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Tea and Witchery

In Cassadaga, Florida, the paranormal is normal and chats with the dead are an everyday occurrence.

Lynn is unaware of the town's psychic connection when she drives into town for a visit with her aunt. But strangeness turns dangerous when the president of the Psychic Society is murdered after being cursed by a coven of witches.

Now Lynn has to keep her aunt from being accused of concocting a poisonous brew while discovering who the real murder is. Should she be suspicious of quiet, reserved Alex who doesn't seem to fit in the town or young, gentle, Patrick who is in danger of being restricted from giving his tarot readings?

Are the Society member's attempts to solve the murder through psychic methods going to yield results or just more victims?

Book 1 of the The Cassadaga Mystery Series series

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release

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Marie Dees

Marie Dees is a Native Floridian and Central Florida author who enjoys writing about the quirky aspects of Florida that many don't see. She can sometimes be found hanging out at the actual Cassadaga Hotel where the hotel spirits may be whispering ideas for the next book.

Reviews

4 Stars

"Uniting everyone to find the killer is a challenge, and the reader is compelled to join the hunt in this intriguing page-turner."

Donna M. Brown -- Romantic Times Book Club


"I think this book would be perfect vacation reading. I find that stories set in Florida, the land of the tacky plastic lawn flamingo, tend to have a relaxing playfulness that creeps in and can keep even a murder mystery light. (Think Carl Hiaasen's Florida novels.) Tea and Witchery a little mystery that's big on character. It does a fine job of walking the difficult line between taking itself too seriously and mocking itself, and delivers something fresh and fun."

Natasha Gapinski -- Inside the Cover Book Review



4.5 out 5 tea cups

"This is an extremely entertaining story with an assorted cast of characters. It touches on the differences of religious beliefs and how society deals with them. Marie Dees brings each of the character's different personalities to vivid life and makes you either love them or hate them depending on the character. The humor in the story is an intricate part of the story line and Ms. Dees pulls it off exquisitely. There are a few typos and grammar errors, but over all very well written."

Michelle Thomas -- Gotta Write Network
Excerpt

Chapter One

 Patrick jogged past his house and turned to head back to the inn. He wrinkled his nose. Smoke. Not charcoal or a cigarette but a stronger smell. He looked up. A dark cloud rose ahead of him. Please, not the inn. He shouldn’t have gone jogging and left it empty. But everyone was off meditating, and he’d checked to make sure Lisle hadn’t left any candles burning in her room.

He sprinted past the church. Now he could see that the smoke wasn’t coming from the inn but billowing out of a window in the building across the street. Not the bookstore side, but the meeting room. Right where Lisle, George and Wallingford always meditated. Lisle’s candles! He dashed toward the building. Rafe had told her to be careful in the old, wooden buildings. He yelled everyone’s names as he pounded up the steps.

He paused just outside the door. He didn’t hear anything. Not even the smoke alarms. Probably because no one had checked the batteries. He yelled everyone’s names again, but they didn’t answer. Maybe they were unconscious. He opened the door and peered into the smoke-filled hallway. The doors to the bookstore and the meeting room were both closed. He took a deep breath, and rushed in.

The bookstore was locked. Either Myra had closed early or she was meditating, too. He reached the second door. Feel to see if it’s hot. He remembered that from somewhere. He pressed his palm against the wood. It wasn’t hot.

Thick smoke crowded the room and veiled shadowy shapes on the floor. He groped his way toward the first—a cardboard box. His eyes were stinging when he reached the next. Another box. He checked a third, coughing as he stumbled across the floor. Boxes not people... He ran for the door, and hit a wall. He gasped and smoke burned his lungs. Stretching out his arms, he felt along the wall. No door.

It’s okay. The door is here. Just keep moving. He coughed. Low. He was supposed to stay low. That was a rule. That and call 911. And don’t run into a burning building like an idiot. He dropped to his knees. Breathing hurt, and something was screaming in his ears.

****

Lynn screeched to a stop in the middle of the road and stared at the sign. It welcomed her to Cassadaga and told her that authorized psychics were located on the right side of the street. She looked down at the directions her aunt had emailed. Yes, they clearly stated that she was to turn right when she reached the inn. She looked at the sign again. When Anthea had suggested she spend the summer in Florida, Lynn had imagined beaches and theme parks. Not the “True Cassadaga Unified Psychic Society.”

She wasn’t likely to reach the inn. A dark cloud of smoke filled the sky ahead of her and fire trucks blocked the road. She pulled forward. Firefighters were hosing down a wooden building on the right side of the street. Smoke hung heavily in the air, but the damage didn’t look as bad as she might have expected given the age of the building. A little psychic intervention? Did the authorized psychics call nine-one- one in advance? Her smile at the imagined conversation faded when she saw the body on the ground.

She closed her eyes. This is not a repeat of the accident scene with Mark. She wouldn’t know the person on the ground. Still, she climbed out of the car and edged closer.

The body, a young, blond male, was struggling to push off the oxygen mask the paramedics held over his mouth. He’s alive. Lynn let herself breathe again.

“Y’all got off pretty lucky.”

Lynn looked up. A firefighter stripped off his oxygen tank and handed it to another firefighter. He surveyed the group standing around on the grass. Lynn stepped back and tried to look like an innocent bystander. The firefighter’s gaze moved over her. He addressed his comments to the main cluster of watchers.

“Mostly smoke damage. We’ll have to investigate before we give a complete report, but it looks like someone might have left a coffee pot on. You’ll need to repair a couple of walls.”

“How much is that going to cost us?” a woman with long blond hair demanded.

“Can’t rightly say, ma’am. Your insurance should cover it.”

She frowned at the firefighter, then looked back to her group. “If Patrick started this fire, I think the inn’s insurance should pay for it.” When the young male on the ground made a protesting sound and started coughing, Lynn suspected he was the accused Patrick. The paramedics pushed the oxygen mask back down and gave him official sounding orders to breathe. He did, while glaring at the group.

An older man with graying hair stepped forward, working his way between Patrick and his accuser. “I don’t see how we can blame this on Patrick. He doesn’t drink coffee.”

“If he didn’t start it, what was he doing in there?” asked the woman.

Like everyone else, Lynn looked at Patrick. He pushed the mask away from his face. “I thought they were inside. Meditating.” He pointed to a trio of watchers.

Lynn looked at the watchers and blinked. That couldn’t be George. No, it would be. George had known every New Age bookstore within a hundred miles of Virginia Commonwealth University, when they’d been in college. Apparently he’d widened his range. If five years hadn’t dimmed his interest, they’d thickened his already stocky build and thinned his sparse red hair. George had always reminded her of a pumpkin, plump and round. Now he made her think of a pumpkin with fringe.

“We decided to meditate outside tonight,” he was saying. “I sensed something wrong around the hall.”

A man wearing a long-sleeved shirt and gray slacks frowned. “I believe I was the one who suggested we meditate outside.”

The third member of the trio shook back her waist-length copper hair and looked skyward. “The angels told me that we should walk to the lake tonight.”

George glared. “I sensed it first.”

“I’m sure I did. Patrick will remember.” The girl smiled down at the blond man, who shook his head. “Now, Patrick, remember. I told you when we were alone in my room.”

Patrick’s eyes widened.

Gray Slacks snorted. “That story’s no more convincing than the one about the angels. Lisle, he doesn’t remember you saying it because you didn’t.”

“Enough.” The older man waved them to silence. “I doubt Patrick would have run into a burning building to rescue you if he’d known you were already outside. I am not going to support the authentication of any sign that warns you to go meditate elsewhere while Society property is destroyed and a young man nearly loses his life.”

“Can he do that?” George asked.

“The board is supposed to vote,” the woman with long blond hair said. “Joshua knows that.”

“Vote on what, Myra? That all three of them received signs to go meditate at the lake, but the spirits didn’t think of mentioning that someone should turn off the coffee pot?”

Lynn watched Patrick push the oxygen mask off again. He pointed toward the smoldering building. “If they meditated in there,” he said, his voice rough with smoke, “then they could have turned off the coffee pot, and we wouldn’t have a fire.”

Myra, George, Lisle, and Gray Slacks glared at him. Joshua chuckled. Then Lynn heard the squeal of tires and a car door slammed. The others fell silent as a man with a dark ponytail rushed past her and dropped to the ground beside the blond.

“Patrick? Are you hurt?”

“I’m okay,” Patrick mumbled, pushing to his elbows.

“There was a fire,” Myra said. “And for some reason he was inside the building.”

“Rafe, I couldn’t get out.”

Lynn watched as Rafe’s gaze went to the burned building, then to the ambulance. Ignoring Myra, he turned to the paramedics. “Does Patrick need to go to the hospital?”

“He seems to be recovering,” one said, putting away the oxygen mask. “But keep an eye on him.”

“Myra thinks I started it,” Patrick blurted.

Rafe gave Myra a glare that Lynn wouldn’t have wanted directed at her. “I am sure she does not think so.”

Myra huffed. “Fine, Rafael. Then explain why he was in the building.”

“I already said why.” Glaring, Patrick pushed into a sitting position. “The only person who would use that stupid, old pot in the meeting room is you. You probably forgot to turn it off when you closed the bookstore. So stop trying to blame it on everyone else.”

“Yes, you seem to have recovered. I am sure Myra is not trying to blame you.” Rafael’s attention was on Patrick, but Lynn felt certain the words were directed to Myra. Then he wrapped an arm around Patrick’s shoulders and lifted him to his feet. “You will feel better after you’ve cleaned up and changed your clothes.” Lynn saw him stop and take a second look at Patrick, who was wearing nothing but shorts and a pair of sneakers. “Or put some on.”

“I was jogging.”

“So I see.” Rafael looked over his shoulder. “Joshua, will you come see me when you are done here?”

Myra stepped between them. “You’ll get a report on the fire when the board issues it and not before.”

Rafael didn’t say anything, but Lynn noticed the look the two men exchanged over Myra’s head. She had no doubt that Rafael would have a full report before the night was over. Myra huffed, but Joshua ignored her and stepped away with the firefighter. The other firefighters were stripping out of their protective suits, revealing simple T-shirts and dark slacks. One carried a large fan toward the building and set it up to vent the smoke.

Gray Slacks grabbed Myra’s shoulder. “Can he keep the board from considering our signs?”

“Joshua is vice-president,” Myra said.

“That’s not an answer—”

“Lynn?” George’s cheerful greeting brought everyone’s gazes to her. “Did you come for a reading?”

All the way from Virginia? Lynn held her tongue as George rushed across the grass with Myra close behind.

The look Myra gave her was stern. “Do you have an appointment? I don’t recall anything on my schedule.”

“I’m not here for a reading,” Lynn said.

“Some people just can’t resist the scene of an accident, can they?” asked Myra, her voice snide.

Lynn felt her cheeks grow hot. “I’m visiting my aunt.”

“Here?”

George stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. “Myra, this is Gwendolyn McElven.”

Myra’s eyebrows shot up. “Anthea is your aunt?”

Lynn nodded, trying not to grimace at George’s use of her full first name. “I go by Lynn. Lynn McElven Yates.”

“So you married that guy who wanted to go into politics? Is he here, too?” George looked around.

“Mark,” Lynn said. “He died in a car accident.” She’d explained often enough to dull the feelings behind the words.

“I’m sorry. He was a nice guy,” George said.

“Have you come here to contact him?” Myra asked.

Lynn stared at her in cold shock. She’d spent the first six months of widowhood dealing with pain, sorrow, and guilt. Now, nearly two years later, she still felt like she hadn’t put her life back together, but she’d given up expecting anyone to bring Mark back. “No,” she managed to say. “I’m sure he’d want me to move on with my life.”

“I’m glad you made it down here to us,” George said.

Myra nodded. “I’m sure your aunt will be pleased. Anthea is strong in the ways of the spirit.”

“She’s in harmony with her world.” The young woman with the copper hair glided forward. “I’m Lisle, no last name. Last names bind you to others, and my abilities will not permit me to be bound.”

“Yes, we’ve heard all about that,” Gray Slacks said. He nodded at Lynn. “I want to know about her. Does she get special privileges because she’s a member’s niece? I thought we were all on equal ground here.”

“Relationship to an established member has no bearing,” Myra said.

“Yeah, right.”

George turned to Lynn, his smile forced. “Lynn, this is E.D. Wallingford. He is experienced in past-life regression.”

“I am more than experienced,” Wallingford declared. “I am a certified hypnotist and an expert in the field of past-life research. A field that helps people.” He shot Lisle and George scornful look. “I can’t wait to see how you two feel when she’s accepted into the Society, and we aren’t even allowed to have our signs considered. I’m going to speak to Carl about it.”

“Wonderful.” Myra sighed as he stomped off. “Joshua needs to let the board vote on this situation. Especially when all three of you sensed something was wrong.”

****

Alex pulled to a stop behind a fire truck and did a quick check of the surrounding buildings. Amazingly, everything was still standing. He stepped out of the car and headed toward the group gathered on the bookstore lawn.

“What happened?” he asked, nodding toward the building.

“Lynn is here to visit.”

He turned to George. “Lynn came to visit? Is she an arsonist?” Then again, Lynn might be a poltergeist or a ghost—

“No, she’s Anthea’s niece,” George said.

Alex noticed the curly-haired young woman standing by George and smiled an apology. “Sorry. You don’t look much like an arsonist.”

She smiled back. “Glad to hear it. Besides, I arrived after the fire.”

“Lynn is an artist,” George said. “Maybe she can illustrate your book.”

Alex held back a sigh. Everyone had been offering to help with the book since he’d arrived. But from the look Lynn shot George, he wasn’t the only one surprised by the suggestion.

“I’m here on vacation,” she said. “I’ve never tried illustrating a book.”

“I’d love to see some of your work,” he offered, trying to keep his rejection gracious. “I’m sure it’s beautiful, but unfortunately, my book is a dissertation, so there isn’t much room for illustration.”

Lisle drifted toward him. “We’re all sure the book will be a success.”

Alex nodded. Myra was eyeing him too eagerly. Soon she’d be pressuring him to let her help with his research or editing. He was finding it more and more difficult to turn her down graciously. Then Joshua stepped away from a huddle with a couple of firefighters and motioned to him.

“Excuse me, I think Joshua wants me.” Relieved, he left the group.

“As you can see, we’ve had a bit of trouble,” Joshua said.

“Yes, Lynn came to visit,” Alex said.

Joshua turned and stared at him. “What?”

Alex shrugged. “Ask George.”

“No thanks, I have enough to deal with. I’m going to need help. You up for it?”

“I’m not a member of the Society,” Alex pointed out.

“Precisely,” Joshua said. “If I needed someone to psychically intuit bits of charred wood, I would ask George. Hell, he’ll probably be at it before the night is over, and Lisle will be chatting with her angels. Wallingford’s out of luck since he can’t hypnotize the building. At least Rafael will make sure that Patrick stays clear of any more trouble.”

“Any more trouble?” Alex asked. “Don’t tell me Patrick had something to do with this.”

Joshua opened his mouth, then stopped. “I’ll let him tell you. I want to know what you think of it all. The fire may have been deliberate. The coffee pot was left on, and that’s what started it. Could have been an accident, but someone took the batteries out of all the smoke detectors.”

“Josh, could it be someone just forgot to put new batteries in last time they were changed?”

Joshua shrugged. “It’s possible. They want to have an arson specialist check out the building. The fire chief said they’ll look for traces of solvents or anything that might have been used as an accelerant. They weren’t thrilled about the boxes of old tablecloths and draperies we were storing in the meeting room.” Joshua frowned. “I know we haven’t been using it much, but I don’t remember us deciding to store anything in there.”

Alex looked back at the old, wooden structure. “As old as that building is, it should have gone up in minutes even without help. Why is it still standing?”

“Partly because I spotted the smoke right away and called for help, and partly because the table cloth that the coffee pot was sitting on and the draping we’d used to cover the back wall were flame retardant.”

“That was smart.”

“Rafael’s doing,” Joshua said. “He helped redo the meeting spaces when he took over the inn. Patrick helped take care of things, like smoke detectors, until Myra took over the bookstore.”

“So Myra would have been responsible for changing the batteries,” Alex guessed.

“Correct. I’m sure she’ll tell us that they were in perfect working order.” He looked back at the building. “And the boxes of junk will turn out to be something she moved out of the bookstore.”

“She wouldn’t have wanted to burn down the building, would she?” Alex asked. “I thought the bookstore was doing fairly well.”

Joshua shrugged. “Rent is partly based on profit, so I doubt we really know how well the store is doing. But that is a long way from arson. Besides, the Society owns the building.”

“So she wouldn’t collect the insurance. The Society would. Josh, how is the Society doing financially?”

“That’s what I mean to talk to Carl about. Though I don’t see how it would help us to burn down one of our own buildings. It’s not like we can take the insurance money and run. We’ll have to repair it, and this is going to put Carl’s conference center plans on hold.” Joshua sighed, looked at the building, and shook his head. “Alex, tell Patrick he made an interesting point about the signs. And tell Rafael not to worry. Myra does not make a convincing witness. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go tackle Carl.”

Alex watched him walk away and decided that a visit to the inn sounded very interesting.

****

The inn’s kitchen was empty. Rafael was usually there or at the front desk. Alex stepped back into the lobby where woven throws draped the sofas, and winged back chairs clustered around polished wooden tables. He always thought it would be the perfect place to sit and read, but Lisle seemed to find an excuse to hover nearby whenever he tried. He strode through the lobby, down the hall to Rafael’s private quarters, and knocked on the door.

“Yes? Who is it?” asked Rafael.

“Alex.”

“Can this wait?”

Alex hesitated. “I come bearing secret messages from Joshua.”

“What’s the password?” Patrick called out.

Alex only had to think for a second. “Myra does not make a convincing witness.”

“That’s kinda long for a password,” Patrick said.

The door opened. Rafael stood there, his expression wary. “What is Myra not a convincing witness to?”

Alex shrugged. “You’re going to have to help me with that. Or maybe Patrick will.” Looking over Rafael’s shoulder, he saw Patrick stretched out on a dark leather couch with a blanket tucked around him. Rafael wasn’t moving out of the way. Alex looked back to him. “Josh says that the fire may have been deliberate. There were no batteries in the smoke detectors. He also says that Patrick made an interesting point about the signs. I came over here to find out what it all means.”

“It means someone almost killed me,” Patrick said.

“They did not know you would run into the building,” Rafael said, stepping back from the door, so Alex could follow him into the room.

“So?” Patrick demanded. “What’s that mean? They have to say sorry after they kill me?” He looked at Alex. “Who started the fire?”

“They don’t know.” He had a sudden suspicion. “Did Myra accuse you?”

“Yeah. I’m lying there almost dead, and she’s telling everyone that I did it. Then the others all start arguing about signs. Like, I’m dead, and they think it’s a sign.”

“How was it a sign?” Alex asked.

“Because they all sensed the spirits were telling them to go jump in a lake. Lisle tried to make me say that I heard her say it. Why would I run into the building if I knew they weren’t there? No one even said thanks for trying to rescue them. All they wanted to do was argue about signs, and Myra just wanted to blame me for the fire.”

“But Joshua says she is not believed?” Rafael asked.

“He said she wasn’t very convincing.”

Patrick pulled his legs up and wrapped his arms around his knees. “That’s ’cause she was talking about insurance and stuff right in front of the firemen. Not smart. She didn’t just say I did it, she said Rafe’s insurance should pay for it.”

“She did?” Rafael looked surprised. “You didn’t tell me that.”

“I didn’t want you to get mad.”

“At Myra?”

“No.” Patrick’s head dropped.

“At you? Patrick.” Rafael sat down on the couch, facing Patrick. “I’m not angry with you. Not for running into the building or for going jogging when you should have been at the inn.”

“Something bad is going to happen.” Patrick muttered, without raising his head. “I feel it.”

“What is going to happen?” Rafael asked.

Patrick drew his legs in tighter. “Gonna die.”

Rafael reached out and tilted up his head. “You are not going to die.”

Patrick blinked. “Someone is. Maybe ’cause I didn’t.”