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Emma L Adams

Ahead of the Curse: A Cursed Witch Mystery Book 1 (Paperback)

Ahead of the Curse: A Cursed Witch Mystery Book 1 (Paperback)

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Book 1 of 3: A Cursed Witch Mystery

Perry Jacobs is a witch with a secret - namely, she's cursed with eternal bad luck.

It's only natural that Perry has made it her mission to hunt magical monsters, since she already attracts them in droves, but she doesn’t expect her latest assignment to see her exiled from London and sent to a castle in the middle of nowhere. The 'castle' part is pretty cool, admittedly, but like most things in her life, it comes with a downside.

Namely, she won't be living there alone. Joining a team of fellow monster hunters wasn't on her plan, let alone a secretive witch, a suspiciously friendly werewolf, a foul-tempered vampire, and an enigmatic mentor who asks far too many questions about her past. Perry can't wait to get out of there, but to win her freedom, she first has to help her new 'team' investigate a mysterious death in the local woods.

As Perry knows well, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. With secrets hidden among both the locals and her fellow team members and all the clues pointing towards a magical monster that even Perry has never encountered before, it's going to take a lot for this cursed witch to win the day…

This fun paranormal mystery from author Elle Adams contains a snarky British witch heroine, an unlikely group of quirky paranormals, and a spine-tingling villain.

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“Perry, when I told you to bring the vampire into custody, I didn’t mean in a body bag.”

“You didn’t say not to.” I faced my supervisor across the cluttered surface of his desk, taking in the exasperated expression on his craggy green face. “It’s the ideal way to carry an unconscious vampire around. Appropriate too.”

“Not to the ordinary folks on the street who might have seen you disposing of a body,” Kellen said sternly. “Undead or not.”

“Nobody saw me, and isn’t it better than the alternative?” At least a body bag was vaguely ambiguous. Unlike the vampire, who was currently snoring in the corner with his mouth wide open, exposing his fangs for the world to see. “I had to hit him with the knockout potion before he grabbed another human to snack on, and I didn’t have a lot of options.”

Annoyance furrowed his brow. “You know this is going to be a nightmare of paperwork for me, don’t you?”

“Not if you don’t mention the body bag part. It’s not like they actually check up on these things.” 

Considering my boss was a literal ogre, you would think I’d be more intimidated by the exasperation lining his green face, but Kellen had known me since I’d been old enough to walk. He also knew as well as I did that when you were dealing with magical monsters, improvising was sometimes the best option at hand.

“And that isn’t even getting into the two humans you knocked out in the process,” he added.

“They didn’t see me either. At most, they’ll wake up with mild concussions.” 

Personally, I thought a concussion was preferable to being chewed on by a vampire, which would have been their fate if I hadn’t flung the knockout potion directly at all three of them before our wily predator ran for the hills. There weren’t many ways to subdue a vampire, let alone without tipping off the oblivious humans, which I thought my supervisor would understand. My job with the Wardens was to ensure humans remained happily unaware of their paranormal neighbours, which meant taking out transgressors and cleaning away the evidence before anyone was any the wiser. 

Kellen sighed, and I sensed another rebuke on the horizon. “Putting that behind us for the moment, I actually called you here to give you some news on your next assignment.”

I arched a brow when the vampire gave another loud snore. “More vampires?”

“No, it’s a location switch,” he answered. “You’re being transferred to another office.”

I blinked at him. “Already?”

I’d thought things had been going well recently, body bag incident aside. The Wardens had branches in all the UK’s main cities and towns, and I’d bounced from one to another over the past ten years, but there were a lot fewer rogue vampires in my current corner of Manchester than there’d been when I’d arrived six months ago.

“That’s right,” Kellen said. “I’ve been in touch with a smaller branch of the Wardens up in Northumberland, and they’re in need of a new member with your particular skill set.”

“Northumberland?” I grasped at my admittedly patchy knowledge of geography. “You mean Newcastle?”

Newcastle was way up north, practically on the border with Scotland. Unless he’d meant to say Yorkshire instead, in which case I wouldn’t have minded a stint in York or Leeds. 

“No, I mean rural Northumberland.”

“Rural,” I repeated. “Yeah… no, that won’t do. I’m a city girl through and through. You know that.”

He did, too, since he’d been an intern for the Wardens in the very region of London in which I’d been abandoned by my birth family as an infant. Personally, I figured my aversion to nature was a side effect of my history because if I’d been dumped on a country lane, the odds of someone stumbling across me were not in my favour. As it was, my infant self had been found within minutes of screaming in an alleyway and taken into foster care. I hadn’t met Kellen until a few years later, but he’d been handed the case file on my entire sorry history.

“Exactly,” he said. “It’ll be good experience for you.”

“You and I have very different ideas as to what constitutes a good experience,” I told him. “Rural paranormal communities can take care of themselves. They don’t want outsiders wandering in.”

“Ah, but that’s where you’re mistaken,” he said. “Every paranormal community is unique, and I believe your skills are well-suited for this branch of the Wardens.”

“What skills?” Staking vampires? Vamps favoured human prey, and there was a distinct lack of targets out in the countryside. Unless a vamp had taken to poaching a farmer’s sheep, there was little demand for that particular skill. “I’ve worked at most branches already. What makes this one special?”

Aside from a lack of home comforts? My first foster placement had dragged me on a camping trip as a kid and it had been a disaster for everyone involved. Granted, I doubted my poor foster family had planned on us running into a nest of fire salamanders and the tent going up in flames, though they hadn’t actually seen the little lizards. Instead, they’d assumed I was playing with matches. 

Needless to say, I hadn’t lasted long in that placement.

At the time, I’d assumed they were the anomaly and not me, but Kellen had set me straight on that one and informed me that most people did not run into weird magical critters on a regular basis. In any case, you’d think he’d have remembered that incident, given that it had led directly to our first meeting and my induction into the paranormal world, after which I’d sworn off exploring the Great Outdoors altogether. 

Funnily enough, knowing the exact likelihood of running into a wild dragon or manticore didn’t make the idea of camping in the wilderness any more appealing. Though monsters were the least of my worries as far as this new assignment was concerned.

“For one thing,” Kellen answered, “you’ll be living in a castle for the duration of your time working for the Northumberland branch of the Wardens. The castle was built in the Middle Ages, but it’s fully equipped for modern living.”

A castle? That one I hadn’t seen coming. I’d visited a few castles over the years, but they tended to be crumbling ruins, not exactly habitable by modern humans. I wouldn’t lie, the notion appealed to the part of me that liked the idea of dressing up in medieval armour to fight monsters. Some considered the Wardens the modern equivalent of mercenaries who dealt with paranormal threats in ye olden days, but Kellen’s office was as dingy and mundane as you could get.

“Seriously?” I asked. “I’d get to live in a castle?”

My current rented flat was adequate compared to some of my past accommodations—which had included hostels with leaking roofs and bedbug-infested rooms—but it’d be nice to experience a little luxury for a change. Having a huge sprawling castle all to myself would certainly be worth the inconvenience of being surrounded by nothing but fields and farms for miles around. 

“I thought that might change your mind.” Kellen’s craggy face split into a satisfied smile. “You’ll start this weekend. What do you say?”

* * *

“This isn’t what I had in mind.”

I stood at the end of a gravel path, my broomstick in one hand and my wand in another, wishing I’d brought both an umbrella and significantly lower expectations. When Kellen had told me I’d been stationed to live inside a castle, I’d assumed he’d meant a massive medieval fortress. Not a small, squat tower formed of thick grey bricks with tall, narrow windows and a weather-beaten wooden door. It didn’t look like the sort of place that had indoor plumbing or heating, let alone an internet connection or Netflix. Worse, it was absolutely bloody freezing in the northeast of England at this time of year, and drizzle hung in the air as if it wasn’t the middle of summer.

But I forgot the weather when the sound of voices drifted through an open window, signalling that there were several people already inside the tower. 

Perhaps the previous inhabitants were moving out on the same day I was due to show up, but the voices didn’t sound as if they belonged to anyone in a hurry to leave. I didn’t have a key, which seemed a massive oversight now that I thought about it, but I’d assumed the Wardens would have left it waiting for me inside the tower.

Grimacing when a droplet of rain fell down the back of my hoodie, I knocked on the door. Footsteps echoed inside, the thump of boots on hard stone, and I took an instinctive step backwards when the door swung inward, and I found myself nose to nose with the single most attractive man I’d ever laid eyes on.

Piercing green eyes studied me from beneath a furrowed pale brow, while his hair hung in silky curtains that were usually only seen in an ad for shampoo. Tall and lean—at five-nine, I rarely met anyone who could look down on me successfully, but he managed it—the man standing in the doorway might have walked out of a medieval novel himself. A medieval romance novel, that is, the sort with knights sweeping maidens off their feet and chivalry. 

Of course, I was no maiden, and the guy didn’t look like much a knight, either, once I got past his startling looks and took in his modern jeans and casual T-shirt. Did he not feel the cold? 

He rested an elbow on the door frame and looked down at me. “Can I help you?” 

I licked my dry lips. “I’m supposed to be moving into the tower today. I’m with the Wardens.” 

“You’re the new team member?” he asked. “Peregrine Jacobs, right?”

“Just Perry, and—did you say team member?” At the sound of more footsteps on the steep stone stairs behind him, alarm began to rise inside me. “How many people are here?”

“Five including you.”

My mouth hung open for a moment. Kellen had neglected to mention that I wouldn’t get the whole tower to myself after all. Instead, I had to share it with an entire team of people, including a guy who’d rendered me speechless for possibly the first time in my life. 

I closed my mouth and put my thoughts together. “Clearly, there’s been a misunderstanding. I was told I’d be stationed in this tower for my next assignment.”

“No, you’re in the right place.” He extended a hand. “I’m Tam. Team leader.”

I looked blankly at his hand and belatedly realised he wanted me to shake it. As I did so, a spark zipped up my hand to my arm, the mild undercurrent of someone who’d either recently used magic or was magical. I wouldn’t have taken him for a vampire at first glance, but the effect of his appearance on me couldn’t be explained away by anything natural.

I released his hand and took a step backwards into the doorway. I need to get out of here. Now. 

“Who’s the newcomer?” Another man came into view down the staircase, tall and muscular with reddish-blond hair. This dude was definitely a werewolf.

“I’m Callum,” he said in a Scottish accent, clasping my hand with a firm grip. “You’re … Perry?”

“That’s me,” I said. “I think I was misinformed on the, ah, nature of this assignment.”

“What did your supervisor tell you?” asked Tam.

“That I was going to live in a castle near a town called—Hexworth, is it?”

“You’re in the right place.” The voice came from behind a door I hadn’t seen behind Tam, which nudged open. A petite woman sidled out, her curly dark hair framing her pale face. A witch, I’d guess. “I’m Farley. Maurice is sleeping upstairs, but he’ll show his face soon when he realises our new team member is here.”

It was getting entirely too crowded in the narrow area at the foot of the stairs, but when I took a step back through the doorway, I found the drizzle outside had turned into a deluge. A sheet of rain poured down, instantly drenching me to the skin. 

“You might want to get inside,” Callum remarked. “Come on, we’ll make room for you.”

He retreated upstairs, as did Farley, giving me space to enter the narrow area at the foot of the stairs. Dripping and bereft of dignity, I closed the door behind me and promptly regretted it. The entryway was scarcely big enough for Tam and me to stand side by side, containing nothing but the wooden door Farley had come out of. The rest of the rooms must be upstairs. 

“This way.” Callum beckoned me to follow him and Farley up the steep stone staircase. Tam and I tried to go upstairs at the same time, resulting in an awkward collision of limbs that added yet another item to the list of reasons I wanted out of here as soon as possible. 

As soon as the rain stopped, I’d be out the door faster than anyone could blink. 

The stairs opened into a wide hallway that contained doors to the living room and a kitchen, while another staircase must have led up to the bedrooms. Plural. Given the tower’s size, I ought to have known the Wardens were far too efficient to allow one person to occupy a single post. It’d been my mistake to assume otherwise, but I’d call Kellen and explain. He knew that misfortune was hardly unfamiliar to me and that there was a very good reason I moved between locations rather than settling down in one magical community. That way, nobody else had to deal with the fallout of… 

Wait. Did my new team know about my past? I definitely needed to call my supervisor. Since the three of them were still looking at me, I put on a false smile. “I just need to make a quick call.”

“Sure,” said Tam. “We’ll be waiting in the living room.”

I made the mistake of looking through the open door and seeing the amber glow of a fire and several invitingly warm-looking blankets draped over the armchairs grouped around the fireplace. Sternly, I reminded myself of the reason they needed to light a log fire in the middle of summer and pulled out my phone. The quicker I sorted this out, the better. 

Kellen answered right away. “I thought I might hear from you soon, Perry.”

“Then you know what I’m calling about.” I lowered my voice. “You know why I can’t work with other people, much less live with them.”

“I beg to differ.” His voice took on the tone he used when he tried to convince me to take on unappealing cases, such as pixie infestations in public toilets. “You did fine in that shared house in Birmingham.”

“If you forget the werewolf incident,” I corrected. “And the tree that fell on our house.”

“That was different.” 

“In what way?” I glanced up at the others, who’d settled into comfy-looking armchairs in front of the fire, and … was that a massive flat-screen TV? Irked, I wrenched my gaze away. “You know why it’s unfair to them.”

Nobody could agree on what kind of curse was on me, only that it was potent enough for me to require a warning label. Misfortune trailed me like a particularly loyal hound, often rebounding on the people around me, and if I admitted it to myself, part of me had wondered if being exiled to a castle alone had been an attempt to do the Wardens a favour. Which it might be, if not for the poor souls who had to live with me.

“I’ve been working with this particular team for long enough that I don’t think that will be an issue,” Kellen answered.

“Based on what evidence?” I hissed. “Besides, even if we don’t have any tragic mishaps, that doesn’t mean we’ll get along personality-wise.”

“I expected that you’d say that,” he said. “I think you need to keep an open mind, Perry.”

“It’s not my mind that’s the problem.” I’d tried to find a community that would accept me. Multiple times. Not only had I kept a hundred percent failure rate, but whenever the people around me learned about my curse, there was only one person to pin the blame on for all their misfortune. I didn’t mind being a loner. Most of the time, anyway.

He drew in a breath. “This can be a trial run if you like. Stay here for a week or so, get to know the local community…”

“Is there one?” 

“Yes, the village of Hexworth is a short walk from the tower.”

“If they’re anything like every other rural paranormal community I’ve visited, they won’t be keen to make friends.”

“Well, that’s something you both have in common.”

“Ha.” Never mind the local community. At least I didn’t have to share a house with any of the people of Hexworth. Sure, the three team members I’d met so far hadn’t been unfriendly, but they didn’t know me. Not yet.

When I glanced over at the living room again, Tam caught my eye for a brief moment. Could he hear us? If he was the sort of paranormal who had supernaturally enhanced hearing, possibly, but I’d already ruled him out as a vampire. Granted, if the last member of the team was asleep during the day, there was a fair possibility that he was one of the living dead, which would give me yet another reason to get the hell out of here. After the sheer number of vampires I’d had to haul into the office, living with one would be an exercise in extreme self-control I had no interest in participating in. 

“Give it a try,” he repeated. “I’ll check back with you in a day or two.”

“Wait a minute.” But he’d ended the call, leaving me alone with three people who might have already heard me talking about how little I wanted to be here if my reaction to meeting them hadn’t already clued them in.

Resigned, I shed my wet coat and entered the living room. The warm air wafting from the fireplace was as heavenly as it’d seemed from outside, but it didn’t quite stifle the awkward silence. 

“Hey,” I said to the others. “Is there anywhere I can leave my coat to dry?”

“Sure,” said Tam. “Leave it on the back of the chair.”

I draped my coat over the back of an armchair, where it promptly dripped all over the wooden floor. “I need to get my luggage too.”

Carrying a suitcase on a broomstick was an accident waiting to happen, so I’d left it in the hallway of my old apartment with the intention of using a conjuring spell when I arrived. Given the rain, I was glad I’d made that call.

When I reached into my pocket for my wand, and the others reacted as if I’d thrown a grenade into the room. Farley leapt to her feet, followed shortly by Callum, who moved protectively in front of her. Farley herself wore an expression that resembled a deer in headlights, as if she expected me to put a hex on her.

“Whoa.” I lowered my wand. “I’m just fetching my suitcase. What’s the deal?”

“Ah, we usually don’t allow magic inside the tower.” Callum met Tam’s gaze for a second. “But I think we can make an exception, given how heavily it’s raining out there.”

“Of course.” Tam hadn’t got to his feet, but his manner had become notably more serious, even when Callum and Farley returned to their armchairs. “Go ahead, Perry.”

What was that about? Did they have a bad experience with a rogue witch or wizard or something? I’d thought they dealt with monsters, not humans, but I hadn’t exactly had the chance to ask Kellen for the details on my new team before I arrived.

Pushing aside my unease, I waved my wand and my suitcase landed at my feet. Simple enough. I pocketed my wand, but the others remained in a tense silence, and it was a relief to have an excuse to leave the room in order to take my suitcase upstairs.

“Yours is the room at the far end of the corridor,” Tam called after me. “Feel free to take all the time you need to settle in.”

The others had the distinct air of wanting to have a private discussion, and I was all too happy to leave them to it. But it didn’t take a genius to figure out my new teammates might just be harbouring as many secrets as I was.

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