Grave Mistake (Hedgewitch for Hire #1) by Christine Pope

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The Pits and the Pendulum





Mazey Hoskins, the owner of Crescent City — my favorite witchy supply shop — leaned over the counter as I began to pull out my debit Visa card and said in a conspiratorial murmur, “Word on the street is that Lucien Dumond is coming for you.”

Although I generally did my best to maintain a Zen attitude, no matter what troubles might cross my path, her words still sent a sharp stab of worry through me. But I managed to smile, even as I tried to tell myself that Mazey was probably exaggerating things. I loved Mazey — she was like the cozy, friendly grandmother I’d never had — but boy, did she love to trade stories.

Most of the time, I did, too, since chatting with Mazey was one of the best ways to stay in touch with what might be happening in the various local magical groups. Even in this connected age, rumors tended to stay off the internet when it came to L.A’s pagan community. The last thing any of us wanted was to give some ammo to the mundanes…aka, those who didn’t believe in magic of any sort.

However, the tale she’d just related was one I definitely didn’t want to hear. Several practitioners who’d come down on Lucien Dumond’s bad side had disappeared from the scene. The rumor was that they’d simply decided to relocate, but darker whispers hinted that Lucien might have come up with a more permanent solution to his problems.

Doing my best to shrug off Mazey’s comment, I said lightly, “He’s probably pissed off that I turned him down for another date,” then handed over my debit card. “Guy can’t take no for an answer.”

Which was definitely not an exaggeration. Lucien Dumond was the leader of GLANG — the Greater Los Angeles Necromancers’ Guild — and he attracted groupies like the Rolling Stones on a worldwide tour back in the ’60s. Not that I’d been around to witness those sorts of shenanigans, of course, but still, I’d read a few stories.

Despite Lucien already having a slavishly devoted group of women — whom I tended to refer to as his harem — he was always on the prowl for fresh meat. Unfortunately, a while back, he’d decided I was exactly the kind of meat he wanted.

Mazey shook her head. “Selena, I don’t think this is something you should ignore. People are saying that he wants to shut you down…by whatever means necessary.”

Again, I had to fight back a wave of unease. I’d been hearing a whisper of rumors along those lines for a few weeks already, but this was the first time anyone had come right out and told me to my face that I might be in actual danger, that Lucien might have decided it was time to get rid of the troublesome pebble in his shoe.

Trust Mazey to do the hard work. Since she wasn’t really a practitioner, except to amuse herself, she hadn’t crossed the leader of GLANG and his band of lackeys.

I, on the other hand, was a “hedgewitch,” a phrase used to describe a practitioner who worked on her own, who had her own way of approaching the arcane arts. My psychic abilities had come on early, and I’d basically trained myself, first from books I got at the library and ordered online, then later on by watching YouTube videos to help fill in the gaps. I didn’t follow any particular practice, but picked and chose from a variety of different disciplines as they suited my own particular talents. Most people tended to think I was a practicing Wiccan, but I really wasn’t, although I called out to certain Celtic deities, such as Cerridwen and Brigid, as the need arose.

At any rate, I was basically the antithesis of Lucien Dumond and his squad. He’d trained with a master on the East Coast, and he pretty strictly followed the rulebook of the Order of the Golden Dawn, a secret society that was the predecessor to Wicca…although with his own unique twist.

Anyway, Lucien had been trying to coax me to his way of doing things — and into his bed — for the last year or so. Before then, I probably had barely been a blip on his radar, since he hadn’t seen me as any kind of a threat. But then I got a client who ended up following my advice and landed a starring role in a hot new TV series, and suddenly Lucien realized there was another skilled practitioner in the L.A. area, one who quite possibly had poached a client who should have gone to him.

“Last I checked, this was a free country,” I said, and watched as Mazey, expression still troubled, slipped my debit card into the chip reader before handing it back. “I mean, even Lucien can’t think he’s entitled to every new client in L.A.”