A Witch's Handbook of Kisses and Curses (Half Moon Hollow #2)

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05.03.2019

She laughed. “Mr. Wainwright, you crazy, adorable old bastard.”

Andrea raised an eyebrow. “And the award for abrupt and inappropriate statements goes to . . .”

Grinning at me, Dick peeled away the fabric inside the lid. A sort of shell popped out of the lid, and two books fell out into his hands.

“A false top?” I laughed as he handed me the two journals. “I haven’t heard that one before.”

“Clearly, you’ve never met my cousin Junie.” Jane snorted.

“Gilbert was a good boy, but he wasn’t stupid,” Dick said proudly.

The first thing I saw when I opened one volume was a sketch of each of the Elements. The writing surrounding the sketches was a mix of Gaelic and Old English. I could pick up words my family used regularly: “magic,” “fire,” “tradition,” and “mother.” But everything else was nonsense. “I’ll send this to Penny, too, which means I will have to put up with more of her ‘I told you sos.’ Fortunately, we won’t be on video chat, so I’ll miss out on the accompanying dance.”

Tucked inside the journal, I found pictures of Nana and Mr. Wainwright. It was nice to see them from his perspective. In his pictures, he was smiling down at Nana, pulling her close to his side. She was grinning widely at him, a look of complete adoration on her face.

Andrea picked up one of the pictures. “Hey, the inscription on this one is in English!”

I plucked it from her hands and read aloud. “ ‘Fiona is a beautiful, intelligent woman who shares my open view of the world. I could easily see myself spending every day happily with her. But I don’t think she will ever be ready to leave Kilcairy. And I would never be ready to stay. She is needed here, and I would not make her choose between myself and the people she cares for. But I cherish our time together and hope that our paths may cross again.’ ”

“I thought that would make you feel better,” Jane said. “But you look like you’re ready to burst into tears.”

“It’s sad,” I said. “Nana loved him. And if he’d asked, she might have followed him home to America. My mother would have grown up with a father. She would have had an entirely different life. It sounds like they were held back by bad communication skills and fear. Mostly fear.”

Jane ran her hand over my shoulder. “I’m sorry, Nola.”

Gabriel carefully thumbed through the other journal. He grinned broadly at me. “I don’t think you’ll need to contact Penny. This is the last journal, Mr. Wainwright’s daily journal from seven years ago, which he tucked into the lid along with the Ireland volume ‘to protect Fiona.’ ” This section is in Latin, which I speak just as well as Dick, thank you very much. And he says he entrusted the bell to a friend. He says he couldn’t bear looking at the bell because it reminded him too much of what he left behind.”

“Aw, that’s sweet,” I said.

Gabriel grimaced. “He apparently meant someone named Bridget, whose father was a silversmith.”

“That’s less sweet,” I grumbled.

“Your grandfather was a bit of a man-whore,” Andrea informed me.

“Yes, thank you, I blame genetics,” I said, eyeing Dick.

“Those are your genes, too,” Dick reminded me sternly.

Gabriel cleared his throat. “Would you two like to know who he gave the bell to, or will this uncomfortable family moment continue for the rest of us to enjoy?”

My palms were sweating as Jed and I waited outside the outdated offices of James H. Mayhew, Esquire. It was late in the afternoon. The reception area had certainly seen better days, with its worn leather chairs and battered tile floors. The secretary’s desk had long been abandoned, so we were left to wait while Mr. Mayhew finished up a phone call. Jed was amusing himself by sorting through six-year-old copies of Ladies’ Home Journal and Newsweek.

This was what a last resort felt like. I had no idea what our next move would be if this didn’t pan out. And the depressing thing was, I was sure it wouldn’t. Jed tried keeping a more optimistic perspective . . . until I threatened to smack him with a rolled-up magazine.

Jimmy Mayhew was exactly what I expected in a small-town lawyer. Elderly, with a full shock of pure white hair and out-of-control matching eyebrows. His suit was a dapper if unfashionable blue silk, with a tie that set off his clear cornflower-blue eyes.

“So, you’re the appointment Miss Jane referred to me?” he said, flashing some very respectable dentures at me.

Having long since tired of subterfuge, I introduced myself as Mr. Wainwright’s granddaughter. Mr. Mayhew’s white eyebrows shot up to his hairline. He sat back heavily in his club chair while I gave him a brief summary of the events that had brought me to his door. A parade of conflicting emotions crossed his handsome face as I told my story, ending with shocked resignation as I concluded with, “So, we were hoping, Mr. Mayhew, that you might still have that bell he gave you all those years ago and, if so, that you would be willing to part with it.”

“He really had a daughter?” he asked.

I nodded. “You can ask Dick Cheney,” I said. “He’ll vouch for my story.”

“Why would Jane’s shifty friend know anything about it?”

I offered him an easy smile. “Never mind.”

“Well, you do favor him. And if Miss Jane believes you, that’s enough for me . . . Gilbert having descendants would have drastically changed his will, you know,” he said, frowning. “Are you here to challenge it? Because he was very fond of Miss Jane, and I wouldn’t be comfortable—”

“Oh, no,” I assured him. “I think the shop is in very good hands. I was just curious about the bell.”

Mr. Mayhew blew out a long breath. “I haven’t got it.”

My heart dropped somewhere near the location of my feet. Jed gave my hand a squeeze, but at the moment, I couldn’t find it in me to look up at him.

“Gilbert did give me a bell, about twenty years ago,” Mr. Mayhew said. “He asked me to put it in my safe, something about not feeling right about keeping them all together. And then, five years ago, right before Miss Jane started working there, he took it back. Said it was time and that he was going to hide it in plain sight.”

“He didn’t tell you where that might be?” Jed asked.

Mr. Mayhew shook his head.

“And what about your friend Bob Puckett? He was one of your card circle. Would Mr. Wainwright have given it to him?”

“Bobby Puckett died ten years ago,” Mr. Mayhew said, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Miss, but if Gilbert said he was going to hide it in plain sight, then you should look in the most obvious place first.”

“We kind of covered those,” Jed told him.

“I’m sorry I can’t be more help,” Mr. Mayhew said, shaking his head.

I stood, my knees shaking, and took his hand.

“After all this time,” Mr. Mayhew said. “Gilbert has a grandkid. He would have gotten such a kick out of you, young lady.”

“Thank you.”

“You know, I have something for you,” he said, crossing to his bookshelf. “We started playing poker together about fifty years ago. And one night a few years back, your grandpa ran out of cash. He had a lot of confidence in his hand, so he threw this into the pot.” He took an old linen-bound edition from the shelf and handed it to me. “It was one of his prized possessions.”

I ran my fingers over the cover, stamped in gold: A Guide to Traversing the Supernatural Realm. Mr. Mayhew grinned sheepishly. “It’s a first edition. He read that book I don’t know how many times when we were kids. An uncle gave it to him when he was home sick once with a cold, and it sparked his interest in the paranormal. From that moment on, all he could talk about was traveling the world to look for werewolves and vampires. I didn’t really want to take it. He had four of a kind, but I had a straight flush. He never could spot a tell.”

“Family failing, apparently,” I muttered, turning the book carefully in my hands.

“I held on to it,” he said, guilt tingeing his voice. “To teach him a lesson about bringing enough cash to the games. I always meant to give it back . . . I’m sorry. I think he would want you to have it.”

I smiled up at him. “Thank you, Mr. Mayhew.”

I leaned my head back against the car’s seat, clutching Mr. Wainwright’s book to my chest.

“Hey, hey.” Jed slid across the seat and tried to put his arm around me. Instinctively, I pressed my hand against his chest to push him away, but my arm went limp. I let him wrap an arm around my shoulders and pull me close. “It’s OK. We knew it was a long shot.”

“I don’t know what to do now,” I said. “I don’t know where to look. And I looked closer at those locator spells. You’re right. That is definitely some Dark Lord, point-of-no-return sort of stuff.”

“You tried one of them, didn’t you?”

I held up my thumb and forefinger, measuring a tiny amount of evil. “Just a little one.”

“And since we just harassed a perfectly nice old lawyer, I’m assuming it didn’t work?”

I shook my head and buried my face in his shoulder. He stroked my hair away from my face to press a kiss against my forehead. “You’re exhausted. Let’s get you home, honey.”

I closed my eyes and stayed quiet for most of the ride home. What the hell would I do now? I had used up all of my luck, all of my happy coincidences and convenient clover patches.

What had I missed? Although I’d already done it a dozen times, I reviewed each find in my head and the steps that led up to it. Could anything be repeated? Mined for more information?

And I was back to blind luck again.

I must have dozed off, because I woke to Jed carrying me up the porch steps and using my keys to unlock my door. I should probably have objected to this. He was still the guy who had lied to me for months and stolen priceless artifacts from me. But he also smelled like the forest and fresh laundry, and every time his chin brushed my forehead, a little thrill zipped up my spine.

I let him stretch me across my bed, opening my eyes long enough to catch his hand and drag him down next to me. Jed scooted in behind me, pulling my back against his chest, and laid his face against my hair.

“If you keep all that sad to yourself, it’s going to leave a bruise,” he murmured against my neck.

“I don’t think there’s such a thing as emotional contusions,” I whispered back, wrapping his arm around my waist as I rolled onto my back, facing him.

“I meant here,” he said, drawing a finger over my heart.

I stared intently at the ceiling, willing away the anxious despair that seemed to have a choke hold on my throat. “What was Nana Fee thinking, leaving this task to me? I never showed any interest in being the family’s leader. No one ever asked me if I was ready or even wanted the job. It was just shoved in my lap because I happened to be a good nurse. And I am drowning here. Why didn’t Nana send Penny or Uncle Jack or someone who actually embraces their abilities and might have gotten through this with some dignity?”

“Maybe she knew you needed it more,” he suggested gently, playing with a lock of my hair. “You needed to come here so you could get to know your grandfather.”

“If she was that concerned, she could have sent me here before Mr. Wainwright died. She could have told me about him, let him know me,” I shot back, my tone more than a little bitter. “She could have let my mother know him. Then maybe she wouldn’t have turned out to be such a . . .”

Jed propped himself on his elbows. “What?”

“Anna McGavock wasn’t a good mother. She wasn’t even a good person.” I smiled to cover the odd little sob that escaped through my nose. “Everything she touched was tainted by her bottomless need for whatever she thought she deserved but wasn’t getting. Nothing was ever enough. Maybe if she’d known her father, she wouldn’t have felt like she had some missing piece she had to make up for. Or maybe she was always meant to turn out to be a cancer on the backside of humanity. Who knows?”