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  • Witches’ Brew paperback paranormal cozy mystery with vampires
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Morgana Best

Witches' Brew (PAPERBACK)

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PAPERBACK. Book 1 of the Vampires and Wine paranormal cozy mystery series.

A B&B that doesn’t serve breakfast, a dead body, and something strange in the room at the end of the corridor . . . Pepper knew moving back home wasn’t going to be easy.

Pepper Jasper moves from Sydney to the cozy town of Lighthouse Bay, answering a desperate plea from her aunts to help with their failing Bed and Breakfast business. 

She discovers her aunts are more eccentric than she remembered, the Bed and Breakfast does not serve breakfast, and the cottages for lease have strange themes. And what’s more, within minutes of her arrival, she stumbles across a dead body. 

Pepper soon has her hands full, contending with a murder mystery, irritating guests including the enigmatic Lucas O’Callaghan who is convinced every woman wants to fall into his arms, and her aunts, who are hiding more than one deep secret.

Who - or what! - lurks in the forbidden room at the end of the dark corridor?

And why do the aunts insist she drink copious quantities of special label wine?

Find out what awaits Pepper Jasper at Mugwort Manor.

PAPERBACK Paranormal cozy mystery - with vampires!

 Paperback 188 pages
 Dimensions  6 x 0.57 x 9 inches (127 x 12.1 x 203 mm)
 ISBN  9781922420640
 Publication date  February 6, 2017
 Publisher  Best Cosy Books

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One discount pack of hipster lace briefs, one large caramel almond latte, one plane ticket from Sydney to Lighthouse Bay. That’s all I had to show for my life, or to be precise, that’s all I could afford after I sold my old car.

I was about to do what every girl dreaded—move back home to the relatives. I had no choice. My degree in Classical Literature hadn’t exactly prepared me for the workplace. I’d worked as a temporary waitress, as a barista, selling tickets at a cinema, anything I could get, but the jobs were few and far between. I had done plenty of spells to get permanent jobs, but nothing ever worked. I’d wished more than once that I was like a Hollywood witch who could wave a magic wand and make things happen, instead of being a normal everyday woman who practised traditional witchcraft.

“It’s only until you get back on your feet,” I said aloud and then averted my eyes as the taxi driver shot me a quick look in the rear view mirror. I had no idea how I would cope with moving from the big city to the tiny beachside town of Lighthouse Bay, a move made all the worse by having to live with my elderly aunts. To say they were as mad as hatters was putting it mildly. Still, their Bed and Breakfast business in the Jasper family ancestral home was crumbling, as no doubt was the house itself—if my memory served me correctly—and they had offered me a partnership in the business. They said they needed young blood.

The taxi driver didn’t make conversation, which suited me just fine. I looked out the window at the narrow, winding road leading from the township of Lighthouse Bay to Mugwort Manor with dismay. This was a far cry from Sydney. Had I made the wrong decision? Had boredom ever killed anyone outright? I shook my head. No, I truly had no other options. I had been living on instant noodles, and had become so ill from lack of good food that I even had to take a daily iron supplement. I would have to put my best foot forward.

I directed the taxi driver to take me to the main house, not the cottages that my aunts rented out to paying guests. The driver deposited my suitcases on the side of the road and then drove off, leaving me standing there.

Mugwort Manor loomed before me, looking quite Wuthering Heights but without the doom and gloom. Well, maybe a little gloom, but there were certainly no English moors around here. The Australian sky was bright and blue, the air salty, yet the landscape in front of me betrayed no sign that the sea was nearby. The dark dormer windows seemed threatening somehow, as if some arcane creature was watching me through hooded eyes between the ancient drapes. Jasmine and ivy clawed their way across the face of the house, clinging to every fissure they could find.

Trees hung over the pathway, almost as if they wanted to tear at guests. The undergrowth was thick enough to conceal any manner of creature. In fact, was that a menacing growl I heard?

“Stop being fanciful,” I said aloud. I had grown accustomed to talking to myself. I figured whoever said that talking to oneself is the first sign of madness had not lived alone for any length of time. Or maybe they were right.

The house looked the same as when I had last seen it some five years earlier, just before I lost my parents. I had been raised in the northern suburbs of Sydney, and only after my parents went missing while on sabbatical in Kyrgyzstan had I regained significant contact with my aunts. My parents’ estate was tied up in all sorts of legal entanglements, and my lawyer said they would not be declared dead for another two years. I didn’t want them declared dead at all; I hoped they would somehow turn up. The Australian government was not looking for them. No one was, and I myself did not have sufficient funds to go to Kyrgyzstan. Even if I did, I wouldn’t know where to start. The situation was entirely hopeless.

At any rate, my parents had done their best to avoid The Aunts, as they called them, and had never told me why.

I uttered a few choice words and then struggled up the moss-covered flagstone path to the front door of Mugwort Manor.

A fresh sea breeze picked up my hair. I flicked the few strands out of my eyes and inhaled the heady scent of jasmine. Although Sydney was also on the ocean, the air was nowhere near as clear nor as fragrant as the pristine air of Lighthouse Bay. Mugwort Manor was close to the beach, a beautiful beach which stretched along the east coast of Australia. One section of beach was patrolled, and frequented by surfers, while the remaining, longer section was a designated off-leash dog beach. I was looking forward to long walks on the beach to preserve my sanity.

I paused as butterflies welled in my stomach, warning me of an upcoming event. I’d had this precognition since childhood, a foreknowledge that served to warn me both of something good happening and also something bad. Unfortunately, my life had been full of more bad somethings than good somethings. I had no idea what this was signalling, but given my track record, I supposed it wasn’t going to be good. My right eye twitched. That always meant something bad was heading my way.

I decided not to ring the doorbell and alert my aunts until my belongings were sitting nicely outside the front door, otherwise I was sure mayhem would ensue. They were not the most organised people in the world. With that in mind, I stacked my suitcases out of the way. My aunts were likely to charge out the door and fall over them. Aunt Dorothy, for one, was clumsy and short-sighted. Just as my hand reached for the brass doorbell, I realised I had left my handbag by the road.

I gingerly walked back down the uneven flagstones—they were an accident waiting to happen—being careful going downhill given that it had obviously rained recently, and heavily. That wasn’t unusual for these parts. Lighthouse Bay wasn’t in the tropics, but in summer, thunderstorms were common most afternoons.

I retrieved my handbag from on top of a clump of kikuyu grass and turned to go, hesitating as the sound of a powerful engine roared behind me. As I turned, a silver Porsche screeched to a halt and splashed mud all over me.

A tall, dark, and strikingly handsome man jumped out of the car, presumably to apologise. At least, I think that’s how he looked through the mud in my eyes. I gingerly wiped it out and then removed the mud from my mouth as well. The man was now standing in front of me. It was all I could do not to drool: that strong jaw line, eyes that brought to mind the colour of Homer’s ‘wine-dark sea,’ his muscular body, the way he exuded raw masculinity.

He was wearing a leather jacket and a scowl. “Name?” he snapped.

“You splashed mud all over me!” I said angrily, my initial attraction to him vanishing in an instant at his manner.

“That’s a long and unusual name.” He raised his eyebrows.

I did not find the remark remotely funny, and the man hadn’t even bothered to apologise. “What do you want?” I said, none too politely.

“Is this Mugwort Manor?”

By way of answer, I pointed to the partly concealed sign nearby.

The man looked at the sign, and then walked up the flagstone path to the door, ignoring me completely. I stormed after him.

I knew this was a big mistake. I wasn’t a people person and I hadn’t enjoyed any of my jobs in the hospitality industry, so how did I think I would cope with rude customers at the B&B? I assumed this man was a customer, but I reminded myself he could be anything. I just hoped he wasn’t a debt collector.

The man was already pressing the brass doorbell incessantly. “You need to give them time to answer,” I said.

He ignored me and rang once more.

Aunt Maude flung the door open, looked the man up and down, and then spotted me. “Valkyrie!” she said with delight. She pulled me into a big hug. I managed to extract my head from her ample bosom only with some difficulty.

The man clearly wasn’t accustomed to being ignored. He cleared his throat loudly, and said, “I’m Lucas O’Callaghan. I’ve booked.”

Maude ignored him. “Dorothy, Agnes, Valkyrie’s here,” she called over her shoulder.

Dorothy appeared in the doorway. “Oh, Val, you’ve gotten taller.” She was looking directly at the man.

I groaned. “I’m over here, Aunt Dorothy.” The aunts did not look related to each other. Aunt Maude was happily plump, as she put it, with a shock of white hair, while Aunt Agnes was stick thin. Her hair was as red as a fire engine, and she wore red, bat-wing, thick-rimmed glasses. On the other hand, Aunt Dorothy wore no glasses at all, and that was a problem. Her hair was salt-and-pepper at the roots and sported masses of frizzy split ends. Her eyes were a piercing cornflower blue, as were the other aunts’ eyes, but that was all they had in common.

Aunt Agnes pushed past Aunt Dorothy and the man. “Put your glasses on, Dorothy. Hello, you must be Mr O’Callaghan. You need to come inside and register.” Her voice was harsh, but all three aunts hated men. I had never found out why—perhaps they were all jilted in their youth. I would have to address this if the business were to succeed. She continued in a kinder tone. “Maude, get Valkyrie’s suitcases and take them to her room.”

“Um, you said I could live in the Assistant Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage,” I said hastily, following the aunts into the foyer. Mugwort Manor creeped me out, and the aunts’ collective eccentricity was wearing.

At any rate, the foyer was a grand affair. The parquetry floor would have been quite something in its day, although the extensive wood panelling on the walls looked medieval. The wide panels next to the strong oak entrance door had once been glass, but were now boarded up with heavy oak wood panels to match the walls. The place somewhat resembled a fortress, albeit a heavily decorated one. Two identical bronze statues of women in Grecian drapes and mounted on fluted column pedestals flanked the door.

The room would have been impossibly dark, only for the skylight in the vaulted ceiling and the huge window high over the door.

“Nonsense, dear.” Aunt Agnes looked at me over the top of her bat-wing bifocals. “You need to settle in first, and we have so much catching up to do.”

“I’m used to living alone,” I pleaded.

Lucas O’Callaghan made a sound that sounded suspiciously like, ‘No wonder.’

“Did you have something to say?” I snapped.

He held up his hands in mock surrender. “Sorry, Valkyrie.” His tone held more than a hint of derision.

“My name’s Pepper,” I said, exasperated.

“Her real name is Valkyrie,” Agnes said primly. “It’s her legal name.”

Dorothy nodded. “I asked her mother to call her Valkyrie Chooser of the Slain who Shall Enter Valhalla, but she refused, for some reason.”

I resisted the urge to scream. “Aunts, everyone else calls me Pepper. The agreement was that if I returned to help, you would call me Pepper, and I could live in one of the cottages.”

“Have it your own way then, Valkyrie,” Agnes said waspishly.

The man crossed his arms. “Ladies, can I just register and get out of here?”

And that was when a body fell through the skylight.

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