BOOKED FOR MURDER ~ Cozy Mystery Excerpt


 Nancy Drew has nothing on amateur sleuth Mercy Brew!
 



 A bewitching bookstore. A tome of secrets. And a crime-solving witch.
  
After inheriting a magical bookshop and a feisty black cat, thirty-year-old Mercy Brew moves to Hemlock Hills, California with her French bulldog. For a bibliophile witch, it’s a dream come true.

Unfortunately, the bookstore also comes with a mystery to solve. 

When Mercy discovers that her aunt was murdered and an irate coven member turns up dead, she knows trouble is brewing. Mercy suspects both casualties are linked to a book of scandalous tales implicating the residents, and the police consider Mercy the prime suspect. 

With help from a gorgeous werewolf and a quirky witch, Mercy sets out to uncover the truth. But in a seaside town where a cauldron of secrets is bubbling to the surface, Mercy could be the killer’s next target.
 
 
🔎 ☾~✯~☽ ☾~✯~☽ ☾~✯~☽ 🔍
 
UNEDITED SNEAK PEEK EXCERPT
 

The shrill sound of the phone ringing in the middle of the night was never a good sign.

I startled awake and the paperback I’d been reading fell to the floor. Meeko, my fawn-colored French bulldog, jumped up from her spot on the bed and started barking.

“Shush, Meeko,” I said. “It’s just the phone, silly dog.”

The Frenchie quieted and nestled her sixteen-pound body closer to mine. I sat up and a sharp pain spasmed my back. I’d spent the day packing my belongings into boxes, and all that bending over had left me sore and achy. I was thirty-years-old going on eighty. Or at least that’s the way I felt.

Snatching the cell off the nightstand, I pressed the green button. “Someone better have died,” I grumbled into the receiver.

“I need to speak to Mercy Brew, please,” the caller said, sounding like an elderly gentleman.

“This is Mercy.” Yawning, I tucked a second pillow behind me.

“I regret to inform you that your aunt, Agatha Brew, recently passed away. I’m her attorney, Mr. Everett Bloodborne."

My freckled face warmed. I cringed and regretted my disrespectful greeting. I tapped my chin. If I remembered correctly, Aunt Agatha was my dad’s older sister and a recluse. I’d only met her a few times as a child during Winter Solstice, which was Christmas for mortals. Aunt Agatha lived in Hemlock Hills, where a sizeable peculiar community resided.

“I apologize for phoning so late, but I have only just arose and I’m on a coffin break,” Mr. Bloodborne said with a chuckle.

Arose? Coffin jokes? Must be a vampire. That explained the late night phone call.

Mr. Bloodborne cleared his throat. Papers rustled in the background. “You are listed as one of your aunt’s beneficiaries.”

I stared at the dirty dishes gathered in the sink. “That was very considerate of her.”

“Can you come by my office in Hemlock Hills tomorrow? There are grave matters we must discuss.”

Meeko licked my hand, and I patted her head. I wasn’t sure my ancient Mazda Miata would make it to Northern California. I lived down south, and Hemlock Hills was a five-hour drive. The poor 1992 convertible was dying a slow and costly death. Renting a car might’ve been safer, but too expensive.

“Can’t you just tell me over the phone? Or a video chat?” I reached over to grab the paperback off the floor and placed it on the nightstand.

“Apologies, Miss Brew. The last will and testament of your aunt must be read in person,” Mr. Bloodborne said. “Are you perhaps related to Professor Pascal Brew? I have been trying to contact him for the last two days.”

I pushed off the blankets, stood, and shuffled into the kitchen area. “That’s my father. He lives in Cambria, not far from Hemlock Hills.” At the sink, I put the phone on speaker and set it on the counter. I poured a dab of dish washing soap onto a sponge and cleaned a plate.

“Do you have a current phone number where I might reach him? He’s required to be present as well.”

“My father’s a professor of the Mystic Arts at Macabre Academy College and a scholar of ancient theology.” I laughed like that explained his unusual lifestyle, and turned on the faucet to rinse a bowl. “When Pascal’s working, he vanishes into his writer’s cave and doesn’t emerge until the manuscript is finished. I can try to contact him for you.”

“I’d appreciate that,” Mr. Bloodborne said. “If both of you could be here tomorrow by five o’clock, that would splendid.”

“What about my brother, Benjamin?” I asked, placing a spoon and plate into the dish rack beside the sink.

“His presence is not required. Only yours, your father, a member of Agatha’s coven, and my nephew, Vaughn Wulfstein.”

“What’s your address?” Mr. Bloodborne gave me the location, and I jotted the address on a notepad on the counter. “What did Aunt Agatha leave me? Her crocheted doilies? A creepy doll collection?”

Mr. Bloodborne chuckled. “We can discuss it at your appointment. Goodnight, Miss Brew.”

Setting the last plate in the rack to dry, I replayed the conversation in my head and wondered what I’d inherited. Using a dish towel, I wiped the water and suds from my hands. My gaze roamed over the furnished one-room loft that I lived in over a garage. The cramped space only had enough room for a bed, armchair, TV tray, and nightstand, with a tiny bathroom. Piles of books leaned haphazardly against the white walls.

Taking the phone, I crossed the room and got back into bed. Meeko nudged my arm, and I lifted the blanket so she could cuddle against my chest. I kissed her head and put an arm around her warm body.

Most witches and mages had feline familiars—I had a dog. I’d found Meeko wandering the streets in my neighborhood about a year ago without a collar or chip. I’d knocked on doors until someone told me that a family had recently moved away and left the French bulldog behind. As outraged as I’d felt, I had also been relieved. The Frenchie had already won my heart, and Meeko and I have been inseparable ever since.

The phone trilled again. I groaned and checked the caller ID. My mother, the matriarch witch of the Brew family, was face-timing me. I picked up the cell and hit the green ‘accept’ button.

“Hello, Cassandra,” I said. In peculiar society, we affectionately called our parents by their first names.

“Mercy, honey, are you still awake? It’s after midnight.”

I stopped myself from asking her why she was calling me if she expected me to be asleep, but bit my tongue.

“I was reading,” I said.

My mom, Cassandra, lived in Brimstone Peak too, but on the other side of town. Even at this late hour, she looked ready to walk out the door to a fancy dinner party. Cassandra was slender and the laugh lines around her mouth made her look younger than fifty-five. Cassandra had an exquisite head of chestnut-brown hair in natural curls and sparkling green eyes. I’d inherited both her hair and eye color, but my mane was hopelessly straight, and I had fuller lips and freckles.

“I spoke to a vampire tonight, a Mr. Bloodborne, claiming he’s Aunt Agatha’s attorney.”

“That’s why I’m calling, honey. He needs to speak with your father,” she said. “His older sister has died.”

My parents, Cassandra and Pascal Brew, had been divorced since I was thirteen. While my mom had never remarried, my dad had gone through various girlfriends over the years, dubbing them his muses. He even got one of them pregnant, which resulted in my half-brother Benjamin, who was studying potion-making somewhere in Europe. My parents got along fine unless they were in the same room together, then we had to hide the sharp objects and wands.

“I told Mr. Bloodborne, I’d get a hold of Pascal,” I said.

Cassandra waved her hand with a dismissive flourish. “Your father is probably shacked up with some twenty-year-old succubus and claiming she’s his new muse. Pascal’s like a big man-child—”

“Did you know Aunt Agatha?” I asked to change the subject.

Meeko yawned and closed her eyes.

“Sorry, honey. Your father brings out my inner-witch,” Cassandra said, her voice softening. “Agatha was a terrible gossip, and I think her specialty was literary manipulation, a power similar to one of yours, bibliomancy.”

“Literary manipulation is the power to absorb all the information a book contains?”

“Correct,” Cassandra said. “Did Mr. Bloodborne say what you’d inherited?”

“No. I have to be there in person. I’ll drive to Hemlock Hills tomorrow.”

“Have you found another job?” Cassandra asked.

I’d been employed as a full-time caretaker for an elderly lady by her son in exchange for a small wage and a rent-free loft. His mother had died peacefully in her sleep two months ago, and he had given me ninety days to find a new place to live before he sold the property.

“I applied as a part-time assistant at the library, but haven’t heard back from them yet,” I said, stroking Meeko’s soft head.

Cassandra’s nose wrinkled. “Please tell me you won’t be working with mortals,” she said, her voice dripping with disdain.

My mother was not a fan of the human population. Peculiars, like myself and my family, were practitioners of the Mystic Arts and lived secretly among humans. Other peculiars were a wide range of mystical creatures such as werewolves, vampires, werecats, and mermaids. Personally, I liked mortals and wished they knew about peculiars so we could all live in peace.

“Peculiars and mortals don’t mix. They have their communities and we have ours—”

“Don’t worry, Cassandra. I prefer to work with other peculiars. That way I don’t have to hide my magic,” I interrupted before she went on a rant. “Do you know if Aunt Agatha was wealthy?”

Not that I was greedy, but inheriting some cash would really help. I’d been struggling financially since my divorce.

 “If I remember correctly, Agatha owned a lucrative business and a home in Hemlock Hills.” Cassandra pushed a curl from her face. “I forgot to tell you, I ran into Bane at the Sorcerer’s Apothecary.”

My heart pinched, but didn’t break. I’d met my ex-husband, Bane Nevermore, at eighteen. We’d dated for two years and then got married. The relationship lasted close to eight years. We’d been friends throughout the marriage, and it ended amicably, even though we’d grown apart.

“I know this a touchy subject, honey, but are you seeing anyone? It’s been two years since the divorce,” Cassandra said.

I fought the impulse to roll my eyes. Once I found the right person, I’d be ready to date again—preferably a book geek like me.

“When I meet someone worth dating, I’ll let you know.”

“There’s more to life than books, Mercy Leigh Brew,” she said.

“Blasphemy!” I mocked.

Even as a child, I’d eat my lunch in the school library and saved my weekly allowance to buy books. Some people were social media influencers, I dreamed of being a reading influencer.

My mom made her usual huff of annoyance. “I never liked Brian, anyway. He was cheap and self-centered—”

“Bane, you mean.”

“Was that his name? Well, I’m off to bed, honey. I love you,” she said.

“Goodnight. Love you, too.”

We hung up. I got to my feet and shambled into the adjoining kitchen to make chamomile tea. Just as I removed a mug from the cabinet, someone knocked on the door. Meeko leaped off the bed, tail wagging.

Bell, book, and candle! What now?

Putting the cup on the counter, I tiptoed to the door. Meeko followed close at my heels. I peeked through the blinds at the landing and adjoining staircase that hugged the side of the garage. The backyard and balcony were empty except for a lone package on the landing.

“Hello? Who is it?”

Silence.

My witchy perception didn’t prickle with forewarning, so I opened the door. An entrance light shone on the stoop, highlighting a square package with my name it. A little late for Amazon Prime to deliver.

Picking up, the manila envelope, it felt thick and heavy in my hand. I shut the door and moved over to the bed. Like a kid unwrapping a birthday present, I tore open the package. Inside was a letter and a leather-bound hardback, the size of a diary. Gold lettering engraved on the front of the cover read, Secreta, the Latin word for secrets. The hardback hummed and vibrated in my hands.

I tried to unseal the Secreta, but an electrical discharge zapped my skin. Ouch! The cover had been spelled and a lock kept the pages concealed. Laying the hardback on the bed, I read the letter.

Dear Mercy,

We’ve only met once, but I know you’re good at keeping secrets. The night you caught me snooping through the neighbor’s trash and never tattled was when I realized you could be trusted with my most sacred possessions. With the Secreta comes a word of warning...knowing what peculiars do behind closed doors can be both powerful and deadly. Keep it safe and trust no one. Your life might depend on it!

Sincerely,

Aunt Agatha

“Very ominous indeed,” I said to the dog.

Placing my hand on the cover of the mysterious book lying on the bed, I summoned my bibliomancy powers. My magic had fragrant traces of sparkling blackcurrant, soft white musk, and aromatic amber. Meeko sat beside me and intensified the magic. Familiars were loyal companions and protectors for witches, who also assisted them with strengthening their powers.
 

I spent thirty minutes trying to unlock the Secreta, but I couldn’t unspell the darn thing. Even with Meeko’s help, I needed the key and the correct incantation. I was wildly curious about what it contained. Forbidden potions? Dangerous spells? Secret rituals?

Giving up, I crawled into bed with Meeko and fell into a deep sleep.

The moment the sun was up, I threw off the covers and packed two bags. I called my dad regarding Aunt Agatha’s passing and told him to meet me at Mr. Bloodborne’s office, and provided the address.

After feeding Meeko kibble and eating a bagel, I loaded up the Mazda Miata parked in the driveway. The last item was the Secreta, which I held in my hands.

A whoosh of air ruffled the top of my head and I yelped. Meeko barked, ears up and head slightly cocked.

An inky-black raven, straight out of an Edgar Allan Poe poem, swooped down on me again, and its crawl-like talons tried to snatch the book from my hands. I shrieked and ducked, hugging the tome to my chest. Meeko leapt into the air, snapping her jaws. A black feather plummeted to the ground.

The raven landed on the fence and fretted its wings. I shuffled back, feeling unsettled. It cawed and took flight into the sky. A shiver of foreboding crawled along my spine. The raven had attempted to steal the Secreta

Not a good portent to start our trip to Hemlock Hills.







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