Southern Magic Thanksgiving
Sweet Tea Witches, Book 7
It’s Pepper Dunn’s first Thanksgiving in the magical town of Magnolia Cove, Alabama. The entire town is ready to celebrate—except Pepper, who’s still yearning for her boyfriend, Axel Reign, to return.
But she has little time to mourn. When a new baker sets up shop across the street from Pepper’s cousin and starts stealing customers, it’s all out war. But when the storeowner ends up murdered and Pepper’s cousin becomes suspect number one, it’s up to Pepper to help.
Thrust into a mystery, she teams up with a talking rabbit that’s keeping more information than he’s revealing and an old foe turned friend. More secrets than Pepper bargained for unravel in front of her, but the main one—who killed the baker, is anyone’s guess.
Will Pepper solve the murder or will she become the next victim?
“Hurry up! We’ve got to get the frozen turkeys hidden.”
I stared at the brick-hard bird carcasses in my shopping cart. It was ridiculous enough that I was pushing a grocery buggy in the park behind Bubbling Cauldron Road. Much less the fact that it was filled with twenty-pound turkeys.
“Why are we hiding turkeys, again?” I said.
My grandmother, Betty Craple, glared at me through silver-framed glasses. She wore rainbow-striped knee socks that hit the hem of her beige skirt. If the stripes weren’t bad enough, wooden clogs had swallowed her feet. My grandmother loved nothing if not seventies clothing. Do not ask me why.
“Kid, I thought I explained this to you,” she said.
I hitched a shoulder and gave her an apologetic smile. “I don’t think so. I must’ve missed something.”
“All right. But hurry up with that cart.” I gave the buggy one good shove and caught up with her. “Every year Magnolia Cove hosts a Thanksgiving turkey hunt on Thanksgiving Eve.”
I stopped pushing to chew my lower lip. There were limitless responses to her statement. Ever since I’d moved to Magnolia Cove, I’d realized this town was a teensy bit different from most.
No, it wasn’t simply the fact that it was a town full of witches and that only witches could enter. When it came to holidays, Magnolia Cove did things right.
At Halloween the town contracted cat-sized spiders and actual ghosts for their haunted house. If they did that for Halloween, what did the town do on Thanksgiving?
Apparently, hold a frozen turkey hunt.
I paused. “Okay, wait. Now this makes no sense. The town holds a turkey hunt? Aren’t y’all getting your holidays confused? It should be an Easter egg hunt on Easter. Not a turkey hunt on gobble-gobble day.”
She sighed with annoyance, as if I were supposed to know the inner workings of a town I’d only lived in a few months. “Used to be some folks were poor. We started the turkey hunt as a way to give everyone a chance of having a bird to eat on Thanksgiving.”
“It’s a town full of witches who work magic,” I argued. “They can create a turkey out of air. Or better yet, why don’t you just go door-to-door and hand out birds?”
Betty pointed to a spot behind a bench. “Put one there.”
I heaved a twenty-pound Butterball from the cart and dropped it with a thud onto the yellowing grass. “Anyone can steal it.”
Betty waved a hand over the carcass. Magical dust appeared from nowhere and coated it. “This will keep it frozen and safe until tomorrow.”
“I still don’t understand this,” I grumbled.
She shot me a scathing look. “Listen, kid, you gotta get out of this funk.”
“I’m not in a funk.”
She rolled her eyes. Why was it when old ladies rolled their eyes, it was always much more dramatic, like they had the wisdom of the world in their brain or something?
“Ever since that boyfriend of yours left town, you’ve been depressed.”
I shoved the cart for emphasis. “I haven’t been depressed. The last thing I’ve been is depressed. See that squirrel in that tree?” I said, pointing to a rodent biting through a nut. “I’m as carefree as that critter.”
“What? You gonna sit around and chomp nuts all day?”
“No,” I said, annoyed. “I’m not going to eat nuts all day.”
“That’s good. They’ve got too much fat in them. Might add a few pounds to those hips of yours.” She nodded toward a hill. “Come on. We’ve got more turkeys to plant.”
I pushed the cart with more force than I needed to. She threw me a pointed glance.
I wasn’t upset. I was fine. I hadn’t cried in weeks. I considered that a win.
Yes, I was emotionally twisted. Yes, I was so full of anger and sadness that I wanted to throw rocks off a mountain. But overall I’d been doing great, shoving my frustration down to the pit of my stomach.
I pedaled my feet to catch up. “Listen, I’m fine. Just because Axel said he couldn’t be around me and had to leave forever, that doesn’t mean I’m shattered.”
Betty’s gaze slid to study me. “Whatever you say, kid.”
“I’ve been fine, Betty.”
I stopped and raised my hands. “Okay. That’s it. Fess up. Tell me everything. Stop pussyfooting around what it is you want to say. I’m a big girl; I can take it.”
Betty cracked her knuckles and rolled her shoulders as if she were preparing to sprint into the Magnolia Cove Marathon. Okay, I didn’t know if that was a thing, but I wouldn’t put it past Betty to start one next week if I mentioned it.
She pressed a finger to her nose. Three turkeys rose from the cart and sailed to spots in the park. One landed behind a mailbox, another behind a light pole and the third rested behind a fountain featuring a unicorn.
“Kid, ever since Axel left, you’ve been moping around. You don’t open your mouth unless you’re forced into it.”
“Work’s keeping me busy.”
She shot me another dark look. “Busy feeding dogs and cats every day? All day?”
Okay, so I’d been spending some time at Familiar Place. But I owned the store. “I need to make sure they’re taken care of.”
“And when your cousins invite you out to do things, you always say no.”
“I don’t always say no.”
Betty glared at me.
I threw up my hands. “So they asked me shopping and to a movie. I didn’t feel like going, all right?”
She fisted her hands to her hips and planted her feet wide. Oh no, this was it. I was about to get full-on Betty Craple. She might be so ticked a tornado would shoot straight out of her head.
“Kid, you’ve got to get over it. Axel is a great man, but has he contacted you at all?”
My stomach fell to my feet. Not in three weeks, he hadn’t. Axel Reign, my boyfriend—okay, at this point my ex—had dumped me on November first, the day after we fixed a huge Halloween blunder. We’d solved it and he’d dumped me.
Of course, he hadn’t dumped me just because he felt like it. See, Axel is half wizard, half werewolf. He’d shifted into his wolf form and attacked and almost killed me.
I’d tried to tell him it was no big deal, that I could wear my big-girl panties and handle it, but he kinda took the whole I-almost-ripped-out-your-throat thing to heart. So much so that he dumped me and ditched Magnolia Cove.
My heart squeezed. It felt like giant hands were wringing all the blood from it. So what that only the day before Axel left, I’d confessed that I loved him? He’d told me the same. So what that I felt like my heart had been torn from my throat and squashed?
Wasn’t a girl allowed a little time to mourn?
But apparently that time now edged on three weeks of moping. I dressed daily, thank you very much. I managed to brush my hair nearly every day. I might’ve missed a Sunday or two, but who was counting?
Apparently, Betty Craple.
“Has he contacted you?” she repeated.
I pursed my lips because I sure as all get-out didn’t want to confess the absolute rock bottom, stupid truth of the matter. No, Axel Reign had not bothered to pick up a phone, dial my number and listen to the sound of my sweet voice.
There were a lot of words in my head about that, but none of them were nice, so I will not be doing any sharing.
Betty and I turned to see a woman with long chestnut hair waving. She wore high-heeled brown boots, chocolate-colored leggings and a red over-the-shoulder T-shirt.
The breeze picked up her hair. It floated like magic behind her. She managed the divots and dips in the grass like a professional, sashaying quickly to us.
Gold bangles lined both her arms. She hoisted a pile of baker’s boxes into an opposite arm before pushing her sunglasses up on her head.
“Morning,” she repeated.
I shot Betty a look that said, who’s that? Betty answered with a slight hitch of her shoulder.
Since it never killed anyone to smile, though it might hurt if I’d had a tooth worked on and the tetracaine was wearing off, I forced myself to put on my whitest and brightest.
“Morning,” I said.
The woman extended a long, lithe arm. “Is this where the turkey hunt’s going to be tomorrow?”
Betty fisted her hands to her hips. “Who wants to know?”
There goes early-morning diplomacy.
“Ah am so sorry,” she said. The woman had a thick country Southern accent. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she told me her name was Bubba. “I’m Lori Lou Fick.”
“I’m Pepper Dunn,” I said. I glanced at Betty, waiting for her to introduce herself. She clamped her lips. I wrapped an arm around her and squeezed my grandmother gently. “This is Betty Craple.”
“I opened the new pie and sweet shop—The Sweet Witch. It’s over on Bubbling Cauldron.”
“New sweet shop?” I said.
“And pies.” Lori Lou thrust out the boxes. I peered inside. Sure enough, a pecan pie sat squarely inside. But in the very center of the pie lay a chocolate bat.
“Carmen Craple is the only person who owns a sweet shop in Magnolia Cove,” Betty said, practically snarling.
I nudged my grandmother and gave her a look that said, be nice. “I’m sure Magnolia Cove would love to have a bakery.”
“Yes, we had a great first day yesterday. That’s when folks told me about the turkey hunt, and I thought I’d put some pies out to be hunted as well. You know, it’s good advertising for me.”
She pointed one trendy-colored black fingernail at the box. A gold sticker took up the entire top. In scrolling purple script were the words THE SWEET WITCH.
Betty’s face crimsoned. Her eyes bugged, and a vessel throbbed in her temple. She was about to blow. My grandmother was about to lose her shinola, and I knew exactly why.
Betty Craple ran this town. This was her turkey hunt. Hers. No brand-spanking-new arrivals were allowed to hijack her tradition.
Betty jutted out her chin. “This hunt is for turkeys only.”
Lori Lou smiled slightly. Her brown eyes glittered. “Well, I understand that this is y’all’s whole big Thanksgiving thang. I thought it’d be nice to add some pies. Trust me, you’ll love them. Here. Have one on me.”
She thrust a box into Betty’s stomach. My grandmother had no choice but to take it.
Lori Lou gave a finger wave. “Now you enjoy that. While you do, I’ll be going around and hiding the rest of these in preparation for tomorrow. It was so nice meetin’ y’all. And be sure to come check out the shop. We’ve got lots of wonderful treats.”
With that, Miss Lori Lou Fick, newcomer and interloper in Magnolia Cove, Alabama, trotted off to ruin Betty’s Thanksgiving Eve frozen turkey hunt.
Betty’s face was a burning shade of red.
“You okay?” I placed a hand on her shoulder.
She shot the pie in her hands a look of disgust. “Who does that woman think she is?”
“Magnolia Cove’s new master baker.”
My grandmother’s lower lip trembled. “We’ll see about that. Soon as she’s gone, I’m going to take every last pie she hides and throw them in the trash.”
I tempered the laugh that threatened to bubble from my lips. “Now Betty, that’s not a very good attitude.”
She snorted. “Forget the season of giving. I’m the only person who runs this town.”
Lori Lou’s bottom wiggled this way and that as she dropped a pie on the ground. “Sorry, Betty, but it looks like you lost your title to a woman named Lori Lou.”
Betty’s brow wrinkled to a deep furrow. “We’ll see about that.”