Sweet Tea Witches, Book 10
Axel and Pepper are back! Unfortunately, so is murder.
When Pepper teaches a class at the Southern School of Magic, she expects a run of the mill experience. But when a gaggle of mean teachers invades her classroom, Pepper is on high alert.
These women are nasty and they make no bones about disliking Pepper.
Pepper does her best to stay far away from them, but when one of the witches is murdered in broad daylight, everyone’s a suspect, including Rufus Mayes, who’s moved back into town.
But Rufus’s intentions are honest. At least so it seems. After all, he gave Pepper an amulet that will protect her from evil. When her boyfriend, Axel Reign, discovers what Rufus has given her, he’s ticked off and rightly so. Not only that, but Axel drops a bombshell on Pepper regarding their relationship that will change everything.
Can Pepper handle this new revelation in their relationship? She must decide, but there’s also a murderer to catch. Can Pepper do both before she becomes the next victim of the Magnolia Cove murderer?
Rufus Mayes stood in the middle of my store, Familiar Place. With his dark hair slicked against his skull, the sorcerer looked deadly. However, he’d exchanged his usual dress of leather and chains for a soft black sweater—was that cashmere?—and jeans.
I stumbled over my words. “Wh-wh-what did you say?”
He opened his arms wide and smiled. “I said because of my service to the town of Magnolia Cove, I have been allowed back into the good graces of the people.” He placed a hand over his heart. “In short, I’m allowed to live here again.”
My grandmother, Betty, had informed me that Rufus would be returning to town, but I hadn’t known when.
Looked like the time was now.
I leaned forward so far I almost tipped over. “So you’ve been allowed back?”
He rolled his eyes. “Don’t act so excited to have me.”
I pressed my fingers to the worry crease forming between my eyes. “It’s not that. I had heard you were retuning. I didn’t realize it would be so soon.”
Rufus ran a hand over his chin. “I did help save the town on Halloween. If it hadn’t been for me, things might’ve gotten out of hand.”
Anger pinged in my chest. “If it hadn’t been for you, we never would’ve found ourselves in that predicament in the first place.”
That was absolutely true. If Rufus hadn’t told a gorgon that the town housed a small time machine, said gorgon never would’ve shown up, the time watch never would’ve been broken and we never would’ve been plunged in a never-ending Halloween.
But yes, Rufus did help save us from the mess.
“So what’re you going to do?” I said.
He punched his hands into his coat pockets. “Well, I thought I might get reacquainted with the town. Perhaps help out however I can. I’ve been asked to teach charms or what you’d call wards at the Southern School of Magic. I may eventually open a shop that sells them.”
He eyed me coolly. I had the feeling my asking a question after each of his statements annoyed him. “Yes. Charms. I’m good at making them.”
“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one.”
Mischief glittered in his dark eyes. “Have you not?”
I shook my head.
Rufus pulled his hand from his pocket. With it came a round of metal. It looked like silver and held an unpolished amethyst in the middle. Symbols had been stamped on the back side. He dropped it into my hand.
The thing jumped in my palm. “Ah!”
Rufus laughed. “It likes you.”
Rufus nodded to the amulet. He spoke slower this time. “It likes you.”
The charm buzzed and jived in my hand almost as if it was dancing. “What? I don’t understand what it does.”
“It’s a charm for protection. I make a lot of those.”
I hitched a brow and did my best to keep the sarcasm from my voice. “You need a charm for protection? Strange.”
He pointed to my neck. “It’s a lot like that locket.”
“Oh yes.” I giggled nervously. “Silly me. I forgot about that. Axel gave this to me.” I held the locket out for his inspection.
“It’s lovely.” He slid a thumb over his lower lip. “I suppose you think it’s silly that I’d know protection spells.”
“You have a pretty dodgy reputation,” I agreed.
He raised his palms in surrender. “You caught me. I haven’t always been an angel, so yes, I often need more protecting than the next person. That’s why I have this one. I can make others. Plenty of others. I think Magnolia Cove may use my services.”
“Given that the magical shields had a difficult time keeping you out, that makes a lot of sense.”
“Yes,” he said, studying me. A shiver ran down my spine. His gaze darted away. “Well, then. I thought I’d stop by, let you know what was going on before you found out from a random person. But I see my reputation, as usual, has preceded me.”
I hitched a brow. “Rufus, did you just say ‘random person’?”
He coughed into his hand. “Yes, it appears my speech is becoming more lowbrow.”
I cleared my throat.
“I don’t mean that as an insult. On the contrary, it’s good to keep up with others, especially if I’m going to sell amulets, wards, charms to them.”
I nodded. “Sounds like a good idea.”
The door shot open. A gust of hot wind whipped around the room. It was cold outside, still winter. The only way to create a hot breeze was by magical means.
My gaze cut to the figure striding in. A whirlwind of air unfurled in front of Axel Reign, my boyfriend and Magnolia Cove’s resident private investigator. The gale kissed me lightly on the face, but it ruffled Rufus from head to foot.
The wind that had clearly been brought on by Axel’s anger died as he took his place beside me.
Axel scowled at Rufus. “So you’re already here.”
Rufus nodded. “I’m making my rounds. Letting people know I’ve arrived.”
“Think it’ll keep a hunting party off you?” Axel did not like Rufus and clearly didn’t attempt to hide it.
“Very funny, wolf,” Rufus said. “But yes, the more people who know sooner, the better. I’ve always found it’s best to be safe than sorry.” His gaze washed over me. “I came to say hello to Pepper.”
“You’ve done that,” Axel said.
Rufus smiled slowly. “Yes, so I have. Pepper, it was nice seeing you again. If you need anything—”
“She won’t,” Axel said.
Rufus’s gaze never left mine. “If you do, don’t hesitate to call. I believe you have my number.”
My cheeks burned. Rufus’s attention always made me feel vulnerable, like I was on display. It made it worse that Axel had seen us talking. He didn’t like my tenuous friendship with Rufus.
And me? Rufus confused me. He made my head a jumbled mess.
Rufus turned on his heel and left, leaving me alone with Axel, who would now question me to death about Rufus’s reference to calling him.
“You have his number?”
I sighed. “Yes, I do. And I’m not ashamed of it. Remember when you freaked out and hightailed out of town? Well, Rufus called me, and if it hadn’t been for him, half the town would’ve undergone deathly withdrawals from pumpkin and pecan pies. So I don’t want to hear one word about it. Yes, I’ve got his digits. Do I call Rufus Mayes? No, I do not.”
I crossed my arms and glared at Axel.
He shrugged. “Fine by me. I don’t care if you have his number.” He opened his arms and folded me into a hug. “Just so long as you call mine first.”
I laughed. “Of course.” I tipped my head back, and Axel kissed me. His lips slid over mine like butter. I moaned. When we parted a few seconds later, I spoke, “Hey.”
“Hey, yourself,” he said. “That’s a much better welcome than seeing Rufus. What was he doing here?”
“I don’t know. Talking about amulets. Oh!” I opened my palm and showed Axel the one Rufus had left. “I don’t think he meant to leave this. He said it was a protection charm.”
“Let me see that.”
I dropped the amulet in his hand. Axel’s eyes darkened. “Does it hum or buzz for you?”
“It doesn’t for me.” Axel’s face soured.
I bumped his hip with mine. “Maybe you don’t have the right touch.”
He wrapped his arms around me. “Oh, I’ve got the right touch.” He dipped his head and kissed me. It was long and deep and made my groin stir. Stir as in we were getting close to dangerous territory.
I didn’t stop myself from rubbing my hands down his T-shirt. His muscles rippled underneath.
“You’re going into dark places.” He whispered it in my mouth, which made emotions stir even more in me.
“Maybe I want to.”
Axel took my hands and pulled back. “I want to move into this, I really do, Pepper, but what you’re asking for…look, there’s something I need to tell you.”
I rocked back on my heels. “What’s this? Before, you were the one wanting to move in this direction.”
The fire burning in his blue eyes stopped me short. “That was before I left you.”
He leaned his hips against the counter and tugged me to him. “When I was gone, I discovered some things. Things I haven’t told you.”
Fear gripped me. “If we’re intimate, will you turn into a werewolf forever and never be able to change back? Axel, I thought we had real trust. I thought we’d put secrets behind us and were going to be open. No secrets, remember?”
Axel sighed. “It isn’t a secret. But it’s something I discovered. I guess I always knew it, but I just never really thought about it until now. I’ve dated other girls.”
I groaned. “Oh no, not the I’ve-dated-other-girls speech.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what this is. It’s that speech. But there’s something else you should know about it.”
“If you and I do this, I’m afraid it’ll be much more.”
“Oh wow, you mean you’ll feel things?”
Anger sparked in his eyes. “It’s serious.”
“Okay. So it’s serious. Tell me. I can handle it.”
He nodded. “Okay. Well. If we do this, it may mean something more.”
“More than I love you?”
What the heck was Axel talking about? Why wouldn’t he just come out and say it?
“The suspense is killing me. Will you just spit it out?”
Axel slid his hands over my cheeks and rose. He kissed my eyelids. “There are old legends out there about some werewolves, even half wolves. The legends say that once they connect with the right man or woman, when they reach a certain point in their lives, something magical happens.”
“You’re stalling,” I whispered. But I honestly didn’t mind. To have Axel’s arms around me and to breathe his scent of leather and musk was like heaven dropped down onto Magnolia Cove.
Only minus the pearly gates and, well, you know, all that goes with it.
“I’m not stalling,” Axel said. “I’m working up to it. There’s a difference.”
I rolled my eyes. “Is there?”
“Absolutely. One means I want to avoid the situation entirely; the other means I will say it. I’m only trying to pump myself up enough to spit it out.”
“Okay, so get pumping.”
He chuckled and squeezed me tighter. “You never give up on anything, do you?”
“I do not,” I said proudly.
“Good for me, I suppose.” His gaze snagged me. I swear Axel’s eyes stole my breath nearly every our gazes met. There’s was something about his clear blues that made love ignite in my heart.
“When I was gone, I worked with a shaman.”
“That I knew.”
“But what you don’t know is that he showed me things about myself. Things I didn’t know. He knew more about the power of the wolf than I’d ever been taught. There were old tales of skin walkers in his tribal history. I won’t go into it, but there are similarities between skin walkers and werewolves. One of the main things is with mates.”
“Mates?” I laughed nervously. It felt like I was in a fourth-grade science class. “Like the Australian version of mate? Like, ‘good’ay, mate’?”
My accent was horrible. Axel laughed.
“Just like that.”
I swatted his arm. “I know you’re kidding.”
“I am. But what he said was that when I pick the person I want to be with, it’ll be serious.”
“And that goes for the physical aspect.”
“Oh.” I frowned. “I don’t know what you mean. I’m not sure.”
“Boy, you sure don’t make things easy on a guy, do you?”
“I’m not trying to be difficult.”
“But yet you are.” He sighed and kissed my temple. “Which is why I love you.”
My heart catapulted against my rib cage. Luckily my body stopped the organ from flying out and plopping to the floor.
“Okay. So what is it you’re trying so hard to tell, not tell me?”
He threw his head back and chuckled. “Okay. Here it goes. When I find the person I want to be with, it’ll be for life.”
I waited for something cataclysmic to happen. Like the sky to fall. “Is that it?” I said. “You’ll be with someone for a long time?”
He nodded slowly. “Yes. Pepper. He told me that I will mate for life. That means a deeper bond than love or intimacy. My protective instinct will be a thousand times stronger. I will also be more dominant. It’s the alpha male in me. It’s not a light relationship. It’s tangled and serious. Not for the faint of heart.”
My stomach somersaulted. “For life, huh?”
Then it hit me. Axel and I had started our relationship saying none of it mattered, but the truth was, it was about to matter very much.
He’d just admitted when he picked his mate, it would absolutely be for life. His life. His mate’s life.
The knowledge sank in like I was sponge cake and it was strawberry sauce. Sweat sprinkled my brow.
“You’re sweating,” he said.
I wiped the sheen away with the back of my hand. “No, I’m not.”
But obviously I was. My heart thundered against my chest. I felt like Axel had just dropped the weight of the world on me.
I did my best to keep the tremor from voice. “You’ll mate for life?” I said weakly.
“That’s right,” he said. “With you.”