I have a secret. A big, fat, hairy secret.
And I’m not talking minor-league stuff, like I once let Joseph Applebaum feel me up behind the seventh-grade stairwell or I got a Brazilian wax after work last Friday or I’m hiding a neon blue vibrator called the Electric Slide in my night table. Which I’m not, by the way. In case you were wondering.
No, this is completely different. And as far as I knew, only two—well, technically one, but we’ll call it two—people in the entire world knew about it.
Until this morning.
Usually, I waltz into my office at Withers and Young with my skinny latte, extra foam, and find nothing but a neat stack of manila folders waiting for me. Today, however, next to the manila folders—labeled with the new apple green and pink stickers I’d bought last week—was a box.
Now, I should have been suspicious right off. I mean, it was too early for the mail, and the only thing on the front of the package was my name, in swirly letters. Not your normal business correspondence, for sure. And besides, I was an auditor. Who in the world would be sending me care packages?
But none of that percolated through my sluggish brain that morning. I had just picked up the box when my nosy assistant Sally walked in, wearing snug hip-huggers and a jarring floral blouse that barely contained her bosom. “Adele wants to talk to you about the Southeast Airlines account.” She gave me a tight smile, accentuating the cupid’s bow she’d drawn just outside the perimeter of her lips. Then her beady little eyes fastened on the box. “What’s that? Something from that tennis-player boyfriend of yours?”
“I don’t know.” I shook the box, which had just the right heft for Godiva. “Probably chocolate.” My boyfriend Heath had a penchant for surprising me with boxes of truffles. I loved them—especially those hazelnut cream ones—but it was starting to play hell with my waistline.
“Yum. Can I have one?”
“Sure.” I tried to pry up the tape with my fingernail, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Jeez, that’s wrapped up tight.”
Sally was right; it was the Fort Knox of chocolate boxes. I ran my tongue over my razor-sharp eyeteeth, tempted to use them on the tape. But with Sally hanging over my desk, it wouldn’t be a good idea.
“I’ll get scissors,” she said, heaving herself off my desk and disappearing through the door. A moment later, she returned with a pair of shears, cutting the paper off with a flourish.
The box inside wasn’t gold foil. It was plain brown cardboard. And my skinny latte must have finally kicked in, because my instincts were telling me I wasn’t going to like what was inside. And since my instincts are on the strong side, I really should have listened to them.
But hindsight, as they say, is always twenty-twenty.
“Doesn’t look like chocolate,” said Sally, who was hovering over me like a flowery vulture, reeking of Aviance Night Musk.
“Not Godiva, anyway.” A phone rang in the distance. “Isn’t that your phone?”
Sally gave me a smile that told me I wasn’t going to pry her out of my office with a crowbar. “No, it’s Mindy’s.”
“Are you sure?”
She wasn’t budging, so I went ahead and opened it.
Instead of neat rows of chocolate nestled in gold foil, inside the box was a Ziploc bag of dried green leaves.
I slammed the lid down, hoping Sally wasn’t an amateur botanist.
Sally’s black-rimmed eyes grew huge. “Is that pot?”
“What?” I croaked. On second thought, maybe it would be better if she was an amateur botanist. Wolfsbane might be poisonous, but at least you couldn’t be arrested for having it.
“The bag in there,” she said, pointing at the box. “It looks like weed.”
“Oh, it’s just peppermint,” I said, tossing off a light laugh that sounded like I was choking on a chicken bone. “Probably from my mother.”
Sally narrowed her little eyes at me. “Why would your mother send you peppermint?”
“Peppermint tea,” I said. “She knows I like it.” Actually, it wasn’t a total lie. My mother did send me tea regularly, only it wasn’t peppermint.
I moved the box to my lap, resisting the urge to panic and trying to ignore the fact that Sally was still staring at me. A phone rang somewhere in the building. “Shouldn’t you get the phone?” I suggested.
“No, it’s Mindy’s again.” Sally wrinkled her nose. “That stuff doesn’t smell like mint.” She jabbed a finger at the corner of yellow legal paper that was sticking out from under the lid. “Is that a note?”
“You know, I’m kind of busy this morning.”
“Aren’t you going to read it?”
Just then, a ring that was unmistakably Sally’s phone burbled from outside the door.
“Better go get that,” I said brightly.
Sally pursed her lips. “It can wait.”
I raised an eyebrow and tried to look official. “I don’t think Adele would be happy to hear that.” Adele was the head of the department and had an extremely low tolerance for anything short of professional. Which had always puzzled me, because it was Adele who had hired Sally.
Sally flashed me a nasty look and flounced from the office. When a few moments passed and she didn’t reappear, I tugged the note out of the box and opened it.
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I know what you are
And your boss soon will too.
I stared at the note. Despite what Sally thought, the stuff in the box wasn’t pot. And it had a lot more punch than peppermint. Most people, in fact, would consider it poison.
But I wasn’t most people.
I was a werewolf.
And somebody else knew it.
I took another sniff, inhaling the familiar bitter scent. Since I’m the daughter of a full-blooded werewolf and a psychic witch (lucky me), I’ve had to drink the stuff several times a day for years. Otherwise, I have a nasty tendency to transform every time something scares me.
Unfortunately, my mother didn’t hit on the right recipe until I was almost ten, which meant a lot of my childhood was spent packing up my Barbie dolls (I learned pretty early on that there wasn’t a Werewolf Barbie) and sitting beside my mother in a U-Haul truck. My werewolf dad scarpered before my first birthday, so my mother raised me by herself, which meant I spent a lot of time in child care.
Which is hard enough if you’re a regular kid, but an absolute nightmare when you happen to be a bouncing baby werewolf. Full moons were a problem, of course—although these days, with the help of my mother’s brew, my involuntary changes were limited to four times a year—but what was worse was my propensity for sprouting teeth and fur every time something startled me or pissed me off. You can imagine what happened when I didn’t get my bottle on time.
One of the more memorable episodes occurred in second grade, when a snotty little girl named Megan Soggs thought it would be fun to put a frog down my shirt at recess. I don’t know who was scared more, me by the frog or Megan by the wolf cub in penny loafers. But a week later, we were back in the U-Haul again, off to another city.
Fortunately, by the end of third grade, my mother had figured out how to use wolfsbane tea to keep my issues under control without doing me mortal harm. So once we found a town that was werewolf free—which turned out to be Austin—my mother unpacked the U-Haul and bought a small house. Neither of us had moved since. I still drank gallons of wolfsbane tea, and it still didn’t taste any better. As a kid, I’d taken it with chocolate syrup, strawberry syrup, and large quantities of honey, but these days I just used Splenda.
I gave myself a quick shake and reminded myself that all of that was behind me now. Since Sally was still on the phone, I gave the box a quick sniff. Coffee, cigarettes, the faint aroma of a woman, overlaid with the deeper notes of male sweat. An animal smell too—cat, maybe? I opened the Ziploc bag a crack. The wolfsbane was pure, probably grown in the Alps, if the woodsiness of the scent was any indication.
I fumbled the flaps closed and jammed the box into my bottom desk drawer, behind the Tension Tamer herbal tea box that I stocked with my own special tea bags. Relax, Sophie, relax. I pulled up the waistband of my panty hose and forced myself to take a few deep cleansing breaths, like my friend Lindsey had taught me. After the third breath, I gave up—otherwise, I was going to hyperventilate. Besides, I didn’t want to explain what I was doing pulling my control-top panty hose up to my boobs if Sally waltzed back into my office. Instead I leaned back and stared at the bottom left drawer of my desk.
The box meant that somebody knew I was a werewolf. And that was a big, big problem.
On the plus side—not that it was saying much—at least whoever it was didn’t have all the facts. The New Age books all say that if someone like me gets within ten feet of the green stuff in the plastic bag, we wilt like pansies in August. Kind of a nonviolent version of a silver bullet. Or a stake.
But unless I ate an entire bag of the stuff, wolfsbane couldn’t hurt me; in fact, I drank it three times daily. Religiously. As in I set a timer and plan my days around it. Because if I miss even one dose, things can get . . . well, let’s just say . . . hairy.
I gave the drawer a moody kick, scuffing the toe of one of my new Prada pumps, and sank back in my leather chair.
A moment later, Sally walked back into the office on a fresh wave of musk. “Did you figure out what it was?”
I shrugged. “Like I said, just a box of tea. From my mom.”
Sally narrowed her painted eyes at me. “Tea, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said. It wasn’t too far from the truth; since my mom did send me a box of special tea bags every month.
As Sally eyed me suspiciously, the phone rang. The call was from my mother’s shop. Which just goes to show that you should never think about a psychic—particularly one you don’t want to talk to.
After a pointed look from yours truly, Sally stalked out of my office. I couldn’t help noticing that her too-tight pants had given her a major wedgie. Surprising, really; I would have pegged Sally as a thong girl.
I picked up the phone. “Sophie Garou.”
It wasn’t my mother. Nor, unfortunately, was it Heath, whose deep chocolate voice was even more delicious than the truffles he surprised me with. Instead it was my mother’s assistant. I relaxed a little and gazed out the window at the Travis County courthouse, which was glowing in the morning sunlight as if everything in the world was hunky-dory and no nut job had left a nasty package on my nice clean desk. “Hi, Emily. What’s up?”
“It’s about your mom.”
I don’t like to admit it—particularly not to my clients, and definitely not to my boss—but my mother is the owner of Sit A Spell, a magic shop she opened fifteen years ago smack dab in the middle of Austin.
“What about her?” I asked apprehensively. The last time Emily called, I had had to extricate my mother from a snafu with the IRS. My mother was many things—a fortune-teller, a spell-caster, and a medium, to name just a few—but she wasn’t a stellar bookkeeper. And the last thing I needed to deal with right now was my mother’s crappy accounting practices.
“Oh . . . it’s too horrible for words,” Emily said.
“It can’t be that horrible.”
“Oh, but it is . . .”
“Did she forget to include the income from the mail-order spell business again?”
“It’s worse . . .”
I groaned. “Don’t tell me she forgot to file! After I filled out the forms and everything!”
“Your mother . . .” Emily sniffled, and I could hear her trumpeting into a tissue.
I sipped my latte and licked the foam from my upper lip. “Emily, just tell me.”
“Well . . . you see . . . she’s in jail for murder!”