Deadly Spells and a Southern Belle
Southern Belles and Spells Matchmaker Mysteries, Book 1
July 4, 2019
Escape to Witch’s Forge, a magical town tucked deep in the heart of Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains.
Only Witch’s Forge isn’t a supernatural paradise—here spells backfire, kudzu bites and magic is broken.
That is, until Charming Calhoun arrives.
Charming has everything a Southern Belle could ask for—a thriving matchmaking business and great employees.
But when one of her employees goes missing in Witch’s Forge, she quickly realizes there’s something sinister afoot.
Once she arrives, Charming discovers a world of strange. Her house has a mind of its own—adding rooms and coughing up objects. There’s also a broomstick that likes to spank and a pot-bellied pig with an appetite for chocolate.
Then she butts heads with the local vampire chief of police.
A handsome vampire cop in a town full of witches? Vampires and witches are mortal enemies.
But Charming better stay on the vampire’s good side because when someone winds up dead, everyone’s a suspect.
She’s got her work cut out for her. Can Charming solve the mystery and return to her old life?
Or will she discover that in the Smoky Mountains her life truly begins? And if so, can Charming survive long enough to enjoy it, or will she become the murderer’s next victim?
I always considered my life as being presented in neat little packages. There’s a box for getting up, one for going to work, returning home and such. My life is normal, mundane, all of the above.
If I had been told that, on a certain day, everything in my world would turn topsy-turvy, I would have said the likelihood of that happening was one million, three hundred thousand, twenty-six to one.
That’s how confident I was—at least I had been when I woke up.
And if someone had also said that I would answer the phone and my mother would be on the line, I would reply that the odds of that were much smaller, more like one hundred to one, since she called at least once a week—mostly to tell me how I was failing as a daughter.
Sigh. Don’t get me wrong, my mother and I love each other, but I spent the first half of my life trying to please her.
Nothing ever worked.
Growing up, all I ever heard was that Glinda Calhoun—yes, that Glinda, as in my mother was named after the good witch in The Wizard of Oz—was the most talented witch to have lived in the past fifty years.
I heard countless stories about how she had vanquished the fire trolls with a wall of water, and how, when a Pegasus herd had needed to migrate to South America, my mother had created a fog that shielded them from being seen.
I mean, what would normal people do if they knew mythological creatures existed?
Oh yes, I’d been regaled with stories of Mama all my life.
Which was why I grew up desperately trying to please her. One Christmas I had an entire spell planned. I would make it snow on Christmas Eve.
So what if we lived in the Deep South and it never, or at least rarely, snowed, and when it did, it was only a dusting that melted within an hour? I could still do it.
That night I called my mother over to the window, raised my hands and worked the spell for snow.
A single snowflake fell on the window and melted.
That was it.
My mother patted my shoulder and sighed. “It’s no use, Charming. You simply weren’t born with the magic that I was. I suppose I sucked that lemon dry, leaving you with only a pittance of power. But rest assured, darling.” She bent down, meeting me at eye level and gently tapping my forehead. “Your brain is better suited to math and science. There’s nothing wrong with that—unless you’re a witch as gifted as me, of course.”
Then she shooed me off to work on my homework. But it wasn’t all bad because I eventually figured out that I could mix magic and math, which eventually led to a lucrative career as a matchmaker.
So that’s how it was my whole life. My magic was small, a single candle flame quaking in the wind of her tsunami of power.
But that was years ago and I’ve had twenty-eight years to grow up. I was currently driving down I-65, headed to the wedding of two soul mates I had successfully introduced.
My phone beeped, telling me I had a message. I pressed the button and listened.
“Charming, it’s Jimmy.”
I frowned. Jimmy Valdez was my best employee. He made any challenge seem like a walk in a meadow. If I had to tell two people who hated one another that they were each other’s soul mates, Jimmy always took the reins, easing folks into the situation like silk.
“There’s something strange going on at Witch’s Forge. It’s weird. I think you might have to—”
Then the message ended. Frowning, I glanced at the date. The message was from a couple of days ago, but it hadn’t pinged me until today.
A thought niggled the back of my mind. It wasn’t like Jimmy to be worried about a project. I pressed the button to dial his number. The phone rang, but there was no answer.
I’d just set my phone down when it rang again. Thinking it was Jimmy calling me back, I hit the Talk button on my steering wheel.
I instantly regretted it.
Remember, I told you the odds were small that Mama would call.
“Charming, darling, it’s Mama.”
My mother’s delicate Southern-accented voice filtered into the cabin.
The fresh air I had been inhaling suddenly seemed restrictive, like I was choking on it. Happened every time I spoke to her.
I rolled up the window.
“How are you, Mama?”
“Oh, I’m simply marvelous. I am at a wonderful convention in Nepal teaching water witches new spells that will help them find drinking water.”
“How great for them,” I murmured.
“Charming, you don’t know how much these people need me.”
“Leave it to a white woman to think she can save the world.”
“Don’t be like that,” she said quickly. “If you practiced your magic on something other than matchmaking, you might have more skill.”
“You sure about that?”
She considered it for a moment. “No, I suppose not.”
“And there you have it,” I grumbled.
“I suppose since I was gifted with so much magic, it was destined that you would only have a token of my gift.”
I clenched my teeth. “No need to brag.”
“Can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear.”
“I’m using one of those satellite phones. The darned thing is so strange and static filled. Really, darling, I wish you would just let me use magic when I need to contact you.”
This old argument. I clenched my teeth. “Because I live in the human world and an apparition of a talking and floating head might scare people.”
She snorted. “You might live in the human world but you help witches and wizards find their soul mates. By the way, how is your little business going?”
I rolled my eyes. “My little business just got a huge contract. We’re matching the entire town of Witch’s Forge.”
“Witch’s Forge?” It sounded like she gasped. “That dreadful place. Stay away from it.”
I quirked a brow. “Why? Is there too much magic there for me?”
“Witch’s Forge is a dead town,” she explained. “In its heyday it was wonderful, but since certain…things happened, the town has been suffering a slow death. The spells the witches who live there cast backfire. Can you imagine?” She quickly answered her own question. “Probably not. That’s not something you’d understand, Charming. Anyway, it’s probably best you’re not in that heathen town. The place is like death. It would more than likely suck the rest of your magic out of you.”
“Thank you.” I rolled my eyes. “Anyway, I sent Jimmy.”
“Oh, Jimmy,” she cooed. “How is that wonderful young man? He’s just such a bright star. I remember last time I came to your office. That dear boy gave me flowers and chocolate.”
Months ago, when Jimmy had discovered that my mother was coming to the office for lunch, he nearly had a panic attack.
“Your mom is one of the greatest witches to have ever lived. What was it like growing up under her roof?”
It was Hades, actually.
Jimmy hadn’t waited for my answer. “In college we studied her water wall spell,” he gushed. “It was a thing of beauty. The way that she used it to surround a city in order to keep out the fire trolls was amazing. Oh my gosh. And I hear she’s off to help the people of Chile with their magic. What a saint.”
Yep. My mother had a reputation I would never be able to live up to.
After that, Jimmy ran out to purchase flowers and chocolates.
My mother’s crisp voice jarred me back to the present. “Charming? Are you there?”
“Jimmy is a darling,” I said. “But he just left me a message—”
“You should date him.”
My stomach seized. Jimmy was my friend but not boyfriend material.
I cleared my throat. “Listen, Mama, the reception is bad. That satellite phone is going in and out.”
“Ugh, stupid human gadgets. Bye now. I’ll talk to you soon, darling.”
I jabbed the End Call button.
My mother was right, Witch’s Forge was dying. That’s why the mayor had contracted my company—Southern Belles and Spells Matchmakers. She hoped that making folks fall in love would revive the place.
Good luck to her.
After all, Witch’s Forge was tucked away in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Visiting a Podunk town riddled with country bumpkin witches was not my idea of a good time. Hence, why I’d sent Jimmy for the job.
My phone rang again. Still hoping it was Jimmy, I answered. “Southern Belles and Spells Matchmakers, this is Charming.”
The woman’s voice on the other end was frantic. “Charming! Oh goodness, I’m so glad I’ve reached you.”
If there was one thing I hated, it was drama on a Saturday.
I cringed. Fires on the weekend were no good. But I was the leader of my company, and it was my job to put them out. So I threw my shoulders back and said, “And who is this?”
“This is Winnifred Dixon,” she said.
“The mayor of Witch’s Forge.”
“Oh, right. What can I do for you, Mayor?”
“Can you hear me?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, I can hear you.”
“There’s a lot of static. Always is when I make calls outside of town.”
“What is it? Mayor?”
“Oh, you’re still there.”
What was it with witches and phones? Didn’t they know how to use them?
“Yes, ma’am. What can I do for you?”
“You sent your man Jimmy here to do our matchmaking, but no one can find him.”
“What do you mean, he’s missing?”
A bad feeling crept over my skin, making me shiver. First, the call from Jimmy he’d placed two days ago. He hadn’t called me back, and my call hadn’t gone through.
Her pitch reached an octave that I would describe as way past panic. “A couple of nights ago Jimmy said he was going to do some research. He hasn’t returned. I’m afraid something has happened to him. I’m afraid he’s dead. Charming, we need you to come to Witch’s Forge.”
So many thoughts whirled in my head. The first was that I didn’t want to go to a Podunk town. The second was my mother’s suggestion that I was a magical failure—that my little business was pointless.
The third and fiercest thought was that Jimmy was my friend. I had to find him, not just for me but for him.
The mayor’s panic shifted to me, burying itself in my chest like a tick. It unfurled, and my cheeks burned.
If the world discovered that my company had sent an employee to match people with their soul mates and that said employee had gone missing, first off, no one would want to work for me. But then people also couldn’t trust me. Who would trust Charming Calhoun to find their soul mate when I couldn’t even keep my employees safe?
With Jimmy gone, someone had to take up the slack at Witch’s Forge. My company couldn’t afford to lose this contract. The work had to be done, because if it wasn’t, that would be the end of Southern Belles and Spells Matchmakers.
I would be finished.
I glanced at my watch. If I skipped the wedding, I would arrive just after nightfall. I hated to miss it, but this was an emergency.
“Mayor, have a place ready for me to sleep. I’ll be there tonight.”