DEA agent Nick McKenzie is sure magic exists—a dangerous drug called Smoky Mountain Magic that’s wreaking havoc on the streets of Atlanta. He’s also sure that locating and eliminating the source could mean his death.
When he arrives undercover on Woodruff Mountain, the beautiful owner’s anxious attempts to scare him off tell him something’s afoot, and it’s not her secret patch of a rare, ancient species of ginseng.
As her dream of seeking medicinal plants in the Amazon fades into the distance, Grace Woodruff struggles to come to terms with an inherited magical gift she didn’t want, and searches desperately for the meaning behind her late grandfather’s final, cryptic message.
The last thing she needs underfoot is a handsome, enigmatic writer recovering from a recent illness. Until an accidental touch unleashes a stunning mystical force and Grace senses the wrath of a malicious blight at the heart of the mountain. Now she must choose between her need to hide her gift from the world…and her desire to save Nick’s life.
Warning: This book contains a fiery redhead whose magic cannot be contained and a handsome DEA agent whose final case might give him a second chance at life.
“So—Granny Lily?” he asked again.
Grace took a deep breath. “Granny Lily was a healer—an Appalachian Granny Woman. A witch.”
“Witch?” he paused a moment, digesting the word. “You’re kidding, right?”
Grace shook her head and started walking away from the cemetery and back into the meadow. “Granny Witches weren’t witches in the sense we think of today. They were the midwives and healers of the community. For folks isolated up in these mountains with no medical care, they were the doctors.”
Nick followed behind, taking a quick sip of his champagne. “Witch doctor?”
She grinned at him. “Well, yes. In the sense that a witch doctor is the healer in their community. The shaman. The expert in herbal medicine.”
“Witch doctor,” he repeated.
“It’s a tradition that’s passed down in families. In this case from mother to daughter to granddaughter. One woman per generation,” Grace went on. “Some claim it goes back to ancient times.”
Nick stopped. “So, are you—”
She faced him. “What?”
Nick watched Grace smile and hold out her glass. “Hang on to this for me.”
Nick stared at it for a moment, wondering why she didn’t just answer “no”. Then he took it carefully, holding the bottle under his arm.
Shaking out the blanket, Grace laid it on the grass and knelt down, holding her hands up for her glass and the bottle, which he handed over.
“Sit,” she said smiling up at him. “Pretend it’s a picnic.”
As if on cue, Pooka ran to see what they were up to. When he realized no food was involved, he resumed scouting the edges of the meadow.
Nick paused, wondering if he should make a dash for his SUV and get off this mountain while he still could. But something made him sit.
“So,” he took a deep breath, as if he was about to set foot on some strange new world he didn’t understand. “Witch?”
She twisted sideways, managing to sit gracefully on the blanket without spilling a drop of champagne. He was beginning to wonder if she had faked being tipsy.
“Remember, I said not in the ‘double, double toil and trouble’ kind of way.”
“So, no cauldrons or eye-of-newt things going on?”
“Well, actually, the old cauldron you see in the front yard of a lot of Southern homes used to mean there was a Granny Witch in the house, but—”
“Don’t you have one of those in your garden? Full of flowers?”
She smiled. “You noticed! Yes. Like that. But no evil spells or hexes.”
“So you are a witch?”
“Well, no. I was talking about Granny Lily. I’m—” She stopped, suddenly thoughtful.
“So, you’re not a witch?”
“You know, I’m not sure.”
Nick frowned and drained the rest of his champagne, holding out his glass. She poured it full and sat the bottle on the ground beside the blanket.
“I would think you would notice something like that,” he said. Of course she’s a witch McKenzie, she’s had you under her spell since she met you.
“Look, I probably shouldn’t have used that word. People don’t know about the Granny Witch tradition at all, and they automatically think black cats and broomsticks and pointy hats. It was mostly about herbal medicine and midwifery.”
“Can you deliver a baby?” he asked.
“And you practice herbal medicine.”
“Sounds like you’re qualified. Maybe over qualified.”
“It’s not that simple. Some of them did divination and water dowsing. It’s a tradition requiring training and practice. The Granny Witch passes down all her lore to her designated successor and teaches her everything she knows.”
Grace looked off toward the cemetery and he followed her gaze. The headstones were just distant shapes in the moonlight.
“So your mother— No, that’s your father’s side of the family.”
“Exactly. And anyway, the tradition stopped with Granny Lily. She quit practicing and didn’t pass it on to any other female relative.”
“But you said she’s been wandering into your dreams. Does she wander anywhere else?” He looked around them at the silvered meadow and the dark trees, but nothing seemed menacing—just the opposite.
“No. Only in my rather intense dreams. And I’m honestly not sure what she’s trying to tell me.”
He tried to figure out where she was going with all this. Maybe it was the wine. “Well, it sounds like it might be a good thing for your bottom line. You could get additional business these days just by saying you were the descendant of a shaman or medicine woman. I wouldn’t use the word ‘witch’ though, even if they don’t burn them anymore.”
“Why did you say that?” she asked in a sharp tone. In the moonlight, her eyes shimmered green and her pale face was almost translucent, surrounded by flyaway tendrils of dark red. She might be a witch, but she was the most captivating witch he had ever seen.
“What? What did I say?”
“Well, they used to— Didn’t they? I mean—”
“That was in a completely different culture. Here the Granny Witch was essential in the community. The people of these mountains were nothing like that. Granny Lily was burned accidentally.”
“She was— What?”
Grace picked up the bottle and poured her glass full, then downed it without ceremony and was about to pour another.
“Whoa. Slow down there.” He took the bottle and her glass gently and set them both in the grass. “Now, what’s this about burning? Your granny was burned?”
Grace let out a long breath. “Great-great-great. And yes. Accidentally. In a fire.”
“She wasn’t killed though. The headstone said—”
“No. Badly burned. Disfigured. She lived a long life.”
“A very long life, if I read the stone right.” He connected some dots and took a guess. “This was the fire that started that feud you were talking about, with your neighbors.”
“Yes. But it was an accident. A bunch of Taggarts and other people were gathered outside the cabin and things got out of hand. One of the Taggarts threw a rock at my Grandpa Zach. It broke a window, and knocked over an oil lamp onto Granny Lily’s dress.”
“An oil lamp.”
“It was terrible. It didn’t destroy the cabin, but she was horribly burned. Everyone thought she wouldn’t make it, but she recovered. Only, after that, she was rarely seen by anyone outside of the family. And when she was, she was covered head to toe, even wearing gloves on the hottest summer days. We have a family portrait with her in it, but only half of her face is showing.”
“That is tragic. What started the rock throwing?”
“No. Someone lived.”
When she’s not being dragged down the sidewalk by her Jack Russell (if you know Jacks, you understand), Donna June Cooper is belly dancing (shiny!), reading (three books at once), writing (of course!) or complaining about the heat (no matter the temperature). A child of the Appalachians who was transplanted to Texas by her Italian husband, Donna returns to her mountain roots as often as possible, and takes her readers with her in her Books of the Kindling.