Shifters and Sabotage
Magic & Mystery: Book Seven
Chapter 1 Preview
I had no idea what to expect when I let my boyfriend move in with me, but breakfast in bed wasn’t it.
Beau clattered into our room carrying a tray overloaded with dishes. Steam spilled from the food as he approached. “Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey!” he sang as he rounded the bed to my side. I wanted to share his enthusiasm, but the sun hadn’t even finished rising yet and “enthusiastic” was never a word I’d use to describe myself in the morning — not even on the best of days.
Regardless, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, put on a smile, and forced myself into a sitting position. “Good morning to you too. What’s this all about?”
Beau sat down beside me and placed the tray in my lap. His warm brown eyes twinkled in the golden morning light. “What, a guy can’t do something nice for his girl without a reason?”
I tossed him a sideways look. “There’s always a reason.”
Luna, my talking black cat, stirred and stretched out in the space between where Beau and I slept. Her neon-blue eyes fluttered and she opened her mouth in a jaw-cracking yawn. “Keep it down, will you? Can’t you two see I’m trying to sleep?”
“Oh, right, I forgot, it’s all about you and your needs,” I said and rubbed the silky smooth fur on her stomach. The purring that instantly took over her kept her from firing back any sarcastic remarks.
Beau chuckled and shook his head. “No ulterior motives here, Zoe, I swear. You know you’re not a journalist anymore, right? Not everything has a hidden story.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry. Bad habits die hard, I guess.” The food looked amazing. A delightfully fluffy pile of eggs sprinkled with dill and cheese sat next to two perfectly browned sausage patties and a slice of toast. Until today, I had no idea Beau knew how to cook, much less this well. Would he ever stop surprising me?
I leaned over the tray and placed a kiss on his forehead. “Thank you. I don’t know what I did to deserve it, but I appreciate it.”
Beau smiled and waited for me to take a sip of the fresh coffee he’d brought before he spoke again. “Okay, maybe there was a tiny ulterior motive,” he said, pinching his fingers together to illustrate how small he meant.
I swallowed the coffee and set the mug back on the tray. “I knew it.”
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I don’t think I’ve seen you eat it once in the month since I moved in. That’s not healthy.”
“I don’t always have time. Being Head Witch has a funny way of keeping me busy.” I used to eat breakfast every morning, but that was because I had Grandma Elle here to cook it for me. Since she’d left Moon Grove and gone into the witches’ protection program, I avoided the kitchen as much as I could because it reminded me of her. My heart lurched at the thought.
As if he’d sensed my downward spiral, Beau lowered his head until his eyes met mine. “I know, but honestly that’s why I did it. I thought you could use a hearty breakfast to get you ready for what’s coming today.”
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” I said and shoveled a healthy forkful of the eggs in my mouth before the conversation made me lose my appetite entirely. I’d gone to bed worrying about my first day with the Council’s newest paranormal members so it was a wonder my eyes closed at all, but somehow I’d slept like the dead.
Beau patted my leg through the sheet. “Don’t psych yourself out. This isn’t the first time you’ve faced a room of people with differing opinions.”
“Thanks, but that doesn’t help,” I mumbled as I chewed. The flavor was like an explosion in my mouth. “Oh my god, this is great! What did you put in here?”
Beau beamed. “Sour cream’s the secret, but don’t change the subject. It’ll be fine today. You have nothing to worry about.”
“That’s easy for you to say. It was hard enough trying to come to an agreement with twelve other witches and warlocks, I can’t even imagine how maddening it’ll be to get anything done with vampires, werewolves, shifters, and fairies in the mix.”
“If anyone can wrangle them, it’s you. They all look up to you, Zoe. If it weren’t for you and your election, none of them would be on the Council. You’re a trendsetter.”
I sighed and prodded at the sausage with my fork. “For better or worse.”
“It’s definitely for the better. Look at it another way: if you hadn’t gotten my dad on the Council, I wouldn’t be the new president of Channel 666. That benefits both of us.”
“I hate it when you’re right.”
Beau chuckled. “You say that, but I don’t think it’s true. Anyway, less talking, more chewing. Eat up before it gets cold.”
“What about you?”
Beau’s cheeks reddened. “I already ate. I couldn’t help it.”
“So did I,” Luna chimed in. “Fido here dropped me some sausage while he was cooking.”
I laughed and shook my head. “I can’t believe you two.”
Beau pushed off the bed abruptly. “Well, I’d better go finish getting ready for work. I want this plate cleared by the time I get out of the shower.”
Beau frowned but left for the bathroom without another word. I waited until I heard the squeak of the faucet turning and the roar of the water splashing in the tub to push the tray off my lap onto the bed. As good as the food was, I wasn’t in the mood to eat, so instead I filled my stomach with coffee while trying to think about anything other than work. As Head Witch, together with the Head Warlock, Heath Highmore, it was my job to lead the Council, but how was I supposed to lead people — and species — I didn’t know or fully understand?
Flustered, I set my empty mug on the tray and carried the dishes into the kitchen.
“Finally! Now I can get some real shut eye,” Luna groaned as I left, but I paid her no mind.
Beau wouldn’t know I hadn’t eaten everything if I flushed it down the garbage disposal before he got out of the shower. It felt heartless to do after he’d been so sweet to cook for me, but the small bites of egg and sausage I’d gotten down were already causing chaos in my gut and I didn’t want to risk anything further.
When I’d finished the dishonest deed and cleaned my dishes, I went to the bathroom and knocked on the door.
“Yeah?” Beau called over the hiss of the showerhead.
“Have you gotten the mail today?”
“Isn’t it a little early for that? Are you expecting something?”
“No, I’m just trying to find something other than work to focus on.”
Beau chuckled. “I haven’t checked, but I don’t think it came yet.”
“I’ll go look,” I said and tiptoed back to the bedroom to avoid waking Luna. I shoved my feet into my fluffy slippers and threw on a deep purple bathrobe my best friend Mallory had given me as a “housewarming” gift when Beau moved in — there was no telling who’d be out and about at this hour, and the last thing I needed was to get caught outside in my cat-patterned pajamas; no one in Moon Grove would ever take me seriously again.
A chill wind swept over me as I stepped outside, so I tied my robe tighter and hurried to the mailbox a few feet from the front door. Luckily, there weren’t any other residents out on the street, but unluckily, the box was empty when I opened it. I slammed it shut and turned to dart back into the house but froze when a huge shadow rolled across the lawn. High above me, a delivery witch soared overhead on a broomstick trailed by a jumble of letters and packages in a V-formation like a flock of birds.
The witch waved her wand as she passed and three pieces of mail broke away from the crowd to flutter down into my waiting hands. I didn’t have a clue how the postmaster kept the chaotic magical mail system in order, but I didn’t envy them the job.
I flipped through the mail as I walked back to the front door. The first piece was an oversized ad for Wilson’s Wand Polish, which claimed its product could blind people — as if that were a good thing. The second was an ad for the new Shooting Star model of racing broomsticks. A shiny gold endorsement badge from the Moon Grove Broomracer’s Association screamed up at me from the corner of the ad. The last piece was a plain white envelope with nothing but Beau’s name written on it in large, loopy handwriting.
I paused outside the front door and stared down at the letter. There wasn’t a return address, which I thought was illegal. Weird. Beau hadn’t lived with me long enough to have bills or fan mail showing up — he hadn’t officially changed his address yet, and despite our status as a high-profile couple, I was pretty sure no one but our closest friends knew we were living together — but if it wasn’t a bill or fan mail, then what was it?
As tempted as I was to tear into the letter, I remembered that I’d already thrown out the breakfast Beau made for me and I couldn’t bring myself to wrong him twice in one day. Instead, I left the letter on top of the stack and went inside to show it to him. The bathroom door was open and steam billowed out into the living room. Normally that habit of his drove me crazy, but this time I was grateful for the extra warmth.
Beau poked his head around the bathroom door’s frame and raised an eyebrow at me. “You were out there a while. Everything okay?”
“Yeah, I was just enjoying the fresh air,” I lied.
Beau rolled his eyes as he smeared shaving cream across his sharp jawline and cheeks. He didn’t look like he needed a shave, but I wasn’t the one who spent every day on camera, so I supposed he knew better than me.
I stepped around him into the bathroom and lowered the toilet seat to sit on it. He washed the shaving cream off his hands and dried them on the towel wrapped tightly around his waist. “What’s wrong? You look like you just got news of a death or something.”
“Dear Lilith, I hope not. If it is bad news though, it’s for you,” I said and held up the letter.
Beau jolted like I’d jabbed him with a cattle prod. He snatched the envelope from my hand and held it up to the light to look through it like he expected there to be a bomb inside. “This just came?”
“Yeah, along with the usual junk mail.”
Beau whipped to face me, his eyes wide, his chest rising and falling rapidly. “Did you see who put it in the mailbox?”
“Uh, the delivery witch, like always. Beau, what’s going on? You’re kinda scaring me.”
He sighed and shook his head. “Nothing, sorry. I’m overreacting.”
“To what? You wanna tell me what this is all about?”
“Nothing, it’s nothing. It’s probably just junk like the other stuff. Throw it away with the rest,” he said as he shoved the envelope back into my hand. His wet fingerprints dotted the outside.
“But there’s no return address or anything. It’s weird. Aren’t you at least going to open it to see what it says?”
“No, I don’t have time, and I’m sure it’s trash. Just throw it away,” he snapped and reached for his razor. He raked it down his face too hard and winced. A bright dot of blood appeared on his right cheek, but he quickly smudged it away with the back of his hand. I’d never seen him so flustered, but it was obvious he didn’t want to open the letter or tell me anything more about it, so I let it go.
“Okay, okay, calm down. Don’t hurt yourself.” I picked up the container of peroxide and a cotton ball from the bag I kept on the sink and doused the cotton with the liquid. Beau knew better than to pull away, but he hissed when the cotton touched his wound. “We don’t want that handsome face of yours to scar.”
“Thanks,” he said with half a smile.
“You’re welcome. Here, I’ll get out of your space.” I tossed the soiled cotton ball into the bin between the toilet and the sink and left for the kitchen with the mail in hand. The envelope burned my fingers like a brand, pleading with me to rip it open, but I refused to let my curiosity get the better of me. Beau and I had just moved in together; I didn’t want to make things uncomfortable by violating his privacy.
With one last longing look at the envelope, I lifted the lid off the garbage can and tossed the letter inside. Beau’s name on its exterior stared up at me as I lowered the lid, begging me to pick it back up, but I slammed the lid over it instead.
To distract myself, I poured another mug full of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table to stare out the window at the street as it came to life with the morning rush. Most witches dashed out their front doors and blasted off on their broomsticks, but others walked to work instead. Only witches lived on Moonbeam Lane… until Beau moved in with me.
Had any of my neighbors noticed that he was living with me now? Could one of them have sent him the letter because they didn’t want a shifter living on their street? I didn’t think any of them were that small-minded, and I doubted they’d be confrontational with me, their Head Witch. Besides, they could’ve just put it in the mailbox instead of using the post — unless they wanted to be anonymous.
I shook my head, disappointed with myself for letting my mind wander back to the letter. It didn’t matter who’d sent it because it was probably junk, just like Beau said, but all the junk mail I’d gotten in Moon Grove had a return address, so why didn’t this? And why had he reacted so strongly when I showed it to him, like it wasn’t the first time he’d seen something like it?
“Was the coffee good?” Beau asked, tearing me out of my thoughts. I turned and found him fully dressed in one of his nicest, crispest suits. They say we have to dress for the job we want, and Beau had definitely done it. He’d gelled his brown hair back into a slick wave and a pale, canary-yellow button-up peeked out from under his navy suit jacket, accented by a sky-blue tie.
I whistled at him. “Not as good as you look. Wow.”
His face flushed and he waved me away. “Oh, please, you’re only saying that because you’re obligated.”
“No, I meant it. And yes, the coffee was great, as always.” I raised my mug to him in salute and he smiled as he darted around the table to hug me and plant a kiss on top of my head.
“Don’t overdo it on the brew. You don’t want to be jittery today.”
“Yeah, Lilith knows I don’t need any help in that department.”
“Oh, come on, you’re gonna be fine. Anyway, I’ve gotta get going. Dad wants to meet and go over some transitional stuff at the office before the Council convenes. Maybe I’ll stop by the town hall later for lunch?”
“Don’t make yourself crazy. I’ll probably be too busy to spend any time with you even if you came.”
“Well, then I guess I’ll see you later tonight. Good luck and have a great day.”
“Thanks, you too.”
“Every day I get to wake up with you is great.”
“Ugh, go before your saccharine sweetness makes me throw up.” Beau laughed and blew me a kiss as he bolted out the door. As soon as it clicked shut, my eyes darted to the garbage can and a war broke out in my mind.
I could quickly open the letter and read it, then take the trash to the can outside. It was almost full anyway, so it needed to go out, and that way Beau would never know I’d looked at it… but it still felt horribly wrong of me to do. Then again, wasn’t it my responsibility as Head Witch to keep tabs on goings on around town? For all I knew, Beau could have a stalker — or worse. For Lilith’s sake, my grandmother got kidnapped solely because of her association with me, so what if Beau was in trouble too but didn’t want to tell me?
That was all it took to convince me I had to read the letter. I leaped out of the kitchen chair, nearly spilling my coffee in the process, and plucked the letter out of the garbage. The handwriting on the front wasn’t anyone’s that I recognized, which further worried me, so I yanked a knife out of the nearest drawer and slid its tip beneath the envelope’s seal.
Inside was a plain piece of printer paper folded twice over to fit. With shaking hands, I unfolded the letter. My eyes raked over the words written in the same loopy script — and my heart dropped into my stomach when I reached the end. I couldn’t believe what I’d read.
It was a poem and a disturbing one at that.
A lost puppy dog cowers from its shadow,
Despite having finally found its clan.
Fear not, little doggy, though you should know:
If I can’t have you, no one can.
Instinctively, I dashed into the bedroom for my cell phone to call Beau, but as soon as my fingers brushed it, I thought twice. Seeing the letter had visibly upset him, which meant this probably wasn’t the first one he’d received, and I didn’t want to upset him further. He had enough on his plate to deal with today, and so did I.
But I couldn’t ignore the letter, either. It seemed like a threat at best and a promise at worst, but who sent it and why? Despite being Moon Grove’s biggest PV reporter, Beau was the nicest, most modest guy I’d ever met, so I found it hard to believe he’d made any enemies in the industry.
My phone vibrated and illuminated as my alarm screeched to wake me up for work, but I was already wired for all the wrong reasons.
Luna growled on the bed behind me. “I thought you were gone.”
“No, but I’m leaving now,” I said and exited the room in a hurry before she noticed the letter in my hand. I had plenty of time to shower and get cleaned up, but I didn’t want to waste a second dawdling so I swapped my pajamas for the dirty but still passable pair of robes I’d tossed in the laundry room the night before, tucked the letter into their inner pocket, and snatched my wand and broom from the hooks where they hung by the front door.
If anyone could help me figure out what the letter meant and who’d sent it, it was Heath and the rest of the Council.