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“I’ve got this, my dear Raven. I’ve got this.” I wasn’t so sure that my new part-time helper was telling me the truth. It was the third time this morning that Beetle had reassured me of his competence as a salesman, but the customer in front of us might literally be the third one I lost to the lure of convenient online shopping. Elsie doesn’t even know how to use her cell phone. You’re worried about nothing. My familiar wasn’t concerned about anything this morning, with good reason. You see, Leo had been given a hefty dose of catnip by my new and only employee. Don’t worry, I had a call into Dr. Jameson to make sure a feline couldn’t actually overdose on the intoxicating plant. Overdose? Nonsense. Where do you come up with this stuff, Raven? Smoking catnip in my pipe is much more relaxing, but I could learn to go down the edible route given time and effort. If you’re wondering how I could hear Leo’s thoughts, he and I were linked due to a special kind of magic. I’ll have to dive into the details about that after finishing this sale, though. Business at my tea shop had finally been picking up after January’s seasonal slowdown, and the incoming cash flow was quite needed and enjoyed. I’m pretty sure I set a record amount of sales within the first two hours that I’d flipped the open sign over this morning. It’s a pretty sign, too. Don’t you think? “I scan the barcode like so,” Beetle murmured in concentration, completely unaware that Leo was utterly enamored by the most mundane things at the moment. Beetle carefully aimed the device with the red laser beams shining forth from the glass cover, biting his tongue as he fastidiously scanned the black lines. His blue eyes brightened with excitement behind his round spectacles when the cash register beeped its recognition. I sighed with relief now that step one had been a success. “Ta-da!” Look at all the different colors flying by the window outside. Aren’t they pretty, Raven? I closed my eyes and counted to ten, my wish for a quick training session turning into complete fantasy—much like Leo’s current view of the cars slowly driving down River Bay. Not all was lost, though. I might as well take advantage of these ten seconds to catch you up with my life. Ready? I’m a witch. Not a very good one quite yet, but I’m working on it. Yes, you read that right. You can’t tell anyone, though. The residents of Paramour Bay have no idea that the supernatural exists, and it’s best we keep it like that. Anyway, I’d mentioned a bit ago that Leo and I have a special link. He’s my familiar. That’s not technically true, to be completely honest. You see, Leo used to belong to my grandmother before she’d dropped dead of a heart attack last October. This tea shop was also hers, along with the cottage she’d left me on the edge of town. I’d inherited both, along with a wax golem by the name of Ted whom Nan thought would be a good idea to bring to life. Not to nitpick, but it took you seventeen seconds to tell your life story to the reader. I counted on my seventeen claws. Who knew I had so many? Leo’s appearance might be a bit rough, but he does not have seventeen claws. The truth of the matter was that Nan had to resort to black magic to keep Leo from departing this world along with her. Normally, her familiar would have followed her in death. She and Leo had agreed to make the sacrifice so that I could have someone to mentor me. My mother sure as jellybeans wasn’t going to do it. She’d done her best to raise me outside of the world of witchcraft. Nevertheless, the necromancy spell Nan had used had left Leo’s orange and black fur with a dreadlock kind of vibe, crooked whiskers, a tail bent like a coat hanger, and a left eye that bulged out just a bit…but rest assured, he did nothave seventeen claws. Are you sure? One, two, three… I sure hoped that Dr. Jameson returned my phone call soon. “Something went wrong,” Beetle exclaimed in frustration, pulling my attention back around to where it should be. He lifted those round spectacles off his nose to glare at the cash register. I peered over his shoulder to see what problem could have occurred, but I hadn’t seen what button he’d hit to erase the discounted price. “Something went wrong, my dear Raven.” Raven, help the poor man. I love him, you know. He’s my new best friend in the whole wide world. You should know that Leo didn’t actually love Beetle at all. His viewpoint was rather skewed at the moment, causing me to wonder just what kind of catnip Beetle had given my familiar. I hope it hadn’t been laced with something that could be fatal. Whoa, Nelly! Back up the horse cart there. Fatal? “I’m thinking a new cash register is in order,” Beetle suggested seriously before leaning over the counter as if he were conspiring against the universe. Elsie catered to the man’s flair for the theatrics by nodding her understanding. “The drawer gets stuck every now and then.” What do you mean…fatal? I realized that it wasn’t easy to ring up the Valentine’s Day discount that I’d put on the various tea blends that were available to buy in the shop, but there was absolutely no reason to waste money on a new cash register. Numerous keys had to be pressed in just the right order for the sale to go through correctly. Beetle’s blaming the device and his propensity to repeat himself wasn’t helping either one of us. As for Leo, his random annoying comments weren’t easing my bad mood in the least. Leo’s commentary had only gotten worse since Beetle had been sneaking him a pile of catnip every morning. On the bright side, it had gotten Leo’s mind off the glittery kiss mark that a fairy familiar had left behind during one of the previous mysteries we’d solved. For some reason, the glitter on his paw wouldn’t come off. Catnip isn’t fatal. I read that somewhere. Are you trying to play a trick on me? I don’t think that’s funny at all. “Why don’t I ring up Elsie’s tea while you go unpack the boxes I brought in this morning?” I offered Beetle a forced smile, hoping my frustration didn’t shine through like a beacon. What had I been thinking in hiring a soon-to-be retired tax accountant as my assistant, anyway? I really needed to take one of those self-help classes that made an individual more assertive in life. “Oh, and the herbal remedy teas can go in the storage room. Dee Fairuzo mentioned she’d be by later this morning for her personalized order. Please don’t mix them up.” Beetle’s frown at being diverted to another project was evident when his weathered features turned downward and his white bushy eyebrows made a rather large V. It was a long story, but he kinda sorta hired himself after spotting the sign I’d taped to the glass door seeking part-time help. He’d been so excited in finding something to do to keep him busy after retirement that I hadn’t been able to say no to his rather forceful proposition. I don’t know why. You say no to me all the time. As it stood, Beetle came into the tea shop for around two hours every morning before walking the two blocks to his own office—where he was in the process of closing his financial advisor and tax services firm. Trust me, his time with me was a very long, long two hours. Doesn’t Beetle have the best hair? It’s like a big, white fluffy cotton ball. I wonder what it feels like. I guess now would be a good time to tell you that Beetle resembled the mad scientist from Back to the Future. You know, after the lightning struck the clock tower. All that was needed to complete the ensemble was a lab coat instead of the grey cardigan sweaters and colorful ties he seemed to favor. I wasn’t that desperate for sales…yet. “Elsie, thank you for being so patient,” I greeted as I took Beetle’s place behind the cash register. It felt great to be in my regular spot when dealing with a customer. I took her items and quickly completed her sale. She always paid in cash, so the transaction was relatively simple after calculating the discount. My stress began to fade as I got back into my regular routine. “How was your hair appointment this morning? Did Wilma do something different this time? I swear it makes her look five years younger.” “Oh, she’ll be so pleased that you noticed,” Elsie gushed, ever so slowly slipping the change into her wallet. Having seen her knobby knuckles, I was always patient when waiting for her to gather her things. It was one of the reasons I initiated small talk. “I’ve been telling Wilma to go a shade lighter for a year. We watch television, you know. Grey is back for women our age. We’ve become distinguished just like the older gentlemen have always been.” Elsie and Wilma were known as the dynamic duo of Paramour Bay. The small coastal town in Connecticut was home to three hundred and thirty-five residents, but none came close in personality to these two old hens. And I mean that with total sincerity. They were also my main source of gossip and such, keeping me in the loop on what I should or shouldn’t know about certain potential customers. “I’ll be sure to tell Wilma how good she looks before the two of you leave.” I packed up the two bags of basic green tea leaves, making sure I didn’t forget the chocolate heart I’d been including with each purchase. Personalized touches went far in small towns like these. “What’s the chinwag today? I heard that Otis was going to surprise his wife with dinner in the city on Thursday.” “It’s one of those fancy restaurants that give you sherbet in between courses,” Elsie shared with a nod of approval. “It will make up for him buying his own gift at Christmas. Like that man needed another fishing pole.” “I’d heard that Otis snuck a fishing pole underneath the tree with a tag that read it was from Santa.” My laughter bubbled over at the former sheriff’s creativeness. “You have to admit, Elsie, that was pretty ingenious. What about you? Are you and Wilma going to hit the town?” “We’re eating at the diner, of course.” Elsie finished zipping her purse closed and leaned over as if she were sharing classified information. “Trixie is having the chef serve his special country fried steak, mashed potatoes with gravy, and green beans mixed with pieces of bacon for Valentine’s Day. You know that’s my favorite meal!” Hey, Raven. Do I get more catnip for Valentine’s Day in the shape of a heart? I’d really like that, I think. Better yet, do you think they have catnip vaporizers yet? That answer was unequivocally no, but I hadthought ahead and ordered Leo a very special treat. He would need consoling after he found out that I was cooking a special Valentine’s Day dinner for Sheriff Liam Drake. We’d been dating since New Year’s Eve, and I’d never been so happy with the current status of my love life. I winced at the fact that I’d just tempted fate, waiting for the anticipated boom of whatever jinx I’d just placed on Thursday’s dinner. If you had a hit of this catnip, you wouldn’t worry about fate. Thankfully, nothing happened. And fate’s ignorance at my provocation had nothing to do with catnip. Are you sure about that? “Is Liam taking you out to one of those fancy restaurants?” Elsie asked in her not-so-nonchalant way. I had no doubt that my reply would be around town one second after she and Wilma entered the diner for lunch today. “Or are the two of you staying in for a quiet evening at home? After all, Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday. You have to get up early the next morning and be at work.” I take back my previous gift idea. The best Valentine’s Day present you could give me is to kick the good ol’ sheriff to the curb. I ignored Leo’s dig at my relationship. If you must know, Leo believes that witches and humans shouldn’t interact on a personal level. You’re lucky the coven doesn’t turn him into a toad. That would fix your wagon. Trust me, nothing was going to happen given the current state of the coven—which I wasn’t even a member of ever since Nan had our family excommunicated for consorting with humans. “I’m cooking dinner for Liam on Thursday,” I replied, turning my attention back to Elsie as I handed her the small shopping bag. Her faraway expression told me that she was either thinking about the country fried steak that was in her near future or the fact that she had some additional gossip to spread around. “And you’re right about it being a weekday, so we’ll probably call it an early evening.” Did you have to say that? You made the effects of my catnip wear off with that rather carnal vision. “Raven, dear,” Beetle called out from where he was removing items from the box I’d asked him to unpack. He was digging around in the cardboard square with a vengeance. “I don’t see anything for Ms. Fairuzo. Did you label her herbal tea order?” Wilma was peering inside the box as Beetle continued to drag out the packaged items I’d so painstakingly taken the time to add magical elements to last night. If Leo were in his right mind, he’d most likely be explaining that my technique left a lot to be desired. I wouldn’t know where to start. You’re a lost cause. I disagreed, fully believing I was getting better with each enchantment. Raven, no amount of catnip could make me forget that I still tingle in places I shouldn’t. You see, Nan had a little side business that was extremely profitable. She’d been known around town for dabbling in holistic medicine, and she’d made quite the name for herself. It wasn’t just herbal tea for ailments that she’d mixed together, though. What had made her blends so effective had everything to do with the magical enchantments she’d used on them, thereby enabling her success rate to skyrocket. Oh, I do miss the good ol’ days. I’d carried on the family trade after her death, although my transition had caused a bump or two along the way. However, not this time. Dee had been claiming lately that her husband had lost all romantic tendencies. Another resident by the name of Pearl had gone on and on about the herbal tea Nan had made her to get Henry to fall in love with her, when it was really a charm spell. The two ended up talking about the holistic aid, and I ended up with a new customer for my special concoctions. Speaking of Pearl, she’s back in town with Harold. They just walked into the diner. You know, I’m kinda hungry. Is it too early for lunch? I’m thinking fish, hold the tartar sauce. Long story short, Nan had passed the herbal tea blend off as an aphrodisiac. Dee had ordered some from me last week to use on her husband, just in time for Valentine’s Day. Even Leo couldn’t fault my ability to create such a spell. I was rather pleased with the outcome, and now I was eager to see if Dee’s husband responded to the charm enchantment. The diner should start a delivery service. They do that in New York City, don’t they? Bring the fish right to your door. “The package for Dee is inside the heart shaped glass container,” I called out to Beetle, walking around the counter so that I could escort Elsie and Wilma to the door. “Elsie, are you heading over to the diner for lunch? I think I’ll have Beetle escort you two ladies across the street. That way, he can take Trixie’s order of Earl Grey tea over there so that I don’t have to make the delivery myself later today.” Do you think Beetle will take me, too? I bet the diner has some fresh cod on the menu. I was rather pleased that I’d come up with such an idea, because that would have Beetle leaving a bit earlier than planned. There had to be some magical spell I was missing to help Beetle with the learning curve of retail. After all, it wasn’t so much different than working with taxes and money all day, was it? “Had I known you were looking for part-time help, Wilma and I could have pitched in,” Elsie whispered, sending my heart racing at the thought of having the two elderly women on my staff. I’d already admitted to my mother that I’d made a huge mistake in hiring Beetle, but I couldn’t bring myself to fire him. These two ladies would have sent me to an early grave. “Beetle likes coffee, you know. He doesn’t know one wit about tea.” His knowledge for premium organic catnip is all that matters. My stress that had previously evaporated suddenly returned with a vengeance. Full disclosure—Beetle wasn’t the only one who drank coffee instead of tea. I lived for the rich delicious beverage, and feigned my love for tea…which technically wasn’t good for business. These two kindhearted old ladies wouldn’t understand my need for secrecy, so it was best to keep my betrayal under wraps. Soon, I hoped to include gourmet blends of coffee beans and the implements to prepare heaven’s perfect beverage among the shop’s offerings. Until that time, my preference for coffee was my little secret. “Beetle certainly makes things interesting around here,” I said with a forced laugh, not knowing how else to sum up my new part-time employee. He was currently holding up the heart shaped glass container with the herbal tea I’d made for Dee, staring at it like he’d never seen anything so beautiful. He really was a sweet man. Guilt flooded my system for thinking it would be best to fire him. I just needed to strive for more patience. “Elsie, what is Wilma doing?” Why are her cheeks that color? I don’t think that shade of red is healthy. “I’m not quite sure what Wilma’s doing.” Elsie studied her best friend in confusion. “Is she…blushing?” The lighthearted flirtatious laugh that escaped Wilma’s thin lips was something I’d never heard from her before, but it was the way she’d laid her hand on Beetle’s wool sleeve that had me and Elsie gasping in surprise. Oh, this wasn’t good. I don’t ever want to hear that sound again! Raven, these people are ruining what’s left of my morning. This falls entirely on your shoulders. Look at what you’ve gone and done! “Oh, my,” Elsie exclaimed in disbelief, clutching her purse and the bag of teas to her chest as if she’d just witnessed a scene out of an R-rated movie. I was still attempting to rationalize what was taking place in front of us, but I was definitely in a losing battle. “Wilma!” The thing was, Wilma wasn’t paying any attention to Elsie. It was clear the other woman only had eyes for Beetle. Had this been a normal occurrence, no one would have been shocked to the point of silence. As it stood, there could only be one reason why Wilma was acting in such an amorous way. It could only be one thing. Are you proud of yourself now? Leo was right. This implausible situation was completely my fault, and I had no idea on how to fix it. It was obvious that the love spell I’d cast for Dee had spilled over onto the heart shaped container instead of being imbued into the tea leaves. I tried to quell my panic. Good luck with that. Look at those two lovebirds! Beetle just offered to take Wilma for a ride, and I’m not so sure he was talking entirely about using his red VW. I needed to take that heart shaped container out of their hands before things went from bad to worse. Once it was put into a safe place, I’d have time to go over my options. I’m not sure how you think things could get worse. This is a low point, even for you. Leo should have known by now that tempting fate was the worst thing we could do in situations like these. Hadn’t we just discussed this? I didn’t even have a chance to take a step forward when the smell of smoke wafted from what could only be the storage room. Hmphf. I thought my vision was cloudy from all the catnip. I guess it’s a little late to point out that there’s smoke coming from somewhere back in the storage room, huh?