Southern Magic Christmas
Sweet Tea Witches, Book 8
It’s Christmas in Magnolia Cove and Pepper Dunn is ready. She’s making her list and checking it twice.
Giant snowmen? Check.
Magical snow? Check.
Axel’s parents are visiting for the holiday and Pepper wants things to go smoothly. But when his mom insults the town Scrooge things turn rocky fast.
Worse, when the town Scrooge is murdered, fingers quickly point to Axel’s mom.
Now it’s up to Axel and Pepper to find the real murderer before his mom winds up paying the price for a crime she didn’t commit.
Can Pepper and Axel save the day or will the magical season of Christmas turn into the deadliest ever known to Magnolia Cove?
My grandmother Betty cocked an eye skyward. “What’s wrong with that snowman? He looks like the Hunchback of Magnolia Cove.”
I nearly burst out laughing. Betty had tagged that exactly right. For as short as my grandmother was, she had pegged the snow giant perfectly.
A ten-foot-tall man stood squarely in the public park that was sandwiched between busy Bubbling Cauldron Road and a much slower, more residential Pointed Hat Lane. His snowy head was indeed melting, sloshing its way slowly backward, making the thing look more like a Halloween snowman than a Christmas one.
My cousin Amelia huffed. “I told y’all it’s not cold enough out here. I can build a snowman and throw ice up its rear end, but unless somebody fixes the clouds or better yet”—she glared at Betty—“casts a spell to keep the snowman frozen, then there’s nothing I can do.”
Betty was a squat woman with a twinkle in her eye and a corncob pipe in her hand. She was almost like a female Santa Claus. That was if Santa wore seventies-style leisurewear and snorted magic from his nose. Then he’d be exactly like Betty, because I’m pretty sure my grandmother kept a very long list of everyone who’d ever been naughty to her.
Not that I was going to ask and make sure. That was a guaranteed way to get penned onto the bad list—no doubt about that.
Amelia stared at Betty. “Instead of complaining, are you going to do something?”
Betty shot a flame from her finger and lit her pipe. “I’ll freeze the snowman.”
Betty placed one finger over a nostril and exhaled. Tendrils of magic swirled in the air, wrapping around the creation. A second later the head was righted and the snow giant was ready to be dressed.
“He looks scary enough to frighten children,” Betty muttered.
Ah yes, the magic of Christmas was in full swing in Magnolia Cove, Alabama.
Amelia ignored her and handed me a scarf. She smiled brightly. “You ready to decorate?”
“Great. All you have to do is use your magic.” She leaned over. “We used to have ladders, but once our mothers set them on fire.”
I grimaced. “Mint and Licky did that with magic?”
Amelia nodded. “Yep. Worse—Betty was standing on it.”
I bit back a laugh. “You think they did it on purpose?”
“Hard to tell.” She pointed at the snowman. The carrot in her hand zipped up to its face and rooted into the soft powder. “Perfect.” Amelia grinned widely. “You think you can do it?”
“Sure.” I’d been practicing my power like crazy the past few days. I was totally ready to blast out some Christmas magic and make this year unforgettable.
Let me clarify. I was ready to blast magic in a good way. Not in the sort of way where I set someone’s pants on fire. Oh Lord, please don’t let me set anyone’s undies burning. That would be horrible.
Amelia shot me a big, sweet smile. “Go for it. You can do it. Work that magic, cuz.”
Okay, so in case I’d forgotten to tell you, my name’s Pepper Dunn and I’m a witch. I haven’t always been a witch. Wait. I’ll rephrase that. My powers didn’t surface until a few months ago, when I was whisked away to a magical land called Magnolia Cove.
You thought I was going to say Oz, didn’t you?
You were wrong.
Anyway, I’d spent the past few months getting acquainted with a family I never knew I had, meeting new people and of course, working my magic.
Not that I was great at it, but I could hold my own…against a monkey wielding a stick.
I lifted the scarf and nodded. The long black fabric rose into the wind. It floated on an air current that took it higher and higher until finally it was horizontal with the snowman’s neck joint.
I twirled a finger, and the scarf wrapped around the structure.
Amelia slapped me a high-five. “Great job.”
A shiver rolled down my spine. I turned to see Axel Reign, Magnolia Cove’s private investigator and my boyfriend. He held two steaming cups.
“Hot chocolate for you.” He handed one to Amelia.
“Thank you. What a great surprise. Doing all this Christmas stuff makes me want to drink beverages loaded with calories. Same goes for food.”
I giggled. Axel caught my gaze. His blue eyes sharpened on me before he laid a warm cardboard cup in my hands.
“White chocolate mocha for you.”
I slipped my gloved hands over his and took the cup. Even through the cotton I could feel the sizzle coming off his skin. His gaze snagged mine and he smiled. My heart swelled and I grinned like an idiot.
“How’d you know we needed drinks?” I inhaled deeply. The rich aroma of chocolate and coffee wafted up my nose. It was nothing short of the pearly gates of heaven.
His gaze darted to the snowman. “I figured all this work was making you thirsty.”
“And where’s my drink?” Betty bobbed up beside us.
Axel blanched. Without missing a beat I handed her my cup. “This is yours.”
Her lower lip stiffened. “Never mind. I don’t like sweet things. I like my drinks like I like my men.”
“Bitter and short?” Amelia said.
I barked a laugh.
I swear a laser zipped from Betty’s eyes. “Very funny, kid. It’s none of your business how I like my men.”
“Then how will we know what drinks to make you?” Amelia said. “You know, in case you’re incapacitated and lying in bed for some unknown reason. Not because anyone ever exacted revenge on you.”
“Listen, kid, it’s taking all I’ve got to spread Christmas cheer.”
“Is that what you call it?” I couldn’t resist.
Betty whirled on me. “Of course it’s what I call it. Now, we’re almost ready. Pepper, since this is your first Christmas in Magnolia Cove, what do you think?”
I took a step back. It was a scene out of a competitive Christmas light TV show.
Snow covered the lawn and slowly drifted onto the buildings. All across Magnolia Cove there were figurines made of snow—men of course, but there were also deer, rabbits, sleighs, birds, anything you could think of that reminded you of Christmas.
Lights sprinkled the lampposts and buildings. They twinkled green and red. I mean, y’all, the lights practically spread their own Christmas cheer.
The whole thing was awesome and magical. I loved it.
Axel nudged me. “Now you have to make a Christmas wish.”
I closed my eyes hard and tried to think of something to wish for.
A hand squeezed my shoulder. “That’s not what I mean.”
I blinked. “Oh? What are you talking about?”
He nodded toward the tallest snowman. My other cousin Cordelia was decorating him. She turned and shouted to Amelia.
“Where’s the wishing hat?”
Amelia’s cheeks flushed. “Oh no! I almost forgot.” She spun, glancing at the snow-covered ground. “Where did I put it?”
Betty rolled her eyes and pulled an enlarged black top hat from a burlap sack. “Here it is.”
Amelia rested a hand over her heart. “Oh my gosh! Thank you for finding it! I swear, I would lose my head if it wasn’t attached.”
“Among other things,” Betty muttered.
Time to inject some Christmas cheer before folks started ripping each other’s heads off—figuratively, of course.
“What’s the wishing hat?”
As Amelia delivered it to Cordelia, Axel leaned over. The wonderful scents of pine from his aftershave and coffee from his lips trickled up my nose. I wanted to bury my nose—heck, my whole face in his throat and inhale.
Would it be weird if I did that?
In public it would.
He wrapped an arm around me. “The hat about to top that snowman is the wishing hat. Every year folks write a Christmas wish on paper and then magically deliver it inside. Some wishes come true. Some don’t. But the hat decides which Christmas wishes it grants. It does so on Christmas Day.”
I shot him a skeptical look. The amusement in his blue eyes made my heart flutter in my throat. “Are you serious?”
My gaze darted to Betty. “Is that true?”
She sucked on her pipe and blew a line of smoke from her mouth. “Very true, kid. As true as it gets. Of course, you can’t wish harm on someone else. That won’t be granted. But most of the town scribbles a wish and plants it in the hat. Every year.”
“Hmm, I’ll have to think of something.”
A short dumpling of a woman wearing a fur coat charged toward us. I was tempted to stop her and say, Lady, what’s wrong? Look at all this Christmas cheer. You can’t possibly be upset when it’s a winter wonderland in Alabama.
I mean, the snow on the roads was slip-proof so we didn’t have to worry about people freaking out. If y’all don’t know, folks in the South lose their minds if there’s even a hint of snowfall. I’m not kidding. Within hours all the bread, milk and eggs are snatched up from the grocery store because people are obviously going to make loads and loads of French toast when they get snowed in.
But seriously, folks can’t drive in powder. No one knows how to handle it, so they stay cooped up in their homes and pretend it’s the end of the world. Rifles in hand and generators chugging, that’s how snow is greeted in Alabama.
But not in Magnolia Cove.
There’d never been a snow-related accident. At least not according to Betty. Plus, gorgeous was a shallow word to describe the wintry scene. Snow glinted like it had been dusted with glitter. It was so magical I wanted to throw myself atop it and roll from side to side.
Don’t tell anyone, but I might sneak out later tonight and do just that.
But my daydreams about lollipops and snow diving were sliced in half when the plump woman stopped right in front of us.
She threw her arms wide. “Betty, just what do y’all think you’re doing putting that hideous creature right there?”
“What creature?” Amelia said.
She pointed to the magic wishing snowman. “That there creature!”
We stared at the snowman. No one said anything.
“Are y’all dense?” she screeched. “That snowman is covering up the houses for the Christmas walk. This is not how it’s done in Magnolia Cove. Y’all have placed the wishing snowman in front of everything.”
As if on cue, the four of us leaned right. Once you got past the mound of snow and situated across the street—on the Pointed Hat Lane side—there was a two-story plantation-style building wrapped in lights. You could still see the other homes, but the snowman was gigantic.
“Betty, this is unacceptable. As head of the Magnolia Cove Housing Association, I demand you move it.”
Betty shook her head. “Now listen here, Cookie, we can’t just move it. We had to rearrange this year because the town Christmas tree is bigger than usual.”
Cookie’s eyes narrowed. “My house can’t be blocked. I am a Mobley.”
Betty thrust her boobs out. “And I am a Craple. I am head of the Christmas Decorating Committee. I do not need you bossing me around. Everyone can see your ugly old house from here.”
Cookie’s face crimsoned. “My home is on the Christmas tour, as it is every year.” She took an intimating step forward. “I didn’t see your home on the list, Betty.”
Betty pulled the corncob pipe from her mouth. “We’ll see about that.”
Cookie’s eyes widened with horror. “You can’t get added now. It’s too late. My beautiful home can’t be on the same tour as yours.”
“Try me, Cookie.”
Cookie’s hand flew to her throat, where she was wearing a chunky necklace filled with rubies.
Cordelia flipped her long hair over one shoulder. “It wouldn’t hurt to shift the snowman a little to the left. It’s no big deal.”
“Yes.” Cookie stalked toward Cordelia. “I need it moved. I need my house to shine. One snowman can’t cast a shadow over the Christmas tour of houses.”
Amelia clicked her tongue. “Correction. A wishing snowman.” She clapped her hands. “Maybe you should wish for the snowman to move. That’s a great idea!”
Cookie stared at Amelia as if she wanted to cuss her out. “No, ma’am, I am not going to do that. Y’all either move giant Frosty or I’ll get in touch with the beautification board and have them move it for you.”
A car horn caught my attention. I peered around Axel. An RV the size of a school bus rumbled and jerked down Bubbling Cauldron. The horn blared rapidly while a woman stood in the front window waving fiercely.
“Are we okay? Should we move?” I was trapped between sprinting and staying cemented in place.
My question was answered when the RV skidded onto two side wheels. It looked like it was going to fall over.
Axel grabbed my arms and shoved me out of the way. I twisted and looked back in time to see my family scatter like cockroaches.
I landed in a puddle of soft snow beside Axel. Betty, Amelia and Cordelia were also sprawled atop the powder.
Cookie waved her arms as if she couldn’t figure out what to do. Betty pointed a finger, and the enraged homeowner flew into one of the snowmen. She pressed in so deep I could see the outline of her body perfectly in the snow.
My attention whipped back to the RV. It skidded across the road, jumped the curb and plunged straight into the wishing snowman. The head wobbled back and forth as if deciding which way it wanted to go.
Cookie stepped out of the snowman, shaking powder from her hair and coat. Right at that moment the snow head decided to plop to the left and down, plummeting right on top of Cookie.
She screamed, which I figured meant she was okay. “I’m going to kill someone!”
Yep, she was fine.
The door to the RV opened and out stepped a woman wearing a long beaded necklace and a cape that looked sort of like a quilt. Hair streaked with gray was piled high on her head.
She inhaled a cleansing breath, took one look at Axel and yelled, “My baby wolf!”
Axel shot me an embarrassed smile. “Pepper, meet my mom.”