Andie Taylor is your average single mom. She’s got a beautiful toddler, a great job at the local preschool, a neurotic best friend and one huge secret—she used to hunt vampires. Now retired, Andie would much rather be wiping kid snot off her clothes than stalking the undead.
But after a meteor rips through her small town, strange things start happening—like the school janitor is found dead with fang marks in his neck.
Andie’s retired, it’s not her problem.
Until vampires attack Andie on her front lawn. Now she has to figure out who the head bloodsucker is and stop him from taking any more victims—all while juggling single motherhood, a crazy great aunt, and Andie’s own lust for a fallen angel. Can she solve the mystery before the vampires claim someone else? Or will she become the next target of the bloodsuckers?
“Expect the unexpected, especially when it comes to relatives.”
—The Witch’s Handbook
My great-aunt Dot decided to poof into my life at the exact same moment I was talking my best friend down from the comet-pocalypse that was about to hit our town.
Literally—on both fronts.
I waved away a shimmering cloud of silver dust and came face-to-face with a pink-haired, feather-jacket-wearing seventy-year-old.
“Andie, get off the phone.” Aunt Dot pulled off a pair of matching feather gloves and tossed them on a side table by my turquoise front door.
I placed a hand over the receiver. “I’ve told you a thousand times, I don’t want you working magic in my house.”
“We’ve got bigger fish to fricassee than your stupid rules.”
“I don’t want Gabby to see.”
Dot’s blue eyes sparkled. “Oh? Where is the little munchkin?”
I nodded toward the bedroom. “In there. Sound asleep.” I wagged a finger at her. “Don’t you change that.”
My newly acquired geriatric companion shuffled off to not wake my two-year-old daughter, who happened to be the love of my life. I sighed and put the phone back to my ear.
Kate panted into the line. “It’s the end of the world, Andie! I just know it.”
I grimaced. Kate McCall, my best friend and cohort in crime, pierced my eardrum with her shrieks of the apocalypse.
“It’s not the end of the world,” I said soothingly.
“Go look. Missy Burke’s already rode down my street calling it that. If she says it’s the end, then it probably is. That woman’s got her finger on the pulse of this town.”
“More like her nose up its rear end,” I said.
“Andie. Be nice.” Kate paused. “Never mind. I love you the way you are.”
I opened my front door and stepped out. A cold October wind ripped over the porch. I rubbed my arms to warm them. Boards in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint creaked under my ballerina flats.
A shiny full-size Ford pickup truck grunted down Cedar Street in my small hometown of Normal, Alabama. The driver bore down on the horn, threw her head out the window and yelled, “It’s the end of the world, y’all! The Lord’s coming in a comet to set y’all straight.”
Missy Burke was nothing if not informative. Dark hair trailed behind her like snakes as the wind whipped across her face.
She pointed at me. “Say your prayers, Andie Taylor. The Lord sees you. He knows where you’re going when you face judgment.”
Which I took to mean I wasn’t going to be standing beside her in heaven. If you asked Missy, she was the most perfect person on the planet and one of the few who’d get through the pearly gates.
I gave a friendly wave. “He sees you, too, scaring the good folks in this town half to death. You should be ashamed of yourself, Missy.”
Missy scrunched up her face and swatted at me as if I didn’t matter.
“Missy Burke just told me I was going to hell,” I said over the line.
“I’ll probably see you there,” Kate said. “I don’t think I prayed enough, Andie. St. Peter’s going to tell me I need to turn right back around and go the other way.”
I laughed. “That’s not going to happen. You’re a great person. St. Peter’s going to be excited to have you.”
With Missy gone, the night had quieted but for a white light shining in the distance. It looked like a star except it was getting bigger by the moment. “It’s a comet. Nothing to worry about.”
“It’s pretty bright. It’s going to hit my house.”
“Listen, I’ll keep an eye on it. If it looks like it’s going to destroy your house, I’ll call you.”
“Thank you. Mwuah.” She kissed the phone. “You’re the greatest friend in all the world.”
We hung up, and I went inside, immediately wondering if I had any chocolate in the house. I entered the kitchen, opened the fridge and found a bottle of syrup. Dot’s presence always stressed me out. I flipped the lid and squirted some in my mouth.
Better. Now I was ready to face my great-aunt. I crossed back to the living room.
Dot entered and started zipping up all the blinds.
“What are you doing?” I said.
“We’ve got to keep an eye on that comet. It’s not a natural phenomenon, Andie. It’s something magical.”
“It’s always about magic with you,” I mumbled. “Did you show up just to make my life complicated?”
Dot plumped her pink hair. “Of course not, but you’re a hunter and a witch. It beats me why you won’t use your powers.”
I crossed my arms and leaned against the front door. “Was a hunter. Witchcraft causes more problems than it’s worth. You of all people should know that.”
Dot withered a bit. I instantly felt a pang of guilt, but the truth was the truth.
“Mom died because of magic.”
Dot shook her head. “Your mother died because she called something she couldn’t control. It nearly killed all of us.”
I flared my arms. “That’s in the past. I don’t need magic and I don’t want it. My life is perfectly normal exactly as it is, and I want to keep it that way.”
Neither of us said anything. I waited a moment, letting the tension in the room dissolve.
Dot shrugged off her jacket and threw it on a chair.
“You’re not staying long, are you?” I said.
Please, don’t let her be staying long.
She plopped onto the couch and kicked up her feet. “I don’t know yet. Depends on what that comet brings.”
“How about some stardust and that’s it.”
At that moment a Magic 8 Ball sailed into the room.
Dot threw up her hands in glee. “Vordrid! Finally, someone with sense.”
Vordrid sniffed. I know that as a Magic 8 Ball he didn’t technically have a nose, but that didn’t stop him from making sounds only a person with a head could create. “I’m twelve hundred years old. I should have some sense.”
Dot turned to me. “For someone who doesn’t want Gabby seeing magic, I don’t understand why you keep Vordrid.”
“Because Vordrid is family, and he doesn’t cause any trouble,” I said, nodding at her.
Truth be told, Vordrid was the only link I had to Dex, my husband, who’d died before Gabby was born.
An arrow of pain pierced my heart. I pushed it aside, doing my best not to fall into the pit of despair that was the longing I still had for Dex.
“I wouldn’t leave Andie if you gave me a crystal skull to live in,” Vordrid said. “And according to that Ancient Aliens show, crystal skulls possess lots of power.”
Vordrid had been my mentor in my hunter days. What’s a hunter, you ask? A select group of witches and wizards employed to seek out and destroy evil beings. Dex and I had specialized in vampires, though plenty of hunters tracked other magical creatures.
Vordrid was the only piece of that old life I’d kept.
The light outside brightened. Dot flew off the couch and to the window. “Quick! This is no ordinary comet.”
“As you’ve said.” I caught my reflection in the mirror above the mantel. My thick honey- and platinum-colored hair lay in sagging curls over my shoulders, and I had dark circles under each eye that even my cute fringe of bang couldn’t draw your attention away from. What I wouldn’t give for some stress relief.
Like a massage.
I yawned. “Wake me when it’s over.”
Dot glanced at Vordrid. “Can’t you do anything with her?”
Vordrid settled himself down on the coffee table. “What can I do with a witch who doesn’t want to be one?”
I smiled. “He’s pretty much right.”
Dot clasped her hands in frustration. “Andie, you must advocate for us. For your profession.”
“Dot, I’m a preschool teacher at Giving Trunk. I advocate for children every day.”
Yes, it’s trunk, not tree. I think there was some sort of infringement thing that kept the place from being called Giving Tree.
Dot choked on something. By the sound of it, I think it was frustration. “You’re a witch.”
“Was a witch. I don’t practice.”
Vordrid pivoted toward Dot. “I haven’t been able to do anything with her for years. Not since that night.”
Dot shook her head and glanced back at the comet. “I don’t have time for your piddling, Andie. It’s coming.”
“It’s not like it’s the end of the world,” I said.
Vordrid hopped a bit. “It could be. You know that’s what killed the dinosaurs.”
“Vordrid, it’s not the end of the world.”
“Stranger things have happened.”
I nodded. “Exactly. Like me living with the spirit of a twelve-hundred-year-old wizard who resides inside a kid’s toy.”
Vordrid rattled his shell. “As I said, stranger things.”
I rolled my eyes. “Thank you for reminding me. I’m going to check on Gabby.”
I padded into the small bedroom off the parlor and placed a hand in the crib. Gabby slept soundly. I pulled the covers down over her legs and made sure she was breathing.
Because that’s what all mothers do—we sporadically make sure that our children are still breathing because we’re a little mental that way.
The house started to shake. I pulled Gabby’s crib away from the wall to make sure nothing would fall on her and went back into the living room. A couple of picture frames tumbled from their place on the mantel.
“Magic,” Dot whispered.
“Natural phenomenon,” I shot back.
“I feel a disturbance in the force,” Vordrid said.
What the…? Seriously? Were they all against me?
I peeked out the window. Yellowish light filled the entire sky. People were coming out of their homes. I rushed back in to check on Gabby, and she was sleeping soundly. I glanced out the window as the comet flew over the street, scorching the tops of the trees.
A moment later it sounded like the world had split in two. A quake rocked the house. Knicknacks fell off the shelves to the floor. The shaking subsided as quickly as it started, and the night retuned to peace and quiet.
Except for the twenty car alarms blaring down my street. I guess the rumbling had set them off.
Gabby slept soundly. Thank goodness. Whenever she woke in the middle of the night, she would cry on and on. It was a nightmare trying to get her back to sleep. I had a feeling Dot may have had something to do with keeping her in slumber.
“I’m going to see what happened,” Vordrid said. His spirit lifted from the ball. It looked like strips of white gossamer as it zipped out the window.
I thought things might get back to normal in Normal for the rest of the night.
Silly me. I realized that wasn’t going to happen when Dot grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me around. Perched on my couch, licking its paw, sat a gray gargoyle. He wasn’t very big, about the size of a pound of flour, but he was still a creature that wasn’t supposed to be in my house.
“What the heck?” I screeched.
Dot pushed me forward. “It must’ve hitchhiked on my back when I came up from Patagonia.”
“Patagonia?” I said.
She wiggled her fingers. “I was there learning how to touch the sky. I must’ve touched something else instead.”
“Yeah, like a monster.”
The gargoyle stopped licking its paw. It opened leathery wings lined with veins, unhinged its mouth, and shot fire at us.
I ducked. “Oh dear Lord!”
“Stop it, Andie,” Dot said, pushing me forward.
I tried to scramble back, but she held me fast. “Why are you shoving me closer to it? Are you trying to fry me?”
Dot clasped my shoulders tightly. “You’re a hunter. Use your power!”
I pressed my heels into the rug, turned around and said, “Would you quit calling me that!”
Another spray of fire shot above our heads.
“Ah,” I screamed.
“You’re going to wake up Gabby,” Dot said, patting down her pink hair.
Holy crap on a stick. She was right. If I didn’t deal with this little turdball on my couch, the toddler would wake up and that would be a crying nightmare worse than my great-aunt visiting me.
I started to pull the energy from the room and bring it into my body. The small taste of power felt good. Almost a little too good, like when you haven’t eaten chocolate in a really long time because you’re on a diet. Then when you taste it, it’s like heaven melting on your tongue.
Yeah, that’s kinda what using my magic felt like.
Don’t worry; I wasn’t going to admit it to Dot.
Speaking of my great-aunt, I glanced over my shoulder. The look of glee on her face made me stop. Something smelled funny, and it wasn’t the streak of blackened ceiling that little monster had caused.
I walked over to the creature and crossed my arms. “Okay, how much is my aunt paying you for scaring me?”
The gargoyle frowned.
I rubbed my thumb over my fingers. “How much? Because what she didn’t tell you is, if I use my power, you will turn to dust. I suggest you get out of here before that money or gold or whatever seems like nothing when you’re sewing yourself back together.”
The creature opened his mouth and screeched. He flapped his wings and, half a second later, vanished in a purple cloud of magic.
I waved the air clear.
“You think you’re so smart,” Dot grumbled.
I grinned. “You almost had me.” I pinched my fingers together. “So close, but you know, there’s a reason why I don’t invite you over often. Oh, and fix my ceiling.”
Dot snapped her fingers, and the smudge disappeared. She clucked at me. “Your daughter needs to learn witchcraft.”
My nostrils flared. “Gabby won’t get her powers until she hits puberty—if she even gets them then. The magic could skip a generation. But until that time, I want Gabby to live a normal, happy life. Magic has taken too much from me—first my mother and then Dex.”
Dot plucked her shirt from the waistband of her jeans. “It wasn’t the magic, per se.”
I shot her a dark look. “It was because of the magic, and don’t you forget it.”
Dot clamped her lips shut.
Vordrid shot back into the house and twisted inside the ball.
I rubbed at the headache that had sprouted in my temples. “What’d you see?”
He jumped up and down, making the knickknacks on the table jumble. “It wasn’t a regular comet.”
“See?” Dot said. “Told you so.”
“It’s really annoying when people use that phrase,” I said.
“We’re related. I can use it as much as I want.”
Vordrid kept jumping. “If it had been a comet, I would’ve expected to see the meteor. But instead of a rock, there was a shape formed into the ground.”
I scratched the back of my head. “Really? A shape? That’s interesting.”
“It was interesting, Andie. Most interesting of all was the shape it had taken.”
“And what was that?” I said, half listening.
Vordrid cleared his throat. “The shape of a human.”
Dot smirked. “Something just landed in Normal. Get ready, Andie. This town is going to need a witch, and that witch is you.”