Deadly Curiosities is an action-packed thrill ride full of magic, restless ghosts, infernal creatures, haunted places, dangerous curios, found family, loyal friends, secret history, and plenty of adventure!
Deadly Curiosities Book 1
by Gail Z. Martin
Genre: Supernatural Mystery Adventure
Some family heirlooms are to die for.
Welcome to Trifles & Folly, a store with a secret. Proprietor Cassidy Kincaide’s psychic gift lets her know the history and magic of an object by touching it. Cassidy and her friends—including Weaver witch Teag and her vampire business partner Sorren—save the world from vengeful ghosts, dark magic, hidden monsters, and things that go bump in the night.
When a trip to a haunted hotel unearths a statue steeped in malevolent power, and a string of murders leads to the abandoned old Navy yard, Cassidy, Teag, and Sorren discover a diabolical plot to unleash a supernatural onslaught on their city.
It’s time for Cassidy and her team to handle the “deadly curiosities” before it’s too late.
Deadly Curiosities is an action-packed thrill ride full of magic, restless ghosts, infernal creatures, haunted places, dangerous curios, found family, loyal friends, secret history, and plenty of adventure!
“You know each other?” Rebecca said, confused. She looked from me to Teag and back again, as Anthony walked over and gave me a hug.
I chuckled, realizing I’d been set up. “Teag and I work together at the shop, and Anthony is a dear friend,” I said.
“We’re your back-up,” Teag explained, pressing a glass of wine into my hand. “I told Anthony about the email you got and about you coming here by yourself—”
“And I asked what he thought about getting away for a couple of evenings,” Anthony finished the sentence. He grinned broadly, flashing me a smile that no doubt was part of his stellar ability to woo juries and broker successful contract negotiations. Usually, I saw Anthony in a suit looking like he had just stepped off the cover of a men’s fashion magazine. Teag, with his skater-boy hair and jeans was Rolling Stone to Anthony’s G.Q.
Tonight, Anthony had traded in a suit and tie for a collared polo shirt and crisp khakis over boat shoes, a popular upscale Charleston look. Other than changing into a fresh t-shirt from the one he had worn all day at the shop, Teag looked the same as he had a couple of hours earlier. They made a cute couple.
“Honestly, Cassidy, I didn’t think you should tackle this by yourself,” Teag said.
Rebecca looked abashed. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to cause a problem.”
I patted her arm. “You haven’t. We sold you the items. So we’ve got a responsibility to figure out what’s going on.”
She put on her game face and managed a smile. “What can I do to help?”
“You’ve already given me the tour, and gotten me thinking,” I said. I gave her my best gung-ho smile. “We’ll take it from here. Why don’t you go up to your room if you feel safe there and stay put for the night?”
Rebecca looked relieved. Now that I’d had time to study her features, I could see that there were dark circles under her eyes. If living in a newly-haunted house wasn’t wearing her down, then worrying about the ghosts’ impact on her livelihood certainly couldn’t help, especially if the haunts were becoming more active—and dangerous.
Teag and Anthony and I hung out in the dining room enjoying our wine and the plate of appetizers while Rebecca cleaned up the kitchen and made a tray to carry up to her room. At my request, she also put on a fresh pot of coffee, since it was likely to be a long night, and set out cups. We promised to rinse out our wine glasses and put the hors d’oeuvres plate back in the kitchen and bade Rebecca good night.
“I can’t believe you two came to help me out,” I said when Rebecca was gone.
Teag put his hands on his hips and cocked his head, giving me his best stern schoolteacher look. “Really? After what’s been going on, you think I’m going to let you come to a whole house full of ‘spookies’ by yourself? If the haints don’t scare Rebecca, seeing you go into a dead faint with one of your visions is sure to!”
I had to smile. ‘Haints’ was a local term for ghost, and it even had its own paint color, ‘haint blue’, named after the vivid shade some people painted their doors to keep away nasty spirits. It wasn’t a word in Teag’s usual vocabulary, and I knew he said it to lighten the mood.
“I even brought an extra kit, just in case,” Teag said, and nodded toward the leather messenger bag he had placed next to the door. I knew it would contain everything that was in my own pack upstairs in my room.
Our ‘kit’ for investigating questionable objects included several common, but supernaturally powerful items: salt, for protection; chalk, sometimes needed to mark an area to protect or avoid; charcoal, a small bundle of sage, and an abalone shell, to cleanse an area after a working. We usually carried several other useful items in our kit, including a wind-up flashlight (supernatural creatures tend to wreck havoc on batteries), and a pouch with dried fennel, hyssop, marigold, and rue, also useful for banishing negative energy. Just for good measure, we usually also threw in a couple of pieces of turquoise, agate, and onyx.
“I even made sure Anthony and I had our ‘lucky’ agate stones with us,” Teag said with a grin, and held up a smooth polished small agate disk which he had hidden in his pocket. “We’re ready.”
“What can we do to help, Cassidy?” Practical as always, Anthony was the perfect foil to Teag’s unbridled enthusiasm. “Short of breaking and entering, I’m with you.”
I chuckled, knowing that with Anthony’s family and legal connections, he could probably get away with B&E in this town, but I wasn’t going to ask that of him. “Well,” I said. “We’re already inside, so no breaking necessary,” I said.
“I thought I’d start by trying to ‘read’ the objects room by room,” I said.
“After that, I figured on a stake-out to see some of this ghostly activity. Something changed these pieces. If we can figure out what made the difference, we should be able to make it stop.”
Anthony frowned. “Can’t we just remove the objects?”
I shook my head. “Now that it’s started, I don’t think just taking the pieces away is going to make it stop.” Briefly, I filled them in on what Rebecca had told me earlier in the day, and the sightings of the man with the broad-brimmed hat. Teag glanced out of the front windows, but no one was in sight.
“Let’s go,” Teag said, finishing his wine and setting the glass aside.
Touching the wood of the table and sideboard gave me a fleeting image of dinners and happy conversation. I reached out to touch the tea set, but got only a vague, pleasant aura and the distant scent of Earl Gray. “It’s got some resonance, but the energy is positive.”
I bent down and opened the doors below the sideboard. “Would you please pull out that tablecloth?”
Anthony carefully removed the folded tablecloth and set the bundle on the mahogany dining table. “I recognize that,” Teag said. “I still don’t get any vibes of magic woven or embroidered into the piece.”
I moved to touch the tablecloth, but Anthony pulled out a chair for me. “Why don’t you sit down to handle the objects, Cassidy?” he said, in his best lawyer-advisory tone. First, I let my hand rest on the wood of the table itself. As with the sideboard, the fleeting images were of happy times, making me feel safe and reassured. I took a deep breath and laid my right hand on the tablecloth, then closed my eyes and waited for the show to start.
It didn’t take long. There were images of family gatherings, mostly happy, crammed together like a super-fast slide show. I saw an elderly man sitting at the head of a table set for Thanksgiving dinner. Relatives of all ages were busily talking and laughing. At the other end of the table sat a tall, handsome woman with high cheekbones and intelligent, dark eyes. She was presiding over the meal with quiet pride. Judging from the clothing, the year was around 1940.
The images shifted so fast I grabbed at the table to steady myself. I saw the older man straighten suddenly, saw him clutch his chest in pain, trying to call out. Family members rushed from their places to help him out of his chair, easing him to the floor as the tall woman ran to his side and held his hand. Another spasm of pain wracked the man’s body and he wheezed, then fell still. Dinner sat forgotten, and the celebration turned to mourning.
I sensed the passage of time in the vision as the images blurred like someone had hit fast-forward. The table with its holiday covering now hosted a funeral dinner for the mourners.
The next image was the strongest. The dining room was dark, the mourners had gone, and the tall woman sat in her seat at the table, looking down to the empty seat at the end. I could feel her heart breaking. And I knew what she was going to do next.
“No,” I whispered. “Don’t.” But the actions had been taken long before I was born, and nothing would change them now. I watched in horror as the woman left the room and returned with a stout length of rope. She slipped off her shoes and then climbed onto the table, looping one end of the rope over the heavy chandelier. She had already fashioned a noose. Eyes fixed on the empty seat at the end of the table, she took a breath, closed her eyes, and stepped into oblivion.
I came back to myself lying on the floor, the tablecloth clutched in my hands, gasping for breath. Teag was kneeling next to me, and Anthony was staring at both Teag and I as if we had lost our minds.
“This is what the two of you do for a living?” he asked, wide-eyed.
Teag had the good grace to give a nervous laugh. “Not always. But yeah, sometimes.”
He helped me sit up. It took me a moment before I could speak. “I think Mrs. Butler left out some of the story,” Teag and Anthony helped me up, and I took a deep breath. “The linens have a powerful psychic imprint,” I said, and recounted what I had seen. “I think the other woman is old Mrs. Harrison, the wife of the man who built this house,” I ended. “But we still don’t know what made the ghosts show up now.”
Teag sprinkled a few grains of salt onto the tablecloth. The salt wouldn’t damage the fabric, but it would put a damper on the negative energy. That should help us narrow down which piece or pieces were the real troublemakers.
Anthony watched as Teag sprinkled the salt. “Why don’t you do whatever you’re doing before Cassidy touches something? It would certainly spare her a lot of distress.”
“The problem is, if we dampen the energy, we don’t really know what we’re dealing with,” Teag explained. “The only time we put out the protective materials in advance is if the item has been known to actually harm someone.”
Nothing else in the dining room had any hint of supernatural power, so we headed to the entranceway. I touched paintings, doilies, the antique rug, and a set of candlesticks and got nothing, but when my fingers skimmed the funeral vase, images lit up in my mind.
I heard women weeping and men clearing their throats in grief. I saw the vase, and two small coffins in a sparse parlor. The weight of the onlookers’ sorrow fell heavy on my heart, and I began to sob. Teag gently reached over and separated my hand from the vase and the vision winked out.
I dragged my sleeve across my eyes. Anthony handed me a tissue. “I saw the funerals,” I said when I could speak again, with a nod to Teag. “It’s a strong vision, but not powerful enough to energize the whole place.” Teag dropped a bit of charcoal into the vase.
The parlor held no ‘sparklies’ or ‘spookies’ at all. Even the vintage couch was completely mundane. It was a relief after the last two rooms, and gave me a little break to catch my breath. I suspected that the upstairs would be exciting, and not in a good way.
Since I had already checked out the items in my room, we went to Teag and Anthony’s room.
I received some images from touching the bedframe, and blushed. The bedset resonated with sensual satisfaction, and I guessed it had witnessed some memorable reunions in its time. Embarrassing, yes. Dangerous, no. Teag must have guessed as much from the way my face reddened, because he chuckled but did not ask questions. I touched the other objects in the room and got ‘sparks’ from a few of them—brief, fragmentary images, most of which were positive. Nothing in this room held bad mojo.
I knew we weren’t going to be as lucky with the next room. “Let’s do the sad room first,” I said. I was putting off the mirror room.
With more confidence than I felt, I swung the door open. This room had an impressive—and expensive—suite of furniture. Once again, I started with the bed, but this time, there were no strong emotions at all. The quilt gave snapshots of ordinary lives, nothing dramatic or tragic.
None of the rest of the bedroom furniture gave up any secrets to my touch, so I turned my attention to the decorations. The still life paintings had no resonance at all, nor did the silver bowl on the mantel or the elegant hurricane lamp. But the silver picture frames drew me, filling me with a sadness beyond words even before I touched them.
A handsome young man and pretty young woman looked back at me from the photographs. I guessed that they were in their late teens or early twenties. They looked happy and full of life, dressed in their best go-to-meeting finery.
“I’m going to sit down,” I announced. “I think this is going to be intense.” I settled into one of the chairs by the fireplace, and Teag brought the frames to me. Mustering my courage, I let him place the frames on my open palms.
Black despair washed over me, unreasoning and limitless. The world around me dimmed. Nothing intruded on the grief. Voices called to me, but I could barely hear them. If I were still breathing and my heart still beat, it happened without my knowing it. I felt as dead as my babies, as cold as their pale skin, lifeless as their still bodies.
My babies? A rational corner of my mind argued, but I was too far gone to notice. If the grief of the old woman’s ghost in the dining room had driven her to suicide, this overwhelming sorrow led to madness. Dimly, I heard a woman screaming as the picture frame tumbled from my hands…
“Cassidy! Cassidy, snap out of it!” Teag’s voice sounded from a long way away. I recognized the voice, but in my grief, I lacked the power follow it. I was being swept away on a dark, cold tide that was sure to draw me under.
Icy water hit my face and I came up sputtering. “What the hell was that?” I asked, coming back to myself in a rush.
“Sorry,” Anthony said, giving me his most endearing smile. “You were screaming. It seemed like the fastest way to bring you back.”
I shook my hair like a wet dog and looked down at my shirt which was now covered with water spots. Anthony handed me a towel, and I dried off, trying to regain a shred of my dignity. “Well, I was right. It was intense,” I said ruefully.
“I think I’ve found something,” Anthony said. He was kneeling beside the picture frame where it had fallen. The shock had broken the glass, and knocked the backing off the frames. I winced, sorry that I had damaged the antique. But Anthony’s attention was on something behind the pictures, and I watched as he gingerly teased out a two completely different photographs underneath the frame’s backing.
“That might explain it,” Teag said, coming around to stand behind Anthony and looking down on the new photos.
“Let me see!” I said, turning in my chair. Anthony ducked, remaining beyond my reach.
“No way! I’ll hold them up for you, but I’m not handing them over,” Anthony said.
I caught my breath. “Those are death pictures,” I said softly. I stared at the antique prints. In the years after the Civil War, when photography was still new, family pictures were an expensive luxury. Sometimes, the only photo that might be taken was after death. Ghoulish as the thought was to modern sensibilities, Victorians did not find the idea shocking or disturbing, and a whole photographic specialty sprang up to give bereaved families a memento of their lost loved ones.
Memento mori, I thought. It means, ‘Remember death’.
The photos that had fallen out were of the same man and woman I had seen in the frames, perhaps a little older, wearing the same clothing, but with a crucial difference. They were posed in lifelike positions, seated upright in high backed chairs, eyes open and hands clasped on their laps. A second look revealed an unnatural stiffness in the limbs, and that the ‘eyes’ had been painted onto closed eyelids. They were very definitely dead.
I swallowed hard. Was it a mother’s grief I felt? It was clear to me that the deaths of these two young people had caused a third tragedy, the complete breakdown of someone who loved them more than life itself.
“We don’t have to finish this all in one night,” Teag said quietly. He had gone to the door, to reassure Rebecca that all was well, and a moment later, she came back with a glass of sweet iced tea before she returned to her upstairs hideaway.
I drank the sweet tea with gusto. In Charleston, sweet tea is brewed strong and loaded with sugar. It was just what I needed. While I drank the tea, Teag set the picture frames image side down on the table and placed a small piece of charcoal on top of them. I felt the bad vibes calm almost immediately.
“I’ll be okay,” I said resolutely. “I still don’t think we’ve found the key.”
On the way over to the mirror room, I made a mental note to give Teag a well-deserved raise. For combat pay. And I resolved to take him and Anthony out for dinner at the nicest restaurant I could afford. I couldn’t imagine doing this on my own, and I was immensely grateful for their support.
I thought that Anthony might have balked at the idea of ghosts, supernatural phenomena, or my psychometric talent. But falling for Teag meant learning to accept Teag’s Weaver magic. And since he and Teag had already jumped that hurdle, I guess seeing my abilities in action was no longer much of a shock. So far, I thought he was coping rather well.
Anthony opened the door to the last bedroom and flipped on the light.
“I don’t think I’d want to sleep here,” Anthony said, glancing around. “I can’t put my finger on why, but something’s not right.”
Then again, perhaps Anthony’s a sensitive. I thought to myself. That would certainly explain a few things. Teag had hinted as much, though I suspected Anthony might still be chalking up his insights into ‘intuition’.
I started with the furniture again. It radiated moodiness. Anthony walked over to the window and looked out.
“This room looks down on the garden,” he said. The garden that was mysteriously vandalized, I thought.
I picked up a vague longing from the seascape painting. The oil painting of the young woman, to my relief, gave no impression at all. That left the pewter lantern and the Chinese Foo dog statue, plus the mirror.
The lantern held a candle inside a small glass globe. It wasn’t one of the pieces that came from Trifles and Folly, and neither was the Foo dog statue. The lantern wasn’t our problem.
This was one of the rooms with a working fireplace. The opening was covered with a metal curtain, and a vintage poker and tongs sat in a holder next to the hearth. Two chairs were arranged facing the fireplace, and if weren’t for the damned mirror, I bet the room would have felt charming and cozy.
The mirror hung over the mantle. It was the focal point of the room, and the piece I had been avoiding. Anywhere else, I would have thought it was a handsome piece with its ribbon-like bronze frame. For its age, the silver backing on the mirror was in very good condition, and I remembered thinking how lovely it was when we had it in the shop. Now, it seemed sinister.
As I stared at the mirror, I caught a glimpse of a shadow behind me. I wheeled, and saw nothing, feeling foolish as Teag and Anthony stared at me.
“Something wrong?” Teag asked.
“I thought I saw something,” I murmured, turning my attention back to the mirror. I decided to leave the Chinese Foo dog statue for last.
I took another step toward the mirror, fighting my fear. As I stared into it, I felt turmoil, as if beneath the placid silver surface wild seas roiled. Just in case, I took one of Teag’s pouches of salt and shoved it into my jeans pocket. When I got within arm’s length, I saw that the mirror was gray, not silver, and at this distance, I could make out ghostly images sliding across it.
I touched the mirror, and tumbled into its depths.
Someone—something—was in the mirror. I could see motion out of the corner of my eye, but every time I turned to see, nothing was there. I felt like Alice, gone through the looking glass, adrift in a silvery world. A world where I was not alone.
Claws skittered against a hard surface behind me. I wheeled, but the silver room was empty. I could hear muffled voices in the distance. Some were chanting. Others screamed in terror.
A shadow slid across the silvery surface of the walls, but like a hall of mirrors, it was impossible to know what was real and what was reflection. I was cold, disoriented, and afraid. The shadow man skirted the edge of my vision, and I had the sense the spirit was enjoying my fear, feeding from it. I was afraid to move, fearful that I might get lost in this reflective realm, unable to find my way back.
Then I saw him. The shadow man loomed ahead of me. The image was more solid and opaque than a normal shadow, its form elongated, not quite human. Although I couldn’t make out any features, I knew it was watching me, making up its mind. Malevolence radiated from the image and my heart thudded. It was the predator. I was the prey.
The shadow rushed at me, impossibly long arms outstretched, claw-like fingers grasping. It came at me like the wind. With one hand, I grasped my agate necklace, and with the other, I grabbed a handful of salt from the pocket of my jeans and threw it at the shadow. Just for an instant, it wavered, but I knew it would come at me again.
Strong hands grabbed me from behind, hauling me backward. My hand lost contact with the mirror. Only then did I realize I was screaming. I came back to myself caught in Anthony’s tight embrace and fresh from the horror of the vision, I fought him, possessed with sheer, primal terror. His strong hands gripped my wrists.
“Take it easy,” he coaxed. “You’re back now. You’re safe.”
I was shaking, and I felt sick to my stomach. Anthony eased me into the chair by the fireplace. It was several more moments before I could give even the briefest account of what I had seen. In the meantime, Teag had already sprinkled a line of salt beneath the mirror and had begun blowing a fine dusting of charcoal powder over the reflective surface, which reduced its powerful energy to a dull, distant roar.
“You were screaming bloody murder,” Teag said, looking utterly unnerved. “Good thing we’re the only guests at the inn, or someone would be calling the cops.”
One thing was undeniable. The mirror had not possessed the power to draw me into it at Trifles and Folly.
“I saw the shadow man in the mirror,” I told them, once I caught my breath. “It’s become a gateway, a portal. It was looking for me, and it attacked.” I let out a long breath. “Thanks for getting me out of there.”
“Do you think the mirror is the key?” Teag asked.
I thought for a moment, then shook my head. “No. It’s dangerous, and whatever spirit was inside it is malicious, but I don’t think it’s the focal point.”
Just for good measure, I touched my palm to the agate necklace on my chest. Then I turned to look at the Foo dog statue.
Eliminate all other factors and the ones which remain must be the truth, Sherlock Holmes had said. I had the feeling that I was staring the ‘truth’ of Gardenia Landing’s haunting in the eyes as I looked at the Chinese sculpture.
I put out my hand, and let it hover above the shiny blue glaze that covered the stylized little dog. “I think I’ve found the problem,” I said.
Deadly Curiosities Book 2
Immortals never forgive, never forget.
Sorren has spent centuries shutting down the plans of powerful immortals, dark warlocks, fallen angels, and supernatural creatures. He’s a vampire working with paranormal allies to protect a world that doesn’t know the dangers that prowl the shadows. Now an enemy from his past is picking off everyone Sorren cares about, destroying his sanctuaries, and making it clear that Sorren will be the final target of a magic-fueled vendetta.
Cassidy Kincaide runs Trifles & Folly in modern-day Charleston, an antique and curio shop with a dangerous secret. Cassidy can read the history of objects by touching them and along with her Weaver witch friend Teag, Sorren, and their allies, they get rid of cursed objects and keep Charleston and the world safe from supernatural threats.
The clock is ticking. Old power stirs, the kind that hasn’t been seen in centuries, waking from slumber and hungry for vengeance.
This sort of evil can’t be destroyed—but it can be contained, and that’s what Sorren and his allies did long ago. Now, the evil has returned, even stronger and craftier than before. Cassidy, Teag, and Trifles and Folly are in the crosshairs against an unknown enemy with strong magic and significant resources and to win they’ll have to put their lives—and souls—on the line. Can they help Sorren fight a deathless foe from centuries past, or will they see everything they love go down in flames?
Vendetta is an action-packed thrill ride full of magic, restless ghosts, infernal creatures, haunted places, found family, cursed paintings, old Norse magic, demigods, vampire politics, fallen angels, loyal friends, secret history, and plenty of adventure!
“Watch out, Cassidy!” Teag’s warning was a heartbeat too late. The dark wraith screeched in fury and his clawed hand raked across my shoulder, opening four bloody cuts. I ducked out of reach and flung up my left hand with its protective bracelet. The ghostly figure of a large, angry dog appeared by my side, teeth bared, snarling at the wraith.
The ghost dog sprang at the wraith, striking it square on, driving it back so I could get out of the way. It wasn’t the first time a soul-sucking creature of death showed up in the break room of my store, but it also wasn’t something I had planned on when I opened the velvet jewelry box.
“Cover me!” I shouted to Teag, trying to figure out how fast I could get to a weapon that I could use against the billowing, monstrous shape.
“Go!” Teag said to me. He turned to the wraith with a wicked grin and snatched down a fishing net made of clothesline rope from a hook on the wall. “See how you like this!” he yelled, throwing the net over the wraith.
Normal rope would have gone right through the wraith’s dark form. Wraiths are like that – solid when they want to be, insubstantial when you want to hit them. But the magic woven into the net meant it stuck, catching the wraith in a web of power. It wouldn’t hold forever, but it could buy us precious seconds, and that delay might be the difference between life and death.
If I’d expected a fight to the death, I would have made sure my weapons were closer. I had to dive for the door to my office and grab my athame from atop my desk. The athame focused my magic, and I opened myself to the powerful memories and emotions that I connected with it, drawing strength. The wraith surged forward, straining at the energy of the rope net that glowed like silver. The ghost dog harried the wraith, snapping at its heels, keeping it occupied.
I swung back into the room and leveled the athame at the wraith, channeling my magic. A cone of blinding white light surged from the athame, and when the cold power struck the wraith, it shrieked and twisted, forced back toward the wall. It looked as if the white light was burning through the wraith, like fire on paper, and with one last ear-piercing scream, the deadly apparition vanished.
The ghost dog looked back at me, wagged its tail, and winked out. I slumped back against the wall, feeling suddenly drained. Magic takes energy, and I was still pretty new at learning to channel mine for big stuff, like fighting off monsters. Then again, with the amount of practice we’d been getting lately, I figured I’d be up to speed in no time.
“Nice net,” I said, managing a grin.
Teag returned a tired smile. “Good shooting.” His expression grew serious. “You’re bleeding.”
I sighed and sat down in one of the chairs at the small table, eying the overturned jewelry box mistrustfully. For now, at least, the box seemed harmless. “I didn’t move fast enough,” I said.
“You weren’t expecting an attack,” Teag replied.
“I’m beginning to think I should always expect an attack, and be pleasantly surprised when an antique is just an antique, instead of a demon portal to the realms of the dead.” The wraith’s claws must have taken a swipe at my energy as well as my shoulder, and I hoped that didn’t include shreds of my soul as well. Teag retrieved the souped-up first aid kit we keep in one of the cupboards. Unfortunately, we need it a lot. It’s not your average office supply store kit. It’s got surgical needles and sutures, sterile bandages, prescription painkillers and antibiotics, plus healing herbs and potions supplied by our friendly neighborhood Voodoo mambo and root workers.
Then again, Trifles and Folly wasn’t your average antique store, and Teag and I had a few extra abilities they don’t teach in business school.
I’m Cassidy Kincaide, the current owner of Trifles and Folly, an antique and curio store in beautiful, historic, haunted Charleston, South Carolina. The store has been in my family almost since Charleston was founded, close to three hundred and fifty years ago, and we have a big secret to go with that success. We do much more than sell interesting, expensive, old stuff. Our real job is getting dangerous magical items off the market and out of the wrong hands. When we succeed, nobody notices. When we fail, lots of people die.
I inherited Trifles and Folly from my Uncle Evan. Teag is my assistant store manager, best friend and occasional bodyguard, and Sorren is my silent partner – a nearly six-hundred-year-old vampire who is part of a secret collaboration of mortals and immortals called the Alliance, dedicated to getting rid of items with dark magic before they can hurt anyone. The antiques that don’t have any magical juice, Trifles and Folly resells. Those that are just unsettling but not dangerous, we neutralize so that they won’t cause a problem. Items that are magically malicious or so tainted with bad emotions that they will hurt people, we lock up or destroy.
I shrugged out of the shoulder of my shirt and winced as Teag cleaned the deep scratches. “Do you think it’ll come back?” Teag asked as he daubed carefully at the damage the wraith had done.
I sighed. “No way to tell until we know more about what it was and why it came in the first place. And that means taking a look at what’s in that jewelry box.”
Magic runs in my family, and the person chosen to run Trifles and Folly needs all the magic he or she can summon, because we keep Charleston – and the world – safe from things that go bump in the night. My magic is psychometry, the ability to read the history of an object by touching it. Not every object, thank goodness, just those that have been touched by strong emotion or powerful energy. Heartfelt emotion is one of the strongest sources of power. That’s why a tattered old dog collar is my protective bracelet – summoning the ghost of my golden retriever, Bo – and my grandmother’s mixing spoon is my athame, used handle-side out. Both items have a strong emotional connection for me, and in both cases, the protection of the beings associated with the items resonates enough to fend off some seriously nasty creatures.
The salve Teag smoothed on my cuts included plantain, comfrey, and rose to prevent infection and slow the bleeding. The herbs had been mixed by Mrs. Teller, a powerful root worker, so they carried a supernatural level of healing and protection. Teag covered the scratches with gauze and then pulled out a small woven patch of cloth imbued with his magic, which he taped down over the gauze to keep it in place. Teag is a Weaver, someone who can send energy and intent into woven and knotted fabric. He’s also able to weave together strands of information that would elude a regular person, making him an awesome researcher and an amazing hacker.
“Is that one of the patches you made?” I asked, slipping my shoulder back into my shirt.
Teag grinned. “Yeah, you’ll have to let me know how that works. The patches are a bit of an experiment right now.”
I paused for a moment, focusing on my wounded shoulder. “There’s a tingle of magic from the salve and from the patch,” I said, paying close attention to what I was feeling. “The cuts don’t hurt as much as they did before, and where you bandaged it feels warm… like sunlight on a summer day.”
Teag nodded. “That means that the poultice and the patch I wove are speeding the healing and driving out infection.” Supernatural predators often had bad stuff on their claws, either poison or a taint that could be as deadly as the cuts themselves.
I went over to the fridge and poured us both glasses of iced tea, made the Charleston way, so sweet the fillings in your teeth stand up and wave. I needed a moment before I took on handling that antique jewelry box, and I figured that Teag wouldn’t mind a break either in case something else tried to kill us. Fortunately, the shop was closed, so we didn’t have to worry about the safety of customers or our part-time assistant, Maggie.
We drank the iced tea in silence, stealing glances toward the little velvet box on the table. Both of us knew we had to deal with it, and given what we had just survived, neither of us were looking forward to the prospect.
I finished my sweet tea, and couldn’t postpone the inevitable. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s see what was so special about this little jewelry box.”
“You feel up to it?” Teag asked.
I gave him a look that didn’t need words. “As ready as I’m going to be. And you’re supposed to be having dinner with Anthony tonight. That gives us about an hour and a half for me to read the mojo on the jewelry box, get knocked flat on my ass, and come back to my senses without making you late for your date.” I was being intentionally flippant, but the reality was much more dangerous, and we both knew it.
“Do you think we should wait for Sorren?” Teag asked.
I thought about it for a moment, then shook my head. “Kinda late now, don’t ya think?” I asked with a wry half-smile. “Besides, he’s in Boston, taking care of whatever-it-was that made him up and leave on a moment’s notice. I think I’ll be okay. Let’s get it over with.” I moved my chair closer to the box on the table.
The velvet was worn and faded. It was too big for a ring box, and I wondered if it had originally held a pair of earrings, or maybe a dainty bracelet. The wraith had shown up a few seconds after I opened the box, but as I thought back over what had happened, I realized that the wraith hadn’t come from the box. That was important, because it meant the wraith hadn’t been trapped inside. But why had it shown up at all?
Hard experience taught me to look before I touched. I was also learning to see what I could learn without making contact with an item. Practice was sharpening my ability to use the magic I was born with but had only recently begun trying to control. I held out my hand, palm down, over the faded blue velvet and closed my eyes, concentrating.
The sense of overwhelming loss made me sway in my chair. Second-hand grief welled up in my throat, as tears stung my eyes. Beneath those darker emotions, I felt the remnants of something joyful, sullied now by whatever had been taken away. Dimly, as if in a faded photograph, I saw an image of a couple in their twenties, hand in hand. Then, as I watched, the young man’s image faded away to nothing, leaving the woman all alone.
Magical seeing – things like psychometry, clairvoyance, and being a psychic – requires a lot of reading between the lines. I wish it were as clear-cut as it seems on television, where ghosts speak in complete sentences and visions are in high-definition with the volume turned up. In real life, images are distorted, murky, and incomplete. Spirits move their mouths, but often no sound emerges. The little snip of stone tape memory we see leaves a lot of room for interpretation. And that’s the problem. When we don’t have full information, we have to guess. Sometimes, we’re right and the problem gets solved. Other times, we guess wrong, and someone gets dead.
Then I realized what was causing the extra buzz that my magic had picked up from the velvet-flocked box; this item came with its very own ghost.
In general, my psychic gift of reading the history of objects doesn’t give me any special power to see ghosts. Oh, I’ve seen more than a few ghosts – then again, I live in Charleston, which is one of the most haunted cities in North America. I think it’s written somewhere that every house built before 1950 has to be haunted, and every native-born Charlestonian has a yearly quota of ghostly sightings. Given the nature of what we do at Trifles and Folly, seeing ghosts comes with the territory. Some of the spirits have been helpful. Others have been lost, not even sure that they are really dead. And some of those ghosts have been downright pissed off and dangerous.
In this case, the ghost was terrified out of its everlovin’ mind.
As I reached toward the box again, my fingers hovering over the velvet, the ghost welled up at me in a rush, so fast that I rocked onto the back legs of the chair, and might have gone over backward if Teag hadn’t been standing behind me. Most of the time, ghosts hang back, but this one got right in my face, so to speak, screaming soundlessly, eyes wide with fear.
“Are you okay?” Teag was worried. I gestured to him that I was fine. So far, this ghost wasn’t trying to hurt me. It just really wanted to get my attention. Maybe I had been the first living person it had ever had a chance to contact. Or maybe the wraith that had come after Teag and me wasn’t really looking for us at all. Perhaps it had a different kind of prey in mind.
That left me stuck between two bad options. I really didn’t want to make the level of connection that would happen if I touched or held the jewelry box. It was already clear that the box had a history of tragedy, and if I made contact, I would feel that sad background as forcefully as if I had lived it myself. On the other hand, whoever’s spirit was still connected to the jewelry box was in torment, and might suffer forever if I didn’t do something about it.
I reached out and picked up the box.
The first image I saw was of pearl earrings; dainty round balls with a lustrous glow, classy and always in style. Judging from the box, and the name of a local jewelry store I knew had gone out of business before 1900, I figured that the gift had been given back in the Victorian period. Then I looked into the box, and I knew for certain. Inside was a dark round circle, braided from brown, human hair.
Gotta love the Victorians; they knew how to make mourning a life-long, high-art spectacle. By modern standards, the old customs seem mawkish, even macabre. But in a time when most families buried as many of their children as they saw live to adulthood, when few people lived past their forties and a lot of folks died young from cholera, smallpox, and other terrors we’ve since vanquished, and when the Civil War killed half a million young husbands, lovers, fathers, sons, and brothers, our great-great grandparents had a lot to mourn.
They mourned in style, with whole wardrobes of black crepe clothing, elaborate social rituals and an entire etiquette for grief. On the other hand, these were real people and their loss was just as real as it is for modern folks. They tried to hang on to the memory of their departed beloveds. Sometimes, they took pictures of the corpse, dressed up in its Sunday best, perhaps the only picture of the person they would ever have. And other times, they clipped a lock or two of hair and plaited it into jewelry, something to remember the person by, or something they could keep with them all the time. These were memento mori in the full, original meaning of the word, ‘to remember death’.
The beautiful, ghastly wreath of hair was a piece of Victorian death jewelry.
The vision was sudden and overwhelming.
I was cold, so cold. One moment I had been sweating on a battlefield in Virginia, and the next… the next there was nothing. They say you never hear the bullet that gets you. How could you, when all around you the sound of hundreds of rifles crashes like thunder? I remembered a loud noise, a sharp, sudden pain and then falling into darkness.
And waking up. Only, not really. When I emerged from the darkness, my body didn’t come with me. Women sobbed. Men pretended that they weren’t crying. My little sister fainted and had to be carried from the room. I wanted to tell them I was still there, wanted to tell them how much I loved them, but ‘I’ wasn’t ‘me’ anymore. I was up here, and the rest of me was down there, not moving, gray with death.
I thought I had been frightened on the battlefield. That fear paled in comparison to how terrified I was now. I thought that the Almighty would have gathered me to his bosom by now, if I were worthy. I’d heard tell all my life about bright lights and a land of milk and honey. Since I was still here, maybe that bright light wasn’t going to come for me. I didn’t have words for how afraid I was of what that meant for my immortal soul, so I just stayed where I was, looking for Amelia, my beloved. She always knew how to make sense of things.
Then I saw her. Oh dear Lord, had grief for me done that to her? My pretty Amelia, so young and happy, looked gaunt and frail, hollow-eyed. Her father walked her to the casket, as if she could barely stand. She nearly collapsed, sagging almost to her knees, before he collected her and helped her stand next to me to say good-bye.
I wanted to touch her, to tell her I was near, but I couldn’t. And then she leaned over and kissed my forehead, and carefully snipped some of my hair where it was the longest. Hot tears fell on my cold skin, but somehow, I felt them. No one faulted her for weeping. We were going to marry in the spring.
I couldn’t go back and I couldn’t go on, so I followed my Amelia home. And since the Almighty didn’t seem to want me, I did the best I could, watching over my girl. I had nowhere else to be. She plaited my hair into a memorial wreath, and she wore it on a chain around her neck. And if, when she touched it, she thought she imagined my presence, I was closer than she knew.
Abruptly, I was Cassidy again. I saw time flow by like an old movie. The scene changed, years passed. Amelia died, still grieving her lost love. The hair wreath went into the velvet box that had once held a gift that gave great joy. The young man’s ghost remained, too afraid to move on. And then, the shadows came.
This time, I didn’t enter the ghost’s thoughts as fully as before, except to feel terror in every cell and sinew of my body. After a hundred years of quiet darkness, not exactly heaven but far removed from hell, something appeared in the everlasting night. It was not the Father Almighty.
Like watching a movie with the sound turned off, something I could see but not influence, I saw the wraith stalk the young man’s ghost. Tad. His name had been Tad. Thaddeus, maybe, but no one called him that. Just Tad. Lonely, afraid, desperate for company, he had gotten too close the first time, only to lose part of what little he had left to the wraith’s hunger. After that, there was terror. Hiding. Fear of being found, of having the last little bit of self destroyed after all these long years. The darkness was so vast. Suddenly, the everlasting night that had seemed to be the enemy became an ally, a place to play a deadly game of hide-and-seek. And finally, the young man’s spirit got the answer it had been seeking. There are some things worse than death. Being consumed is one of them.
When I came back to myself, I was screaming. Teag held me by the shoulders, shaking me gently, calling my name. We’ve done this a lot, unfortunately.
“Come back, Cassidy!” His eyes were worried. I guessed that I’d been pretty far gone. I’ve never gone so deep into a vision that I haven’t been able to find my way back, but there’s always a first time. And if there was a first time, it was likely to be the last time.
I nodded groggily, like a drunk sobering up on coffee. The terror and loss of the young man from the vision stayed with me, frightening and sad. “I’m okay,” I managed. Teag’s look told me that he sincerely doubted that.
Instead of arguing, he pushed another glass of sweet tea into my hand, and waited while I gulped it down. The icy cold liquid shocked me back to myself, and the sugar rushed through my veins like elixir. Only then did I realize I was shaking and sobbing, grieving for two lovers who had been dead for more than a hundred and fifty years.
I dragged the back of my hand over my eyes and took a deep breath to steady myself. Teag waited patiently. “I saw the story behind the memorial jewelry,” I said, carefully laying the velvet box aside. “Young lovers. Civil War.” Unfortunately, that story was a common refrain with the pieces we often saw at Trifles and Folly, although rarely had the past made such an impact. “I’d expect a piece like that to have a lot of mojo,” I added, trying to get my voice to stop quailing. “But there’s a ghost attached to it, and the thing we fought off tried to destroy him.”
Teag frowned, alarmed. “That monster attacks ghosts?”
I nodded. “Yeah. It took a bite out of him. And I have the feeling that whatever that thing was, it went away, but it’s not really gone.”
“Then we’ve got a big problem,” Teag said. “Because Charleston is a spookfest, and that monster is going to have an all-you-can-eat buffet if we don’t do something about it.”
Deadly Curiosities Book 3
Zombies rise in Charleston cemeteries, dead men fall from the sky, and the whole city succumbs to the “grouch flu.”
Cassidy Kincaide runs Trifles and Folly in Charleston, an antiques and curios shop with a secret history of ridding the city of cursed objects and keeping the world safe from supernatural threats.Cassidy’s magic can read the history of an object with a single touch. Her best friend Teag is a Weaver witch, and her boss, Sorren, is a 600 year-old vampire.
Now a vengeful dark witch is gunning for Teag and planning to unleash an ancient horror.
Cassidy, Teag, and Sorren—and all their supernatural allies—will need magic, cunning, and the help of a Viking demi-goddess to survive the battle with a malicious Weaver-witch and an ancient Norse warlock to keep Charleston—and the whole East Coast—from becoming the prey of the Master of the Hunt.
Tangled Web is an action-packed thrill ride full of magic, restless ghosts, infernal creatures, haunted places, found family, vampire politics, old Norse magic, Wild Hunt, loyal friends, secret history and plenty of adventure!
Book Three in the Deadly Curiosities series.
“There are plenty of spooks and magic to keep the action fresh. From page one to the big finale, the plot gallops along at a good pace.”—Cats Luv Coffee on Tangled Web
Deadly Curiosities Book 4
Stolen magic. Infernal creatures. A cursed heir to a warlock dynasty. Supernatural suspense.
Caribbean ghosts terrorize Charleston and rack up a body count. Then Beckford Pendlewood, the heir to a powerful family of dark warlocks, shows up raving about a bound demon locked in a lost box and begs sanctuary.
Cassidy Kincaide can read the history of objects by touching them. She and her allies use magic and paranormal abilities to keep Charleston and the world safe from supernatural threats.
Can Cassidy and her friends find the demon box, stop the killer ghosts, and break the Pendlewood curse before Beckford’s murderous cousins and the vengeful demon destroy them all?
Inheritance is an action-packed thrill ride full of dark magic, infernal creatures, demons and demigods, haunted places, found family, witch dynasty politics, loyal friends, Caribbean ghosts, secret history and plenty of adventure!
Book Four in the Deadly Curiosities series. A supernatural mystery adventure.
“This story starts out right in the thick of it with loads of action, and doesn’t let up until the final pages.”—Drops of Ink on Inheritance
Deadly Curiosities Book 5
their souls to protect Charleston.
Omens of impending disaster have the city on edge. Tremors warn of earthquake risk, while a potentially catastrophic storm gathers strength over the ocean and heads for land.
A last-man-standing promise among elderly veterans creates a dangerous inheritance involving an imprisoned, wish-granting goblin. A sea captain and a swashbuckler worked blood magic to protect Charleston from an ancient evil with a spell that bound their souls and their descendants to the task, but danger looms as its power fades. The head of a witch family wants artifacts and secrets—and he’ll do anything to get them.
Cassidy Kincaide runs Trifles and Folly, an antique and curio store where her touch magic helps get cursed and haunted objects out of the wrong hands. More than once, she and her allies have saved the world from supernatural threats.
The clock is ticking for Cassidy and her friends to stop the dark warlock, capture the goblin and restore the guardian spell before a malevolent ancient entity takes its vengeance on Charleston and the coast. It’s going to take all the magic, courage and quick thinking they can muster—and for once, that might not be enough.
Legacy is an action-packed urban fantasy paranormal thrill ride full of dark magic, infernal creatures, goblins and demigods, haunted places, pirate ghosts, found family, witch dynasties, loyal friends, Voudon spirits, secret history and plenty of adventure.
Book Five in the Deadly Curiosities series.
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Gail Z. Martin writes urban fantasy, epic fantasy, steampunk and more for Solaris Books, Orbit Books, Falstaff Books, SOL Publishing and Darkwind Press. Urban fantasy series include Deadly Curiosities and the Night Vigil (Sons of Darkness). Epic fantasy series include Darkhurst, the Chronicles Of The Necromancer, the Fallen Kings Cycle, the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, and the Assassins of Landria.
Together with Larry N. Martin, she is the co-author of Iron & Blood, Storm & Fury (both Steampunk/alternate history), the Spells Salt and Steel comedic horror series, the Roaring Twenties monster hunter Joe Mack Shadow Council series, and the Wasteland Marshals near-future post-apocalyptic series. As Morgan Brice, she writes urban fantasy MM paranormal romance, with the Witchbane, Badlands, Treasure Trail, Kings of the Mountain and Fox Hollow series. Gail is also a con-runner for ConTinual, the online, ongoing multi-genre convention that never ends.