Is Muddy River getting a new Druid as a resident?
Most of Muddy River was celebrating Yule as they always did, but Raven and I had decided to stay home and work. We’d postponed the big supper we had with friends when we’d put off Yule Eve, so we had a day to huddle and review everything we’d learned about the voodoo priest.
Raven sipped coffee at our long kitchen work table. “When I talked to Donella, she begged us to find Spellyr’s body. I told her we were doing our best, but she’s a mess right now.”
I brought the coffee pot to the table to refill my mug. We’d eaten so much, so late last night that we hadn’t wanted much for breakfast, settling on croissants from Sugi and Nora’s shop. “Donella’s family lives in Muddy River. She’ll need them now. They’ll give her plenty of support.”
Claws went to lie next to Raven’s feet, and he reached down to scratch behind the ocelot’s ears. “Ruby put a sign-up sheet at her diner for people to volunteer to take casseroles to Donella’s each night for the next month. It’s mostly full.”
That was the wonderful thing about Muddy River. We supported each other. I’d have to remember to make a dish for her.
Raven reached for his laptop just as his cellphone buzzed. He listened intently before hanging up and looking at me. “Brown and Meda are coming over. He just got a call from a deputy he works with. A mother went to spend Yule with her daughter and her family in a small town an hour from here, and the entire town is empty. Deserted.”
“Dead.” The priest wasn’t wasting any time. He was creating undead faster than we could keep track of him.
He nodded. “Another sheriff called Brown. A family who lives in a remote area that he works is missing.”
“Is there a pattern?”
“That’s why Brown’s coming. We’re going to try to connect the dots for each missing person call. Maybe we can come up with something.”
Before Meda and Brown arrived, Birch called. I could hear the loneliness in her voice as she said, “I’m sorry to bother you, and I know canceling Yule was mostly my fault, but it feels strange being in the house alone today. Mom always made a big event of each holiday. Everything’s closed or I’d go somewhere to eat and be around people instead of bothering you, but I was wondering. . . “
I interrupted. “Brown and Meda are on their way here. We’re talking strategy. Want to join us?”
“Thank you, Hester.”
“See you soon.” I glanced at Raven at the end of the call. “Will we be in your way? Do you want me to take my witches to the attic so you can work in peace?”
He shook his head. “They can help.”
I wasn’t sure what we could do, but we’d try to make ourselves useful.
He grinned. “If nothing else, with three witches in the kitchen, we should have something interesting for supper tonight.”
I frowned. “Interesting? What does that mean?”
“If I’m right, things are coming to a head. We should be battling the priest pretty soon, and then we’ll have Yule Eve one night and Yule the next. So we should think of something different this time.”
He shook his head, unimpressed.
“Homemade pizzas?” I didn’t bother with those often. Raven liked Hawaiian, and I liked chicken club. Muddy River didn’t have a pizza parlor, and it was a bother making two different types for supper for just the two of us, so I usually passed.
His tawny eyes lit up. “Hawaiian?”
“My friends will be here. Maybe we’ll make a few different kinds.”
“Can Brown and I grab scraps while you work?”
“Don’t you always?”
He laughed. “This is going to be a good day.”
We got busy cleaning our breakfast things, and soon Brown and Meda pulled in our drive with Birch only a few minutes behind them. All of us circled the table while Raven and Brown spread a big sheet of tissue paper and drew a quick map of our area. The paper wasn’t the best to work with, but it’s all I had that was big enough. Both men checked their laptops and began marking spots where people had disappeared. When they’d marked them all, they were all concentrated north and west of us.
“We’re going to start calling around to ask other enforcers in that area if they have anything for us,” Brown said.
I frowned. “On Yule? Will people be in their offices?”
Brown grinned at me. “Muddy River’s the only supernatural town I know with enough witches to bother with Yule. Shifters and vampires don’t pay much attention to it.”
I blinked. Most Celts cared about it, but then, shifters and vampires weren’t as close to Celts as Druids and witches were. “They never picked up the mortals’ celebrations?”
“We tend to stay away from most things mortal,” he said.
For good reason. While the men began their calls, Birch, Meda, and I went to my long counter tops and started pizza dough. We decided to have fun with it, making some with honey, adding garlic and cheese to another batch, and even adding a few jalapenos to a batch Meda wanted to try for a southwestern pizza. I wasn’t sure how some of them would turn out, but there’d be enough it didn’t matter.
I was stirring sauces for toppings, and Meda and Birch were chopping all sorts of things to sprinkle over the sauce, when someone knocked at the front door. I frowned. Hardly anyone came to the front porch. Friends usually knocked at the kitchen, so I went to see who was there. When I saw Lir trying to peek through the glass, I smiled and invited him inside.
The Druid jammed his hands into his pockets. “Aengus let me come back to celebrate Yule with you, but then it was put off and I wasn’t sure what to do until he told me to come anyway. I stopped at Birch’s house, but she wasn’t there.”
“She’s here.” I gestured toward the kitchen. “She’s helping me make pizzas.”
“Pizzas?” He inhaled the aromas of garlic and onion, tomato and basil, and followed me into the kitchen. When Birch looked up and saw him, her face lit up. So did his when he saw her. He looked uncomfortable and then said, “How’s it been going, shop girl?”
She pinched her lips together. “I’m the shop owner, and business was great right up to Yule.” She studied him. “What about you? How are you doing?”
“Fine. Feeling lots better.” He glanced around the kitchen at all of us watching them and listening.
Raven’s lips twitched, and he sent me a look. It was obvious the two of them were hooked on each other.
I smiled. “The witches in my coven said business was better this year than usual, both in town and over the internet. Cordelia told me that she sold more jewelry than she ever has before, mostly rings. She thinks a lot of women are going to be proposed to this Yule.”
Lir’s brows went up. “Really? I’ve been thinking it’s about time I took a wife.”
Birch’s color heightened, her cheeks pink. “Do you have to mate with someone from your village, another Druid?”
Lir slipped off his coat, and I took it for him. He looked at Birch. “I’ve known all of those girls since I could crawl. I was beginning to think I might be single my whole life until I came to Muddy River.”
Her eyes grew bright. “And now?”
“I sure wouldn’t mind joining up with a witch. Our magicks work well together.” He gave her an intense stare but kept his voice casual. “What about you? Are you getting ready to find someone?”
“I’ve dated everyone in town, but I’m still single. My parents have moved away, and I’d rather be with someone.”
“What about me?”
She gasped in surprise, and we all grinned as she flew into his arms. Raven pushed away from the table and started to the basement.
Lir watched him, looking worried. “Did I offend him? Should I have done this in private?”
I laughed. “Just the opposite. He’s ready to celebrate. We’re happy for you.”
Raven returned with two bottles of champagne. “Congratulations!”
Brown closed his laptop, and we all came together to toast the new couple. “When’s the official date for your mating?”
Lir wrapped an arm around Birch and tugged her close. “I hope tonight when I officially move in with her.”
“Aengus has given you permission to move here?” I asked.
“He encouraged it, as long as I drive to the Druid village to work with him every week day.”
Meda and I nodded to each other. “Then our coven will ward the road from here to there,” she said. “It’s time. We’re working together more than we used to.”
Raven went for more wine, and the rest of us got busy putting together a meal.
“What about your work?” Lir asked. “Do you need to finish it?”
Raven pointed to the tissue map on the table. Dots formed a circle, and he’d marked an X in its center. “We think the priest must have settled around there. Brown and I are going to drive there tomorrow to try to find him.”
“And battle him?” Lir asked. When Brown nodded, Lir said, “I can come with you.”
“No, you can get the last of your things and move here tomorrow,” Raven said. “You shouldn’t start your stay here with a battle. We have plenty of help. Cein and Boaz are coming with the four of us, and so are the three witches he held captive. Drago’s witch is as strong as some of the members of Hester’s coven. We promised them they could help with our final battle. And I hope this is our last one.”
Meda and I exchanged glances. Astra might as be as powerful as some of our younger witches, but my coven was stronger than most people realized. The young witch who’d run off with Flint still had a lot to learn, and we’d have to make sure she wasn’t hurt while we fought. The third witch, Lucia, could probably hold her own against the Undead. I’d have to pair her with one of us so we could shield her if she needed it. But it wouldn’t be fair to ask them to stay behind, and they’d learn from being in a battle as big as the one we faced.
I was worried that Lir and Birch would argue to join us, but Birch shook her head. “I’m not strong enough yet. I’d only get in your way. I understand.”
I heard her dismay and shook my head. “You’re young. We’re ancient. We’ve been practicing for centuries. You’ll get there. Keep learning new spells.”
“But I’m not there yet.” She reached for Lir’s hand. “Come back to us, though. We need you in Muddy River. I need you.”
Promises were pointless. No one could predict if we’d win or lose, so I said, “We’re going to do our best. That’s all I can tell you.”
“In that case. . . “ Meda carried bowls of dough to the work table. “Let’s enjoy each other while we can. Let’s make great pizzas.”
Raven rolled up his map, and I sprinkled flour on the table top. I went to turn on the ovens while people rolled out their dough.
“Fingers crossed they all turn out good,” Raven said.
We switched moods, laughing and talking while we came up with whatever struck our fancies. Claws went from one person to the next, begging for treats. And maybe Hecate was blessing us or the planets aligned, because each pizza tasted wonderful.
At the end of the night, when everyone finally left, Raven pulled me into his arms and nuzzled my neck. “This was a perfect day. Happy Yule, my favorite witch.”
With a grin, I clapped my hands, and all of the lights went out. I tugged Raven down onto the couch with me. “It’s time you gave me your present.”
He chuckled. “This one’s mutual.”
“Even better.” I pressed my lips to his, and heat surged through both of us. This was going to be a Yule to remember.