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This week's spotlighted title is Witch in the Wind by Brenda M Collins
Witch in the Wind
By Brenda M Collins
Bandit Creek has a new magical dimension, The Otherland. When murder strikes in Bandit Creek, and the victims aren’t who they seemed, powerful guardian warlock, Marcus Egan, is sent from The Otherland to investigate.
What he doesn’t expect to find is Avalon Gwynn, the grieving daughter of the victims, who has no idea she’s an extraordinary, hereditary witch. And Avy’s pent up magical abilities have just been set free in the mortal world.
Can Marcus catch a killer while making sure Avy doesn’t bring Crow Mountain crashing down on the town—destroying Bandit Creek for the second time?
About the Author
Brenda Collins has wanted to write mystery fiction since she was twelve years old. At the age of twenty, she spoke to an editor in Toronto, who expressed an interest in her story; however, she soon realized it takes more than an idea to be an author.
She joined a number of writing groups to learn about ‘the craft’ and completed two mystery manuscripts. When the Bandit Creek opportunity arose, Brenda jumped on board immediately.
The story that emerged started with a murder, but it came to life with witches, warlocks, a “familiar” and a magical dimension called The Otherland.
Don’t miss Witch in the Wind, a paranormal romance with mystery elements, available May 1, 2012.
Connect with Brenda on Twitter @bcollinswriter
Witch in the Wind
A Bandit Creek (Sweet) Paranormal Romance
Brenda M. Collins
“Thank you for calling me,” Avalon Gwynn said. The words sounded distorted, forced through lips that were suddenly stiff and numb. “I’ll leave right away.”
After returning the receiver to its cradle, she didn’t have the strength to lift her hand. She left it resting where it was as she watched the steam float up from the mug of tea she’d laid beside the phone when it rang. Her mind was empty. A sudden vacuum of thought, memory or emotion.
She had to move. She had to—
She had to get a grip. She had to go home. Back to Bandit Creek, Montana.
She tightened her hold on the receiver and picked it up. Fifteen minutes and she’d arranged a leave from work and a plant-sitter for her apartment. Ten more to pack her bag. Six and a half hours later, she had refilled her gas tank at Spokane and was pulling back onto the I-90.
Even with the May sun shining through her windshield, her hands were frozen onto the steering wheel. Her head ached and there was a persistent hum in her ears. Her parents were dead. She still wanted to believe it was some sort of sick joke.
Her mind was too paralyzed with grief to absorb most of what the sheriff had said after the reason for his call or even to ask questions. Her brain had shut down by the time she’d hung up. Thinking about it now, she realized Sheriff Morgan had been vague about the details of her parents’ death.
Crap. It must have been an accident. They’d have been together in that beat-up old wagon her father drove. A single sob pushed up from the knot in her chest and escaped, even as she clamped her lips tight.
There had been tension in her father’s voice the last couple of times she’d called. He’d insisted everything was fine. She smacked the wheel hard with her hand. Why did I let it go? A static spark flashed across her fingertips startling her. Damn dry mountain air, she thought, although she couldn’t recall that ever happening before when she was home.
She swept silent tears off her cheeks and blinked hard so she wouldn’t miss the turnoff from the highway. The mid afternoon sun was sliding towards the horizon, when the sign indicating Bandit Creek 1 Mile slid past the passenger side window. Her stomach clenched, the caustic brew of confusion, grief and old resentment, bubbling up into the back of her throat.
A mental map of Bandit Creek floated up from her memory. If she jogged over to Adam Street, she could take that up to Spruce and avoid most of Main Street, with its busy town hall, the shops and all the other mainstays of a small Montana town. She tightened her grip on the wheel until her knuckles hurt. For the first time since she was a small child, she wished she could use magic to get to her parents’ old house on Gwynn Lane. Despite the gossip in the town, she and her parents weren’t magic. Wicca was a religion, not woo-woo supernatural powers.
As she drove past the quaint little bungalows along Adam Street, she felt a familiar tension edge into her grief. Growing up in a backwater town like Bandit Creek would be hard on anyone, but for an outsider like her, it was torture. She could still hear Olivia Turley chanting “Bitchy, Witchy, Bitchy, Witchy” after she’d caught a glimpse of Avy’s birthmark when they were kids. Why she had the freakish bad luck for it to be shaped like a crescent moon was beyond her. The first time she was taunted, she ran home in tears. The next time Olivia bullied her, Avy remembered with satisfaction, she’d punched her in her perky, turned up nose. After that, no one called her names, at least not to her face. She had no regrets about getting herself the hell out of Bandit Creek.
She unclenched her fingers from the steering wheel and rolled her neck to release the tension held there. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been back. Her parents came to Seattle to celebrate the eight sabbats with her and, for the few months in between, they usually thought up some other reason to visit her in the city. She’d used that as an excuse to avoid Bandit Creek herself.
The bump as she drove over the bridge towards Lost Lake Road broke her from her memories. Her childhood home, the Old Gwynn Place as the locals called it, was isolated from the main town, the only reason it survived the combined flood and rockslide in 1911 that destroyed the rest of Old Town. The craftsman-style bungalow was nestled at the base of Crow Mountain and had been in her family for over a century.
She slowed to make her turn and then eased the car over the long, rutted laneway where it came to an abrupt stop at the front of the house. Out of habit, she pulled to the far side of the drive so her car wouldn’t block the steps to the front porch. She eased open her car door and glanced at her childhood home as she stepped out.
The low pitch, gabled roof with its deeply overhanging eaves, shaded her mother’s herb garden. A mental picture flashed through her mind, of helping her father paint the exposed rafters and decorative brackets of the house during her last summer break from college. It took her brain several minutes to catch up with what her eyes were seeing. She gulped a breath, blinked hard to clear her vision and then released a curse, a sob and a prayer to the Goddess all at the same time. “What the demon’s damn happened here?”
Where once lush clusters of lacy greenery and colorful stems had grown, now lay a mangled mat of charred earth. Directly above, black soot marked the side of the house where it extended to the left of the porch. The lawn was speckled with singe marks as if a firecracker had exploded too close to the ground. The largest burn mark was perfectly round. Like a giant bullet hole.
Tracking its trajectory, she saw scorching on the bark of the old American elm that towered over the house. She’d spent many summer days sitting under that tree, fascinated by the jigsaw puzzle bark, and making up games to entertain herself. The rough, leathery leaves caught any slight breeze, making a sound that completely freaked out the town kids and kept them from visiting the house, particularly at night.
She rubbed her temples with both hands as the edges of her vision blurred. Had the sheriff mention a fire when he called? She didn’t think so. The smell was something acrid, biting the back of her tongue as she breathed it in. Oddly, it wasn’t smoke but something else she knew she’d smelled before.
“What the hell happened here,” she repeated, this time in a whisper, choking on the words.
At that moment, she heard tires crunch on the drive directly behind her. She tore her gaze away from the devastation in time to see Sheriff Samuel Morgan unfold his lanky frame out of his black SUV. His movements were energetic for his fifty years.
The Sheriff approached with his hands open towards her. “I’m so sorry, Avy. I was waiting for you to drive past the office but Mrs. Olson phoned to say she’d seen you go past her place on Adam Street.”
He stopped beside her, looked at the ground, shuffled his feet and reached his hand out to her shoulder before dropping his arm back to his side. She remembered that he’d been awkward with Kirsten, his daughter. Kirsten was psychic and had found it hard being different in a small town too. Kirsten had been the closest Avy had to a friend growing up.
When the sheriff leaned close to her, she could see more than sympathy in his eyes. It was pain. “I didn’t want to tell you this over the phone.” He spoke softly. “Your parents were murdered.”
This time he let his hand go to her shoulder, squeezed a little, and looked her straight in the eye. “I don’t know what happened—yet, but I will find out.”
She opened her mouth to speak, ask questions or something, but no sound emerged.
The sheriff slid his arm around her shoulders, and then steered her back towards the driveway. She let him.
“Why don’t you stay the night at Mrs. Turnbull’s,” he said referring to the B&B just east of the house on Lost Lake Road. We can talk in the morning.”
She looked at him, feeling dazed, and then nodded.
“Do you want me to drop you there? I can have Adam–Deputy Medicine Crow–get your car over to you in the morning. We can talk then.”
A sudden movement behind them on the porch broke through Avy’s shock. Sheriff Morgan spun around with his hand on the butt of his Sig.
A dark form slipped out of the shadowed corner of the porch.
She couldn’t move, frozen in place by overstressed nerves and absolute terror.
The shape emerged from the shadows on the porch. Her mind registered four legs, thick dark brownish-black fur, a long snout showing razor sharp teeth–with a tongue lolling out.
The sheriff relaxed his stance, but kept his hand over his gun.
She caught her breath with effort but tried to keep her voice relaxed. “Well, who are you?” she asked the beast, now fully visible on the top step. He looked like a weird mix between a German Sheppard and a Poodle. “What are you doing so far from town?”
“I’ve never seen him before,” the sheriff said.
As she took a step, Sheriff Morgan grabbed her elbow to hold her back. “Careful. He could be wild.”
The dog cocked its head. It didn’t growl or bark at them.
“He looks pretty docile, Sheriff,” she said, just as the dog loped down the steps towards them. He stopped four feet short of her position. Dark, intelligent eyes looked her over, ignoring the sheriff. The air around him seemed to shimmer, as if heat were rising from his fur. She was aware of a strange sensation in her chest and rubbed her breastbone to ease it as she looked back at him. Stress, she thought.
The dog gave his body a stretch followed by a vigorous shake, and then meandered closer to them. He plunked his rump at her feet and bent to clean himself.
Avy stifled the first laugh she’d felt in almost twelve hours. “Okaaay, gender confirmed,” she said. “Aren’t you a big boy?”
The sheriff dropped his hands to his sides with a chuckle too.
When the dog raised his head, she eased her hand towards his nose and let him sniff. She remembered her father approaching a wolf who had wandered into their yard when she was a toddler. It had remained calm under his touch and left without incident. Her breath hitched as the thought brought renewed grief. She felt tears pushing at the back of her throat but fought off the urge to cry.
The dog gazed up at her with his big brown eyes looking sympathetic. She smoothed her fingers around his neck looking for a collar. Not finding one, she tipped up the end of his ear and looked for a tattoo.
The dog nuzzled her hand with his nose.
“Maybe he slipped his collar,” said the sheriff.
She gently stroked the soft curly fur above the dog’s eyes before looking at the sheriff. “What will happen to him if you take him into town?” she asked.
“I can probably get the vet to kennel him for the night. If the dog isn’t chipped either, we’ll send him to the Humane Society in Missoula in the morning.”
The dog whined, nearly breaking her heart, which was already painfully damaged. Without a thought, she said, “He can stay with me tonight.”
“Here?” The sheriff hesitated. “Avy, we only finished going through the house an hour ago.”
The air was suddenly too thick to breathe. Everything was happening too fast. Until this moment, she hadn’t had time to consider the house as a murder scene.
The sheriff continued, “The house was tossed. I was going to arrange a cleanup for you.” He shrugged his apology.
Hysteria screamed in her head but she clamped down on it, her body vibrating with the effort. “Someone wrecked our house? My parents’ house?” Her voice sounded weak. Strained. “My house?”
She fisted her hands feeling her nails bite into the palms. She would not allow someone to drive her from her home. She drew back her shoulders and raised her chin. “I have to come back here some time,” she said, dropping her hand down to rest on the dog’s head. “At least now I won’t be alone.”
Sheriff Morgan gave her a hard look but didn’t try to talk her out of staying. He probably remembered it wasn’t worth the effort.
Instead, he said, “Let’s talk tomorrow. Once you’ve had a chance to go through things, could you let me know if anything’s missing?”
“Missing?” She felt numb. Inside and out. The sheriff’s words were coming to her in slow motion. “Was it a burglary?” She couldn’t imagine her parents having anything worth killing for.
She stared at him. Hoping he could give her some reason why this was happening. Why her parents were dead?
The sheriff shook his head. “We don’t know anything yet, Avy.”
They stood in silence for a moment, until he said, “Oh, there is one more thing.” He shoved his right hand into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small clear plastic bag. “I thought you might want these back—” He held out the bag and his face softened. “—sooner rather than later.”
She stepped closer to him, took the bag and squinted to see what it contained.
“Their wedding rings,” she said, mostly to herself. She opened the bag and spilled two intricately carved silver rings into the palm of her hand.
She stroked the larger ring gently with her finger, feeling the texture of the eagle wings. She could hear her father’s voice telling her as a child that he loved eagles because they were a symbol of wisdom and guardianship. She’d been about six years old and was learning about wild animals in school. When she asked her father about her mother’s animal, he said her mother felt like a mama lion because lions were the guardians and protectors of life. She asked what her animal was and she still remembered her father’s answer. She could be whatever she wanted to be.
Avy closed her fingers around the two rings and swallowed the tight knot in her throat. She looked back up at Sheriff Morgan. “They were wearing them when they died, weren’t they?” She already knew the answer. Her parents never took off their wedding rings.
The sheriff shifted his weight but remained silent.
After an awkward moment, he patted her shoulder one more time.
“Make sure you lock the door when you go in. And if you get nervous tonight you call me at home, ya hear?”
He waited a moment longer, as if she might still change her mind about staying. Then he shook his head and returned to his vehicle. She watched him back down the lane. Then she turned her attention to the house, but felt rooted in place.
The feel of a slimy, rough tongue on her hand brought Avy back to the present.
“We can do this,” she told the dog, not sure if she was reassuring him or herself.
A sting in her palm reminded her she still held the two rings in her fist. She hesitated then slipped both rings onto the second finger of her right hand so she could dig her keys out of her purse. At the front door, she took one deep breath, released it slowly, and turned the lock.
For the first few seconds, warm memories hid the destruction from her. Her mother’s herbs flourished on every windowsill. Lavender, valerian, mint. She suddenly wished she had shared her mother’s affinity for blending the aromatic concoctions. While her mother was content to spend hours in her garden, Avy always had to get away from town. Somewhere she could breathe in endless amounts of fresh mountain air.
Reality started to seep into her consciousness. The colorful trio of clay bowls her mother had made lay in shards just past the edge of the sisal rug. On the floor beside the table, lay a heavy silver frame with a picture of the three of them. Her family. The glass was shattered.
She fisted her hand and pressed it to her mouth to stifle another sob. She bent, picked up the frame and hugged it to her chest. Caught in her anguish, she was startled when the dog beside her whimpered and rubbed against her leg.
She dropped to her knees beside him and buried her face in his silky fur. “What will I do without them? They were all I had.”
The dog rubbed his snout against her neck and whimpered as if he understood her pain.