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“WATCH OUT, CASSIDY!” Teag’s warning was a heartbeat too late. The dark wraith screeched in fury and his clawed hand raked across my shoulder, opening four bloody cuts. I ducked out of reach and flung up my left hand with its protective bracelet. The ghostly figure of a large, angry dog appeared by my side, teeth bared, snarling at the wraith.

The ghost dog sprang at the wraith, striking it square on, driving it back so I could get out of the way. It wasn’t the first time a soul-sucking creature of death showed up in the break room of my store, but it also wasn’t something I had planned on when I opened the velvet jewelry box.

“Cover me!” I shouted to Teag, trying to figure out how fast I could get to a weapon that I could use against the billowing, monstrous shape.

“Go!” Teag said to me. He turned to the wraith with a wicked grin and snatched down a fishing net made of clothesline rope from a hook on the wall. “See how you like this!” he yelled, throwing the net over the wraith.

Normal rope would have gone right through the wraith’s dark form. Wraiths are like that – solid when they want to be, insubstantial when you want to hit them. But the magic woven into the net meant it stuck, catching the wraith in a web of power. It wouldn’t hold forever, but it could buy us precious seconds, and that delay might be the difference between life and death.

If I’d expected a fight to the death, I would have made sure my weapons were closer. I had to dive for the door to my office and grab my athame from atop my desk. The athame focused my magic, and I opened myself to the powerful memories and emotions that I connected with it, drawing strength. The wraith surged forward, straining at the energy of the rope net that glowed like silver. The ghost dog harried the wraith, snapping at its heels, keeping it occupied.

I swung back into the room and leveled the athame at the wraith, channeling my magic. A cone of blinding white light surged from the athame, and when the cold power struck the wraith, it shrieked and twisted, forced back toward the wall. It looked as if the white light was burning through the wraith, like fire on paper, and with one last ear-piercing scream, the deadly apparition vanished.

The ghost dog looked back at me, wagged its tail, and winked out. I slumped back against the wall, feeling suddenly drained. Magic takes energy, and I was still pretty new at learning to channel mine for big stuff, like fighting off monsters. Then again, with the amount of practice we’d been getting lately, I figured I’d be up to speed in no time.

“Nice net,” I said, managing a grin.

Teag returned a tired smile. “Good shooting.” His expression grew serious. “You’re bleeding.”

I sighed and sat down in one of the chairs at the small table, eying the overturned jewelry box mistrustfully. For now, at least, the box seemed harmless. “I didn’t move fast enough,” I said.

“You weren’t expecting an attack,” Teag replied.

“I’m beginning to think I should always expect an attack, and be pleasantly surprised when an antique is just an antique, instead of a demon portal to the realms of the dead.” The wraith’s claws must have taken a swipe at my energy as well as my shoulder, and I hoped that didn’t include shreds of my soul as well.

Teag retrieved the souped-up first aid kit we keep in one of the cupboards. Unfortunately, we need it a lot. It’s not your average office supply store kit. It’s got surgical needles and sutures, sterile bandages, prescription painkillers and antibiotics, plus healing herbs and potions supplied by our friendly neighborhood Voodoo mambo and root workers.

Then again, Trifles and Folly wasn’t your average antique store, and Teag and I had a few extra abilities they don’t teach in business school.

I’m Cassidy Kincaide, the current owner of Trifles and Folly, an antique and curio store in beautiful, historic, haunted Charleston, South Carolina. The store has been in my family almost since Charleston was founded, close to three hundred and fifty years ago, and we have a big secret to go with that success. We do much more than sell interesting, expensive, old stuff. Our real job is getting dangerous magical items off the market and out of the wrong hands. When we succeed, nobody notices. When we fail, lots of people die.

I inherited Trifles and Folly from my Uncle Evan. Teag is my assistant store manager, best friend and occasional bodyguard, and Sorren is my silent partner – a nearly six-hundred-year-old vampire who is part of a secret collaboration of mortals and immortals called the Alliance, dedicated to getting rid of items with dark magic before they can hurt anyone. The antiques that don’t have any magical juice, Trifles and Folly resells. Those that are just unsettling but not dangerous, we neutralize so that they won’t cause a problem. Items that are magically malicious or so tainted with bad emotions that they will hurt people, we lock up or destroy.

I shrugged out of the shoulder of my shirt and winced as Teag cleaned the deep scratches. “Do you think it’ll come back?” Teag asked as he daubed carefully at the damage the wraith had done.

I sighed. “No way to tell until we know more about what it was and why it came in the first place. And that means taking a look at what’s in that jewelry box.”

Magic runs in my family, and the person chosen to run Trifles and Folly needs all the magic he or she can summon, because we keep Charleston – and the world – safe from things that go bump in the night. My magic is psychometry, the ability to read the history of an object by touching it. Not every object, thank goodness, just those that have been touched by strong emotion or powerful energy. Heartfelt emotion is one of the strongest sources of power. That’s why a tattered old dog collar is my protective bracelet – summoning the ghost of my golden retriever, Bo – and my grandmother’s mixing spoon is my athame, used handle-side out. Both items have a strong emotional connection for me, and in both cases, the protection of the beings associated with the items resonates enough to fend off some seriously nasty creatures.

The salve Teag smoothed on my cuts included plantain, comfrey, and rose to prevent infection and slow the bleeding. The herbs had been mixed by Mrs. Teller, a powerful root worker, so they carried a supernatural level of healing and protection. Teag covered the scratches with gauze and then pulled out a small woven patch of cloth imbued with his magic, which he taped down over the gauze to keep it in place. Teag is a Weaver, someone who can send energy and intent into woven and knotted fabric. He’s also able to weave together strands of information that would elude a regular person, making him an awesome researcher and an amazing hacker.

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