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THE WITCH’S GUIDE TO LIFE is an intensely sensual read that will leave you breathless. Theresa Alan pens a tale with vivid imagery and compelling characters. Ariel is strong and sees everything positive in life. J.T. will draw you in with his passionate nature. The secondary story is as gripping as the main. I laughed and cried throughout this story.
The Witch and Family
Ariel sunk her fork into the moist chocolate cake. The rich, velvety frosting clung to her fork. Though Ariel’s three-year-old niece was ordinarily a chatterbox, she didn’t use words to ask for another bite. Since she had been a baby, she had made a hand sign using the index and middle fingers of her right hand tapping against the palm of her left hand to indicate she wanted more. Ariel wasn’t sure if this was a sign of precociousness or if it made her niece the next Coco the Gorilla. Probably, like her Aunt Ariel, Rhiannon’s love for food was such that she didn’t want to have to stop chewing to speak. Using sign language meant she could keep stuffing her face without pause.
Ariel fed her niece another bite of cake. Rhiannon squealed with delight, her blond curls bouncing, her cheeks as pink as peonies.
Ariel used the bottom of her fork to press down on the last bits of cake, creating a bond that lifted the crumbs from the plate so she could lick them off the fork in a civilized manner rather than giving the plate a tongue bath as she would have done in the privacy of her home. Ariel closed her eyes and savored the last little bite of the soft, spongy cake. It tasted like heaven. The setting of the rapturous delight was less than celestial, however—they sat in the middle of an old-school diner with worn black-and-black checkered floors, Formica tables, and battered red stools. The smell of grease hung thickly in the room.
“Rhiannon, try to get the plate to come to you without using your hands,” Ariel coaxed. She hoped to see some signs of magical talent in Rhiannon. Ariel didn’t want to be the last witch in the Merrill family clan, and Rhiannon was her last hope. Rhiannon’s mother, Faith, showed no inclination toward witchcraft whatsoever. Neither did Faith’s oldest daughter, Penny. With all the inter-marrying, the family knack for magic had become more and more diluted with each generation. Even Ariel’s abilities were weak, despite her best efforts to strengthen them. She wanted to train her niece from a young age to help her grow into her full witch potential.
Rhiannon looked at her aunt with her face scrunched in confusion. She reached for the plate.
“No, don’t use your hands. Just think about how you want the plate to come to you.”
Rhiannon made an adorable expression, a face that asked, what does this crazy lady want with me? But then she stared at the plate for a moment, clearly lost in thought. Ariel watched the plate hopefully. It was trembling, wasn’t it? Maybe? Maybe? Maybe not. Damn.
Ariel sighed and wiped the tell-tale crumbs from her niece’s mouth. Faith would not appreciate that Ariel had fed Rhiannon chocolate for dinner, but Ariel was doing her sister a favor by babysitting, after all, and anyway it really wasn’t her fault. She always got severe chocolate cravings before an art opening. Her third show was coming up, and her nerves were thoroughly rattled. She had never sold a piece of her work, and if she didn’t sell something soon, she wasn’t sure a gallery owner would give her another opportunity to display her work. This could be her last chance.
Ariel nodded at the waitress when she dropped off the bill. Ariel reached for her wallet to pay, and that’s when she saw him.
He was gorgeous, with dark brown eyes and thick dark hair. There was something about his eyes and expression that Ariel found captivating. His appeal wasn’t a tingly, tear-the-clothes-off-my-body-and-do-me now feeling. It wasn’t simply about lust, it was about being instantly drawn to him, overwhelmingly intrigued to get to know him better.
It took her a moment to realize that she was staring. Her entire body was frozen with a powerful electric surge of desire. She forced herself to look away and peel a five-dollar bill from her wallet. Casually, she glanced back at him again, unable to stop herself. He was sitting with another man. Whatever they were talking about must have been funny, because Hunk kept smiling a heart-meltingly sexy smile.
You should go introduce yourself. You’re a witch. Witches aren’t passive. They go after what they want. They make things happen.
She considered ways to get him to notice her. He was only a few tables away. Maybe she could create a minor windstorm from her table to his, gusting napkins in his direction so he’d be distracted from his conversation and look her way. Ariel strained her memory to recall the spell to conjure the wind. How did that go again? She remembered the words “gale” and “sail” and “commence”—she just needed to remember how to string them together in the proper phrases. After reviewing the spell in her mind a couple times, she closed her eyes and in a quiet voice said, “Attention northern gale, kick up your sluggish sail. I bid you come hence, with forceful currents do now commence.”
Immediately the door to the restaurant thundered open and careened with a loud crash into the wall as a veritable tornado of wind blustered through the dining area. The wind was far stronger than Ariel had intended. Oops. Maybe she wasn’t supposed to say “forceful”? What was the correct word? Damn! She couldn’t remember. She gripped the table with one hand so she didn’t go flying away and hugged her frightened niece to her side as chairs went toppling over, dishes became airborne, and the plate from Ariel’s cake went tumbling through the air—landing on Hunk’s head.
Just as abruptly the wind stopped when a quick-thinking waitress managed to shut the door. Ariel watched in mortified horror as Hunk peeled the plate from his head, cake crumbs and sticky remnants of icing clotting in clumps in his otherwise gorgeous hair.
Ariel leapt up, holding her niece to her side like a koala bear clinging to its mother. She took a moment to sooth down her hair that had been whipped up into something resembling a wind-blown haystack. She straightened out her tight red button-up shirt and rushed to his table.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
Hunk, looking a little stunned for a moment, smiled, then chuckled lightly. “I’m fine. What was that?”
“That was the weirdest thing,” Hunk’s friend said.
“Yeah, huh,” Ariel said, with less poetry than she would have liked. “I’m so sorry about your hair. That’s our plate that landed on your head.”
“No problem. That’s what shampoo is for,” he said, fishing out little pieces of cake and icing with his fingers. “Anyway, it’s not like it’s your fault.”
Ariel didn’t say anything for a moment. Then, remembering herself, she said, “Right. Well, I’m glad you’re okay. My name is Ariel Merrill. This is my niece Rhiannon.”
Hunk nodded distractedly at her—he was busy trying to extricate the icing from his cranium.
“I wish there was a way I could make it up to you. Maybe . . . do you like wine?” she said.
“Huh?” Hunk asked.
“Wine, the drink, do you like it?”
“Yeah, sure, of course,” Hunk said, confused.
“Me too,” Friend of Hunk said.
“I’m an artist and I’m having an art opening on Friday night at the MacLean Gallery. There will be free wine and cheese, so it’s kind of fun if you don’t have anything else to do. Both of you are welcome to come.”
Hunk smiled at her. “That sounds like it could be cool.”
“Art?” Friend of Hunk asked, looking at Ariel askance, as if trying to determine if she’d suffered a head injury of some sort.
But who cared about Friend of Hunk. Hunk was all that mattered. He seemed amused by her. Amused wouldn’t do. She wanted him to be insane with lust for her, or at least interested enough to come to her art opening and get to know her better. She had to think of a love spell or a charm to cast on him, but right now her mind was completely blank. Oh what a burden it was to be saddled with a pathetic short-term memory! Ariel closed her eyes for a moment, deep in concentration, trying to will the words to the spell from the deepest recesses of her memory.
When she opened her eyes, Ariel looked from Hunk to Friend of Hunk, noticing that they were both staring at her chest. She looked down to see that the top two buttons on her blouse had come undone, and her entire right breast was exposed for the world to see.
“Boobie,” Rhiannon announced sagely as she poked her fingers into Ariel’s breast, pointing to her find like an archaeologist would display a prize dinosaur bone he’d excavated. Quickly Ariel pulled her shirt closed and tried to re-button it one-handed at the same time she was busy dying of shame.
She was mortified. On the upside, maybe this meant her niece did have magical abilities—Rhiannon had made her aunt’s blouse almost disappear, after all.
“Right then. Maybe I’ll see you Friday. I’m going to go die of humiliation now.” Ariel gave a weak smile and carried her niece out of the restaurant as fast as she could walk without actually breaking into a full-blown sprint.
Across town, Ariel’s sister Faith had just gotten home from her job interview. She peered out the window at her neighbor’s house, watching the UPS truck deliver yet another package to Bret’s house. What was in all those packages?
From the beginning, there was something not quite right about Bret Halloran. Maybe it was the way he seemed just a little too nice. (Faith had read that Ted Bundy was an exceptionally charming man, and he used that charm to enlist the trust of his victims. Which just went to show, you couldn’t trust anyone.)
Bret had moved in next store two years ago, and the shipments had started to arrive not long after he did. The packages came in a variety of sizes. Sometimes they came in a trickle—just one or two in a month. Other times—and not just around Christmas—they came in a deluge, one after the other. It wasn’t like he worked at home and would be receiving work-related shipments; she knew he worked as a business analyst at Abbott Technologies in downtown Denver—he’d told her one day when they’d both been out working in their yards.
Bret’s behavior was highly suspicious. Like the way he seemed to spend most his evenings in his basement with the shades drawn and nothing but a weak lamp to light his way. Faith could see the faint glow from the basement windows that stuck out just slightly above ground level. On the evenings he was down there, Faith would casually walk over to her living room windows now and then, parting the curtains no more than half an inch, trying to see what exactly was going on. She hadn’t seen anything yet, but she knew he’d slip up someday, and she’d be the one to expose what he was up to. Maybe he was another Tim McVeigh, and all those boxes delivered to his house were pieces of a bomb. Maybe he was an environmental extremist who wanted to protest the way the clean up of Rocky Flats Nuclear Power Plant was going, and he was stockpiling his weapons, preparing for a siege. Maybe he was a child pornographer, selling he’s wares over the Internet, and those boxes were filled with video and computer equipment. Whatever it was, Faith would uncover it. She’d make the cover of all the newspapers, she’d be interviewed on Good Morning America, she would be a hero, known the world over.
Faith had to hand it to him, Bret did keep up a good front. From all outward appearances, he seemed like an upstanding guy. He had a small but lovely garden. In contrast to his evenings spent furrowed in his dimly lit basement, he spent his weekends in the sun, tending to his flowers that lined the path to his front door or the small vegetable patch in his backyard. Gardening was a good cover for a murderer; it gave him the appearance of being gentle and nurturing, when he was actually probably a sadist who buried his victims’ bodies in his floorboards.
She didn’t trust him. He was much too good looking to still be single in his early thirties. She’d read that serial killers rarely got married. The serial killer theory really explained a lot.
Of course, Faith was in her thirties and single, but not by choice. She’d had her eldest daughter Penny when she was sixteen years old. Then, about four years ago, she was married just long enough to get pregnant with Rhiannon. As soon as she’d told Casey she was pregnant, he couldn’t get the divorce papers signed quickly enough. She’d had a lengthy court battle to get him to pay child support, but he rarely sent the checks he was required to send and Faith just didn’t have the energy to keep fighting. So she had to support herself and her two girls on her anemic salary as an administrative assistant. Most months it took some seriously creative math to get all of the bills paid.
Ever since Casey had left her, the thick tendrils of heartbreak had squeezed her chest in a tight vice, making it difficult to breath.
Faith couldn’t stand when people ordered her to have a nice day. She’d have a crap day if she felt like it, okay? She’d always been moody. In high school, Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” song was played relentlessly on the radio, and people never tired of telling Faith that she should not worry and be happy. She wanted to beat them upside the head.
Faith couldn’t have been more different than her sister, Ariel. Ariel was two years younger always seemed to be generally happy. Ariel had a smile as big as bicycle handlebars and white teeth that could have starred in a commercial for a teeth whitening product.
Ariel opened the door to her sister’s house. “Hi Faith. I just wanted to let you know you’re raising Satan’s spawn.”
“Oh believe me, I know. What did she do this time?”
Ariel recounted the story and Faith laughed and gave her daughter a hug.
“Hey, don’t do that, you’re just encouraging her,” Ariel teased, though she herself tousled Rhiannon’s blond curls. Rhiannon was far too adorable to stay mad at for any length of time.
“Thanks for watching her,” Faith said, looking her younger sister up and down briefly—jealously—before averting her gaze.
Ariel’s tight red blouse stopped short of her jeans, letting her firm stomach and lower back peek out, revealing the ankh symbol she’d had tattooed there when she’d been in college. She had long blond hair she wore straight; she tended to go heavy on the black eyeliner.
“How did the interview go?” Ariel asked.
“I don’t know. I’m sure I didn’t get the job.”
“Faith, why do you always assume the worst of everything and everyone? Have you ever heard of the power of positive thinking?”
Faith rolled her eyes.
“I’ll do a prosperity spell for you tonight, okay?” Ariel said.
Faith threw her sister an incredulous look. She didn’t believe in spells or magic, which Ariel thought was a shame. If there was anyone who needed a little magic in her life, it was Faith.
“I know you don’t believe in magic, but it can’t hurt, right? Do you think you’d like the job if you did get offered it?”
“Definitely. It would be a huge increase in salary. And the lady I’d be working for seems really nice.”
“You’re going to get the job. I know you are. Look, I need to get going,” Ariel said, looking at her sister’s sad expression. “Faith, are you okay? I wish you would smile more.”
“What’s there to smile about? I’ve got a ten year old car and a crap job and credit card debt rivaling our national deficit.”
Ariel frowned. It was so hard to see her sister gripped in depression. She’d done countless spells to ease Faith’s sadness, but Faith’s sorrow was so deep it was proving challenging to overcome.
“Thanks for watching Rhiannon.”
Faith and Ariel hugged, then Ariel gave her Demon Child niece a hug goodbye, too.
Moments after Ariel left, Faith’s fourteen-year-old daughter Penny arrived home from school.
“I thought you had newspaper tonight,” Faith said.
“We finished early. Jim Peterson actually had the photos finished on time for once.” Penny dropped her school bag on the floor and sprawled across a chair, her leg hanging over the armrest, her head bent at an ergonomically menacing angle, eyes closed in an exaggerated pose of exhaustion. Faith took another peek out her window at Bret Halloran’s house.
“Have you caught Mr. Halloran in his plot to overtake the universe yet?” Penny asked.
“Penny, you have to admit that it’s strange how he receives all those packages all the time.”
“He is strange, I’m not arguing with you there. I’m just not convinced he’s up to something sinister.”
“Most murderers seem very normal. That’s why so many literally get away with murder.”
“I guess. What’s for dinner?”
“I wasn’t expecting you tonight. I was just going to make grilled cheese sandwiches.”
Penny gagged theatrically.
Faith tried again. “How about a frozen pizza?”
“Well . . .”
“How about a frozen pizza, a bowl of popcorn, and an excessively sappy video that will make us cry our eyes out?”
“Rhiannon, are you hungry? Did you eat when you were with Auntie Ariel?”
“We got cake.”
“You got cake?”
“Cake. Choca cake.”
That was just great. Why did her sister feel the need to inject pounds of sugar into her daughter so that she’d spend her evening bouncing off the walls in a sugar spun frenzy? Faith sighed.
Penny made the popcorn and poured the diet cokes while Faith heated up the pizza. They picked out a video that they’d taped from cable months earlier and all three of them settled down beside each other on the couch with a bowl of popcorn between them, slices of pizza on paper plates in their lap, and a giant box of tissue centered between them. Rhiannon nodded off soon after the opening credits and Faith carried her to bed and then returned to finish watching the movie with Penny. They’d watched the video dozens of times before, but it never failed to make them weep copiously.
By the time the movie ended, paper plates with hardened pizza crusts lay on the end tables beside them and used tissues lay on the couch and floor around Faith and Penny like a field of pink carnations. The bowl of popcorn had been reduced to nothing more than a few oily, salty unpopped kernels.
They starred absently at the video rewinding at turbocharged speed, their eyes puffy and red.
“I’m going to crash,” Penny said at last. She leaned over and gave Faith a good night kiss on the cheek.
Faith gave Penny a hug, her eyes still on the TV screen. The video finished rewinding, and Faith realized she was starring blankly out at nothing.
When Ariel got home, she made herself a cup of cleansing mint tea. She had a number of medicinal and magical herbs hanging around her kitchen, which filled the room with vibrant colors and gave the room a homey feel. The scent of sage and lavender and lemon balm infused the air with a pleasing scent.
When her tea had steeped, she took her cup and went to her bedroom, where she sat at her small altar. There was a layer of blue silk covering it, and on top of that was one of her handmade candles, a small container of salt, and several crystals: carnelian for harmony, tiger eye for strength and courage, and aventurine for prosperity.
Ariel lit the candle, a special one she’d made herself that was the bright lime green color of peridot crystal. Green was the color of prosperity. She took a tourmaline stone, which was good for protection against negative influences, and set that beside the candle. She burnt pinches of dill in the flickering flame of the candle, which was a good trick for bringing in needed income. Then she took a thread and wrapped it around the candle, chanting her wish over and over again: “Bring my sister happiness and prosperity. Bring my sister happiness and prosperity.” She chanted this for several minutes with her eyes closed, visualizing her sister getting the new job and finding a guy who would love her. When she was done, she blew the candle out; the smoke swirled and danced around the room.
Ariel went to her small “studio,” which was really just a second bedroom. The room was bare of furniture except for an easel and a stool and a small wood table covered in splattered paint. She finished up one of the last pieces she’d be showing at the gallery on Friday—it would have just enough time to dry before the opening—and with a satisfied smile, she stripped off her clothes and fell into bed where she fell asleep in just moments.
In the morning she took time to do a spell for herself. It was the spell she performed most often—a spell to bring love her way. She boiled basil and orange peel in a small pot. Over the boiling pot she chanted, “Somewhere between the mossy woods and the turbulent seas, there is a man for me. Clear the dark night skies and the thick forest of trees and let us find what is meant to be.” She repeated this chant several times and then, with a sigh, she left for work.