<DIV><B>Chapter One</B></DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>“Twenty more minutes, Hector,” I say, “and I’m free of this hellcrater.” Hector, whose tawny eyes flared open when I spoke, now only flashes his needlelike teeth at me as he yawns. He blinks once, then curls back into sleep, his tail covering his front paws. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV><I>Hellcrater </I>is not exactly a fair description, I concede as I look around my grandmother’s bookstore, making sure nothing is out of order. But <I>hellcrater </I>has become my favorite word lately. <I>I have to go to the hellcrater, </I>I like to say to my roommate, Agatha, whenever I’m summoned home for a holiday or for the weekend. Agatha always gives me a blank look in response. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>“I think it must have been so awesome to have grown up in a commune,” she ventured once. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>I didn’t bother explaining how it’s not really a commune. I can kind of see how it might sound like one from the edited descriptions I’ve given her. A big rambling stone farmhouse in upstate New York, with a revolving door of cousins and aunts and uncles and the adjoining barn and fields and gardens, which fuel the family business, Greene’s Herbal Supplies. All presided over by my mother and grandmother in their long, colorful skirts and shawls and strings of beads. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>“I mean, I grew up Pine Park, Illinois, Tamsin. Come home with me sometime and you’ll see a hellcrater. And by the way, that’s not even a word.” </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>“I’d love to,” I answered eagerly at the time. And I meant it. I would love to see what it’s like to be part of a real, normal American household. Where your mother and grandmother aren’t reading tea leaves and entrails every other second. Or making strong-smelling brews from the garden herbs for dozens of village girls and women. They come after dark, rapping timidly on the back door, begging for something to slip into some man’s coffee or beer when he isn’t looking. The women’s eyes fill with grateful tears, those same eyes that’ll skitter away from meeting yours if you cross paths in town during daylight. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>In a real, normal household people celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas or Hanukkah. Halloween is for the kids to dress up in costumes. It’s not a holiday when your whole family gathers in the deep woods behind your house and builds a bonfire and burns sweet herbs on the altar built to the four elements. Not a holiday when your whole family dances until the first fingernail of dawn scrapes at the hills and finally you can stumble home, bare legs scratched and bruised, hands and feet freezing, sick from Uncle Chester’s homemade wine. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>“Hellcrater,” I say again now with feeling, as sheets of rain splatter against the oversize windows. At least there’s only one more week until I can take the train back to Grand Central. I yawn, stretch my fingers to the polished tin ceiling. The bell over the door chimes three notes softly and I drop my arms midstretch, startled. I’m not the only one. Hector leaps off the counter, lands with a disgruntled meow, and disappears between two stacks of poetry books that I just remembered I was supposed to re-price and shelve in the half-off section. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>But instead, I glance at the man who has just entered. He’s tall, and since I’m tall myself, this is saying something. Tall and thin and muffled up in a dark overcoat that seems to overlap his frame. He politely folds his umbrella and puts it into the copper planter that serves as a stand by the door. His eyes find mine across the room. “Sorry,” he says, and his voice is a nervous wisp almost blown away by the wind. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>The door swings shut, sealing us in. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>“For what?” I ask lightly. “You haven’t even met me yet.” In my mind, I can hear Agatha groan. She despairs of me and my obvious one-liners. </DIV><P></P><DIV>He indicates the area around his feet. Puddles are spreading across the hardwood floor, trickling from the wet hem of his raincoat and sleeves. </DIV><P></P><P></P><DIV>“Oh,” I say. And then all my wit deserts me. “I . . . have a mop,” I finish brilliantly. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>He nods, shakes his coat a little, then looks abashed as more rainwater drips onto the floor. “Are you about to close?” </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>His accent is faint but familiar, and I try to puzzle it out. “No,” I lie gamely, because after all he is a customer and I’ve made somewhere around twenty-two dollars in sales today. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>I move behind the cash register and begin to straighten the stack of ledgers there, pretending not to watch the man as he drifts past the new fiction display. When he moves a little closer to the occult and arcane section, I feel the familiar prick of resignation. So he’s one of those. An out-oftowner, definitely, who thinks that magic can be found in a book. I sigh. <I>Believe me, </I>I want to shout at him, <I>if magic could be found in a book, I would have found it long ago</I>. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>I fiddle with the cash register tape, then look up again, expecting to see the man fully immersed in Starling Ravenwood’s latest book, <I>Spells for Living a Life of Good Fortune, </I>our current bestseller. But he is nowhere to be seen. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>I crane my neck, balance on one foot. Suddenly, he materializes from between the poetry shelves and makes his way toward me while holding up a slim bronze-colored book. Inexplicably, I find myself taking a step backward. My elbow grazes the coffeemaker that I insisted my grandmother buy if I was going to work in the store all summer. The pot gives a hiss, its oily contents sloshing a little as I jerk my arm forward. “Ouch.” </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>The man doesn’t seem to notice. Up close, I see the glints of gold stubble on his chin and that his thick, rainsoaked hair is dark blond. His stylish black-framed glasses reflect the light back at me but don’t allow me to see the color of his eyes. I put his age at about thirty. He’s not conventionally good looking, but there is something about him, something that makes me look away, then look back again. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Do you have any more like this?” he asks, and the origin of his accent niggles at me again. The clipped syllables, the perfect enunciation. English, I decide. That definitely adds to the attraction factor. Agatha, for one, goes crazy for accents. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>I flip open the cover, flick through the pages. “This is one I haven’t read,” I say, surprised because I’ve read most everything in the store. At least everything worth reading. The book seems to be a photo montage of my town’s origins. Pencil sketches and ink drawings of early mansions give way to glossy photos of autumn foliage, the town square, the waterfalls, and the cemetery. Underneath each photo is a brief paragraph or two of text explaining the history. “Interesting,” I say with a noncommittal smile, handing it back to him. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>He adjusts his glasses on the bridge of his nose and says, “<I>Interesting </I>is one of the most banal words in the English language. What does it mean, really?” </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>My smile freezes in place. “It means I don’t have anything better to say so <I>interesting </I>comes in handy.” </DIV><P></P><P></P><DIV>He shakes his head once. “Somehow I don’t think you’re the kind of person who would find herself in a situation where she has nothing better to say.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>The coffeepot hisses again, and casually I rub my hand across the back of my neck to stop a chill from spreading there. Out of nowhere, Hector leaps up onto the counter again, arching his back and butting his head fiercely against the book the man is holding. The man appears startled for one second, and then suddenly lines curve around his mouth, creating these not-quite-dimples. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Hector sees all books as rivals for people’s attention.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Bad place for him to live, then,” the man comments. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“He exacts his revenge in subtle ways. Will this be all?” I ask, pointing to the book. In a flash, Hector bats at the silver bangles on my wrist and hooks a claw into my skin. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Ow!” I say, snatching my hand back. “See what I mean about revenge,” I mutter, glaring at the three beads of blood that have welled up on my pale skin. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Allow me,” the man says, and swiftly, so swiftly that I don’t have time to react, he pulls a blue handkerchief out of his raincoat pocket and presses it to my wrist. His tongue flickers at the corner of his mouth. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>I yank my hand back, a smile wobbling across my face. “Who owns a handkerchief these days?” My voice sounds shaky—pinched, even. I examine the corner of the cloth, which is embroidered with the letters <I>AEK</I>. </DIV><P></P><DIV>He shrugs and looks embarrassed, and it disappears back into his coat pocket. “Yes, it’s not a very American habit, I’m gathering.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“So you <I>are </I>English,” I conclude. </DIV><P></P><DIV>He looks briefly pained. “Scottish,” he says. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Sorry,” I mock-whisper. “Bad mistake. Mortal enemies and all, right?” I bring my wrist to my mouth, pressing my lips to the flaps of torn skin. He stares at me and I drop my hand, embarrassed. “On vacation here?” I ask, filling in the gap of silence. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“No. I’m at NYU.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“You’re a student there?” I ask. </DIV><P></P><DIV>A fine stain of color washes over his cheeks. “I’m a <I>professor </I>there.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“You <I>are?</I>” I say, realizing belatedly how rude that sounds. “I mean . . . you are.” I nod. “Sure. Sorry, you just look so young.” Now <I>I’m </I>the one who’s blushing. I can feel it across my cheeks and forehead. Even my nose feels hot. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“First year,” he says, then adds with a slight smile, “I guess I’ll grow into it.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“What do you teach?” I ask. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Art history. Are you a college student?” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Not yet,” I say. “I go to New Hyde Prep.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>He gives me a blank look. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“It’s a boarding school in the city. On the Upper East Side. I’m just home in Hedgerow for the summer.” I push a stack of cardboard bookmarks closer to the register, aligning their edges perfectly. “NYU is one of my top picks. So if I get in, maybe I’ll end up in your class next year.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“That would be lovely,” he says. Then he looks up and smiles briefly, almost wickedly, at me. “As long as you promise to not use the word <I>interesting </I>in any discussions.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“I wouldn’t dare,” I say. I consider letting my lashes sweep down. I’ve been bored all summer and in need of a little flirting practice. The small town of Hedgerow, while big on rustic charm, doesn’t carry much in the way of male diversion. Even if I weren’t a member of the town’s most infamous family, the options are limited. </DIV><P></P><DIV>But the moment passes, so I take the book from him once more and check the flap for the price that my grandmother has penciled in with her looping scrawl. “Seven dollars,” I say, taking the twenty from his outstretched fingers. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>He accepts the change that I hand him, not even checking it before he puts it away in his wallet. And all the while he wears a faint look of unease. He takes off his glasses, massages the bridge of his nose, and looks up at me, and I decide that his eyes are a toss-up between blue and gray. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“There’s something else I’m looking for,” he blurts out suddenly. “Not a book, though.” He glances at the door, as if thinking about changing his mind and escaping into the rain. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>I shift on my feet, pressing Hector’s ears lightly against his head the way he likes. “What is it, then?” Somehow I’m not surprised we’ve arrived at this. Most out-of-towners come to this part eventually. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“An old family heirloom. A clock. It was in my family for generations and then we . . . lost it.” He settles his glasses back onto his face. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Lost it?” </DIV><P></P><DIV>He waves his hand, the light catching on the steel band of his watch. Hector’s eyes widen, and I put a restraining hand on the cat’s neck until he settles down into a doze again. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>“In a card game or a wager or something to that effect in the late eighteen hundreds in New York City. Gamblers in the family, I’m afraid.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“And how can I help?” I ask and wait for him to meet my eyes, which he does with what seems like reluctance. Glacial blue, I decide finally. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“It’s just that . . . well . . . I had heard that . . . that this place . . .” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“‘This place’?” I repeat. As I slip the book into a bag, I trace one finger over the greene’s lost and found, new and used books logo. I can’t help but feel a little like Hector with a mouse caught between his paws. </DIV><P></P><DIV>He flushes again. “I had heard that this place specializes in that sort of thing. Finding things, that is. Lost things.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Very rarely is something lost forever,” I say enigmatically because that’s what my grandmother always says to potential clients. Then I grow tired of this game and a little tired of myself. The poor guy traveled all the way from New York City on a rainy night to find something, doubtlessly something of no value except sentimental, and the last thing he needs is to be toyed with by a seventeen-yearold girl with a chip on her shoulder regarding her family’s special Talents. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>Since Agatha took Intro to Psychology last year, I’ve been prodded into becoming more self-aware. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Okay, look . . . you’ve come to the right place, Professor, but—” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Callum,” he interjects. “Alistair Callum. And you’re Miss Greene, of course?” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Yes. T—” </DIV><P></P><DIV>But words are tumbling out of him now. “Frankly, I was a little doubtful that a place like . . . like this existed. I mean, how fascinating. I want to . . . I just want to say . . . what a brilliant thing this is that you do, Miss Greene.” </DIV><P></P><DIV><I>I’m not the person you want. </I>I know I need to tell him that. But it’s so rare that anyone looks at me the way Alistair is looking at me now. With admiration and awe. I feel all at once a brightening and a dimming in my head as if someone flipped on a light switch and then just as quickly slammed it off again. Suddenly, I want to be back in my dorm room bed, skimming passages from a book propped open on my chest before giving up on my homework and ambling down to the student lounge to watch TV with anyone who happens to be there. Normal people. People who have no idea about my family’s Talents. People who don’t look at me sidelong with wonder or unease or fear or any combination of the three. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>And yet Alistair is looking at me hopefully, his hands tightening on the counter as he leans toward me. I picture myself saying the right thing, the thing I am supposed to say should a customer ask for help beyond where to find the latest Pat Griffith mystery. <I>My grandmother is the one you need to talk to. She’ll be in tomorrow. I’m just watching the store and I’m not the one. Not the one you need. </I></DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>Instead, I hear myself saying, “I can help you.” And then I pause. <I>Fix it, fix it now, </I>a tiny voice screams at me.“This is my grandmother’s store.” <I>That’s right, that’s right, backpedal. </I>I take a breath, stomp on the voice, grind it into silence. “But I do this kind of work with her all the time.” My words are steady and surprisingly assured. Hector stops purring and opens his eyes, giving me a long yellow stare. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“I heard about your family in an antique shop—” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“That answers my next question. Which one was—” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Go see Mrs. Greene, they told me. Or her granddaughter Rowena. Rowena Greene will be the one you want.” And then he smiles again, but this time it’s an odd half smile, and he adds softly, “The words I had waited so long to hear. <I>Rowena Greene.</I>” </DIV><P></P><DIV>My throat has just gone dry, a kind of wandering-inthe- desert-for-a-week-without-water dry. We have a bunch of weird names in our family. Even so, I hate mine especially. <I>Tamsin. </I>It sounds so . . . hard and unmusical. Unlike <I>Rowena, </I>which ripples off the tongue, <I>Tamsin </I>falls with a splat. I asked my grandmother repeatedly when I was little why she had saddled me with such a name, but she only smiled and said it was a story best saved for another time. </DIV><P></P><DIV>Now I swallow and try to say, “Um, actually my—” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“And when I walked in the door tonight, I just had this feeling that it’s you I’m supposed to talk to.” He tucks the bag away into an inner pocket of his coat. “You’ll likely think I’m mad. Maybe I <I>am </I>mad.” He pinches the bridge of his nose briefly with two fingers. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“I don’t think you’re mad,” I say after a moment, when it appears that he’s finished speaking. It seems to be my new job to reassure him. I’ve seen my grandmother put nervous clients at ease in no time. “I’m flattered, really,” I say truthfully and stop myself from adding, <I>You have no idea how flattered</I>. No one has ever, <I>ever </I>mistaken me for my extremely Talented older sister before. </DIV><P></P><DIV>He leans across the counter, seizes my hand, and pumps it up and down a few times. Hector utters an offended meow and edges away from our clasped, flailing hands, but Alistair doesn’t seem to notice. “I’m so delighted to hear this. I just have this feeling that you really will be able to help me.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>I swallow, refrain from pointing out that he’s pressing on my injured wrist. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Listen, Dr. Callum—” </DIV><P></P><P></P><DIV>“Alistair,” he insists. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Alistair,” I repeat after him. “I need to tell you . . .” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Yes?” he prompts, and when I don’t answer right away, his shoulders twitch a little and his hand, suddenly limp, falls away from mine. I can’t bear his disappointment. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Um . . . I wanted to say that I can’t promise anything.” <I>Actually, I </I>can <I>promise you that I most likely won’t be able to get the job done</I>. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>Maybe I should have phrased it the way my grandmother does when confronted with a particularly pushy customer or an exceptionally hard case. <I>What wants to be found will come to light. I will not rest until I have shone this light into all corners and chased away all shadows. </I></DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>Not that she’s said much of anything lately. This summer when I came home from school, I found her spending most of her time sitting quietly in the garden or in her room, a dreaming haze spreading over her face and stilling her hands. Nobody else will admit it. At least not openly. Instead, my mother told me that I’d be working in the bookstore most of the summer while Rowena stayed at home and helped with everything else. “Everything else” being the business of living as witches in a world that doesn’t really know they exist. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“No, no. Of course, of course,” Alistair is saying, and I focus on him again. “I completely understand. Whatever you can do.” He backs up toward the door and reaches for his umbrella without taking his eyes off me, as if he’s afraid I’m about to start chopping up bats’ wings and muttering incantations. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Wait. Don’t you want to tell me more about it? What it is I’m supposed to be looking for?” </DIV><P></P><DIV>He stops and closes his eyes briefly, and the corners of his mouth tug upward into a small smile. “Yes, of course. But . . .” He glances at his watch. “I have a train to catch in just a few minutes. Can we make an appointment to talk in my office when the semester starts?” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Sure,” I say, struggling to keep relief from spilling into my voice. I know how it is with these people. Once he’s back in his office and school starts, this night will start to seem more and more unreal as the pieces of it slip away. Soon enough he’ll begin to wonder if he even had this conversation with a girl on a dark evening full of rain. Maybe it will become a story he’ll tell someone someday—that he once tried to engage the services of a witch to find something that was destined to stay lost anyway. “I’ll look you up. NYU, right?” </DIV><P></P><DIV>He fumbles in his coat pocket for a minute, an expression of alarm crossing his face. “I had a card in here somewhere. Just had them made.” He pats his pockets with increasingly violent motions. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Don’t worry about it,” I offer finally with a wide smile. “I’ll find you. I mean, if I can’t, you probably really don’t want to hire me for the job anyway, right?” </DIV><P></P><P></P><DIV>He looks startled and then he laughs, flashing those almost-but-not-quite-dimples again. “True. And . . . well, whatever you want, whatever’s your usual price?” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“My usual?” How does my grandmother handle this part? She’s so effortless about everything. “Um . . . we’ll discuss it when I have a better idea of the job,” I say in my most official tone. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>This seems to satisfy him, because he nods and finally disappears into the thick-falling rain. I flip the closed sign outward, turn the large brass key in the lock, and drift back to the cash register. I feel as if there’s something I’ve forgotten to do, so I look around the store, my eyes skipping over the stacks of poetry books I have yet to re-price. All of a sudden, the last of the pleasure that I felt at Alistair’s assumption, his assurance in me, drains away, leaving me flat. I wish I could tell Agatha this story, but somehow I don’t think it would survive the heavy editing it would have to go through. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>The phone jangles sharply. I give the instrument a malevolent look as it shrills and shrills and shrills. I don’t need any of my family’s Talent to know who it is. Finally I pick it up. “Greene’s Lost and Found, New and Used Books, may I help you?” I singsong into the receiver. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Tam,” Rowena says, and her voice is all business. “We need you to pick up three gallons of vanilla ice cream at McSweeny’s. The ice cream churn broke.” </DIV><P></P><DIV> I roll my eyes. “Can’t Uncle Chester fix it?” Uncle Chester can fix anything that’s broken. Appliances, glass, china, bones. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“He tried. Now part of the handle is attached to Aunt Minna’s hip.” There’s a short, exasperated sigh. “He’s drunk,” Rowena adds unnecessarily. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Already?” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Just close early and pick it up, would you?” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Maybe I have customers,” I say grandly. I sweep my arms out to the empty store. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“You don’t have customers.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>Talented as she is, my sister can see only what’s in front of her, so I lie with perfect ease. “I do, actually.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Who?” she demands. “Besides, it can’t be anyone important. At least no one <I>you </I>could help,” she adds. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>I am silent. I touch the tip of my finger to Hector’s nose. He opens his eyes and we stare at each other. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>“I’ll bring the ice cream,” I say woodenly. “Just as soon as I close up here.” <I>Yeah, right. </DIV><P></P><DIV></I>“Tam,” my sister says, and if possible she sounds even more annoyed than before. “I didn’t mean—” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“You did,” I say, my voice cheerful again. “Anything else?” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Remember that Aunt Lydia and Gabriel will be here tonight.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>I make a circling motion in the air with one finger. “Great.” But inwardly I stifle a pang. <I>Gabriel. </I></DIV><P></P><DIV>“Aren’t you excited?” she demands. “I mean, we haven’t seen them in years.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>Aunt Lydia is not even our aunt, but she’s part of the loose network that has formed around my family over the years, and since we call all older women “aunt” and all older men “uncle,” it just slops into one big happy family. Or something like that. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>Gabriel is her son. He also used to be my best friend when we were kids. Then he developed his Talent of being able to locate anything: keys, wallets, books, jewelry, any number of things that get put in one place and become lost almost instantly. People, too. At that point, Rowena and our cousin Gwyneth decreed that he could no longer play hide-and-seek with us. In protest, I stopped playing the game, too. </DIV><DIV> </DIV><DIV>They moved when he was ten and I was just about to turn eight. Aunt Lydia had agreed to move across the country to California, probably to save her marriage to this Talentless guy, Uncle Phil. This caused some serious heat with my mother and grandmother because they’d like nothing better than for everyone in our family, even our “extended family,” to stay in one place. Apparently, the move didn’t work out. And now tonight Aunt Lydia and Gabriel are scheduled to make an appearance, where they will presumably be welcomed back into the proverbial fold. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“Great,” I repeat. I rub Hector’s head and he closes his eyes, arches a little into my open hand. From the other end of the line I hear someone start singing. It sounds like Uncle Chester, his rich baritone cracking and wavering in places. </DIV><P></P><DIV>“I have to go,” Rowena says firmly as if I’ve been yammering on and on. “Don’t forget the ice cream.” </DIV><P></P><DIV>“The what?” I say, but she has already clicked the phone down and so my last little dig is wasted on her.</DIV> <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Once a Witch</b> by <b>Carolyn MacCullough</b> Copyright © 2009 by Carolyn MacCullough. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.