Frosted Croakies

Enchanting Inquiries Book 5

’Tis the season for great folly…walawalawalawalala…ribbit.

It’s Christmas time at Croakies. The tree is up. The stockings are hung. And Christmas tunes are turning the atmosphere jolly. After a tumultuous Samhain, I’ve found my chi again and I’m starting to enjoy the season of love and giving.

Yeah. You probably know how this is going to end.

When Sebille suggests I open the bookstore up to a small holiday party, I foolishly agree. How was I supposed to know that the hobgoblin would decide it would be fun to hide everybody’s stuff? Or that we’d be hit with a freak winter storm that confined everybody inside for the duration. Or that a “You’re me but who am I?” spell would be released inside the shop, switching everybody’s identities and creating general chaos and hysteria?

I could probably deal with all that if it weren’t for the fact that my friend, Lea…the one person who could possibly reverse the spell…was ensconced in SB the parrot, with no opposable thumbs for spelling.

And me? Of course, I’m sitting fat and squishy inside Mr. Slimy. Thank goodness Rustin isn’t currently in residence, or it would be really crowded in here.

Who spelled my party? What do a pair of Santa’s elves have to do with it? And why have old enemies suddenly become new friends? I apparently have a little holiday mystery to solve inside Croakies, and I have no idea how I’m going to solve it with everybody mixed up and some of us human.

Have I told you I hate this season?

Ribbit!

Reader Review: "Fun, really fun mixed up read. Best holiday story, I read in a while."

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‘Tis the Season for Pure Folly

“I definitely need to get my head examined,” I groused under my breath.

Passing by carrying a box filled with ornaments, Sebille reached up and flicked me on the temple.

“Ow!”

She narrowed her eyes menacingly. “Stop complaining. It’s going to be fun. It’s about giving back to your customers. Some of them have been coming to Croakies for years, and they’re very loyal.”

She was right. I was being a Scrooge. I thought of Mrs. Foxladle and Mr. Peabody, two of my favorite customers. They were the kindest souls in the world, and I did enjoy the idea of thanking them for their loyalty and support over the years.

I tugged the last branch of the artificial tree straight and stepped back, squinting at it with a critical eye. “Does that look crooked to you?”

From his perch on the windowsill, looking out into a snowy Saturday afternoon in December, Mr. Wicked gave me his expert, feline opinion. “Meow.”

“Thanks, buddy,” I told him.

Sebille straightened up from her box of goodies and gave the tree the once-over. “It looks perfect.”

There was a soft rustling noise and I turned back to the tree as Sebille hurried away, saying something about lights. The tree was leaning at least six inches to the right.

“Sebille must need glasses,” I said, reaching through the branches and tugging it straight. I jammed the whole thing deeper into the stand and infused it with a wisp of magic to keep it there.

I straightened with a groan and stepped back to get a better view.

“Ribbit,” Slimy said from his glass tank.

I glanced his way. “I think it’s finally straight, don’t you?”

Another soft rustling sound had me whipping back around.

The top third of the tree sagged slowly downward, like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Suspicion flared. “Okay, who’s messing with me?”

Giggling ensued from somewhere inside the tree. I hurried around back to catch the culprit, and Hobs flew out of the tree, shooting away from me so quickly he left only a streak of color on the air from the red and white holiday scarf he’d taken to wearing around his neck.

Wicked jumped down from the sill and plodded after his friend.

I should have known. The two of them were inseparable. Where there was a Wicked, there was always a hobgoblin.

Sebille settled another box on the floor. “I think that’s it.” She looked at the tree, frowning. “You broke it.”

I sighed. “It wasn’t me, it was Hobs.”

“Oh.” She grinned.

I was really glad she was enjoying the hobgoblin’s antics. I was about ready to put a lump of coal in his stocking. The only thing stopping me was that I feared he’d eat it.

I reached up and tried to straighten the top portion of the tree, but I wasn’t tall enough. I struggled for a minute, blowing prickly needles off my face as I strained on the very tips of my tippy toes. I huffed out a frustrated sigh as I failed to seat the section properly back into its center support.

“Here, let me try,” Sebille said. She popped into her Sprite form on a burst of white light and fluttered upward, her multi-hued wings beating the air behind her as she sent a soft green glow to bathe the sagging treetop in energy. Prodded by a gentle spurt of magic, the sagging segment surged upward and dropped firmly into the center pipe.

I wiped my sweaty palms onto my jeans. “Thanks, Sebille.”

She nodded and pointed to the lights. “Give me the end of that, and I’ll attach it to the top.”

With her flying around and around the tree, we had the lights in place within only a few minutes. I gave her the lighted angel I’d purchased for the top. She put that into place before she popped back to full size again.

My day was looking better. The hard part was done. “Now, all we need to do is add the ornaments,” I told her with a smile.

The front doorbell jingled behind me. I turned around to find Lea and Hex blowing in on a blast of icy air. Lea had her head so deep into her frothy, cream-colored scarf she resembled a turtle trying to retreat into her shell. The lumpy brown coat only enhanced the image. The scarf was ginormous, seemingly wide and long enough to serve as a blanket on a twin-sized bed.

My friend smiled brightly at me as Hex hurried toward the back room, gray tail whipping the air with excitement. “It’s not fit for man nor beast out there,” she said poetically.

Lea handed me something wrapped in foil that smelled like cinnamon and pumpkin. “Merry almost Christmas.”

I took the weighty gift and pulled her into a hug. A snowflake sifted from her scarf and melted on my nose. “Merry almost Christmas, Lea.”

Sebille plugged the lights in and our tree exploded with pulsating color and light.

Lea sighed. “So pretty.”

Christmas music suddenly filled the air. I squinted at Sebille. “Did you do that?”

She shook her head.

“It was me, Miss.”

Hobs stood near the door between the bookstore and the artifact library, his long-fingered hands clutching a small box inexpertly wrapped in red and green plaid foil with a crooked green bow on top. “I brought you a present.”

His oversized, pointed ears twitched with embarrassment and his pale cheeks pinkened.

“That’s so sweet,” I told him, walking over to retrieve the box from his spidery fingers. “Should I open it now?”

He shook his head. “It’s your Christmas spirit, Miss. You must keep it intact until the exact moment when you lose hope for the season.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that. It was kind of a mixed message. I finally settled on the obvious question. “What if I don’t need to unwrap it?”

His grin made him look positively angelic. Good thing I knew better. “All the better, Miss.”

I held the box up to my ears. The music was coming from inside. It sounded like an entire orchestra, the sound amazing. “This is wonderful, Hobs. Where did you get it?”

He held up a chastising finger, rocking it back and forth in censure. “Uh, uh, uh, Miss. Don’t look a gift spirit in the mouth.”

Or…something like that.

I gave him a hug. “I’ll put it under the tree.” I took a couple of steps toward the tree and stopped, despair making my skin prickle. “We forgot to get a tree skirt!” I immediately regretted the whiny tone of my voice, but I had no time to go back out and get a skirt. Especially since the stores were ridiculously busy and a little scary at that time of year.

“Here, Naida.” Lea came to my rescue. Unwinding the enormous scarf, she dropped to her knees beside the tree and wrapped it carefully around the stand. The result was beautiful.

Tears burned my eyes. “Oh, Lea. Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. I came to help you get ready. I’m glad I could solve that one problem, at least.”

I gave her another hug and then settled the box onto the scarf. It looked perfect nestled there. I considered the foil-wrapped delicacy in my other hand and decided against leaving that there. When I looked at Lea, it was like she’d read my mind.

“I agree. Between the cats and the hobgoblin, that wouldn’t make it through the day.”

“We’ll slice it up and serve it at the party,” I said, loving the idea. Then I had a thought. “You, um, didn’t put anything extra in this, did you?”

Lea’s eyes sparkled. “Maybe.”

“There will be humans here.”

“It’s okay. It won’t hurt them. Think of it as catnip for people.”

I laughed. “As long as it doesn’t make them climb the drapes.”

A box of pretty red and green glass bulbs appeared in front of my face. Sebille’s not-so-subtle reminder that we had a tree to decorate.

“What do you want me to do?” Lea asked, tugging off her coat.

“Can you get the big table from the back, find the tablecloth for it, and start arranging the food?”

She nodded briskly and took off toward the artifact library. I turned to the tree with my load of bulbs. With a slightly fizzy stomach that told me I was still worried about the evening to come, I set to work placing ornaments on the tree. Smiling and singing along with the music throbbing through the room with the force of a full orchestra, I felt my holiday spirit start to rise.

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