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Emma L Adams

Blessing and Curse: A Cursed Witch Mystery Book 3 (Paperback)

Blessing and Curse: A Cursed Witch Mystery Book 3 (Paperback)

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Book 3 of 3: A Cursed Witch Mystery

In the aftermath of their last mission, Perry’s team is given another assignment: to track down several missing children who disappeared into a forest near their village.

At first glance, the case seems simpler than their last one, despite the lack of evidence of any monsters in the area… with the exception of the annoying paranormal hunter lurking in the forest and getting in their way.

Until Tam vanishes, too.

Perry refuses to let anything stop her from getting her team leader back, but it won’t be long before she discovers the depth of the secrets surrounding the village and the forest - and the enemy might be closer to home than she realises.

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When a werewolf, a vampire, and two witches walked into a building, you knew trouble was about to start. No, it wasn’t the beginning of a joke—and since the building in question was full of paranormals of all sorts, it wasn’t even especially unusual.

Not that the ordinary people on London’s streets knew what the posh-looking office building was used for, thanks to the warding spells around its perimeter that repelled anyone who wasn’t in the know about the paranormal world. Which was most people. From this side of the wards, the roar of traffic in the background was muted to a faint hum, and not so much as a smudge of dirt marred the pristine marble steps leading up to the front doors.

Only a few weeks had passed since I’d last set foot inside the Wardens’ headquarters, but it felt like an age. For one thing, last time I’d had a vampire in a body bag in tow, but this time, I walked alongside a vampire who was, inexplicably, on my team. 

Team. A word I still had trouble believing applied to me in any capacity. I’d never been known to play well with others—though the same could be said of the vampire in question, who slouched at the back of the group looking like a teenager whose long-suffering parents had dragged to a museum. How Tam had convinced him to put on a suit, I had no idea, though Callum might have helped. The red-haired werewolf looked unusually serious in his own smart attire, while Farley strode beside him, her trembling hands clenched at her sides, her demure skirt and jacket making her look more like a secretary than a witch.

And then there was me. I’d dressed in my only nice outfit, a skirt and blouse that were somewhat wrinkled from sitting in the back of my wardrobe for years, and I’d already managed to scuff my polished shoes on the short walk to the building. With one hand, I tucked a strand of dark-brown hair that the wind had blown loose back into my ponytail. With the other, I pulled out my wand, ready to hand it over to the security guard on the other side of the door. No weapons were allowed in the Wardens’ interrogation rooms, and I felt the absence of the usual set of knives on my belt acutely as I walked into the lobby.

Those thoughts fled when I caught sight of the team leader waiting for us. Tam’s long dark hair was carefully combed, his suit impeccable, and if we weren’t here for an interrogation, I might have taken a longer moment to appreciate the view. As it was, I was more concerned with the stern-faced female goblin who waited to usher us into a hallway off the side. “You must be Tam Juniper.”

Tam inclined his head. “Yes, and this is my team.”

Yet again, I felt a weird dissonance at the word, but when four large ogres stepped in to flank our group as we walked, I was glad not to be alone. We entered a corridor lined with doors, where one of the ogres beckoned Tam to follow him into a small office. I should have guessed we’d be sent into separate rooms and questioned separately to see if our stories added up, but my heart still sank to see Tam disappear into the room and leave the rest of us to our fates. One by one, the ogres peeled away, each taking a different team member with them until only I remained.

“This way.” The ogre—female, dressed in a sharp suit designed to fit her six-foot-something broad frame—beckoned me into an office, having to duck under the doorframe to enter. I always figured the reason so many ogres worked for the Wardens was that it was nearly impossible for them to blend into regular society without relying on magic to hide their craggy green features and sharp-looking tusks.

Granted, some of us had trouble blending into regular human society for other reasons altogether. Warily, I entered and took the seat the female ogre indicated, in front of a wide desk that had also clearly been adapted to ogre size. So had the large chair that she lowered herself into, surveying me for a short moment. “You are Peregrine Jacobs, correct?” 

“I—yes.” I usually went by Perry, but I was under no illusions that this was a friendly chat. I didn’t know this ogre, but the chances of her being a friend of my supervisor were slim, and I had a reputation among the Wardens regardless. “That’s me.” 

“You know why you’re here, Peregrine?”

“Yes.” As if I could forget it. “I’m here to give a report on a mission my team was sent on recently, in which we were supposed to be assessed.”

“Yes,” she said. “You were to be assessed by one of our inspectors, but he…”

“… was possessed by a demon.” No point in beating around the bush. “Afterwards, we were invited here to, erm, share more information.”

I think. In truth, I didn’t know what the Wardens wanted us to tell them. We’d already given multiple reports on the mission, in the absence of any other witnesses, but they’d insisted on dragging us here to their head office. There was little I hated more than pointless bureaucracy, but I was curious enough about where the Inspector himself had ended up that I’d resigned myself to the inconvenience. 

Not that I had a choice. One did not ignore a summons from the Wardens’ head office.

“Correct,” she said. “Well? Can you give me a summary of the mission?”

I’d gone over the story repeatedly with Tam and the others—both the real version and the one that we’d decided to tell the Wardens—and knew it by heart, so I began by explaining how we’d arrived in the town of Herring Cove to find Inspector Peterson waiting to assess how well our team worked together. We’d scarcely been a team for a week at the time, which meant his presence had come as a surprise to all of us, but none of us could have foreseen him turning out to be possessed by a creature that would happily have seen us all dead.

I certainly didn’t insinuate that the inspector had let the demon possess him, nor did I mention that he’d stood in our way at every turn and outright obstructed our attempts to investigate the murders we’d been sent to solve. Since the demon was gone, and the inspector himself had denied everything stubbornly after we’d evicted his unwanted hitchhiker, the upper-ranked Wardens had been reluctant to believe our reports of his behaviour. I had little faith that today would change anything on that front.

“Our supervisor sent people to take the inspector away,” I finished. “We returned to the tower to await news from the upper office.”

“I see.” Her pen scratched on her notepad, though I didn’t know what she had to note down that wasn’t already in the Wardens’ reports. I could guarantee my own list of questions was infinitely longer too. For starters, where was the inspector now? Still in jail? And just who had sent him on the mission to begin with? Who had assigned him to assess us—and why? 

All I knew was that Kellen, my own supervisor, hadn’t decided we needed to be assessed. While I had my doubts that anyone here had known that the inspector would end up possessed by a demon, the assessment part had seemed designed to fail us, especially me. The inspector had told me that the Wardens had seen me as a risk factor because of the inconvenient curse that had been placed upon me as an infant, and I couldn’t say for sure whether that had been the demon talking or the man himself. The Wardens might have taken me under their wing, but that had been Kellen’s choice, and not everyone had agreed. Did this woman, I wondered? If not, I’d had good reason to be concerned that this questioning would end in disaster. 

Then she asked the question I’d dreaded. “This is your first team, correct? Your first time being assigned to work with others?”

“Yes.” I didn’t need to add any details; I could guarantee that she had my entire record in front of her, which made it clear why I’d never been assigned to a group before. “It is.”

A moment of silence followed, and more dread bloomed in my chest. Is this the first time she’s seen my record? I could never predict how people would react upon first discovering that I was cursed, nor could I explain its parameters. All I knew was that people around me tended to get hurt and that there was no way to counteract the curse’s effects. 

Well. Technically, if the person who’d cursed me in the first place died, the curse might lift of its own accord, but I wouldn’t know how to tell either way, so I worked under the assumption that the curse was alive and well until proven otherwise. My general luck seemed to bear that out, though my induction into Tam’s team was a recent exception to the rule. Until now, perhaps. 

After all, breaking apart our team was a neat way for the Wardens to resolve the thorny problem of what to do with a group of people who’d witnessed an inspector go off the rails. Since we were a group of misfits who didn’t fit in anywhere, the Wardens as a whole wouldn’t suffer if we disbanded. 

Our team, though? Farley, an empath who’d struggled to be around people until the team had given her a voice, would suffer the most, followed by Maurice. The surly vampire wasn’t my favourite person, but he and Callum were close friends, and I couldn’t imagine being separated would do either of them any favours. Yet it was Tam who held us all together. If the team disbanded, I’d never find out what Tam was. I’d never get to—

“That’s all,” said the ogre. “You can go.”

“Huh?” I frowned, disarmed. “So … what’s the verdict? I mean, are we going to be punished, or…?”

“Punished?” It was her turn to frown, though her ogre tusks made that hard to tell apart from her usual expression. “No. Why would you be?”

“I… We didn’t exactly follow procedures…” Meaning we’d restrained and locked up an inspector and hit him on the head. Yes, he’d been possessed at the time, but I could never tell when the Wardens’ rule-following tendencies would tighten their iron grip on us.

“Actually, your team leader behaved in exactly the way I would have expected of someone in that situation.”

And the rest of us? “Ah—he did. Definitely. But I thought, since we were invited here after we already submitted our reports…”

“The details bear out.” She gestured to the door. “You don’t want to be detained, do you?”

“No.” I rose to my feet, my legs shaking. I hadn’t realised how badly I’d wanted to be wrong. “Ah. Thank you.”

I did my best not to run out of the room, and it was lucky I didn’t, because Kellen was waiting outside for me. His hulking frame and curved tusks might have scared anyone who’d never met an ogre before, but I grinned at the sight of him. Kellen had been a presence in my life since he’d appointed himself my unofficial watcher when he’d discovered I was a witch—long before I’d been legally old enough to join the Wardens myself. He’d also been the first person I’d called when the last mission had broken out in chaos, and he’d suspected something was amiss with the inspector, though he hadn’t been able to stop the Wardens from hauling us in for questioning.

“Hey.” Then I saw he was alone. “Where are the others?”

“They’re still being questioned.”

“I was the first to be let out?” That couldn’t be right. I was usually the last to escape interrogations, but I wasn’t about to complain, least of all to Kellen. As my supervisor and the person with the authority to stop the Wardens from punishing me or the others for the inspector’s actions, the poor guy had dealt with the brunt of the paperwork after the mission, and I’d never be able to satisfactorily repay him if I lived to be a thousand.

“That’s right,” he said. “We can wait outside.”

I was all too happy to get out of the stuffy corridor, so I followed him out into the lobby. While I’d spent a lot of time in the Wardens’ headquarters, I’d never been comfortable in any part of this building except Kellen’s own office upstairs. The judging stares—both real and imaginary—were too prevalent. Not until the guard at the doors had returned my wand and we reached the steps leading out of the building did the knot in my chest loosen. 

I stuck my wand up my sleeve, since my current attire didn’t have any decently sized pockets. “I can’t believe I’m the first out.”

“You’ve been in the team the least amount of time,” Kellen reminded me. “The others have more questions to answer, but they’ll be fine.”

“What about the inspector?” I asked him in a low voice. “Is he still in jail?”

The lack of updates had bugged me, though I’d be more than happy never to set eyes on Inspector Peterson again, possessed or otherwise.

“For now, yes,” Kellen said, not meeting my eyes. “However, he’ll likely be freed by the month’s end.”

“They can’t let him out,” I protested. “He let himself be possessed by a demon. The two might even have worked together.”

“That wasn’t why he was jailed, Perry, and you know that,” he said. “He broke the rules on two missions and tried to sabotage your attempt to attain justice, which wasn’t a light offence, but it was light compared to teaming up with a demon. Unfortunately, there’s no proof that he did anything of his own volition.”

“If it’s not a light offence, why’s he being set free?” Did I need to ask, really? “Let me guess. He pulled some strings here.”

“Perry,” he said. “Please don’t say that in front of anyone else.”

I scowled. “Isn’t it true?”

“Whether it’s true or not, anyone can make an appeal for a second chance. The inspector isn’t unusual in that.”

“People are more likely to believe him than they are us.” The inspector outranked me, and he’d done a fair number of favours for the Wardens over the years, but that didn’t make him above corruption. Would anyone take the word of a cursed witch over his, though? Except for Kellen, the answer was assuredly no.

Behind us, the door opened, and Callum and Farley emerged from the building. The latter pocketed her wand, surprise crossing her face when she saw us. “They let you out first?”

“I’m shocked, too, believe me,” I said. “That’s three of us…”

“Tam will take the longest, being the team leader,” Callum said. “I don’t expect it’ll be long, though, right?”

I looked to Kellen for confirmation. He nodded. “I can trust you to wait out here while I go back inside, can’t I?”

“Of course,” I said. “I won’t get myself into trouble. Honest.”

I was being truthful, too, for once. Despite my annoyance at the Wardens’ leniency towards the inspector, I’d never sabotage the second chance I’d been given. When Kellen reentered the building, Maurice was next to come and join us on the steps, and I began to let myself hope that we would get out of this without my curse ruining the day.

A short time passed before Tam emerged, and my heart skipped when his green eyes scanned our group and lingered on me for an instant. “Oh, good. You’re all here.”

“Where else would we be?” asked Farley. “We’re good to go.”

“I thought…” He trailed off and then shook his head. “I thought it would be more complex than that, but I can’t complain.”

“So did I.” And I was sure that I was the one Tam had been worried about. While I knew there was a very good reason for that that had zero to do with special treatment on my part, I couldn’t help grinning all the same. “We’re being sent back to the tower?”

He inclined his head. “Yes.”

“Excellent.” I pulled out my wand. “Ready?”

“No,” growled Maurice. “Not if you’re going to drop me in another puddle.”

“The thought never crossed my mind.” When he made a sceptical noise, I added, “I was going to leave you on the roof.”

I was only teasing, but the vampire could get out of any scrape without difficulty, including being stranded on a rooftop. With an eye roll, he turned away. “I’m going to walk.”

“Have fun with that.” London to Northumberland was hardly a light stroll, but vampires could cross miles in the time it took to blink, and it would be easier for me to take the rest of us back without an extra passenger. “Everyone else ready?”

“You bet,” said Farley. 

In one wave of my wand, we vanished from the steps and left the city behind. The hum of traffic was replaced with birdsong, the skyline was substituted by a gravel path bordered by thick trees, and in place of the Wardens’ headquarters stood the castle that had become my new home. The squat building with its narrow windows and heavy wooden doors didn’t look like somewhere I would have ever thought I’d consider home, but I had to resist the urge to skip up the stone steps to the front door. I let Tam walk in front and unlock the door, and I grinned so hard that my face ached.

Just inside the tower entrance lay a doorway leading into a room that formed both a gym and the team’s planning room, while a stone staircase led up to the main floor, which contained the living room and kitchen. Our rooms were up on the top floor, but while Callum and Farley went straight upstairs to change out of their formal clothing, Tam lingered near the balcony overlooking the lower staircase, his expression preoccupied.

“Hey…” I walked to him, wondering what his own questioning had been like. He was the team leader, so the Wardens would have undoubtedly grilled him more than the rest of us. “What’s up?”

His expression smoothed out when I addressed him. “Nothing. I’m glad the upper management didn’t give you any trouble.”

“Did you think they would?” I asked. “I know I’ve had issues with them before, but our stories added up. Didn’t they?”

“That’s right.” A furrow appeared in his brow. “It makes me wonder why they invited us all there, if not to ask anything they didn’t already know.”

“Pointless bureaucracy,” I answered. “Kellen said the inspector was likely to be freed from confinement within the month. Did you know?”

“I guessed,” he replied. “I don’t think we can challenge his sentence being cut short. We don’t have the authority.”

My hands clenched. “I thought not. Did they say anything about whether he’d be given back his old privileges?”

“I can’t imagine that’ll happen right away. Likely he’ll be reassigned to another department and not allowed to assess teams.”

He shouldn’t be allowed to work there at all. But I didn’t have the power to challenge the Wardens. Even Tam didn’t, and there was no telling what version of the story Inspector Peterson would give his colleagues. One that painted our team as the villains and himself as a helpless victim, no doubt.

I did my best to banish those thoughts from my mind. It wouldn’t do any good to dwell on the inspector’s incoming freedom, and besides, we’d won the only victory that mattered.

“What’s happening next?” I asked Tam. “Were you given another mission?”

“No,” he said, “but I didn’t expect one. They’ll take a while to process our paperwork, and I expect we’ll have a reprieve until then.”

“Could be worse.” I was all too happy to enjoy the break and to revel in the knowledge that we were allowed to continue as a team. 

Everything was back to normal … except for the inspector’s freedom and the question of what would come next.

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