Magic & Mistletoe
It seems Thornhollow has more secrets to reveal. After ridding my family of an ancient curse, I’m hired to break another.
A two-hundred-year-old hex is about to expire and release a ghost from Christmas past. The witch trapped by the hex is seeking revenge and coming after my boyfriend. Like I don’t have enough issues in the relationship department!
Add in planning for the Mistletoe Ball, the biggest event of the year in Thornhollow, launching my new wedding dress line, and an unexpected, yet welcome, visitor, and it all spells trouble.
Something is brewing this Christmas, and it isn’t just hot cocoa. Murder and magic are in the air and Santa has stuffed my stocking with ghosts.
The second installment in the Confessions series by Nyx Halliwell! Don't miss out on Ava's adventures in her small hometown of Thornhollow, Georgia, where mystery, murder, romance, and a little bit of down home Southern cooking are always on tap.
Series info: Avalon Fantome sees ghosts, but lordy, she wishes she didn’t! Returning to her family home in Georgia after her Aunt Willa is murdered, she must take charge of her aunt’s event planning business, live with a shape-shifting cat, cope with small town secrets, and deal with poltergeists, cursed objects, and malevolent spirits…and then there are the townsfolk who don’t want her messing in their affairs. It all adds up to magic, murder, laughter and love.
Books in the series:
Pumpkins & Poltergeists, Confessions of a Closet Medium, Book 1
Magic & Mistletoe, Confessions of a Closet Medium, Book 2
Hearts & Haunts, Confessions of a Closet Medium, Book 3
Vows & Vengeance, Confessions of a Closet Medium, Book 4
Cupcakes & Corpses, Confessions of a Closet Medium, Book 5
December is my favorite month, Christmas my favorite holiday.
It’s only a few days away and Rosie and I are decorating the front window of The Wedding Chapel with a bride scene I woke up with front and center in my mind this morning.
Aunt Willa would love it.
Hopefully, her spirit is hanging around and is delighted to see my idea. Equally important is that if she is, she’s also satisfied with how I’m running her event planning business.
Bing Crosby plays through the stereo speakers that my friend, Brax, set up for the front area. Long ago, my aunt turned her beautiful Victorian home into her office, opening the rooms on either side of the grand door to create one big floor space. Each side sports a giant bay window where displays of wedding themes and other formal party events showcase the business’s offerings.
The three cats—Arthur, Lancelot, and Tabitha—laze by the fireplace where the smell of wood smoke mixes with the fresh scent of fir tree. Tabitha is grooming her marmalade colored fur; Arthur and Lancelot watch her through sleepy-lidded eyes. Rosie has spiced cider brewing, the cinnamon and cloves recalling memories of holidays spent here with my beloved aunt.
The smaller artificial tree in her window is done in silver and blue, and we’ve spotlighted a snowy scene, filled with sparkling icicles and snowflake ornaments. The contemporary bride in that scene wears a dress from my line coming out in the new year, along with one of my aunt’s faux fur wraps that resembles white mink. The prototype is a favorite of mine, and I’m still wrestling with the official name for it.
“The Madison?” I try it on for size. “It needs a modern name.”
Rosie leans back and eyes it. She’s wearing an ivory sweater with miniature jingle bells lining the collar. Every move produces a sleigh sound. She’s tamed her thick, dark hair into a ponytail with a festive bow. “How about The Emery? It’s on my list of modern baby names.”
“Sort of sounds like a nail salon.” My aunt used emery boards all the time. There’s a stash in her antique desk I can’t bring myself to toss yet. “Do I want to know why you have this list?”
She gives a sly smile. “Just dreaming a little.”
Rosie and her husband have a five-year-old boy. The kid keeps her hopping and this is the first she’s mentioned wanting to have another. “I can just see you running around with a miniature Rosie at your feet,” I tease.
Her laughter is soft and wistful. “I’ve always wanted a girl. Maybe one of these days.”
In the matching window, I’m stringing lights in a more vintage scene. With my boyfriend, Logan’s, help, I’ve moved the grandfather clock into this large space and set the hands at midnight. The chimney and fireplace are made from cardboard but you wouldn’t know it from the detail Brax and I painted on it.
Arthur meanders over and hops into the window, rubbing his lanky gray body across my leg. Rosie and I created a comfy scene with stockings hanging from the false, but very real-looking, mantle. Giant presents are wrapped in shiny foil, and all the touches are white with gold trim.
This bride-to-be sits in the midst of the gifts under the tree, the mannequin so lifelike, I almost feel as though I could talk to her. She’s staring into a blue velvet box with a giant diamond ring inside, her handsome fiancé by her side. She’s wearing a vintage lace dress I found in a closet upstairs. My mother claims it was once worn by my great-great grandmother.
Arthur hops in her lap, causing the fake ring box to jostle. “No, no,” I say, gently removing him. Carefully, I check the dress for claw marks and am relieved to see none.
Rosie adjusts the wrap. “How about calling it The Bellamy?”
After wistfully making adjustments, wondering what it might be like to be proposed to at Christmas, I turn to eye the dress in Rosie’s window. “Bellamy…hmm.” I roll the name around in my head. “Ritzy, with kind of an old-world charm. I like it.”
“Bel or Bella for short,” Rosie says, trailing her fingers over the stole. “It’s French and means beautiful friend.”
“Pretty. I’ll ask Brax and Rhys what they think.”
The partners are our go-to for all things relating to fashion and business. She pins a poinsettia brooch on the white fake fur. “Good idea.”
The outside porch and railing are festooned in evergreen garlands, twinkle lights, and shiny ribbons tied amongst the pinecones. Poinsettias decorate the steps to the wide porch and we’ve wrapped matching garlands around the outsides of each window. “Aunt Willa would love this.”
From her spot in the window, Rosie nods. “She’d be very proud if she were here. You’ve done a great job with the place.”
Making the decision to step into my aunt’s shoes and take over her business was no easy decision. Moving home to Thornhollow? Even harder.
I can’t believe she’s gone, even after all these weeks since Halloween when I uncovered an ugly secret behind her death. Since then, however, I’ve relocated here from Atlanta, and for the first time in many years, I’m looking forward to Christmas. I haven’t been this excited about the holidays since childhood.
Digging in a box for more lights, Lancelot sticks his nose in as if to help. Arthur has sidled up to the tree in the window and I shoo him away when I see him eyeing the ornaments. My imagination doesn’t need help with envisioning him toppling the whole scene and causing me to lose my happy disposition.
“Logan alert,” Rosie says, and her small chihuahua, Fern, begins barking.
Across the street a tall guy with wheat blond hair and a runner’s build comes into view. Trailing behind him is Moxley, his Bassett hound, his long ears dragging on the sidewalk.
My heart gives a thudthud and my pulse keeps time with Bing’s serenade.
Logan Cross is Thornhollow’s only lawyer and he’s a fine one at that. While this winter day in Georgia is barely below fifty, his wool jacket and plaid scarf suggest cooler temperatures.
There’s only been three times in my life I remember having snow for Christmas, but once again my imagination takes over. How perfect would it be to stroll the downtown Christmas walk with snow on the ground and my gloved fingers entwined with his?
“What do you want me to do about the rent?” Rosie interrupts my daydreaming and throws a handful of tinsel on her tree. “We’re late. Again.”
Forcing my attention away from Logan, I shake out the string of lights in my hand. “What? I thought we paid him at the first of the month like usual.”
At Rosie’s admonishment, Fern quits barking, her tiny paws carrying her to a soft dog bed nearby. She roots around under the blanket and hides her head. “Penn still hasn’t paid the second part of her bill, and the ball decorations wiped out what little cushion we had.”
My stomach tightens slightly. Logan technically owns the house. Before she died, my aunt needed money to hire samples made of my wedding gown designs, unbeknownst to me. She used up her life savings and sold the house to him to come up with it.
I plan to buy it back, but until then, he’s our landlord.
And apparently, we’re broke.
Before he crosses the street, a neighbor stops him to chat and I take a relieved breath. Penny Calhoun-Reed is a small problem in the grand scheme of things, but still. We need to get paid. “Penn’s husband still hasn’t found a job?”
Rosie finishes off the tinsel. “No, and we won’t see our money from the ball until after the ticket proceeds are tallied and we’re cut a check.”
The Mistletoe Ball is one of the biggest events in Thornhollow every Christmas. The Chamber of Commerce is in charge of it, and when I stepped into my aunt’s life, I did the same into her shoes as president of the group.
All of this is still new to me, and I make a mental note that next year we should make them cough up at least a partial deposit for the decorations.
I’ve put Rosie in charge of the details, so I can attend with Logan and enjoy myself. She’s done a great job, and the ball is going to be bigger and better than ever. We’re raising funds to support a local small dog rescue, a charity near and dear to Rosie’s heart. She’s put every ounce of her ingenuity into making it extra special.
“How much do we have?” I ask, fearing her answer. How am I ever going to reclaim the house if I can’t even make rent?
“Three hundred and twelve dollars in savings, and close to a hundred or so in petty cash.”
We’re a hundred dollars short.
I chew my bottom lip, wishing sales from my wedding dress line were already coming in, but since Gloria and her company who sews them can’t begin taking orders until January, I can’t fully launch until then. My debut is scheduled for March; I’m excited and extremely nervous.
I need time. That extra income will all be put toward purchasing the house.
Across the street, Logan smiles at the man he’s chatting with. He’s so handsome, so perfect in all the ways that matter. Even the quirk of his mouth and his nod mesmerize me. The two share a laugh, and the man pats Moxley’s head. A woman with a stroller goes by and waves.
Christmas cheer is in the air.
And so is a ghost of Christmas Past.
My stomach twists as I think about what I have to do before the ball. Not only do I need to talk to Penn, come up with rent, and give Rosie a bonus, I have to keep an awful secret from the man I love.
It’s been nearly two months since his mother hired me to protect him from an unseen, yet deadly threat that will strike the night of the ball if I don’t stop it.
The problem being, I have no idea how.
On top of that, I’m a horrible liar, and I’ve been dancing around this secret for too long.
Logan and the man shake hands, their conversation wrapping up.
I swivel one way, then the other, my daydreams about Christmas crashing down around me. No wonder Logan’s been acting sort of weird the past few weeks. I thought it was because he was keeping my Christmas gift a secret. In reality, he’s probably wondering how to ask me about the rent.
I need to escape—and quickly before he and Moxley dash over here. I will not let another day go by without paying him.
Rosie adjusts her mannequin’s hand. “You could do a couple of Saturday nights at the Thorny Toad. Your aunt always made extra cash at those.”
Now my stomach cramps for an entirely different reason. ‘Mena the Medium’ was the Thorny Toad’s resident ghost whisperer and regularly used her psychic abilities to help folks. I have her gift, although to me, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. “Over my dead body,” I grumble.
But the thought lights up a few brain cells and gives me an idea. Upstairs in an old trunk is a black ledger my aunt kept with lists of clients and the money she charged them. She didn’t give away her services for free, whether it involved clearing a house of unwanted spirits or advising expectant parents if they were having a boy or girl.
Helen Cross hired me to do a job with no promise of payment, no deposit. A job with dire consequences if I don’t find a solution.
Might be time to remedy that.
Tossing the lights haphazardly onto the tree, I step from the window. “I have a side job I’m working on. Let me see if I can get an advance.”
I bolt, Arthur and Lancelot diving out of the way as Tabitha strolls by, nearly tripping me. She disappears in the direction of the kitchen.
Grabbing my wool coat from a hook near the door, my hand brushes the fresh holly and pine boughs trimming the door, the idea continues to gel. Through the window, I see Logan push through the gate, the wreath hanging on it bobbing with the action. He waits patiently for the dog to join him.
Keeping the curse from Logan makes me extremely uncomfortable, but I swore to his mother to do so in order not to worry him. “I’ll return as soon as I can. Tell him I’m running errands.”
One of Rosie’s hands goes to her hip. “Don’t you think you should be honest with him? He’ll understand about our lack of funds. It’s only temporary.”
My relationship with Logan is complicated, and I’m out of my comfort zone simply thinking about him as my boyfriend. I don’t know if I should tell him about our financial troubles or not, quite honestly. Of course, he’d understand, wouldn’t he? And yet, my father taught me that money has a funny way of changing things between people.
Since his family is one of the richest in town, the last thing I want is for Logan or anyone else to deem I can’t handle my affairs on my own and am milking him for cash. I don’t want things to change between us—our relationship is still too new and fragile.
Four days—that’s all the time I have to figure out how to save him from his family’s curse. Paying rent and throwing the Mistletoe Ball should be the least of my worries.
Aunt Willa, I could use some of your psychic abilities right now.
As if she’s suddenly by my side, I hear her voice telepathically. “Run!”
Or maybe that’s my own inner survival instinct. Entering the kitchen, I flinch when Tabitha screeches at me from the counter. She paws the carafe.
“I’m not your servant.” Naughty cat, she’s always begging for food and seems to have a penchant for coffee these days.
Tabitha founded the town back in the 1700s with my grandfather multiple times removed. She’s as bossy as my own mama. But if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have solved Aunt Willa’s murder, and stopped the killer from doing more harm.
At the base of the cabinet, Arthur and Lancelot seat themselves and watch us, as if hoping they’ll get something out of this deal as well.
I wave her off. “Get your own coffee, Grandma, and please don’t run around naked if you shift and scare Rosie and Fern to death.”
Not only is my ancestor on her seventh or eighth life as a cat, she can transform into human form when she wants.
Lancelot’s gray eyebrows rise and I swear Arthur grins. Speaking of naughty cats…
It seems they might like seeing her naked, and I make a mental note to lock them out of the bathroom when I shower from now on. I narrow my eyes at them. “You two behave.”
Just as I’m sneaking out, I hear the bell above the front entrance tinkle and Logan’s deep voice greets Rosie. Quietly, I slip through the screen door and out to the backyard.
Who would’ve thought I’d ever be running away from the most handsome, successful guy in Thornhollow?
But it’s time I have a chat with his mama.
One way or another, I need her help breaking the curse haunting—and hunting—her son.