Cinder, Sister Witches of Story Cove Spellbinding Cozy Mystery Series, Book 1
A pair of famous glass slippers, a ball, Prince Charming…and murder!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “…a witty, witchy tale.” ~ The Avid Reader
Even in the witchy world of the Sherwood sisters, I have a rare magickal talent—I can literally step into someone's shoes and know things about them. Things I don’t want to know.
As head of the family business, The Enchanted Candle & Soap Company, it’s my job to keep us in the black. My sisters are depending on me, and we need a massive cash inflow if we’re going to stay afloat and expand into a new line of bath and body products.
When an aging actress swirls into town in desperate need of my velvety foot cream, this is my chance to get much needed publicity for our shop. I’ll even put up with Finn, the actress's all-too-handsome son, who continuously invites me to a — get this — ball! Fancy clothes and socializing? Please. I’d rather turn him into a toad.
Okay, not really. He’s far too cute for that.
When a woman ends up dead while wearing the actress’s very famous and very cursed pair of glass slippers, I discover my power is more important than ever. Everyone is a suspect, and the police are relying on me to help them investigate. Will stepping into the cursed shoes put me on the trail of a killer, or will I end up as the next victim?
My sister’s screech jolts me upright from my prone position under the workroom sink and I smack my forehead on the steel basin. “Ouch!”
A follow-up shriek and the sound of shattering glass in the showroom has me muttering to myself and wiping my wet hands on a rag. “Coming,” I call, scuttling out from under the pipes. A bucket, half filled with dirty water and hair from the drainpipe, along with numerous fittings and tools, are scattered around my legs.
“It’s one of your mice,” Belle calls. “They’re loose again!”
Technically, they aren’t my mice, but I tend to have an assortment of small critters who take to me, like McAlister, my pigmy hedgehog. The orphaned mice babies are now bigger than he is and strong enough to return to the woods where I found them last month. I brought them in, always a sucker for hurt or abandoned animals, and my sister, Ruby, helped feed and nurture them like their missing mother would have if she were still around. Now, it’s time for us return them to the forest behind our home.
Sliding the bucket filled with a tangle of Zelle’s coppery hair out of the way, I get to my feet. McAlister, on the countertop, stirs from his nap. He’s nocturnal but still loves to be in the thick of things around the shop.
Zelle doesn’t wash her hair in this sink, and I suspect the mice have been busy building nests with it, especially since they’re constantly escaping their enclosure.
In the showroom, I find Belle standing on a stool behind the cash register, a book in hand, as usual. Zelle, the sister who dropped a glass candle, is half sitting, half teetering on the edge of a display table, her weight threatening to topple it and a dozen stacked soap bars to the floor. Her outstretched legs wave in the air. “It ran behind the Magical Forest display!”
Rapunzel, known as Zelle, and Belle, are fraternal twins. Although they’re not identical, they resemble each other enough that people who don’t know them sometimes mix them up. Today, Zelle’s spiky hair has pink tips on the ends and she’s turned her twin’s, a platinum blond.
Wiping a strand of hair from my forehead, I check behind the display. This reveals nothing more than dust and a cobweb. I mentally note we’re low on Midsummer Night’s Dream candles, the shelf they’re housed on in the antique display cabinet nearly bare.
I turn to my younger sisters, “He’s gone. You can get down.”
Neither moves, scanning the shop floor with their matching brown eyes. “Where’d he go?” Zelle asks, suspiciously eyeing a nearby table of our sparkling Unicorn candles.
“Probably back to the workroom and the nest of hair you left in the drain.”
Her feet hit the floor and glass crunches under her boots. “My hair?”
Since her locks grow at an astronomical rate, she shaves her head each morning. The hair regrows down to the floor by nightfall.
She touches the spikes already growing out from her morning routine, the signature pink tips part of her magick. “I haven’t done anything in there in days, and I certainly haven’t left any hair behind.”
One of the goals I have for this year is growing our family business, the Enchanted Candle & Soap Company. Sales are thriving for our handmade, small-batch soaps and candles, especially online, and we’re ready to add a full line of body care products. But a building expansion costs money. Money we don’t have.
The upside is that a bigger showroom, workspace, and storage area will allow Belle and Zelle to up their hours, maybe even come on full-time, which Ruby and I could sorely use. As it is, the twins have to hold extra jobs in town to help pay our bills and keep our nearly two-hundred-year-old home from falling down around us. Belle works next door at the bookstore; Zelle is a hairstylist at Kit Kat Hair and Nails, specializing in events such as weddings.
In Story Cove, there are lots of weddings, along with parties of every make and kind, and good ol’ Southern gatherings. Funerals and wakes, even simple Sunday dinners, are turned into big occasions.
“I know,” I admit to her. “It’s the—”
At that moment, I see a flash of gray from the corner of my eye. My hand shoots out in that direction. “Freeze!”
The mouse—half in, half out of the fall display near the cash register—stops dead in his tracks but squeaks loud enough to raise the hair on the back of my neck. I use my magick to keep him frozen as I scoop up his tiny body and look him in the eyes. “You’ve been a very bad little mouse. I know you’re feeling your oats and are ready to get back into the forest, so we’ll round up your brothers and sisters today and take a little journey, okay?”
His eyes convey more than his diminutive body could, even if it wasn’t paralyzed. I allow my magick to roll back enough so he can move his head. His whiskers twitch as we stare nose to nose at each other, but I sense he understands my words and is relieved to return to the area where he was born.
My cellphone jingles in my back pocket, a chime to alert me to an incoming email. I take the little wiggler and hold him close as I pull it out. Zelle goes to grab a broom and dustpan to sweep up the glass candle, and Belle slides off her stool.
“Who’s that?” she asks.
As I peruse the short message, I cringe. “One of those guys from the dating app. CuddlyBear59. Jeez, who makes this stuff up?”
“You got a match?” She hustles to my side to lean over my shoulder and read it. “An invitation to go to the ball?” She nearly squeals with glee. It currently seems to be her goal in life to set me up with someone.
“That’s a big fat no.”
She dances away, as though she has a partner waltzing her around the shop floor. “Tiffany Starling! Isn’t it romantic? I can’t believe someone so famous has moved to town, and is throwing a ball at her mansion. It’s all for a good cause, too. She’s helping the local theater with a silent auction fundraiser since they’re going to perform the stage production of The Glass Slippers. The lead actress, Bonnie, will be wearing the original shoes during the play!”
I’ve heard Belle and Ruby chattering about this the past few days, but I’ve ignored most of it. “That’s nice,” I say off-handedly, “but I’m not going, and I really wish you hadn’t put me on Fairytale Love. It’s embarrassing. Not one of the guys who’s sent me an email is someone I would date. Not even if they were the last guy on earth.”
Consternation burns in Belle’s eyes and she stops her pretend dancing. “Couldn’t you try, Cinder? Fairytale Love has made over a million successful matches worldwide so far, and they’re growing every day. Give at least one guy a chance, please?”
Dating in Story Cove is no fairytale, let me tell you. Finding my Prince Charming and a happily-ever-after is about as likely as Belle going a day without reading a book, or Zelle not walking around with pink hair.
Glancing at the email again, I notice the signature. “Jason Bonners. CuddlyBear59 is the meat market guy?” Another cringe. “Sorry, no.” I make a face, thinking of what he does as a butcher. “Yuck.”
“You refuse to date everybody,” she argues, the exasperation in her voice grating on my nerves. “You need to get out more.”
Zelle returns, shooting me a smirk, but at least she doesn’t jump in on the conversation. She sweeps up the broken glass and chunks of candle and I reply to the email with a, “thanks, no thanks” message.
I pocket the phone and pet the mouse. “I’m too busy here and working on the building expansion. I don’t have time for a boyfriend, so let’s put that on hold for now, okay?”
Belle ignores me and goes to the front door to flip the sign over. It’s almost 9 a.m. and time to open. With one hand she shoos me off. “Go take care of your mouse.”
“You’ll remove my profile from the dating site app?”
“Later,” she replies.
Our shop cat, Savannah, has another renegade mouse trapped by the tail under a furry white paw when I return to the back room. The Angora gives me a bored look with her mismatched colored eyes as I retrieve the tiny gray baby, and I thank her for not eating him. A yawn and a stretch before she goes to the old cookie jar we keep handy and begs for a treat.
“You’re spoiled,” I tell her, depositing the mice in a shoe box. She purrs as I give her a crunchy fish-shaped treat. She meows for a second, after inhaling that one, but I stand my ground and ignore her pleading attempts, nearly having to stuff my ears with cotton because of her loud, incessant meowing.
After McAlister and I round up the rest of the mouse family, I’m carrying the shoebox to the back door when Ruby enters.
I’m the oldest of the Sherwood sisters, then Ruby, followed by the twins. My sister has the darkest hair of all of us, but shares my fair looks and freckles.
She’s dressed in her signature red cape, even though the September day is warming nicely, and carries a basket of fresh eggs. “Hey, the van is making a weird ticking noise again.” Undoing the cape’s ties, she shrugs it off. “I had to walk through the forest to Nonni and Poppi’s this morning. Not that I mind the walk on such a beautiful day, but do you think you could look at it?”
Our delivery van needs a tune-up, and probably a new timing belt. More expenses, and more of my time. “I’ll work on it as soon as I can.”
“Want me to scramble up eggs for your breakfast?”
“I’m relocating the mice back to the forest, but I haven’t had any coffee yet and I’d kill for one of your mushroom omelets.”
“You got it.” She peeks in the container and wishes the little critters well before McAlister and I exit with them.
In the bird-song filled woods, fallen leaves crunch under foot. The air is clean and crisp and I cast a magick spell on the mice to keep them from becoming food for larger animals.
I’m a softy at heart, and I can’t stand the idea of them dying. I know it’s part of nature, but they’re orphans, like my sisters and I, and I wish them well as they scamper off into the burrow that was their original home.
The mouse who scared Zelle and Belle gives me another nose twitch and lifts a paw as if to say ‘thank you.’ I return the wave and amble back to our stately gothic home on Main Street.
The sprawling two bottom floors and a huge attic belonged to our fourth great-grandmother in the early 1800s. What began as a single-level dwelling for her family, grew when she started the company in her thirties after her husband died. She raised their six kids on her own.
Through generations of women on my mom’s side, the soap and candle products have proved to always be in demand, and continue to support our family. We stick by Grandma Eunice’s rules and put a little magick into every bar of soap, every candle. Now, with our lotions, body butters, serums, and loose tea and spices, we’re taking Enchanted to a whole new level. We’re still limited, however, with space and money for ingredients.
After I’ve had my omelet and coffee, I gather my things from the drain cleaning. Belle rushes to me in the workroom. “There’s someone here to see you,” she says, adding with a wink, “he’s really cute.”
My non-existent dating life is going to be the highlight of her day, no matter what I do.
I put McAlister in his cage. “Who is it?”
She leans closer and lowers her voice in a conspiratorial whisper. “It’s Tiffany’s son!”
“Tiffany Starling! Honestly, Cinder, weren’t you listening earlier?”
I shrug, grabbing my pipe wrench, still damp from the morning’s work. I need to clean my tools, toss out the slimy water, and make sure the drain pipe doesn’t leak. Then it’s on to the van. “Can’t you wait on him?”
“He said he needs to speak directly to you.”
Sighing, I stare at her, searching for the lie. She’s trying to set me up with a guy, and will go to any length to do so. But there’s no subterfuge in her gaze, only happy excitement.
Wiping my hands, I follow her out, pocketing the wrench in my worn tool belt. Zelle is redoing the display she disrupted earlier, and Savannah has taken up residence in a patch of sunlight on the floor. Belle’s Pekingese, Jayne Eyre, sniffs at the pant leg of a guy about my age, standing in a shaft of the same bright sunlight coming through the front display window.
He’s tall, wearing an expensive tweed jacket and dark slacks, his wheat blond hair casually tousled. A lock falls into his eyes as he examines one of the charcoal soap bars in our Blackbeard line of male soap and beard products.
“This is Cinder,” Belle announces, and he turns from the display on the antique table with a big smile.
“Nice to meet you.” He extends a hand, a pair of sapphire blue eyes making me catch my breath. “I hope I’m not bothering you,”—he glances at the tool belt—“but Mother wanted me to speak to you specifically. Something about a refill of peppermint lotion—body butter, I think she called it? You made a tin of it for her. She swears it reduces the swelling in her feet, and she needs to wear those famous shoes of hers this weekend. She needs a refill.”
I hear the words, but can’t seem to process them, his stunning eyes making my brain short-circuit. The air catches in my sternum and seems as frozen as the mouse was earlier.
He looks at me somewhat expectantly, and it takes great effort to make my brain cells function again. When his gaze travels to the tool belt once more, I feel a flush of heat spreading up my neck. I gingerly touch the wrench and then point a thumb over my shoulder to the workroom. “I, uh…had to fix a pipe.”
“I see. It appears you’re a woman of many talents.”
I’m praying I don’t have grease on my face.
Peppermint Pigs is the name I’ve been toying with for my latest creation, a foot cream borne of my own need for it, as well as Nonni’s. She has terrible swelling in her aging feet. I keep adding magick to my portion, hoping to shrink my giant ones.
So far, it refuses to reduce my size 10s, but I do have soft skin.
Belle and Ruby love the name, Zelle doesn’t. The salve is made with beeswax and honey, along with peppermint and vanilla, and is specifically for soothing tired feet. I haven’t added it to our line-up yet since it’s still in the beta testing phase, and I simply don’t have time to create dozens of tins of it.
Ideas I have plenty of. Time and money? Not so much.
I remember the woman who came in two weeks ago complaining about her feet. I knew right off the bat she wasn’t native to Story Cove, but I had no idea she was the famous actress who recently moved to town. “That’s your mother?” I stammer. “Tiffany Starling?”
He’s still holding out a hand and Belle clears her throat, startling me out of my awkwardness. “Sorry,” I say, reaching to take it. “I didn’t realize who she was. I’m so glad my potion—um, body butter—worked.”
The warmth and solidness of his hand makes me not want to let go. “You didn’t recognize her?” He gives a chuckle. “Don’t tell her that. Her ego would take it hard.”
I still haven’t released his hand and a silly grin breaks over my face. “It’s our secret. Nice to meet you…I didn’t catch your name.”
A bemused expression crosses his face at my apparent ignorance about his family. “Henri Finch Starling. Friends call me Finn.”
Finn. Nice. Everything about him is really nice.
“She told me this place had something special about it. Straight out of a children’s storybook, she said.” He glances around. “She was right. Is it on the register?”
He releases my hand. Reluctantly, I let him. “For historical homes?”
Probably should be, but making repairs to the old place or expanding it would have to meet their strict guidelines—and cost even more. “Afraid not.”
“She’s a beauty.” He winks and my breath catches again. “I can see you’re taking good care of her.”
Trying to at least. I need several thousand dollars to get the bats out of the attic and update the electrical.
Someday. “I’m sorry I don’t have any of the lotion your mom wants on hand at the moment. I’ll have to make a fresh batch and deliver it later today.”
Mentally, I add one more thing to my to-do list.
“That would be great.” His grin broadens and he reaches inside his jacket, withdrawing a square ivory envelope, and handing it to me. “Mother would like to invite you to our fundraiser and ball this weekend.”
I can feel Belle nearly squeal with excitement behind me. Even Zelle comes to attention. “Thank you, but’s not necessary. I’m happy to make up the foot cream for your mother. It’s no big deal.”
His smile falls. “We’ll pay for the lotion and delivery. This isn’t in exchange for that.”
“Oh, no, I understand. It’s just…dancing isn’t my thing.”
He slowly returns the invitation to his pocket, his brows drawing down. “Sorry to hear that. You might still enjoy it, even if you don’t want to dance. There’s music and food, and the silent auction of my mother’s memorabilia from the film.”
I attempt to look interested, but I haven’t even seen the movie. “I appreciate the offer, but—”
“Just think about it okay? Maybe I’ll see you later. You know where we live right? On the hill?”
In Story Cove, that particular hill is referred to as Millionaires Row. Ms. Starling purchased Myth Manor, if memory of Belle’s chattering about it serves.
“We know,” she states from behind the counter. She’s finishing up with a woman who’s buying several candles from our Charming Crystals line, and eavesdropping on our conversation at the same time.
He nods at me, waves at Belle. “Again, nice to meet you. I hope to see you soon.”
The customer exits on his heels, and Belle nearly grabs and shakes me, she’s so frustrated. “I can’t believe you didn’t accept that invitation.”
Zelle shakes her head. “Honestly, Cinder, I can’t either. He’s handsome, rich, and look how awesome he is, coming down here to get lotion for his mom’s feet.”
Handsome, rich, and nice…I’m not sure why I’m running away from that, but all I can do is shrug. “We only just met him,” I say, thinking I should push Belle at him since she’s so enamored with his mom and her movie.
He’s perfect for her, and maybe if she had a boyfriend, she’d leave me alone.
With that idea in mind, I head back to work.