Author Susanna Shore
Paranormal and contemporary romances, light mysteries

 

Saved by the Spell. House of Magic 2.

 

Chapter One          Chapter Two

Chapter One

I ran into a wolf outside my bedroom. Not literally, or I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.

I was sleepwalking to the bathroom early Monday morning, and there it was, as if the hallway were a perfectly normal place for a wolf. My body froze in shock even as adrenaline surged through my veins, screaming for me to flee.

The conflicting commands were enough to jolt me wide awake.

The larger than normal grey wolf loped past me with an amused snarl—though I don’t know how I could tell. Probably because I didn’t get eaten.

My legs lost their ability to support me, and I leaned heavily against the doorjamb, heart beating like after a spin class that I’d recently started again and wasn’t in shape for.

“Bloody hell, Ashley, you scared me to death.”

The wolf sat calmly outside the bedroom next to mine and shot me a commanding look I had no trouble interpreting.

Gathering myself, I went to open the door for her. “You could’ve shifted, you know.”

Ignoring me, the wolf entered her room and pushed the door closed with her head. I was alone in the hallway again, wondering if I’d imagined the whole thing.

A month ago, I would have had my head checked. That was before I’d moved into House of Magic and learned that I had a lot in common with Hamlet’s Horatio. There definitely were more things in heaven and earth than I’d dreamt of in my philosophy. Such as it was.

House of Magic was a magic shop in Clerkenwell, Central London, the kind that sells herbal teas, tarot cards, and healing crystals for regular shoppers, and special ingredients for spells and potions for those in the know. Those would be mages.

The shop had been there for decades, but I’d only noticed it when I spotted a to-let sign in its window one memorable night. I’d been facing eviction, thanks to my then flatmate Nick, and in urgent need of a new place to stay. I’d thought it serendipitous that I’d been the first to notice the sign. But according to my landladies, there had been magic in play.

That’s right, magic. Genuine, manipulating physics, no sleight-of-hand witchcraft and wizardry. The sign had been spelled to allow only the person who suited the house to see it. I’d been sceptical, to say the least.

Grateful, but sceptical.

Then I’d accidentally triggered a curse meant for my boss, Archibald Kane, and a whole new world had opened for me.

I’d learned that there truly was magic and people who were born to wield it. My landladies, Amber Boyle and Giselle Lynn, were mages. And to my utter shock, so was my boss whom I’d thought to be a perfectly boring antiques dealer. He was their leader even.

With the curse making my life difficult, I’d just about come to terms with magic existing. But then I’d learned that vampires and werewolves were real too, and that specimens of both were sharing the house with me.

One of them was Luca Marlow. He looked like a carefree Californian surfer about my age—twenty-six—with a muscled body and sandy hair in a short ponytail. But he was a vampire who had been alive for at least a century—if I believed his stories. His real age was shrouded in mystery.

Well, I’d refused to hear the truth.

And then there was Ashley Grant, the werewolf who had just given me the coronary. In human form she was a firefighter in her early thirties, easily tall and strong enough to pull off the job even without supernatural strength. With it, she was unstoppable.

I’d only seen her in wolf form once before, so it wasn’t a wonder the encounter had shocked me. Maybe I should start keeping track of the full moon so that I’d be better prepared for the next time. But I hadn’t expected her to run around the house as a wolf, full moon or not. Shouldn’t they be a great secret?

I was still a little rattled when I entered the kitchen forty-five minutes later, after taking my time to calm myself and prepare for the day. I was wearing a new pair of blue jeans that hugged my legs and bottom in a becoming way—I noticed Amber check me out—and a light pink polka dot blouse with a large floppy bowtie at the front. I’d paired them with a brown corduroy blazer and knee-high leather boots. The day wasn’t quite that chilly, but it was September in London; you never knew when it was going to rain.

Besides, it looked fabulous.

Giselle stood by the stove, making breakfast. The rent included meals—and chores—and she took care of cooking. Her excellent food was the reason I’d had to start spin classes again.

She was a tad over forty, short and round, with steel-grey pixie-cut hair, and a smiling countenance. She flashed me her dimples in greeting. “Morning, Phoebe. You look ready to face the new week.”

I took a seat at the table. “Thanks. I don’t feel like it. Ashley just gave me the shock of my life.”

Amber grinned. A couple of years younger than her wife, she was pretty much the opposite of Giselle, tall and reed thin, with a shock of short red curls, and a stern demeanour that even a grin didn’t properly soften.

“She takes a little getting used to in her other form. And it’s good to be frightened. Just because she’s not a threat to you doesn’t mean other werewolves won’t be.”

A shiver went through my spine. “I’ll try to avoid them.”

“I’ve never met other werewolves than her, so chances are you’ll never do either,” Giselle consoled me as she placed a plate in front of me. “But I’m afraid having her in wolf form means there’s no bacon today. I gave it all to her, because the wolf craves meat.”

I dug in. “She’s welcome to it.”

“I usually reserve raw meat for her, but with the inventory at the shop, I completely forgot it’s full moon.”

“Can’t she hunt for herself?” I asked, curious, not having come to think of this before. “London is full of rabbits. And there’s deer in some parks.”

“They hunt when it’s not the full moon, but during it they’re too volatile to be allowed out of the house,” Amber explained. “We lock her in the basement until morning so that she doesn’t hurt anyone.”

“But Luca lives in the basement.” He had a sun-proofed studio there. He was sensitive to sunlight and slept during the day. But not in a coffin. I’d checked.

Giselle nodded. “He keeps an eye on her, makes sure she stays safe.”

I tried to picture it. Luca was about an inch taller than my five-foot seven, tightly muscled and likely stronger than I believed, but Ashley had huge teeth and sharp claws in her wolf form. She’d make mincemeat of him in no time.

Then again, he’d protected me from a huge hellhound with magic, so maybe he could handle himself against her just fine.

I finished my baconless breakfast and, thanking Giselle, rose from the table to head to work. That roused Amber too.

“This waited for you in the post box. It must’ve been hand-delivered.”

She gave me a heavy, cream-colored envelope that had my name and address written on it in professional cursive, but no stamp. My brows shot up.

“A wedding invitation?”

I ran through a list of friends in my head, but none of them had even hinted at that they’d be getting married. And I couldn’t remember a casual acquaintance either who would be seriously involved with anyone. Curious, I opened the envelope and pulled out an elegant card with golden lettering.

The Right Honourable Hector Sanford and Lady Sanford are honoured to invite you to celebrate the engagement of their son Henry and Miss Olivia Radcliff at their home on Saturday, September 18th, at 6pm. RSVP by…

I stared at the invitation, blinking as I tried to make sense of it. I read the envelope again. It was most assuredly addressed to me, but I didn’t know any Sanfords, no Henry, and definitely not any barons. Their address didn’t ring a bell either, but it was in London, somewhere around Hampstead Heath, judging by the area code.

It wasn’t until the third read that the name of the bride-to-be registered. My cousin Olivia.

Bloody hell.

My face must have shown my emotions because Giselle lifted her brows. “Not a happy invitation?”

I sighed. “It’s an invitation to my cousin’s engagement party. Actually, she’s my cousin’s daughter, but we’re the same age, so it’s always been more natural for me to think of her as my cousin instead of her mother.”

Aunt Clara, Dad’s older sister, had had her daughter in her early twenties, whereas my father had been over forty when I was born, so my actual cousin and I belonged to different generations.

“Olivia and I aren’t close. I don’t really understand why she’s invited me. And judging by the fact that the event is this Saturday, she didn’t do it voluntarily.”

It wasn’t pleasant to know that I’d been an afterthought, but that wasn’t why the invitation dismayed me.

“My mother will not be happy that Olivia is getting married before me. She’s a year younger.”

According to my parents, marriage was pretty much the only thing that I was good for. It aggravated me to no end, but since they lived in the south of France and I only saw them during holidays, I could ignore their opinions most of the time. But a wedding in the family would give Mom new wind for her demands.

I was currently single and not looking, so she could pester me all she liked. Nothing was going to change in a hurry.

I slipped the invitation into my tote to answer it during the day, and headed to work.

Monday morning, the Tube from Barbican Station at the north edge of the City was full of commuters, mostly businesspeople who worked in the City or Canary Wharf. I crammed myself into a train car and suffered the pressing bodies and jostling about. I switched lines at Liverpool Street Station and the pressure eased a bit, as most of the people continued east whereas I took the Central Line west.

Maybe it was the emptier car, maybe I was still jittery from the fright Ashley had given me, but halfway through my journey I started to feel like someone was watching me. It was like a pressure in my neck that wouldn’t go away, an unpleasant sensation that made me want to hunch my shoulders to evade it.

As casually as possible, I turned to look behind me, but nothing caught my eye. The car was full of men and women in business casual, all keeping their eyes on the ads, their phones, or their feet as was proper. No one was staring at me.

I faced the door again and the sensation returned. It followed me out as I exited the train and climbed back on the street. Only there did the pressure ease, but I kept glancing back at every opportunity as I walked the last stretch of my commute.

Mayfair was on the west side of central London, the fashionable heart where aristocrats used to live and where all the luxury shops still were.

Kane’s Arts and Antiques was located on a pedestrian court north of Oxford Street—technically in Marylebone—a little away from the tourist routes. You had to know it was there to find it, but we did excellent business.

The court was busy of people popping into the cafés along it to pick up their morning lattes on their way to work. Usually I wasn’t one of them—there was a perfectly good coffeemaker at the office—but I needed something to calm my nerves. Coffee would do.

I chose a small place in the middle of the street, right opposite the gallery. It was my favourite café—their blueberry muffin was to die for—and it was relatively empty compared to the chain cafés on its sides.

I’d barely taken my place in the queue when a new customer entered and stepped behind me. The most delicious manly scent reached my nose, teasing my senses, conjuring images of handsome strangers.

I didn’t want to turn to look, in case he was an octogenarian with good taste in colognes. That had happened to me before. I tried to spy him from the reflective surfaces in front of me, but all I could see was a tall form.

More people came in and he stepped closer to me. He wasn’t quite touching me, but his nearness made my skin hum. My entire body became aware of him.

It was all I could think of. When it was my turn to order, I struggled to tell the woman behind the counter what I wanted. Luckily, she just asked if I wanted the usual, and I nodded, finding it easier than telling her I didn’t want the muffin.

I fumbled in my tote for my purse, still painfully aware of the man. I pulled the purse out and promptly dropped it, spilling coins and cards everywhere.

My cheeks turned crimson as I hastily kneeled to gather everything. To make matters worse, he crouched to help me.

“Here, this should be everything.”

The voice was wonderful, with a slight upper crust drawl, and the hand holding my cards was long-fingered and well-manicured. I lifted my gaze to his face—and forgot to breathe.

He had the most beautiful eyes I’d ever seen, so bright blue they seemed almost turquoise. The rest of him registered more slowly, the straight russet brows and the dimple that appeared on one side of his mouth when he flashed me a smile.

My fingers numb, I took the offerings. “Thanks,” I managed to say as I rose back up. He rose too, steadying me from my elbow even though I didn’t need it.

He was half a head taller than me, slim and dressed in business casual, blue jeans, white shirt, and black waistcoat under a black blazer. His dark russet hair was in careful disarray, and his features were delicate but defined enough to be manly.

I found him utterly handsome.

The dimple made another appearance. “My pleasure.”

Fighting my embarrassment, I paid my purchases and moved to the other end of the counter to wait for my order. It arrived fast and I hurried out without a glance at the man.

I paused outside to gather myself, fanning my face to make the blush go away. I only had the pedestrian court to cross, but I didn’t quite trust my legs to carry me.

“May I walk with you?”

I jumped as the rich voice spoke next to me. I hadn’t even noticed that he’d followed me out. He was carrying a bag of muffins with no coffee, so he’d got his order fast.

“No, I … work over there.” I nodded at the gallery and his brows shot up.

“You’re a gallerist?”

“Assistant to one,” I managed to say.

This was ridiculous. I could not lose my composure over a man like this. I inhaled deeply, straightened my spine, and gave him my most professional smile. “I have to go. Thank you for your help.”

“At least tell me your name. I’m Jack.”

“Phoebe.”

He offered a hand, and I shook it. And like a cliché in every romance novel that I’d red—and I’d read a lot—a tingle spread form his hand to mine, spreading around my body.

“Lovely to meet you, Phoebe,” he said with a warm smile, sketching a small bow over our joined hands. “I hope we’ll meet again.”

He released my hand and I muttered something incoherent before hurrying to the door that led to the offices above the gallery. I managed to fish out the key without spilling the contents of my bag, and open the door, but my hand shook when I entered the code to switch off the alarm.

The door closed behind me, and I leaned against it heavily. What a strange start to a week.

Good thing it couldn’t get any stranger.

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Chapter Two

I’d worked at Kane’s Arts and Antiques for two years, and I found my job interesting. I had a degree in art history and additional training at Sotheby’s Auction House. My boss, Archibald Kane—or Kane as he’d asked me to call him, and can you blame him—allowed me to help him curate and organise exhibitions and auctions we held at the gallery. It was great education too.

Most of the time, however, I took care of the office as a glorified secretary.

This morning I couldn’t care less if Kane got his morning tea on time. I dropped on my desk chair and took a long pull of my latte, trying to recover from the impact of Jack’s eyes. My heart was coursing again, but not from fright. Exhilaration.

I was somewhat surprised by my reaction to him. I didn’t usually lose my head over a handsome face, and I wasn’t particularly needy for romance. I’d broken up with my previous boyfriend, Troy Nowell, three months ago and had only recently recovered from it.

Was this a reaction to Olivia’s engagement? Was I that jealous of her happiness?

Disgusted with myself, I finished the coffee and went to make Kane his tea. I had it ready by the time he arrived, punctually at nine.

Archibald Kane was thirty-five going on a hundred and fifty, judging by his old-fashioned manners and inability to understand the modern world. He was tall and leanly muscled, with thick black hair that tended to billow as if powered by its own wind, deep blue eyes, and lean, defined face. He was handsome too, but I didn’t lose my composure around him.

I was too intimidated by him to—though I was working on curing myself of that.

Like every day, regardless of the weather, he was dressed in a bespoke black three-piece suit and handmade leather shoes that were polished to perfection. His face was impeccably groomed, as if a beard were anathema to him.

He spotted me standing by my desk and I smiled in greeting. He paused to give me a look and his straight black brows furrowed slightly.

“Not a fan of jeans?” I quizzed. I’d worn jeans to work before, but I could never tell with him.

He tilted his head. “No … is there something new about you? Have you done something to your hair?”

I’d left my long cinnamon brown hair open today, but I’d worn it like this before too. “No. But the jeans are new.”

“Hmmm…”

Without more comments, he went to his office and closed the door. I didn’t take it personally. He often behaved abruptly.

I had an auction to prepare, so I cast all men out of my mind, bosses and handsome strangers alike. It was three weeks to the auction, and I had tons of work to do. We always held good auctions, and I had reputation to maintain.

Kane left before lunch to check out an item that someone wanted to place in the auction. I took the opportunity to make a video call to my mom. Not that I was looking forward to it, but she’d be livid if I didn’t inform her about the engagement.

My parents were having brunch on their back patio where the Mediterranean sun still shone warmly. They looked tanned and healthy. The move to permanent sun had been good for them after Dad had had a heart attack five years ago and had to give up running the family business. Aunt Clara’s son-in-law, Olivia’s dad, was the CEO now.

“Phoebe! It’s not like you to call in the middle of the week. I hope nothing’s amiss?” Mother was instantly worried. I grimaced.

“It depends on how you define it. Olivia’s got engaged. They’re holding a party this Saturday.”

My mother pursed her carefully painted lips. She always looked impeccable, her strawberry blond hair and makeup perfect no matter the time of day. “Engaged? Olivia? And you only tell me now?”

“I only received the invitation today.”

Mom glared at Dad. “Did you know about this?”

“I had absolutely no idea,” he assured her calmly. He was seventy-three and his cinnamon hair had turned mostly white. I took after him, except for my brown eyes that came from Mom. “Who is the fellow? Anyone we know?”

“Henry Sanford. Son of Baron Sanford.”

Mother’s brows shot up. “Baron? How is it possible for Olivia to get engaged to a baron’s son and Clara not to gloat about it immediately?”

I hadn’t come to think of that. “Maybe she’s pregnant?”

Mom’s eyes grew large, and Dad cleared his throat, as if to hide his embarrassment—or snickering. “It’s not considered scandalous anymore you know,” Mom said. “That’s not a reason for a hasty marriage.”

Having children outside marriage hadn’t been a scandal in decades, but I didn’t point it out. “Maybe the entire family only learned now?”

“I’ll have to call Clara,” Mom declared. “And you’ll have to represent the family. Dress appropriately.”

I promised to do so and ended the call. It had gone better than I’d hoped. She hadn’t asked once why I wasn’t getting married.

I rejoiced too early. Mother called back half an hour later. “You were right. Clara was flabbergasted by the engagement. Olivia hadn’t spoken about it to anyone, and they all received the invitation today. The family is not happy.”

“Even though she’s marrying a baron’s son?” I asked blithely.

“Clara doesn’t know the family.”

And that was the greatest condemnation there was.

Mom gave me a pointed look. “Are you seeing anyone?”

Annnnd there it was. I’d almost escaped.

“I’ve barely recovered from Troy.” I tried to sound calm and reasonable, but I was irritated.

“You’re not getting any younger.”

I would’ve rolled my eyes if we weren’t on video call. “I know. And I can promise that I’ll tell you the moment I contemplate marriage to someone. No secret engagements for me.”

“You’d better,” she sniffed. “This is not at all how things are done.”

I kept wondering about the engagement long after the call ended. Why would Olivia keep it a secret? Unlike me, she’d always aimed for a marriage, as if she didn’t have a good job at a law firm on top of her daddy’s money. I wouldn’t rule out pregnancy, no matter what Aunt Clara said.

Kane returned in the afternoon with an ugly orange and white acrylic table lamp. His deep blue eyes were shining as he showed it to me.

“I’ve been looking for this. Finnish design from 1950s. Difficult to find around here. I’ll put it in the auction, but I’ve a half mind to bid for it myself.”

I stared at the hideous thing with my mouth open. I’d visited his home once and it was mostly decorated in Danish mid-century modern of elegant cherrywood and white upholstery. The lamp would fit the place like a werewolf in my hallway.

“Is it expensive?”

“They go around a thousand pounds, a bit more in auctions.”

Pleased with himself, he carried the lamp to his office. With a sigh, I followed him so that I could photograph the lamp for the catalogue. I’d seen odder items during my time here—and that wasn’t even including the curse statuette.

 

I’m not a trained photographer, but I’d learned to take catalogue worthy photos of the items we were auctioning. We had a small “studio” set at the side of Kane’s office with a proper lighting and neutral background. I’d even learned to operate the complicated camera that was permanently set on a tripod.

Kane most assuredly wouldn’t bother to learn it, so I’d had to. I don’t know who photographed for him before I joined the firm.

That didn’t stop him from paying close attention to what I was doing, his mouth pursed with displeasure. I was growing anxious, and I kept glancing at my camera settings and the lights in case they were incorrect.

Or maybe he feared I wouldn’t show the ugly lamp to its advantage.

He cleared his throat. “I’ve been racking my brain over what’s wrong with you.”

That was not what I thought he’d say.

I straightened and shot him a dismayed look. “Excuse me?”

He studied me with a puzzled frown, impervious to my reaction. “I think it’s something magical. Every time I look at you, a wave of repulsion washes over me, and that’s not a normal reaction for me.”

“What?”

I was unable to fathom his words. Magic, again?

He tilted his head, his jaw tightening as he tried to look at me. “You’re an attractive woman. I should want to look at you. Yet even now, I have to force myself.”

He stepped backwards, shuddering.

“Has anything unusual happened to you lately?”

I struggled to gather my thoughts, stunned by his behaviour. “You mean since the curse meant for you was lifted?”

He shook his head. “More recent than that. Over the weekend, maybe? I would’ve noticed if it had taken place earlier.”

I gave it a thought. “I went to shopping with friends on Saturday. Nothing extraordinary happened.”

I’d had a great time with my girlfriends, and I’d bought these jeans, among other things.

“Any new friends among them?”

“No. I’ve known all three since university.”

He tapped his mouth with a finger. “Hmm…”

“This morning, however, was full of odd things,” I told him, counting with my fingers. “I saw a werewolf, I was invited to my cousin’s out-of-the-blue engagement party, and then at the Tube I felt someone staring at me. Not like in passing. It was really intensive, physical sensation.”

That got his attention. “Did anyone touch you there?”

I rolled my eyes. “It’s the Tube in morning rush. Everyone touched me.”

“Maybe it was something that happened there…”

“Never mind where,” I huffed. “I’m more interested in why? Have I been cursed again?”

“I don’t know.” He ran fingers through his billowing hair, aggravated. “I don’t think I’m able to figure it out alone. We need Giselle and Amber. Let’s go.”

He had barely patience to wait for me to fetch my belongings before leading me to his car, a red Jaguar he kept in a reserved spot in a multistorey car park near the shop—that is to say, only three streets away.

I’d seldom had a chance to ride in it, but it wasn’t as exciting as one might think. The insides were rather small, and London traffic didn’t allow the car to shine.

The tight space proved more aggravating than usual, as Kane had to sit next to me the whole ride. His face was growing paler by the mile, and sweat was glistening on his forehead. Whatever it was that was affecting him—could it really be me?—had to be bad.

We reached the House of Magic before he had to throw up, and he escaped the car like it was on fire. He hurried to the back entrance, for once eschewing his usual polite manners, and I followed him into the shop. Amber was there and she smiled when she spotted us.

“Archibald. You haven’t been here since the curse was lifted.”

He smiled in return and inclined his head in a small bow. “I’ve been somewhat busy with the leadership contest.”

He hadn’t mentioned it to me. In fact, he had behaved like the curse never happened and I’d never learned about magic. Today was the first time he’d brought it up again. Trust it to be because I’d been bespelled again.

She propped her hip against the counter. “Anyone giving you trouble?”

“No one yet, but I’ve needed to settle smaller disputes.”

“So what brings you here today?”

Kane turned to indicated me. “I think someone’s put a spell on Phoebe and I have no idea what it is.”

This caught her interest. She leaned toward me, as if taking a sniff. “I can’t sense anything.”

Kane startled. “That’s odd. It’s all I can sense when I’m around her. It’s as if there’s a field around her designed to make her repulsive.”

Amber glanced at her wristwatch. “Let me check if Luca is awake yet and able to man the shop.”

“It’s daylight still,” I reminded her. We’d left the gallery early, and even though the drive had been slow, it was barely past four.

“I think he might manage, with the sky overcast like this,” she said, disappearing into the backroom, where steps led down to the basement and Luca’s sun-proofed studio.

Turned out, she was right. Only moments later, Luca climbed up, looking a bit bleary, as if he’d just woken up, but already dressed up and his hair in a tiny bun. He grinned when he spotted me, then pulled back with a frown.

“Is there something … wrong about you?”

“Not you too,” I huffed, but Kane was instantly alert.

“You can sense it as well?”

Luca stepped closer to me and his nose twitched in distaste, as if I reeked. “It’s like you’ve turned repulsive all of a sudden.”

I threw my hands up. “That’s just great. I’m spelled to disgust people?”

“Let’s not make hasty conclusions,” Amber said. “I’m not disgusted by you.”

“We’ll find out what it is,” Kane stated, gesturing for us to proceed upstairs before him.

Giselle was in the kitchen with Griselda, the grey cat who reigned supreme over us, pouring cat food into a bowl even though it should be hours until feeding time. The cat was winding around her legs impatiently. Giselle straightened when she spotted us, smiling delighted when she spotted my boss.

“Archibald! What a pleasant surprise. You’ll stay for dinner?”

“Absolutely,” he said, pleased. “But we have a small problem that needs to be dealt with first.”

“Oh?”

“Apparently there’s a curse on me again,” I growled, and her brows shot up.

“How did that happen? What sort of a curse?”

“Luca and I are suddenly finding her very off-putting,” Kane told her, “but Amber isn’t affected.”

Like the others earlier, Giselle came to me and studied me carefully. She touched my face and even took a sniff. I suffered it gracefully.

“I can’t detect anything.”

“Maybe it’s gender specific…” Kane mused. “Do you have anything that we could use to detect what kind of spell it is?”

“Let’s go upstairs and see.”

I followed them up, my annoyance evident in every stomping step. I’d been wrong this morning. It was, in fact, possible for my week to turn stranger.

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You can preorder Saved by the Spell on Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, B&N and Kobo. The book is published on August 15.