A Wrinkle in Time by M L Briers

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

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Charlie tossed the basket full of bed linen down on the side, blew her hair upwards from her face, and dropped her backside onto the nearest stool with a huff of annoyance. Clarice looked up from the reception book that was open on the table in front of her and shot the younger witch a curious look. “Something you want to share, dear?” she asked.

“The new check-ins in room twelve, I just had to change their fresh bed linen because there was the tiniest mark on the sheet,” she said.

Stephanie tossed a look back over her shoulder and shrugged. “Why would you do that?”

“Do what?” Charlie asked, confused. Summer was finally in full swing, and it was hotter than Satan’s armpit. The last thing she’d needed was a double bed change.

“Change their sheets,” Clarice said, picking up from where Stephanie had left off.

Charlie scowled. “Because they complained that there was a mark on the sheet,” she said, looking between the two women who liked to keep their distance from each other, even in the same room. Their relationship had become an uneasy alliance, and kind of like Switzerland, she was trying to stay neutral. “Was my volume turned down?”

“They were clean sheets, right?” Stephanie asked.

“Changed the bed myself after the last guests left, and by the way, the last guests boiled noodles in the kettle,” she said and blew her hair from her eyes, that time out of habit rather than necessity.

“Did you tell them they were clean sheets?” Clarice asked.

“Of course,” Charlie said with a slight shrug. “But there was this tiny mark, so what could I do?”

“Point them in the direction of the guesthouse down the beach,” Stephanie said.

“Too right,” Clarice said with a firm nod.

Charlie looked from one woman to the other. “Isn’t the customer always right?”

“No!” Both women said together.

Charlie huffed and placed her elbows on the counter. Then she rested her chin in her upturned hands and groaned. “I don’t understand.”

“The linen was clean, the bed was made, the guests can like it or lump it,” Clarice informed her.

“Exactly,” Stephanie said and snorted a chuckle. “Why would you put up with rudeness?”

“This is the hospitality industry, isn’t it?” Charlie said. “I was being hospitable.”

“You were being a doormat for guests that think the world revolves around them,” Clarice said. “Back before all these newfound internet things, bed and breakfast meant just that – you turned up after five, you went out to eat, you came back to sleep, got up in the morning for breakfast at seven-thirty to eight-thirty, and you left for the day. Rinse and repeat for your stay. Now people think we’re all five-star hotels where they can come and go as they please and demand things – pah!”

“I wouldn’t have changed the bed,” Stephanie said. “Marks happen; we don’t wear hazmat suits when we change a bed.”

“I was being nice,” Charlie said.

“Did they thank you for it?” Clarice asked.

Charlie frowned. “No.”

“Did they tip you?” Clarice asked.

“No,” Charlie said with a snort of a chuckle. “They scolded me for the ‘dirty sheets’ on my way out the door.”

“Doormat,” Clarice said.

“Rude is what it is,” Stephanie said. “What room did you say?”

“Twelve,” Charlie said and caught the flicker of a wicked smile on her friend’s lips. “Oh, no, Steph, leave them be.”

“Nah, don’t think I will,” she said.

“What’s the point in magic if you don’t use it,” Clarice said with her nose back in the book.

“Okay, grudge twins, I think I learned my lesson,” Charlie said, suddenly feeling sorry for the guests.

“But, have they?” Stephanie said with a slight shrug as she headed for the kitchen door. “I don’t think so,” she added on a sing-song tone as she breezed out into the hallway.

“Here there be monsters,” Charlie said and shook her head. It was just after six at night, and she was bone tired and ready for bed. She didn’t think the bed and breakfast life was for her.

“It’s a pity awkward guests don’t think of the consequences of miffing off a witch host,” Clarice said.

“But, they don’t know we’re witches, Clarice,” Charlie reasoned.

“Well, then they should treat everyone a little nicer because the world is full of witches, and they never know when they might run into one,” she replied. “Now, go and shower and head out to the bar for a nice dinner before you run out of the will to live.”  

Charlie liked the idea of that, all except the amount of energy it would take to walk to her room, shower, change and drive to the bar, and then, of course, she needed the energy to lift her knife and fork and to chew. But Clarice was right; some guests did make you lose the will to live.

She didn’t want to be a doormat either, but she hadn’t wanted to let anyone down. Now she knew Stephanie and Clarice’s take on guest policy; she wouldn’t be that easy a mark again.

 

 

~

 

Charlie dropped her forehead against the steering wheel and let out a whine. Life wasn’t playing ball and going her way at the moment. She’d done as Clarice had suggested and showered, changed, and decided to drive to the bar for dinner, but now Stephanie’s car had died on the side of the road, and she just wanted to curl up and go to sleep in the backseat.

If she wished for one thing right now, it would be that Stephanie got around to hiring more staff and stopped dragging her heels.

The blast of a vehicle’s horn made her snap up in her seat, and she turned to offer a death glare to the fancy pickup truck that pulled ahead of her into the space her car hadn’t managed to drag its sorry backside into. “Tourists,” she grumbled and dropped her head forward as she drew in a breath and the strength she needed to deal with another problem.

When the door to the pickup opened, a man-mountain climbed out, and Charlie’s interest piqued. He was tall, built like a brick outhouse, with messy shoulder-length hair, and the whole workman’s thing going on; he didn’t look like a tourist. When he scanned the area before turning his attention on her, he looked as if he was scoping the place for danger.

Now what kind of a normal person does that?

Shifter or vampire, but he didn’t carry himself like a vampire as he strolled towards her car, and he had the tunnel vision gaze of a predator that was locked and loaded on her.

“Ah, poop,” she muttered, careful not to speak too loudly because wolves had big ears. As far as she was aware, the only wolf pack in the area was Cameron’s, so where did this guy come from?

Declan saw the pretty lady at the side of the road, and he knew tourists could be a giant pain in the backside, but she was alone, and his damn protection gene had kicked in. In the city, she would be somebody else’s problem, but in rural areas with no phone signal, he couldn’t just drive by and leave her to it.

It was hotter than hell, and her window was down, so when he got to her door, he bent down and looked in. “Need help?” he asked and got an eyeful of annoyed resentment back in return.

“Wolf,” Charlie said, laying her cards on the table right from the start. She was sure that Cameron had warned his pack about her by now, and if not the alpha, then Max was sure to have done it.

Declan was blindsided. It had been a long time since someone called him out on his true nature, and the last person to have done that was a … “Witch,” he replied, and a grin broke on his face that made Charlie nervous. Maybe her reputation hadn’t proceeded her to the whole pack yet.

“Why the smile?” Charlie asked, confused.

“I’m happy to meet my brother’s new mate,” he said and held out one large hand for her to shake.

Charlie stared at his hand like it was a swamp thing. “Yuck, dream on,” she rushed out. “And keep your paws to yourself.”

Declan’s smile died on his lips, and he yanked his hand back and absently rubbed his palm against his hip to clean off any dirt that she’d taken offence to. “Sorry, I didn’t know you had problems…”

“Problems?”

“With germs,” he said and shrugged.

“What germs?”

“My germs.”

“You have germs?” Charlie asked, still confused and getting more so by the minute.

“We all have germs, Princess,” he said and chuckled.

Charlie’s mouth moved as she tried to figure out what the hell this guy was talking about, but when she couldn’t find the words, she just groaned.

“Pop the hood,” he said, and she strained her neck forward and looked at him like he was talking Klingon. “The engine, so I can take a look at your…”

“I don’t need you to take a look at anything of mine, thank you very much; off you go,” she said and shooed him.

Declan reached up and scratched his head. “You’re not at all how I expected you to be.”

“How’s that?”

“Sane,” he said and chuckled to himself. “Rational, somewhere close to normal…”

“You’re rude and in danger of getting your nuts handed to you on a silver platter,” Charlie informed him. It was always good to start with a warning, and then she could ultimately say those four little words she loved so much – I told you so.

“My nuts?” Declan pulled his head back, and he might have had a teasing smile on his face, but he was also scowling. “I’d rather my brother’s mate wasn’t thinking about my nuts.”

“It’s handy that I’m not your brother’s mate then, and I wasn’t thinking about your bloody nuts!” Charlie snapped.

Apparently, it wasn’t just the tourists that were destined to send her screaming from the place; it was the locals as well.