Read an Excerpt
I was haunting the mailbox. It was already late
March and I should have been receiving an acceptance letter
anytime, at least that’s what I hoped. I had applied to three colleges,
but UC Nightshade was my first choice.
It might seem weird to want to stay in the same small town
where I’d always lived, but my father, through no fault of his
own, had been away from the family and hadn’t been back
home that long. I couldn’t bear to disappoint him by leaving.
Besides, my two older sisters already went to UC Nightshade,
so I’d have the benefit of their advice. And more important,
my boyfriend, Ryan, was applying to UC Nightshade too.
On my way home from school I spotted someone in a blue
uniform standing in front of our mailbox. The postal carrier!
But when I rushed up I was surprised to see it wasn’t our usual
carrier. Instead it was a strange woman with light brown hair
who was standing with one hand in our mailbox.
“Where’s Mr. Johansson?” I asked. He’d been our mail
carrier for years.
The woman turned, startled, and I noticed a purple
birthmark on her face.
“Vacation,” she mumbled, and hurried off.
I was disappointed to find the mailbox empty. The anticipation
was going to kill me. My whole family had noticed my
frequent trips to the mailbox, and Poppy sometimes messed
with me by hiding the mail.
Mom’s car was in the driveway, which meant she was home
already. I walked through the front door and into the hallway.
“Daisy, the mail’s on the kitchen counter,” Mom called from
upstairs. It was unusual to find her home before me on a weekday.
It must be a slow day for crime. Mom was a psychic investigator,
and she helped local law enforcement agencies with
their cases. It made life interesting, since Nightshade’s chief of
police was the father of my boyfriend.
Ryan and I seemed to have inherited their taste for crime
solving, since with his help I’d solved several crimes in Nightshade.
You know what they say: The couple that solves crimes
together stays together. Well, they don’t really say that, but they
I thumbed quickly through the pile of mail. Bills, junkmail,
and a thick envelope for my father, but there wasn’t anything
“Mr. Johansson says hello, “Mom continued.
“The mailman? I thought he was on vacation,” I said.
“What did you say?”Mom hollered.
“Never mind,” I replied.
Just then, my cell buzzed. It was Ryan. “Did you get anything
yet?” he asked.
There was silence on the other end of the phone for a
moment. “Nothing,” he eventually replied.
“Cheer up,” he said. “They’ll be here soon.”
“I’m getting tired of waiting,” I said.
“Me too,” Ryan admitted.
The unspoken tension between us was caused by one question:
What would happen between us if we ended up at different
Not to mention that my boyfriend was a werewolf, which
might be difficult to hide at the dorms. Hiding my psychic abilities
would be comparatively easy. The existence of paranormals
was starting to be known and accepted in Nightshade,
but not everyone in the world had that attitude.
The thought sent me into such a deep funk that I almost
missed Ryan’s invitation.
“Do you want to do something tonight?” he asked.
“I have to work,” I said.
“How about Friday? We’ll make it a special date.” I was
flattered by his insistence.
“Of course,” I replied. “What do you have in mind?”
“I just want to see you,” he said.“You’ve been so busy lately.”
I’d been busy, it was true, but I also had been avoiding him,
using work as an excuse. Everyone said that long-distance relationships
never worked. I didn’t want to get even closer to
Ryan only to break up when we left for separate colleges, or
later, when distance took its toll. If we both ended up at UC
Nightshade, our relationship stood a chance.
I missed him, though, and couldn’t resist temptation.
“I’ll make you dinner,” I offered. “Everyone will be out of
At least, I was pretty sure they would be. Rose would be
out with her boyfriend, Nicholas Bone, and Poppy had a date.
She’d been out with her new guy, Liam, almost every night.
Even my parents would be out attending some faculty
function at UC Nightshade, where my dad now taught
“Why don’t we go out to dinner?” Ryan asked. “There’s
something I wanted to talk to you about.”
Why can’t he talk to me at home? “Sure,” I said. “Slim’s?”
“I was thinking maybe dinner at Wilder’s,” Ryan replied.
Wilder’s? That was a special-occasion restaurant, not the
kind of place we normally went on date night. I once had a few
cooking lessons from their former chef, although the lessons
were more like unpaid labor than a learning experience.
“Okay,” I said after a long pause, “but I thought you were
saving money for college.”
“You’re worth the splurge,” Ryan said. “I’ll make a reservation
We hung up after I realized I needed to be at work in half
an hour. Business had picked up at Slim’s Diner, so I’d been
working a lot, which was helping with my college fund. If I got
into a college, that is.
I went to talk to my sister Poppy about using the car that
night. Both Rose and Poppy still lived at home while they attended UC
Nightshade.My parents were ecstatic at the idea of
me doing the same. Poppy was on the phone, as usual, but she
broke offher conversation to stare at me.
“What?” she said. “I’m on the phone.”
“Can I have the car tonight?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said. “My date is picking me up here.” She’d
been awfully mysterious about Liam. We’d met him at an
event on Halloween, but she hadn’t brought him home and
didn’t talk about him at all to us, which was definitely not like
I drove to work, still wondering what Ryan wanted to talk
to me about.
Once there, I went in search of my boss. Slim’s had red
leather booths, the best cinnamon rolls in the county, and a prophetic
jukebox. Not your average diner at all. And the owner
and his sister were far from average, as well. The head waitress,
Flo, was on her cell phone, in the middle of a very giggly
conversation. Probably with her boyfriend. I decided not to
There was no sign of Slim, but since he was invisible, there
never was. I went in search of him to see what he needed me to
do first. I waited tables or helped out in the kitchen, depending
on the day.
The kitchen looked empty, but I knew enough to doublecheck.
“Slim?” I said into the air.
“Hi, Daisy,” a voice said.
“Where do you need me tonight?” I asked.
“I’ve got the dinner menu under control,” he said. “Why
don’t you help Flo?”
Flo was still giggling into her cell phone, so I grabbed
some quarters and went to say hello to Lil, the jukebox. She’d
given me a ton of clues during my investigations. A few
months ago, I’d discovered that there was a soul trapped in
there. I’d promised to help her escape her jukebox prison, but
so far, I hadn’t found a way to do so. I wasn’t ready to give up
I punched in a few random selections and waited. Nothing.
Lil was miffed, and I didn’t blame her.
“I’m working on it, I swear,” I said. “But Circe took her
show on the road and hasn’t stepped foot in Nightshade since
we found out.”What we’d found out was that sorceress and
celebrity chef Circe Silvertongue was responsible for trapping
Lil in the jukebox and turning her fiancé into a pig.
“A Little Less Conversation” by Elvis Presley came on. Lil
was getting impatient.
“Message received,” I told her. “A little more action it is. I’ll
try to figure out what our next step is.”
Lil responded with “Inspiration Information” by Sharon
Jones and the Dap-Kings and then went silent.
My friends Samantha Devereax and Sean Walsh walked in
and sat down at one of the smaller booths. I went over to
“What are you two doing here tonight?” I said. “You’re all
Samantha looked gorgeous. She wore a minidress with an
itty-bitty cardigan thrown over it. She had her hair piled high
and wore long sparkly earrings.
“We’re celebrating,” Samantha said. “Sean signed his letter
“Congratulations,” I replied. “But what’s a letter of intent?”
It wasn’t my imagination that they exchanged a meaningful
“Intent to play,” Samantha said.“Sean’s going to play college
baseball with the University of California, Irvine.”
Letter of intent? Shouldn’t Ryan be signing one of those letter
“I think Slim has some sparkling cider in the back,” I
said, “left over from Nightshade’s anniversary party. I’ll bring
“That would be fabulous,” Samantha said.
Samantha wasn’t angsting like the rest of us. She already
knew where she was going—UC Nightshade, where her dad
was a big-deal professor. Where my father used to be a big-deal
professor and now was a part-time instructor. Big difference.
He had a lot more time on his hands now. Maybe that was why
nowadays getting the mail was the highlight of his day.
My dad didn’t seem to mind that Mr. Devereaux’s book
was doing very well, even though it was based on research he
had done with my dad. But Mr. Devereaux didn’t have much
money after a pricey divorce from Sam’s mom.
“Slim, is it okay if I comp some of that sparkling cider we
still have in the cooler? Sam and Sean are celebrating,” I said. I
explained the occasion, just in case he thought I was trying to
score freebies for my friends without a good reason.
“Of course,” he said. “And I’ll whip up some special appetizers
on the house.”
“Thanks, Slim,” I said. “I’m going to borrow one of the
linen tablecloths and some candles, too.”We used those on
the rare times Slim catered an event.
I knew Sam and Sean were dining at Slim’s instead of
somewhere fancier in order to save money. But there wasn’t any
reason I couldn’t make their celebration extra special.
Five minutes later, the cider was chilling in a fancy silver
bucket, the linen tablecloth hid the scarred tabletop, and
Samantha and Sean were gazing into each other’s eyes. They
were too love struck to even notice when I brought out their
appetizers. Mission accomplished.
Lil even cooperated. She broke into a series of slow,
romantic love songs. The diner slowly emptied out, but Sam
and Sean lingered over their dinner.
Flo was sitting on her favorite stool at the counter, eyeing
“Why don’t you go?” I said. “I’ll lock up.”
“Are you sure?” Flo asked, but she was already pulling on
“Sure, go ahead,” I said.
After she left, I stuck a Closed sign up and locked the door,
then handed Samantha the check. She and Sean were still
I was refilling the syrup containers when there was a knock
on the door.
I went to explain to whoever it was that we were closed,
but then saw it was Natalie, Slim’s girlfriend. Natalie was a
witch—a real one.
She had been at a coven training course in Salem for the
last few months, and Slim had gone out to visit her a couple
of times. Her absence had stymied my efforts to free Lil from
the jukebox. Natalie was the only witch I knew, at least the
only competent one. Penny Edwards didn’t count.
I unlocked the door and let her in.“Welcome home!” I said.
“Hi, Daisy,” she said. “I’m glad to be back in Nightshade.
Although I learned so much while I was gone.”
“Slim will be so glad to see you,” I said. “He’s been mopey.”
Natalie beamed. “I missed him too.”
“He’s cleaning up in the back,” I said. “But do you have a
minute? I could use your help.”
Natalie wasn’t nearly as powerful as Circe Silvertongue,
but she was my only hope, especially since Circe had taken her
pig and run. Maybe Natalie could at least point me in the right
“I’d be happy to,” she said. She shot a longing look toward
the kitchen but gave me an encouraging smile just the same.
“You’ve heard my theory about Lil?”
“That she’s really Mrs.Wilder’s missing sister Lily? Yes. It
“And I’m pretty sure that Circe’s pet pig, Balthazar, is really
Lily Varcol’s missing fiancé, Bam Merriweather,” I added. “I
want to try to break Circe’s spell. Can you give me any idea
about how to do that? Besides getting Circe to do it herself.”
“That’s pretty advanced magic,” Natalie said.“But if it’s the
kind of spell I’m thinking of, she might have used objects that
were important to the victims to change them.”
“She did have this pen she used every day,” I said. “It had
Bam Merriweather’s initials engraved on it.”
“Let me look into this,” Natalie said. “Most of my grandmother’s
books are stored in the attic of her house. I’ll take a
look there, and I might be able to ask some of the more experienced
Natalie’s grandmother, Mrs. Mason, had died in a fire that
destroyed her greenhouse. She’d been helping the Scourge
when she died. She hadn’t been a nice person, but she’d been
the only relative Natalie had. Fortunately, Natalie had moved
in with Slim, and the Mason house stood empty. The gardens,
however, were full of gorgeous flowers, fruits, and vegetables,
due to the combination of Mrs. Mason’s residual magic and
Natalie’s hard work.
“Thanks, Natalie,” I said.“I’d appreciate any help you could
give me. Is there anything I can do to help? Research stuff,
Natalie thought about it for a second.“Well, you could try
The Nightshade City Library,” she replied.“Maybe there’s a text
there that I don’t already own.”
I agreed to go take a look. I’d comb the dustiest library I
could find if it would help.
I could tell by the way Natalie’s face lit up that Slim had
come out from the kitchen, so I made myself scarce.
“It’s closing time,” I gently reminded Sam and Sean. As they
rose to leave, I overheard a whisper from Sam. “I still think we
should tell her.”
“Tell me what?” I said sharply.
“Oh, nothing,” Sam said. “Just that we’re nominating you
and Ryan for prom king and queen.”
I made a face at her. “Don’t you dare,” I said. “If anyone
should be Nightshade promqueen, it should be you. You were
practically born to be queen.”
“I have plenty of crowns,” she said. “Winning again
“Awesome,” I interrupted her.
“I was going to say overkill,” she replied.“C’mon, Daisy. Live
a little. It would be fun.”
I shrugged. There was no sense in arguing with Sam when
she got in this mood.
I shooed them out of the restaurant, then locked up and
To my surprise, all the lights were on at my house when I
pulled into the drive. There seemed to be a lot of noise coming
from the family room, so I headed that way.
My whole family, including Grandma Giordano, was congregated
“What’s going on? Why is everyone still up?” I asked.
My father held out a bottle of champagne. “We’ve been
waiting for you,” he said. “We’re celebrating.”
“Celebrating what?” I was completely confused.
“My book deal,” Dad said. “I sold my novel.”
“What?” I said. “Congratulations! I didn’t even know you
had finished it.”
“It’s not finished yet. I still need an ending.”
“Why didn’t you tell us you were submitting it?” Rose
“I didn’t want to say anything at first,” Dad said. “I sent
it out to a few places, and it got rejected so fast it made my
“Your father is being modest,” Mom said. “It’s brilliant.”
Grandma Giordano chuckled.“I’m proud of you, son. Now
pop that champagne.”
A second later, the cork shot out of the bottle and across
the room. Poppy went to retrieve it and then handed it to Dad.
“You should keep it,” she said. “To remember your first sale.”
“There’s sparkling cider for the girls,” Mom said quickly.
“What’s the book about?” Poppy said. “Can we read it?”
A shadow passed over Dad’s face. “At first I thought I
would write a memoir about what happened to me at the
hands of the Scourge, but I eventually realized that no one
would believe it,” he said.“So I did the next best thing. I turned
it all into fiction. The Scourge, Nightshade, the kidnapping,
Something about this made me uneasy, but I tried not to
Show it. I wasn’t so sure the Scourge would be happy to be reading
about themselves, even in a novel.“What’s the title?” I asked.
“Nightshade,” he said.
“What?” I said. “Dad!”
“I’m just kidding,” he said. “I changed everything, even the
names. And it’s also based on my research in genetics. It still
needs an ending though. I was hoping I would remember
something about my kidnapper’s identity.”
Although Dad didn’t remember parts of his abduction,
bits and pieces of his captivity were slowly coming back. My
parents didn’t talk about it much, but Dad was seeing a therapist
to help him deal with the trauma of his experience.
“What does Spenser Devereaux think of that?”Grandma
asked. “You’ll be giving him a run for his money on the bestseller
Dad looked startled. “I told him about the book, but I
didn’t ask him what he thought of the idea. Spenser took our
research and turned it into a bestselling nonfiction book. Mine
is fiction. I’m sure he doesn’t have a problem with that. We were
partners, after all.”
“He didn’t seem to remember that when he published your
findings,” Grandma reminded him gently. “He didn’t even include
your name in the acknowledgments. And everyone knows
that you did most of the actual research.”
“Spenser has been very supportive,” my father insisted. “In
fact, he keeps asking to read it, but I told him that I’m keeping
certain chapters under wraps until it’s published.”
Grandma snorted. “Spenser Devereaux is only concerned
with Spenser Devereaux.”
“Mother, it’s fine,” he said, but I noticed his hands shook as
he poured her a glass of champagne. “No one knew where I
was. Spenser needed to forge ahead without me. He already
knows I’m writing the book. I will tell him my good news
Mom picked up on Dad’s discomfort and changed the subject.
“What else did the editor say about your book, dear?”
Talk turned to things like deadlines and covers. I sipped
my apple cider and smiled at the sight of my father’s face all
aglow from his accomplishment. Things would work out for
him. They just had to.