STATS: I am in my early twenties, and have long brown hair and blue eyes. I’m five feet nine inches tall and slightly fluffy. I was raised by a troll who I believed was my gramma (interesting story), and only learned I had artifact magic when I got into my teens and artifacts started following me around. Literally.
Hi! My name is Naida, and I’m a magical artifact librarian. I have a magical cat and a talking frog. My best friend is a sprite with fiery red hair and a matching personality. My boyfriend is a cop and a gargoyle.
I live in a place called Croakies. Seriously. The froggy name was the brainchild of the original librarian, and it’s magically protected, impossible to change.
Believe me, I tried.
But, despite the bad name and a growing cadre of misfits and malcontents who live there with me, the place has become my home. A bookstore in the front, and a warehouse of magical artifacts in the back, Croakies has grown on me like troll fungus in the years since I’ve become Naida keeper, KOA, Keeper of the Artifacts.
I know what you’re thinking. Librarians may be nice people, but their lives are boring. Goddess in a glass house…not my gig. Some days I wished it were boring. The job is a veritable smorgasbord of intrigue and mystery, along with lots of danger. I hear you laughing. But it’s true. What kind of danger? you ask. Okay, let me catalog, librarian-like, a few of my assignments:
In my newest adventure, Super Croakies, I chased a hot-pink magical Cadillac with deadly intentions and a literal ton of magical energy behind it. I also found myself dodging a malevolent superhero costume that had gone rogue in a decidedly toxic way.
In Croakies Dictum, my friends and I fought a trio of magical gateways in an attempt to access a universal artifact key and save the fairies from certain death.
In Turtle Croakies, my friends and I found ourselves in the Jurassic era, battling all manner of dinosaurs in pursuit of a time-traveling tortoise and the witch who was misusing it.
Then it was monsters. In Croakies Monster, we had to deal with an army of beasts that we inadvertently released from the abyss when we used the magic incorrectly.
And, if you want a truly nightmarish situation, try entering a magical black-and-white TV like we did in Black and White Croakies, and experience getting sucked into the evil twin versions of every sitcom you enjoyed as a kid.
Sigh… Such is my life. The adventures are potentially lethal for me and my friends, but eminently entertaining for you, so there’s that…
“Have you seen Vel?” I asked my assistant as she buzzed past, wings whirring softly in the quiet space.
“No.” Sebille stopped in front of me and popped into full size, her expression perplexed. “I was just looking for Baca. One of the ceiling tiles is loose in the bookstore. I was going to have her fix it.”
I frowned, looking around the enormous, warehouse-like space of the artifact library. “I just realized I haven’t seen Mr. Wicked or Hobs either since dinner.”
Our gazes met and locked, alarm widening her iridescent green eyes and my blue ones in matching indications of concern. “What are they up to?” I asked, knowing it was a rhetorical question since nobody but the aforementioned little monsters knew the answer.
If my cat, Mr. Wicked, was missing, along with the brownie, Baca, and her constant companion, Hobs, that was concerning enough. If the newest member of our strange gang was missing too, things were almost guaranteed to get squiggy. Vel, our little demon dog, was a sweet but undisciplined disaster waiting to happen. We’d gotten her from the demonic plane, and I suspected she was just a puppy with massive powers she seemed to have little control over.
The front bell rang and a clear, worried voice called out. “Naida? Sebille? I need to talk to you.”
I looked at Sebille and she rolled her eyes. “What does she want now?”
Sebille didn’t usually react that way to our friend Lea, the earth witch who lived above the magical herbs shop next door. The sprite generally saved that level of derision for me. But Lea had been in something of a dither for the last couple of weeks. She’d read some signs in tea leaves or something. We assumed she was reading them wrong. But she was sure of her results. And they were bad. Really bad. Basically, she was predicting the end of the world.
Two brisk knocks on the dividing door between the store and the artifact library had me sighing. As much as I loved my friend, like Sebille, I was getting just a wee bit tired of the drama about the full moon. I mean, we had a full moon a dozen times a year, right? What made the current full moon so different?
I threw a wisp of my Keeper magic toward the door and it opened, revealing a harried, wild-eyed earth witch wearing pink and lace footie pajamas.
“Ah!” Sebille said, holding up her arms as if to ward off a boogie. “What are you wearing?”
Looking perplexed, Lea glanced down at her curvy form. “My PJs. Why? What’s wrong with them?”
“Other than the obvious?” Sebille asked.
“Says the woman who wears red and white striped footie PJs to bed all the time?” I said, in Lea’s defense. Not to mention the green and purple polka dot dress Sebille was currently wearing with black and red striped stockings and fire-engine-red shoes that matched her long, red hair. My assistant was the last person who should be picking on somebody else’s clothing choices.
“I wear them in the winter,” Sebille responded. “It’s only October. Way too early for the Full Monty, pajama-wise.”
Lea hurried over, the plastic bottoms of her footie feet scraping softly on the concrete. “My heat’s broken, and the shop is freezing.” She fluttered her hands dismissively. “That’s not important. I just read the tea leaves again.”
I didn’t look at Sebille. I didn’t want to see the face I knew she was making. “Oh?”
To be honest, I was with Sebille about the tea leaf overdose. Lea had just learned to read tea leaves, and she was seeing danger around every corner since starting. The whole thing had a “Chicken Little” feel to it. “I take it you saw something alarming?”
Sebille elbowed me in the side hard enough to make me grunt. She didn’t want me to encourage the witch. If she could communicate telepathically, she’d no doubt be telling me, “Shut it. The witch finds enough trouble without us encouraging her.”
I didn’t disagree.
Lea ran a hand through her long, light brown hair, her movements jerky and agitated. “Nothing new,” she responded. “Just the same death and destruction.”
“Can you give us anything to work with?” I asked. “Any detail at all?”
Lea shook her head, looking like she wanted to cry. “I’m getting the full moon, with a blood-red haze over it. And howling. Lots of howling. Then I get this feeling of death.” She shuddered, clearly affected by what she was seeing.
Even if it was all in her imagination.
“Look, Lea…” I began.
The bell on the front door clanged again. Hippopotamus halitosis! “Did somebody replace the front door with a revolving one?”
Lea frowned. “It wasn’t locked when I came inside. In fact, the knob is kind of kluge.”
“Kluge how,” I asked, heading for the front of the building. I tugged the dividing door open and found a man with broad shoulders and mahogany-brown hair standing by the front door. He was staring down at something in his big hand.
“Kluge like that,” Lea said. She nodded toward the doorknob in my boyfriend Grym’s palm.
He looked up, an apology in his dark caramel gaze. “I’m really sorry, Naida. It just came off in my hand.” It might have been the result of his gargoyle DNA. Or the door might have been compromised already, as Lea suggested.
Panic swirled through me. Had Croakies been broken into?
I looked at Sebille. “I need to do a quick read of the whole place.”
She nodded. “I’ll make tea.”
Tea would fix everything. Well, not everything. “We might need cookies too.”
The sprite nodded.
Grym turned back to the door and tried to stick the handle back into it. “Where’s Baca? She can fix this in no time.”
The brownie was becoming indispensable.
I closed my eyes and lifted my hands, palms up. Tugging power from my core, I released it in dual waves of silvery energy that spread throughout the bookstore and then moved into the much larger artifact library at the back. As it moved through the building, I mentally inventoried every magical book and artifact, finding nothing out of place or missing.
Opening my eyes, I shook my head. “I don’t know where Baca is,” I said, belatedly answering Grym’s question. “I can’t find any of them.” Noting Grym’s dour expression, I realized he hadn’t just come to Croakies to say hey. “What’s wrong?”
Grym was a detective with the Enchanted Police. I gathered from his manner that he had business of a police nature to share with us. I also guessed it wasn’t good news.
He motioned toward the table by the bookshelves. “You might want to sit down.” He took the tea Sebille offered him and nodded at Lea. “All of you.”
Panic swirled in my chest, making my heart flutter with concern. “What’s wrong?” I repeated, my tone going slightly shrill. “The kids are okay, right? You’re not here to tell us something’s happened to them?” Suddenly the idea that I hadn’t seen them since dinner took on a sinister feel.
My question was based on recent experience. There had been a whole Pied Piper thing that still gave me nightmares. The sight of all of my friends and loved ones being marched away to almost certain death had left me scarred.
Grym gave me an apologetic look. “No. This isn’t about them. But…” He stared into his teacup and sighed. “You might want to keep them close for a bit.”
“Why?” Lea asked. She glanced toward the door, and I didn’t need to read her mind to know she was thinking about her little cat, Hex, alone in her apartment next door.
Grym set the tea down on the table and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “You remember Rhonda across the street?”
I nodded. “The banshee.” I’d only met Rhonda a couple of times, but both times had been memorable. She’d joined us for a pretty chaotic Christmas party where someone had spelled the cookies to mix up our bodies with our spirits. I would never forget the experience, having spent way too much time as a frog, craving bugs. I shuddered at the memory. The second time, we’d been battling a building-sized snake, and she’d screamed the monster to sleep for us. “I haven’t seen her for a while.” Even as I spoke the words, I knew what he was going to say.
“Well, she…” his brows lowered as he seemed to be struggling with the right words. “Somebody…” He shook his head. “She’s dead.”
“Oh!” Lea said, shuddering violently. She looked at Sebille and me. “See! I told you. Somebody’s already been killed! I was right.”
I held up a hand for her to calm down. “How did she die?” I asked Grym.
He winced. “I don’t really want to…”
Sebille, Lea, and I all gave him the stink eye.
“You can’t come in here and tell us Rhonda’s dead and then not tell us what happened,” Sebille said.
“She’s right,” I told him.
“Was she murdered?” Lea asked, looking as if she’d just eaten a bug.
“Yes,” he finally said. “She was killed. Somebody, or something, chewed on her.”
Talk about your midlife crisis. How was I supposed to know when I bought a pretty country church in a city named Rome that I was acting like a guardian deity? Lares Schmares. Anybody who deifies me needs serious therapy.
I went very still. Thirteen gongs? No. That wasn’t right.
Monty suddenly whipped around and ran back into the shadows. “Monty, come back here.” I hurried after him. The belfry was giving me the creeps and I’d decided I’d wait until morning to fix the bell. If I had to, I’d put earplugs in my ears to get through the rest of the night.
My little dog watched me approach with my light. He stood on his back legs, his front paws resting on the short belfry wall. Whining, he danced excitedly as I reached him, begging to be lifted.
“You can’t go up there,” I told him, eyeing the narrow ledge around the top of the short wall. Rising from the wall on all four sides were open archways so the bell’s music could travel across the countryside.
I looked out on the cemetery in the back, shivering at the sight of the fog roiling over the ground. It looked like a scene from a Halloween horror flick. Shivering violently, I pulled the robe closer as I stared out over the fog-shrouded tombstones.
The cemetery was old. Really old. With tombstones that were broken and falling over. The grass and weeds had grown up all around the stones, in some cases obscuring them entirely.
Maintenance on the little plot had been neglected for years. I was going to change that. The ground below me was sacred. The lives within it were important. Giving them back the resting spot they deserved was at the top of the list of things I planned to take care of as soon as I got settled.
In the distance, lightning spiked from the sky in a jagged spear of light and energy. A moment later, a soft boom told me thunder was hot on its heels. A cool breeze washed over me as Monty started to bark again.
Lightning stabbed downward again, significantly closer to my little piece of heaven. We needed to get out of there. “Come on, Monty. We’ll come back in the morning. With relief, I watched him bolt across the belfry and bound happily down the steps.
I started to follow him. But something caught my eye in the cemetery. I turned to look and felt a jolt of fear.
Someone was standing out there among the broken stones. I went very still, my eyes locked on the tall form. He…and I was pretty sure it was a man…stared back at me, though I couldn’t make out any features, just the gentle tilt of his head, but I could feel his gaze like a brand against my skin. With a sudden, inexplicable certainty, I knew he was looking directly at me.
We stared at each other for a beat as the fog swirled around his long legs, and then he slowly lifted a hand as if in a wave.
All the hair rose on my arms again.
The world exploded in light−detonated in a cacophonous boom. And the world turned charcoal gray beneath it.
“Say what?” I asked. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear you right.”
Shane’s gaze landed on the two men standing before the hut. “You heard me right. The Brothers aren’t fond of travelers. Let’s just say they’ve been burned a time or two.”
“And yet this is where you brought us to spend the night?” Alina said. Despite her lowered brows, there was a suspicious twitch in her lips that made me think she was amused by our situation.
I wished I felt the same.
“I’ll agree it’s not perfect,” Shane said.
Hawk barked out a laugh. In a blink, several of the brothers had weapons in their hands.
We went very still, eyeing their weapons.
Alina’s slender fingers caressed the handles of her guns. “Blades made of stone. Interesting choice of weapon.”
“Don’t underestimate those blades,” Shane said, absently rubbing a shoulder. “They hone them until they’re impossibly sharp. And they can split a mosquito from forty yards with one of those things.”
“Let’s take a vote. Everybody who wants to move on,” I said, raising a hand.
Alina raised her hand too. When she saw Hawk hadn’t raised his, she lifted her other one. “I’m voting for two.”
I snorted out a laugh. A man stepped from the shadow of a smaller black hut. He held his blade low at his side, balanced between two fingertips. His expression didn’t show any emotion, but even from a distance of fifteen feet, I could tell he was tensed to throw the knife.
“Shane,” I murmured, pulling energy from the air. I gasped as the magic rushed to fill my core, thick and rich and vibrant with expectant power. I absorbed so much and so quickly that it shot to my hands, swirling in thick rust-colored clouds that filled the air around us with static electricity.
Every hair on my body stood at attention. Beside me, Alina sucked air and laughed with genuine humor. I turned to find her touching the ends of her hair that were floating around her head.
“What the…?” Shane rubbed the hair on his arms back into place, only to have it rise again.
I looked at Hawk. He looked back, his dark blond hair drifting around his face like an aura. He arched a single brow, making no attempt to tame his flyaway locks. That made me smile.
“I guess now we know why they all shave their heads,” Alina said.
“Um…look alive,” Shane mumbled, moving away from us and extending his hands as if preparing to fight.
That was when I realized every Brother in the camp was holding at least one blade. Several of them held a weapon in each hand.
And the air around us had become so saturated with magic it was almost impossible to draw breath.
We were going to die.
Belle’s door creaked as something shoved it open.
We didn’t dare turn to look at Nicht as he dropped lightly to the ground. A beat later, I heard him yawn, a long, theatrical affair that usually involved exposing a lot of big white teeth.
I risked a look and almost laughed. He looked like a giant black puffball. All of his fur stood at attention from the static.
Like a cold summer rain, the hellhound’s appearance doused the building hostility in the camp.
Blades slipped out of sight without any apparent movement. Backs went ramrod straight.
And before I knew what was happening, every single Brother had dropped to his knees and lowered his forehead to the ground.
We all looked at Shane. He shook his head. “I have no idea. But the dog seems to have caused a break in the hostilities, so I say we go for it.”
His comment was met with a low, extended growl, followed by another doggy yawn.
A portal protector and her baby gargoyle, a guardian daemon, a hellhound, and a witch. Together, they must survive in a strange land filled with unknown monsters. Combined they must be strong enough to defy an elite group of magical terrorists. They are Auctus, augmenting the magic flowing through her world…but will they be enough?
A Taste of Auctus…
The land that stretched out in front of me was a patchwork of different types of plants, all sown in perfect rectangular gardens with strange rock formations on every corner. In the farthest field, an enormous horse pulled a metal contraption through the gray soil. A tall man rode the back of it, standing on a small metal platform as the horse furrowed the fields.
I lay on my belly beneath the soft, overarching branches of a bush, a pair of special field glasses pressed to my eyes. With those glasses, I could see the small patch of white hairs on the horse’s back, probably regrowth after an old injury. I could also see the determined set of her taskmaster’s jaw and the hard glint in his pale eyes.
A bird trilled several yards from where I lay, and my gaze jerked in that direction. Tiny pieces of a nearby sandstone tree fluttered down around my head. I sneezed as the granular wisps of bark that gave the tree its name got sucked into my nostrils.
The man on the plow tensed and a hostile gaze slid unerringly in my direction. I hunkered down with a mumbled swear.
“Don’t swear, Glynnie,” said a soft, chastising voice. “It’th not nithe.”
Setting down the field glasses, I rolled onto my back and looked up at the baby gargoyle. “If somebody didn’t keep throwing bark dust at my face, I wouldn’t be worried about getting caught, and I wouldn’t accidentally say an admittedly unfriendly word.”
Boyle tsked me clumsily, his tongue not accustomed to the gymnastics needed for the sound. “Don’t make ’scuses for your bad behavior, Glynnie.”
I frowned, but there was nothing behind it. He was just too darn cute. Even if he was becoming a bossy boy since his Aunt Sissy had decided we were barbarians and started teaching us both manners. “We have to stay really quiet, baby boy. I told you that. If the man over there saw us spying on him…”
“He’d be really angry,” said a deep, rusty voice from a few feet away.
Boyle’s head shot up, his turquoise gaze went wide, and he covered his mouth with a long-fingered hand.
I rolled and leaped to my feet in a single move, the knife I kept in a sheath on my thigh hitting my palm before my mind even had time to register that I’d gone for it.
The man standing on the gray-green grass five feet away from me crossed tanned, muscular arms over his chest and lifted shaggy silver brows skyward. “First, you trespass on my land and now you’re going to stab me with a knife?”
I moved to stand between him and the baby, who was climbing down the tree with the ease of a monkey or a…well…a gargoyle. “When you put it that way,” I said. “It sounds unfriendly.”
I couldn’t be sure, but I thought his lips twitched slightly at that.
His gaze slid to Boyle as the baby clasped my hand in his warm grip. “Don’t be mean to Glynnie. She’s not treespassin’. She only mostly passed bushes ta come here. Not trees.”
I pressed my lips together to keep from smiling.
The man in front of me cleared his throat. He looked down at his muddy boots. “Well, if you’re sure she’s good people, I won’t yell.”
Boyle’s little face lit up in a smile. He bounced up and down, jerking me along with the energy of his jumps. “See Glynnie, he nice. We don’t have ta be quiet no more.” Boyle kept bouncing like he had an invisible jump rope, his energy off the charts from too many recent days stuck inside Victoria. Apparently, we’d landed in Outvald just before the rainy season. And, so far it had been a doozy.
The man’s eyes sparkled, his steel-gray eyes warming. “He sure is a springy little thing.”
I nodded, sliding the knife back into its sheath. “He’s been cooped up too much lately.”
The man looked out over his fields, grimacing. “It’s all I can do to plow this year. The mud’s just about to do old Bessie in.”
As if responding to his statement. The enormous horse blew through its nostrils and dipped its head. The short tail swished at a bug and her head whipped around, big teeth snapping at something that pestered her. I’d noticed the bugs in Outvald were downright scary. At least twice as big as anything I’d ever seen at home.
The man extended a work-roughened hand. He looked at it and grimaced, pulling it back. “Name’s Shane. You have to be Belle’s granddaughter, Glynn.”
Belle was a nickname Grams had used, a name from her past. “I am. How’d you guess?”
“She had long brown hair just the same color as yours, with the sun glinting copper off the strands. And you have her eyes. A brown as dark as night.” He tilted his head. “You’re taller than Belle though, what are you about five-ten?”
“Five eleven,” I told him, feeling self-conscious about my size. I wasn’t only taller than most women, but I wasn’t small-boned either. I was a big woman, not meaty, but strong. Not a woman who men felt like they had to tuck away and protect.
“Belle was a strong woman too. She always gave as good as she got.” He stared toward my land, his expression seeming to reflect good memories rather than bad.
Hearing him call Grams Belle was a little disconcerting. I knew Grams had been called different names by different people. She’d liked to compartmentalize the segments of her world. But to me, she’d always just been Grams.
Belle had been a special name. She’d told me a little bit about the time when she’d used it. And I’d seen the fond memories dance across her face as she had. It was a name from her youth. So, it made sense she would have gotten the name on Outvald. She’d spent her youth there. “I haven’t heard that name for a while,” I told him, laughing. “Except as it pertained to that stupid car.”
It was his turn to look surprised. “She still has that old Chevy? Goddess, that thing has to be as old as I am.”
“We still have it, yes.” I gave him a searching look. “You knew Grams passed, right?”
His gaze slid to the horizon toward Victoria, and sadness filled his expression. “I didn’t know for sure. But I thought she had.” He stared hard at the rolling hills and oddly shaped trees in the distance as if he could picture Victoria’s weathered peaks and chipped paint from there. “I’ll tell you a little secret, Glynn, your Grams was never far from Outvald, even when she went through the portal that last time.” He thumped his chest with his fist. “She stayed here. In the hearts of all the people she touched.” His eyes glistened and he blinked, looking away with embarrassment. Sniffing, he turned to Boyle with a forced smile. “And who is this handsome young man?”
“I’m Boyle,” the baby said proudly. He drew himself up to his full height of twenty-eight inches and a smidge, as Sissy liked to say to make him giggle.
“Boyle’s my son,” I told Shane. My gaze held his for a beat, looking for any kind of judgment that would make it impossible for us to be friends.
But he only inclined his head in a quick nod and crouched down to speak to Boyle. “I’ll bet you’ve never ridden a horse.”
Boyle’s eyes almost popped out of his head. He started bouncing again, his fingers clutching at my shirt as his eyes went wide. “Can I, Glynnie? Can I? Can I?”
I grabbed his hands to keep him from ripping my shirt and looked at Shane. “Are you sure it’ll be okay?” I nodded toward Bessie, who was contentedly ripping gray-green grass out of the ground with her powerful teeth.
“Absolutely. Old Bessie loves kids, don’t ya girl?”
The horse lifted her head and nickered softly, her ears twitching toward Boyle and then swiveling away, unconcerned.
“Then, I’m sure he’d love it. Thank you,” I told him warmly.
He held my gaze a beat and I saw the truth in his words when he said, “It’s my pleasure, Glynn. It truly is.”
I’m Glynn Forester and I’m Magis. More. I enhance and strengthen magical energy. My power augments rather than creates.But sometimes More is not enough.
My world is fractured between magic and non-magic. The magical elite rule. And they are ruthless and corrupt. They want what I protect. But protecting it has been my family’s job for time before time. So I hide. I hide from those who would attempt to use my abilities for unscrupulous purposes. I hide to save innocents from their venom.
But something’s changing. The world around me is pulsing with malevolent magic, I realize I no longer have the luxury of anonymity. It’s hard to give up my old ways. But I may not have a choice. Others will need my help. And if I deny them I’ll be no better than those who threaten my world.
Will my magic make a difference in this new reality? I can offer Magis. More. But will it be enough? And will there be anything left of me when it’s done?
“Buy this book! Open up the pages and step inside the world of magic and monsters, even monsters who look like you and me. This is one adventure you don’t want to miss!!!!”
A light fog had settled into the zone. A cool mist that fell over my clothes and turned my chin-length brown bob stringy and limp. The miasma encapsulated the gently awful smell that always pervaded the street, invigorating it, turning it into something almost alive.
I grimaced as I shifted against the still-warm scratchiness of the roof. My boot stuck for a beat, clinging to the tar where a piece of the shingle had broken away.
Behind me, the soft glow of a lamp bathed the sharp slope of roof. Like a siren’s melodious notes sifting through the fog of a storm-tossed sea, the light called to me.
I sighed, shifting again.
My stomach growled. I winced at the sound, despite the fact that it fell into the fog and was lost. Nobody heard it but me. It was a stark reminder that it had been a long night, and I was ready for it to be over.
But it wasn’t over yet.
Not until I found him.
Not until I confronted him.
A soft scuff had me straightening from my crouch, the sharp, wavy blade of my knife held at my side in a firm grip. The grip of the weapon was warm, as if I’d been holding it for a while. But it had been safe in its sheath against my thigh.
The shadows behind the mist swirled and gained density. I tensed, staring into the moving fog. “Who is it?”
My voice was soft enough to barely nudge the mist aside. But the creature that moved in an uneven shuffle in my direction heard me. He heard me just fine.
Perfectly round eyes glowed briefly in the light from my window. A small face, gray and leathery, grimaced as he took in my stance ─ the charcoal heft of my knife. “Sorry, Glynnie,” the little gargoyle said. “I didn’t try to sneak.” Boyle ducked his head, his pointed ears shifting with guilt. A soft scraping sound preceded the sliding of his long tail across the roof, and his claws scritched softly as he sat.
“It’s okay,” I told the baby. I gave him a smile because he had a tender psyche and was generally unsure of himself. That was what happened when you were dumped with a stranger as an infant. “I should have been paying attention.”
He shifted again, the scritch, scritch, scritch of his strong black claws a soft song in the night. “Is da man there?” he asked in a whisper so loud it couldn’t help carrying across the street.
I hid a grin. “No.” I turned back to the street below, watching the moonlit surface of the rough asphalt for signs of the creature who’d invaded my life and yanked what peace I’d managed to scrounge brutally away. “Not tonight.”
My stomach growled again. A soft huff of amusement spilled between Boyle and me. I grinned, spreading my palm over my belly. “I’m hungry,” I told him. “How about you?”
His round eyes, so dark in the night but a bright turquoise blue in the sun, sparkled with excitement. “Yeth!”
I grinned at the soft lisp. He’d almost grown out of the tendency with the arrival of his adult teeth. But every once in a while, one would slip through again. I loved the sound. It reminded me of the first years of his life. “Come on, then,” I told him, moving toward the window. “I made stew.”
The baby ’goyle gave a gentle huff of pleasure. He jumped through the window when I opened it, landing with a soft thump and then waddling across the room and flinging himself onto my bed.
Boyle loved my bed. He rolled happily, pulling the covers over his small body with another huff of pleasure.
I climbed inside and turned, my gaze sliding across the street below for just one more minute. My heart pounded hard with expectation or worry. I was never sure which anymore.
He was out there. I knew he was. I just had to keep watch. Eventually, I’d catch him in the act of invading both my mental and defensive space.
It was only a matter of time. And then I’d ask him why he was there. Because his presence felt wrong. It felt dangerous. Like an omen of bad things to come.
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.
My name is Naida Griffith and I’m a sorceress. I actually found that out not too 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, on my eighteenth birthday I started getting headaches. Bad ones. And random stuff started following me around.
Recently I was approached by a group called the Société of Dire Magic to become Keeper of the Artifacts. A magical librarian. Given that magical artifacts have taken to following me around, I decided I might have an aptitude for the job. So I said yes.
But in the first few days, I’ve been flogged by flip flops, bludgeoned by gnomes, and discovered a corpse in a suitcase. Then there’s the woman who’s supposed to be training me. She’s…interesting.
Will I survive the training long enough to get the job as artifact librarian? You might as well ask me if a caterpillar gets manis or pedis. Who knows? But I know one thing for sure. This gig is hard. I’m going to do my best to succeed. Or die trying.
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.
It isn’t every day that you find yourself staring at a
frog’s squishy butt bulging from the underside of a sink drain. I would have
felt better if I’d believed it would never happen again. However, because I
appeared to be frog-cursed, there was a strong possibility I’d eventually end
up lying on my back under the sink, eyeing the posterior region of Mr. Slimy
Sighing, I gave the squishy bulk a tentative poke with my
finger, earning a forlorn, “Ribbit!” for my efforts. Something trickled
downward, hitting my cheek and dripping down to the paper towel I had draped
under my head to keep “under the sink” cooties off my hair.
I realized, too late, what had just dripped on me.
“Argh!” I shoved out from under the sink and bent over while
grabbing frantically for more paper towel to wipe frog pee off my cheek. “I
can’t believe it!”
The figure lounging against my refrigerator grinned. “You shouldn’t
poke a stressed frog, Naida.”
I glared at the source of almost all my problems.
Okay, I know I previously said that about Mr. Wicked, my
adorable kitten who was probably better at being an artifact keeper than I was.
But I’d reassessed the players and decided Rustin Quilleran, former witch and
current frog squatter, was definitely more trouble than my sweet little kitten.
I mean, Wicked was curled up on his pillow, purring happily.
Rustin was driving a fat frog bus that got itself jammed in
my drain and peed on my face.
I’ll let you do the math.
“Not funny. You need to keep a better lock on the contents
of your bladder.”
His grin widened. “I think you have a mistaken view of my
ability to control your wedged friend,” he told me. “I’m just a passenger on
that particular bus.”
Which, normally I’d be happy about. I mean, when Rustin had
gotten stuck in the frog because of a spell his horrible family had performed,
I’d felt terrible. We’d tried everything to get him out of there. But, in the
end, the evil Jacob Quilleran had interfered, making certain poor Rustin didn’t
escape the fate Jacob had locked him into.
I still hadn’t found out why Rustin’s Uncle Jacob had felt
the need to lock him in a frog.
Rustin wasn’t being very forthcoming with the information.
I hurried past him, into my bathroom, where I put soap onto
the wet paper towel and scrubbed my cheek until I was in danger of removing a
layer of skin cells along with the frog pee.
“What are you doing here, then? Standing there laughing isn’t
helping at all.”
Rustin shrugged. “I was bored. Your life is generally good
for a few laughs. I’m happy to report that this morning has been no exception.”
I barely resisted zapping him with my almost worthless
keeper magics. I pretty much had only enough oomph in my zapper to curl
someone’s hair or make them pee themselves.
Trust me when I tell you I’d had enough of making stuff pee
for the day.
Flinging the soiled paper towel into the trash, I glared at
him. “I’m so glad I could entertain.”
“Me too.” His grin never wavered.
A part of me was happy to see it. I’d been so worried that
Rustin would lose his humanity because of his enforced incarceration in the
frog. But his cousin Maude and his very powerful Aunt Madeline had been working
on reversing the spell. They hadn’t managed yet to free him. But they’d created
a metaphysical barrier between Mr. Slimy’s ─ a.k.a. the frog’s ─ consciousness
and Rustin’s so he could maintain his power, brain capacity, and
humanity…basically his soul.
That was as good a result as we could have hoped for under
Even though that meant, as Mr. Slimy’s current foster parent,
I was also the unlucky owner of the ethereally handsome and eternally snarky
witch who was stuck inside the frog.
You thought I was kidding about the challenges of my life,
The bell jangled downstairs in my bookstore, and I glanced
at my stuck amphibian.
“Ribbit.” Slimy’s sticky tongue snapped out and snagged a
massive fly that had tried to make a break for the window above the sink.
I looked at Rustin. “Keep an eye on the squishy, green bus.
I have to go see who’s downstairs.”
He nodded, casting what appeared to be an affectionate
glance toward Mr. Slimy.
I shook my head. How anybody could be fond of a frog was
Although, I realized as I bounced down the steps to the
first floor, that I’d begun to form an attachment which transcended disgust. In
fact, I almost dreaded the day Madeline managed to find a way to extract her
nephew. I was going to miss him.
Unlocking the door that separated the bookstore from the
artifact library behind me, I blinked in surprise.
Had I just had a Freudian moment? Was I going to miss the
witch? Or the frog?
I shrugged, shoving the question aside for another time. It
would probably be an easy choice.