Hester keeps trying to make things ahead for the Christmas Eve dinner she invites her coven and their families to. But when a voodoo priest is busy creating undead, she has to deal with one interruption after another. This Saturday, though, she finds time to bake cookies. Yes. Even supernaturals are tempted by cookies.
Snow started falling on the way home. Southern Indiana was a lot warmer than the northern part of the state, but we still had white winters. My coven and I had bespelled the roads inside our boundaries to be free of ice and snow so Raven could use his Lamborghini with no worries of ice or slippery spots. As we approached our driveway, I waved my hand and the outside lights all lit. Icicle lights hung from the roofline of our tall Victorian with a deep front porch. Lights rimmed the porch roof, too, and they twinkled on the arched walking bridge that spanned the stream at the side of our large property. More glowed from the gazebo. It looked like a picture card winter wonderland.
Raven dropped me off near the kitchen door, then he and Claws drove farther to park the car in our garage. My ocelot didn’t pad into the house, like usual, but ran toward the tree line near the river. He’d explore instead of waiting outside our bedroom door.
Raven shook snow off his black hair as he stepped inside and hung his coat near the door. Then without a word, he scooped me up and started upstairs. My fingers slid under his sweater to feel his warm skin, his hard muscles. He kicked the door shut on his way to the bed. We were finally alone, and we meant to enjoy it. Later, much later, we heard Claws lie against the door in the hallway. Raven got up to let him in the room. We slept with no blind on our window so that Hecate’s moonlight could shine in and bathe us in her silver beams.
Raven slid across the bed to spoon his long, hard body against mine, and I fell asleep cradled in his warmth. We slept in since it was Saturday and neither of us had to rush to our jobs. We took our time showering and getting ready for the day. I was going to bake and make candy the entire day. School was still open all next week, but after Friday, we started Yule vacation. Yule Eve was on a Tuesday night, and Yule itself was Wednesday, so I had more time to prepare, but I knew I’d keep losing evenings and days to trying to find the voodoo priest.
When Raven and I finally started down the stairs to begin our day, Claws ran to the front door and a deep growl rumbled in his throat. I frowned. What could bother him outside? No enemies could pass our wards. What had him so upset?
I went to the door and opened it to glance outside and stared in surprise. The young shifter who’d run away with the witch in the dream huddled on our porch. “How long have you been here? You look half frozen.” I opened the door wide and motioned him inside.
The poor boy shivered in our entryway, and I went to start the coffee pot while Raven frowned at him. “Are you in danger?”
“No, but all I can think about is Laurel. I want to help you find her. Don’t try to send me back home. I can’t go there. When my father found out what I was doing, he disowned me. I’m banned from our town.”
I could see his father doing that. My thoughts immediately flew to the boy’s mother. I felt sorry for her. If Raven ever pulled something like that, he’d be out of the house, and my kid would be home. But Raven would never be that stupid.
Raven led the boy into the kitchen, and I poured him a cup of coffee, then I poured cups for Raven and me. “I can’t keep calling you shifter or kid,” I said. “What’s your name?”
“Flint, my dad says I’m flint gray in my wolf form.” He sipped the coffee, holding the mug in both hands to warm himself, and I could almost watch him thaw a little. He hunched his shoulders. “I don’t have any money. If it’s all right with you, I thought I’d sleep in my car until we find Laurel. Is there a law about that in Muddy River?”
I grimaced. “There’s no law, but it’s not going to happen. You’ll stay here with us. Things have been more chaotic than usual, though, so we’re in and out a lot.”
“I couldn’t do that.” He started to shake his head, but Raven interrupted him.
“Either here, or you can sleep upstairs of my office and the town’s jail. I used to live there until I met Hester.”
“You wouldn’t mind if I did that?”
“It’s empty right now. There’s furniture and a bed but no groceries.”
“I’ll call Ruby,” I said, “and tell her to make a tab for you at her diner, and we’ll pay for it later.”
“I don’t want . . . “
I shook my head. “You’re no good to us if you’re weak and hungry. The undead defeated you before. If you’re going to help us, you need protection from voodoo magic. I’ll get you the pouches you need. And Raven needs to teach you how to kill the undead.”
He stared. He obviously hadn’t thought things through very well when he came here, but his intentions were good, so we were going to make it work. Besides, I liked anyone who wanted to help our poor witch, and especially a young shifter who loved her this much.
“Did you bring extra clothes?” Raven asked.
“I have a suitcase with everything I own. I can’t go back.”
With a nod, Raven started to the door to get his coat. “Follow me into town, and I’ll show you my old apartment and give you a key. You won’t be able to get in the office. A door opens onto the stairs that lead to the second floor. Then I’ll take you to Noira and Sugi’s bakery and get you some rolls and bread for breakfast, and we’ll stop at Faiza’s grocery to buy you some supplies.”
“Are there any jobs I could do here to make money?”
Raven hesitated. “Toothy and Paws are looking for someone to hire, but it’s long hours.”
Flint’s eyes lit up. “I don’t mind hard work.”
“You might mind this. They run a chicken and poultry farm. Every kind of chicken known to man, ducks, and geese, even pheasants. Their daughter sells eggs to the bakery and at the market in town.”
“Will they hire me since I’m a stranger?”
Raven smiled. “After Paws hears your story about the undead taking your young witch, she’ll probably invite you stay to eat supper with them. She’s a cat shifter with a big heart. If you’re interested in meeting them, I’ll drive you out to their place.”
I glanced at Claws. “Do you want to go with them?” But my ocelot had traveled enough lately and went to stretch in front of the fireplace in the front room. I kissed Raven on his way out the door and watched him drive away before gathering things from my pantry to get some baking done today.
I had five dozen chocolate crinkles, five dozen M&M cookies, and three dozen sugar ‘n spice cookies done before Raven’s Lamborghini returned. Brown’s squad car pulled in behind it. I wiped my hands on my apron with a sigh. If Brown was here, something was up. While Brown and Meda stepped out of his car, Cein’s red Corvette pulled in behind them. It must be something big.
They all crowded into the kitchen and started toward the long wooden table. Cein stared at the cookies cooling there and grinned. “Has Raven tasted them yet for quality control?”
I shook my head. “No better time than now.”
I’d made another pot of coffee for my demon’s return and poured everyone mugs. Hands reached for cookies while they sipped the hot brew.
Raven gave me a sympathetic look and I shrugged. I could always make more. “You must have heard news,” I said.
“Oren called.” Raven reached for a chocolate crinkle, one of his favorites. “A tiny town that’s more like a spot on the road went missing, every mortal gone.”
“How many? What ages?” I asked.
Brown’s lips turned down. “Four retired couples, three young families with seven kids between them.”
Sparks flew from my knuckles. Kids. The priest had killed kids.
Meda looked at the sparks and nodded. “He’s pushed his luck.”
“Oren’s asked for backup. We’re going to meet him, then visit the town.” Raven’s strong jaw was set in an angry line. “The youngest kid was only six.”
That was the age young witches started school. I bit my bottom lip. If we could find the priest, he deserved swift and horrible punishment.
Raven glanced at the kitchen, at the bowls waiting for more ingredients. “I’ve been an enforcer a long time, and I have lots of help. You could stay home this time. We can handle this.”
I shook my head. “If you find a trail that leads us to the priest, I want to be there to watch him die.”
Raven grinned. I wasn’t usually this blood thirsty, but the priest had earned his way to my most wanted list. I wanted him dead, and if he suffered first, all the better.
He gave me a look of approval. “That’s my girl, a healthy sense of justice and revenge.”
We bundled up and drove to meet Oren.