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“This time of year always gets to me.” The street lamps that lined River Bay, the main thoroughfare through town, began to light up one by one as dusk encroached earlier each evening. Yes, it was that time of year, and I was a bit melancholy over the fact that the holidays had passed by so fast. The old-fashioned gas lamp-styled posts gave off a Norman Rockwell vibe, while the antique tailored awnings of each storefront added to the charming ambiance. Even the cobblestone intersections gave the impression of being transported back in time to when horse-drawn carriages were commonplace. I’d come to love the small coastal town of Paramour Bay, Connecticut—population three hundred and fifty-five. Unfortunately, the days of the local fisherman wringing out a living from the Long Island Sound had passed this town by many years ago. The harsh winter weather we were currently experiencing had the effect of limiting the average enthusiast’s taste for a casual cruise in the choppy, cold black waves. The day-trippers had thinned out quite a bit, as well. The colorful holiday decorations had been collected from their perches on each street post, the townsfolk seemed to have collectively holed up inside their homes after the New Year, and I hadn’t had a cup of coffee since early this morning when I left the house. Don’t forget the other reason you’re miserable—the good ol’ sheriff is out of town for the week. I didn’t react to Leo’s wisecrack about Sheriff Liam Drake, because anything I said would only urge my familiar to continue his incessant dialogue as to why my dating anyone at this juncture in my life wasn’t the wisest choice for a budding witch. The thing of it was…it probably wasn’t the best decision I could have made, but I didn’t regret celebrating New Year’s Eve with Liam in the least. The celestial tradition of ringing in the new year with an intimate brush of our lips had been worth the price of admission. I also couldn’t stop the flush that filled my cheeks nor the smile that blossomed across my face simply thinking about the kiss we’d shared at midnight. Don’t make me nauseous recalling such violations out loud. “Liam will be back by Friday, when we plan to have a romantic, private dinner at his house,” I reminded Leo, flipping the sign to indicate that the tea shop was closed for the evening. “It will be our second date. I want you to stay home and far away this time. I’m serious, Leo. No interruptions. That is an order.” I don’t want to jinx you or me, but I was already planning on staying home Friday night sampling some premium organic catnip with my new Savinelli pipe while enjoying the comfort of my new smoking jacket. That is, as long as another dead body doesn’t pop up. “Don’t scare the reader away,” I scolded Leo, not wanting any of you to get the wrong idea. “These cozy mysteries are worthwhile adventures for our fans.” I should probably take this opportunity to introduce myself before Leo frightens you all away. I’m pretty sure the mere mention of deceased bodies being discovered did the trick…unless our fan base is into that kind of thing. Please ignore him. He just got up from a two-hour nap in a discarded cardboard box that I’d left out in the back room. My name is Raven Lattice Marigold, and I’m a descendant from a long line of witches. In case you’ve already read the other books in our series, bear with me while I catch the new readers up on the Marigold family history. Where’s my Savinelli? I guess I’ll break it in early. I don’t need to hear this rubbish again. Long story short, I didn’t always know of my extraordinary heritage. You see, my grandmother and mother had a falling out over our future roles in the supernatural realm. My mother made the terrible decision to keep my family’s legacy hidden from me, but secrets always have a way of revealing themselves. And it’s also just a nice way of saying one is covering up a lie. Nothing good comes from that. Sooner or later, the truth gets out. Not if you keep your mouth shut. See how that works? I can’t say that Leo didn’t have a point, but it wasn’t like someone could conceal the generations upon generations of witches in my family—least of all my mother. It wasn’t like we were the only ones around, either. There was an entire coven out there somewhere. Anyway, can you believe I didn’t even know about our family’s legacy until Nan died of a heart attack on her daily walk this past October? Her untimely death had been a few weeks before my thirtieth birthday, leaving me with her house, a tea shop, and one heck of a discovery in this small Connecticut town. Don’t forget me this time around. And please tell them to refer to me as Mr. Leo or Sir Leo. Either would be acceptable. A little respect would be a nice change of pace, given your predilection for familiarity. That’s right. Nan also left behind her somewhat peculiar yet well-meaning familiar to help train me. That wasn’t the normal process, in case you were wondering, but circumstances being what they were…I ended up with Leo. A familiar usually crosses to the other side with their host, but Nan used a form of dark magic called necromancy to prevent Leo from joining her in the afterlife. You see, she didn’t want me to be alone once I’d found out that that I was a witch and that my mother had intentionally hidden it from me. And in the process of nixing any chance of me enjoying my happily ever after, Rosemary didn’t give one iota of thought as to how I would feel being left behind with an accident- prone, half-baked hedge witch or leaving me looking like young Master Frankenstein’s first attempt at pet reanimation. With that said, I’m used to modeling this fantastic bod now—GQ material all the way, including the grunge look. You can imagine my surprise when my departed grandmother’s odd cat began to speak to me in words that only I could hear in my head. I literally thought I was losing my mind. You see, I can hear Leo in my head, though all everyone else hears is his meowing…beside other witches, that is. It makes it rather hard to appear sane in front of normal people when I’m hearing a conversation that includes Leo’s witty commentary. As for Leo’s appearance…well. Go ahead. Tell them. If dead bodies haven’t scared them away, neither will the fact that my whiskers are slightly crooked, my tail is rather bent, my beautiful orange and black fur has a few tufts that my tongue can’t manage to smooth out, and my left eye is a tad larger than my right—it shows character. Yep. That sums it up. “You make it sound as if dead bodies are popping up all over the place. I’ll have you know that only two murders have occurred since I moved here, and one of the deceased didn’t have anything to do with me or my lack of witchcraft mastery.” You’ve lived in Paramour Bay for three months. Two bodies in three months. You don’t have to be good at math to figure out those odds aren’t exactly mutually exclusive. “Don’t I get credit for solving those cases?” I asked, closing out the cash register for Monday’s meager earnings. Like I’d mentioned before, foot traffic had been rather slow since Christmas. Thank goodness for Nan’s little black market side business in homeopathic blends of tea. The willing imbibers paid a premium price for those ingredients. “You have to admit, I’m getting a little bit better at casting enchanting spells and recreating Nan’s magical blends.” You technically didn’t solve either one of those murders. The answers fell into your lap. The cases just sort of unraveled while you were standing in the way, if you want the honest truth. “You’re just grouchy that Heidi didn’t visit us this past weekend.” Heidi Connolly was my best friend, currently residing in New York City where I used to live. She usually came to visit twice a month, but her job as an accountant was bound to keep her away for most of the next three months with tax season in full swing. Oh, you know that rule about witches not sharing their secret with anyone outside the covens? Well, I kind of broke it…by accident. Kind of an accident? You realize that this isn’t a game of checkers, right? Okay, so I told Heidi that I was witch, because she’s my BFF. Nothing bad happened. The house didn’t catch fire, Leo didn’t spontaneously combust, and the catnip didn’t explode. Whoa there, Nellie. You’re just blazing a new trail in witchcraft, is that it? “So what if I am blazing a new trail? It’s not like anyone handed me a manual on my first day,” I deflected, walking across the tea shop to the back room where I kept my winter dress coat. I parted the delicate strings of carved ivory-colored fairies that kept the customers from peering into the storage room and entered the back area. The beads were in fact enchanted to keep onlookers from hearing or seeing into my behind-the-scenes sanctuary—with the exception of Leo, of course. “Even you have to admit it makes it easier on us to have Heidi in the loop.” It would be even better if you told her about Beetle’s rather interesting development. “I don’t want to stress Heidi out by telling her our local accountant here in Paramour Bay is getting ready to retire. Heidi’s got a heart of gold and would never leave her firm shorthanded before tax season ends.” I grabbed my jacket and then made sure the door that led out to the delivery area out back was bolted. “Besides, I heard that Beetle is going to keep his accounting firm open until the end of April. I promise that I’ll talk to Heidi right beforehand. She’s always dreamed of owning her own small business, so maybe she’ll want to take it over. I want her close by, too, Leo.” I expected Leo to say something philosophical about me waiting too long to bring up the subject, but he remained quiet. Who knows? Maybe he’d found his pipe, after all. Either way, he could appear and disappear at will. He was usually one step ahead of me and already lying on his pillow in the front window by the time I parked my beat-up old Corolla in front of the house Nan had left me on the not-so-far edge of town. I should also mention that Leo fancies Heidi quite a bit and that he isn’t happy that she started dating a detective with the state police by the name of Jack Swanson. Leo would claim that Jack wasn’t right for her, but I disagree. His dependable nature and charismatic smile are good for her. She’s been doing a lot more smiling lately, too. “Leo? Are you still waiting for me?” I slipped back through the ivory-colored fairies, the melodic clicking sound rather comforting. “I was thinking that we could—” I came up short, not quite sure my vision wasn’t playing tricks on me. A few blinks warned me otherwise, and a lump began to form in the back of my throat. I was kind of blindsided that the palm of my hand hadn’t given me a warning that Leo and I might be in danger. I usually had a prognostic sense for threats, but it was clear that something had short-circuited my unusual awareness. Don’t. Say. A. Word. Not only didn’t I verbally say anything, I also didn’t move a muscle. I was afraid any slightest movement would cause the apparition in front of me to do something abrupt that I wasn’t ready to deal with. Using only my eyes, I could see Leo sitting still as a statue next to the cash register. His left eye was not only larger than his right, it was now literally bulging out of its socket. It was never a good thing when Leo was this wary of a mystical situation. Unless, of course, it had to do with the appearance of dead bodies. The vision in front of me was pretty darn close to that, as far as those kinds of things went. I was almost afraid to breathe, but it was either drag some oxygen into my lungs or pass out cold. Pass out. I vote for avoiding this whole mess. I didn’t like that option, so I chose to slowly inhale as I refocused my sights on… Go ahead. Say it. Blurt it out. You might as well let the cat out of the bag. An honest to goodness…ghost!