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Emma L Adams

Dead as a Dodo: A Wildwood Witch Mystery Book 3 (Paperback)

Dead as a Dodo: A Wildwood Witch Mystery Book 3 (Paperback)

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Book 3 of 7: A Wildwood Witch Mystery

Robin Wildwood is settling into her new role as Head Witch… kind of. At least her squirrel familiar, Tansy, is enjoying their return to her childhood home of Wildwood Heath. Between lectures from her grandmother's ghost and the pressure to live up to her family's high expectations, Robin hopes for some light relief when she's invited to attend a retirement party with the local Sky Hopper team - especially when it gives her an excuse to spend time with Harvey, her old crush and the current team captain. But when the party's host unexpectedly drops dead, the blame lands on none other than Harvey himself.

Robin is keen to prove Harvey's innocence, but defending her would-be boyfriend from a murder accusation is tricky when her over-achieving older brother happens to be the head of the local police force and the person with the power to decide Harvey's fate. If they lose their captain, the Sky Hopper team will have to hang up their broomsticks for good, but the world of professional magical sports is as scheming as any of the covens and everyone seems to have secrets.

Can Robin navigate this bumpy flight and catch the real killer before Harvey finds himself behind bars?

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Being Head Witch had its perks, but compulsory magic lessons from my grandmother’s ghost was definitely not one of them. Grandma’s transparent figure hovered above the desk in the office—formerly hers, now mine—as she shouted out instructions and reprimands.

“You’re slouching too much,” she bellowed at me. “Hold the sceptre more upright.”

“That’s because I’ve been standing here for over an hour.” My shoulder ached from the strain of holding the pointed instrument vertically in the air, since the sceptre was more than twice the length of a regular wand and required a lot more finesse to manoeuvre without accidentally hitting people in the face. Or hitting myself in the face, come to that. I tried to ignore my muscles’ protest and straightened the sceptre so that it pointed upward. “Happy?”

“No,” Grandma replied. “You’re holding it as if it was a bomb, not a wand.”

“That’s because it pretty much is.” 

Bulkiness and awkwardness to wield aside, the sceptre amplified my magic far beyond my usual capabilities and was downright hazardous to anyone standing in its path. As far as I was concerned, that was reason enough to keep its use to a minimum, especially in a confined space. 

“This isn’t the best place to practise, you know.”

While I’d considerably cleaned up some of the clutter in the back of the room with the aid of my brother and my assistant, Chloe, that didn’t mean there weren’t plenty of valuable items at potential risk of being hit by the sceptre’s magic. Like the rows of filing cabinets filled with paperwork going back to before I was born, the cupboard full of rare potion ingredients, or the textbooks and other paraphernalia crammed onto the shelves that occupied all the remaining space. Except Chloe’s desk, tucked beneath the window, where she sat typing away on her laptop and seemingly oblivious to the office’s other occupants. I didn’t think she’d appreciate being hit by a stray spell either though.

“If you want every witch in the building to see how little grasp you have on the sceptre’s magic, then you’re welcome to practise outside on the lawn instead,” Grandma said caustically. “Or on the roof if you’d prefer.”

I scowled at her. Aside from Grandma’s well-honed knack for hitting on my sore spots having remained intact even beyond the grave, she knew as well as anyone that my problem wasn’t a lack of skill but a lack of control over the giant nuclear weapon that I now had to carry everywhere with me. Casting a temporary stopping spell using the sceptre effectively turned a person into a life-sized statue for minutes or hours, while conjuring up a single leaf would run the risk of an entire forest crash-landing in my office. Besides, the sceptre wasn’t to be used for trivial purposes, as Grandma herself had impressed upon me in our first lesson together.

Supposedly, I was meant to be grateful she’d deigned to give me lessons at all, as my grandmother had been by far the longest-serving Head Witch in the region and had been parted from the sceptre only upon her death. I rather hoped to avoid following in her footsteps, especially the last part, but the rules were clear: I was bound to wield the sceptre until the time came for it to choose someone else.

Or until someone murdered me for it, but I tried not to think too hard about that possibility.

Grandma’s familiar, Carmilla, looked up from where she lay curled up on the windowsill, her mouth opening in a wide yawn. “Give it a rest. Nobody will be critiquing her posture until she meets the other Head Witches. Besides, so far, their schedules seem to be booked up.”

I glanced over at the half-bald black cat, surprised that she’d stand up for me over her former owner, but she no doubt wanted to avoid a repeat of our last lesson, in which I’d accidentally levitated her into the air along with everything else in the office when casting a simple flight charm.

“So far,” Grandma said ominously. “When that changes, you need to be prepared, Robin.”

“I’m aware, but I doubt I’ll have to actually use the sceptre on the other Head Witches.”

Learning how to use my fancy new wand was just one of the many responsibilities of my new title, but as of yet, I hadn’t been granted the dubious honour of meeting all the other Head Witches. A significant part of me was relieved to put off the task, since dealing with the coven leaders in Wildwood Heath alone had been quite enough on its own. I’d always been comfortable in knowing I didn’t quite fit in among the stuck-up and inwardly focused witches who led the covens that had been entrenched in the region for generations, but the one truth that had kept me sane throughout my childhood had been the knowledge that they couldn’t legally force me to stick around.

Magically though? The sceptre’s power was binding, and I had no doubt the universe was laughing its tail off at me for thinking I’d escaped.

“You never know,” said Grandma. “Be on your guard.”

“Noted.” 

Honestly. Grandma herself had rarely used the sceptre when she’d held the title, but she’d had no problem with dealing with the seemingly endless reams of paperwork that also came as a side effect of the position. I was more or less the opposite, and it took a great deal of patience to ignore my grandmother’s grumbling about me delegating such tasks to my assistant. Chloe was far better suited for filling out paperwork than I was, but as for wielding the sceptre… that part was entirely up to me. Which meant tolerating daily lessons from Grandma’s ghost.

Fortunately, this one was at an end. A moment after the clock hit five thirty p.m., the door nudged inwards, and my red squirrel familiar, Tansy, came scurrying into the office. Lucky thing got to play out in the garden all day while I was stuck indoors, but she never failed to come and rescue me as soon as the day was over.

I studied the clock on Chloe’s desk in feigned surprise, as if I hadn’t been watching it out of the corner of my eye for the better part of the day. “Would you look at that. It’s time to go home.”

Grandma tutted. “We’ll pick this up again tomorrow.”

“No, we won’t. It’s the weekend.”

“You’re Head Witch. You—”

“Don’t get weekends off. I get it.” I smiled sweetly at her. “However, the rest of the coven members certainly do, so there are no meetings on my schedule. Chloe has already handled the necessary paperwork for the week, haven’t you?”

Chloe herself looked up from her desk, having kept working without acknowledging the time. “I have, yes.”

My assistant was the definition of the word “efficient,” and I frankly had no idea how she had managed to keep her focus on paperwork while Grandma attempted to instruct me in magic. Even when I’d levitated the entire office into the air, she’d kept typing away at her laptop, and I had the suspicion that she might have been sitting on the rim of an active volcano and would continue to fill out paperwork.

I, however, got antsy if I spent more than ten minutes in a chair at a time. There was a reason I’d picked being a magical courier as my low-paying job of choice, and it said volumes for how excruciating Grandma’s magic lessons were that I’d have rather spent an extra hour at my desk instead.

Grandma gave a long-suffering sigh. “Nobody respects me anymore.”

Her ghost vanished in the same instant as my phone buzzed. Tansy hopped onto the desk, while I scooped up my phone to find a message from Harvey Walton. “I’m invited to a party. Tonight.”

“Ooh,” said Tansy. “What’s the occasion?”

“The oldest member of the Sky Hopper team is retiring.” I skimmed the message’s contents. “I guess Harvey and the others are going to see him off in style. Excellent excuse for a party, in my opinion.”

Tansy tilted her head to one side. “You think your mother will happily let you go?”

“I have the evening off. And the weekend. Not that I’m planning to get absolutely trashed, but there’s no reason whatsoever for her to object.”

“I beg to differ,” Carmilla said from across the room. “You should be preparing for the week ahead of you.”

You plan to sleep all weekend,” I pointed out. “Besides, getting to know how Wildwood Heath has changed in the past few years is a part of my job as well.”

Carmilla sprang off the desk and coughed up a giant hairball on the carpet. I was willing to bet she’d done that just so I’d have to clean it up instead of leaving the office, but it backfired. Closing her laptop, Chloe rose to her feet and gave me a sympathetic look. “I’ll clean that up. You head home to get ready for the party—you’ve earned it.”

Ignoring Carmilla’s noise of derision—or possibly the appearance of another hairball—I waved to my assistant and followed Tansy to the door. “Thanks, Chloe. Please don’t do any paperwork over the weekend. In fact, if I see you near the office before Monday morning, I’ll send Tansy to crap in your shoes.”

Chloe’s shy smile became a grin. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Sorted. My mother had made a great choice in assigning her as my assistant, but I sometimes worried that Chloe worked as hard as she did partly out of fear of retaliation from certain family members of mine. Which was not my style. I might have to deal with the derision as a result, but I’d rather be mocked than get a reputation as an ogre who rained terror down upon her subordinates.

“I am not going to crap in her shoes,” Tansy said as we left the office. “I’m far more house-trained than that.”

“I had to persuade her somehow,” I replied. “Did I mention I caught her doing paperwork in the hallway when my office door was locked the other day?”

“She’s enthusiastic. That’s a good thing. It’ll keep your grandmother off your back, right?”

“Not quite. I still have to learn to use this.” I twirled the sceptre between my hands in demonstration and narrowly avoided dropping it on Tansy. “Oops. Sorry.”

She ran ahead of me with a squeaking noise. “Be glad she didn’t see you do that. You’re sure your mother won’t raise a fuss about this party?”

“I’ll deploy the same argument. It’s for the good of the coven that I socialise with my fellow townspeople.”

It wasn’t exactly the Head Witch’s responsibility to fraternise with the local sports teams, of course, but the party was outside of office hours. In fact, since the Head Witch was the highest authority among the covens, I could theoretically change the timetable so that I got to sleep all day and work all night if I were so inclined, but I stuck to the coven’s preferred schedule to make things easier for everyone else. Let nobody say I was unwilling to compromise, despite my own plans being majorly uprooted by my sudden and accidental attainment of the title of Head Witch.

Less than a month ago, my overriding goal had been to earn enough from my courier job to buy a proper camera. Instead, I’d been gifted said camera as a bribe to move back into my childhood home and play at being Head Witch for the next six months to a year, depending on how long it took to fulfil whatever task the sceptre had chosen me for. Putting the future of the region’s covens in the hands of an inanimate object whose motives nobody fully understood didn’t strike me as particularly sensible, but the sceptre generally chose a wielder who was experienced in running a coven. Not the family screwup.

Whatever its reasons, once I was done with whatever task I had to handle, I was more than happy to hand the sceptre over to my mother, aka, the leader of the Wildwood Coven and the person who actually deserved the position, though she’d accepted my unexpected new status with far more grace and dignity than her sister had. But that wouldn’t spare me the inevitable lecture when she found out I was heading to a party with the leader of the local Sky Hopper team, so I speed-walked home to avoid her catching up to me on her way out of the office.

Upon reaching the large manor house that my mother had inherited a few weeks ago, I unlocked the door and let Tansy scamper ahead of me into the carpeted hall. While I hadn’t intended to end up living in my childhood home again at twenty-five, this was a temporary measure, necessitated by my new title. It wasn’t worth finding a new place to move into for only a few months before I left the town once again, after all.

Tansy scurried into the kitchen, her bright tail sticking up in the air. “When’s the party?”

I checked the time. “I’ll leave in an hour.”

“Good. I have some pigeons to chase.” She sprinted towards the door to the back garden, where she enjoyed running up and down the bird feeders and chasing the local wildlife, much to the annoyance of Horace, Mum’s long-suffering familiar.

Meanwhile, I retreated to my room to decide what to wear. Unlike when I attended coven-related societal functions, I wouldn’t be required to dress up, but it wouldn’t do for the Head Witch to go out wearing skimpy clubbing attire. I’d be hard-pressed to avoid an argument with my mother over this as it was, so I settled on a short denim skirt and a purple top that wasn’t too low cut and then applied a little makeup. Mascara and eyeshadow, a little lipstick, nothing too over the top. Mum and Ramsey would think otherwise, of course, but considering the fuss my cartoonish socks caused whenever I wore them to the office, it’d be a no-win scenario if I decided to go in a hoodie and jeans instead.

With my outfit in place, I picked up my new camera and tucked it into my shoulder bag, figuring I might as well take it for a spin. After I’d put on my heeled shoes, I left the sceptre in its case beside my bed and made my way quietly downstairs.

Typically, as I reached the hallway, Mum waylaid me from the living room. Instead of asking, “Where are you going?” she began with, “Why are you leaving the sceptre behind?”

“Because I’ve been invited to a party at the Fox’s Den, and I want it to be safe while I’m gone,” I replied.

“You think it’d be safer here than with you?”

“I won’t need it. If I need to use magic, I can just use my wand.”

Her eyes narrowed. “The Head Witch is always a target.”

“I’m aware of that.” Okay, there was the—admittedly slim—chance someone might try to bump me off while my guard was down, but the sceptre wouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent, and if I carried it with me, I’d lose any hope of anonymity. “I’m meeting people there, Mum. I won’t be alone.”

She tutted. “And who might those people be?”

“Harvey, from the local Sky Hopper team.”

Her nostrils flared. “The one you went to school with, right? You were with him at the party after the familiar contest, weren’t you?”

There was no reason for the accusatory tone, considering said party had only been possible because I’d caught and helped jail my would-be murderer that very evening. “Harvey is the team’s captain. And he coaches at the academy. I think you’d like him.”

“I’m sure he’s perfectly nice,” she said in tones that implied the very opposite. “However, he’s not a suitable romantic partner for a Head Witch.”

She’d never even met him, but her mind had been made up the moment he’d failed to show sufficient status befitting someone of my supposed stature. Never mind that she herself had married someone from a lesser coven, pulling him out of obscurity and into an unpleasant spotlight in the process. While I had zero desire for Harvey to suffer the same indignities as my dad had while he’d been married to my mother, she was way ahead of herself if she thought I was contemplating anything serious like marrying the guy. For one thing, I wasn’t even supposed to be staying in Wildwood Heath for the long term. Harvey knew that too.

“I didn’t say anything about him being a romantic partner,” I said pointedly. “But since I won’t be Head Witch forever, I’m sure you can tolerate him for the time being.”

“You shouldn’t speak like that,” she reprimanded. “Many people would kill to be in your position.”

“I’m aware, since I’ve already been on the receiving end of several murder attempts.” If anything, my brushes with death had only nudged me towards being more determined to live while I had the chance. “Besides, I didn’t think you wanted me to keep the title.”

“That’s not for me to decide, Robin.”

I suppressed an eye roll. “Yes, I know the sceptre makes its own decisions, but that doesn’t mean I need to get attached to it. Would you rather I spent all my free time hiding in my room, huddling over the sceptre like Gollum with the One Ring?”

Tansy scurried down the hall to join me. “You wouldn’t. You don’t have the patience to stay indoors for that long.”

Nice to know my familiar had faith in me… though she had a point.

“There are two extremes.” Mum eyed the feathers Tansy scattered in her wake with disapproval. “I’m not asking you to be like the Head Witches who refused to give up their magic either.”

I blinked, surprised. “I didn’t know anyone did.”

Granted, she’d probably told me at some point, but my memories of my childhood lessons were patchy at best, and I’d hardly thought I’d ever find myself in my indomitable grandmother’s shoes.

“It’s not unheard of.” Mum pursed her lips. “Suffice to say that I’m glad none of the people in our town who possess those tendencies ended up carrying the sceptre.”

“Like Aunt Shannon or Vanessa.” My aunt and cousin were scheming enough that they’d willingly turned against their own family members in order to procure the sceptre, and Aunt Shannon had been livid when I’d claimed it instead. “They didn’t though, and you don’t need to worry about anything like that from me.”

There was no chance I’d get too attached to the sceptre to ever give it up, but for many, it wasn’t the sceptre itself that they wanted but power in both the magical and political senses. Even Grandma had been tenacious enough to try to cling to the sceptre even in death.

As for me? I fit in with my family like a square peg in a round hole, and it had stunned everyone that I’d been selected due to possessing something they didn’t—even though I wasn’t entirely certain what that was yet.

Mum waved her wand, and the feathers Tansy had dropped vanished from sight. “We’re all adjusting, including you. I wish you’d rethink tonight. You’re still in a vulnerable position.”

I put on a reassuring tone. “I won’t be alone, and the staff at the Fox’s Den won’t stand for any trouble. I go there all the time, remember? I just want one night where I can just… not think about people staring at me all the time.”

“You’re never free from attention, Robin.”

“Yes, but that isn’t anything new.” Even as a child, I’d been a target of stares and whispers based on my status as the former Head Witch’s granddaughter. It might be an illusion, but the absence of the sceptre in my hand would make me feel less like a boulder lay on my neck and shoulders for a brief while.

“It’s different now,” Mum insisted. “People will take notice of every event you attend, every person you choose to spend time with, and judge the entire coven as a result. The entire town, in fact.”

“Like I said—same old.” 

Mum, who wouldn’t know a social life if it sprouted in her prized flower bed, had always been blissfully unaware of how it felt to walk around with the magical world’s equivalent of the paparazzi on one’s tail. She hadn’t ventured outside Wildwood Heath in years herself.

Mum sighed. “Really, Robin.”

“Look, it’s not like I’m going to a strip club or an orgy, or…” I broke off before Mum could look even more scandalised than she already did. “It’s a pub. That’s all. I won’t be out all night, and I won’t embarrass you. Also, if I don’t have the sceptre, I’ll be less likely to use its magic and accidentally turn someone into a statue again.”

“That’s still happening?”

“On occasion. Like I said—I have my wand.”

“Fine,” she said. “Let me know if anything happens. Anything. Clear?”

“Right.” 

Not likely. I didn’t think she’d want to know the details if, say, Harvey and I ended up making out. Which, if I admitted it, was precisely how I hoped the night would end. My entire family, save for my dad, was completely allergic to the very concept of the word “fun.”

When it came to Harvey… Mum might not think him a likely romantic prospect, but it was because he didn’t care that I was Head Witch that I’d continued to be drawn to him even after the recent upheavals in my life. Mum’s own marriage to Dad had gone against tradition, though my dad had dealt with no end of ridicule from the other witches and the press both during their marriage and after their eventual separation. He seemed much happier with his new partner, Jessica, who had two kids of her own. Whether that was a sore point with Mum I didn’t know, but it was Ramsey who’d held the longest grudge against him for leaving.

Families were messy, even the ones which didn’t involve powerful covens and long-standing magical feuds, but I couldn’t help wondering what my life would have been like if I could have just gone out for a night of flirting with a cute guy without the spectre of my new title hanging over my head.

At least I’d won the argument. When the door closed behind me, Tansy broke into a skip straight away, but I managed to refrain from joining in—at least until I was sure Mum wasn’t watching me from the window.

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