the living room window as I raced to the door. It was pitch black outside, and the wind had strengthened to almost gale force. It rattled the ancient single-pane windows and whistled down the fireplace.

Somehow Tyler had made it despite the storm, and nothing else mattered.

“It’s about time that no-good boyfriend of yours showed up. Let’s eat.” Aunt Pearl shooed Merlinda and Aunt Amber into the dining room.

I immediately regretted opening the front door. My normally cautious nature had abandoned me, either from the holiday spirit or from the wine and other spirits I had mixed for myself after the wine. I was still traumatized from my snow globe rescue, and this latest development sent my pulse racing. I hadn’t expected to see anyone but Tyler. Certainly not the stranger who faced me now.