"Anytime the afternoon of the sixteenth will work," I said into my cell phone. "Just shoot me a quick text when you're on your way, so I can make sure someone is there to meet you." The Honeybee Bakery's landline rang on the desk. I quickly reached over to lower the volume, knowing Aunt Lucy or Uncle Ben would answer the call out front. "And you'll return to pick up everything on Monday, then? Okay. Oh, I wanted to make sure you're supplying an extra-long table for the caterers as well. And the tablecloth for that, too? Perfect. Thank you so much!"
I ended the call and spun the office chair to face Mungo. My Cairn terrier-and witch's familiar-had been listening to my end of the conversation with interest. "Well, that's the last detail, little guy! Stick a fork in it-the wedding planning is officially done." I grinned, almost giddy with relief.
It had been a whirlwind three months after Declan and I had finally set the date. But now the carriage house renovations were finished-well, except for the interior of the garage, but that could wait. The new sofa and chairs had been delivered the previous afternoon, so our guests wouldn't be wandering around an empty living room during the reception, which was doubling as a housewarming party. The ceremony would take place in the evening, and the weather was predicted to be on the cooler side for August in Savannah, with highs in the eighties. Add in plenty of awnings and cooling drinks, and most of the party would be in the backyard. Finally, I'd just reconfirmed the delivery of the outdoor furniture and linens from Vintage Event Rentals.
Briskly, I brushed my hands together. "Done, done, done. And Mama said I couldn't possibly get it all organized in three months. Ha! Everything's going off without a hitch."
Yip! Mungo agreed softly, then gave me a brown-eyed look of affectionate approval before settling into his club chair for his third nap of the day.
Never mind that my father had to travel from my hometown in Ohio to work with the contractors on the carriage house. Never mind that one of the bakery's customers had been murdered a month ago. Never mind that I'd come close to permanently losing the thing that was most precious to me as a result.
No, that's not true. Declan is the most precious thing to me.
Still, July had been a pretty darn bad month.
But that was over now. I rose and retied my tartan plaid chef's apron, reflecting on the last two and a half years. I'd left a broken engagement and my low-paying job at a bakery in Akron to move south and start up the Honeybee Bakery with Aunt Lucy and Uncle Ben. I'd made wonderful friends, found the man I was truly supposed to spend the rest of my life with, and had embarked on an unexpected journey of self-discovery.
Unexpected and, at first, definitely unwanted. When Lucy had calmly informed me that I was a witch, specifically a kitchen witch with an affinity for accessing the magical powers inherent in herbs and plants in cooking, just as she and my mother and all the women in our family had been, I'd laughed. My aunt had called us hedgewitches. I mean, that had to be a joke, right? She'd been dead serious, though-more than figuratively, since Mavis Templeton had just been killed and my uncle Ben was the prime murder suspect.
It had taken me a while, but eventually I'd come to realize my inherited powers explained a lot about my life growing up that I hadn't understood before. And those wonderful friends I mentioned? Four of them happened to be members of the spellbook club, a casual coven of six witches who practiced various types of magic-all on the light side, of course-and discussed spell books. Lucy and I were the other two members.
I shut the office door behind me and walked through the Honeybee's open, shining kitchen. Our part-time helper, Iris Grant, looked up from where she was mixing fresh parsley, chives, and oregano into a batch of savory muffins.
She grinned. "Katie, you look like the cat who ate the canary." Then her expressive face morphed into a frown. "Though come to think of it, I don't really like that saying. It's one of Patsy's." Patsy was Iris' stepmother, whose basement she lived in while studying graphic design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, or SCAD.
I shook my head. "I don't think I'd care for canary, but I have to admit, I'm feeling pretty self-satisfied right now. Just tied up the last loose end for Saturday."
Five days. In five days, I'll be a married woman.
I'd decided to keep Lightfoot as my last name rather than taking Declan's surname, McCarthy. Plus, Declan and I had been more or less living together for months. A part of me wondered whether our relationship would feel any different after the ceremony.
Another part was sure that it would.
"Ha! That's awesome." Iris looked down at the bowl of batter, and I saw she'd managed to plait her chin-length bob-bright royal blue these days-into two tight French braids to keep it out of the way while she worked. "Do you think I should add some thyme to this?"
I walked over and inhaled the redolent scents of the herbs that flecked the rich muffin batter. "Hmm. No, I don't think so."
"Too many notes?" she asked.
"Something like that. Oregano for joy and chives for breaking bad habits. And focus on the strengthening aspect of the parsley when you invoke its power." After all, parsley could also be triggered to help communicate with the dead, and I didn't think our customers would appreciate that side effect.
She nodded. "Okay. Maybe mix in a little Asiago cheese, though?"
"Oh, that would be lovely." She'd been coming up with more of her own recipes lately and had been learning how to include the something special Lucy and I added to the Honeybee pastries. Iris wasn't a hereditary hedgewitch as my aunt and I were, but she had a lot of innate talent and power as well as a desire to learn. We'd been teaching her how to call forth the naturally occurring magic in the herbs and spices we added to our baked goods. A sprinkle of abundance here, a dash of love there, and a dollop of happiness whenever possible. Whether they knew it or not, it was one of the reasons our customers were so loyal, and word-of-mouth had made the Honeybee such a resounding success.
Well, that and the pure deliciousness we served.
I turned toward where Aunt Lucy was returning the phone to its cradle on the wall behind the register. She met my eye with an apologetic expression.
Leaving Iris to her baking, I made my way through the shining counters and industrial ovens to the front of the Honeybee. Almost all the chrome-and-blue bistro tables were occupied, though in the middle of the afternoon most of our patrons were working away on laptops or engaged in leisurely conversation over iced drinks and crumb-scattered plates.
In the front corner, my friend Steve Dawes hunched over his computer, pecking away at what I presumed was an article for the Savannah Morning News. His honey-colored hair was pulled back in a short ponytail, and his lower lip was clamped between his teeth as he typed. He'd started coming in most afternoons, saying the office was too loud to work in. I figured he was just lonely since he and his latest girlfriend had broken up. However, Steve knew my uncle Ben wasn't all that fond of him, so I was a little surprised at the reporter's insistence on working in the bakery.
No one waited by the gleaming display case full of pastries, and the espresso maker was uncharacteristically quiet behind the coffee counter. I checked the bookshelf-lined reading area and saw Uncle Ben had settled onto the brocade sofa to catch up with one of our regulars. A few gray hairs glinted from the tidy ginger beard he'd grown after retiring as Savannah's fire chief, and the corners of his brown eyes crinkled behind his rimless glasses as he laughed at something the other man said. Behind him, Honeybee, my aunt's tabby-striped familiar who had inspired the name of the bakery, sat regally on the windowsill and watched the passersby on Broughton Street out front with typical feline disinterest.
Returning my attention to my aunt, I asked, "What's up?"
Her lips twisted ruefully. "I'm sorry, honey."
My heart sank as I connected her expression with the call that had come in while I'd been on my cell phone with the event rental company.
"Please. Tell me that wasn't bad news."
Her fingertips seemed to move of their own accord as she tucked a stray strand of gray-blond hair into the messy bun at the nape of her neck. She shoved her other hand into the pocket of her vintage linen apron. "Now, Katie. There's a solution to every problem."
"No." I shook my head. "No, no, no."
She offered a gentle smile and waited.
Finally, I sighed. "Okay, what is it?"
"Judge Matthews' father had a heart attack and is in the hospital." She held up her hand. "Don't worry. The doctors say he'll be okay, but the judge is on his way to Chicago, and he doesn't think he's going to be back in time for your wedding."
I gaped. Blinked. And wailed, "What are we going to do?"
From the corner of my eye, I saw a few customers look up. My face grew warm.
"Stop being so dramatic." Lucy's quiet voice was still kind, but the words were harsher than she was inclined toward, and she wasn't smiling. "His father is looking at a lengthy recovery. That poor man." Her forehead creased with sympathy. My aunt had one of the softest hearts I'd ever encountered.
I took a deep breath. "Of course Judge Matthews needs to be with his father now."
"That's more like the Katie I know. I'm sure we'll find a way to adjust for his absence." She suddenly grinned. "You could have a traditional Wiccan handfasting after all."
She was teasing me. I knew that, but this latest complication didn't leave me in a mood that was very receptive to teasing.
"Well." I sighed. "I guess that's what I get for feeling sanctimonious about everything going so smoothly. I should know better than to be smug."
Lucy raised her eyebrows in amused agreement.
The door opened and two men walked in. They wore Savannah Fire uniforms, and the tall, dark, and oh-so-handsome one happened to be my fiancŽ. His sky blue eyes met mine as he smiled, and he ran one hand through his wavy hair. With him was Randy Post, his coworker who was dating my friend Bianca Devereaux. I hurried to meet them at their favorite table, giving Declan a quick hug and a peck on the cheek even though he was technically on duty until the next morning.
"I have bad news," I announced.
His lips twitched. "Hello to you, too."
"I'm sorry. Hello, love of my life. I still have bad news." And I told him what I'd learned about Judge Matthews.
He sighed. "Dang it. Well, we'll figure it out. There has to be someone who can do the job on such short notice."
"You seem awfully calm." I obviously wasn't.
"I'll ask around," he said. "You do the same."
I took a deep breath. "Yeah. Okay. I'll be asking Google, though. Wedding officiants must have websites, right? Or maybe there's some kind of guild or something." It had been a no-brainer to ask Judge Matthews to marry us because he was a friend of Uncle Ben's. We hadn't considered anyone else.
Randy laughed and spoke for the first time. "I don't think there's a guild, but you never can tell. I'll pass the word, too."
"Thanks," I said. "Deck, do you have time to taste a couple more cupcake flavors? I'm thinking of adding strawberry and vanilla. Made up some samples this morning." For months I'd been unable to choose the kind of wedding cake I wanted. My mother had come up with the genius answer: five tiers of different-flavored cupcakes.
He grinned. "Well, if you insist. Randy?"
"Not my wedding, but I'm happy to sample anything Katie makes."
"Excellent," I said. "I'll get your usual drinks started and bring them out."
A few minutes later, I joined them at their table, plate of cupcakes in hand. Lucy brought their drinks over, then patted Declan on the shoulder. "This should be the last of them. Katie's running out of flavors to try."
"Never," I said.
She laughed and went back into the kitchen.
After careful tasting, which included Declan and Randy having two each of the strawberry and vanilla cupcakes, sans frosting, the verdict was that they were both delicious, but since it was our special day, perhaps we could skip the simple vanilla version.
"Vanilla is mistaken as a plain-Jane flavor, but it's really quite exotic," I said. "It comes from the seed pod of an orchid, after all."
Declan tipped his head to the side. "If you want vanilla cupcakes, too, I'm not going to stop you."
"Nah. You're right. We'll stick with the seven kinds we already have."
Randy went to select some pastries from the display case to take back to the firehouse, and I leaned toward Declan. "Everything going okay at work?"
He frowned. "Fine." The response was mildly curt, and I changed the subject.
I wasn't the only one who had a connection to the paranormal. Declan wasn't a witch, mind you, but a spirit had attached himself to my fiancŽ at the moment of his birth. Most of his life he'd been unaware of how Connell had guided him, essentially serving as a strong sense of intuition and the occasional kick in the pants. When Connell had made himself known, Declan had a hard time with it for a while but eventually came to accept that Connell was a part of him.
A few weeks before, Connell had saved me from a powerful hex, but had become disconnected from Declan in the process. I'd had my issues with Connell, who was loud and brash but also kind and protective. It wasn't until he'd vowed not to take over Declan's body at inopportune times-like in the bedroom-that we'd finally set the wedding date. Now Connell was gone. I missed him. However much Declan tended to keep those kinds of feelings to himself, I knew he missed Connell exponentially more. Worse yet, he'd had a close call during a house fire on his last shift, a dangerous situation that I firmly believed his guardian spirit would have guided him away from.