Welcome to Magehaven Cove, where most of the town are witches, wizards, or some other supernatural being.
Hanna Frost always wanted to be like everyone she knew… magical. But born without a single spark of power, Hanna stands out as the odd duck among her family, and not in a good way. When Hanna grew up, she left the magical town to embrace normalcy, and she stayed away even after her husband died. Still grieving, she spends her days at home immersed in her painting and drawing, with only an oddly devoted pixie for a companion.
At her mother’s insistence, Hanna attends a family reunion, only to find herself embroiled in family politics, a death, a group of attractive would-be suitors, and the secrets of a mystical mansion. With magic, mischief, and murder all around her, Hanna will have to quickly figure out who killed her aunt—if she wants to avoid being the murderer’s next victim.
I stared at the blank canvas, with my paintbrush raised to dip into a color at the first twitch of a creative impulse. My landscape painting had taken four days of trying to achieve the right color of green, but I still wasn’t positive I’d gotten the shade quite right. I contemplated my choices, but none of the paints were calling to me. My inspiration was fading along with the sunlight.
“You need to stop wallowing.”
The lilting voice had the musicality of a thousand tinkling bells. If only the words were as pleasant.
“I am not wallowing!” I snapped, glaring at the tiny annoying pixie perched on the top of my canvas. “And stop dusting my canvas.”
Dandelion Thistleberry flicked her diaphanous wings, releasing another wave of rainbow-colored glitter. It flattered her sparkly pink doll dress, but my canvas—not so much. On the plus side, only happy pixies created the magical powder. On the negative side, it made a mess all over my house.
Dandy set her tiny fists on her hips. Her dress swirled around her as she pointed her toes and glared like an angry ballerina. “You’re wal-ohh-ing,” she mocked in a singsong tone.
I eyed my bright green flyswatter longingly. Only the knowledge I’d be fined for abuse of a pixie stilled my hand. “I’m in mourning,” I snarled.
I gave up trying to explain despair to a pixie. Dandy couldn’t keep any emotion longer than a wing flutter. My sorrow over Don’s death two years before was a gazillion minutes too many to my flighty friend.
Sighing, I tossed my brush into a nearby ceramic pot, then stood and stretched. I wouldn’t be getting any more painting done today, and my butt had grown numb while I stared at the canvas. It had been months since I last finished anything—a subject my agent continually harped on about. If she had any magic at all, I probably would’ve received reminders written on my bathroom mirror each morning. Instead she settled for emails and passive-aggressive texting.
I walked through my almost-empty house, forlorn and disheartened over my barren creative desert. The gaps in my household furnishings mocked me. They represented the holes in my life that I had surgically cut away to keep my mental health. After Don’s death, I’d packed up everything that reminded me of him and put it into storage. Only my paintings and my new furniture remained, like a showroom floor. All my personal items were stripped away, like a tree after winter hit, leaving behind only the skeleton of my life. It had taken me the first year to stop crying.
“Let’s go shopping,” Dandy said.
Her light weight landed on my shoulder as I headed for the kitchen. She grabbed onto my hair to keep her balance. Used to her behavior, I barely felt the tug from her tiny hands. My passion to avoid shopping was only surpassed by my love of art.
“How about a snack? I bought a fresh bag of gumdrops yesterday.” Most people thought of pixies as nature spirits, they didn’t know the dark side of a bored pixie with a credit card and a cable subscription.
“Ooh, yes,” Dandy squealed.
I set her on the kitchen counter while I fetched her snack. The pixie hummed an offbeat tune as I pulled the candy jar out of the cabinet. After popping open the container, I snatched up the one on top.
“Here you go.” I presented her with a red gumdrop.
“I want green.” She folded her arms as her mouth formed a petulant pout.
“You can have red or nothing.” The closest green gumdrop huddled in the middle of the candy jar. I wasn’t going candy-diving to fetch it.
Dandy sighed but held out her hands for the red one. The speed with which she polished it off told me the color hadn’t made any difference in her enjoyment, despite her demands. Pixies liked to push. I’d be at her beck and call 24/7 if I gave in to her every whim.
My phone rang, shattering my peaceful afternoon. I don’t like phones. No one ever called me with happy news. Not once had I been informed I’d won a million dollars or a mysterious benefactor had magically paid off all my debt. Phone calls were about unpaid bills and nagging parents. At least my twin brother had the good sense to email or visit in person.
“I’ll get it!” Dandy fluttered away, leaving a stream of pixie dust in her wake.
I treated the mess like regular dust and cleaned up after her once a week. Since only people with magical blood could see pixies, my neighbors thought I had a serious glitter addiction… and possibly a screw loose. I didn’t care. The crazier I appeared, the less they bothered me. Isolation suited me.
Dandy flew back carrying my cell phone. She landed in an ungraceful heap on the counter. Good thing pixies were abnormally strong for their size. A cloud of sparkle exploded around her, leaving a glittery circle. Hmm, maybe that was where fairy rings came from.
“Here you go!” She held out my phone with all the enthusiasm of handing over a birthday present.
“Thank you.” I blew on it a few times to clear the stubborn dust. More than one phone had met its untimely end beneath an avalanche of sparkle. I winced when I saw the name on the screen and took a bracing breath in and out before pressing the button to connect. “Hi, Mom.”
“Hello, dear, how are you doing?”
“Fine.” I waited for it. Carla Frost didn’t call for casual things. Life, death, and marriage were the minimum reasons she’d call. She never wasted her social niceties on a blood relative, but kept her best manners for congressmen, business leaders, and their accessory wives. For her children, she saved scolding and ultimatums.
“Are you still doing your little painting thing?” she asked in a condescending tone.
I should be used to it by now—the way she dismissed my art degree, awards, and the fact I earned enough to live on…well, almost. Boxed macaroni was a legitimate food group, right?
“Yes, Mom, I’m still painting.” I tried to keep the anger out of my voice. If I were smart, I’d see my therapist more than twice a week. I could talk nonstop for years about my parental issues, but I doubted my discount insurance plan would cover the cost.
“You haven’t gotten another job to pay the bills yet, have you?”
Silence followed my response. I could almost see the tidal pressure of her will coming for me, but I lacked the lunar influence to push back.
“Then there’s no reason you can’t come to the family reunion, since you set your own schedule,” she replied with smug self-assurance.
I groaned. I didn’t even try to hide my dismay. I’d fallen for her trap with ridiculous ease.
“Mom, I don’t have time to go.” I didn’t hesitate to lie. No way was I going to my hometown, where I would be regarded with pity. As the only Frost child who didn’t inherit any of the family’s magic, I received scorn from my relatives and sad sympathy from everyone else.
Yeah, not in a hurry to rush back there.
“I’m in charge of this family reunion, and I expect all my children to attend. Now, wrap up whatever you’re working on and come home.”
She hung up before I could argue. Carla Frost always had the last word on everything.
I almost cursed—it took concentrated effort to bite back the words. Like a perpetual toddler, Dandy took great delight in repeating anything I said. I didn’t need to go back home with my pixie cursing like a sailor. My mother wouldn’t let me live that down, and my brother would delight in telling everyone he’d ever met.
“I’ll be driving home this weekend,” I told Dandy, not looking at her.
Maybe if I didn’t make eye contact, I could escape the upcoming conversation.
“We’re heading home?” Dandy hopped up and down. “Yay! I always wanted to see your home!”
I winced at her shrill tone. I don’t know why I thought I could reason with a pixie. Maybe my lack of sleep had started to affect my reasoning. I gave it one last, probably futile shot.
“Wouldn’t you rather stay here? The weather is supposed to be nice for the next few days. You could play in the garden….” I let my voice trail off so she could imagine all the joys to be had.
She’d spent most of the spring and summer organizing my backyard to suit her needs. I knew she had fall tasks she planned to do. I didn’t know what, since I stopped listening when she rhapsodized about the varying depths of planting seeds.
Don had been the gardener.
“There are toads,” Dandy announced flatly. Scowling, she flapped her wings until her feet left the counter.
Pixies hated amphibians. I’m not certain where the animosity came from, but I’d never met a pixie who didn’t want to kill them all off.
“Be good. They’ll eat the bad insects.” I’d lost track of the number of times I’d repeated that mantra. I firmly closed the cabinet to hide the toothpicks, just in case she tried to skewer them again.
Dandy’s scornful sniff didn’t reassure me. “They’re nasty things. I don’t know why you don’t let me stab them.”
“I’m funny that way.”
Frog guts… ew!
She tried a different tactic. “You need me to go with you. I’m your familiar.”
I groaned but refused to get involved in another dispute over Dandy’s familiar status. I didn’t have enough magic to compel one, and even if I did, I’ve never heard of a pixie familiar before. A month after Don died, a storm had blown her through my open kitchen window.
Dandy had announced it was fate and never left. I’d been too heartbroken to evict her. Sometimes it was nice to have a companion, especially on the days when depression sank its sharp talons into my soul.
“Are you sure you want to come?” I had to give it at least one more try.
“You promised.” She stamped her foot on the counter.
Damn, she was right. I had said I would take her on my next trip; I just hadn’t planned on visiting my parents, but more along the lines of a drive down the coast or a visit to the ice-skating rink to watch the skaters. My parents weren’t the most tolerant of magical beings.
Maybe if I left her at my brother’s place, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. “Fine. We’re going home.”
Her sharp squeal threatened to pierce my eardrums. “I can use my new luggage. I’m going on a real trip. Yippee!”
She clasped her hands rapturously before flying off, no doubt to see how much of her extensive wardrobe she could cram into her trunk.
The last time I visited my agent in the city, I had purchased Dandy a Barbie trunk. It had more to do with self-preservation than anything else. Never annoy pixies. They have ways of getting even that involved itching powder in your sheets.
While I was gone, she ran up my credit card on Etsy, ordering an entire wardrobe of custom doll clothes.
I put the rest of the gumdrops away and went to examine my own wardrobe selection. Unlike Dandy, I didn’t enjoy clothes shopping, or any kind of shopping, really, but I knew my mother couldn’t have a reunion without throwing at least one formal event. My relatives were the stuffy type. My twin brother and middle sister were the only exceptions to the rule.
I opened my closet door and pushed past the casual garb. Way in the back I’d tucked my nicer clothes, still in their dry-cleaning bags. Why take them out only to get them messed up? Not to mention that the bags kept them safe from pixie dust. Honestly, it wasn’t pure laziness, no matter how much Don used to laugh at me. Common sense should be rewarded, not mocked.
I pushed away that pang of remembrance and grabbed my two nicest dresses. I didn’t care if my relatives had seen them before; I didn’t have a fortune to blow on clothing, and even if I did, I’d probably use the money for paint. I could get a lot more use out of a tube of cerulean blue than a fancy gown I’d only wear once or twice in a lifetime. I also included some casual clothes, because I always ended up helping Harvey with something that resulted in me being covered in either flour or grease, sometimes both. Between baking and working on his car, my brother never stayed tidy.
After setting my clothes on the bed, I dragged my suitcase out of the hall closet. As I propped it open, I smiled when I found it free of pixie dust. With my mind on my family, I absently grabbed my dress shoes. They were gold, sparkly, and one of the few pairs of girly footwear I owned.
Despite my wish to keep my packing light, I ended up filling my suitcase to the top. Not bringing the right clothes wasn’t an acceptable excuse for my mother. It would only end with me having to go shopping and wasting money I didn’t have on clothes I didn’t need. Luckily the reunion only lasted one three-day weekend. I could get in and out, and maybe hide behind my twin when I wanted to avoid anyone. Since Harvey was six foot two to my five foot seven, odds were good I could get away with it.
After I’d zipped up my suitcase, I headed back to the living room to grab my cell phone. I chose the first person on my speed dial. If I had to suffer through this reunion, I was going to line up support.
“Hey, sis. What’s up?” Harvey’s deep voice eased my anxiety over the trip.
“Mother just called.”
“I take it you’re coming to the reunion?” I could hear his amusement over the phone line.
I bit back a curse. “Yes. I’m coming. If I bring two dresses, do you think that’s enough?”
“There’s one formal dinner and a lunch thing. Other than that, I think it’ll mostly be casual. It’s only for the weekend. Didn’t you get the itinerary? There’s also some sort of party before everything starts.”
I vaguely remembered the piece of paper I’d chucked in the trash along with the vellum invitation. “I seem to have misplaced it.”
Harvey’s laughter told me he wasn’t fooled. “Uh-huh. I’ll email you the schedule.”
“Thanks, Harvey. How are things going with you and Valerie? Is she coming to the reunion, or has she gotten out of it?”
Harvey had been seeing the same woman for three months, a new record for him.
“She broke up with me last week. Apparently I ‘didn’t spend enough time with her.’” In my head, I could see Harvey applying air quotes to the last part of his sentence.
“Didn’t you tell her you were starting a new business?” I asked, indignant on my brother’s behalf. What kind of woman wouldn’t cut my wonderful twin a little slack? She obviously didn’t deserve him if she lacked the basic understanding of the hours required for a new business venture.
“I think that was her point. She felt I cared more for the bakery than for her. I think maybe she was right.”
Harvey’s warm laughter made me smile. My brother always had a way of cheering me up. After Don died, I emailed Harvey almost daily. I would have felt guilty for eating up so much of Harvey’s time, but we’re twins. You can’t impose on someone who’s the other half of your soul. Don always claimed he’d gotten a package deal when he married me. Luckily he’d always liked Harvey. I hoped whoever Harvey ended up with liked me too.
“You’re better off without her,” I soothed.
“Maybe, but that leaves me without a date for the reunion.”
“Hmm, I’m sure Mother will find someone for you,” I teased.
“I didn’t tell her Valerie and I broke up,” Harvey confessed.
“And you think that means she doesn’t know? Poor, foolish boy.” I clapped my hand over my mouth to hold back a giggle. Our mother was determined to marry off her only son to a good family. With three daughters and one son, my mother had dreams of making a political connection with one of the other powerful magical families. She didn’t much care which of us she had to use to achieve her goal. Right now, she had Harvey in her sights.
So far, Mother’s track record wasn’t so great. Harvey and our older sister, Jane, were single, our middle sister, Farah, had wed a blue-collar miner with little magic, and I had married a human. Since I didn’t have any magic of my own, Mother hadn’t expected me to marry well anyway, but Don had never found acceptance with my parents. One of the many reasons we moved several hours’ journey away. A newlywed couple didn’t need disapproving in-laws living nearby.
After catching up with the latest gossip and securing a spot on Harvey’s couch for the weekend, I said good-bye to him, then went to collect the rest of my belongings. I might as well get everything together now if I planned to leave in the morning. Best check on Dandy first and make sure she wasn’t trying to bring her Barbie Dreamhouse or the convertible. I’d always heard pixies preferred the outdoors. Leave it to me to find the only materialistic one.