Scarlet Burke isn’t an ordinary witch. She’s a Guardian, charged with protecting humanity from things that go bump in the night. And bite. Did she mention the biting? As if that isn’t enough she’s raising two teenage daughters to follow in her footsteps, juggling her crazy family, and avoiding the attentions of an amorous werewolf, Jake Mills, the chief police.

Jake has been chasing her for years. At times he’s bossy and possessive, but he’s just as often charming and teasing. And he’s definitely easy on the eyes. She has no idea what to do about him. He’s refusing to stay in the friend zone she’s placed him in for years. As he works his way more firmly into her life, her ability to resist him weakens.

To add insult to injury there’s a new evil in town and it’s gunning for her. But identifying the killer is even harder than finding him. As he begins killing off members of her family, Scarlet is in the fight of her life. When her daughters become the final targets of an ancient dark ritual she is forced to make an impossible choice. Fight evil with evil? Or hope that combing the powers of the witches and demons in town will be enough to defeat him? Failure is not an option.

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Although the house wasn’t as haunted as the local kids claimed, it did have a minor spirit hanging about. But it wasn’t a ghost that put Scarlet on edge when she parked her car. One powerless little haint was not the problem. She and the spirit had a deal. As long as it didn’t try to scare anyone into a heart attack, she wouldn’t blast it into oblivion. It sure as heck wasn’t what made her senses tingle with the anticipation of a good fight. She swept a cautious gaze around the lawn before stepping out. Nothing looked out of the ordinary, but that didn’t mean a damned thing in her hometown. Good thing she’d come to check up on the place before her new renter arrived.

Purgatory, Alabama, was a crossroads between worlds. Deep in Fool’s Woods was a portal that connected Earth and another land, Terra. Mirrors of each other, she’d heard it said, yet opposites. She sent back anything unwanted that came through. Well, her and her family, Guardians all.

The small hairs on the back of her neck stood on end when she stepped onto the walk. Something supernatural skulked nearby. She’d known that, but damn it, it was midafternoon and too hot to deal with things that went bump in the night. Though whatever lurked obviously wasn’t limited to darkness.

She took her time approaching the house, letting her senses flare out as she walked. Azaleas created natural boundaries up both sides of a lawn dotted with dogwoods and huge old magnolias. Big terra-cotta pots overflowing with flowering perennials were spaced evenly along the deep front porch. The place was an entertainer’s dream, built for balls and garden parties. Its utility bills were a cheapskate’s nightmares though.

Despite the picture-perfect scenery, the prickling on her skin grew as she paced forward. Halfway up the walk, she spotted the culprit, a stout-looking brownie perched under a tree. Unease morphed into irritation in two seconds flat. Damn it, she was wearing a new skirt. And heels. Any other day of the week, she wouldn’t have worn them. She should have known better. Today’s outfit was a far cry from her usual day-job clothes: jeans and sturdy shoes. But it was Monday, which meant a town council meeting, which meant getting lectured by her mother for not taking her duties seriously enough to dress the part. Like she normally went hunting down the creepy-crawlies in anything but jeans and boots?

Too late now. She could hear Momma in her head saying the same way she’d done hundreds of times: as soon as you let your guard down the bogeyman comes out to play. But oh hell no. She was not chasing that little hellion down while wearing heels. Somehow her mother always seemed to pull it off in pearls and fancy shoes and pencil thin skirts, ending victorious with not one hair out of place. Not Scarlet. Even with no chasing she’d probably end up a red-faced, bedraggled mess.

Continuing up the walk, she ignored the brownie, repressing a grin when she felt his spike of temper. Either he didn’t have a clue she was a Guardian, or he was too stupid to care. She voted for stupid.

She’d had a call about her newest listing just that morning. The potential renter was coming in from out of town. She got the distinct impression he didn’t know about Purgatory’s unique status. On the phone he’d sounded like a proper, aging—emphasis on the aging—old-school gentleman. Sharing the place with a brownie might shock him into a stroke. She’d prefer not to have that on her conscience, thank you very much.

She retrieved the key from her pocket, left the door open behind her, and wandered through the rooms. Brownies were notoriously curious. It wouldn’t be able to help itself. It would follow her. She began chanting a freezing spell, softly enough he wouldn’t hear. She knew the spell so well she didn’t actually need to speak it anymore. It was by rote. Habit. Ingrained. She didn’t need to speak to make the power in her mind do her bidding. But the words, the ritual, were natural and comforting. A part of who and what she was.

When she’d gotten out of her car earlier, the brownie had been too far away in the yard to use the spell. She finished it just as she heard footsteps close in behind her. Spinning around she released the spell. The brownie raged, stamping its feet. Its stout little body tottered precariously back and forth, but it was enclosed in a bubble of her magic, unable to escape. She could take it to the portal and toss it through. That’s how she usually dealt with deportations. But she was feeling testy and maybe a little flamboyant. The banishing spell was a bit more complicated than the holding spell. She began it as soon as the spell trapped him. Finally it was finished.

“Be gone.”

She released her magic, and the brownie disappeared with a booming crack. Satisfied, she dusted her hands together and took a deep breath before continuing through the rest of the house to make sure there weren’t any traps or other surprises lying in wait for her new tenant. Once she determined it was safe, she returned to her car.

Unfortunately the little field trip hadn’t taken long, and she returned to the office driving like her great aunt Cora. As slow as possible. The AC in the building was out. The promised repairman not due for another hour.

It was sweltering inside. The open windows and whirring fans couldn’t keep up with one-hundred-degree heat. It was ridiculously hot for October, even in southern Alabama. The high humidity just added insult to injury. She opened the mini-fridge behind her desk and pulled the tiny icebox door open to grab a frosty coke. With a sigh of enjoyment, she leaned her head back and closed her eyes, rolling the can over her face, down her throat, and across her collarbone. She was tempted to undo the top couple buttons on her top, too. The bells over the door jangled as someone entered, putting a stop to that idea. She didn’t have to open her eyes to know who it was either. The leather chair in front of her creaked as he sat down.

“Well aren’t you a pretty picture?” Jake Mills, the local police chief, drawled.

Cracking one eye open, she scowled at the man sitting across from her, but he only looked back with his usual calm and the secret little smile that made her grind her teeth at the same time it made her belly flip-flop. He was too good-looking, especially when he smiled. Good-looking men made her suspicious. Her ex was good-looking. Also conniving, manipulative, lying…

Jake waved his hand in front of her face. “Earth to Scarlet.”

She sat up straight, looked into eyes entirely too blue, and got right to the point. “What do you want?”

“I come on a mission of peace,” he joked, hands held out in mock surrender. “On behalf of my brother.”

Uh-oh. Beau Mills. Popular, heartthrob, football-playing, shape-shifting werewolf. Her twins’ nemesis. He was a younger version of Jake. Broad shouldered and muscled with rich brown hair that framed a chiseled face. He was just as irreverent and flirty as his brother.

“What’s he done now?”

Jake scratched his chin. “I don’t rightly know. All I could get out of him was Daisy and Poppy want his head. Preferably on a spike.”

“That’s not exactly unusual,” she pointed out.

He shrugged. “Consider it a heads up then.”

She narrowed her eyes. Surely he hadn’t come down to her office just for that. Not when he’d see her at the council meeting in a few hours. Jake handled problems with their native residents, but anyone or anything from Terra or supernatural was Scarlet’s responsibility. Maybe he’d found something she needed to chase out of town. “Anything else?”

“Nope. How ’bout dinner tonight?”

Ah. She understood now and smiled sweetly. “Sorry. I have a rule against dates that go furry.” He barked a laugh. Standing, eyes gleaming, he set his palms flat on her desk and leaned forward. His broad shoulders blocked the glare, and she had to force herself not to stare, not to show any reaction except irritation or laughter. She enjoyed their verbal sparring, but when he got like this, sexy and amused, she forgot why she kept resisting the attraction that drew her to him.

“One of these days, I’ll change your mind.”

She snorted. “When hell freezes over.”

“Well now.” He gave her that steady measured look she swore he’d patented. The amusement left his expression. “Stranger things have been known to happen around here.”

Wasn’t that the truth? Waving Jake out, she reached for the phone before it rang—she always knew when someone was calling. As her only form of precognition, she felt pretty ripped off. An hour later her AC was back in order, the building locked up tight, and she headed for the meeting, hoping it would be short and mundane. After that, she imagined a nice, relaxing evening on her back porch. Maybe with ice cream. Definitely with a drink.

She should have known better than to plan for a peaceful night.