Sneak Peek of Wicked Charms by Janet Evanovich

CHAPTER 1

My name is Lizzy Tucker, and I live in a small, slightly tilted historic house that sits on a hill overlooking Marblehead Harbor. I inherited the house from my Great Aunt Ophelia when I was twenty–eight years old, and I’m not much older now. I share the house with a tiger–striped shorthaired cat named Cat 7143. He has one eye, half a tail, and I’m pretty sure he was a ninja in a past life. I’m a Johnson & Wales culinary school graduate, and when I’m not being asked to save the world I work as a pastry chef at Dazzle’s Bakery in Salem, Massachusetts.

It was ten o’clock at night, Cat and I were watching television in bed, and a big, scruffy, incredibly hot guy walked into my bedroom.

“What the heck?” I asked. “Where did you come from?”

“Originally? Switzerland, but I was mostly raised in Southern California.”

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“That’s not what I mean. What are you doing in my bedroom?”

He kicked his shoes off. “I’m undressing. And then I’m going to bed.”

“No! Not allowed.”

“Extenuating circumstance,” he said, peeling off his shirt. “I’m between places of residence.”

“I don’t care if you’re between a rock and a hard spot. You can’t stay here.”

His jeans hit the floor. “Of course I can. We’re partners.”

“We’re not that kind of partners. We work together. We’re not supposed to be . . . you know.”

“Don’t get your panties in a bunch. I have total self–control.”

I leaned forward for a closer look. “Are those parrots on your boxers?”

“I got them in Key West. Cool, right?”

Okay, I have to admit it. The whole package was cool. The guy’s name is Diesel. That’s it. Only one name. And the name suits him because he plows over you like a freight train. He’s over six feet of hard–muscled male perfection. His dark blond hair is thick and sun streaked and perpetually mussed. His eyes are brown and unreadable. His smile is like Christmas morning. His attitude is deceptive—casual on the outside but intense on the inside. His moral code is all his own.

“All right. You win,” I said, knowing there was no way I could physically remove him. “You can sleep on the couch.”

He stuck his thumb into the waistband on his boxers. “I don’t fit on the couch.”

“Hey,” I said. “Wait a minute!”

Too late. The boxers were on the floor with his shirt and jeans.

I clapped my hands over my eyes. “I can’t believe you just did that.”

“I sleep nude. Women don’t usually mind.”

“I mind!”

“I get that,” Diesel said. “Move over.”

I have a queen–size bed. Plenty big enough for me and Cat. Not big enough for me and Cat and Diesel. Truth is, I wouldn’t mind getting romantic with Diesel, but we have an odd relationship. Diesel isn’t normal. And it would seem that I’m not normal, either. I thought I was normal until Diesel popped into my life shortly after I moved to Marblehead. Now weird is the new normal.

The way Diesel tells it, there are some people on Earth who have enhanced abilities that can’t be explained in ordinary ways. They might be useful abilities, such as Diesel’s talent for opening locks. Or they might be hellacious powers, such as calling down lightning or levitating a garbage truck. Crazy, right? It gets even better. Supposedly there are seven ancient stones that hold the power of the seven deadly sins. They’re known as the seven SALIGIA stones. If these stones fall into the wrong hands, all hell will, quite literally, break loose. I’m one of two people in the world who have the ability to locate the stones. Sort of like a human divining rod. Lucky me. So far, Diesel and I have acquired two of the stones, nearly getting blown up and kidnapped and chopped into tiny pieces with a broadsword in the process. When we find a stone Diesel sends it off to some higher power for safekeeping. At least that’s his story.

“We’re not supposed to sleep together,” I said.

“Sleeping is okay. Getting busy not so much.”

Turns out if two people with enhanced abilities get busy, one of them will discover that their special powers have gone up in smoke. If I could be sure it was my special powers that would disappear, I’d be happy to take one for the team. But what if it was Diesel who got cleaned out? I’d be on my own to save the world. This wouldn’t be a good thing.

I grabbed a pillow and put it between us. “Just to be safe,” I said.

“Sweetheart, if I decide to risk my abilities, that pillow isn’t going to save you.”

My alarm went off at 4:15 in the morning, and I rolled over into Diesel. He was deliciously warm, he smelled like gingerbread cookies, and the pillow was missing.

“Hey,” I said. “Are you awake?

“I am now.”

“Something’s poking at me under the covers,” I said. “That better not be what I think it might be.”

“Maybe you should take a look just to be sure you’ve identified it correctly.”

“That would be awkward.”

“I could deal,” Diesel said.

“It might lead to . . . things.”

I sensed him smile in the dark room. “No doubt.”

He moved over me and kissed me. There was some tongue involved, and heat flooded into every part of me. So maybe I could save the world on my own if it came down to that, I thought. Maybe I didn’t care if one of us lost our abilities. Maybe I just cared about running my hands over every delicious part of him, and then following it with my mouth, and then the inevitable would happen. Oh boy, I really wanted the inevitable.

“Damn,” Diesel said.

“What? What damn?”

He slipped out of bed and got dressed in the clothes that were lying on the floor. “There’s a problem,” he said.

“Can you solve it?”

“Absolutely.” He laced up his shoes. “I’ll be back.”

CHAPTER 2

Three weeks later Diesel still hadn’t returned. Who cares and good riddance, I told myself. My life was humming along just fine. Maybe it was a little dull compared to chasing down enchanted objects with Diesel, but at least no one was trying to kill me or kidnap me.

Salem is half small–town USA, with its steepled churches, family neighborhoods, and traditional New England values . . . and half spook–town USA, with whole chunks of town devoted to the tourism industry built around the Salem witch hunts of the late 1600s.

Personally I don’t buy into the witch thing, but Glo, the counter girl at Dazzle’s, is smitten with the possibility that she might secretly be Samantha Stephens of Bewitched. Truth is, if Glo channels anyone from that television series, it’s Aunt Clara. Glo is four years younger than me and is an inch shorter. So that puts her at 5’4″. She has curly red hair chopped into a short bob. She lives with a broom she hopes will someday take her for a flight over town. Her wardrobe can best be described as goth meets Sugar Plum Fairy.

I’m not nearly as colorful as Glo. I have blond hair that is almost always pulled back into a ponytail. My eyes are brown, my metabolism is good, and my wardrobe lacks imagination. White chef’s coat, jeans, T–shirt, sneakers, and a sweatshirt if it’s a chilly night.

Glo and I had closed up shop for the day, and her latest boyfriend, Josh Something, was giving us an after–hours tour of the Pirate Museum. Josh works as a guide in the museum and was in period dress . . . a white puffy–sleeved shirt, black–and–red–striped breeches, and a grungy leather knee–length frock coat. His brown hair was long and pulled back into a ponytail at the nape of his neck, and he usually wore a patch over his left eye. Since we were the only ones in the museum, his patch was up on his forehead.

“And look here, my lassies,” Josh said to Glo and me, pointing to a grim replica of an unfortunate pirate prisoner. “This be a fine example of pirate justice. ’Tis a nasty way to end a life. The lad would have been better off thrown to the sharks.”

The prisoner’s leatherlike skin was stretched tight over his skull and bony frame, and his mouth was open in a perpetual silent scream. The creepy mannequin was dressed in the sort of rags you’d expect to find on a desiccated corpse. And this phony–looking, partially rotted thing was stuffed into a flimsy cage that hung from a rusted chain attached to the ceiling. The rest of the room was filled with artifacts, both real and not so real. Cannons, cannon balls, maps under glass, cutlery, jugs of rum, a stuffed rat, coins in a small open chest, timbers, ropes, and weapons were all displayed in dim light.

“It’s hard to get emotional over something that’s so obviously fake,” I said.

“Aye,” Josh said. “He be a bit worn.”

“I could try to put a spell on him to perk him up a little,” Glo said.

A while back Glo found Ripple’s Book of Spells in a curio shop, and she’d been test–driving Ripple’s recipes ever since with varying results.

“It might help if you gave the cage a coat of Rust–Oleum,” I said.

I reached up and touched the cage, there was some creaking, dust sifted down on us, and the chain separated from the bars. The cage crashed to the floor and broke into several pieces. The imprisoned dummy flopped out, its peg leg fell off, the skull detached from the neck, and its arm snapped in half.

We all gaped at the mess in front of us. The prisoner’s leathery skin was split where the arm had cracked, and a bone was protruding.

“Arrgh,” Josh said.

“I think that be a human bone,” I whispered.

It took the first cop five minutes to get to the museum. He was followed by three more uniformed cops, two plainclothes cops, a forensic photographer, and two EMTs.

Everyone stared down at the broken cage and the ghoulish guy with the bone sticking out of his arm, and everyone said pretty much the same thing . . . I was here a couple weeks ago with my brother–in–law, and I thought this was a fake.

By the time the coroner arrived, the area had been roped off with crime scene tape, and the body, which looked more like a giant Slim Jim than a human being, had been photographed and outlined in chalk.

The coroner was a pleasant–looking guy in a wrinkled gray suit and wrinkled white dress shirt. He was my height, probably in his late thirties, wore Harry Potter glasses, had sandy blond hair, and was soft enough around the middle to look cuddly. His name was Theodore Nergal.

Nergal slipped under the crime scene tape and knelt beside the corpse. “Yep,” he said. “This guy’s dead.”

One of the plainclothes cops looked over the tape. “It’s a real flesh–and–blood body, right?”

Nergal nodded. “It was flesh and blood before someone decided to try his hand at mummification. Now it’s tanned hide and partly calcified bone.” He pulled on disposable gloves, picked the skull up, and examined it. “There’s an entrance wound in the back of the head where he’s been shot.” He shook the head, and there was a rattling sound, like dice in a cup. He tipped the head forward, and a small lump of misshapen metal fell out of the man’s mouth and plopped into the coroner’s hand. “This is a Lubaloy round manufactured only in the 1920s,” Nergal said. “This man was shot some ninety years ago.”

“Wow,” Glo said. “I guess you’ll put out an APB for a perp with a walker and a hearing aid.”

“Arrgh, again,” Josh said.

Nergal set the skull in the vicinity of the corpse’s neck and stood. “Who found this?”

“We did,” I said. “Josh works in the museum, and he was giving us an after–hours tour. I touched the cage, and it came crashing down.”

“And you are who?”

“Lizzy Tucker,” I said. “I’m a pastry chef at Dazzle’s Bakery.”

His eyes widened. “Do you make the red velvet cupcakes?”

“I do.”

“I love those cupcakes!”

Nergal went back to examining the Slim Jim, and Glo elbowed me. “He loves your cupcakes,” she said.

“I heard.”

She leaned close. “He’s cute!” she whispered.

“And?”

“He’s not wearing a wedding ring.”

“And?”

“Neither are you.”

“I don’t think he’s my type,” I told Glo.

“Okay, so he examines dead people all day,” Glo said. “Nobody’s perfect. He probably has all kinds of interesting hobbies.”

“Excuse me,” I said to Nergal. “Can we go now?”

“Of course,” he said, “but don’t leave town.”

“Really?”

“Really,” he said. “I’m addicted to your cupcakes.”

Glo elbowed me again. “I think he might be flirting with you,” she whispered.

“It’s the cupcakes,” I said. “It has nothing to do with me. I’m leaving.”

“I can’t leave,” Josh said. “I have to stay to lock up the museum.”

“I’ll stay with you,” Glo said to Josh. “This is just like one of those CSI shows.”

I gave everyone a wave goodbye and walked out of the museum into the warm July night. The streetlights cast little pools of light onto the shadowy sidewalk. One of the lights flickered just as I reached it, blinking out twice before flaring back to life, brighter than ever.

I felt a chill ripple down my spine and goose bumps erupt on my arms when a man appeared under the streetlight. He was deadly handsome in a scary sexy–vampire sort of way. He had pale skin, piercing dark eyes, and shoulder–length raven–black hair that was swept back from his face. He was dressed in a perfectly tailored black suit with a black dress shirt. I knew him, and there had been times when I’d thought his soul might be black as well. His name is Gerwulf Grimoire. Mostly known as Wulf. He entered my life shortly after I moved to the North Shore. He’d introduced himself, touched his fingertip to the back of my hand, and left a burn mark. The scar is still there.

“Miss Tucker,” he said. “We meet again.”

“Nice to see you, Wulf.”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” Wulf said, “but I appreciate the lie. I’m here to relieve you of the coin.”

“What coin? What are you talking about?”

Wulf studied me for a beat. “You really don’t know, do you?”

“I assume you’re not looking for a nickel or a dime.”

“Hardly. You’ll know soon enough about the coin. I’m sure my cousin Diesel is looking for it as well and will enlist your aid. If you’re smart, you won’t get involved. Consider this a warning.”

“I’m not afraid of you.” Another lie.

“I’m the least of your worries,” Wulf said.

There was a pop and a puff of smoke, and Wulf was gone. Vanished.

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