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Harvest of the Witch: Chapter One!

--By Kirsten Weiss

UnTarot card: Listen. A woman's ear breaks through a sheet of paper. An emerald earring dangles from her lobe. Above her ear are yellow roses and lambs ear leaves.

It was a mansion worthy of the season. Maple trees, blazing gold and persimmon, dotted the wide lawn. Pumpkins promenaded up the stone steps to a door beneath a gothic arch. The October sun glinted against tall, lead-paned windows.

If the place was haunted, it was a cheerful haunting, the sort that would welcome costumed children. Not that there would be any of those within walking distance. The point of an estate like this was elite isolation.

My phone on speaker, I stepped from my SUV onto the gravel drive. My young daughter babbled from the phone’s speaker.

The afternoon was hot, as California autumns could sometimes be. But a winter shiver rippled my spine. Suddenly, I was afraid.

I hadn’t been afraid when I’d made the decision to come. I’d been determined and a little excited. My sister Jayce couldn’t leave her coffee shop. Lenore couldn’t abandon her bookstore. It was on me, the work-from-home witch, and Nick and I had agreed I needed a break.

I shifted my weight on the gravel. After all, it had only been a suspicion of Sunny’s, and she was still a new witch. There was nothing here that screamed of dark magic.

Since my phone was in hand and Emmie’s chatter on full flow, I tapped our mystery school’s UnTarot app. A picture appeared on the screen, with one word beneath it: Listen.

Well, I’d be listening all right. And watching and using every witchy sense I had to confirm or deny Sunny’s suspicion.

I relaxed my gaze. Three shoulder-height lines of energy brightened the air.

Remembering Emmie on the phone, I bit back my curse. The red earth energy—ley lines—intersected somewhere inside the gray-stone mansion. Their combined power created a reddish aura around the house as if it were lit by demonic energy.

But ley lines weren’t evil. They were just power. Neutral. Ancient societies had built sacred structures and cities atop them, marking their connecting points. And the ley lines had imbued those structures with power.

This mansion had certainly benefited from the ley lines. It had magic in spades. Sunny had been right about that at least.

My shoulders curled forward, my stomach heavying. I hoped Sunny was wrong about the rest.

Other human-sized energetic cords appeared at the edges of the ley lines’ red corona, which was so bright it seemed to absorb the smaller cords’ energy. But I could still see that one of the smaller ones was dark and cruel and cold.

I swallowed. So Sunny was right about that too. Like me, she was able to see the energies connecting people and things. Most of those ties were unconscious attachments—the love for a family member, the anger toward a colleague.

But the conscious attachments, the spells, were always dark. Spells to control. Spells to manipulate. Spells to harm.

Shaking myself, I grabbed my professional-grade backpack from the car and slung the blue bag over one shoulder. I turned the phone off speaker and clapped it to my ear.

My son Mitch’s voice rose in a shriek above Emmie’s chatter. Wincing, I jerked the phone away, made a soothing noise, and strode toward the wide stone steps.

“I have to go, Emmie. Put your dad on the phone.”

Instead, my daughter loosed a last flood of childish intel. A blue bird at the window. A boy being mean. A red jacket. Somehow, these were all connected in pre-kindergarten land, though I had no idea how.

“How interesting,” I said. “Now put your father on. I have to go to work.”

I climbed the wide steps and rang the bell. I half expected an ominous gong in response. But the house was too well-mannered to permit sound to escape.

I craned my neck and studied the paned windows above. A house this size would need a staff. Would there be a butler? I imagined a cadaverous man in a tux. A bug-eyed hunchback. A toothy male model.

The arched wooden door opened. A little old woman in a jungle-print kimono, jeans, and a white tee blinked at me. Her ivory hair was piled high on her head.

Abruptly, she moved forward as if to grasp my hand. The fabric of her kimono caught on the doorknob, jerking her arm back. “Oh!” She untangled herself. “You must be Karin.”

“Sorry.” I motioned to the phone at my ear. “My daughter won’t... She’s four.”

The woman pressed her wrinkled hands together. “Such a precious age.” She drew a long breath, her pale blue eyes somber. “But the thing is, I have bad news.”

My stomach plunged. The job had been canceled. I knew it had been a stretch for Sunny to bring me in as a consulting “word witch.” The title itself was outrageous, even if I did have several dozen romance novels under my belt.

Emmie was still talking, oblivious, and I realized it didn’t matter if I listened or not. My responses wouldn’t alter her flow. I lowered the phone. “Bad news?”

So Sunny’s boss had decided against me. That was fine. I didn’t need to get inside. Those lines had told me enough. What I needed now was to get Sunny out.

“It’s Sunny, you see.” The woman tugged at the gold medallion around her neck. “I’m afraid...” She drew herself up. “I’m sorry, there’s no good way to say this. She’s dead.”

My breath huffed as if I’d been gut punched. Something clattered to the paving stones. “What?” I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t inhale. It couldn’t be real. It was a joke. Sunny wasn’t dead. She’d emailed me yesterday.

Her gnarled fingers hadn’t released the medallion—a primitive sun. She gripped it as if it were a talisman for a cruel and pagan god, one that had sapped the life from her. The woman’s skin looked fragile and papery. There was vulnerability in her eyes, and shock, and pain.

She wasn’t joking.

The woman released the medallion, and it fell, gleaming, to her chest. Swiftly, she stooped and retrieved the phone I’d dropped. “I shouldn’t have said it like that. I should have warned you to prepare yourself. I’m so sorry.” She extended the phone toward me.

As if my hand was being lifted by someone else, I took it. “When? How?” I croaked, my neck cording.

I hadn’t known Sunny well. But I’d known her. Sunny had been a part of our school. A student. A woman like me, one who could see more than she should.

“This morning. It was a terrible accident. She must have slipped and hit her head. We found her in the pool.” Her pale eyes widened. “You look like you’re about to faint. Come inside.” The woman grasped my arm.

I winced at the strength of her near-supernatural grip. She led me, unresisting, into the mansion.

I had the vague impression of teeth and snarling animals, and then the weight of past lives. When I shook off my fugue state, I found myself in a sitting room. It smelled of flowers and furniture polish. Bookshelves lined its dark wood walls.

But instead of the leather-bound classics I’d have expected in a grand room like this, their shelves were lined with well-loved spines. Paperback romances. Agatha Christies. An old yellow set of Nancy Drews.

“She was really looking forward to your arrival.” The woman sat on a green leather sofa. “Again, I’m so sorry for your loss.”

My jaw tightened. “Sorry, who are you?” I asked, my voice a blade.

Sunny was dead. Dead. And I was suddenly furious at this strange woman. Who the hell was she, waltzing around in a kimono and jeans and dropping death news like it was no big thing? About Sunny.

I tried to quiet my breathing. Sunny’d only been… what? Not quite thirty. She’d just broken up with her boyfriend when we’d met, and I’d felt… sympathy and a certain smug comfort at my own settled, marital state.

The feeling had flushed me with shame then. The memory felt worse now.

Lowering myself into a matching wingchair, I glanced down at my phone. It hadn’t broken, but I’d somehow disconnected, probably when I’d dropped it.

She made an embarrassed moue. “Please forgive me. I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Georgette. Georgette Winsome.”

I felt the blood drain from her face. “You’re...”

Georgette’s smile was faint. “Just Georgette. Just a normal woman, my dear. And I’m still reeling too.”

Georgette Winsome was not a normal woman. Not by a longshot. She had more money than Bill Gates and used it to better purpose. She’d been married to the shipping magnate Frank Winsome—an unhappy marriage by all accounts.

Frank had died in a boating accident forty years ago. Georgette had been playing the merry widow ever since.

“Can I get you some tea?” she asked. “Or something stronger?”

I hesitated. Oh, what the hell? “Something stronger.”

Georgette rose and walked to a liquor trolly. “Brandy? Vodka? Whiskey?”

“Vodka,” I said. “With ice.”

“Vodka is best cold,” she agreed, returning with a tinkling glass.

I held it a long moment, feeling the chill of the tumbler on my fingers, the sharpness of the cut glass pressing into my skin. Then I slugged back the drink and grimaced at the shock of alcohol. “What happened?”

“A stupid slip and fall.” Georgette sat again, her kimono billowing around her rounded hips. “Sunny was in the habit of taking a morning swim. She was an early riser, up by five-thirty, I think she told us. Berkeley found her.”

Avoiding her gaze, I found a white-stone coaster and set the glass on it. “Berkeley?” I asked, feigning ignorance. Sunny had already filled me in on the suspects.

“My nephew. Bob helped pull her from the pool, but by then it was too late. She was gone. Bob tried. He pumped so much water from her lungs, but...” Her mouth trembled.


“Bob Wodge, the artist. He’s been barricaded in his studio, painting, ever since. I think he had a crush on Sunny. Such a waste,” she said, her voice mournful. “I can’t believe she’s gone. She was so young, your age, I think.”

I studied the Persian carpet between my tennis shoes. I was a little older than Sunny. She would never reach my age now. Nausea spun inside my stomach. “Where... Where is she?”

“The ambulance took her away. There will be an autopsy. I told them to make it a priority.”

And they would. My muscles stiffened. Georgette Winsome generally got what she wanted, when she wanted.

“She said she had a foster brother,” Georgette said quietly.

I shook my head. Sunny hadn’t spoken much of her past, but I knew she’d been raised in foster care. My nails bit into my palms. The system hadn’t been kind to her.

The system hadn’t been kind, but Sunny had risen above it, made something of the bad deal she’d been handed. And now she was dead.

“She spoke highly of you,” the older woman continued.

My throat tightened. I knew why Sunny had said those things—not because of any great admiration for me, but to get me inside the house. That knowledge was no comfort. I’d come too late.

“What can I do to help you?” Georgette asked. “You’ve come all the way from Doyle, I think?”

“Yes.” But I couldn’t return. Not yet. Not with Sunny’s job unfinished. I didn’t see how I could stay here though. “I should... get a hotel. It’s too far to drive back tonight.”

“Nonsense,” Georgette said. “I mean, if that’s what you want, of course I’ll take care of it. But you can stay here. I’ve got plenty of room, and it’s the least I can do.”

Some of the tension leaked from my shoulders. “That... Yes, thank you. If it’s not too much trouble,” I added insincerely.

Hugging her sleeves close to avoid the knobs at the end of the bannisters, she led me up a magnificent curving set of stairs. I followed her down a long hallway to a room fit for an Italian countess. Antique jungle-print wallpaper, a ceiling decorated with golden curlicues, a canopy bed with pink velvet drapes.

“Sunny thought you’d like it,” Georgette said quietly.

I nodded, finding it hard again to speak. “Thank you,” I managed.

“I’ll leave you to... Well. There’s no password on the guest internet. There’s also no formal dinnertime, and you don’t have to join us if you’d prefer privacy. But we usually find ourselves around the dining table at six.”

“I’ll be there,” I said.

Georgette nodded and backed from the room. She closed the door behind her.

I dropped my pack on the bed and wandered to the glass patio doors. Mt. Shasta, wreathed in clouds, loomed in the distance. Then I returned to the bed, extracted my laptop from my pack, and opened it on the antique desk.

Sunny had wanted me here.

And Georgette had killed her.

Cover for Harvest of the Witch on a mobile phone and three UnTarot cards: Love, Rebirth, and Beauty.

Harvest of the Witch

Halloween is coming… And so is murder…

Doyle witch Karin has it all. A loving husband. Two wonderful children. A flexible career. Now that her days of fighting dark magicians is over, she’s perfectly happy in her comfortable life. But beneath the surface of perfection, cracks are emerging.

So when a witch she’s mentoring asks for help, Karin might be a little too eager to escape her routine. Until she arrives at the remote mansion retreat to find her apprentice is dead.

Exploring the fragile balance between love and longing, happiness and deception, Karin must follow the trail of dark magic to its end. But can she overcome not only a killer, but her own inner demons?

Harvest of the Witch is a thrilling supernatural mystery, packed with Halloween magic and murder! Perfect for fans of paranormal women’s fiction, this short read is book 12 in the Witches of Doyle mystery series and a prequel to Kirsten Weiss’s new Mystery School series.

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