Unbaked Croakies

Enchanting Inquiries Book 1

How in the name of the goddess’s favorite sports bra am I going to do this Magical Librarian job? I have no idea what I’m doing. And the woman who’s supposed to be training me is…well, let’s just say she’s distracted and leave it at that. I guess I’ll bumble through. It’s become something of a trademark move for me.

Hi. My name is Naida Griffith and I’m a sorceress. I actually found that out not all that long ago. I’ve lived with an undefined something burning in my belly for a while, feeling as if something wasn’t quite right under my skin.

Then stuff started to follow me around. Random stuff. I had no idea where it was coming from. Holy bat burgers! That certainly isn’t alarming. No it is not.

Recently I was approached by a group called the Société of Dire Magic to become a Keeper of the Artifacts. A magical librarian.

Me? A keeper of magical artifacts?

That would be scary enough, but then that suitcase artifact turned up at Croakies, my new artifact library slash bookstore business. I was a little perplexed by the dead body crumpled up inside it. How did the corpse get inside the suitcase?

That was a really good question. And I wished I had an answer to it.

More from this series

November 17, 2020

February 9, 2021

Praise for Unbaked Croakies

 Jen - Booksprout Reviewer

"Unbaked Croakies is a fantastic book. I loved it! It is unique and creative. Sam Cheever writes with great descriptive detail that you can picture the world coming to life. This is a prequel to the series and it was interesting to see where it all started and gain more insight into the characters. The characters are humourous and quirky. This magical world is intriguing and fun. It is always an exciting adventure at Croakies. I absolutely love this series! I highly recommend this book."

Thomas P. - Goodreads Reviewer

"This is a fun story with developed characters, and a good bit of humor from the mind of an author who makes sure you will not see what's coming next."

Read an Excerpt

Oy, Pudsy. How’s Things?

I stood on the street outside the bookstore, frowning up at the ugly wood sign with the picture of a spotted frog on it. The yellowed white paint was chipped and scarred, and there was a black blotch near the frog’s mouth that looked like a fly.

I kept expecting the frog’s tongue to snake out and snap it up.

It was an ugly sign. World-class ugly. But it was oddly suited given the store’s strange name.

Croakies.

I mean. What kind of name was that for a bookstore?

Soft footsteps came up behind me and I resisted turning.

“Are you ready?”

At just under six feet, the man was only a few inches taller than I was. I guessed he was about middle age. For a sorcerer that would put him in his eighties or nineties. He had piercing blue eyes that were a little darker than mine and longish, curly brown hair. He also had a truly forgettable face. I mean that literally. From one moment to the next I would often forget what the man looked like. In fact, the few times I’d seen him, I’d only been able to identify him because of the sorcerer’s garb he wore.

The thought made me frown.

I always remembered the piercing blue gaze. And the hair. But that was all that stuck in my mind.

I knew him only as Agent A.P. from the Société of Dire Magic. A formidable group whose moniker seemed to strike fear into the hearts of everyone I spoke to about them. Supernormals, at least. Since I’d been raised by a non-magical grandma, I didn’t really know that many supernormals. But the few I’d met since A.P. had knocked on my door a couple of weeks earlier, had seemed more than half afraid of him.

I had no idea what it was that scared them about the man. He seemed harmless enough to me.

I turned to look at the agent. He was less intimidating in his street clothes than he’d been in his robes. I’d only met him a handful of times. But each time we’d met previous to when he’d come to fetch me from my grandma’s home a little while ago, he’d looked just like a fairytale sorcerer in his long purple and black robes. All that had been missing was the pointy hat.

And the wand.

When I’d jokingly asked him where those two items were, he’d very earnestly explained that they were only for special ceremonies.

I hadn’t known him long enough to recognize if he was joking.

I chose to believe he was.

Otherwise, it would just be too weird.

But back to his question. Was I ready?

Taking a deep, bracing breath, I nodded. I was as ready as I was ever going to be. With a feeling that my life was about to change in ways I couldn’t imagine and might not like, I reached for the door to Croakies and opened it.

A mangy black cat galloped toward the door as it opened, yowling as if he were being chased by an army of slavering canines. The feline’s headlong flight was accompanied by a prolonged shriek.

“Banshee Botox!” a woman caterwauled from deep inside the store. “Close the door! Don’t let him out.”

I quickly slammed the door behind me, cutting the agent behind me off in mid-stride.

A.P. yelped in pain from the wrong side of the entrance.

A woman came scurrying out of the stacks, rushing over to grab the cat, who was almost as big as a full-sized dachshund and sported only one and a half ears. 

The feline’s longish black fur was matted and sparse in spots, making him look like he’d spent the better part his life on the streets. White fur speckled the big cat’s cheeks and chin, marking him as a feline of the older variety. His large, expressive eyes were a silvery-green and probably the prettiest thing about him.

Which wasn’t saying much.

“Fenwald, you naughty boy,” the woman said, her accent strident and British.

She looked at me through a pair of large tortoiseshell glasses, shoving them up a pug nose and peering at me as if I were a particularly nasty bug. “What is it, then? Do ya need a book?”

The door behind me opened, and A.P. came inside the store, rubbing his decidedly red nose. He glared at the woman behind the square glasses. “Alice. That cat is a menace.”

I expected her to buckle under his severe disappointment. Instead, she grinned.

“Oy, Pudsy. How’s things? You’re looking a bit pinkish about the old snout there, eh?” Her laughter was a series of odd snorts that vibrated the glasses down her nose. She reached up and poked them back into place with a bandaged finger covered in black ink. “Ah,” she said, her smallish brown eyes rolling back to me. “So, this is my new apprentice, then?” She looked me over with a critical eye. “She’ll do.” The woman offered me a work-roughened hand. “I’m Alice, Keeper of the Artifacts. You’re Naida?”

I nodded, struck dumb by the reality in front of me. In my mind, I’d pictured a tall, powerful woman with a calm, no-nonsense manner as Keeper. Alice wasn’t any of those things.

Jerking her head toward the side, Alice said. “Come on, then. I’ll make us a spot of tea.” She carried the big cat with her as she slouched toward a nook across from the sales counter. The space sported a miniature stove and a short counter, which was covered in tea-making things. The oven door was open, and a comfortable warmth oozed from its interior. The cat immediately sprawled in front of it and began to bathe, clearly enjoying the heat.

With a jolt, I realized Alice was using the ancient appliance to warm the bookstore. “Is the heater broken?” I asked, pulling my coat closer as I shivered. I wasn’t looking forward to spending a winter shivering and sniffling day and night.

Alice flipped a dismissive hand. “It’s just having a fit. It’ll be right as rain in no time.”

I sent A.P. a worried glance, and he shook his head. “You need to get that fixed, Alice,” he told the woman. “It was part of your apprenticeship agreement with the Société.”

She ignored him completely, motioning negligently toward the small, three-person table in the center of the open space at the front of the store. A high, narrow window above the tea nook showed the clear blue of an early-January sky. The bright sunshine painted a golden ribbon across the bookstore’s ratty carpet and bathed the round table in warmth. “Have a seat, sweetums.” She glanced at A.P. “You too, Pudsy. I’ll have tea ready in two shakes.”

I looked at A.P. and smiled, mouthing, “Pudsy?”

He shook his head dismissively.

While the tea steeped, Alice pulled the oven door wide. Grabbing a dingy towel that was appliqued with a large black cat that looked nothing like Fenwald, she tugged a flat pan from the oven’s interior. She carefully extracted three pale, oblong biscuits from the pan, arranging them like spokes on a wheel in the center of a chipped white plate and sliding the rest back inside the oven.

Alice placed the snack on the table between us. “Scones. My specialty.”

Having missed breakfast that morning, I smiled in anticipation. “Thank you. They smell delicious.”

Alice gave me a pleased smile and returned to her tea prep.

Fenwald wandered over and sat down a few feet away from the table, staring at me through an unfathomable green gaze.

I reached for a scone, eyeing the dark spots marking its golden surface and wondering what they were. I hoped they weren’t raisins. Maybe blueberries? I thought, hopefully.

A.P. reached out and touched my hand with a finger, shaking his head and frowning as I lifted it toward my mouth.

Grinning, I took a bite.

“Ow!” I said before I could stop myself.

A.P. sat back and shook his head.

“Watch out, sweetums. They’re hot.”

I pulled the scone from my mouth and looked at the shallow dent my teeth had made in it. Feeling my front teeth to make sure they were still intact, I arched my brows at A.P.

He chuckled soundlessly. Reaching for another scone, he held it above the table for a moment, glancing over at Alice, he asked, “Is that a new thriller section, Alice?”

The Keeper lifted her head and looked into the bookstore. “Yes. Blimey, you do have a keen eye. I moved them from the back because I’ve seen new interest in thrillers of late.” Alice wandered over to the books in question and ran her hand lovingly over their perfectly arranged spines.

While she was distracted. The Société agent slammed his scone against the edge of the table, coughing loudly to cover the noise, and broke a large chunk off the end of it. He threw the piece to Fenwald. It hit the carpet with the weight of a large marble and skittered to a spot a few inches from the cat.

Fenwald eyed the heavy offering and then lifted a derisive gaze to A.P., as if to say, I’m not eating that. Not wasting any time considering the offering, the big cat reached out with a large paw and whacked it away.

We watched it skitter beneath the cabinet where Alice kept her assortment of teas, out of sight.

I wondered how many other bits of bad baking the cat had “stored” beneath the cabinet. Then I decided I probably didn’t want to know.

“I find I’m growing fond of the genre,” Alice said, oblivious as she returned to her tea-making. She glanced over her shoulder at me. “How about you, Naida? What’s your favorite genre?”

I flushed in embarrassment, not wanting to tell her in front of A.P. “Um, paranormal.” It wasn’t a lie…exactly…I did like some paranormal along with my romance.

Alice’s grin widened. “A fine choice. I have a large selection in the store. Help yourself if you’d like. Just be sure to put a couple of dollars in the till for the rent.”

My eyes went wide. “Rent?” There’d been no mention of rent. I’d thought I was going to be working off my room and board. It was an old-fashioned arrangement but a necessity. When my grandma had died a few months previous, she’d left me with a tiny house filled with ratty furnishings and a lot of debt that pretty much wiped out whatever I would earn from the sale of the house.

I had no money and no family that I knew of. If Agent A.P. hadn’t come to me and told me there was an apprenticeship open for an artifact librarian, I’d have been in sad shape.

For once in my life, it had seemed like the winds of fate had blown in my favor. Though the Société agent had been vague about how he’d found me, murmuring something about being a friend of my grandma’s.

I highly doubted that.

“Yes,” said Alice. “I rent books for avid readers who don’t have the space to store them all.”

I nodded in understanding. “That makes sense.”

She placed cups of tea in front of us and then pulled a third chair from the corner. Dropping into it with a sigh, Alice Parker fixed a speculative look on me. Then, lifting her teacup to her mouth, she said, “So, Naida Griffith, tell me why I should hire you as an apprentice for Keeper of the Artifacts?”

My mind went blank. I glanced toward A.P., but he wasn’t paying attention to us. He’d pulled out his cell phone and seemed to be checking his emails.

I was on my own.

“Um…” I said stupidly. Stalling for time, I tucked a long strand of my curly brown hair behind one ear. Digging deep, I discarded options as quickly as they occurred to me. I couldn’t tell her it was because I’d just turned twenty-two and needed a job. From what A.P. had told me, Keepers were born to wrangle artifacts. It wasn’t a career choice. It was their legacy. I didn’t want Alice to know I wasn’t really suited for the job. She’d find out soon enough.

After a moment that stretched farther than the last pair of size eight jeans I’d tried to pull on over my size ten hips, I finally said the only thing that came to mind. “I get migraines, and strange objects seem to follow me around.” I cringed inwardly. As random statements went, it was somewhere in the realm of “I see dead people.”

To my shock, Alice cocked her head, narrowed her small eyes behind the massive glasses, and smiled. “Well now, that’s just perfect. Okay then. Let’s get started.”

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