Author Susanna Shore
Paranormal and contemporary romances, light mysteries


Hexing the Ex. House of Magic 1.


Chapter One          Chapter Two

Chapter One

I’m not one for premonitions. I don’t interpret every shiver in my spine as a portent, and I don’t believe my Aunt Clara’s bones when she declares that they predict doom. She just picks a random news item and announces that her bones knew it was going to happen.

But when my sandals sank into a soaked carpet as I stepped onto the small landing outside my flat, I knew everything was not well inside.

My second clue was the flood of water that flushed over my ankles when I opened the door.

Oh, bugger.

I abandoned the luggage I’d laboriously dragged up the steep stairs to the third floor, and crossed the small foyer in a couple of soggy leaps to the bathroom where I could hear the water running. I yanked the door open and got my feet washed a second time.

The sight inside turned my bones liquid, but I stiffened my spine and waded through the water to the running shower and the prone figure lying under it—on the drain.


I kneeled by him and was instantly drenched by the shower. “Bloody hell!”

Sputtering, I reached blindly for the faucet and turned it off before focusing on my flatmate again. I lifted his head that was mercifully wedged in the corner so that it was above the water, and patted his cheeks. He was breathing, but completely out of it.

My temper flared now that I knew he was alive. “You bloody dope-head! What have I told you about showering when coming down from your high?”

He’d passed out in the shower before, but he’d never caused such a flood. Mostly because I’d been home and had been able to prevent disaster. But I’d been away on a holiday for two weeks, foolishly thinking that I could trust him not to wreck the place while I was gone.

I tried to take a hold under his arms, but his slack body was surprisingly heavy, and his wet skin was slippery. Getting up, I wrapped my hands around his wrists and pulled, which worked better. The drain finally open, the water began to surge down with a deep gurgle.

Sliding and gliding on the wet bathroom tiles, I dragged Nick to the hallway. The wall-to-wall carpet was soaked, but he was wet anyway, so I just dropped him there. His spread-eagled lanky form revealed details of his anatomy I really didn’t want to see but—sadly—had witnessed before.

Then I fetched my luggage from the landing, carried it to my room that was miraculously dry, and stripped to my underwear. I’d soon be sweaty cleaning the mess Nick had made, so there was no point wearing clothes. Then I headed to the bathroom and got to work.

Happy homecoming, Phoebe. Happy fricking homecoming.


I hadn’t planned on spending the last day of my holiday getting sloshed in the pub down the street, but then again, I hadn’t planned spending it sloshing in the bathroom either. So here I was.

Nick was keeping me company, looking suitably sheepish and paying for our drinks. He’d woken up midway through my cleaning operation and offered to help, but he’d been completely useless, so I’d sent him to his bedroom and ordered him to stay there until further notice. Luckily for my blood pressure, he’d complied.

“We will be evicted. You know that, right?” I told him gloomily, staring at the golden liquid in my glass with unseeing eyes.

He made to reach for my hand, but thought the better of it. “You don’t know that for sure.”

I lifted my gaze to his baby blues that so well fit his personality. “We flooded the flat downstairs. I’d say that’s cause enough for evicting us.”

Mrs Keating had manifested at our open doorway as I’d been ineffectually trying to sop up the water from the carpet in the foyer with all the towels I could find, yelling and threatening us with consequences for ruining her home. The only reason our landlord hadn’t shown up too was because it was Sunday and he couldn’t be bothered.

Nick’s shoulders slumped, but only briefly. “I’ll move in with Betty,” he declared happily, impervious to the sardonic brow I cocked in response.

“And what if she doesn’t want you to live with her?”

I wouldn’t have lived with him if I could’ve afforded a place in central London on my own. If I were his girlfriend, I’d keep him away from my home.

Then again, I wouldn’t have dated him in the first place. He was fun company and nice to look at when clothed, with dishevelled, lanky charm, but a sporadically-employed actor with a propensity for recreational drug use wasn’t what I was looking for in a boyfriend.

“Why wouldn’t she?”

He sounded genuinely surprised and likely was. He was one of those people who trusted life to carry him, and reality to bend to his needs. And it did, amazingly often.

I took a sip from my pint to keep my thoughts to myself. “We’ll still need money to pay for the repairs.”

I hadn’t caused the damage, but Nick never had any money to speak of, on top of which it was my name on the lease. I’d end up paying. I had insurance, but I doubted it would cover this. There was likely a clause that ruled passing out in the shower as deliberate damage.

He stretched languidly and then ran fingers through his overgrown, chestnut hair. “Can’t you ask money from your parents?”

The mere thought brought bile to my mouth. It wasn’t that we didn’t get along. I’d just spent two weeks in their villa in Southern France and I’d had great time. It was what they would want in exchange for the money. Namely, that I get married and take my place as the family representative in society. The topic had come up often enough—again—during my visit.

I wasn’t against marriage, per se. I resented that they thought it was the only thing I was good for. But they’d been fairly old when they had me, and belonged to a world where women didn’t really exist outside the home.

“Not if I can help it,” I stated. Which I likely couldn’t, but I’d worry about that later. “But I’ll still need a new home, and I don’t have a handy boyfriend to move in with.”

Nick frowned, puzzled. “What happened to what’s his name?”

“Troy. We broke up two months ago.” And even if we’d been together, he wouldn’t have been my first choice for help.


I heroically refrained from reminding him that I’d told him about it at the time, and several times since. Or ranted, more like. Nothing brushes a girl’s ego like learning that the man she’s been dating for over a year thinks that an assistant to an art and antiques dealer isn’t quite as good as a corporate lawyer for a girlfriend, but since said assistant is from an influential family, he’s been dating her too, just in case her family could give him the boost to greatness he believes he deserves.

I gave him a boost, all right.

Nick finished his beer and got up. “I’d best head to Betty’s immediately.”

“Shouldn’t you call first?” I asked, alarmed, but he grinned.

“And give her a chance to say no? I don’t think so. It’s much better to show up at her door with a duffel bag and look so pitiful she has to take me in.”

That was one way to handle it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone that I could look pitiful in front of for a place to stay. The thought of a sofa in someone’s already crowded flat didn’t exactly fill me with excitement either. I was twenty-six. I needed a door I could close behind me when I went to bed.

Nick pecked a kiss on my cheek and disappeared into the crowd filling the pub. I had a funny feeling I’d never see him again and a brief panic flared, but I stifled it mercilessly. We’d been flatmates for two years, during which I’d paid the full rent more often than I cared to remember, filled the fridge too regularly for my finances, constantly cleaned the house after him, and as a crowning achievement had been evicted because of him—or would be, in any case. Let others take care of him from now on.

I finished my drink in a more leisurely pace, but I didn’t feel like staying in the pub alone, so I left too. I paused outside the pub and wondered what I should do next. It wasn’t even nine yet, but I was knackered. I’d caught an early flight from Nice to Paris that morning, taken the Eurostar to London, and then dealt with the disaster back home. And I would have to wake up early for work the next day.

But I was in no hurry to return to a flat that smelled of wet dog and sloshed under my feet. So I found myself strolling down the high street in the opposite direction. There were plenty of people around, standing outside the pubs with their pints or heading from one pub to another, but the side streets were emptier. I knew better than take one of them after dark, so I settled with checking the wares on shop windows with no real interest in them.

Clerkenwell, northeast of the City’s erstwhile walls, was a trendy neighbourhood and pretty expensive too, even if the older buildings like mine on St. John Street weren’t always in first-rate repair. I could never find a new place here with what I paid for the current one. If I even could find a place. London had a huge housing problem. People fought for closet converts and paid twice for them what I paid now.

What if I ended up homeless?

A painful knot in my stomach threatened to push the beer up as I imagined the bleakness of my future. I could always ask my parents for help, but even they couldn’t conjure flats out of thin air. The house in Wimbledon I’d grown up in had been sold when they moved to France, so that wasn’t an option anymore, and I’d die before I went to live with any of my relatives. Aunt Clara’s granddaughter, Olivia, was my age, but we weren’t close. I doubted she was willing to share her Chelsea flat with me.

Tears clouded my eyes and I blinked furiously to clear them. I glanced around to see if anyone had noticed, and my attention was caught by a small shop across the street with the lights still on. It was warm and yellow and spilled on the pavement like an invitation. Needing a distraction from my woes, I crossed the street to take a closer look.

The shop was narrow, only the width of one bay window and the door, and almost disappeared between two larger ones, which probably was why I had never noticed it before. A small round table and two chairs were placed in the window, like in a café or tearoom. It looked inviting.

Curious, I peered in, and saw a couple of more tables, but it didn’t look like a café; it looked like a bookshop maybe. There were low hardwood shelves circling the room, books on one wall, tea in large tin jars on another, and all sorts of knickknacks on the last one by the counter at the back.

It looked like it had been here forever. I scanned the window and the door for the name of the place, but they were bare. Instead, my eyes landed on a white placard at the bottom corner of the window: Room to let. Inquire inside.

My heart jumped. Could this be the answer to my problem?

I tried to quench my enthusiasm. Likely the room had gone already and they’d just forgotten to take off the sign. But it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

As I reached for the door handle, a delicious tingle ran down my spine. I wasn’t one for premonitions, but I had a really good feeling about this.

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Chapter Two

A small bell above the door chimed as I entered. A couple of low steps led up, made of mahogany like the floor and the shelves. I climbed them to the shop and was instantly surrounded by a multitude of scents. Not overwhelming; more like a carefully composed bouquet that didn’t irritate my nose. I glanced around and located several scent sticks here and there.

A woman appeared from the backroom. She was maybe in her late thirties or very early forties, and tall, with the kind of narrow body that looked great in the black skinny jeans and spaghetti-strapped top she was wearing. Her short hair was a shock of red curls that looked natural, and were so thick that the glasses she’d lifted on her head practically disappeared in them.

I crossed the floor to her, taking a casual look at the wares on the shelf next to her—and then looked again. There were tarot cards, healing stones and crystals, small glass vials filled with colourful liquids, and mysterious items I couldn’t immediately identify.

“Is this a witch’s shop?” I blurted out, delighted, instead of what I was supposed to ask, which was about the room. “I’ve never been to one.” I didn’t really believe in such nonsense, but each to their own.

The woman smiled. Her face was narrow, with pronounced cheekbones, straight brows and sharp freckled nose. Her eyes were light blue, and her smile made them twinkle. “Yes, it is.”

“Are you a witch? Because you don’t look like one.”

She tilted her head. “And you don’t look like our usual clientele, so I presume you’re here for the room?”

I glanced at my white linen trousers and pink tank-top, both slightly wrinkled, as I’d pulled them from my luggage for the pub. Pink toenails peered out of pink flip-flops. Maybe witches only wore black.

I nodded in answer to her question, holding my breath. “Is it still available?”

“It is,” she assured me. “I only put the sign there half an hour ago.”

Imagine my luck. I didn’t usually walk in this direction, and the one time I did I came across exactly what I needed.

“Would I do?”

I straightened and looked at her expectantly. I hadn’t exactly dressed for a house interview, and my long cinnamon brown hair was in a careless bun, because I hadn’t had the energy to wash it after the clean-up operation.

“I’m twenty-six, I have a good job and good credit.”

The woman’s smiled deepened. “And what’s your name?”

“Oh, it’s Phoebe. Phoebe Thorpe.”

She offered me her hand and I shook it. “I’m Amber Boyle. Why don’t we check the room first in case it’s not to your liking?”

I grimaced. “I’m facing eviction, so trust me, I’ll like it.”

Amber cocked an inquisitive brow and I realised I shouldn’t have told her that. For one, it made me look desperate and she might up the rent on the fly; for another, it made me seem like an undesirable tenant.

“My flatmate wrecked the place while I was on holiday,” I explained hastily. I wasn’t above throwing Nick under the proverbial bus. Besides, it was true.

She shook her head but didn’t comment, and I tried not to read anything to it. “Let me call Luca to man the shop first.”

She disappeared into the backroom and hollered to what from my angle looked like the cellar. A moment later a man about my age entered the shop. He was only slightly taller than my five seven, and tightly muscled, with sandy hair in a short ponytail, angular face, and an appreciative smile as he checked me out, his green eyes lingering at my cleavage. It was good cleavage.

“Luca Marlow here has the basement flat, and he helps in the shop at nights,” Amber told me. “Phoebe Thorpe is here for the empty room.”

Luca offered me a hand to shake. “Welcome to House of Magic.”

“I haven’t been accepted yet,” I said hastily as I shook it, fearing he’d jinxed my chances, but he grinned.

“You found here, didn’t you?”

The comment baffled me, but before I had a chance to ask what he meant, Amber led me down a short hallway that ended at the door to the back yard. We didn’t go out, but through an inner door on the left to a staircase up that ended at a similar short hallway. It was painted in elegant grey, with white skirting boards, and had a polished hardwood floor. Hooks for coats and racks for shoes lined the wall opposite the stairs. At the end of the hallway, the stairs continued up, and a narrow window offered a view to the back yard and the buildings on the street over.

Amber herded me to the opposite direction, to an open kitchen and living room that were separated by a sturdy oaken dining table that seated at least ten and doubled as a kitchen worktop. The room was only as wide as the shop below, maybe six metres, with two narrower bay windows towards the street. The living room furniture was stuffed Victorian sofas in red and green, glossy occasional tables, and tasselled lampshades, all genuine items at first glance. It was overflowing and utterly charming.

A short and plump woman in an ankle-length peasant skirt and a T-shirt was kneading bread dough by the table. She turned to look when we entered.

“Giselle, this is Phoebe Thorpe for the empty room. Phoebe, this is my wife, Giselle Lynn.”

She was about Amber’s age, with steel-grey hair in a fetching pixie cut, soft features with deep dimples, and large chocolate brown eyes that crinkled at the corners when she smiled. She showed her hands that were covered with dough.

“Welcome, Phoebe. I’ll refrain from shaking your hand if you don’t mind.”

I assured her it was fine. “Your home looks lovely.”

“Thank you,” she said, her smile deepening. “I inherited most of the furniture from my aunt with the house. It’s too much of a hassle to carry them down those stairs, so it’s good we like them.”

I could imagine.

Amber gestured at the kitchen. “Breakfast is self-serve, but if you show up around seven, Gis will make you a proper English breakfast. Dinner is at six, but if you can’t make it, there are usually plenty of leftovers you can heat.”

My mouth dropped open. “The rent includes food?”

Giselle shrugged. “It didn’t at first, but it makes the place feel more like our home and not a half-way house when we all gather to eat together.”

“You’re also welcome to join us here to watch TV or whatever. If we want to be alone, we’ll stay on our floor, which is the next one,” Amber added. She headed back to the hallway and we took the stairs up.

“Gis and I have our bedroom, bath, and study here,” she explained at the next floor, but we continued up. I had a quick impression of similar dark grey walls and white skirting boards as the floor below.

The top floor was like the others, fairly narrow and deep. It had been divided to two rooms, with a bathroom in the hallway. Amber gave me a peek there, and while it wasn’t terribly large, it was recently refurbished in a retro style, clean and pretty.

She opened the door on the right. “This is your room. I hope you don’t mind that it’s furnished.”

Since I didn’t own the furniture in my flat, I definitely didn’t mind. Besides, the room looked nice. Walls were covered with old-rose wallpaper, and the floor with soft, dark grey carpet. It was barely wide enough for the double bed to fit sideways under the window, but it was deep enough for a large hardwood wardrobe and a drawer, a desk, bookshelf, and an armchair upholstered in old-rose fabric. It looked like it was made for me.

A grey cat was stretched on the rose bedspread like a living dot on the i. Emerald green eyes turned to study us, slightly affronted for the intrusion.

“That’s Griselda. She thinks she owns the place,” Amber said with a fond smile. “I hope you’re not allergic to cats, because she’s impossible to keep away from the bedrooms. She always finds a way in.”

“I love cats,” I assured her, going to the bed to pet her, which she graciously allowed. “She’s lovely. And the room is perfect.”

Amber smiled. “And it has a broadband connection too. When can you move in?”

I startled. “Don’t you intend to interview anyone else?” I held my breath until she shook her head.

“You saw the sign.”

I still didn’t know what that meant, but I wasn’t about to ask in case it made her change her mind. “So how much is it for a month?”

I hoped it wasn’t beyond my means, but I already loved the place and would beg for my parents for a monthly allowance if I couldn’t afford it otherwise. But she named a sum that was pretty much what I currently paid.

“Plus the food and utilities, right?” I asked.

“No, those are included.” She returned to the hallway before I managed to voice my bafflement, and pointed at the other door. “Ashley is a firefighter and currently on a twenty-four-hour shift, but you’ll meet eventually.”

She headed back down the stairs and I hurried after her. “Can I move in tonight?”

She shot an amused look over her shoulder. “Of course. The shop’s open past midnight anyway, so it’s not like you’ll disturb anyone. Do you need help?”

I gave it a thought. “I’ll fetch some clothes and toiletries tonight, and the rest over the weekend. There are some books that’ll be heavier, but otherwise I only have clothes to move.”

Even the kitchenware belonged to the flat, and those that didn’t, I would leave behind.

We returned to the kitchen, where Giselle had put the bread in the oven. Delicious scents were starting to fill the room.

“Here’s the lease,” she said. It had my name already on it, as if she’d been sure that I would be accepted. “Read it carefully and return it in the morning.”

I was given a key to the back door, and then I followed Amber to the shop, where Luca greeted me with a delighted smile. “I knew you’d stay. No one can resist Gis’s food.”

I hadn’t even tasted it, but the idea of not having to cook for myself was immensely appealing.

I hurried the half a mile to my flat that smelled even worse now. I emptied the fridge of perishables, a quick job as I’d done it before I went on holiday and Nick hadn’t filled it again. Then I selected a week’s worth of clothes and put them in a garment bag, and threw underwear and other necessities into a backpack along with my laptop. That left no room for shoes, so I needed another bag for those.

Thus burdened, I made the short journey back to my new home, excitement carrying my steps where earlier they’d been heavy. I couldn’t believe my luck, and half expected the shop to have disappeared while I was gone.

But it was still there. My heart skipped a beat when the warmly-lit window came to a view.

A man exited the shop just then, briefly illuminated by the light, and I halted in surprise. Was that my boss?

This wasn’t exactly a neighbourhood where Archibald Kane, the owner of Kane’s Arts and Antiques, usually hung out in. He lived in the luxurious Belgravia on the west side of central London, and handled his social life there too, as far as I knew. We were barely on a first-name basis—I called him Kane though, on his insistence—so I didn’t know about his private life. He loved curious items, but the wares in the shop weren’t anything he usually set his sights in. They couldn’t be the lure.

Maybe it wasn’t him. London was full of thirty-something, tall and leanly muscled men in tailor-made black suits, some of them even with aristocratic noses and thick black hair that billowed lightly as if a private wind were constantly blowing it.

I had to be sure.

He turned a corner and I practically ran to cross the street after him. My bags and flip-flops slowed me down, and when I turned to the one-lane street, it was empty.

My curiosity stronger than my sense of caution, I hurried down the short lane to the next corner and peeked around it. And there he was. But he wasn’t alone anymore.

He was facing a much shorter man in a tweed jacket that didn’t close over his potbelly. It was dark and the streetlight didn’t allow me to see his face clearly, but the short man was angry. He was gesticulating wildly, and then he poked my boss in the chest with a stubby finger.

A huge mistake, if he was Kane.

The man definitely pulled himself straight like Kane in a mood, his hair billowing even more wildly than usually, as if powered by his anger.

The older man cowered instantly, but it was too late. There was a flash of bright light that forced me to close my eyes, and a boom that I more felt than heard. When I opened my eyes again, the older man was lying on the street and he wasn’t breathing. The other man was studying the prone form impassively from his height.

My legs gave up and I had to lean against the wall for support, fighting to keep the contents of my stomach down. Had I just witnessed a shooting? Worse yet, had I witnessed my boss kill a man?

It took a while before I trusted my legs enough to lean around the corner again. The street was empty. There was no body and no shooter. The latter I could believe—all he had to do was run—but where had the body gone?

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