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Wiccan Masterpiece.

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When Beltane arrives in White Haven, passion ignites!

With the Beltane Festival approaching, the preparations in White Haven are in full swing, but when emotions soar out of control, the witches suspect more than just high spirits.

As part of the celebrations, a local theatre group is rehearsing Tristan and Iseult, but it seems Beltane magic is affecting the cast, and all sorts of old myths are brought to the surface.

The May Queen brings desire, fertility, and the promise of renewal, but love can also be dark and dangerous.

Avery finds that her emotions are vulnerable to the primal magic that courses through the town, as are the other witches, and suddenly relationships are under pressure as they have never been before.

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Chapter One

Avery Hamilton and the watching crowd cheered as the maypole was finally secured into position in the small square in the centre of White Haven.

At the top was a colourful crown of flowers, and for the next couple of weeks until Beltane, or May Day as the non-pagans called it, Greenlane Nurseries, Reuben Jackson’s business, would be making sure the flowers remained fresh.

The bright ribbons that were fixed to the pole unfurled in the breeze, making Avery feel as if summer was getting closer. The sky was pale blue with a few scurrying clouds, and although it was mid-April, it was warm.

Reuben stood next to her, keeping an eye on proceedings, and she turned to him. “Your flowers look really good!”

Reuben, like Avery, was a witch, and one of her best friends. Despite the fact that he was here in an official capacity, he was still wearing his t-shirt and board shorts. He winked at her, his blue eyes bright against his tanned skin. “Nothing like having a huge phallic symbol in the middle of the town to get everyone in the Beltane mood.”

Avery whacked his arm playfully. “You are terrible!”

“But it’s true, you know it is,” he said, laughing. “I can feel it in the air! It’s like everyone’s woken up feeling frisky.”

“I’m not so sure it’s friskiness, as just a general air of excitement, Reuben! You just like to think that everyone is obsessed with sex,” Avery said, as she looked around at the excited locals and tourists who had gathered to watch the official start of the Beltane celebrations. The traffic had been diverted for a few hours for the maypole to be put in place, so it lent an even more festival air to the proceedings. And yes, there was definitely an air of goodwill and teasing.

“Nothing wrong with liking sex, Avery. You’ve got a spring to your step now that Alex has moved in.” He raised an eyebrow. “I like to feel that Greenlane Nurseries is adding some cheer to the town!” He pointed at the hanging baskets and pots that his nursery had already positioned outside the local shops, making the streets look bright. “I’ve made sure that there are a few flowers in there to help spread feelings of love, with maybe a little spell or two to help things along.”

Avery shook her head. “You’re incorrigible. I don’t know how El puts up with you.” El was another witch, and also Reuben’s girlfriend.

He looked at her, mock-outraged, but before he could answer, Stan, White Haven’s pseudo-Druid who loved to officiate at their pagan celebrations, stepped away from the crew who had raised the maypole and addressed the crowd.

As usual at these pagan events, Stan was wearing his long, woollen cloak and carried a wooden staff, and he grinned as he looked around. “I am pleased to announce that our Beltane celebrations are officially open!” The crowd cheered again as he gestured to Reuben. “Thank you to Greenlane Nurseries for providing the wonderful flowers that are decorating White Haven. For the next couple of weeks, we will keep plants around the maypole and the ribbons tied out of the way, until the dancers are ready to perform on Beltane. This coming weekend will also see the start of the play, Tristan and Iseult!” He beckoned to a young couple that stood at the edge of the crowd, and they smiled and waved at the onlookers as they reached Stan’s side. They were both in their twenties, and the young woman was slim with shoulder-length blonde hair, and the man was of average height, with light brown hair and a deep tan. “Let me introduce Emma Whitehall and Josh Atkins, who are playing the leads! I’m sure you’ll love the show, which was last performed in White Haven in the sixties! In the meantime, our very own Morris Dancers are here to start the festivities!”

A group of men were clustered on the edge of the square, dressed in traditional costumes. As they moved into position, the bells that were wrapped below their knees jingled. A lone accordion player started a tune and the men raised their sticks and started to dance as Stan joined Reuben and Avery, bringing Emma and Josh with him.

“Excellent job on the plants,” Stan said to Reuben, his voice low. “White Haven looks magnificent.”

“Thanks Stan, always happy to help!” Reuben nodded towards the maypole. “This afternoon, when the dancers have finished, a few of my staff will be back with the pots to go around the base.”

Stan rubbed his hands together and repeated, “Excellent, excellent. Have either of you met Josh or Emma before?”

“No,” Avery said, smiling and shaking their hands as Reuben did the same. “Are you ready for opening night?”

Josh looked nervously at Emma. “As usual, it doesn’t feel like it, but I’m sure we will be.”

Emma nodded. “It always feels like this in the week before the show. You feel like you keep forgetting important lines and that the costumes won’t fit and you’ll miss your cues, but it will be fine.”

Stan refused to be worried. “You’ll be fantastic! And the costumes are perfect.” He looked at Reuben and Avery. “It was the White Haven Players who performed it last time, so it seemed only fitting they do it again. And of course it’s a Cornish story, all about love that cannot be withered by time or circumstance—perfect for Beltane! And what perfect star-crossed lovers you are!”

At the mention of love, Josh and Emma seemed to look determinedly away from each other, and a pink flush started up Emma’s cheeks.

Stan, however, was too busy talking to notice. “I’m not sure whether I enjoy Beltane or Samhain more! Have you decorated your shop yet, Avery?

“Of course! Sally has been working hard, as usual.”

Sally was Avery’s friend and the manager of Happenstance Books, and was responsible for making her shop run smoothly. Sally had already roped Dan, another friend who worked for her, into helping her decorate the shop with flowers, garlands, and lights.

Stan bounced lightly on the soles of his feet, making him seem younger than his fifty-odd years. “I didn’t doubt it, my dear.”

“How are the plans for the procession going?” Reuben asked. “Have you chosen a May Queen yet?”

Stan shook his head. “No. There have been, as usual, lots of applicants, and also for the Green Man, her consort. But they need to have a presence!” He sighed. “You may not know this, but we encourage the drama students at the local college to apply. They will need to follow a certain direction, because you know the whole thing is tightly organised, and the events manager has been arranging this for months!”

“Isn’t this short notice for them, then?” Avery asked, surprised.

“Hence the need to choose wisely! We’re close to selecting who it will be, and will make our decision in the next day or so. They need to have the final fitting for their costumes, and they’ll spend the next week rehearsing. Next Tuesday we’ll have the first street procession. That’s when we’ll officially announce them. ”

Avery nodded. “And where will the play be performed?”

“White Haven Little Theatre,” Josh answered. “The first performance will be on Saturday night, and the final performance will be the following Saturday afternoon in the castle grounds, in the open air—as long as the weather’s good.”

“So much to do!” Stan exclaimed. He held his hand up, and ticked off his fingers, one by one. “The fire is being built on the beach, ready for the celebration on the evening. The small arena for the performance of the play is almost complete, the maypole is up, the performers in the procession are also rehearsing, and the girls who’ll be dancing around the maypole have been practicing, too—they’re all from the local school. And obviously the May Queen and the Green Man will be part of the main Beltane procession through the town.”

Reuben’s eyes met Avery’s over the top of Stan’s head. “That’s quite a list, Stan!”

“I know. Such a busy time of year, but the town is full of visitors and we must put on a show! I love it, and wouldn’t want it any other way. Now, you must excuse me, I have to get back to the council!”

Without waiting for a response, Stan headed back into the crowds.

“We better go, too,” Emma said, smiling at them. “Will you be coming to the play?”

“I must admit I haven’t got tickets,” Avery said apologetically. “But I would like to see it.”

Josh frowned. “You may have trouble now. I think it’s sold out.”

“Wow,” Reuben said, with a shake of his head. “That’s great!”

“I know.” Emma’s eyes widened with a mixture of excitement and worry. “That makes it more nerve-wracking, but better than performing to an empty house!”

“Sorry,” Josh said, smiling. “We really do have to go. Nice to meet you.”

They walked away, and Reuben looked at Avery. “There really are a lot of events going on!”

“You know Stan, he lives for these celebrations. And he missed Samhain, thanks to your spell,” she reminded him. They had to make sure Stan left White Haven on the previous All Hallows’ Eve, worried that he would be sacrificed to the Wild Hunt by his girlfriend, Suzanne, the time-walker witch and one of Avery’s ancestors. “And Stan is right—the town is already getting busy with visitors!” Avery checked her watch as she felt her stomach growl. “I’m heading back to the shop for lunch. What are you up to?”

“On a glorious day like this? Must be time for a surf!” Reuben was obsessed with surfing.

“It could be raining, and you’d still go!”

“Because it’s brilliant! You should try it someday, Avery,” he said mischievously.

Avery shivered. “Sounds far too cold. Shall I see you later in the pub?”

“Yes, you will. Nothing like a pint and some of Alex’s excellent pub grub following a surf.” He winked. “See you later.”

Avery laughed to herself as she walked up the winding streets of White Haven, admiring the decorations as she went. Beltane was one of the biggest pagan celebrations in modernity. It was a fire festival that celebrated the sun, the peak of spring, and the arrival of summer. It was also a celebration of fertility, when the Maiden Goddess attracted the attentions of the Green Man, sometimes called the Young Oak King.

She hadn’t just been massaging Reuben’s ego when she complimented the flowers. Hanging baskets and pots of all shapes and sizes lined the streets, filled with late spring plants. Some shops liked to provide their own displays, but on the whole, Greenlane Nurseries supplied them, and they looked bright and cheerful. The shop windows were full of flower garlands, and images of the May Queen and the nature spirit jostled for space. There were sculptures of both of them in the window of her own shop, fashioned out of twisted willow, and artfully woven to resemble faces.

Avery halted before she stepped through the door, admiring Sally’s handiwork. It seemed there was no getting away from the Green Man now. Ever since the night they had defeated the Empusa with his and the Raven King’s help, the mischievous spirit was always in White Haven. He’d given them Ravens’ Wood, the ancient forest that had grown magically in hours, and had given Briar, the earth witch, a wildness she’d never had before. Now that Beltane was approaching, Avery felt his energy rise again, and with the potent arrival of the Goddess, magic was once again swirling through White Haven, stronger than ever.

Avery stared at them both, muttering under her breath. “You two had better behave!”

She jumped when Dan’s face appeared next to them, peering at her with a frown. “Talking to yourself now, Avery?” he said, sounding muffled through the glass.

She poked her tongue out at him and then headed inside, the bell jangling overhead.

Dan continued to talk as he walked to the counter, shaking his head with mock concern. “I think you might need a break.”

“I’m perfectly fine, thank you! I was just telling those two not to make trouble.”

He patted her arm affectionately. “That’s exactly what I meant.”

She ignored him and looked around at the shelves filled with old and new books, and various occult objects. Fresh spring flowers were tucked in available spots, filling the air with a lovely scent. Avery inhaled deeply and sighed with pleasure. “It smells divine in here!”

Dan followed her gaze. “While you were out, Sally filled a few more vases, because clearly there weren’t enough. I may have to fight my way out of here tonight.”

Avery laughed. “It’s not that bad! You should have a walk around White Haven. The whole place looks amazing. I watched the maypole go up. The Morris Dancers were there to celebrate.”

“And Stan was in his Druid costume, I suppose?”

“Of course.”

Dan eyed her bag. “Where are the cakes?”

“What cakes?” she asked as innocently as she could.

“Don’t do that to me, Avery!”

She grinned. “Kidding.” She slid out the bag with a selection of pastries, and Dan’s face lit up.

“Thank the Gods!” he said as he reached for one.

“Take your lunch break now if you want,” Avery suggested. “I can wait. Where’s Sally?”

“In the back room, doing the accounts. And yes, lunch sounds great.” He weaved through the stacks, and called to her over his shoulder. “I’m in the back room too, if you want me.”

Avery settled herself on the chair behind the counter, nibbling on a pastry as she watched pedestrians wander down the street. She saw several couples stop to kiss and giggle; it seemed the Beltane spirit was already strong. It made her think of Alex, her boyfriend and the fifth witch in the White Haven Coven, and she felt a warm glow inside. Since he had moved into her flat after they had defeated the Empusa, they had settled into domestic bliss, and she hadn’t felt so content in years. It was good to share her magic with someone who understood, and even better when they made spells together.

Her reverie was broken when she heard a wailing sound at the back of her shop, and she quickly followed the noise to the romance section.

A young woman stood with a book in her hands, tears pouring down her face. Avery looked around perplexed, but there was no one else in sight. Avery gently took the book from the woman’s hands, and offered her a tissue. “Are you all right? Has something happened?”

What a lame question. Of course she wasn’t all right.

The woman blew her nose and sniffed, looking at Avery through red, swollen eyes. “Sorry, I’m being silly. I felt I needed something to cheer me up, and thought I’d find a nice romantic book, but—” she stopped talking as she started to cry again. “Sorry,” she repeated, through gasps. “It reminded me that I’m going to die alone, and that Brian will never love me!”

Avery’s mouth opened in shock. “What? I’m sure you won’t die alone! Of course you won’t,” she corrected herself. “Who’s Brian?”

“I work with him. He’s so handsome, but he never looks at me. Barely ever a smile!”

She burst into tears again, and Avery felt compelled to keep talking.

“Have you known him long?” she asked sympathetically.

“No. He only started at work last week.”

Avery frowned. The woman had started sobbing again, almost hysterically. This was not normal. Who cries over someone they’d barely known for a week?

“Forgive me for asking,” she said tentatively, “but you really didn’t know him at all before last week?”

“No! But he’s the perfect man for me, I just know it!”

Avery leaned closer. Was magic at work? Or was this woman just lonely and had become worked up over nothing? “It is quite soon though, isn’t it, to think that something will or won’t happen just yet? Perhaps you need time to get to know him?”

“Maybe.” The woman sniffled. “I don’t normally get like this, but this feeling just came over me! We’re meant to be together. I think it’s destiny. I know it—right here.” She thumped her chest over her heart, and burst into tears again.

Avery realised that something was very wrong. Most lonely, lovelorn women didn’t plunge head over heels for a man they barely knew. She sent her magic out, gently easing around the woman, trying to detect some kind of spell. Yes, there was something subtle; she could feel it. The woman looked up, her eyes wide, and Avery noted that her pupils were dilated.

“Have you been anywhere odd, or done something different recently?” Avery asked, suddenly suspicious.

The woman frowned. “Why are you asking that?”

“Just humour me,” she said gently.

“I went to a party on the weekend in a pub. It was a birthday party for a friend, and lots of people were there that I didn’t know.”

“Was it a good friend?”

“A friend of a friend, really. It was a good party though!” She smiled weakly. “Lots of drinks and fun. There was a punch too, very fruity.”

Avery tried not to show her concern, but what if something had happened that night? Some kind of love spell, possibly. If it was a spell, had it been directed just at this woman, or lots of people? And if so, how many others could be affected? Love spells could be dangerous, like any spell that endangered free will.

“Nothing else unusual?” Avery asked.

“No, just work,” the woman answered, sniffling into the tissue.

Avery frowned. She couldn’t cancel the spell—if it even was one—but she could soften the effects. “Maybe it’s just the party that has you feeling like that. Let me give you a hug.”

“Yes, please,” the woman said, tears once more pouring down her face.

As Avery pulled her close, she whispered a spell to calm the mind and soothe the senses. Within seconds, she felt the woman relax.

Avery pulled away. “I have just the thing to cheer you up.” She headed to the shelves where she kept a selection of coloured candles, picked up a blue one and gave it to the woman. “This is a present from me. Light it when you get home, and leave it burning all evening. It will cheer you up.”

She looked surprised. “Oh no, I can’t just take it!”

“Yes, you can. Promise me you’ll light it!”

She smiled. “Yes, of course. I feel better already. Maybe talking to someone helped.”

“It always does,” Avery reassured her, as she walked her to the door. “What pub did you go to?”

“The Flying Fish. You know, the one on the road that leads out of town, overlooking the sea.”

Avery nodded. It was one of the pubs they had investigated for mermaids the year before. “I know it. It’s big, isn’t it?”

“Very! The party was in the room on the first floor, with the balcony.” She smiled shyly. “Anyway, I must go. Thanks for the candle.”

With a jingle of bells the woman headed outside, leaving Avery wondering if someone was casting love spells, or if it was just the season of Beltane.