I hadn’t baked or stored any goodies in our freezer, so it was toast and coffee for breakfast before we drove back to Muddy River. A few minutes before we reached our house, my cell buzzed.
“Hester Wand?” a woman asked. “The witch?”
I didn’t recognize the voice, but I’d heard of the name on my phone’s ID. Muddy River was a close-knit community, and I knew or knew of most of its residents. She lived in the suburbs at the edge of town where many people with fewer powers had congregated. “Yes?”
Stress made her words hitch. “Can you help my son? Please. He’s in terrible pain. My husband’s one fourth shifter, but my son’s magic is so small, he’s trying to shift and can’t. I’m afraid . . . “
We all knew that first shifts could be painful. Worse, they could put so much stress on a body, they could cause death. Without witches, a lot of shifters didn’t survive their first change. “I’m not in Muddy River right now, but I’m almost home. The minute I’m back, I’ll grab a special potion I brewed, and I’ll come to you as soon as I can. What’s your address?”
As soon as we pulled in our driveway, Raven left the car running while I ran to my potion shed. Different brews were arranged on its shelves, ready for use. I grabbed the one I needed and hurried back to the SUV. Meda insisted on coming with me. As she slid into the passenger seat, she called, “Raven, don’t let Brown do anything stupid while I’m gone!”
He smiled and nodded, but Brown ran his hand through his hair, disgruntled.
“I’ll drag Brown to my office with me,” Raven called back, and Meda gave him a thumbs-up.
I don’t usually speed, but I did on my way to the boy’s house. When I parked at the curb, the mother opened the door for us and motioned us inside.
“How is he?” I asked.
Tears fell. “I can’t stand seeing him hurt this much. Please help him.” She led us down a hallway to a bedroom at the back of the house.
The boy looked to be fifteen or sixteen with a few whiskers sprouting on his jawline. He was doubled over and panting, he was in so much pain. His jaw had extended and the cords of his neck strained as his teeth lengthened into sharp points and his nails curled into talons.
I handed him my potion. “Drink as much as you can.”
He cried out when he tipped his head and tried to swallow. I laid my hands on him and poured warm magic into his body. His muscles relaxed slightly and he gulped down my brew.
The mother paced back and forth, hugging herself. She watched him closely. I kept feeding him magic until his body trembled and fur covered his skin. He didn’t bulk up like most shifters. Maybe because he was only one-eighth wolf. His eyes glowed yellow. And then his whole body relaxed.
He gulped a deep breath, stared at me, looked down at a body he’d never owned before, and shook his head. I smiled at him. “You’re going to be fine. The potion will stay in your system forever. You won’t have any more trouble shifting. Can you change back?”
He frowned, unsure he wanted to try.
“It won’t be painful anymore. Just will it,” I told him. “Picture yourself as a human again.”
And in less than a minute, he stood before us—a skinny young man with acne.
Meda grinned at him. “We even brew potions that can clear your complexion. Prim sells them at her shop.”
He began to nod when his mother flew to him, wrapping him in a tight hug.
“Mom!” He blushed, embarrassed.
Typical boy. My body relaxed. Relief washed through me. If I hadn’t gotten home in time, though . . . I turned to the mother. “You do know that you could have gone to Muddy River’s hospital, don’t you? Caree’s a healer. She could have helped your son, too.”
She looked surprised. “I thought you only treated supernaturals.”
“You and your son are supernaturals, or you couldn’t live here.”
“But my witch powers are almost nonexistent. All I can do is blow on candles to light them. And our boy . . .”
“Is a shifter. You don’t have to be powerful to be important to us.”
Her eyes widened in surprise. “Thank you. There are some who don’t feel that way.”
“None that I know.”
“When Belladonna was alive, she tormented Klaus constantly.”
“If you’d have reported her, we’d have put a stop to that, but hopefully, that problem’s behind us.”
She fumbled for the purse she’d put on the chest of drawers. “How much do I owe you?”
I shook my head. “I don’t charge for helping my fellow citizens. Take care of that boy of yours. And if you need anything else, let us know.”
She followed Meda and me to the door and waved us off. As I pulled away, Meda said, “That’s carryover from the parents Raven destroyed or banished. Good riddance to them.”
We were on our way home when another parent called for help.
“My daughter’s covered in a rash, and it itches so much, she’s scratching herself till she bleeds. She’s only one-fourth witch, so we didn’t get her vaccinated for magic pox. We didn’t think she could catch them. I was going to rush her to the hospital, but Caree said she’s too contagious, to call you instead.”
The pox could infect anyone with even a slight gift of magic. And like mortals’ measles, they could cause serious damage. “I have to stop at my house to grab the right potion. Then I’ll be right there.” I took her address and pushed on the gas pedal. She lived in town on Amulet Avenue.
Meda stared at me. “Do you get a lot of calls like these?”
I shrugged. “Occasionally. I’m the leader of the coven. If there’s a problem, people call.”
Meda wrinkled her nose. “Glad it’s not me.”
“As enforcer, Raven gets lots of calls, too. We’re used to it.” I pulled in my drive and rushed to my shed. Grabbing another potion, I hurried back to the SUV. Raven’s Lamborghini was gone. He and Brown were probably still in town at his office. Meda and I set off for the Fae enclave a block from Raven’s office. When I pulled in front of the woman’s home, it was next door to the house Sugi used to rent with Faiza and a shifter friend of theirs.
Faiza, whose family owned Muddy River’s grocery store, was sitting on her front porch as we walked up the sidewalk. “Do you have the day off?” I called.
“I went in early to stock shelves, so I got off earlier than usual.”
“That’s only fair.”
She gave a naughty grin. “If you need any groceries, don’t come in until tomorrow so I can gawk at your demon.”
I laughed. “He’s worth gawking at.”
“It makes my day.” She nodded toward her neighbor. “Hope you can help little Maddie. I’ve never seen a kid with so many red dots.”
I raised my jar. “I brought a potion. It takes a few hours to work, but then, she’ll be all right.”
“Got any love potions I can buy?”
I rolled my eyes. “Like you need one. We don’t brew ones that take away free will, but Prim sells some that nudges a person in the right direction, if he’s so inclined.”
“Got anything that would clone Raven and make me a copy?”
“You’re having too much fun.” I gave her a wave and knocked on the neighbor’s door. It took her a while to open it. When she saw us, she sighed.
“I just put Maddie in a bath with baking soda. The poor girl’s itching all over.”
I handed her the jar. “If she drinks this, she’ll fall asleep, and in a few hours, the pox will be gone. But I’d get to the hospital clinic and get her all the vaccinations she needs. There are worse diseases out there.”
She crossed her heart. “Will do. I’ve learned my lesson.”
We were so close to Raven’s office, Meda said, “Let’s check in on the guys. Maybe they’ve learned something new.”
“Why not?” I drove to the back of Raven’s brick building and parked in its lot. While we were walking in, Raven and Brown were walking out.
“You’re done already?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I have to check on an attempted suicide. I hate to drag Brown with me, but I didn’t want to leave him stranded here.”
His glance slid to Meda, and I smiled. Raven wanted to keep an eye on Brown, so the sheriff wouldn’t get any ideas of sneaking home. I wanted to spare Brown from whatever Raven would be walking into, though. “What if I ride with you, and Meda can take my SUV to drive Brown back to our place?”
Meda’s face brightened. “Maybe we could take a walk by the river.”
And she’d have time alone with him. A win/win. Brown liked the idea, so they took off and I went with Raven.
We ended up at a narrow shotgun style house out in the country. It sat in the middle of nothing. I frowned as we stepped from the car. Was this a trap? Claws raised his head to sniff the air. So did Raven. They both shook their heads. They hadn’t caught any scents.
When we knocked on the door, a woman called, “It’s open. We’re in the back room.” We found her kneeling in front of a twin bed, clinging to the vampire who sat there. When he saw us, he raised a hunting knife and sliced his wrist. A drop of blood formed, then the skin healed over.
“Please. Stop it,” she begged. “If you love me, don’t do this.”
He sliced again. It healed again. Frustrated, he threw the knife across the room. It hit the wall and fell to the floor.
Raven locked gazes with him. “Explain.”
The woman rushed into speech. “I love Aurel, and he loves me. He finally agreed to change me, and he only needs to drain me one more time, but he won’t do it.”
Aurel shook his head. He was a beautiful man with sensuous lips and chiseled cheekbones. “I should never have introduced her to immortality. She has no idea what blood lust is. She romanticizes our curse. I should have taken one sip of her and left, but I was drawn to her. I’ve infected her. One more time, and she’ll be like me.” He reached for a straight-edge razor and raised his head, ready to slice his throat.
“Please, no!” The woman tightened her grip on his thigh and sobbed.
Raven looked at me. “Stop him.”
I blasted him hard enough to knock him out, not an easy feat with a vampire. Then Raven tossed him over his shoulder and carted him to his car.
“Where he goes, I go,” the woman said.
“Then get in.” We crammed into the cramped space, the woman making herself small in the backseat.
When Aurel woke up, he and the woman were locked behind silver bars in Raven’s office. He put his head in his hands, groaning. “Why? Why didn’t you let me finish it?”
Raven studied him, his expression serious. “I believe in free choice, as long as it harms no one else. But I want you to think through what you’re doing. A friend of mine’s coming to talk to both of you tomorrow.”
“Why not tonight?” Aurel asked.
“He’s a vampire, a bartender. He works nights. Listen to what he has to say before you decide what to do next. That’s all I ask. If you’re still set on killing yourself, I’ll open the bars and set you free.”
“If you die, I die.” The woman crowded beside him on the narrow bed in the cell. He put a protective arm around her shoulder and nodded. “I’ve lived for centuries. One more night is of no matter. We’ll wait.”
“Just in case, Silver Lope’s coming to keep an eye on you through the night. He’s a werewolf. If you worry him in any way, I’ve given him orders to bite the woman. And then she’ll turn shifter instead of vampire.”
Aurel leapt to his feet. “You wouldn’t do that!”
“I would. Give me until my friend can come tomorrow.”
“A vampire’s promise.” Aurel pulled the woman closer.
Silver trotted into the office and took the seat behind Raven’s desk. “I know Aurel. He won’t give me any trouble. You two have been busy enough. Go home for the night.”
“Thanks, Silver.” Raven turned one more stern stare on Aurel. “I wouldn’t have called you, but Sheriff Brown’s staying with us right now.”
“I got this. Slinky’s coming later with my supper. Get going.”
We left, hurrying home to our guests. Meda and Brown were sitting on the back patio, drinking lemonade, when we finally found them.
Brown shook his head at us. “And I thought being a sheriff kept me busy. I don’t know how you two solve crimes with everything else you do.”
“It’s not usually like this.” Raven poured himself a glass of iced tea. “But there’s always something.”
“We didn’t make any real progress today,” Brown grumbled. “Too much other stuff going on.”
“We checked. There weren’t any leads online.”
Meda pushed to her feet. “Maybe taking a break’s a good thing. Sometimes, if you take a day off, it gives you a fresh perspective. I say we relax tonight. Tomorrow, we should introduce Brown to everyone in Muddy River. Then the next day, you guys can start digging for clues again.”
Brown looked like he might argue, then shook his head. “I have a few more things I want to follow through on anyway. After that, we can go from there, but I can’t hide in Muddy River very long, trying to keep safe. I have rounds I need to make.”
“I’ll go with you.”
He frowned at Meda but didn’t argue. I was pretty sure that didn’t mean he agreed, but he’d argue with her later.
I let out a sigh of relief. A little time away from the crimes would give us a while to process all we’d learned. And I was ready for a break. We worked together to fix a quick supper of nachos and salad and then strolled around our property before settling in front of the TV.
Meda drove to her house for the night, and Brown and Raven turned on a baseball game to watch. I picked up a book.
The next morning, we all looked more relaxed and refreshed.