Witch You Well : A Westwick Witches Cozy Mystery - Colleen Cross - ebook
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BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR... A Westwick Witches Cozy Paranormal Mystery Dead billionaires are not good for business! That's what Aunt Pearl complains to Cen when the dead body is found in the cozy family inn at Westwick Corners. Still, it's not Cen's problem. She lives an ordinary life away from her witch-ful family for a reason. She got her ordinary fiancé and her ordinary job as a journalist using no magic whatsoever, and no inconvenient local murder is going to change her comfortable existence. Even if the entire town is now accusing Aunt Pearl of murdering her guest. Even if her fiancé is acting weird and talking about seeing ghosts. Even if the town's sexy new sheriff, Tyler Gates, treats her like the most hexing of all the witches... If you love funny cozy mysteries infused with a dose of humor and the supernatural, you’ll love this paranormal witch cozy! Sign up for Colleen's new release notifications at http://www.colleencross.com "...A bewitching, supernatural treat. If you love witch cozy mysteries you'll love Cendrine West and her wacky witch family!"

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Witch You Well

Westwick Witches Cozy Mysteries

Colleen Cross

Slice Publishing

Witch You Well: A Westwick Witches Cozy Mystery

Copyright © 2017 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: 978-1-988272-01-6

Published by Slice Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-988272-01-6

Created with Vellum

Contents

Also by Colleen Cross

Witch You Well: A Westwick Witches Cozy Mystery

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

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Afterword

Also by Colleen Cross

Also by Colleen Cross

Westwick Witches Cozy Mysteries

Witch You Well

Rags to Witches

Witch and Famous

Christmas Witch List

Katerina Carter Color of Money Mysteries

Red Handed

Blue Moon

Greenwash

Katerina Carter Fraud Legal Thrillers

Exit Strategy

Game Theory

Blowout

Nonfiction

Anatomy of a Ponzi Scheme

Witch You Well: A Westwick Witches Cozy Mystery

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR...

Dead billionaires are not good for business! That's what Aunt Pearl complains to Cen when the dead body is found in the cozy family inn at Westwick Corners.

Still, it's not Cen's problem. She lives an ordinary life away from her witch-ful family for a reason. She got her ordinary fiancé and her ordinary job as a journalist using no magic whatsoever, and no inconvenient local murder is going to change her comfortable existence.

Even if the entire town is now accusing Aunt Pearl of murdering her guest. Even if her fiancé is acting weird and talking about seeing ghosts. Even if the town's sexy new sheriff, Tyler Gates, treats her like the most hexing of all the witches...

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

1

I had just pulled my ringing cell phone from my purse when Aunt Pearl flew into my newsroom office. And I mean literally flew in—a definite no-no during daylight hours. The fact that we’re witches wasn't exactly a well-kept secret in tiny Westwick Corners, but it was best not to flaunt it.

She hovered by the door and frowned. "Cendrine!”

Aunt Pearl only used my full name when angry. Maybe I was angry too. I had been at the office since six a.m. to get caught up. It was almost noon and I was tired, hungry, and sweaty, since my a/c gave up the ghost first thing this morning. My office thermostat read ninety degrees, but I couldn't afford to fix it.

Now what remained of my day was about to be derailed. Well, not if I could help it.

I ignored her as my phone rang. I checked the call display. It was Mom again. She had already called me a half-dozen times this morning with questions about my wedding rehearsal and the grand opening of our family's Westwick Corners Inn, both of which were scheduled for later today. I probably should have just stayed home.

"Cendrine, our new sheriff is a jerk. I want you do an exposé on him." She lingered by the doorway, waiting for my reaction.

"No." I turned away and answered my cell.

Mom was frantic. "Cen, I can't find Pearl. I'm worried she's gone off and done something crazy again."

I pressed the speakerphone button and raised my brows at Aunt Pearl. "She's here with me."

Aunt Pearl approached my desk and yelled into the phone. "I don't need a babysitter, Ruby. I'm perfectly capable of amusing myself."

"That's what worries me," Mom said. "You can't keep running everyone out of town, especially our law enforcement. It isn't right."

"Why don't you just stick a tracking device on me? Sheesh." My aunt slumped into the chair that faced my desk. “I’m not a child.”

“You act like one sometimes.” Apparently I wasn't the only one who wondered what kind of welcome Aunt Pearl had extended to the sheriff. It was best not to flaunt our specialness. The Wests had been a founding family over a hundred years ago when my great-grandparents had settled in Westwick Corners. But even we could wear out our welcome. There was a limit to what people would put up with.

Aunt Pearl ignored my response. Maybe it was our family’s history that gave her such a sense of entitlement. It was too bad, because her flagrant disregard for rules now threatened our continued existence in town. She didn't seem to give a hoot.

She grabbed my phone and yelled into it. "He's trouble, Ruby. Cen's going to do an exposé on him."

I grabbed my phone back. "I'm doing nothing of the sort. What you want and what sells newspapers are two different things, Aunt Pearl. I can't help you. I'm on deadline to get The Westwick Corners Weekly published." Like most locals, I had bought myself a job and purchased the newspaper from the retiring owner. Most of the town's industry had dried up when the state highway was rerouted a few years ago. Most young people my age had left for greener pastures shortly after. The few of us that stayed barely eked out a living.

Mom’s voice rose. "Now, Cen, Pearl is just trying to help. You take your job too seriously."

Mom’s sudden change of tone didn’t surprise me. She simply sided with her older sister as a way to minimize collateral damage and keep her own sanity. Mom’s coping strategy meant that Aunt Pearl usually got what she wanted, and Mom avoided conflict. As a long-term strategy, I thought it created more problems than it solved.

"Gotta go. See you in a few hours." Mom just enabled Aunt Pearl's bad behavior in her futile efforts to keep the peace. She was oblivious to how Aunt Pearl pushed her buttons to get what she wanted. I, on the other hand, usually stood my ground. The end result was that my aunt and I always butted heads.

Aunt Pearl sank into the chair opposite my desk and snorted. "This isn't a newspaper—it's just an advertorial for bargain hunting coupon clippers. Why do you waste your time? No one reads any of your articles. Face it, Cen. This paper's a dud."

"At least I earn an honest living." Whenever I felt down, Aunt Pearl always made me feel even worse. Her assessment was sadly accurate though. I had bought myself a low-paying, part-time job and wasn’t even very good at it. There were few options to make a living in town, so most of us had to be entrepreneurial. "Try saying something nice for a change."

My aunt studied me for a moment but remained silent. She was rarely at a loss for words. I'd better listen to her latest tirade if I wanted to leave the office on time.

She leaned forward. "I'll give you a scoop, so you'll have a decent story for once. Our new sheriff is corrupt and I want you to expose his crimes."

"What crimes?" I checked my watch. It was just before noon. "Sheriff Gates has been on the job what, a few hours? He hasn't even had time to do anything."

"He has a past, Cen. A sordid one."

"Don't they all?" Tyler Gates was our fifth sheriff in six months. We attracted only dropouts, deadbeats, and undesirables considered unemployable anywhere else. I was willing to cut him some slack because some law enforcement was better than none. We took what we could get.

"I know why he left his last job." Pearl winked at me. "It's scandalous."

"Oh, really?" The only good thing about the high law enforcement turnover was that it kept my family's supernatural talents more or less secret. The bad thing was that things didn't have to be that way. The main reason for their early departures was the one-woman crime wave that faced me from across my desk.

"Yes, really. One more thing: that highway sign attracts the wrong kind of people." Aunt Pearl's eyes narrowed as she stood to make herself appear bigger. She placed her hands on her hips, ninety pounds of indignation and intimidation.

"It attracts tourists, Aunt Pearl. Just the kind of people we need." Aunt Pearl detested visitors, but unless she stopped her hijinks, Westwick Corners was destined to become just another Washington State ghost town. Our town had no local industry, just aging farmers in the surrounding area who didn't spend much money.

Tourism was our only option, so we had spent months revitalizing and rebranding Westwick Corners as a trendy weekend getaway. I had the sinking feeling that our efforts were about to go up in smoke.

"What's that smell?" I sniffed the air, alarmed that Aunt Pearl's usual stale lavender scent had changed to an acrid gasoline smell. Last time she smelled like a gas station she had gotten on the radar of the Washington State police. Neither the town nor our family needed that kind of attention.

Aunt Pearl smirked but remained silent.

"The whole town voted yes to new highway signs, Aunt Pearl. Sorry, but majority rules." We rarely had visitors anymore since the highway interchange was rerouted to neighboring Shady Creek several years ago. We desperately needed to change that.

"Please don't tell me you damaged the highway sign again."

Silence.

Our property taxes had skyrocketed because of the constant arson and vandalism, and apologies just wore thin after a while. The highway sign wasn't the only thing regularly replaced, and I was tired of the growing ill will towards my family because of Aunt Pearl’s misdeeds.

I had a hunch that the highway sign wasn't all she was keeping mum about. "I can smell the gas a mile away. What have you done?"

Aunt Pearl sniffed. "I don't smell anything. Quit changing the subject, Cendrine. That sign hurts my business."

I had no idea why my aunt was mad at me. I decided to tread carefully since pyromania and supernatural powers don't mix well. Magic abilities are both a blessing and a curse. I firmly believed we should harness our magic for the greater good, not wreak havoc.

Aunt Pearl thought otherwise.

"What business?” I blinked as my eyes teared from the acrid fumes.

"Pearl's Charm School."

"Huh?" My aunt was anything but charming.

"My new magic school."

"What magic school? You already have a job at the Inn. You should be there helping Mom right now." Aunt Pearl's new “day” job was officially the housekeeper at the Inn. It was a good way to keep her occupied. Even at seventy years old, she got into tons of trouble when she had too much time on her hands.

"Ruby's got everything under control."

"She sounded kind of stressed out on the phone. I think she could use your help. The guests will start arriving any time now." Our rooms were fully booked, and we had some very important guests.

Tonya and Sebastien Plant, the billionaire couple who had founded Travel Unraveled, the world’s largest travel e-commerce empire, were our VIP guests. Against all odds, they had accepted our invitation to stay at the Inn, which we hoped would result in good publicity. Their experience could make or break our little business venture. It was do or die, so to speak.

"Pearl's Charm School has a grand opening too." Aunt Pearl sniffed as a business card materialized in her hand. She handed it to me. "You should enroll. Heaven knows you could use a magic refresher. No wonder your skills are so rusty, since you never practice. School starts tomorrow, nine a.m. sharp."

"This is bad timing, Aunt Pearl." I turned the business card over in my hand and a witch inside the holograph waved at me. I dropped it face down on my desk.

"No time like the present, especially at my age. I'll do whatever I like," she said. "I've lived here longer than you. Besides, Pearl's Charm School is part of the town's new branding. It caters to supernatural tourists."

"Witchcraft is not part of the official plan." Our entire town had spent thousands of hours collectively on our new tourism strategy, and Aunt Pearl was about to sabotage it all.

All the town's buildings, including the Inn, had been restored to their former glory days of the early 1900s. The only thing not resurrected was the burlesque theater, though we had future plans for live theater.

Few people knew that Westwick Corners was situated on one of the earth's major vortexes, or energy centers. Whether you believed in it or not, it was a good tourist draw. The vortex was what had drawn the West family here in the first place. Until now it had been a well-kept secret.

Now that times had changed and the whole town was fighting for its survival, we decided to capitalize on the vortex. We promoted a New Age theme, complete with a spiritual healing center, spa, and earth energy-themed gift shops.

But not witchcraft.

"You don't even have a place to teach these classes."

My aunt raised her brows and smirked. "Not true. I just rented the old schoolhouse."

"You can't practice magic in plain sight." The schoolhouse was only a few hundred feet from the Inn, and clearly visible from Main Street. I shuddered to think of Aunt Pearl performing magic in plain sight of tourists. It was a recipe for disaster.

"It's a free country." Aunt Pearl sniffed. "I'll do what I like. Most people around here know about our talents."

That was sort of true. Secrets are hard to keep in Westwick Corners. It's a small town where everybody knows each other. The rest of the town didn’t really know the true extent of our supernatural abilities though. They had some vague notions of herbal potions and pagan rituals, but beyond that didn’t know a whole lot, which was best for everybody concerned. The thought of Westwick Corners morphing into the equivalent of a witch college town would ruin the delicate balance of our fragile existence.

We have a “don't ask, don't tell” policy. The rest of the town doesn't ask and we don't tell. It works better that way. I wanted to get off on the right foot with our new sheriff, and flaunting our magic was sure to have the opposite effect.

I sighed. "You'll need a business license first. Are you really going to list it as a magic school?"

Aunt Pearl scowled and changed the subject. "You young people today don't appreciate your heritage. You, for instance. You've abandoned your craft to kill time at this dump."

"The Westwick Corners Weekly is not a dump. It's a hundred-year-old newspaper." I threw my hands up in exasperation as I scanned my shabby office. Renovations remained out of reach unless and until my paper earned more advertising revenue. That wouldn’t happen without a jump start to the local economy.

Aunt Pearl scoffed. "Everything in here looks a hundred years old. At least that part is true."

"It's a newspaper, not a showroom." Aunt Pearl had a way of dismissing my accomplishments. I had let my heart rule my head in thinking I could rescue the paper, but I didn't exactly have other alternatives. The Westwick Corners Weekly wasn't The New York Times, but it was mine, and I usually beat the rumor mill to a good story.

"Suit yourself. But I can't guarantee the safety of all these mortals you've got visiting. My students need to practice on real people."

"We all agreed to this, Aunt Pearl, including you." I was afraid to ask what she meant by practicing on people, but now wasn't the time. "Complain all you want, but we need tourists. I doubt you even have any students enrolled."

"Want to put money on that, missy? My class is almost full."

She was almost certainly lying, but I wasn't taking chances. "I hold you personally responsible for the safety and well-being of our guests." My future rested on Westwick Corners' growth and prosperity. Otherwise why was I still here?

Brayden Banks was one reason. My fiancé was the town mayor, so we couldn't exactly move away. Our wedding was two weeks away and my future was pretty much mapped out for me.

"The heck you will." Aunt Pearl turned and stormed out of my office. The downstairs door slammed just as Aunt Pearl disappeared into the hall. She abruptly reappeared a few seconds later and walked briskly to my office.

A broad-shouldered man in his late twenties followed behind Aunt Pearl. My mouth dropped open as I recognized the beige uniform that accentuated his athletic build. This new sheriff looked nothing like the middle-aged, balding, pot-bellied men before him. Based on his brisk gait, he was already on the job.

"Now what?" I had a sinking feeling that his visit had everything to do with my pyromaniac aunt who now stood before me, breathless.

"I'll make you a deal," Aunt Pearl said. "You help me with the sheriff, and in return I'll give you a free-ride scholarship for Pearl's Charm School."

"Absolutely not. No deals, and I am not enrolling in your stupid magic school." As soon as the words were out of my mouth I regretted them. But luckily Sheriff Gates was thirty feet away and out of earshot.

Aunt Pearl eyed me up and down and shook her head slowly. "If your grandmother could see you now, she would be mortified at your attitude and your rusty magic. If anyone needs my charm school, it's you, Cendrine."

Technically Grandma could see me, since she materialized as a ghost whenever she felt like it. Grandma Vi had been quiet lately as she dealt with her own issues. She was unhappy that her ancestral home had been transformed into the Westwick Corners Inn. Change was hard for all of us.

"I don't need your school. I've got more important things to deal with."

Aunt Pearl snorted. "What could be more important than magic?"

My eyes darted to the approaching sheriff, but he was still fifteen feet away. Aunt Pearl was oblivious to anyone's activities other than her own, as usual.

"Saving our town, for one. We've worked so hard to save this town from turning into a ghost town."

Aunt Pearl shrugged. "What's wrong with a ghost town? I'm tired of all these interlopers. I want some peace and quiet for a change."

Most of the turmoil stemmed directly from Aunt Pearl's actions. Half the town wanted to banish my pyromaniac aunt, and apparently our new sheriff had designs on her too. "Anything you want to tell me before he gets here?"

"No." Aunt Pearl's right eye twitched, a sure sign she was hiding something. Witch or not, no amount of magic could mask her deception.

"That highway sign better be intact, Aunt Pearl. You promised me you wouldn't do anything illegal."

"I didn’t promise anything of the sort. Besides, even if I did, I had my fingers crossed.” Aunt Pearl’s flabby arms jiggled as she waved her hand in the air.

I rolled my eyes. "We'll discuss this later."

"Am I interrupting something?" Sheriff Tyler Gates stood in the doorway. He was hard to miss, not that I wanted to. His dark wavy hair skimmed the top of the doorframe as he paused at my office door. My heart skipped a beat as my gaze met his chocolate brown eyes. Suddenly Westwick Corners didn't seem so boring after all.

I stood, transfixed by his infectious smile. I held out my hand. "Sheriff, thanks for stopping by. Welcome to Westwick Corners."

"Call me Tyler. This place is too small to be formal." He took my hand and shook it.

I felt a catch in my throat as our eyes locked. "I hope you'll like it here." My face flushed as I stared shamelessly at the best-looking man I had ever laid eyes on.

The sheriff carefully sidestepped Aunt Pearl. "I had planned to drop in later in the week, but something's come up." He tilted his head towards my aunt.

"Oh?" His uniform clung to his muscular chest in all the right places. "If it's Aunt Pearl, she can be a bit over the top sometimes."

I felt a tug at my sleeve.

"Don't talk like I'm not even here." Aunt Pearl leaned in, putting herself between the sheriff and me. "That's what I came to talk to you about. The sheriff—"

I coughed as I inhaled my aunt's eau de gasoline fumes. "I'm not bailing you out this time, Aunt Pearl. If you've done something, own up to it."

I turned to Tyler. "I'm sure we can fix whatever it is." As the town's sole journalist, I wanted a good working relationship with the town's only law enforcement.

Yeah.

Aside from being so damn hot, Tyler Gates seemed pretty normal. In fact, way too normal for Westwick Corners. He was about my age, unusual compared to his middle-aged predecessors who arrived in Westwick Corners only as a last-ditch stop when no one else would hire them. But the fact he was even here meant Tyler Gates was damaged goods. His issues just weren't visible on the outside.

I turned back to my aunt. "What did you do that you're not telling me?"

"That's what I've been trying to tell you, Cen. Listening has never been one of your strong points." She leaned closer and whispered. "I had to use a little magic."

I glared at her.

"You had to use what?" Sheriff Gates furrowed his brows and bent slightly. "I didn't catch that."

My heart almost stopped. This was one secret we had to keep.

"A hatchet," I said. "She used a hatchet to cut the sign. Isn't that what you said, Aunt Pearl?" It had to be that damn sign. She just wouldn’t let it go.

My arsonist aunt shrugged. The corners of her mouth turned up ever so slightly, amused at my bad rhymes.

Sheriff Gates looked confused. "The sign was torched, not chopped. I'm not quite following."

I waved him away. "Aunt Pearl gets a bit confused sometimes."

"I do not!" Aunt Pearl stamped her foot. "I'm sharp."

I glared at her, then turned to smile sweetly at the sheriff. "She won't do it again, I promise."

Aunt Pearl snapped her fingers at the sheriff.

"Do what?" A split second later he froze in suspended animation.

"Aunt Pearl! Take that spell off him!" I was horrified at her flagrant disrespect for our new sheriff. "You talk about my magic! What you did is an abuse of power."

Aunt Pearl winked as she snapped her fingers twice in quick succession. "Too late."

The Sheriff teetered slightly then regained his balance as the spell lifted.

"It's never too late for justice." Sheriff Tyler Gates winked back at her, his nose crinkled from the fumes. "I think I'm really going to like this place."

"You are?" we both replied in unison.

"You bet I am." He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a notepad. He scribbled something with his pen before he tore it off and handed it to Aunt Pearl. "Less than one day on the job and I'm already earning my keep."

Aunt Pearl's smile vanished as she read the paper. She dropped it on my desk. It was a five-hundred-dollar fine for public mischief.

This sheriff meant business.

I liked him already.

2

A cool, late-summer afternoon breeze softened the swelter. I drove with the windows open, relishing the breeze.

Summer is my favorite time of year, but I also love the promise of fresh new beginnings that autumn brings. The approaching change of season promised a new start in more ways than one. Tonight's Westwick Corners Inn grand opening ushered in our new family business, and two weeks after that was my wedding, when I would start a new chapter in my life.

Instead of excitement I felt heaviness in my chest. I just assumed we would do the happily ever after thing like everybody else. But everything changed earlier this year when Brayden became the youngest-ever mayor of Westwick Corners. His political ambitions now seemed to trump any time we spent together. He constantly canceled our plans to attend one networking event after another. I wasn't cut out to be a political wife, but it seemed too late to do much about that now.

I didn't even have anyone to talk to about it. All my friends had left town soon after high school to attend college or work in Seattle or further afield. In fact, any place other than boring little Westwick Corners. Brayden and I were the only ones in our graduating class to stay. Everyone else in town was married with kids. The few singles in town were mostly my relatives. Witches aren’t all that big on marriage, but I digress.

I probably would have moved away too if I wasn't with Brayden. I made that choice freely, but I missed hanging out with my girlfriends. At least I would see most of them at my wedding in a few weeks’ time.

I drove up the winding tree-lined driveway and reached the hilltop. Our rural property sat above the town on a hill that overlooked the valley. The Westwick Corners Inn was formerly our family home, a stately mansion surrounded by a vineyard and a formal garden. Like everyone else in town, we needed a way to earn a living, so we planned to operate the Inn as a sort of country bed & breakfast as a way to support ourselves.

Our newly renovated property also served as my wedding venue. Brayden and I would exchange our vows in the garden gazebo. Today's rehearsal was a quick run-through, mostly to satisfy my perfectionist mom that we would get hitched without a hitch.

I parked and glanced towards the Westwick Corners Inn as I crossed the driveway towards the garden. The Inn's twelve suites included two private suites on the ground floor for Mom and Aunt Pearl. I lived in a separate self-contained tree house at the rear of the property.

My charming cottage in the trees had been custom-built by my grandfather for my grandmother more than a half-century ago. It probably sounds like a children’s playhouse, but my hideaway was much grander than that. It was a thousand square feet on two levels, built right into and around the massive oak tree that supported it. It was the best of both worlds; close but not too close to my eccentric family. I felt sad that I would be leaving it once I moved in with Brayden after our wedding.

My heart sank when I pulled into the parking lot and noticed that Brayden's BMW was conspicuously absent. The road leading up the hill to our property was completely devoid of traffic too. I was annoyed that Brayden couldn't at least arrive on time for our wedding rehearsal. His late arrivals just wasted other people's time, and it annoyed me to always be waiting for him. Mom would be unhappy to have her schedule messed up on such a busy day too. I hated making excuses for him and feared he might even be late on our wedding day.

I was actually a few minutes early, so maybe I was being unfair. I walked through the formal rose garden and inhaled the delicate scent on the way to the gazebo. The garden was in full bloom, a perfect setting for our ceremony.

The gazebo's exterior was partially covered with several varieties of lush clematis vines that wound around the pillars and provided partial shade. Large white blossoms were interspersed with smaller star-shaped pink flowers, creating a carpet of blooms.

Mom and Aunt Pearl were already at the gazebo; their voices drifted towards me as I drew near. They stood just outside, where Mom busily reattached a vine that had worked its way loose while Aunt Pearl watched. I was a little surprised to see my aunt, since she wasn't one to fuss over weddings and such. Mom had probably enticed her to come along just to keep her out of trouble.

Mom looked up and waved to me as I approached. She was short, like Aunt Pearl, but that’s where the similarities ended. Aunt Pearl was flesh-and-bone compared to Mom’s plump figure, the result of always double and triple-testing her cooking and baking. Today Mom seemed frazzled from ticking items off her to-do list. The Inn's grand opening, my upcoming wedding, and her perfectionist tendencies were stressing her out. "We thought you were stuck in traffic or something."

Traffic jams in Westwick Corners were unheard of. It was just Mom's non-confrontational way of berating me for making her wait. Mom never said things directly, especially not negative things. She kept her emotions bottled up and stressed herself out instead of expressing herself and possibly upsetting someone. It was her way of not making waves. It wasn’t all that effective since keeping the peace just gave her migraines instead.

As I drew closer I noticed beads of sweat on Aunt Pearl's forehead. She had to be up to something. What, exactly, was unclear, but I had a feeling I'd soon find out. As if her highway sign pyrotechnics hadn't already caused enough trouble.

I sucked in a deep breath and channeled my inner calm. I wouldn't react to Aunt Pearl no matter what she did. She disliked me marrying the mayor, even though Brayden was my high school sweetheart and she had known him for years. Suddenly he was the establishment, and she held him personally responsible for every rule she disagreed with.

It was a foregone conclusion that we would marry long before he proposed. Everyone else in our graduating class had moved away as soon as they could, so Brayden was pretty much the only single male in town not collecting Social Security. Other than our new sheriff, of course. But Tyler Gates didn't count. He would be gone within months, just like the other sheriffs before him.

Aunt Pearl and law enforcement didn't mix. She had run half a dozen sheriffs out of town directly as a result of her antics. Her magic and authority figure issues were a catastrophic combination for law and order. At least, until now. I flashed back to the moment earlier today when Sheriff Tyler Gates had fined Aunt Pearl. Those warm brown eyes never wavered. He wasn't bad to look at, either.

"Cendrine!" My aunt's cackle shattered my reverie. "Pay attention!"

Uh-oh. She was still mad at me.

I quickened my pace.

"Huh?" I hadn't done anything except side with Sheriff Gates on shutting down her pyrotechnics. It wasn't often that I got under her skin. I had to admit that it gave me a small sense of satisfaction.

"I haven't got all day. Get your butt over here," Aunt Pearl snapped. "I've got to stand in for that no-good boyfriend of yours. Real men don't leave their women standing at the altar. It's a bad omen. I keep telling you, but you don't listen. You're better off single."

"You only see all the bad, not his good side." For all her snappiness, Aunt Pearl really just wanted the best for me. At least that's what I told myself.

She raised her brows. "I don't like his good side, bad side, or any other side. None of us do. He's AWOL at his wedding rehearsal? Really, Cen. Dump him while you can."

Mom shrugged and held up her hands as she stood slightly behind Aunt Pearl.

Aunt Pearl turned to Mom. "Ruby, you're getting a no-good son-in-law."