When I finally made it home, sleep didn’t come easy. I lay in bed for hours, staring blankly at my ceiling, anxious for night to transition to day. I wanted my fucking life back, and only one person could help me with that—a 102-year-old psychic. Okay, so maybe she wasn’t quite that old, but still, my world was in turmoil.
I was damn tired of wading through the flames of hell and being spoon-fed answers at the convenience of others. Seriously, fuck Abel for that! My lips twisted into a mischievous grin as my mind contemplated that thought in its most literal sense. I shook the sexy-time scene away and refocused. No, I needed answers and Madam Lagos was the only one that could provide them. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I was finally going to be rid of this nightmare. The euphoria that filled my spirit helped lull me to sleep. I should have known it wouldn’t last.
THE LATE AFTERNOON sun shone over Whitaker Street like a promising beacon as I pulled into a parking spot behind the modest, one-storied structure and got out, practically skipping to the front entrance of the shop. Late fall’s dead leaves crunched under my feet as I made my way up the front steps. A decaying pumpkin from last week’s Halloween still sat at the top of the stoop, greeting patrons. I pushed open the heavy wooden door and stepped into shadows. A lone candle offered the only light.
“Madame Lagos?” I called out to the empty room.
Ringing the bell on the glass counter, I focused on the beaded curtains that masked the back room. Minutes passed with no signs of the old woman. I frowned, then rang the bell again. Patience was NOT my strong suit. I sighed in annoyance, then stepped toward the stockroom. “Hell-.” The word died on my lips as my eyes fell to the carpeted floor.
Madame Lagos lay crumpled at the end of the counter, her neck broken. Her lips were already purple, her weathered skin mottled.
My hands flew to my mouth, stifling the piercing scream that begged to be released. As I shrank away, he was standing there. Arms crossed proudly over his chest, his cold, dead eyes mocked me as I trembled with fear. Sebastian’s lips curled into a sneer and his raucous laughter filled the room.
I turned and ran for the door, my hands sweaty and shaky as I struggled with the knob. Seconds seemed like years before I was able to command a firm grasp and turn the handle. When the door squeaked open on its rusty hinges, I flung myself blindly down the short flight of steps and onto the concrete sidewalk below. Stinging pain surged through my body and I vaguely registered the blood gushing down my shins. My lungs burned, begging for oxygen. I hadn’t even realized that I was holding my breath. I finally exhaled, my shoulders sagging forward.
How could this have happened? Was I dreaming? I blinked, trying to force myself to wake. But my reality didn’t waver, and realization set in. The old woman’s distorted body and vacant eyes flashed through my mind. My stomach lurched, and then I was vomiting on the grass beside me. From behind, I heard a soft voice call my name.
“Colette? Colette, are you okay?”
I strained my eyes against the setting sun to notice a familiar figure standing over me.
“No,” I managed to squeak out, the words like shards of glass against my vocal cords. Tears cascaded over my cheeks, plopping onto the sidewalk. “I’m not.”
I SAT in the back of the police car, still shaking despite the scratchy blanket wrapped around my shoulders. Victoria Campbell sat next to me, shielding me protectively against her chest as she stroked my hair. The rear passenger door opened, and Chief Miller looked in.
“Ladies, could you please step out?”
Reluctantly, I left the safety of the squad car and stood against the rear of the vehicle, staring numbly into the starry night sky. Chief Miller’s eyes studied me, as though he expected to find answers written across my fucking forehead.
I opened my mouth, eager to break the uncomfortable silence, but before words could form, I heard my name ring out against the cool night breeze. I turned and saw Abel hopping over the police barricade, shoving officers aside as he struggled to reach me.
Chief Miller motioned for his subordinates to cease. “Let him through, let him through!” he commanded, his voice booming over the chaos.
Abel framed my face with his hands as he looked me over. “Are you okay? What happened, Colette?” He nodded at his mom. “Are you alright? Were you with her?”
Victoria shook her head. “No, I was leaving my office. I found her collapsed on the sidewalk in front of the shop.”
I still felt numb, unable to process what I’d witnessed. Moments later, paramedics wheeled a stretcher that carried the black body bag of Madame Lagos. They loaded her lifeless body into the back of the ambulance and slammed the doors—sort of like God slamming shut the story of her life. Done, cut, that’s a wrap. It was complete bullshit.
“Colette! Colette, can you hear me?”
I numbly turned my head to the set of panic-stricken green eyes at my side. His voice was muffled, but that face was perhaps the greatest work of art I’d ever seen and in that precise moment, I needed only him. I tenderly reached up and caressed his cheek. “I can hear you, Abel.”
He breathed a sigh of relief and pulled me into his arms, kissing the top of my head. The steady rhythm of his heartbeat comforted me, whisking me away from the bedlam surrounding us. I closed my eyes and inhaled his scent, anxious to escape. Seconds later, my name swirled around my ears and I realized I was being beckoned once more. My mom and dad were making their way through the crowd of on-lookers. I stepped out of Abel’s embrace only to be engulfed by my mom.
“Honey, what happened?” Without waiting for my answer, she turned to Chief Miller. “What the hell is going on?”
He was far too calm for the situation. I guess thirty-two years on the force would do that to a man. Gesturing toward the sidewalk, he spoke in a soothing, even tone. “Let’s step up here a moment.”
Savannah’s finest worked diligently to clear the scene, dismissing the group of nosy shopkeepers and pedestrians that had gathered nearby. With order restored, Chief Miller turned his attention to me and my parents.
“I’d like to come up to your house and get a statement if that’s all right with you folks.”
My dad squeezed my shoulder. “Coco, you up for that?”
I exhaled and nodded, still too stunned to formulate any other response.
I PULLED the wool blanket around my shoulders and snuggled by the fire. Despite my attempts at warmth, all I felt was coldness and death. At this point, those sentiments had seeped under my skin like a poison entering my bloodstream. Little by little, pieces of my soul rotted away. Soon, I knew darkness would prevail. Sebastian would gain whatever favor he sought, and I’d fail to help Genesis, resigning her to wallow forever in her loneliness.
I brought the mug of cocoa to my lips, peering over the rim at my audience. They all sat in nervous anticipation, eagerly awaiting the story I was about to tell. Abel sat next to me on the sofa with his mom at the far end. My parents stood beside the fireplace, their eyes glued on Chief Miller as he paced back and forth and began his inter‐ rogation.
Abel grabbed my hand and brought it to his lap, squeezing it gently. He nodded his encouragement, his eyes conveying his support.
“So, tell me, Colette. Was there any particular reason you headed to Madam Lagos’ shop this afternoon?”
I swallowed the lump in my throat, already uncertain of how to answer. I knew I couldn’t deliberate for too long though. Hesitation would equate to concocted falsehoods in his eyes, so I settled for half-truths. “I went there the other day after I picked up my car from the auto repair shop.”
My dad let out a hearty sigh and crossed his arms over his chest. One question down and I had already sealed my fate. Off to the nunnery for me. Hopefully, I’d be able to fuck Abel one final time before my departure.
“She had helped me in the past, so I had gone there seeking her assistance again, but she was busy, so she asked me to come back today.”
“Assistance with what?” Chief Miller asked curiously, his brow arching.
I tilted my head back, contemplating a suitable response. “Which time are you referring to? I’d already stated I’d seen her on multiple occasions.”
He seemed to process that thought a moment before responding. “Were the purposes of these visits related?”
I averted my eyes and flicked my tongue over my lips. “Somewhat.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“She gave me a book.”
He frowned. “I see…and that’s why you returned to her shop today?”
“I had questions, yes.”
Half-truths. I could fucking major in it. “Life. Death,” I said with a shrug.
“Okay.” He hesitated a few seconds, scribbling some notes on his pad. “How many times have you visited her shop?”
I scrunched up my nose. “Three.”
He stopped pacing and studied me, stroking his chin. “You know Harlow Thompson, correct?”
Oh, shit. Something told me I wasn’t going to like where this was going. “Yes, sir. She’s a friend of mine.”
“Right. And you were at Harlow Thompson’s house on the night of September 27th, correct?”
I glanced over at Abel and shifted my weight, tucking my legs beneath me. “I don’t remember the date exactly but yeah, Harlow’s parents were gone so she invited a group of us over.”
“Well, Ms. Thompson called for an ambulance that evening and Madame Lagos was taken to the hospital. Something about her falling into a glass cabinet and hurting herself?”
“I, I guess so,” I stammered, looking into the disapproving faces of my parents.
“Care to tell me how that happened? Why was she at Harlow Thompson’s house?” Chief Miller asked, snapping my eyes back to his.
I bristled. “I don’t know. I suppose you’d have to ask Harlow. Or better yet, Kinsley was there too. Perhaps you should ask her.”
Chief Miller’s jaw tightened at the mention of his daughter’s name. “Well, right now I’m asking you.”
“I don’t have an answer for you. I’m not the one that invited her.”
He jotted a few notes down, then looked up at me. When he continued, he switched up his line of questioning. “So, what time did you arrive at the shop today?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I went right after school let out.”
“Did you stop anywhere else?”
I shook my head. “No.”
“Tell me what happened when you got to the shop.”
Abel gave my hand another squeeze. I took a deep breath.
“I walked in and didn’t see her, so I rang the service bell. I thought maybe she was in the back room or something, so I started to step behind the counter and that’s when I saw her, lying on the floor with her neck broken.”
“Did you see anyone else?”
Sebastian’s jeering face popped into my head. “No,” I said quickly, setting my mug on the coffee table.
Chief Miller turned to Abel’s mom. “You weren’t inside the shop?”
Victoria shook her head. “No Ace. I was leaving my office and saw Colette on the sidewalk. She looked traumatized.”
“And how do you know Miss Vaughn?”
“She’s my son’s girlfriend.”
Chief Miller raised an eyebrow, but quickly recovered and flashed a friendly smile. “Thank you all for your time and statements. If I need anything further, I’ll reach out.” He briefly shook hands with everyone before heading out of the house.
Mrs. Campbell stood and nudged Abel. “We should go too.”
Abel kissed me on the cheek, then dropped his forehead to mine. “I’ll text you later, okay?”
I nodded. “Okay, sounds good.” I glanced over at Victoria. “Thanks, Mrs. Campbell…for everything you did. I’m so sorry to take up your whole evening with this.”
She smiled and hugged me. “No problem at all, sweetie.”
My mom walked them out and dad plopped down on the couch next to me, burying his face in his hands. “Coco, I don’t even know where to start. Staying out late, a vandalized car, and now this? I swear we never had this much trouble before! And we lived in Chicago for Christ’s sake!”
Instantly, I saw red. “Whoa! You’re the one that took the job transfer, remember? I never asked to move here! And I sure as hell didn’t ask to witness what I did tonight.” My voice choked and I had to swallow the knot of emotions in my throat.
Dad sighed again. “This isn’t about me, Colette. This is about—”
“Isn’t it though? You and Mom have no idea what I’ve been through since moving here! It hasn’t exactly been a picnic for me either!”
Mom re-entered the room, not oblivious to the strained tension that hung in the air. She faced us, placing her hands on her hips. “What’s going on?”
I sneered and jumped to my feet. “Ask your husband. I’m sure he’ll fill you in. I’m going to bed.”
I stormed out of the parlor and marched upstairs to my room. With a new flood of tears flowing over my cheeks, I collapsed on my bed and pulled a pillow to my chest. My arms wrapped around it as if it were a buoy keeping me afloat in torrent waters. My sheets were quickly dampened by my salty tears. From just beyond the doorway, I heard a quiet voice call my name.
I looked up and saw the small frame of my sister staring at me with uncertainty. I sat up and quickly wiped my face. Forcing a smile, I motioned her over. “Hey Em.”
She bounded in, her tiny feet pounding against the solid wood floors. When she jumped onto my bed and threw her arms around me in a hug, I felt my sorrows dissipate. Her cornflower-blue eyes sparkled with adoration and concern. “What wrong, Coco?”
I sniffed. “Just a bad day. I’ll be alright. How are you?”
Emerson cocked her head to the side. Ignoring my question, she asked one of her own. One that I wasn’t prepared for. “I’m okay,” she said quietly, her adolescent eyes studying me. “Why isn't Boo- Boo?”
“Boo-Boo died in a car accident, baby. She had lots of bumps and bruises.”
“Why what, Em?”
“Why am I still here?”
Her voice was small, barely above a whisper. It chilled me to the bone. I hated that she had memories of her death. It shouldn’t be possible. It was a burden too heavy for a three-year-old to bear, so I tried to ease her mind the best way I knew how—with comfortable generalizations.
“Em, sometimes things happen that we can’t control, baby. Like car accidents.”
Her face hardened and her eyes grew cold. With one glare she morphed from my baby sister to an entity I didn’t know. Her small body shook as she spoke, her voice laced with accusation. “Who said it was an accident?”
The hair on my arms stood up and I felt the blood drain from my body. This couldn’t be happening. I was not about to have this conversation, especially after the shit-show of a day I’d just had. I kissed the top of her blonde head and plastered a smile on my face. “You should go to bed now, Em. It’s pretty late.”
Her blue eyes cleared and she grinned at me, giving me a big hug before racing out of the room, her blonde curls flying after her. “Night, night, Coco,” she called over her shoulder.
I sighed and laid back down, drifting into misery once more. Horrifying images of Madame Lagos’ corpse flittered through my mind, causing me further unrest. How had this happened? How did Sebastian know what I had planned?
Incessant pecking at my bedroom window created a much-needed distraction. I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed. On the ledge perched a large black crow, staring at me with its opaque, beady eyes. I lifted the window and shooed it away. As my gaze fell back over the yard, I saw him standing by the garden, his yellow eyes piercing through the darkness.
Motherfucker! What was he doing here?
The crow circled about before coming to rest on Cassius’ shoulder. It opened its mouth and cawed mockingly at me. Just the sight of his 6’2 frame made my skin crawl and made me ache for a cleansing shower. If it were the conclusion to any other day, I’d march my happy ass outside and tell him to get the hell off my lawn. But alas, I had nothing left in the tank to entertain a single round of sarcastic banter with an egotistical vampire. So instead, I simply narrowed my eyes and watched him intently as the fog rolled in, immersing him in a dense cloud of mysteriousness.
I leaned my forehead against the window frame, closing my eyes and taking deep breaths. Of course, when I reopened them, Cassius was gone.
WHEN I WALKED into school the next morning, I could feel the eyes of the student body upon me, murmuring to each other as I passed by. Their judgments were suffocating. The whispers grew louder as I increased my pace and I could feel my cheeks start to burn with humiliation. Why the hell did we have to move here? And why did I have to be the one to discover her dead body? This was not what I had envisioned upon starting at a new school.
I pushed open the swinging door to the women’s restroom, colliding with a freshman girl on her way out. “Sorry,” I mumbled, stumbling past her. I scurried into the stall and latched the door behind me. Slumping against it, I struggled to calm my breathing. The anxiety of the past few weeks consumed me, swallowing me whole. I wanted to just hide here all day—my make-shift shelter.
“Colette?” a familiar voice called out. “Colette, I know you’re in here!”
Kinsley’s tone was demanding and I could just imagine her eyes scanning the row of stalls, her hands in their usual position on her hips as she waited impatiently for me to come out. Her heels clacked against the square pink and white tiles of the bathroom floor, stopping just in front of the stall I sought refuge in. She pounded against the door, causing it to rattle precariously against its aged hinges.
“Colette, we need to talk. My dad told me about last night.”
The squeaking of the bathroom door announced the arrival of additional guests.
“Molly said that Colette found the old woman in Forsyth Park and that she had been stabbed 17 times!” a female voice rang out.
“Well, Molly’s full of shit because I heard that Colette just fucking snapped and pushed that Lagos lady down the stairs,” another girl claimed.
I closed my eyes and made a silent prayer to find the willpower to get through this day. Catty high school gossip was NOT what I needed right now, but it was the least of my troubles. I needed to take the world by the balls and take back my sanity. I took a deep breath and flung the stall door open, ready to kick some ass.
The Kinsley I encountered upon emerging from the stall was a thing of nightmares. Sure, I had seen (and felt) glimpses of Kinsley’s rage, but never like this. She had come unhinged. Her hair was unkempt, a tangled halo of moisturized blonde strands. Her nostrils were flared, and her beautiful turquoise eyes were rimmed in red and filled with feral rage, her body visibly shaking. If looks could kill, both of those girls would be goners. Without a single word, she stormed over, significantly challenging the boundaries of personal space as she stood just inches behind them.
She leaned in, her voice low and dangerous. “I don’t need to remind either of you that my dad is the sheriff and I can get away with anything I want. Keep talking about my friend and I will make sure they never find your fucking bodies. Got it?”
My jaw dropped. A.) Kinsley never cussed and 2.) Did she just threaten to murder them…for me? Didn’t we have enough death ’round these parts?
The girls quickly exchanged glances with each other before turning back to Kinsley. “Y-you wouldn’t do that.”
Kinsley’s scowl intensified. “Fucking try me.”
Nervously, they shuffled their feet, then glanced at me and mumbled quick apologies before darting out of the bathroom.
Kinsley spun on her heel with a flourish and faced me, flashing her typical smile once more. “Ugh, I hate frowning!” she complained. “Gives me pre-mature wrinkles!”
I couldn’t help but smile. Just mere seconds before she had threatened the lives of two classmates, but now the only concern she had was early signs of aging. That was the Kinsley I knew!
I stood in front of the mirror, pulling at the bags under my eyes. “Ugh, I look as terrible as I feel,” I moaned. Turning around, I faced Kinsley. “You know, you didn’t have to go to extremes. I was handling it.”
“Really? By cowering in a bathroom stall?” she asked with a scoff.
I shrugged. “We all have our ways.”
She leaned her butt against one of the sinks. “Wanna talk about this?”
I pulled my make-up bag out and applied a coat of mascara to my lashes. “Not at all.” I didn’t need to look at her to know that she was glaring. Kinsley could abolish her targets with a single glance.
“Well, that’s just too damn bad because we’re going to anyway.”
I turned to her in exasperation. “What can I possibly tell you that your father hasn’t, Kinsley? I found her dead body. It sucked. The end.”
She pushed off her perch and grabbed me by the shoulders. “Colette, listen. We’ll figure out who was responsible and my dad will—“
My eyes flashed and anger surged. If I had better self-control, my filter would’ve prevented the words from spilling off my lips. But I’d been dragged through hell, and I was goddamn sick of mincing my words. “Look, I know that in your world, Daddy fixes everything, but to the rest of us, that’s a crock of shit.”
Kinsley bit her lip, clenching and unclenching her fists as she worked through her own emotions. “I’m going to give you a pass right now because I know you’ve been through the wringer, but that wasn’t cool. “
I applied a coat of lip gloss and stared at her in the mirror. Hurt resonated across her flawless features and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was being a shitty friend. I sighed. “I’m sorry, Kins. I’m just sensitive about all of this right now.”
“I know you are, but don’t shut us out, Colette,” she urged, her eyes softening. “We’re all here for you. Even the Witches of Eastwick, in their own messed-up way.”
A smile found its way to my lips at her characterization of Fallon and Scarlett.
She drummed her pink-tipped nails against the ceramic sink basin before continuing. “Who do you think’s responsible?”
Such a simple question with such a complicated answer. I knew who was fucking responsible and I had a guilty conscience about it. Technically, I should be thrown in jail for withholding information regarding the murderer’s identity. I mean hell, I saw him standing right over her dead fucking body! But even so, I couldn’t bring myself to tell Savannah’s Chief of Police that his town was overrun with creatures of the night. Furthermore, I didn’t think he’d believe me. So instead, I confided in his daughter. Grimacing, I muttered, “I don’t need to think. I know.”