Ezekiel parked the Pack sedan outside one of the quaintest houses Ivy had ever seen.
It would have been more natural in the English countryside then Black Bird. It was a single story, farmhouse style home. The grey brick exterior contrasted beautifully with lush greenery planted around the clearing of redwoods. Ivy could see a single window at the peak of the roof’s arch. She wondered if there was a loft up there. A small cobblestone path connected the house to a matching detached garage.
Ivy loved it.
She cooed when she saw a trellis that had roses at its base. It was winter so there weren’t any blooms but she could imagine what it looked like in the summer. She wondered what color the rhododendrons were.
Ivy didn’t know much about the Black Bird Coven but she liked their style.
From what she gathered from Anne the Black Bird Coven wasn’t originally from Black Bird. A few years ago, the boundary lines between Black Bird and its northern neighbor, Pinebrook, had been redrawn. Pinebrook was much more witch friendly.
When the new boundary lines had been drawn all of the inhabitants from both towns kept their addresses. Except one small house out in the woods. They had been cut off. And thus, Black Bird gained a Coven. The town, and the witches, were still furious about it but Black Bird wasn’t about to give back the land they had gained and it wasn’t like the witches could move their house. So everyone just had to deal with it.
“This is not the house I imagined when you said we would be visiting a Coven of witches.” Ezekiel shook his head at the immaculate little yard.
Ivy stiffened at his words. “What did you think? That is would be covered in candy?”
Ezekiel ducked his head as if suddenly realizing how stupid that was. “I was picturing something more sinister.”
Ivy rolled her eyes as she started towards the front door. “Cause all witches are sinister.” She would have thought that shifters wouldn’t be susceptible to urban legends what with the whole werewolf trope in Hollywood. Guess she was wrong. “Witches aren’t inherently bad,” Ivy didn’t feel like she should have to explain this to a man who had dated her for a year.
The thought made her stop in her tracks. Ezekiel obviously had very little hands on experience with witches. Or if he did, it was limited to, “Witches are bad.” That sentiment would only get them into trouble. She would need to lay some groundwork if she wanted this to go in her favor.
Ivy turned around to face Ezekiel. He stopped short.
“There are a few things we should get straight before we walk in there.” She waited until Ezekiel nodded.
She blew out a breath and tried to condense a lifetime of knowledge into a few simple rules.
“The first rule is not to talk. These witches do not like werewolves so don’t draw attention to yourself by opening your mouth.”
Ezekiel lifted an eyebrow. That wasn’t going to be a problem for him.
“Rule number two is to not touch anything. I don’t want you picking something up and getting cursed.”
“Why would they curse their own stuff? What if they touch it?”
Ivy couldn’t tell if Ezekiel actually wanted to know or if he was just being a smartass. “You can curse things so they only activate if someone else touches it.” They hadn’t even made it to the door and Ivy already wanted to pull out her hair. She had to rethink these rules.
“Rule number three, the most important rule, is to let me take the lead on this. I don’t have time to teach you Coven etiquette so just do what I say okay?”
Reluctantly, Ezekiel nodded. Ivy plastered on her brightest smile and walked to the front door. “Now, let’s go bargain.”
She knocked three times then took a step back. Loud muttering broke out behind the door. It went on long enough that Ivy almost turned the doorknob to speed things up.
Suddenly, the door flew open.
A rotund woman with short grey hair scowled at them. She could have been anyone’s grandma. Her skin sagged. She was slightly hunched over. Standing at maybe five feet, the curve was very noticeable.
A blue cable knit sweater stretched over her leopard print blouse. Inexplicably, she wore a purple flowing skirt. Orthopedic shoes topped the outfit off.
She gave a put out huff and rolled her eyes. Ivy’s mouth dropped open. The woman looked behind her and yelled, “Maggie, you were way off. It wasn’t a pair of men here to sweep us off our feet.” She took in Ivy head to toe before leaning around her to check out Ezekiel. “It’s a stray and her dog.”
A tiny withered hand grabbed the door opening it wider. The owner of the hand was a thin, reedy woman. Her grey curls were set perfectly. She too could have been anyone’s grandma. With her perfectly matching pink sweater set and sensible slacks the woman looked like she’d stepped out of an assisted living commercial.
She lifted a pair of glasses hanging around her neck on a chain and repeated the same once over the other woman had. She looked Ivy up and down then leaned to the side to get a good look at Ezekiel.
“Oh dear,” she said sounding profoundly disappointed, “I really thought I got it right this time.” She let the glasses drop, giving Ivy a warm smile. “Good morning dear, won’t you come in?”
The other woman smacked Maggie. “You can’t just invite her in.”
Maggie rubbed her arm frowning. “I’m trying to be polite so we can get to know her, Patricia.”
Patricia pointed a bony finger at Maggie. “Are you inviting strangers into the house again, Maggie? I will have Stella call her grandson to change the password to the internet. No online cards for a week.”
Maggie’s face molted red. “I am over two hundred years old, little missy. If I want to invite the mailman in for tea, I will.” Her tiny hands clenched into fists.
“You are the reason he won’t deliver the mail anymore.” Patricia started to yell.
“Ladies,” Ivy shouted trying to cut into the middle of, what looked like, an old argument. Both women gasped having clearly forgotten that they had visitors. “I’m Ivy Stevens,” Ivy tried again with a smile on her face.
“We know who you are,” Patricia waved away Ivy’s introduction. She laughed harshly. “The wolves have been tripping over themselves to tell us all about you.” She practically sang. Her soft cheeks molded up into a smile. “You’ve got a worse reputation than us.”
Maggie’s head canted to the side. “It’s true,” she said apologetically.
Ivy didn’t know how to feel about that. Luckily, Patricia didn’t miss a beat. She shooed Maggie away from the door gesturing for Ivy to come in. “I’d tell you to keep your dog on the porch but I’m sure you’ll be worried he’ll run off.”
Ivy nodded slowly. As soon as the older women started shuffling down the hall, Ivy gave Ezekiel a sheepish smile. Obviously, there were prejudices on both sides.
The women led them to the kitchen. Pots hung from hooks on the ceiling. A beautiful antique hutch was wedged into the corner. Inside were delicate tea cups. Small ornamental crystals were scattered between them.
English roses accented the room. They were on the curtains hanging over the sink window. There were half a dozen soft tea towels with pink roses on cabinet doors. Small ceramic tiles sat on the countertop painted with roses.
At the center of the kitchen was a large island. A massive stove top took up half of the countertop. Scattered across the rest of the counter space were herbs, a mortar, and some jars. Ivy glanced around but didn’t see a pestle.
Cooking on the stove was an honest to gods’ cauldron. It was bubbling the foulest smelling liquid Ivy had ever smelled. Ezekiel gagged behind her.
The woman stirring the vile mix did not seem affected by the smell. She hunched over the cauldron examining it with a critical eye. Ivy didn’t know how her eyebrows weren’t sizzling off of her face.
The third woman was slightly younger than the rest of the Coven. Her hair still had streaks of brown amongst the grey. She was wearing jeans and a cotton top. She was almost out of place in her normality. Until she opened her mouth.
“Was that the studs Maggie saw? I’ve almost got the potion ready. It should give us four hours of youth.” She paused stirring and murmured to herself, “Is that enough time?” Turning around she grabbed a bottle off the counter and dumped all of it into the cauldron. “Scratch that, it’ll give us seven hours of youth. That should be enough time for us to get a few rounds of wild…”
“Scrape it, Stella,” Patricia bit, “Maggie misinterpreted her vision. Again.” From the glare Patricia sent Maggie, this must be a common occurrence.
Stella threw the spoon across the room. “Are you kidding me?”
“Now, Stella” Maggie chided, “that is no way to act around guests.”
Stella untied her apron before turning to Ivy and Ezekiel. Her brows raised. She recognized Ivy too. “Well, if we aren’t going to be ravished by gorgeous men at least we will be entertained. Please, have a seat.”
Ivy moved to the round kitchen table. Ezekiel didn’t bother taking a seat. He leaned against the wall behind Ivy.
Patricia and Maggie sat down while Stella went about getting tea ready.
“Stella would you be a dear and take a look at the calendar for us? I do believe we have a bet to settle.” Maggie pointed to a cat calendar hanging on the side of the fridge.
Stella paused and began scanning the calendar.
“I said she’d be here last week. Maggie, you put down next month and,” Stella drew out as she picked up a note taped to the calendar, “Patricia said she would hitch the first ride out of town.” Stella flashed a brilliant smile. “I was closest. I win.”
The other two ladies groaned.
“Now we have to watch her awful T.V show,” Patricia griped.
“It’s not awful,” Stella argued as she set a tea the tray on the kitchen table. “I’m just trying to bring us into this decade. And this decade is all about superheroes.”
I love it here. Watching the three old witches bicker like cats was the most fun Ivy had had since moving to Black Bird.
“You two are being beyond rude,” Maggie gave Patricia and Stella a stern look. She turned to Ivy offering her a shortbread cookie. “Now my dear, why have you come to us?”
Ivy glanced around before asking, “I thought there were four members in the Coven. Should we wait for the last member? This pertains to all of you.”
Patricia huffed while settling back into her chair with her tea and cookie. “Murielle moved in with her daughter. She lives in Maine with a big, old Coven. The lucky bitch,” she added
Maggie didn’t chide Patricia. She nodded in agreement.
Ivy cleared her throat, not sure what to say. “Well, before we talk business, I wanted to ask what breed of rose you have woven around your trellis. It’s such a pretty design.” Ivy couldn’t help herself. After years of working at a plant nursery, she was obsessed with flowers. It was practically a professional tick of Ivy’s.
The women shared a sly look. Patricia held her head back, proudly saying, “Do you know what a Juliet rose is?”
Ivy practically felt her pupils dilate. “Yes,” she breathed, her pulse quickening.
The Juliet rose was mythical. A sweet apricot color, the center of the bud overflowed with petals. It was cherubic. It was delightful. It was the most sought-after rose in the world.
It was also currently under patent. No one was allowed to own it.
“How do you have that?” She whispered.
Patricia lifted a shoulder, “I have a green thumb.”
Ivy nodded, suddenly getting it. Patricia was a green witch. She had an affinity for earth magic. She had magically recreated the Juliette rose. Ivy was impressed.
Ezekiel cleared his throat, bringing Ivy back to her senses. They weren’t here to chat about the flowers.
Ivy flushed and straightened. “We came here to see if you could perform a tracking spell for the Alpha of Black Bird.”
All three sets of eyebrows furrowed as the women looked back forth at each other.
“You’re kidding, right?” Patricia asked. “There’s nothing else you want to talk about?”
“No.” Ivy was startled by their reaction. She had expected a fight. Not a complete dismissal.
The women shared another look. This time Maggie spoke up. “It’s just that we thought you were here to talk about your magic, dear.”
“My magic?” Ivy repeated like a parrot. “Why would we be here for my magic?”
“We thought you wanted training,” Stella said it in a flat tone, like it was obvious.
Ivy was genuinely confused. “Why would you think that?”
“Because you’re a witchling?” Now Stella sounded confused.
“What? I’m not a witchling! Why would you think that?”
Young magic users who had no training were called witchlings. They had magic but they didn’t know how to use it. When said to a chubby toddler it was cute. Being called a witchling as an adult was insulting.
“Oh, I don’t know maybe it has something to do with all the little mishaps that keep happening around you.” Patricia said sarcastically. “Don’t think we haven’t heard all about the exploding street lights outside of your apartment.” She muttered something to herself before she pointed at Ivy. “Your magic is a liability. If you don’t get that under control, you’re going to start a fire.”
I’ve already done that Ivy thought. She hoped she didn’t look guilty. “Well, we’re not here to talk about my magic.”
Patricia rolled her eyes. Maggie looked concerned. Stella frowned at Ivy letting her know how stupid she thought Ivy was being.
Ivy ignored them and went on. “The Alpha of Black Bird wants to contract you to perform a locating spell.” She hoped that if she used Ben’s official title that they would be more inclined to say yes. Or at least take it more seriously.
Stella chuckled. “What a bunch of hypocrites.”
“They’ve got a lot of nerve to ask us to use our magic. They are all asses to us because of our magic,” Patricia folded her arms.
Ivy looked at Maggie hoping to see a more favorable opinion. Maggie shook her head. “Sorry dear, they’ve been awful.”
Ivy sighed. This was the response she had been expecting. Anne had told her that until recently, the Black Bird Coven couldn’t go to the post office without someone drawing a salt circle around their car. Ivy had hoped she might be able to convince them to help easily. It looked like that wasn’t going to happen.
“It’s a single locating spell. We,” Ivy gestured between her and Ezekiel, “will provide the personal item. I’m just asking for an hour of your time.”
“And our magic,” Stella added.
“And your magic,” Ivy conceded.
Patricia slapped her hands on the table. “And she’s asking us to paint huge targets on our backs. That McDowell boy is crazy. Who knows what he’ll do when he finds out we helped the wolves track him down?”
“Don’t be daft, dear. If the locating spell even works.” Maggie mumbled.
A shock went through Ivy’s body. She heard Ezekiel move behind her. “Why would you assume that was who we are looking for?” Ivy tried to keep the curiosity and apprehension from her voice.
“It’s the only thing this territory has been talking about,” Patricia said.
Maggie raised a finger, “And about the new witch in town.”
The other two nodded.
“I’m glad you all are up to date on the latest gossip but I want to know why Maggie assumed the locating spell won’t work”
Subtly, the three women tensed. Stella’s fingers pat the top of the table. Maggie stirred her tea avoiding eye contact. The playful atmosphere from earlier is gone.
Ivy’s heartbeat spiked.
Patricia gestured to her Coven sisters, “We aren’t very powerful casters. Very few of our spells work. You saw the vision debacle.” Her fingers continued to dance in exaggerated movements. “Really, you’re asking for a disaster if you want us to use our magic.” She smiled almost apologetically.
Suddenly, the crotchety one was suddenly smiling and apologizing? Because that wasn’t suspicious.
“Nonsense,” Ivy said playing along, “I can’t believe that a Coven able to recreate a Juliette rose could mess up a simple locating spell.”
Patricia’s eyes narrowed for a split second before she covered it up. “If it’s so simple, then why can’t you do it?”
Ivy forced a laugh she hoped sounded amused. “I’ve already made my deal with the Alpha. He doesn’t have anything more that I want and I don’t work for free.” She smiled as she leaned across the table. She hoped this worked. “Is there something you want from the Alpha of Black Bird?”
Ivy did her best to keep an air of calm as silence filled the room. The ladies didn’t move. They didn’t take their eyes off of Ivy. She bit her tongue to keep from opening her mouth.
Maggie gave the other two women a look before she stood from the table. “Excuse us a moment, please.”
Stella stood and turned to give Patricia a hand. As a cluster, the Coven shuffled out of the kitchen.
Ivy exhaled leaning back in her chair. She really hoped they said yes.
“What are the chances they say yes?” Ezekiel whispered right in her ear.
Ivy squealed and bumped her tea cup. His hand shot out to catch it. She turned to glare. The big idiot was smiling at her.
“Don’t scare me,” Ivy whispered furiously.
His smile widened. Ezekiel tipped his chin towards the hall the women had disappeared down. “Are they going to say yes?”
“I have no idea. They might want to make a deal or they might say no out of spite.” Ivy turned in her chair to face Ezekiel. “What price is Ben willing to pay for the locating spell?”
They hadn’t talked about payment at the Pack house. Ivy didn’t feel comfortable negotiating on someone else’s behalf. Maybe the ladies would be willing to wait while they got the go ahead from Ben?
Ezekiel straighten and pulled his phone out. “I’ll text him.”
“We don’t have time for that.” Ivy whisper yelled. “I can hear them coming back.”
Ezekiel snorted. “With how slow they walk? I think we’ll be fine.” His phone made a noise and he turned it around to let Ivy see Ben’s answer.
Ben: No harm can be done. Spending limit is 15k
Ivy hummed. That left a lot of wiggle room.
The Coven entered the kitchen. Ezekiel put his phone away and went back to leaning against the wall. They waited for all three women to get comfortable.
Maggie cleared her throat. “There’s nothing we want from the Alpha of Black Bird.”
Ivy’s stomach dropped. For a second, she had convinced herself that this would work. Now she was back at square one.
“There is something we want from you.”
That was almost worst. Ivy leaned in at Maggie’s words. “What do I have that you want?”
Maggie cleared her throat. Ivy suddenly realized that Maggie must be the Coven’s matriarch. The other two were letting her take the lead.
“Without another member of the Coven we have been unable to renew a few of our spells,” Maggie continued.
“I see.” Ivy felt her soul sag. She knew where this was going.
Magic fed off of a person’s natural reserve, their spiritual energy. Some people had deep reserves; others had small reserves. Some people could perform large spells, others didn’t have the power for it.
There were ways for individuals to pool their energies in order to perform large spells. Those pools were only as deep as the combined magical reserves of the people involved. The Black Bird Coven didn’t have enough combined power to renew their spells.
No spell lasted forever. They needed to be fed power as time wore on. If their fourth member had moved away without a replacement, the Coven’s spells would run out of magic and lapse.
“You want me to temporarily stand in as another member of the Coven?” She clarified.
“Yes,” Maggie nodded.
“And I would only be standing in for renewal spells? No prep work or spell weaving?” Ivy clarified.
“That is correct.”
Standing in during a renewal spell was not a complicated process. It required you to speak a few words and to lend your magic to the spell. Ivy could justify that it wasn’t really doing magic. Especially if she wasn’t drawing the circle or preparing the spell’s components. She just had to show up.
“What spells?” Ivy asked.
Maggie gave Ivy a disappointed frown. “Dear, we don’t discuss Coven business around wolves.”
“Fine then, one spell. I will help with one spell,” Ivy folded her arms.
“That won’t be worthwhile to us,” Maggie countered. “We are putting ourselves on the radar of a rogue witch wolf. We need at least four spells renewed if we want to protect ourselves against him.”
“I thought we were calling him a wolf witch.” Stella whispered to Patricia’s ear.
“Witchy McWolfy face is my favorite,” Patricia added.
Everyone ignored them.
“I might not be two hundred but I’m not an idiot. You need one spell to protect a Coven.” Ivy shrugged, “If you’re only worried about protection then one spell is all you need me for.”
“We’d practically be working for free if you only stood in for one spell. We would need you to help with at least three spells for it to be worthwhile,” Maggie countered.
“And I don’t have the time to perform that many spells. Two spells conducted before the end of the year. That’s the most power I am willing to lend.”
That gave the ladies a little over a month. It was more than enough time to perform two spells. It also meant that Ivy wouldn’t be on their leash for very long.
Maggie’s chin tipped as she thought. “Two spells and twenty-five percent off at Chic Chick.”
Ivy’s eyebrows hit her hairline. She had not expected that. “I don’t have the ability to make that happen.”
Maggie shook her head. “You work there and the proprietress is dating the Alpha. I’m sure this is the easier part of the bargain to. They’ll be eager to lend with help.”
Ivy went over the numbers in her head. She thought about Ben’s text too. “Two spells to be performed before the end of the year and thirty percent off at Chic Chick until January 31st. In exchange, you will help perform one locating spell.”
Maggie smiled and held out her hand. They shook on it.
“So, mote it be,” both said in unison to seal the agreement. A tingle of magic washed up Ivy’s arm.
“Yes,” Stella cried, the instant Ivy and Maggie let go of each other. “I’ve wanted to buy that blue dress since it went up in the window.”
“Oh yeah,” Patricia rolled her eyes, “because the safety of the Coven comes second to a new dress.”
“Some of us still get asked on dates, Patricia,” Stella barked.
“This has been lovely,” Ivy cut in before the two women started really get into it. “I will contact you once we have a personal item for the tracking spell.”
Maggie stood with Ivy and led their group to the door. “We will be in contact before then. I would prefer we take care of the first spell before we perform the locating spell.”
Ivy stepped onto the porch. The sun was breaking through the cloud cover. “Of course,” Ivy smiled at Maggie. “This was a delightful interlude.” Ivy looked around suddenly realizing that Ezekiel wasn’t with her.
There was a crash inside the house. All four women turned to look down the hall. Ezekiel popped out of the kitchen looking shell shocked, shaking one hand frantically. When he saw them staring at him, he smiled and hid his hand behind his back.
Maggie turned back to Ivy and smiled softly. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Ivy. When you come back be sure to leave the wolf behind.”
Ivy snickered as she waited for Ezekiel to catch up to her. They both waved and walked off the porch.
“You jut couldn’t help yourself, could you?” Ivy shook her head in disbelief. “What did you touch?”
He looked over his injured hand. Ivy couldn’t see any marks. She hoped he hadn’t gotten himself hexed. “One of their picture frames was crooked. I was just trying to straighten it.”
Ivy rolled her eyes. “And that’s why you don’t touch anything.”
“Yeah, I’m not doing that again.”
Ezekiel unlocked the truck. Ivy sank into the cold leather seats. She’d done it. The Black Bird Coven would perform the locating spell and all Ivy needed to do was lend them her presence for two spells. Not a bad deal.
“Tell Ben that they will do it and that he needs to split that fifteen thousand dollars. Ten goes into my account. Five goes into Anne’s.”
“How do you figure that?” Ezekiel asks clearly amused.
“We’re the ones the Coven made deals with. Ben still needs to compensate us for helping him out.”
Hopefully, the five grand would cover Anne’s cost. How much money could three old ladies spend at a small-town boutique?
More importantly, now Ivy could afford to move once this business was finished.
“No one works for free.” Ezekiel said, rephrasing Ivy’s words from earlier.