Thursday, August 31, 2023

Blog Tour: Excerpt from Kissing Kosher by Jean Meltzer


Author: Jean Meltzer
ISBN: 9780778334408
Publication Date: August 29, 2023
Publisher: MIRA Books
432 Pages

From the author of THE MATZAH BALL and MR. PERFECT ON PAPER comes this hilarious and emotional rivals-to-lovers romance.

Step 1: Get the secret recipe. Step 2: Don't fall in love...
Avital Cohen isn't wearing underpants--woefully, for unsexy reasons. Chronic pelvic pain has forced her to sideline her photography dreams and her love life. It's all she can do to manage her family's kosher bakery, Best Babka in Brooklyn, without collapsing.

She needs hired help.

And distractingly handsome Ethan Lippmann seems the perfect fit.

Except Ethan isn't there to work--he's undercover, at the behest of his ironfisted grandfather. Though Lippmann's is a household name when it comes to mass-produced kosher baked goods, they don't have the charm of Avital's bakery. Or her grandfather's world-famous pumpkin spice babka recipe.
As they bake side by side, Ethan soon finds himself more interested in Avital than in stealing family secrets, especially as he helps her find the chronic pain relief--and pleasure--she's been missing.
But perfecting the recipe for romance calls for leaving out the lies...even if coming clean means risking everything.

Buy Links: 

Avital Cohen wasn’t wearing underwear.

Standing behind the front counter of Best Babka in Brooklyn, holding their signature pink box in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other, she tried to ignore the pain radiating through her lower abdomen. Despite the fact there was a line spreading around the block, and Shabbat was less than four hours away, the middle-aged woman with streaks of purple in her hair was taking her sweet time.

“I’ve got three black-and-white biscotti,” Mrs. Purpleman said, speaking into her cell phone. “Four confetti rugelach, one challah… I know, I know, but Elissa is on one of her health kicks, again.”

Her name wasn’t Mrs. Purpleman. It was just one of many nicknames that Avital had created in order to remember customers. Mrs. Purpleman was, in fact, Mrs. Perlman, and Avital had come up with the name because she wore her hair styled into a bob and dyed a deep maroon. The effect of which always managed to look purple.

Mrs. Purpleman had been a longtime customer of Best Babka in Brooklyn, arriving like clockwork every Friday morning to stock up on Shabbat goodies for her family.

“But if I buy two challahs,” Mrs. Purpleman sighed heavily into her cell, “she’ll say I’m not validating her feelings…”

Avital glanced down the long line and wondered when Mrs. Purpleman—a professional go-getter when it came to lengthy and irrational amounts of indecision at the counter—would finally notice the eye rolls behind her and make a choice.

“Well, how do you think she’ll feel about some apple cake macaroons?” Mrs. Purpleman asked into her phone.

Avital interrupted. “Those are really good.”

She looked up. “Really?”

Avital began loading three cookies into the box. “They’re always a huge seller on Fridays,” she said, putting a fourth into the box that was angling in the direction of Mrs. Purpleman. “Can I help you with anything else today?”

“Oh.” Mrs. Purpleman placed one finger on her chin. “Well, I guess not…”

All at once, she felt bad for losing her patience.

Normally, Avital was good with the clientele. She could typically deal with indecisive customers and long lines and the total lack of smiles or gratitude that came with the Shabbat rush hour…but today, she was once again dealing with a flare up of her chronic-pain condition.

Since being diagnosed with interstitial cystitis two years ago at the age of twenty-two, her life could be boiled down to one phrase. She came, she saw…she realized she needed to pee and quickly stopped whatever she was doing in order to find a bathroom.

“Tell you what,” Avital said, grabbing two pink boxes tied up in white twine from a shelf behind her. “Why don’t I throw in two pumpkin-spiced babkas for free?”

“For free?” Mrs. Purpleman asked, confused.

“I know I’m rushing you here,” Avital said, bouncing up and down in her spot. “It’s just…it’s an emergency, Mrs. Perlman.”

Mrs. Purpleman finally twisted in her spot and noticed the line. “Oh, Avital—” she said, touching her heart, embarrassed “—I’m so sorry, I didn’t even realize!”

“It’s okay.”

“No, no…” She shook her head, apologizing profusely. “My husband always says, ‘Goldie—you take too much time with everything. Just make a decision!’ I don’t know why it’s always so hard for me. I just get nervous, you know, and Elissa is going through this whole phase, where everything I do is wrong…”

“I know, Mrs. Perlman,” Avital said, gently, before angling to move her along. “You have a good Shabbat, okay? I’ll see you next week.”

Handing the box to Tootles at the front counter, Avital began calling out the order. “One pound marzipan,” she shouted over the hum of the crowds, “Three black-and-white biscotti, four confetti rugelachs, one challah, four apple cake macaroons.”

“What about the babkas?” Tootles called back.

“On the house!” Avital said, and swiftly began taking off her apron. Her break came just in time. Her twin brother, Josh, had just returned from his lunch break. “Baruch Hashem,” she said, taking off her apron and handing it to him.

“That good today, huh?” Josh asked, sympathetically.

“You have no idea.”

Avital escaped through the back door, sprinting down the hall toward her office, where she could enjoy the privileges of an attached private bathroom.

As she closed the door behind her, the vent fan and light turned on, buzzing into a familiar hum. Considering how much time she spent there, her mother had tried to spruce up the place—make it feel more homey and comfortable—with the addition of fancy pink soap and a small dish full of potpourri. Instead, all the floral scents really managed to do was seep into her frizzy hair and make her smell like cherry cough syrup.

Sitting down on the toilet, Avital shut her eyes and tried to breathe though her pain. The burning, aching pressure increased. Her stomach cramped. Really what she needed to do was to take the day off. Lie in bed, with ice between her legs and a heating pad on top of her belly, drowning in rescues, the colloquial term for the over-the-counter medications and nontraditional remedies used when the pain was at its worse.

Unfortunately, going home was not an option. Even though she had specifically returned to work at Best Babka in Brooklyn for the familial benefit of taking off as needed—a luxury not afforded to most anyone living with chronic pain and chronic illness—they were desperate. With its lines out the door and rapidly expanding social-media presence, the bakery needed support staff as much as it needed flour.

A small whine of pain escaped her lips as she finished her business. She waited for relief, for the feeling of better to return to her body…but her pain was relentless. That was the hardest part of it, really. The fact that it never stopped. The fact that it just went on, and on, sometimes shifting form but never being eradicated completely.

Returning to the front counter, she found both Tootles and Josh sweating bullets, working hard to fill orders. As general manager, Avital didn’t often work the front counter, but Sara, one of their bakers, had a custody hearing in Manhattan to attend that day.

Avital threw on an apron and scanned the line. Though it seemed impossible, the crowd cramming the front entrance had doubled in size during the three minutes she was stuck in the bathroom. Avital grabbed a pink box.

“Next!” she called out.

A young woman, with a baby angled on the edge of her hip, stepped forward.

“What can I get you?” Avital asked.

“Two challahs,” Mother Russia said, the thick accent that had earned her the nickname from Avital, evident in her voice. “Six honey cookies, one black-and-white cheesecake, and a mandel brownie.”

Upside: Mother Russia was always decisive. She came in, ordered quickly, and left. She also never smiled or said thank you, which, weirdly enough, actually felt like a gift. Avital didn’t have to fake wellness. She didn’t have to smile through her pain. She could be just like Mother Russia, totally unconcerned about American social norms.

“Anything else?” Avital said.

“No,” Mother Russia said, catching the teething giraffe just before it fell to the floor.


Avital handed off the box to Josh. She was just about to call out the order, when the sight of a young man—pushing his way through the crowd—caught her attention.

Holy pumpkin-spiced babka.

Avital faltered. The tongs dangled unused in her hands. Her lower lip parted from the top, jaw dropping. The long line dissipated into silence. There were twenty-five people waiting at the counter, but her eyes were transfixed on the stranger.

He was exactly her type. Square shoulders. Tangled dark curls that lifted like swirls of icing off a perfectly molded face. The most gloriously prominent nose. He was a recipe of charm, all plated together by a navy-blue peacoat and gray fitted trousers. He made his way through the crowd, tapping old ladies on the shoulders to offer apologies as he squeezed past.

She couldn’t help but be curious. Avital knew most everyone who came into the shop on Friday. They were locals and diehards. People who—like her own family—never skipped a Shabbat.

And then, Prince Charming cut the line.

Her ire began to rise. There was nothing she hated more, on a busy Shabbat afternoon, than a person who cheated the system. Prince Charming suddenly morphed into Sir Cheat-a-Lot.

“Excuse me,” Avital said, pointing her tongs at his head, “there’s a line.”

Sir Cheat-a-Lot smiled nervously. “Uh, no, I… I don’t think…”

“Yeah,” Avital said, rolling her eyes. “I know. Your Shabbat dinner is very important. Far more important than the other three hundred people waiting before you.” She turned to Mrs. Grossman, waiting patiently with her pocketbook, directly behind him. “Can I help you today, Mrs. Grossman?”

“Oh yes,” the old woman said, leaning over the counter. “I’ll take four black-and-white cookies…”

Avital grabbed a pink box. Sir Cheat-a-Lot decided to tempt fate, and her patience, on a high-pain day.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his perfectly adorable cheeks turning red in the process. “I think you’re misunderstanding my intention here.”

Avital didn’t have time for this. She glanced over to Rafi, a plump middle-aged Israeli they had hired for security, and waved him forward.

“Rafi!” Avital shouted. “Can you please show our guest where the line begins?”

“Not a problem, Avi!” Rafi said and moved to escort the young trespasser outside.

Avital returned her attention to dear, sweet Mrs. Grossman. Rafi grabbed the young man by his arm. But Sir Cheat-a-Lot shrugged out of his grasp and reached into the backpack he was wearing, pulling out a piece of paper.

“I’m here for the job interview!” he said, speaking quickly, waving it in her direction.

Avital stopped serving Mrs. Grossman. “What?”

“My name is Ethan Rosenberg,” he explained, nervously glancing towards Rafi. “I have an interview scheduled with the general manager here at two thirty. I believe her name is—” he glanced down at his sheet to double-check “—Avital Cohen. We confirmed via email on Monday.”

Avital squeezed her eyes shut, wanting to die of embarrassment.

She had completely forgotten.

Then again, she had been up all night—every hour, on the hour—using the bathroom, only to return to bed, exhausted and miserable, with pelvic spasms that didn’t let her sleep. Was it any wonder she was forgetting job interviews with desperately needed help? Or that the hours were painfully and purposefully slipping by focused on other things?

Avital waved Rafi off. Then, handing Mrs. Grossman off to Josh, she directed her attention back to the handsome interloper. “Come with me,” she said, raising the entrance to the front counter.

She had to press her body all the way back to allow him to pass. The wool of the merino sweater he was wearing beneath his coat—his broad and apparently extremely fit chest—swiped against her own.

“Sorry,” she said, straightening her back. “It’s…tight.”

“No problem.” He grinned.

She blanked. She knew there were words in her vocabulary, and that she was supposed to be using them, but all she could focus on was his scent. He smelled incredible. Like the leaves of a freshly cut eucalyptus plant, woodsy and delectable.

It was not like her to get so flustered around a man. She considered herself far too practical to be the type of woman who gave in to romantic whims. But he had this bold sort of confidence in the way he walked, and his sense of fashion was impeccable…and all that masculine energy, brushing up against her, reminded her that she hadn’t had sex in years.

It made her feel vulnerable. Exposed.

Avital thought back to his résumé. “I’m sure you’re used to working in much bigger places.”

“Bigger isn’t necessarily better,” he said, as if anticipating her own misgivings. His voice was deep and dreamy. “There’s a lot that can be learned from working in more challenging spaces.”

He was saying all the right things.

He was stoking her imagination, too.

Avital needed to get a grip. Especially since her twin brother was side-eyeing them curiously from the counter.

She waved Ethan to follow, leading him down the hallway and back to her main office in order to begin his interview. Even though she knew—as sure as the burning pain radiating through her lower abdomen—that there was no way in olam haba she would ever hire him.

Excerpted from Kissing Kosher by Jean Meltzer © 2023 by Jean Meltzer, used with permission from MIRA Books/HarperCollins.

Author Bio: 
Photo Credit:
Lisa Damico
Jean Meltzer studied dramatic writing at NYU Tisch and has earned numerous awards for her work in television, including a daytime Emmy. She spent five years in rabbinical school before her chronic illness forced her to withdraw, and her father told her she should write a book—just not a Jewish one because no one reads those. Kissing Kosher is her third novel.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

August DNF's

This Delicious Death:  The premise of this book was interesting. Unfortunately the execution was not interesting in the least.  I hated the characters.  I felt like there was zero world building.  I really didn't care what happened to the characters. It's too bad because I really liked this author's last book.

The Hate Date
:  I was really hoping for a cute Rom-Com. but this was clearly not it.  I found the characters incredibly immature.  The reason JJ wants to "get' revenge on her her is easily cleared up with a phone call to her lawyer.  I mean it's explained very clearly how she got her money. But then I guess here wouldn't be a plot.

A Novel Disguise
:  I found nothing in this book to be the least bit amusing. I did not buy into any of the people in the house not knowing that the main character was in disguise.  I was also turned off when she kept telling me how attractive every male character she came across was to her.  It was off putting.

Murder on the Red River
:  I hate cheating.  I have a hard time liking a character when she is knowingly in an affair.  I also disliked the main character.  I was just not interested in a book featuring a character who does not care for themselves.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Blog Tour: Excerpt from Big Little Spells by Hazel Beck


Author: Hazel Beck
ISBN: 9781525804724
Publication Date: August 29, 2023
Publisher: Graydon House
18.99 US | 23.99 CAN

A smart, modern Rom-Com about a witch banished from her coven who seeks help from the only person who can prove she’s not a threat to witchkind—her annoyingly immortal childhood crush.
Rebekah Wilde was eighteen when she left St. Cyprian, officially stripped of her magic and banished from her home. Ten years later she’s forced to return to face the Joywood Coven, who preside over not just her hometown, but the whole magical world.

The Joywood are determined to prove Rebekah is a danger to witchkind, and she faces a death sentence if she can’t prove otherwise. Rebekah must seek help from the only one who knows how to stop the Joywood—the ruthless immortal Nicholas Frost. Years ago, he was her secret tutor in magic, and her secret, impossible crush. But the icy and frustratingly handsome immortal is as remote and arrogant as ever, and if he feels anything for Rebekah—or witchkind—it’s impossible to tell.
Now, she’s no longer a child…and this time what sparks between Nicholas and Rebek
ah is more than just magic…

Buy Links: 

 Chapter One

You don’t have to be an exiled witch under threat of the death penalty should you cast the faintest little spell to feel the magic in Sedona, Arizona.

But it doesn’t hurt.

The full moon is shining, high and bright, making the red rocks glow outside my little bungalow. The air is soft and dry instead of swollen with Missouri’s trademark humidity, which I’m not sorry to leave behind.

If it was up to me, I would never have gone back to Mis­souri at all.

Because one thing exile has taught me is that magic is as much a habit as anything else. Unnecessary at best. Danger­ous at worst. An addiction, in other words.

These days I am all about recovery.

Except for tonight. Tonight, admittedly, has been a bit of a relapse.

I breathe out and try to blow away the past while I do.

I’m standing out in my little yard, my head tipped toward the Arizona sky and my shoes kicked off so I can feel the earth and as many vortexes as possible. Because I’m a hippie, I tell myself. Just a run-of-the-mill Sedona hippie. Hair down, feet bare, crystals hanging all around like every other New Ager around here.

Not magic, just vibes.

But before I manage to fully ground myself here, I feel something grab me, like a huge, magical hook around the center of me—but inside out. It’s dark. Hard. Kind of slimy, really—and it makes my stomach heave.

This particular magical tug is a summons, yanking me out of the life I fought so hard to build, all on my own. Not for the first time.

Not even for the first time tonight.

Though this summons is harsher than the one before. Meaner.

I know instantly it’s not him.

Because he yanked me back to St. Cyprian too, but it didn’t hurt when he did it. It’s not supposed to hurt at all, and he made it feel almost good

But I stop thinking about the maddeningly beautiful, im­possible immortal witch who ruined my life once already, and start worrying about me.

There’s only one reason for me to be dragged back home against my will. And it’s been a long night already. My sister, Emerson, who I haven’t seen in person in a decade, formed her very own coven made up of our closest friends and one ob­noxious immortal. Then, together, we all fought off a major, magic-induced flood that would have submerged the town of St. Cyprian and most of Missouri.

The final jerk makes Sedona disappear into a blur of red, then there’s a whooshing sensation while whispered words fill the air around me.

Rebekah Wilde, come before us, the voices command me.

And I’m back.

Right where I don’t want to be.

I’m standing outside a farmhouse across the river from my hometown. And instead of the terrifying wave of water and my sister ready to dive into the middle of it all like the first time I showed up here tonight, the river has settled down. The fight is over.

Or…maybe it’s only just begun.

Because a quick glance around shows me that Emerson is standing outside in the cool April night, looking like the fierce Warrior she is, her eyes blazing gold with all her newly redis­covered power. Jacob North, our old friend and a Healer—and, I think, my sister’s new love—stands with her and doesn’t look any worse for the intense healing he did when we came much too close to losing Emerson earlier.

Behind them is Zander Rivers, my cousin, looking un­characteristically grim for a guy who used to make the role he was born into—a Guardian—seem a lot more fun than the name suggests. Next to him is Georgie Pendell, Emerson’s best friend, whose entire family has been witch Historians—and actual historians who run the town’s local-interest museum—as long as anyone can remember. And last but never least, El­lowyn Good. My best friend. And also the Summoner who helped Emerson contact me once Emerson remembered she was a witch, despite the Joywood spell that took those magic memories away from her for ten whole years.

Across from them stand all the members of the Joywood, the ruling coven based here in my hometown of St. Cyprian, MO. The authoritarian, bullying, small-minded coven that cheated me out of the life I was supposed to have.

Seven dictatorial witches I had no intention of laying eyes on again.

I feel a rush of a very old, too-dark fury inside me—but stop myself. It’s practically a reflex at this point. I don’t do outsize emotion or high drama anymore. I don’t do dark. That would lead directly to my death, and I’ve always been pretty clear about wanting to stay alive.

If I hadn’t wanted to live—my life on my terms—I would have stayed here. I would have let these petty Joywood tyrants wipe my mind the way they wiped my sister’s, taking away any hint of ever knowing magic.

I tell myself that I’ve forgiven them. I chant it inside me, not like one of the spells forbidden to me, but like a mantra. They were only doing their jobs, following their laws, as stu­pid as those laws might be. I forgive them because forgive­ness is mine to give. I don’t need to carry the bitter taste of St. Cyprian and its ruling coven with me. I chose to leave all of this behind. I still choose it.

Something—not quite a shadow—moves in my peripheral vision, and I see him too. Nicholas Frost, the one and only immortal witch. Some people call him a traitor.

I call him all kinds of things and unlike most, have done it to his face. But now is not the time to air all my oldest grudges.

His gaze from halfway across a field makes everything in­side me…change. Not so much that dangerous black fury any longer. This is something else. A different kind of heat.

I don’t want to acknowledge it. Or him. Especially not with this audience.

Even if, for a moment, it feels as if the two of us are all alone here.

I have to remind myself that we’re not.

I forgive you, I think at him, in my smuggest internal voice. The best of a decade of recovery programs right there. And even though I can’t—won’t—use a witch’s usual telepathic version of conversation, I suspect he hears me anyway. Be­cause his dark blue eyes gleam.

From all the way across the tall grass.

“Rebekah Wilde,” booms a voice I recognize entirely too well, even though I haven’t heard it in a decade. Carol Simon, the Joywood coven’s Warrior and therefore the leader of…ev­erything involving witches the world over.

I force myself to look at her, hopefully without my feelings all over my face, and decide that teenage me was right. Her frizzy hair really is unforgivable.

“You have been summoned here, to the site of your infrac­tion, to answer for your offense,” she intones.

I finally take note of the fact that she and her cronies hauled me into this field, but not into the group of my friends and family who also infracted tonight. I’m standing halfway be­tween them and the Joywood. As tempting as it is to think that’s just carelessness, I know better.

They don’t do careless.

I slouch where I stand, because even being across the river from my hometown makes me want to behave like the sulky teenager I was when I lived here. That’s what Carol and her buddies likely see anyway, so why not live down to their worst expectations? I’ve always been excellent at that.

I lock eyes with Felicia Ipswitch, the Joywood’s Diviner and my personal nemesis, and smirk a little. And just like that, it might as well be tenth grade when Felicia was the high school principal and I was a problem. A problem she thought she could solve with draconian detentions and the kind of pun­ishments that would send human teachers to jail—but witch students heal up better.

Turns out I’m not over high school, which doesn’t really do a lot for the sullen peace and love vibe I’m trying to exude here.

I look away from that evil old hag to find Emerson look­ing at me like I’m an answer. That’s not unusual. My sister always thinks there is one. And better yet, that she can find it and implement it.

I know better, because I made my own way out in the world, relying on nothing and no one but me. I learned the hard way that life and the world often have no answers, no neat little bows. For anyone, witch or human.

I tell myself that it gives me great internal peace to accept this knowledge, and maybe it will, someday. I grit my teeth and think peace, please.

Especially when Carol starts to speak again. Peace, love, light, I chant inside me. No spellwork here. No witchcraft. Just words of power that anyone could use while anointing themselves in essential oils and rearranging their houses for better feng shui.

“I know you must think you did something big here to­night,” Carol is saying, as if she’s never heard anything dumber in her life. Her voice is so persuasive that I have to pinch myself to remember that no, we weren’t giggling over a Ouija board, pretending we weren’t pushing it while we clearly were. We actually fused together the way all the books say true covens should, fought some gnarly dark magic, and won. Almost at the expense of my sister’s life.

“But I’m afraid all you really did, Emerson and Rebekah, is break the terms set down before you when you failed your pubertatum.” She glances around. “And the rest of you broke several laws aiding them.”

The word pubertatum has not gotten any less obnoxious in the ten years I haven’t heard it spoken aloud. It’s an ugly Latin word for a coming-of-age ceremony where witches in their eighteenth year are required to demonstrate their pow­ers so they might take their places in witch society. Pass the test and you answer a few questions to be herded into one of the seven witchkind designations. Warrior, Guardian, Sum­moner, Healer, Historian, Praeceptor, or Diviner.

Fail the test, like Emerson and I did, and you get to be a zombie or an outcast.

“I have power, Carol. You can’t deny that,” Emerson says, with her usual bouncy forthrightness, like she’s flabbergasted at the possibility that Carol would bother trying to deny such a thing. When it’s so obvious.

I really have missed my sister.

“You told me I had none.” Emerson points to me now. “You told us we have no power at all. You were wrong. And then, all this power inside me you said I didn’t have fought off your obliviscor.”

I expect rage. Carol has never been one for being told she’s wrong. Her mind wipe spell wasn’t supposed to have failed. But Carol surprises me.

She titters, and her cronies all laugh along with her. I re­mind myself that it’s supposed to make me feel wrong and stu­pid and vaguely humiliated. That’s what they do. Better to rule us by making us hate ourselves.

“And you’ve turned a simple testing error into some…ne­farious plot? I do worry, Emerson, that fighting off the obli­viscor addled your senses.”

“We just saved St. Cyprian and possibly all of witchkind, Carol,” my sister says, and not angrily. Just like she’s reciting facts, inviting Carol to come aboard. She even smiles. “You’re welcome.”

And I know hate is for the weak. Forgiveness is power. Blah, blah, blah.

But Carol Simon makes the case for blood feuds, forever. Especially when she rolls her eyes.

“We saved witchkind with no help from you,” Emerson continues, as if she doesn’t see any eye-rolling. Because she won’t give up. Emerson never, ever gives up.

Even when she should.

“As a concerned, dedicated St. Cyprian citizen who also happens to be chamber of commerce president, I have to won­der,” Emerson tells Carol. But she also casts an eye over the rest of them, these fixtures of St. Cyprian and my witchy past that I did not miss at all. Like Maeve Mather, the Joywood’s Summoner, who used to go out of her way to be mean to my grandmother. Just because she could. “Why, I’m asking my­self, did the ruling body of all witchkind not only turn a blind eye to the obvious imbalance in our power source that’s been making the rivers rise so dangerously, but also fail to help us fix it? Why did we have to stop it?”

“I assume because you wanted attention,” Felicia says. It is a familiar sentence, meant to be pure condemnation. She used to use it all the time as a precursor to her nasty little punish­ments. My gaze moves across the dark field to find Ellowyn’s, and I can tell from my best friend’s expression that she’s re­membering the same thing I am.

All of high school, basically. When Principal Ipswitch dedi­cated herself to what she called our reprehensible, attention-seeking behavior.

What amazes me is how little I’ve thought about high school since leaving Missouri. Deliberately. And tonight, it’s like I never left.

“I saw the darkness at the heart of the confluence myself,” Emerson says with a great calm I certainly don’t feel. Espe­cially since I saw it too. That terrible, encroaching dark, eat­ing the world whole. It had hunkered there where the three rivers meet, waiting malevolently. And then, tonight, it ex­ploded. Emerson, with our help, destroyed it. My heart starts kicking at me again, a riot of panic, like it’s still happening.

“Are you accusing us of something?” Carol asks, and she’s scarily good at this. She sounds on the verge of laughter, yet somehow almost hurt. As if she cares deeply what Emerson thinks of her. Of them.

I worry this will work on my sister. Because the truth is, Emerson has no power here. She’s too honest, and this is pol­itics. Power. It’s ego and control. Emerson is a lot of things I roll my eyes at all the time, but she’s never been ruled by ego or greed.

Not like these witches.

“I’m pointing out facts,” Emerson says, sounding patient now. My sister has never met a windmill she didn’t try to charge head-on. “And the facts are, we saved St. Cyprian. You could have helped us, Carol. But you didn’t.”

“Oh, Emerson.” Carol sounds sad. Legitimately sad, which would require emotions on her part. And I’m pretty sure ve­lociraptors don’t have emotions. “Why would we deliberately choose not to help save the place where we live? How does that make sense?”

Emerson blinks. “You tell me.”

I want to give a short TED talk on gaslighting and master manipulators, but this is not the time. It’s still not clear whether this is an execution or not. Carol did mention infractions of the pubertatum rules, and last I heard, me using magic the way I did tonight is a capital offense. Emerson wasn’t supposed to be able to do it. I claimed I could do it, but was exiled be­cause they said I had no real power—only the shameful, un­safe urge to use borrowed force. Either way, using witchcraft as an exile is about as forbidden as you can get.

I can always be counted on to rebel when it will do me the most harm.

There’s a part of me that wants to turn to Nicholas Frost, the only other being here who isn’t standing with a group. He’s the one who came up with the goddamned pubertatum back when the earth was young, or so they taught us in school. He is considered the first Praeceptor—the teacher of all teachers, but not in a safe little classroom way. Praeceptors in his day taught armies of witches, then wielded them.

But I know better than to look to him for help.

Looking at him at all is fraught enough when you were once a teenage girl with a teenage girl’s unwieldy crush. Those things are hard to vanquish.

“We saved St. Cyprian,” Emerson says again, as if saying it enough will get through to Carol when as far as I know, nothing has ever gotten through to Carol.

“Maybe you did save the town,” Felicia says, with her little sniff of disdain that I remember all too well. “But if you did, it was for your own gain and nothing more.”

I want to say that at least that’s better than doing it for at­tention, but I don’t, because I’m evolved as fuck.

My sister’s eyes narrow. And here’s the thing that most people don’t know about Emerson Wilde. She expends a lot of energy trying to convince the people around her to see the error of their ways. She embodies the notion that if you lead a horse to water in the right way, it really will drink.

But when she’s done, she’s done.

As her little sister, I know this better than anyone. So, I step in to stop the impending storm. “This seems straightforward to me,” I say, doing my best to sound as if all this carrying on is a waste of energy, and I low-key resent it. And as if I’m some kind of authority here. “Emerson has some magic. Let her take the test again.”


Excerpted from Big Little Spells by Hazel Beck. Copyright © 2023 by Megan Crane and Nicole Helm. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

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HAZEL BECK is the magical partnership of a river witch and an earth witch. Together, they have collected two husbands, three familiars, two children, five degrees, and written around 200 books. As one, their books will delight with breathtaking magic, emotional romance, and stories of witches you won’t soon forget. Find them at
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