This month I thought I'd share an excerpt from my first paranormal cosy mystery Secrets, Spells & Murder. Maddie Goodcharm, who runs the Little Shop of Spells in the small town of Silver Moon Falls, has volunteered to walk dogs for the local shelter. Too bad things don't go quite as she planned.
When I saw the sign pointing the way to one of the hiking trails, I turned in that direction. I’d walked the trails many times in mild weather, switching it up to jogging in the cooler months. Once summer hit, everyone, including me, headed straight for the swimming hole at the falls.
I figured Missy and Toby would enjoy the woods as much as I did. Enjoy turned out to be a bit of an understatement. As the woods closed around us, the dogs suddenly behaved like kids on a sugar high. More than once Toby pulled so hard I almost face-planted in the dirt.
Bringing him under control was hard work. As Karen had warned me, he was very strong. Several pulled muscles later—mine, not his—he decided that walking to heel might be a nice change. That lasted until he spied a squirrel. They locked eyes for a second before the squirrel scampered away. Toby darted after it. His leash got tangled with Missy’s, who ran between my ankles, tripping me. I fell, losing my grip on both leads as I went down.
In the seconds it took to scramble to my feet, both dogs had disappeared. Which way had they gone? I did a three-sixty, scanning the woods in all directions, but all I saw were trees and birds and some flying insects. There was no sign of the dogs. I groaned, preparing for a lengthy search. As I set off in the direction the squirrel had taken, I heard barking. I ran, following the sound until I found Toby jumping around the trunk of a tree. On the branch above sat the squirrel. It looked down on Toby as though it was teasing him on purpose. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was smiling. I hurried over and snatched up Toby’s lead.
“Okay, buddy, fun’s over.” I dragged him away from the tree. “Let’s go find Missy.” We went back down the trail. From time to time we detoured through the woods searching for the cocker spaniel, but there was no sign of her. “Come on, Missy,” I called. “Time to get going.” When there was still no response, I yelled louder, “Be a good girl, Missy, come on. Toby’s waiting for you.”
I really didn’t want to lose a dog on my first walk. That would be too embarrassing. Then I had a worse thought. How safe would it be for a tame animal to be out in the woods? I thought of Grammy’s menagerie. What if Missy encountered a cougar? I had to find her now.
“Missy,” I screamed. “Miiiisseee.”
Suddenly Toby started barking and pulling me back down the trail that led to the falls. “No, Toby. We’re not going that way.” I struggled to control the strong animal, planting my feet and refusing to budge. Toby was equally stubborn, barking, refusing to move. We stood there in a kind of stalemate until an answering bark came from the direction of the falls. “Okay, Toby, my mistake. Let’s go find Missy.” Toby raced down the track, and I raced after him. The sound of the falls became louder.
Silver Moon Falls is neither the highest nor the largest in the state, but it is the prettiest. The water cascades like a string of diamonds into a pool twenty feet below. The pool, a popular swimming place in summer, is surrounded by rocks—some flat, others sharp and dangerous. Decades ago there was an accident when Mitchell Jones slipped near the top of the falls and fell onto the rocks below. After he recovered, he campaigned to have a guardrail installed at the top of the falls and signage pointing out the danger. I hoped Missy hadn’t strayed too close to the edge and suffered the same fate as Mitchell.
Toby dragged me around a bend in the track. Ahead of us the stream that fed the falls frothed and eddied toward the cliff where it plunged into the pool below. Toby barked and ducked under the guardrail. “Oh no you don’t.” I pulled him back to safety. Then the two of us moved along the guardrail to a place where I could see the pool below. Missy was down there, tail wagging happily as she nuzzled what appeared to be a pile of old clothes.
“Missy, come on. Time to go,” I called out to her several times, while Toby pulled on his led eager to join her and play.
Finally, I had to admit she wasn’t coming up on her own. Keeping a tight hold on Toby’s leash, I headed for the steps that led from the trail to the pool below. The spray from the falls made each step slick and dangerous. I clung to the railing all the way down heaving a sigh of relief when Toby and I safely reached the bottom.
Missy was still intent on that pile of clothes. Honestly, what were clothes doing out here anyway? Had someone gone for an early morning dip? I scanned the water, but no one was in the pool. Had someone chosen this beautiful place to dump their trash? No. I knew what the clothes meant. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. But as I moved closer and saw the untidy tangle of hair that wasn’t a discarded wig and the hand that didn’t belong to a store mannequin, I couldn’t pretend any longer. Someone had fallen from the top of the falls and landed on the rocks below. Did she jump or was she pushed?
Secrets, Spells & Murder is now available.
iBooks coming soon
The second book in the Little Shop of Spells mystery series, Magic, Markets & Murder, is coming in 2018.
Janni Nell is the author of fun paranormal mysteries. Before she became a writer, she worked as a personal assistant, receptionist and sales clerk. Now she is happy to spend every day creating stories. When she isn’t writing, you can find her at dance class, Pilates or walking the dog. She is hard at work on her next book.