An unlucky witch and her know-it-all nemesis must team up in the first of a new, spicy romantic comedy series from USA Today bestselling author Avery Flynn.
Could it possibly get any worse than having absolutely no magical abilities when you’re a member of the most powerful family of witches ever? It used to be that I’d say no, but then I keep getting set up on dates with Gil Connolly whose hotness is only matched by his ego. Seriously. I can’t stand him. Even if I also can’t stop thinking about him (specifically kissing him) but we’re going to pretend I never told you that part.
So yeah, my life isn’t the greatest right now, but then it goes straight to the absolute worst hell when I accidentally make my sister’s spell glitch and curse my whole family. And the only person who can help non-magical me break the spell? You guessed it. Gil the super hot jerk.
Now we have to work together to save my family and outmaneuver some evil-minded nefarious forces bent on world domination. Oh yeah, and we have to do all that while fighting against the attraction building between us because I may not be magical, but what’s happening between Gil and I sure feels like it.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||7.80(w) x 5.10(h) x 0.90(d)|
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Tilda . . .
Among the magical sects who run the country, one family has been among the power brokers since it was only the thirteen colonies-the Sherwoods of Virginia. Unto every family, however, there is a black sheep. In the Sherwood family, that person is Matilda Grace Sherwood who, despite being from one of the most magical families in the entire Witchingdom, couldn't even pull a rabbit from her favorite baseball hat.
Hi. *Waves.* That's me. Please don't call me Matilda, it's Tilda-or Tillie if you're my oldest sister, Effie. Of course, she only gets away with that because she could turn me into a can of seltzer in a WitchyGram live video and she's annoyed enough some days to do it. You, however, can stick with Tilda.
Welcome to the Salem's Bakery and Coffee Shoppe right in the heart of downtown Wrightsville, where, in an act of naïveté or straight-up foolishness (take your pick), I'm waiting for my date. No wait, don't look over there. I'm not the gorgeous blonde standing at the counter ordering a double half-caf soy latte with one shot of sugar-free hazelnut and a warmed-up eye of newt muffin. Nope, sorry. I'm also not the fresh-faced cutie sitting by the window with auburn hair that falls down her back in waves that just go to show that somewhere on her family tree was a mermaid. I'm the short one with the practically glow-in-the-dark red hair, pasty pale skin, and glasses sitting at the corner table in the back under a dragon's blood tree.
Ugh. I hate these trees. Why? Let's just say that my chair is shoved as far forward as the tiny bistro table will allow because you only need to get the tree's sticky, bloodred sap in your hair once to learn that lesson. Ever had gum in your hair? This is worse. Imagine if that gum smelled awful and had a mind of its own. Yeah. Definitely not an ideal situation, to put it mildly. Even worse, the dragon's blood trees seem to desperately love me. Their branches lengthen when I'm near and twist to get closer. If I didn't know any better, I'd say they were totally crushing on me, but that's bizarre even for my life.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I'm an outré. That's what we call the rare breed of witch that has absolutely no powers.
Lucky me, right? Not only do I have the magical ability of your basic couch cushion, I attract nasty-smelling trees. And okay, that would be fine if I was really into trees (OMG, is that a real kink? If so, please don't tell me. My brain is a weird enough place as it is without that information.), but I'm not.
What happened and why I'm sitting here setting myself up for probable disappointment is this: A few months ago, I was going on a year without a date of any kind and I made up my mind to do something about it. Not because I think my life is pointless without a man, but because sometimes I just want a hand to hold, a person to joke with, and all of the other amazing (and okay, orgasmic) things that go along with falling in love and having someone you love who loves you too.
Is that so wrong? If it is, well then that just fits right in with the rest of me, because according to many of the people in the Witchingdom, I'm a magicless freak who isn't worth talking to, let alone dating.
So that brings us back to the reason why I'm at the bakery this morning in my cutest going-out top and casual (yet deadly awesome) jeans with the hidden elastic waistband because no one needs to spend their life with their eye-of-newt-muffin-padded gut getting pinched. I have a date. Ideally, I'd be sitting over where mermaid hair is by the window to check the possibilities as people pass by, but the instructions from the matchmaker were explicit.
Await a tall, dark, and handsome man beneath the dragon's blood tree.
Ugh. Really, I'd rather not be sitting anywhere near this tree (trust me, it smells so much like fetid dragon's breath that taking a deep, calming breath is not an option). But desperate times call for desperate measures and all that. My last three dates Griselda set up were . . . well . . . let's just say, they didn't go well.
You know how everyone has a nemesis in their life? I got set up on a blind date with mine not once, not twice, but three times, so yeah, you could say in addition to being about as magical as a dried-up tree stump, I'm also dating impaired. That's why I went with the matchmaker. I believed with all my heart that Griselda would pick better; she is a three-hundred-year-old sprite, after all. They are beyond lucky in love. Some of that has to have rubbed off on her pick of dates for me.
So my latest date is a few minutes late. That happens. Life in the Witchingdom can be uncertain. You never know when a troll is going to block your path under the overpass and demand you solve three riddles or dance the Macarena ten times in a row. Then there are the builder gnomes, who love to be helpful whether you ask for it or not. The other week, a gnome added a bay window to Mrs. Stuckley's house while she was napping. She'd never asked for it, let alone hired the gnomes for the job. Still, the gnome crew wouldn't leave until she paid the bill in M&Ms, but never the red ones.
It is wild out there. Trust me.
While waiting for my mystery date, I decide to scan WitchyGram to see how my efforts are going to bring my family, the Sherwoods, into the modern world of social media and make one of the most powerful (okay, and snobbiest) families in the Witchingdom more relatable.
Social media manager isn't exactly the job most people would expect a Sherwood to have. My family is basically the Tom Bradys of witchery-really good for a really long time. Jealous people are always accusing us of having cheated to gain political power, and yeah, Deflategate shenanigans did not help that belief, but still, it was a constant public image battle, which meant that for once my no-magic-having skills came in handy.
So while the rest of my family does the big magical things to make sure everything happens according to society's rules, I run the family social media account on WitchyGram under the watchful eye of my parents. Like really watchful, uber-controlling, all-seeing eye, because they are always expecting me to mess up. Okay, so that has happened a time or twenty-hello, posted pic of Mom mid-spell with her face making the most hysterical expression where her cheeks were puffed out and her eyes crossed. Sure, it wasn't exactly flattering, but it is our most viral post to date, and that is the whole point-making the most powerful family in Witchingdom a little more relatable and showcasing how awesome the Sherwoods are while I stay as far out of the photo frame as possible.
It's not that my family doesn't love me, it's just that having an outré in their midst doesn't exactly prop up the whole superpowerful-witches image my family wants everyone to have of us. An outré isn't seen as an exception that proves the rule of the Sherwood power, it is seen by some as the crack in the family lineage that proves the rot within.
That's something I'm reminded of every time I have to go through and clean up the comments people make in response to the family social media posts. Today's bit of ugly snark wasn't any different from the usual.
"A real witch of power would be able to spell a child out of being an outré."
"The Sherwoods should be ashamed of letting that Matilda monstrosity out in the world. Hiding away outrés was good enough for my generation, it should be good enough for this generation."
"Freaks and Cheats: The Sherwood Family History."
I may not be magic, but my delete-and-block reaction time is faster than you can say abracadabra-which no one really does anymore (a total pity, because it is such a fun word to say). I had to get quick with my see-ya-asshole reflexes because it made up about fifty percent of my job. Everyone's a brave jerk from the safety of the Internet.
It used to be that each one of the poisoned-prick comments would leave me raw with my heart scraped up. I wish I could say that they don't bother me at all anymore, but that would be a lie. The reality is somewhere in the middle. The truth is, I'm a dud and the whole world loves to point that out as if I'm confused about it.
Hate to break it to those folks, but I have been aware of my shortcomings since birth. They're pretty impossible to miss.
I get to work under the power of my feet, not the snap, crackle, pop of magic like everyone else. I can't spell cast or read the tarot cards properly or hop from cloud to cloud across the horizon. I'm a freak, a weirdo, an outré. I'm the lone deviant in the entire city of Wrightsville, the whole of the Sherwood family tree, and (as far as I know) all of Virginia.
However, if I think about that too much, my skin gets hot, my palms sweat, and I'm looking for the closest exit so I won't do something even more un-Sherwood-like than being an outré-crying in public.
Instead, I exhale all the negativity and remember the good things in my life, such as my magical misfits support group, movie nights with my sisters, and the taste of warm eye of newt muffins-really, if they don't have them at your coffee shop, you sooooooo need to request them.
Per usual, once my lungs are empty of oxygen, I've pushed all that hate away as much as I can. I'm again ready to ignore the sometimes curious and sometimes cruel stares from people on the street and hold tight to my hope that there is a place for me in this world, even if it's just a small spot on the edge of being acceptable.
It's that little nugget of hope that explains why I'm here at Salem's, sitting at an awkward angle to avoid the dragon's blood tree sap and hoping that maybe this date will be the one that changes everything. As if the universe is listening in on my thoughts, the bell over the bakery's door jingles. The air around me shivers.
It could be him!
Keeping my eyes on my phone, I exit out of the WitchyGram app and inhale a long, calming, please-let-this-be-the-real-thing deep breath.
Realizing too late the mistake I've just made.
The foul stench of the dragon's blood tree fills my lungs. The scent of moldy leftovers and rancid milk is palpable enough I can taste it on my tongue. I gag. I cough. All the oxygen flees my lungs, leaving me spluttering for breath. My eyes water so much I can barely see. All I can make out of the blurry figure rushing toward me is that he has broad shoulders and is really tall.
He grabs me by the arm-hello, Mr. Firm, Strong Hands-and hauls me up from my chair and away from the tree. From the impact of him thwacking me on the back with his palm as I continue to fight for breath, I have no doubt that the size of his hands matches the rest of him. It takes a minute-and garners the attention of every witch in the bakery (many of whom had their phone cameras trained on me, oh yay, Mom's gonna love that)-but thanks to the help of my date, I finally catch my breath and regain my vision.
"Thank you so much," I say as I start to turn around and thank my date. "I know better than to take a deep breath around-"
The words "a dragon's blood tree" die on my lips as soon as I see my date-check that-my nemesis.
"And yet, you still did," Gil Connolly says in that rumbly, judgy voice of his that does absolutely nothing to detract from his absolute-and most infuriating-sexy-archeology-professor-with-a-perma-snarl hotness. "Please say you aren't waiting here for me. Again."
Getting set up on a date with my nemesis once? Weird.
Twice? An accident.
Three times? Serious bad luck.
Four times in one month? There is only one explanation. I am most definitely cursed.
Gil . . .
Fine. My research methods are rather unorthodox-that is the reason why I was banished on this fool's errand of a secret, undercover project by the Council-but they work.
In less than a month, I've had three opportunities (what some might call dates) to observe Matilda Grace Sherwood in her usual habitats and study her reactions to low-level cunning magic. We aren't talking floating teacups or corporal transformation (what most witches call body swaps), but tactile reverberations and misdirections. These are the kinds of basic magic that even a newborn infant picks up on, the indescribable ghost fingers of something being out there that the child cannot see but can feel.
Tilda, however, tested true null at every turn. It was extraordinary. Not only is she an outré, she is the most flatlining nonmagical being on the record books. I've spent enough time with her to keep my handler from getting suspicious about whose team I'm really on-the Council's or the Resistance's.
Of course, the only team I belong to is my own.
It's a dangerous game, but I'm more than up for it.
I'll play both sides for as long as I need to in order to get what I really want-the Council releasing my parents from exile or the Resistance smuggling them out. I could care less who actually makes it happen, I'm just going to do whatever it takes to make sure it does.
So here I am working my contacts with the Resistance while doing the work of the Council, which for the past hundred years has managed to convince the regular citizens of the Witchingdom that it's nothing but an urban legend. But the truth of it is that they are very real, very powerful, and very determined to make sure that any magical threats to its power are eliminated. And that is why the Council sent me here deep into Resistance territory to figure out if Tilda Sherwood is faking being an outré as a cover for something more detrimental to the Council's existence.