All the pretty witches, p.1

All the Pretty Witches, page 1

 part  #6 of  Sister Witches Mystery Series

 

All the Pretty Witches
 

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All the Pretty Witches


  Table of Contents

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  15

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  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  ALSO BY THIS AUTHOR

  All the Pretty Witches

  Copyright © 2017 by Lauren Quick. All rights reserved.

  First Edition: May 2017

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  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 locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.

  1

  It was well past midnight in Stargazer City and the sky was bunched with a thick blanket of clouds blotting out the sliver of moon and sparkle of stars. A damp spring air hung heavy. Not a great night for flying, but flying in tough conditions was good practice even for a witch with extreme confidence like Honora Mayhem. At least that was what she was telling herself. Practice was another word for distraction, which meant she didn’t have to think. And right now thinking was bad, brutal even. She’d do anything to keep her mind occupied. Breakups were ruthless that way.

  She slipped into a pair of black jeans, a stretchy black T-shirt, and her favorite pair of black leather ankle boots with ridiculously high heels. Dressing for an outing with her flying club meant she wasn’t going to be walking, so the higher the heel, the better. Since they only met every other week, she liked to treat it like a special occasion. Plus, a pair of sexy shoes camouflaged her broken heart.

  Flying was a coveted magical persuasion and those witches lucky enough to be born with the magical talent often banded together, joining tight-knit flying clubs. Honora’s club was like a second family to her—Slader, Harper, and Jonas knew almost as much about her as her own sisters, maybe even a little more, since she kept most of what happened with the club a secret. Though Honora’s club was small and casual, flying clubs varied in number and activities; many included dozens of members and had rules similar to a charter. Two things all clubs had in common were that all members had to fly and they were fiercely loyal to each other.

  The windows of Honora’s loft apartment were wide open, welcoming the night inside. She half expected a thick cottony cloud bank to come drifting in at any moment. New velvety, plum-colored curtains wafted in the night breeze like the wings of an exotic bird. Only a few illuma lights glowed in the huge apartment, giving it a haunting aura. Honora slipped on a fitted black leather jacket and stepped out onto the ledge. She’d gotten so adept with her magic that stepping out into the sky was as easy as walking into another room—one very high off the ground.

  She inhaled deeply and her nose wrinkled. There was a strange smell coming from the alley beneath her feet, not a garbagy smell, but something different, something she couldn’t put her finger on, something magical, maybe. But she didn’t have a second to think about it further because a huge wizard dressed in battered brown flying leathers flew up to her side. Slader also wore a big goofy grin. His yellow flying goggles, used for night vision, made him look like a bug, but she never told him that. He was, after all, the toughest flyer and fighter she’d ever met and she liked to stay on his good side.

  He handed her a brown paper bag before flying right into her house. “I brought you dinner,” he said over his shoulder obviously wanting her to follow him back inside.

  “What do you mean dinner? I thought we’d all eat later after the meeting.” The club had plans to race along the river followed by dinner at a new restaurant at the recently renovated harbor pier. She’d been craving fried calamari with jalapenos all day.

  “I had some plans come up last minute,” Slader said with a shrug, averting eye contact. “I hate to cancel, but it’s important and it’s the only time available this week. I didn’t want to push it off. I contacted Jonas and Harper and they were cool with it. We’re planning on meeting next Wednesday, same time.”

  A sigh leaked from between her crimson-colored lips. “I’m not going to pretend I’m not a little disappointed, but I get it. Stuff comes up.” She crossed her arms over her chest and eyed the bag.

  “That’s why I brought you dinner as a ‘thanks for understanding’ gift.” Slader wiggled his bushy eyebrows, pulling a smile out of Honora despite her dashed seafood cravings.

  “You didn’t have to do that,” Honora said, but was glad he did.

  Honora carried the bag into her kitchen and pulled out a clear plastic container of soup and a whole-wheat roll. On closer inspection, she realized the soup was more like a murky broth with greens and other twiggy debris floating in it. “This looks like a pond,” she said, holding the container up to the light. A closer inspection did little to sell the dinner offering.

  “Hey, it’s healthy. You’re just not used to seeing so many vegetables in one delectable brew.”

  She arched her brow and glared at a chunk of suspicious white stuff floating in the soup. “Is that tofu?” Yikes. Honora tried to keep her expression neutral. Any sign of weakness on her part would only encourage Slader to bring her more healthy food.

  “At least it’s not a tofu smoothie.” He smiled, showing off a cracked front tooth.

  Honora turned the bag upside down and shook it. “Are you sure there’s not a double bacon cheeseburger in here? Maybe a hunk of chocolate cake to chase this healthiness down with.” Her hopes were once again dashed.

  “Yes. I’m sure.”

  She smiled and gave her friend a good once-over. He wore a clean, pressed pair of pants and a crisp shirt under his leather jacket. “You look nice. Did you get your beard trimmed?” His beard was suspiciously well groomed and so was his hair. New clothes and a trimmed beard, something was up. Then it hit her. “You’ve gotta date! That’s what came up.” She beamed and lightly rabbit punched him in the arm. “Slader’s got a date! Who is she? Come on, details! I want to know everything about her.” Honora hopped on the counter, popped open her container of soup and dipped a chunk of roll into the broth before shoving it into her mouth.

  He blushed, which was hard to see through all his facial hair. “I was keeping it quiet for your sake. I didn’t want you to feel bad. You know with you and Ren on a break and all.” He averted his gaze and rocked back on his heels.

  Honora swallowed the bite of roll. Her shoulders sagged. It was true. She and Ren had decided to take some time apart to see what they really wanted in their relationship. The distance was killing them. Dating a wizard who lived in the North Woods and relished the brutally cold wilderness had taken its toll on her, between the long stretches of time apart and the long-distance travel, she was worn out. Neither of them could see a compromise since both of them loved what they did and where they did it. There was no way Ren could be a magical tracker in Stargazer City and Honora had no plans to move her thriving private detective agency to the frozen North Woods.

 
They were at a dating impasse—a painfully obvious one, which didn’t have a happy ending.

  Honora shook her head. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I’m just excited you’ve met someone. Really, it’s great. I want you to talk about it. Maybe we can all meet the lucky witch.”

  Slader held up his hands in defense. “Hold on there. One step at a time. We’ve only been on a few dates. I don’t want to rush things. Like I told the others, you all can meet Lexy in due time.”

  “Lexy! She sounds fun already.” Honora smiled. “What are your plans for tonight? If you don’t mind my asking.”

  “Lexy is cooking me dinner. So I couldn’t pass up a home-cooked meal,” Slader said and blushed again. “I’m really hoping this works out. She’s a real catch, kind, smart, and a flyer like us.”

  He was right; meeting another flyer was a real plus. “That’s great. Really great. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.” She hopped off the counter, put her soup in the fridge, and walked Slader to the window.

  The wizard rose into the air and adjusted his goggles. “Thanks for understanding about tonight. We’ll have a blast next meeting. I promise.”

  “I’ll hold you to that. Have a good time.” Honora waved as Slader darted out of sight, absorbed by the night sky.

  Honora sat on the ledge of her apartment window, legs dangling. With her plans cancelled, she had no real idea what she was going to do for the night. She was dressed and ready to go, so no way was she heading back inside for a night on the sofa. Her nose wrinkled again. She sniffed and peered over the ledge. There was definitely a strange smell coming from the alley. She shrugged. Without any plans and her owl familiar, Barnaby, out on his nightly hunt, she might as well do a little poking around before she headed out to get some real food for dinner. What was the harm in that?

  She jumped from the ledge and fell a few stories before kicking her legs back, diving forward, and slowing her descent toward the alley below. She covered her nose, burying her face in the crook of her elbow. The smell of brimstone and black magic enveloped her as she got closer to the ground. Something really bad had happened in that alley, and the smell was coming from the dumpster. Not a good sign. Nothing good ever happened in a dark alley, especially when black magic was involved.

  2

  Honora’s boots touched down and she pulled her wand from inside of her jacket and slipped the new silver chain attached to it around her wrist. After losing one too many wands while in flight, she’d come up with the bracelet chain as a solution. “Illuma!” she yelled with a flick of her wand and a ball of glowing white light hovered in the air in front of her, but the light only made the shadows darker, looming around her.

  She cast a net of intuition around her, sensing for other witches or wizards, but she detected no one and the black magic that she’d smelled felt weak, though the air remained pungent. One of many reasons to hate black magic—it stunk. Really stunk. And it was impossible to get the odor out of clothes. She tossed up another ball of illuma light and scanned the area for signs of black magic like burn marks or a circle, turning up nothing obvious. Perhaps whatever had happened to cause the stench had taken place earlier in the evening or someplace else entirely and the dregs were dumped.

  Honora followed her nose, literally, over to the dumpster. She really didn’t want to look inside. Hovering a few feet in the air, she peered over the top of the metal bin, which was wide open. All she saw were bags, lots and lots of cinched bags of garbage. She waved her wand and levitated a few in the air, peering underneath, only to find more garbage—crushed cardboard, a few crumpled take-out cartons, discarded pieces of dirty cloth, and some food rinds. Yuck. She cringed. Pretty typical for an average garbage bin, and she would know from her newbie PI days when she found many of her clues by digging in witches’ and wizards’ trash cans. It hadn’t been a glamorous job in the early days, but she’d done it.

  Her nose wrinkled, again. Persistent, Honora dropped down to the ground and walked around the bin, peering behind it. The bin was at an odd angle, and with one glance, she knew she’d found something because radiating outward on the pavement was the remnants of a black stain rimmed with gray ash—a black magic circle. The scent of brimstone intensified, but there was something even more grisly that caught her attention—a body. Honora jerked up and gasped. Regaining her composure, she kneeled, trying not to disturb the circle, but also desperately wanting to help the witch. Honora felt for her pulse, but the witch’s wrist was ice cold, causing Honora to step back. There was nothing she could do, the witch already gone.

  Her guts tensed. Shaking her head, she immediately sent up an emergency beacon with her wand and waited for the police to arrive. Such a shame. Poor thing. No one should have to die in an alley behind a dumpster. Anger bubbled inside her. Someone had done terrible things to this young witch. As she waited, Honora couldn’t help but take a look at the girl, her PI instincts and good old common decency kicking in.

  The dead witch was about Honora’s age and was dressed in black leather pants and a cream-colored silk blouse, but no shoes. Her feet were bare and clean of dirt, but there were no cuts or abrasions on them. Interesting. She didn’t walk here. Fly? Maybe but she would have had to land and that would at least leave dirt on them. Her hair was bright pink and her make-up heavy but tasteful in a trendy way. Blood seeped from her nose and ears and soot covered her arms. Her fists were clenched shut. But worst of all was a vicious red ring around her neck. This wasn’t looking like a natural death. Black magic could kill a witch, but it wasn’t necessarily a cause of death. Was the witch practicing black magic and got tangled up with unscrupulous types or had the magic backfired?

  Glancing at the witch’s face and pink hair, Honora couldn’t shake the feeling she knew the witch from somewhere, but where? She tried mentally shifting through obvious connections—Haven Academy, the Witch Council, the police department, friend of one of her sisters—but nothing jogged her memory. She couldn’t place her.

  The more she inspected the area, the more anger pulsed inside her. If she were to guess, she’d say the witch had been the victim of an attack. It took planning to use black magic, especially since a circle had been cast, the edges of which were half hidden under the dumpster. Her immediate assumption was that the dumpster had been moved after the fact in an attempt to hide the crime. Had the witch been lured here under false pretenses or had she known her attacker and come willingly? The sound of approaching hovercrafts caught her attention—Stargazer City’s finest had arrived in droves.

  Three vehicles clogged the alley and officers poured out.

  A tall, dark-haired detective stepped from one of the crafts and immediately directed the other officers to seal off the alley and the crime scene. Detective Andreas Corder was immaculately dressed in an expensive black suit, which fit his broad shoulders snuggly. She tried to smile at him, but didn’t have it in her. The witch’s death weighed too heavily, wiping away any desire to harmlessly flirt like she usually did with the devilishly handsome wizard nicknamed “Detective Undress Me” by Stargazer City’s eligible witches.

  Honora moved out of the way and waited off to one side while the officers did their job. She knew from experience they’d want to talk to her, so she waited patiently.

  Within seconds, a protective magical crime scene bubble glowed to life and the officers and technicians went to work. One opened a leather kit packed with tiny glowing potion bottles filled with fingerprint and wand detection elixirs and powders. Every wand left its own magical signature, so hopefully they would be able to narrow down the suspects.

  After a few minutes, the detective approached her.

  “You called this in?” Detective Corder nodded to the body shrouded in a black body bag, which was currently being levitated toward a waiting hovercraft.

  “Unfortunately, yes. I found the victim.” Honora shifted from foot t
o foot.

  “How long did it take you to call?” His brow creased, his expression stern.

  “Immediately, once I figured out what I was seeing.” This wasn’t the first dead body she’d ever seen, but that didn’t stop the shock and sadness seeping through her body at the loss of life.

  “What were you doing in the alley?” He was all business.

  “My plans for the night had been canceled so I was on my ledge and smelled the brimstone.” Her hands went to her hips defensively.

  He cocked his head and gazed upward. “That’s pretty far to smell brimstone, especially with the breeze.”

  “Technically I didn’t smell brimstone exactly, but I’ve a good nose. I smelled something. Plus, it’s hardly windy out here. I assumed it was a strong spell.” She nodded to the circle. “Looks pretty potent if you ask me. Pretty nasty spellcasting. Someone really knew what they were doing.”

  “Do you have a lot of experience with black magic?”

  Was he for real? “What’s going on here? You know me. You know I don’t practice black magic.”

  “Actually, I don’t know that at all.” The detective’s typically warm brown eyes looked practically black in the low light of the alley, like an animal on the prowl.

  Honora had to be hearing things. “What?! You’re kidding, right? I didn’t have anything to do with this. I’m the one who called it in, remember?” Her voice was sharp. Something was going on.

  “I’m going to need you to come down to the station and answer a few questions.”

  Honora bit the inside of her cheek, trying to check her anger. “May I ask why?”

  “I want to take your statement. Review events as you saw them.”

  “What else?” She speared him with a glance. There was way more to this. They could easily take her statement right here. It’s not like she knew anything. She’d just had the bad luck of finding the poor witch.

 
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