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FINALLY!!! Sugar Spells is OUT!

Seeing the early reviews, I’m so psyched to see people getting what I’m trying to do with the Spellwork Syndicate.

“It’s just a cute and fun read with a lot of magic and some interesting magical creatures. I like the characters, the story, and the fact that the whole book is kind of happy and fun feeling; even when it gets a bit dark.”

Karissa, Goodreads

We need more soft, sweet things in this world, and it’s my biggest hope that you can all sit with a piece of cake and a cup of tea and just chill out for a couple hours while you’re visiting my world.

Grab a fork and dig in ; )

CHAPTER ONE

The steady drip, drip, drip of brewing potion marked the passing seconds in my great-aunt Agatha’s quiet library. Vanilla mixed with the scent of the old spellbooks crammed into the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, easily making this room my favorite place on earth. But even snuggled into a cozy armchair with a juicy book on witchcraft, I couldn’t settle and relax.

Something was wrong with my magic.

Weeks after my warlock run-in and a meet and greet with an early grave, my brownies came out like charred pans of meatloaf. I’d burned an entire batch of angel food cakes just by standing near the oven and my never-fail meringues had booked me a 24-hour bonding session with the upstairs toilet.

Meringues.

How do you even get food poisoning from a meringue?

Agatha had banned me from her kitchen until my mojo stopped its tour of destruction.

Tension squeezed my ribs.

Not a gentle squeeze like a hug from mom. A sharp, panic-spiking squeeze. Like Seth’s weight on my back, grinding me down, down, down into the mud and muck in his failed attempt to drown me to death.

I’d thought my life was on its last flush, but I’d survived.

Now I had Agatha, the bakeshop, and the job of my dreams, right downstairs.

I just wasn’t allowed inside.

My great-aunt had taken me on as her apprentice for our shared blood and hypothetically for my potential as a baker, but if I lost my magic, I lost my use to her. Then I’d be packing for “home,” wherever that was now. Mom was being cagey about her location, probably because she was still busy cleaning up after my last arson.

I could either hit the books or hit my head against one of the brick ovens while I tried to find the problem.

I’d chosen the book option.

My great-aunt Agatha’s library took up a good chunk of the second floor of our house. Although “our” was debatable. I’d only been at Agatha’s Bakeshop a few weeks.

When Agatha first unlocked the library door with a giant brass key, the lock had clicked with a shiver of magic. She’d folded her arms across her pastry chef coat and treated me to a chocolate-melting warning.

This room was for magic research.

No fire spells or dodgy incantations while my powers were wonky.

Agatha’s familiar would be watching me.

Now Fondant perched in a cushy bed balanced on top of the highest shelf. When I jammed a bookmark into my chapter on cleansing spells and hopped up to check on my potion, the pure white nightmare cat lifted her head to glare.

“I’m following the rules.”

Research.

Not casting. Not baking.

Research was the only thing I could do right now.

Fondant’s ears flicked, but she didn’t curse me or banish me to hell or bust out whatever other magics she could cast. I took that as an okay to move to the corner table where my in-progress potion was steeping.

I pushed stray vials out of the way and leaned my elbows on the tabletop to peer at my Elixir to Clarify Spirit.

The purple solution shimmered and swirled in its round-bottomed glass even though I hadn’t stirred it in hours. The liquid at the bottom was more lavender than grape and the drip, drip, drips that plopped from the spout into a cauldron glittered as clear as spring water.

It looked perfect, according to the instructions.

It had to be perfect if it was going to fix me.

Someone tapped at the door.

I jumped and tried to block my potion setup from whoever walked in. Brewing a potion wasn’t breaking any rules and Fondant hadn’t yowled for me to stop, but my first instinct was always hide the magic.

“Anise?” Agatha’s assistant, Lonnie, opened the door. “How you feeling, dear?” Her blonde hair was bobbed and glossy and her cheery energy warmed me from across the room, but not even that could crack my funk.

“The same.” My tone fell flat and then kept falling, settling a few stories beneath Agatha’s jam cellar.

“I thought you might need a treat.” The hem of her apple-print dress ruffled with her movement, and she set a plate on the table.

A scoop of Agatha’s home-churned vanilla bean ice cream melted all over a slice of ooey-gooey brown pie topped with a tower of whipped cream. I’d memorized Agatha’s whole rotating menu, but I’d never seen this beauty before.

“Is it caramel pie?” My voice rose, clawing itself back from the underground.

“Salted caramel with a cheering-up enchantment.” Lonnie patted my shoulder, her touch as warm as the fresh-from-the-oven dessert. “Agatha baked it just for you.”

“She did?” Only half believing, I grabbed the fork. When the caramel slid across my tongue, coating it with salty-sweet magic, my heart gave a wobbly, happy thump. Only Agatha could bake a pie so good it made your eyes roll back and spoiled you for anything else.

I tasted the caramel alone. Then just the whipped cream. A 50/50 bite, then three-quarters of each, testing how every possible flavor combination changed the taste and the spell.

The cheer enchantment had me smiling around my fork. Smiling for the first time in…

Days? Weeks?

“Agatha needs you in the shop.” Lonnie’s voice grabbed me like she’d yanked the neck of my T-shirt and a blob of pie plopped off my fork.

Agatha needs me.

I was halfway out of my chair when I noticed Lonnie’s face. She wasn’t looking at me. She was looking at Fondant.

Agatha’s familiar leaped off her shelf and darted into the hall.

Because Agatha wanted Fondant.

Not me.

My lungs popped then pooled, falling flatter than a matzah.

The corners of Lonnie’s eyes tightened in confusion. “Is something wrong, dear?”

For one breath. Two breaths. My disappointed lips wouldn’t form words. I worked up some spit. “I’m fine.”

She didn’t look convinced the way she kept staring. I took a bite of pie, glancing away and trying to chew, but Agatha’s Michelin-star caramel suddenly had the texture of a big wad of gum scraped from the bottom of a public bathroom garbage can.

Maybe Lonnie sensed I was faking okay, because she gave my shoulder a comforting pat. “What potion are you brewing?”

“A clarity elixir.” Somehow, my voice came out smooth. “I have to fix whatever’s gumming up my power.”

“After eighteen years outside Taos, you’re bound to need some readjusting.” Lonnie’s motherly, everything-will-be-okay tone shone sunbeams on my pessimism. “Your body’s building red blood cells to handle the altitude, and your spirit is adjusting to handle being near the vortex. Keep yourself busy and trust in your magic. You’ll be back to normal soon.”

“I hope so.” The keeping busy part was the ant in my ice cream. How could I keep busy when I couldn’t bake?

“Are you following Agatha’s advice?”

“She told me to wait out the problem, but…” I breathed until my lungs were so full that I had to let out the air and share the thought that scared me most. “I don’t think waiting’s going to fix me.”

“What else could be hurting you?”

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out.” The vortex was definitely a potential culprit. The energy field/portal/mystic force leaked pure power and energies from other worlds. It used to have my ears ringing on a daily basis.

But I was pretty sure I was fully adjusted.

Now I was worried my trouble baking had more to do with recent events.

I clutched my arms tight to my chest. I was two for two at choosing psychopathic guys. Trust-busting Dylan, the jerk who’d outed my witchcraft to our whole high school and forced me to drop out. Followed by Seth, the hot but murdery warlock who’d ended up floating down the Rio Grande.

If I kept up the trend, my next crush would be a death row serial killer.

But who needed guys? I was finally ready to give them up and just practice magic twenty-four seven.

My cauldron was filling up with potion, so I tried to make puppy-dog eyes at Lonnie. “Can I test a quick recipe? My elixir can’t be taken as a liquid.”

Lonnie hesitated long enough to make it feel like egg beaters were churning inside my stomach, but I must’ve looked too pitiful because she finally gave a tiny nod. “Give it a try, dear. I’ll let Agatha know you’re doing a test bake in the house.”

“Thanks, Lonnie.”

She left and shut the door. Finally alone, I grabbed my silver ladle and did a twirl.

This is going to work.

I scooped the liquid into a vial and dashed into the hallway.

Then skidded short.

Wynn crouched against the wall in a T-shirt and gauntlets with a sword balanced across his thighs. One of my Shield’s hazel eyes creaked open. “Going somewhere?”

“Downstairs.”

He’d saved my life enough times that I couldn’t complain about him carrying a sword around the house. But honestly, how was he going to swing it in here? Agatha had her hallways crammed with little tables and vases of purple roses. She’d be pissed if he went on an antique-busting rampage.

Plus, with Seth’s spirit scattered, there was no one out to kill me anymore. Seth’s landlord might be cursing me after I burned his place to ash, but Agatha said insurance was covering the damage.

Either way, a bodyguard was officially overkill.

Wynn’s contract was the other thing I needed to look into. There had to be a loophole. A way to unsubscribe.

Or at least a way to convince him to stop following me around the house?

He was driving me batty with the overprotectiveness.

As soon as I cleared up this hiccup with my magic, I’d spend a few days in the library researching Shields and their contracts so I could finally figure out why we were stuck together.

I’d probably read through the whole room before Wynn told me the truth.

His footsteps creaked against the floorboards behind me on the way to the kitchen. All I could do was ignore him and focus on my spellwork.

I headed for the smaller house kitchen. It had normal home appliances instead of all the fun industrial equipment and tools the bakery had. Not that I needed anything fancy. I was going to use the simplest possible recipe—a basic sugar cookie, bespelled with spirit-clarifying goodness.

Taking a big breath, I anchored my hands against the purple-tiled countertops and focused on the sensation of my magic. It felt like the warm hearth fire that fueled who I was, and I called it out until red-orange light pooled underneath the skin of my fingertips, crackling like the static from a sweater fresh out of the dryer.

At least I wasn’t having trouble reaching my power—just baking with it.

I flicked on the oven with a snap of magic, starting the pre-heat, and then moved around the kitchen selecting my tools and utensils.

With every motion, I repeated the same incantation.

Let my spirit be cleared and my energy purified.

I sifted flour into a bowl and shook it out in the shape of a pentagram, adding a little extra prayer to the incantation. And please let this fix my power.

I measured a teaspoon of vanilla, then dripped in exactly seven drops of the elixir.

Let my spirit be cleared and my energy purified.

When the dough was mixed and shaped, I carefully lined the cookies on one of Agatha’s custom Silpat sheets, complete with purple pentagrams. I slid them in the oven with a last prayer.

Please, please work.

Resisting the temptation to press my face against the glass, I set a timer on my phone and started on the real glamorous part.

Washing the dishes.

The window above the sink looked out toward the back yard, but my gaze slipped sideways to the breakfast nook. Wynn had pushed aside the lazy Susan to lay his sword in reach and camp out at the kitchen table. I stole glances at him in between sudsing, half because he was asleep again and wouldn’t notice, and half because I couldn’t get used to his new look.

He’d taken the worst of the damage when Seth ran us off the road in the gorge to Santa Fe. The cut on his head had needed stitches, and even though magic sped up healing, it couldn’t make his hair grow back faster.

Or it could, but nobody was going to waste their magic on hair-growing spells for Wynn.

Now, the shaggy mess that used to shield his eyes and dark expressions was gone, replaced with a skull-tight buzz that didn’t leave any of his features—or moods—to the imagination. I had the clearest view of his sharp cheekbones, strong nose, and disturbingly angelic lashes.

How could such a cranky guy look so peaceful? So relaxed?

“What?” Wynn’s voice cracked the silence.

I jumped.

The soapy bowl in my hands slipped and hit the sink. A mini tidal wave sloshed out, dousing my shirt in suds.

If my fingers weren’t sopping, I would’ve pressed them to my chest to hold my heartbeat steady.

Wynn’s sixth sense was freakily superhuman. I picked up the bowl and my sponge. “Nothing. Go back to sleep.”

Wynn shifted his weight, making his chair creak. His hazel eyes were fully open now, and fixated dead in my direction. “Ask the question.”

“Question?”

“The one you want to ask.”

I wanted to wrinkle my nose at his assumption, but he wasn’t wrong and he was giving me an opening, so… Why not ask what I’d always wanted to ask?

I squeezed out the sponge and patted my hands dry against my apron. “Why are you always sleeping?”

“Because I’m always tired.” He leaned back, closing his eyes yet again.

My jaw opened wider than a black hole.

Was that supposed to be a joke?

“Why are you always tired?” I asked, hoping to spark an actual conversation—although four words in a string was already pushing Wynn’s gab-o-meter.

By way of an answer, his breathing evened out.

Asleep. Again.

I bent back to over the sink, dreaming of the day I’d be able to bake without an audience.

The kitchen filled with the scent of warm vanilla.

The cookies smelled juuuuust right and my head was clear. No panic. No stray emotions mucking up my mojo. No worries so deep they’d shoot craziness through my spellwork.

I couldn’t feel sad or sorry for myself surrounded by the smell of fresh-baked cookies. I was finally back where I belonged.

So, there was no reason the enchanted cookies should fail.

I tiptoed to the oven.

The edges were the perfect golden brown and—

Energy rippled inside the oven.

I rubbed my eyes, hoping it was my imagination, but the tell-tale feel of magic whispered across my skin. The ripple turned into a shudder of power and black clouds poofed into the oven like I’d stuffed it with a smoke bomb.

Not again.

Heart clawing up my throat, I didn’t dare wait to find oven mitts. I threw open the door and grabbed the cookie sheet bare-handed.

In the split-second before the pain reached my brain, I cast a protective heat barrier over my fingers. I flung the cookie sheet onto the stovetop.

I hadn’t had time to set up a cooling rack, but I wasn’t going to need one.

Ten seconds ago, my sugar cookies had been perfect little circles. Now they weren’t golden. They weren’t round. They weren’t even cookies.

Smoke twisted around the blackened lumps that looked like sad, radiation-damaged turtles, hard shells and all.

I let my fingertips hover over the mess.

Their energy…

The pure, silver feeling of clarity was nowhere to be found. Instead, a thick sourness—like rancid buttermilk—formed a big lump in my throat and plunked down to my stomach, landing with a splop.

A failure.

But not the end.

I had a whole vial of elixir left. I could—

Before I could finish the thought, the glass vial cracked with a stuttering k-k-k-ke-crash.

Tar-colored paste oozed onto Agatha’s countertop.

Seriously?

What the hell was wrong with my power?

Wynn pushed past me, the neck of his T-shirt yanked up to cover his nose. He kicked the oven door closed, cutting off the smoke belching into the kitchen.

Right.

The smell.

Exactly how you’d expect an irradiated turtle to smell. Like a swamp fire with a whiff of disappointment.

Wynn edged away from the counter like the cookies were dangerous.

Maybe they were.

I dumped mismatched plasticware from the cabinets, digging for a safe container. Plastic would melt.

Instead, I grabbed the grubbiest, rustiest cast iron pan in the cupboard—one that already needed to be re-seasoned and Agatha hopefully wouldn’t kill me for ruining.

I scraped the shattered vial and oil slick of a potion into the pan before it could eat through Agatha’s counters and then clapped a metal bowl on top to capture the turtle-butt smoke.

The potion looked zero percent like the glittering original.

A bubbling blub-hiss drew my gaze back to the cookie sheet. The mutated blobs pulsed like they were baked with boiling volcano mud.

Using the longest spatula I could find, I corralled the cookies into the middle of the sheet and trapped them under glass before they became self-aware and rose up to overthrow the bakery.

This failure had nothing to do with the vortex. Or with my emotions.

My thoughts, feelings, and actions had all matched the intent of the spell. I’d nailed the incantation and the recipe.

So I was positive the problem wasn’t the vortex or my casting.

Something else was happening.

Something bad.

Something I hoped could still be fixed.

A muted blub, blub, blubbing matched the seasick motion of the pancakes in my stomach.

 

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