Author Susanna Shore
Paranormal and contemporary romances, light mysteries

 

Magic by the Book. House of Magic 4.

Chapter One          Chapter Two

Chapter One

When you kiss your boss on Saturday, and don’t hear back from him on Sunday, going to work on Monday is nerve-racking. Take it from me.

Not that I habitually kissed my boss, Archibald Kane, the owner of Kane’s Arts and Antiques. Or had, in fact, kissed him. He kissed me. But I’d participated, enthusiastically.

And then he hadn’t acknowledged it in any way since.

As his assistant, I was used to keeping a respectful distance, and after-work calls had almost never happened. Or in-work calls for that matter, especially those that informed his poor assistant where he was when he didn’t show up at the office, having gone for one of his days-long hunts for antiques.

But these past couple of months we’d grown closer and begun to socialise outside work, so I’d sort of hoped he’d call. If for nothing else, then to apologise for acting so out of character. It seemed more his style than ardent declarations of love.

I won’t lie though. If he brushed the kiss aside I would die.

The new phase in our outside-work relationship had started when I moved in the House of Magic in August. It was a shop in Clerkenwell, Central London, that sold tarot cards, healing crystals, and herbal teas among other witchy New Age things, with housing in three storeys above it.

My room was perfect and came with meals, and my new housemates were wonderful. I’d been amazed with my luck of finding lodgings in London after being evicted from my previous place, let alone one reasonably priced and within fare zone 1.

And then I’d learned that luck had had nothing to do with it. Magic had.

That’s right, magic. The House of Magic wasn’t merely a cute name for a charming shop and the house above, it was a home for people who could do magic. And not card tricks either—actual transmute-the-elements, shoot-lightning-from-your-fingers kind of thing.

My landladies, Amber Boyle and Giselle Lynn, were mages. It wasn’t a thing you could simply become, you had to be born one for the spells to work. There were entire families of mages all over the world, and London was one of their largest communities. They were well-organised and highly secret.

Incidentally, the magic shop also sold real spell and potion ingredients for those in the know.

The room next to mine was rented by Ashley Grant, a firefighter a few years older than my twenty-six. She was also a werewolf, as in, transform into a huge wolf during the full moon—and pretty much whenever she wanted. Also something she’d been born with.

The basement was occupied by Luca Marlow, a vampire who looked my age but was at least a hundred. I’d never seen him transform into anything—I was hoping for a bat—but he could fling battle spells and was averse to sunlight, but not to garlic or holy objects. I’d asked.

I’d barely begun to process that what I’d thought belonged to urban fantasy books with bare-chested men on their covers was real—with great disbelief, I might add—when I learned that my boss, the always elegant and proper antiques dealer, was a mage too. He’d been their leader even, but currently he was studying to become the archmage of London, which was the most skilled you could become mage-wise.

Well, there were warlocks, but they were evil and dealt with death magic; no respectable mage wanted to have anything to do with them.

Together with my housemates and him, I’d been plunged into a series of harrowing events that had tested not only their skills as “enhanced humans,” as they called themselves, but my abilities and resilience as well. I’d been cursed, twice. We’d thwarted a warlock bent on taking over London, twice—though we’d only faced him the second time. I could only hope that he was gone for good, but I wasn’t holding my breath.

Then I’d found out to my utter amazement that I, Phoebe Thorpe, was a mage too. I should’ve learned about it much earlier, but because my Great-Aunt Beverly, who was the previous mage in the family, died before I was in a suitable age, it had never happened. I’d begun to learn spellcasting, and after a lousy start—I kept creating accidental fires—I was finally getting the hang of it.

Last week, we’d defeated a vampire warlock on a revenge spree. We’d been celebrating surviving the final showdown with him when Kane had kissed me.

And then he hadn’t called me.

Now I didn’t know how to take it. Had he merely been swept up by the emotions of the moment, expressing his relief that we were both alive? Or was he, like I hoped, romantically interested in me?

That he didn’t show up at the House of Magic on Sunday seemed to indicate the former. He’d started to attend the Sunday lunch regularly, lured in by Giselle’s excellent cooking, so missing it had to be deliberate. I could only hope that, like me, he’d slept most of the day. It wasn’t the late-night partying, it was recovering from all the magic we’d wielded—he more than I, naturally. It tended to completely wring out a mage.

Not knowing for sure had messed up both me and my morning routines. I’d slept poorly, which made me cranky and distracted. I agonised over my clothing and tried several hairdos, only in the end to leave my long cinnamon hair down. I left for work early, having skipped breakfast, and then I zoned out in the Tube, forgetting to switch lines at Liverpool Street station and found myself at Aldgate. Instead of heading back, which would have been the sensible thing to do, I switched to Circle Line, rode it to the Monument, and took a bus to the Bank where I could take the Central Line to Bond Street.

Needless to say, I was late arriving at Kane’s Arts and Antiques at the edge of Mayfair and Marylebone, north of Oxford Street. I somehow managed to switch off the correct alarm to the offices upstairs, leaving the shop’s alarm on as we weren’t open on Mondays. I gathered the mail, only dropping it once, and carried it to my desk in the lobby outside Kane’s office.

That’s as far as I got. I slumped in my chair, mail unsorted, my laptop unopened. I was supposed to make tea for Kane for when he arrived at nine, but I couldn’t muster the energy to even fill the kettle.

As the clock crept towards nine, the pressure to get my act on made my skin tighten, but I was more nervous than before a dentist’s appointment and I couldn’t decide which task I should do first. My stomach was in a huge knot that would’ve pushed my breakfast up if I’d had any.

Frustrated, I picked up a pen, but instead of doing something useful with it, like writing a to-do list, I tried to levitate it. Amber had taught me a simple levitation spell the previous day, but what had seemed easy yesterday wasn’t that easy today. Spellcasting required concentration that I simply couldn’t muster, and more energy than I had to give.

I should’ve called in sick and stayed in bed.

But practising the spell was better than obsessing about the kiss and agonising over what Kane would do, so I prevailed. Gritting my teeth, I forced my mind to calm, and coaxed the spark inside me that was necessary for casting spells. I made the correct movements with my hands and fingers and said the spell aloud.

The pen rose into the air, hovering a hand’s width above the desk. It wasn’t much, but even that made my head sway as a dizzy spell washed over me.

“I thought I told you not to strain yourself.”

The spell cut as I lost concentration. The pen dropped. I’d been so engrossed in my spell that I hadn’t noticed Kane arrive.

Archibald Kane, or Kane as he’d asked me to call him, was thirty-five, with a lean, handsome face, deep blue eyes, and thick black hair that I itched to sink my fingers in. He was tall and surprisingly muscled underneath the precise three-piece suit he was wearing, thanks to long daily jogs.

I had colourful fantasies about those muscles that I’d witnessed first-hand once. I’d been attracted to him ever since I started as his assistant a couple of years ago, to his serious demeanour and precise, slightly old-fashioned manners coupled with great intelligence and occasional glimpses of a lighter side. And that was before I knew about magic.

After witnessing him fight magical battles with warlocks, I was pretty much completely smitten. He transformed into a fierce and strong warrior, capable of anything.

Though not this morning apparently. He’d halted at the door, a shoulder propped against the frame, hands pushed into the pockets of his suit trousers, and was watching me with a kind of adorable confusion from under his dark brows. I wasn’t the only one thrown off by the kiss.

He removed one hand from the pocket and ran fingers through his thick hair, as if searching for words. “Sorry, I … didn’t mean to sound so harsh.”

I hadn’t noticed the tone, the spell taking my attention. “Amber is much harsher.”

He flashed me a smile that brought out an elusive dimple on his right cheek. If I’d been casting a spell, something would’ve caught fire for sure—and not because that used to happen every time I was spellcasting.

“In that case, good morning, Phoebe.”

It wasn’t the dreaded talk, but I couldn’t relax yet. “Good morning, Kane. I’m sorry, but I’m running a bit late this morning, and your tea isn’t ready.”

He cocked an amused brow. “Too busy learning the levitation spell?”

It was as good an explanation as any—and would make me seem more competent than the truth—so I nodded and rose up, steadying myself against the desk as the strain of the spell made me sway.

“I’ll start the tea immediately.”

He halted me by lifting a hand. “I’m not staying. I need to go visit a few clients, and I’ll be away the whole day.”

My heart plummeted to the pit of my stomach. “Oh…” I managed to say with great intelligence. “Thank you for letting me know so that I…”

won’t work myself into a panic thinking you hated the kiss so much you can’t come to work

“…won’t worry.”

“Phoebe…” He took a few steps closer but paused before reaching me. He ran fingers through his hair again, his forehead knitting slightly, and I braced myself for a talk about how we should ignore the kiss or something. Then he straightened, tilted his head, and gave me a questioning look.

“Would you like to come with me?”

 

Ever since I started working at Kane’s Arts and Antiques, I’d wanted to learn the practical side of the antique business. I wanted to hunt through old homes, barns, and county fairs for old furniture and paintings, knickknacks, and books that had been forgotten. I dreamed of finding the hidden gems, preferably as bargains that showed how clever I was recognising them, and making a good profit in the process.

I’m not saying I’d watched too much Lovejoy as a child, but It was my mother’s favourite from before I was born. She had all six seasons on DVD that we watched together between reruns.

I’d studied art history in university, and trained in auctioneering at Sotheby’s, so I had the theory side covered. But while I had a fairly free hand at organising exhibitions and auctions we held, most of my duties consisted of office work.

Kane handled the acquisitions we sold at the shop, travelling up and down the home counties—and sometimes farther. He had never asked me to come with him before. I was giddy with excitement, the kiss almost forgotten, as I followed him to his car. If he didn’t want to bring it up, I could ignore it too—for now. I didn’t want to ruin my first opportunity with awkward conversations.

To my disappointment, he wasn’t driving his Jag this morning. It was his old, faded-blue Land Cruiser that was roomy enough for transporting anything smaller than sofas and dining room sets. The engine was in good condition, as were the seats.

“Where are we headed and what do you expect to find?” I asked as he drove out of the garage near the shop where he parked during the day.

“Brighton. We should be there before midday.”

The distance wasn’t terribly long, under ninety kilometres to the south, but it would take us close to an hour to drive through Central London to Brixton and Croydon on the south side of the Thames, no matter what the GPS tried to say.

“And then down the coast to Portsmouth, with maybe one stop on the way,” he added, joining the heavy morning traffic.

“Sounds exciting.”

He shot me an amused glance. “Well, don’t get used to it. I still need you to handle the office chores.”

I could’ve told him he should hire an actual office person, but I didn’t want to push my luck. “With the right tools, most of that stuff can be handled anywhere.”

“Hmmm…” was all he said. I hoped that meant he was considering giving me the right tools and not that he wouldn’t invite me again.

The traffic eased a little once we were past Croydon, but the speed remained low. The Land Cruiser couldn’t really do high speeds anyway, so it didn’t matter. I was in no hurry, and Kane seemed comfortable driving.

But I couldn’t sit in silence all the way to Brighton. Well, I probably could and Kane likely wouldn’t even notice, but I was brought up better.

My hands were getting a little clammy as I tried to come up with a neutral topic that didn’t sound like I was desperately trying to come up with one. I couldn’t very well point at every cow on the fields we passed, even if, as a city girl, I always found proof of their existence satisfying.

“So … should I do research in preparations for today’s meetings?”

Kane shot me a baffled glance. “Like what?”

“I don’t know, eighteenth-century sea chests typical of the area or something.”

He tilted his head. “Won’t hurt, even if those aren’t the target. The first meeting is about snuffboxes. Richard Morgan was a known collector of them. He passed away recently, and his estate wants to sell his collection. I’m getting the first look. I went to school with his son Patrick.”

Of course he did…

The most aggravating feature of the antique business in England—or any business, really—was that it tended to hang on who one knew. This, more often than not, was synonymous with men one went to Eton or Harrow or some other expensive private school for boys with, which effectively kept women out. Kane had the right background and connections, which in part made his shop successful.

If I wanted to make it in this business, I needed to cultivate those connections every opportunity I had. At the auctions and exhibitions we held, and at antique fairs and conferences, I tried to make the acquaintance of the people in our business, so that one day a person selling something would think of me first.

Kane already knew many of those people, which was why it was so important to me that he had taken me with him.

“Snuffboxes are your thing…” I said with a smile.

“Not so much a thing as something our clients are always interested in.” He thought for a moment. “But if you’re bent on researching something, you could look up Northney House and the Hayling family.”

“Are we visiting them too?” I asked, taking out my phone.

“If we have time. It’s near Portsmouth.”

There wasn’t much. The house was a Grade II listed Georgian limestone rectory near a twelfth-century church on Hayling Island, east of Portsmouth. It had once stood alone at the end of Church Lane, but the gardens, orchards, and meadows had long since been sold to developers, and it was now surrounded by late-twentieth-century cottages.

“I’m guessing the family needs money for a renovation?”

Kane sneered. “That’s the official word. But I hear Mrs Hayling is paying off Mr Hayling after a tempestuous divorce.”

Ooh , that was interesting. But wherever he got his intel from, it wasn’t public enough knowledge that I could’ve found anything about it online. I did find a few mentions of the couple, with photos showing an elegant woman in her early forties and a slightly older husband, standing in front of paintings showcased in their art gallery.

But there was nothing that would tell us what Mrs Hayling might be selling, whether it was art or antiques. “We’ll have to go in blind,” I noted, putting my phone away as we approached Brighton. I could check auction records to see if the couple had purchased anything interesting they might be selling now, but that would have to wait.

“Which is why I’m not exactly interested in going,” Kane said.

I kind of was. “So why were you considering it in the first place?” But I figured out the answer immediately. “They’re a mage family, aren’t they!”

He nodded. “She is, and her family-line, but her husband isn’t.”

“Is that why they divorced?”

“I have no idea, but it doesn’t make for an ideal marriage if one has to keep such a secret.”

“Is that why you’ve never taken me on these purchase trips?” I asked, the sudden insight making old upset ease deep inside me. “Because you occasionally meet with other mages and buy items I wasn’t allowed to learn about?”

A small smile hovered at the corner of his mouth. “Something like that.”

He shot me a quick glance but didn’t elaborate. And I was too much of a coward to ask.

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Chapter Two

November had emptied Brighton of tourists, and we had no trouble finding parking on Marine Parade that ran along the south side of the town, with Regency terraces on one side and sea on the other. There was nothing but water from here on; it looked like we were at the edge of the world. Only the Brighton Pier cut the emptiness, but even that had quieted for the winter.

The sky was grey, and the sea was restless, but it wasn’t raining yet. It was horribly chilly though, the wind blowing hard from the sea. “I didn’t dress for this weather,” I said, shivering as I exited the car.

I’d wanted to look good and had dressed in a sleeveless, knee-length shirtdress. It was dark grey wool, so technically warm, but I only had a sheer, powder-pink blouse underneath it that didn’t warm my arms at all. Thick, black stockings and boots completed the look, and I wore a raincoat over everything, but I was regretting ignoring Giselle, who had reminded me to take a scarf and gloves when I left home that morning.

Kane gave me a concerned look. “Do you want to wait in the car? I won’t be long.”

“No. I came with you to learn.”

Richard Morgan had lived in one of the cream-coloured Regency terraces by Marine Parade, an elegant four-storey house in the middle of the row. Short steps led up straight from the pavement, and the door opened before Kane had a chance to ring the bell.

A man in his mid-thirties stood on the threshold, dressed in jeans and a white shirt. He was tall and stooping, with a ruddy complexion and dark-blond hair that was thinning a little. He spread his arms, delighted, as if wanting to give Kane a hug. Was he even English?

“Archie! Wonderful to see you. Come on in.”

He stepped aside and Kane gestured for me to enter first. The man’s face lit up impossibly more. “And who have we here? Have you married again and didn’t tell me?”

“I’m sure you’d be the first to know,” Kane assured him, shaking the man’s hand as I stifled my annoyance for being reduced to a girlfriend—even though I did want to be Kane’s girlfriend.

It was complicated, okay.

“This is Phoebe Thorpe, my assistant. She’s learning the ropes of antique acquisition.”

“Excellent! I’m Patrick Morgan,” the man said, shaking my hand with great enthusiasm. He looked so cheerful that I didn’t dare to offer condolences for his father’s passing, but luckily Kane did it for me.

“I was sorry to hear about your father. How are you holding up?”

Patrick brushed the concern aside. “It was his time. He was old already when I was born, and positively ancient at his death. It was peaceful. My children were devastated though, and consoling them has helped me get over the worst. Now I’m ready to tackle this mess.”

He led us deeper into the house and I could only stare with my mouth hanging open. The rooms on both sides of the entrance hallway were filled with so much antique furniture, art, and curious items like fossils and taxidermized animals that there was barely any room for people. It wasn’t organised in any fashion I could recognise, everything piled on each other in a happy jumble. It was like the cabinets of curiosity of Renaissance collectors had come together and multiplied.

“Oh my,” I said aloud. “It’ll take months to go through all this.”

Patrick flashed me a smile. “Luckily Dad kept catalogues, so I have an inkling of what’s here. I’ll have to hire a professional to handle everything, but I wanted Archie to have a first look.”

Kane smiled warmly. “Thank you. Pity I can’t devote the time it would take to find everything interesting here.”

Pity indeed…

This was exactly the kind of place I’d dreamed of visiting and having a free hand in. My fingers were itching to start rummaging. “Is every floor like this?”

“Goodness, no. The rest of the house is perfectly liveable.”

Patrick led us up a flight of stairs to a small parlour that overlooked the sea. It was a beautifully appointed, pale-yellow room. There were art and exquisite items there too, like vases and an ornamental French Louis XV style wall clock, but carefully selected to fit the interior. Every furniture and piece of art was something we could’ve easily sold in our shop.

Kane looked around, nodding. “You won’t have trouble selling this.”

Patrick shook his head. “Everything will remain as is in the upper stairs. It’s the mess downstairs that needs to go.”

He gestured at a Sheraton seating group upholstered in striped, yellow chinch, where several wooden cases were placed on a mahogany coffee table. “This is what I wanted you to see.”

I wasn’t interested in snuffboxes, but our clients were, so I took a seat next to Kane on a sofa that would’ve fit two early Georgian ladies in pannier dresses, and watched keenly as he opened the first case. Nine small, round porcelain or enamel boxes rested on black velvet, each in their small slot. They were from the eighteenth century and finely painted with pastoral scenes that weren’t remarkable even to my inexpert eye.

Kane picked one up and opened it. His brows shot up and I smirked too. The inside of the lid had a painting of a naked lady, in the very classical style that one sees in larger paintings of muses and goddesses in a museum. Inside of a snuffbox though, it was decidedly naughty, especially when it was without strategically placed drapes. Aristocratic Georgian men would’ve shown these off to each other in the corners of respectable salons and tittered.

The side of Kane’s mouth quirked up. “I can definitely sell these.”

Patrick looked relieved. “Good. At least half of these are like that, and I feared people would find them inappropriate. But they’re genuine. I have provenances for all of them here.” He patted a manilla folder at the corner of the table.

“I have a couple of clients who will fight over these. I’ll get you a good price.”

Kane opened every case and checked the quality and authenticity of each snuffbox. They were different shapes and sizes, and some were silver or gold, with better quality paintings and ornaments, especially those without naughty pictures. All of them were old. They would sell well among the regular snuffbox enthusiasts who weren’t into Georgian pornography.

When he was done, he closed the cases, piled them, and stood up. “I’ll let you know when they’re sold.”

“Thank you,” Patrick said, getting up too. We followed him back downstairs and Kane began to take his goodbyes, but I wanted to linger and study everything. Kane noticed and smiled.

“We’re not in a hurry if you want to take a look.”

While he carried the boxes into the car, I slowly walked through the rooms. There was so much to look at that it was impossible to see anything interesting, but I took it as an exercise for my antique-hunting skills.

Maybe it was about intuition. Or maybe the special item would call me.

Amused by the thought, I closed my eyes, and lacking better options, concentrated like I did before casting a spell. I reached inside for the spark, and finding it sent it outwards, away from me.

A pulse pinged back to me. It was faint, but so surprising it broke my concentration. I turned towards the source and concentrated again, keeping my eyes open. This time I was expecting the pulse and was able to follow it to the corner of the room.

It was as full of curiosities as the rest of the room, and nothing immediately caught my eye as the source of the sensation. So I closed my eyes again and hovered my hand over the items. This time the sensation was clear.

My hand had paused over a wooden case much like those that had contained the snuffboxes. I opened the lid and the contents turned out to be similar looking small ornamental items too, but they were flat.

My heart skipped a beat in delight. “Are these compact mirrors?”

Patrick came to look. “I have no idea. I haven’t gone through the catalogues yet.” He picked one up and opened it to reveal a darkened silver mirror. “You’re right. Do you think there’s a market for these?”

“People collect everything,” I said, distracted, my attention taken by an art deco mirror with obsidian, silver, and blue enamel stripes inlaid on the cover to create a geometric decoration typical of the style, like a triangle or beams of a rising sun.

It was square with rounded edges and a little smaller than my palm. I picked it up and it zapped me, almost making me drop it. Had this been calling me? It had to mean something, even if it wasn’t the remarkable find I’d hoped for.

“We could probably sell them one by one for tourists looking for something inexpensive.”

Kane appeared by my shoulder. He studied the mirrors. “You do know people can get these online for a twenty?” But I gave him an eager look and he smiled.

“Fine. We’ll take the lot.”

 

After a lunch with Patrick in a restaurant near his father’s house, we were on our way to Portsmouth. I was holding the case of mirrors and was eagerly studying them for gems, but Kane was right. They were fairly ordinary, if genuinely old.

“I’m keeping this one for myself,” I said, holding the art deco mirror. It wasn’t the most beautiful mirror among the lot, or the oldest, and the mirror was slightly darkened at one edge, but it had called to me. None of the others zapped me when I touched them.

“Fine. You can consider it your finder’s commission.”

“I get commission?”

He smiled. “I don’t see why not. But with knickknacks like these, it won’t be more than that mirror.”

I was fine with that.

The distance to Portsmouth west of Brighton along the coastline was the same as to London, but with less traffic, so it went faster. It had begun to drizzle, but the sturdy Land Cruiser could take any kind of weather.

I passed the time reading about antique compacts. Early to mid-twentieth century factory-made mirrors were sold by the dozen on Etsy and Amazon, with prices from ten pounds up, and most of them were even genuine.

But Morgan Senior hadn’t been taken with cheap copies. All these mirrors were older, and most were handmade. He’d been a very thorough collector too, and had made notes about each mirror, even if most contained guesswork about the age and provenance of the item.

My mirror—I’d already started to think of it as that—was English from the 1920s. It had a silver stamp at the back that would help to date it, and even the maker’s name engraved there: Foster & Son, London.

I googled the name and found a match, but I couldn’t be entirely sure I had the right company. There was one with that name still operating, but another one had gone out of business when the “son” in Foster & Son—the grandson of the first Foster—had died in the Second World War. I would have to pay the existing shop a visit one of these days.

I emerged from my research only to see Kane drive past the exit to Hayling Island. “I take it we’re not going to visit Mrs Hayling after all?”

Kane cursed. “I forgot the whole thing.” He glanced at the GPS, but it wasn’t showing any turning points nearby. “I’ll visit her some other time.”

“If I were trying to pay off an ex, I’d want it to be done sooner rather than later,” I pointed out dryly. He grimaced, likely remembering his own divorce from “the Bitch,” aka Danielle Mercer, the dark lord in the making.

I wasn’t being jealous; she really was studying to become a warlock—the reason for their divorce.

“Fine. We’ll make a detour on our way back from Portsmouth.”

I studied the map. “It’s hardly a detour. A3 to London starts pretty much where the exit to the island is.”

Happy with this, he drove us to Portsmouth. It was technically on an island too, though the canal that separated it from the mainland wasn’t very wide. It was a hub of naval activity, old and new. The oldest part was on the southwest side, and Kane navigated us across the island there.

I’d been to Portsmouth a couple of times when I was a child, but not in recent years. The place had changed considerably, the old wharves transformed into a modern shopping and business hub that improved the neighbourhood but destroyed the old-world charm.

Our destination was on High Street—so named—behind the twelfth-century Romanesque cathedral. It was an antique shop that occupied one half of a four-storey Georgian house that had the street level painted in bright blue, and the upper floors in grey, making it stand out among the redbricks and Regency whites.

The other half was taken by an inn, and the two shared an entrance. On each side of the door was a wide bay window, one for the inn and the other for the antique shop. Judging by the window display, the latter specialised in nautical antiques, which wasn’t our field at all. I really should’ve studied up on those sea chests.

“So what are we doing here, again?” I asked as Kane opened the paned glass door and I entered the shop. Delicious scents hit me and my stomach growled even though we’d eaten before we left Brighton.

On the left was a small taproom and reception of the inn, and on the right the antique shop. Between the two halves was a wide staircase of polished wood leading up.

“I’ve asked around for an eighteenth-century occasional table that our client is looking for, and the owner said he has one. We’re here to see if it’s suitable.”

This I could handle.

A woman about my age greeted us from behind the shop’s counter, flashing a smile at Kane that was a bit warmer than I was happy with, though I tried not to notice. Kane kissing me didn’t give me the right to shoot daggers at every woman who smiled at him.

“Good afternoon, Mr Kane. Are you here to see Mr Riddell?”

Kane nodded. “Is he upstairs?”

“Yes, go right ahead.”

I followed Kane up, practically feeling the woman sizing me up behind me. I ignored the sensation. She was likely envious that she wasn’t taken on antique hunts.

Yeah, right…

Upstairs, the duality continued, with one half being a dining room and the other the antiques shop. A sign pointing upstairs said “rooms.” We didn’t climb up there. Kane led me to the back of the floor, where an oak door led to an office. He knocked on the door and entered.

Mr Riddell was in his sixties and portly, filling the space between his chair and desk completely. He smiled when he saw who had entered. “Archibald! Good of you to come.”

They exchanged some pleasantries and Kane introduced me. Then Mr Riddell pushed up, nimbly, considering his size. “Let me show you the table.”

He led us to a storage room next to his office where a beautiful mahogany side table stood on a wooden crate. It was rectangular, wider than deep, with a drawer at the narrow end instead of the front, so it was probably a middle part of a dining table, meant to be taken apart and stored at the sides of the dining room when not in use. The panels on the sides and the drawer had gilded edges, but otherwise the ornamentation was simple, with fluted legs and skirt.

It was in great condition, or carefully restored, with the signs of age and handcraft still visible. It was old, but was it genuine? There were beautiful nineteenth-century reproductions that were in the antique category, and sought-after too, but our client wanted a genuine eighteenth-century piece.

I glanced at Kane, who nodded, encouraging me. I opened the drawer, holding my breath. One can tell a lot about the age of a piece by how a drawer is put together: with fitted joints or nails and glue. Reproductions often cheated with the drawer as no one would see it anyway.

This one had beautiful, fitted joints that took great skill, with markings from hand-operated tools, and there were several layers of paintwork visible in places where it had been fixed during the course of its history. I let out the breath and smiled. That was one hurdle passed.

“I do have the provenance,” Mr Riddell said. “Down to the maker. You can see the maker’s mark at the bottom.”

Kane turned the table upside down and the branded stamp was indeed still faintly visible. Nevertheless, we studied the table, and the paperwork carefully, before Kane was satisfied enough to start negotiating the price.

In due course, we returned to the car with the table, Kane looking happy with the price he’d paid. I was happy too. I felt like I’d shown him I could do more than push papers at the office.

“Do you want to return to the inn for a cup of tea?” he asked when the table was carefully stored in the back of the car.

I sorely needed a cup, but I glanced at the sky that was fast darkening with intensifying rain. “Maybe we should push to Mrs Hayling and hope she’ll offer us a cup.” According to the GPS, it was a half an hour drive. I could wait for tea.

The rain began to pour in earnest as we were driving out of the town. By the time we were on the A27, it was coming down in a grey sheet that the windshield wipers were struggling to clear. We could barely see the red fog lights of the cars in front of us. The road was soon filled with several inches of water, pushed in by a heavy wind from the sea.

Traffic in our lane slowed to a crawl, the fast lane reserved for idiots who pressed on unheeding of the conditions. Kane relaxed slightly when we exited the dual carriageway, but the wind hit us with gale force on the Langstone Bridge to Hayling Island, almost pushing the car against the baluster.

“I’m starting to think we should’ve stayed at the inn for the night,” Kane said through gritted teeth, as he struggled to keep the car in the correct lane. I only nodded, too tense to speak.

It was only late afternoon but it was so dark he had the headlamps on, for what good they did. The wind didn’t ease even after we turned inland, and flooding made the narrow road even more difficult to negotiate. Branches had fallen from trees on both sides of the road, creating treacherous obstacles.

We almost missed our turn to Church Lane, but luckily we’d been driving slow enough that when Kane hit the brakes it didn’t send us careening into the brick wall lining the lane. The lane was barely wide enough for our car, but the wall and trees on both sides blocked the wind and much of the rain.

That was until a bend in the lane. Behind it were open fields all the way to the sea, and the wind hit us with the same force that made the trees bend and sway wildly. Kane crawled the car forwards as slowly as he dared, struggling to see where he was going.

“There, on the left!” I exclaimed, having spotted lights in that direction.

Kane turned into the courtyard of Northney House. We glanced at each other, smiling in relief. Then a loud, violent groan sounded behind us. A huge tree fell down across the entrance, blocking us in.

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Magic by the Book is published on February 12. You can preorder it on Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, B&N and Kobo.