Parlor Tricks

Mara Lee

 

Prologue

Salem, Massachusetts, 1692

Severance Gooding Riley moaned. She was freezing, her body wracked by uncontrollable shivers. Even her bloody and bruised lips quivered. Severance’s white shift proved little barrier against the cold and the dampness of the grotesque cell in which she lay, waiting for her death sentence to be carried out.

They had accused, imprisoned and condemned her to death—all for the great sin of practicing the art of herbal healing.

Her brews were potions—recipes given to her by Satan himself—or so claimed Hawthorne … her doctoring of wounds and her midwifery, a trick to steal innocent souls.

Severance felt nausea overtake her. Bile rose steadily up her throat—the need to vomit was great, even though she had been cast into this cell and starved for near a fortnight.

How could he? How could Hawthorne do this to her? She had saved his son’s life. Her mud poultice and elm bark tea had brought down the little boy’s fever when he had been struck with the wasting disease. Hawthorne had needed her then. He had sent his servant to beg her help. Severance had helped, and healed, and saved the boys life. And in return Hawthorne had accused, tortured and condemned her to die.

Severance had begged him for mercy.

Hawthorne had had her stoned. Such was his mercy.

“Please Mother,” Severance whispered. Her pain was a hot poker burning its way down her body. Tears drew a path down her pale, gaunt cheeks. “Please see your daughter. The daughter you have blessed with your bounty.”

Severance forced her broken body to her knees. She bent her head and clasped her hands together.

“Please hear me, and if it is your wish that my life end now, take into your all mighty hands my spirit and my ever obedient body.”

Severance’s eyes widened, and her mouth dropped open as small, twinkling lights appeared in front of her.

They were beautiful—bright and multi-faceted.

“Child mine… ”

It was her.

Severance gasped and skittered back. She prayed often to her Mother, the being that birthed all creation. She received peace from her prayers … but never a tangible answer. Her Mother had never answered her directly.

“Child mine, dry your tears.”

Severance swallowed and rubbed her eyes. She feared this all a dream. “Mother?” She asked hesitantly.

“Aye child, it is I.”

Severance broke down then. She doubled over, shaking from the force of her sobs.

“Shhhhh child mine … shhhhhh…”

“Mother,” Severance gulped back tears, “they mean to kill me.”

“They shall not,” the voice hardened, “As I birthed you, so too did I give birth to them. You are all my children, blessed by my hand. They have not the power to judge you.”

“I … I … do not practice the dark arts as they claim, Mother, I swear it to you. I seek only to use the gifts that you gave me to help.”

“I know child mine, I know. Fear them not. They will not have you.”

“Mother?” Severance asked questioningly.

“Do you give yourself into my care, child?”

Severance nodded. “Of course, Mother.”

“Then I ask you child mine, when I free you of this prison, will you accept unto your person the power of my own body?”

“I fear I do not understand, Mother.”

“I wish to gift you with the knowledge of the earth, and the secrets of the sky.”

Severance sucked in a shocked breath.

“In this, I shall accomplish a great feat … providing a shelter for all those who understand the beauty of creation. But it is your choice, child mine. I shall free you either way. And know this … if you accept the blessings of my body, you will, by those who would condemn you now, be what they so accuse you of.”

“A witch.” Severance shivered, this time not from the cold.

“ ‘Tis too simple a term for what I offer you now. But yea, mankind would name you ’ witch’.”

Severance swallowed back her panic. Her Mother was all that was good and true. And yet … Severance had been raised with the belief that witchcraft was wrong … that it was evil.

“Oh child mine, do not be deceived. The blessings of my body are not evil. They are good and pure and shall serve only to bring you closer to me. The only evil in what I offer is the temptation that may draw your heart once my essence fills you.”

“What temptation, Mother?”

“With all good comes evils, child mine. ‘Tis the nature of creation,’tis the nature I, myself, molded to balance the scales. Whenever I touch one of my children with good, they become susceptible to one who would use my power to alter my domain.”

“You speak of the devil, Mother?”

“Evil wears many faces, and has many names, child mine, but all are pestilence and waste. My essence within you would only be good, but you will have to be strong and you will have to fight the temptation of evil’s call. ‘Tis a lot to ask of you, but ask I do. If you accept, child mine, I shall lead you to a place where these chains of mortal man will not harm you. All I ask is that you shelter those I bring to you … those like yourself, who have been persecuted for the blessings I gave them at birth.”

“Of course, Mother.” Severance’s voice was firm.

“Then you accept?”

Did she accept? Severance closed her eyes and let the power, purity and magic of her Mother fill her body completely.

“I do, I accept.”

“It will be a burden, child. You will always be considered outcast by the world around.” She grew brighter and her laughter tinkled through the dank and dreary cell. “But within the home I provide, and in believing in the magic, you will never be alone. You will always be accepted and loved.”

“I understand, Mother, and I thank you for gifting me. I thank you for entrusting me with this duty … this honor.”

The lights twinkled and floated up to Severance’s face.

Severance felt heat flood her body and instinctively she opened her mouth. Automatically the lights flew in and filled her to the brim.

Her body shook and quivered and she closed her eyes tight against the giant tremors that overtook her.

When she opened her eyes she could feel the change. And she knew their new color … they were solid silver.

Severance saw the wall of her cell disappear and eyes silver bright, smile glorious, she stood and walked out into the waiting night.

* * * *

The grass was tall, the trees even taller. The moon was crystalline and the night sang a distant lullaby.

She had made it. She was home.

Severance sank to her knees in the tall grass and stretched her hands up to the sky. She opened herself up to the magic and let it soothe her weary soul.

And her Mother came.

“You have done well, child mine. But the hardest part is yet to come … you must build and continue to build. You will build the foundation for all those who come after you. You will give hope to the hopeless and provide strength for the weak. This will be your sanctuary. Now, child mine, what name shall you give to your new home?”

Severance closed her eyes. Wind whipped through her dark hair and her smile was all-consuming.

“Daring. Our home will be called, Daring.”

Chapter One

Daring, Massachusetts, Present Day

The brew was green. The brew was certainly not supposed to be green. Perhaps it was an excess amount of hemlock? Or perhaps she had just overestimated the amount of salt? Whatever the problem, the result was the same; the brew was a disgusting shade of green.

Sass Riley stared disgruntled down at her cauldron and shook her head resignedly. She could have sworn she measured correctly this time. God! It was a mess. And it was official; she was the worst witch on the east coast. For that matter, she was probably the worst witch in the whole of the United States. If she couldn’t even produce a rudimentary potion what good was she?

“Feeling sorry for yourself, Sass? By the by, you’re not the worst witch out there. Have you taken a trip to Salem lately?” Henrietta Dane strode through the door of Sass’s store and planted her hands on her slim hips.

Sass frowned and narrowed her eyes. “Are you prying again, Henny?”

Henrietta winced. “I hate that nickname.”

Sass’s frown turned into a smile. “I know.”

Henrietta rolled her eyes and made her way over to the cauldron. “Mmmmm … looks like you added too much clover.”

“I did not add too much clover. I’ll have you know I didn’t use any clover in this potion.”

Henrietta raised her eyebrows. “Oh? Then maybe you just caught a Leprechaun and threw him in.”

“That isn’t funny,” Sass ground out.

Henrietta chuckled. “I think it’s hilarious.” She took the giant wooden spoon from the side of the cauldron and began to stir the bubbling liquid. “You might be able to salvage some of this.”

“Nah,” Sass sighed, “It’s dead. It’s worse than dead.”

“Sass,” Henrietta smiled then, “I think the lights you strung up for Mrs. O’Leary’s haunted house were just inspired.”

Sass plunked herself down on a wooden stool. “Thanks for trying to make me feel better. Those lights were nothing.”

“Hey,” Henrietta wagged her finger, “lights that remain lit with no batteries, plugs or electrical cord, just the use of magic. Like I said, inspired!”

Sass sighed deeply. “Parlor tricks, Henny. Nothing but parlor tricks.”

* * * *

Sass rang up Henrietta’s supplies and added a small jar of cloves in as an extra. She wished Henny wasn’t so damned nice and cheerful. She wanted to hate the annoying psychic. Henrietta Dane was the perfect candidate for ‘hatedom’; she was smart, beautiful, quick, and the best damned psychic and telepath in the area. It wasn’t fair for one person be so accomplished.

Sass blew a stray strand of hair out of her face and scrunched up her nose. Stupid hair, it never stayed in place.

“Sass?” Henrietta called from across the room.

“Yes?” Sass busied herself with cleaning up the counter.

“Are you going to put up Mrs. O’Leary’s Christmas decorations?” Henrietta asked, turning a large crystal around in her small hand.

“If she asks me to.”

Henrietta snorted. “Of course she’ll ask you. When has she not asked you?”

“Maybe she wasn’t as pleased with the haunted house as you were,” Sass said. “She didn’t say anything after it was over.”

“That’s because she was so flabbergasted. She’s still looking for the outlet, I’ll bet.”

Sass laughed.

“Oh God!” Henrietta rushed over to the counter. “Just no flying reindeer this year, please Sass.”

Sass harrumphed. “I loved the flying reindeer. What was wrong with the flying reindeer?”

Henrietta sighed. “Nothing, if you think giving poor Mrs. O’Leary heart failure is all right. God, Sass, I thought she’d keel over dead the moment she saw those plastic deer jump off of her roof. She isn’t all there.” Henrietta sighed. “Alzheimer’s you know. And come on … how many times did the neighborhood children steal those deer?”

Sass flushed. “Only three times. And I made sure the spell was connected to Mrs. O’Leary’s roof, so those deer would have been nothing but plastic in those kids hands.”

Henrietta rolled her eyes. “Oh yeah, that makes it so much better.”

“Fine. Fine. I’ll think of something else. Maybe a load of elves … or Santa’s workshop?”

“Just as long as Santa and the elves aren’t drinking whiskey,” Henrietta quipped.

Sass burst out laughing. “You saw Tabitha’s roof?”

“Who didn’t?”

Sass bit her lip. “Tacky wasn’t it.”

“Horrible.” Henrietta agreed. “She’s still trying to upstage you … even now, even years after the academy.”

Sass shrugged her shoulders. “Funny, isn’t it? Tabitha was always the better witch.” Sass held up her hand to ward off Henrietta’s argument. “No, really, she always aced her lessons, her potions were—are—perfect. Tabitha’s grandmother … wowza, was she ever powerful. But Tabitha was always lazy. She liked shortcuts in the academy and she likes shortcuts now. I mean an animation spell is a toughie to pull off, and she did a good job at it … but she didn’t think long term. And God, did she really have to have Santa and his elves imbibing spirits? Heck, I think she scarred the neighborhood children for life.”

“She was just jealous when she saw Mrs. O’Leary’s reindeer flying. That was a good one, Sass.”

Sass preened a little. “Thanks, Henrietta. I’ll admit … that was one of my better spells. But lately…” Sass pointed toward the now empty cauldron, “Everything seems to be coming out wrong.”

“You’re just distracted,” Henrietta said.

“No, I don’t think that’s it.” Sass tapped her fingers on the counter.

“Tired?”

“Nope … I’m sleeping fine,” Sass answered.

“Worried?”

“Not worried.”

Henrietta’s eyes lit up and she smiled slightly.

Sass drew back. “What?”

Henrietta’s smile widened. “How long since you’ve been laid, Sass?”

“Henny!” Sass cried out.

“What? How long? If you tell me Paul was your last, I’m going to fall down and die right now.”

Sass grinned. “It would almost be worth telling you that then.” Sass laughed at Henrietta’s outraged expression and continued. “No, Paul wasn’t the last.” Sass paused and gulped. “I sort of slept with Tina’s brother…”

Henrietta’s mouth dropped open. “Griffin? You slept with Griffin?” Henrietta reached over and grabbed Sass’s arm. “OH MY GOD! Details … I want details. How in the world did you sleep with Griffin without me knowing about it?”

Sass rolled her eyes. “You don’t know everything, Henny.”

Henrietta snorted. “Are you kidding me?”

Sass chortled. “Okay, so that was a stupid statement. But you did teach me a trick or two, Henny.”

Henrietta wrinkled her nose. “Shielding, damn it all, you were shielding.”

“Bingo.”

“But why?” Henrietta whined.

Sass had to laugh at Henrietta’s pouting face. “Did it ever occur to you that I might want a modicum of privacy? And perhaps I don’t want everyone in town knowing I made a totally stupid mistake.”

“Not everyone in town would know,” Henrietta said with a grin.

“Oh, okay, just the psychics, witches, and the odd assortment of warlocks and sorcerers.”

Henrietta nodded. “Yeah, so what’s your point?”

Sass dropped her head to the table.

“So, details. When did this happen?” Henrietta tugged on Sass’s hair. “When?” Her eyes gleamed, “And better question … was he good?”

Sass groaned.

“Is that a yes?” Henrietta asked.

Sass lifted her head slowly and rubbed her eyes. “He was … there are no words to describe it. But it was so stupid, Henny, so absolutely, ridiculously, stupid. I can’t believe I did it.”

Henrietta laughed. “I wish I had done it.”

“Can you be serious for just one minute?”

Henrietta stuck out her tongue at Sass. “Fine, fine…”

“I wouldn’t have done it if I weren’t so…”

“Horny?” Henrietta finished.

Sass threw her a look.

“Sorry. Sorry. I’ll be quiet now.”

“That would be a first,” Sass muttered under her breath.

“I heard that.”

Sass grinned and then sobered. “I shouldn’t have done it. He doesn’t even remember the…”

“WHAT!?” Henrietta shrieked. “What do you mean he doesn’t remember?”

Sass swallowed. “It’s sort of difficult to explain.”

“Try,” Henrietta said dryly.

“Okay. Well. You remember Duane’s potluck dinner?”

Henrietta nodded. “How could I forget? I’ve never tasted pudding that bad in my entire life.”

Sass stifled her laughter. “Well, after dinner I wasn’t feeling quite so well…”

“It was the pudding.”

Sass rolled her eyes. “Do you want to hear this or not?”

“Yes. Go on.”

Sass continued. “I went for a walk on his property. I was about half a mile into the forest when I saw him … Griffin.” Sass swallowed. “He … uh … he was naked.”

Henrietta’s eyes glowed. “Ooooohhhhwiiiieeee…”

Sass blushed. “I was pretty shocked.”

“Oh baby…” Henrietta was fanning herself.

“Sooooo … being a Good Samaritan and all…”

Henrietta smiled broadly. “I bet you were.”

Sass ignored the innuendo. “I thought perhaps he was drunk. But there were never any rumors about the Sampson family having a problem with alcohol. When I got near him I realized that it wasn’t liquor that had gotten to him … but a spell.”

Henrietta gasped. “Now isn’t this getting more interesting?”

Sass nodded. “It does, believe me. The spell was pretty poor … and if I say it’s a poor spell you know it’s a poor spell. It was leaking all over the place … magic was just being thrown around casually. Anyway … it was a…” Sass’s breath hitched, “a … a … lust spell.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I wish. And he had been doused. He was like some poor sitting … uh … laying … duck. I tried to undo the spell but I didn’t have the necessary ingredients on me. And then…” Sass took a deep breath, “ … he leaned up and kissed me.”

Henrietta swooned back. “Oh boy … oh boy … oh boy…”

“It was…” Sass’s blushed deepened, “…amazing! He was amazing. I felt the kiss right down to my toes and back up again, Henny. Anyway … I couldn’t let the person who had laid the spell on Griffin come back and uh … finish it … so I…”

Henrietta licked her lips. “Finished it for them?”

Sass dropped her eyes and nodded. “Sort of. I didn’t mean it to happen the way it did. He came with me willingly,” Sass rolled her eyes, “Of course. I was just going to take him home, well, back to Tina’s … but the moment I got him into my car he was all over me.” Sass all but moaned at the memory. “I … I … couldn’t help myself, Henny. He was kissing me … touching me … telling me how beautiful I was.”

“Tell me about the touching.” Henrietta leaned over the counter, eyes eager.

“You’re so predictable.”

Henrietta waved that away. “Yeah, yeah, about the touching.”

Sass swallowed. “He has amazing hands, Henny. They’re large and just a little callused and so beautiful. When he touched me…” Sass moaned, “I thought I had died and gone to heaven.”

Henrietta’s eyes twinkled. “Yes?”

Sass shook her head. “No more, you pervert.”

“Oh come on!”

“No. I’ve said too much already.”

“You’ve hardly said anything.” Henrietta stomped her foot. “Please? I want to know about his…”

Sass held up her hand. “I know what you want to know about. Forget it. I’m not telling.”

Henrietta rolled her eyes. “You can be such a spoilsport, Sass.”

“And you can be a meddlesome busybody, but hey, do you see me complaining?”

Henrietta narrowed her eyes. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.”

Sass laughed. “You do that.”

Henrietta picked up her bag of supplies and sighed. “You’re really not going to tell me, are you?”

“Nope.”

“Well, at least tell me about the not remembering part,” Henrietta pleaded.

Sass shrugged. “Like I said, it was a shoddily constructed spell. I think the caster skimped on sugar. Such a simple ingredient … but people always overlook it. I’m not sure why, maybe they’re too wrapped up with the complicated stuff like…”

Henrietta snapped her fingers. “Hey, hey, focus here. What about Mr. Hunky Sampson not remembering hot monkey sex in your car?”

“Exactly that, he doesn’t remember. After we … uh … finished, he totally passed out.” Sass smiled at the memory. “I drove him to Tina’s and I…” Sass bit her lip, “sort of left him on the front porch of her house.”

“You did what?” Henrietta dropped her bag.

“I know, I know, it was horrible. But what was I supposed to do? How was I going to explain Griffin being naked and uh … sweaty … and … well heck, how could I explain that, Henny?”

“I guess you couldn’t. Not very well.”

“No, not very well. I mean, it took a lot of energy for me to construct a strength spell to lift the guy … he’s big and heavy.”

Henrietta winked. “I bet.”

Sass stifled back laughter. “Well … I went home and then it was just countdown to when I was going to get that, ‘Hey, did we have wild monkey sex in your car,’ phone call. It never came.” Sass twisted her hair around her finger nervously. “I saw him a couple of times before he left and … nothing, nada, nil, not even a flicker of recognition. I’m sure the caster intended for him to forget … it was probably built right into the spell.”

Henrietta nodded. “So, that was it.”

Sass smiled. “That was it.”

Henrietta reached over and slapped Sass on her shoulder. “The hell with that, Sass Riley, you are the luckiest person on the planet! You slept with Griffin Sampson.” Henrietta moaned. “I get hot just thinking about it. OH MY GOD!” And because she couldn’t seem to help herself, Henrietta Dane began to jump up and down wildly.

Sass laughed. “Henny, Henny, calm down, it was, it was nothing.”

Henrietta stopped jumping abruptly. “Sass…” she said warningly.

Sass’s eyes began to twinkle. “Okay, I’m lying through my teeth. It was wonderful. He was wonderful.” Sass slapped her forehead, “and I am a truly terrible person. I mean, I all but took advantage of him.”

Henrietta burst out laughing. “Honey … you did not take advantage of him.”

“He was under a spell.”

“Uh-huh, a hot, wild, monkey love spell.”

“I shouldn’t have…”

“You should, you did … you lucky, lucky, devil you.” Henrietta smacked her lips together. “Yummy … now why don’t I come across be-spelled hunks in the forest?”

“Henrietta you have to promise not to tell anyone of…”

Henrietta held up a hand. “No need to say anything else, Sass. My lips are sealed.”

“Your mind, too.”

Henrietta grinned. “Yes, that too.”

“Okay.” Sass smiled. “Need anything else, Henny?”

“Just more details,” Henrietta replied.

Sass chuckled. “Other than that?”

“Nope, I think this’ll do.” Henrietta turned to leave. “Oh, are we still on for Friday evening?”

Sass groaned. “I hate ‘raisings’, Henny.”

“I know honey, but we need another body to complete the circle.”

“Okay, fine, but you owe me one.”

Henrietta winked. “You bet.” Just before Henrietta left she shouted over her shoulder, “Do ya think you can whip up one of those lust spells for me, Sass?”

“You need a lust spell like I need more hemlock in my brew,” Sass muttered under her breath.

Sass watched Henrietta’s dark head disappear out of view and couldn’t help the grin that spread across her face. Henrietta was right … she was lucky, very, very, lucky.

 

 

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