Rhonda Hopkins

A Witchy Secret by Rhonda Hopkins. There's a teen girl in a cute green dress, black boots, and a witch's hat standing in front of a large moon on a green background. There's a cute black kitten on the left and a cauldron on the right.
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A WITCHY SECRET

Secret. Lies. And murder.

Charley’s relationship with her boyfriend is better than she’d hoped, but she’s keeping a secret from him that could destroy his trust.

After disappearing for two years, her cousin’s father makes an unexpected appearance with secrets of his own. And when a woman is found dead in the small town, accusing fingers point toward Danu’s dad.

It seems all of Whispering Pines is about to explode from the secrets it’s keeping. Can Charley expose the skeletons and find a murderer before chaos erupts?

If you enjoy magic, quirky characters, and small-town mysteries with a touch of romance, you’re sure to enjoy A Witchy Secret!

Also In This Series...

Chapter 1

Entering the living room, I found my cousin Danu sitting in one of the oversized leather chairs, her feet propped up on the matching ottoman. Her thumbs flew over the phone’s keyboard and a smile lit her face. That was different. She’d had a rough couple of years, and happiness wasn’t something I often saw on her face. Wanting to see who had her in such a good mood, I walked around behind the chair and peeked over her shoulder.

A guy I worked with on the school newspaper had just sent her a text. He was a sophomore, a grade between Danu and me. He’d begun showing interest in her near the end of the school year, but I hadn’t known they kept in contact over the summer.

“Jorge, huh?” I plopped down on the sofa, bringing my legs up and crossing them on the leather seat.

Danu’s head jerked up, a scowl replacing the smile on her face. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

“Hey, I think he’s a great guy.” I leaned forward and snatched the remote from the coffee table.

Before I could turn on the TV, the doorbell rang. I jumped up and hurried to the door, hoping it was Jackson. Just the thought of my best friend who had morphed into my boyfriend recently brought a flutter to my stomach. I grinned as I opened the door, ready to fling my arms around him.

Instead, a man stood there. A man I hadn’t seen in over a year.

My mouth refused to form words, so I just stood there gaping at him.

“Hi, Charley. Is your Aunt Nadine here?” The man’s shoulders were hunched but his gaze held my own.

“Dad?” Danu’s voice whispered behind me, and I turned to see her eyes wide with shock, her normally olive skin pale.

Uncle Adrian’s head snapped up and his spine straightened. “Danu, baby.”

A choking sound came from my cousin, but she didn’t speak until he started to move past me into the house. She held up a hand and he stopped. “Mom’s not here. She’s showing a house.”

He nodded and looked at me. “Can I come in?”

Not having a clue what to do, I looked at Danu. She shook her head.

“I’m sorry, Uncle Adrian. But, I think you need to talk to Aunt Nadine first.” 

His shoulders slumped once again, but he looked back at his daughter. “Danu, honey.”

She shook her head again, her hand covering her mouth. She stood close enough I could see tears shimmering in her eyes.

My uncle blew out a breath and rubbed a hand across his dark wavy hair. His green eyes tinted with brown flecks pleaded with her. “I know I have some explaining to do and I will. I—” 

A sob tore from my cousin’s throat as she ran from the hallway. I closed my eyes trying to keep my own tears from falling at the pain I knew ripped through Danu. She’d worked so hard during the summer to work through her issues resulting from her father’s abandonment of her and her mother.

“I’m sorry,” I said again. “I think you need to talk to Aunt Nadine.” I stepped back with my hand on the door. “I have to go see about Danu.” 

He nodded, tears glistening in his own eyes. Just before I closed the door, I heard him say he had the same phone number. Not that he’d answered it over the past year. The back door slammed and I knew Danu had fled the house.

I didn’t know what to do about my uncle showing up unannounced after he’d just up and left with no word. I yanked the phone from my back pocket and called my mom as I ran toward the kitchen.

“Hi, Charley. Can I call you back in just a minute, I’m in the mid—”

“No! Don’t hang up.” I flung open the back door and stopped to look around. Danu was nowhere in sight. She must have gone to their cabin. I raced to the back fence.

“What’s wrong?” Mom’s voice rose but she remained calm.

Opening up the gate, I ran through it without stopping to close it. “Uncle Adrian showed up.”

“What?” Surprise filled my mother’s exclamation. 

I stopped to catch my breath out of earshot of the little house where my cousin and aunt lived. “Yeah. Just showed up at the door. Danu’s upset and didn’t want to see him. So, I told him to talk to Aunt Nadine first.” 

“Is Danu okay?” I heard Mom telling her assistant, Caren Williams, she had to leave.

“She’s really upset. She ran out of the house and to their cabin. I’m almost there now.” I focused on the door, making sure my cousin didn’t come outside. “I thought you should warn Aunt Nadine so she’s not caught off guard like Danu.”

“I will. We’ll both be home soon.” Her car door slammed just before the call disconnected.

Just a couple of minutes outside and the scorching heat of August in Texas already had me sweating. I pulled the fabric of my tee-shirt out and away from my body but there was no wind to give any relief.

I walked the short distance to the porch and up the steps. I hesitated just a moment before I knocked on the door. 

“Go away.” The sound of Danu’s crying caused my heart to lurch.

I pushed open the door. “Danu?”

My cousin sat with her legs pulled up, knees against her chest in the large turquoise chair. Her head rested on her knees. She didn’t even look up when she once again said, “Go away.”

“I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” I sat on the arm of her chair.

Danu lifted her head, eyes red and her face already puffy. “Why now?”

 I pulled her into a hug. “I don’t know. I don’t know why he left or why he’s back.” When she didn’t say anything, I added, “Maybe he had a good reason.”

She snorted a laugh mixed with tears. Then pulled back, looking at my shirt. “Uh… sorry. I think I got snot on you.”

I laughed. “Not the first time. At least this time it wasn’t intentional.”

Danu grinned a wicked smile. “You never know.” Then her face crumpled. “I just don’t understand how he could just leave for over a year with no word and then show up like nothing happened.”

I contemplated my words before I spoke. “I saw his face, Danu. I don’t think he thinks nothing happened. He seemed worried and sad.”

She pushed away from me her eyes widening. “So, you’re taking his side?”

“Of course not. I’m always on your side.” I got up and went into the bathroom returning with a tissue box. I handed it to my cousin. “I just know you didn’t get a good look at him.”

“Whatever.” She wiped her face and blew her nose.

“I called my mom to let her know what happened and she was going to get your mom. They’re on their way home.”

She nodded. “I’m going to go wash my face.”

When she returned, her eyes were still rimmed in red, but she looked better. And, thankfully, she didn’t look like she might fall apart. I had been so afraid she’d let the appearance of her dad ruin all the work she’d done in therapy over the summer.

I stood. “Should we go wait at the house for our moms?”

“Might as well.” Danu walked to the door and opened it, stepping through.

I followed and we made our way down the steps and were halfway across their yard when a terrified mewling stopped me.

“Did you hear that?”

Danu stopped and listened. “Wha—”

Meow! Meow! Meooow!

“Oh. That.” She said.

We walked toward the treeline, the heavy scent of the forest invading my senses as we drew closer. I loved the smell of pines, oaks, and elms and the abundant floral fragrances. 

The mewling came again and we ground to a halt, looking around the trees and flora. Birds fluttered out of the trees and my head tilted upward, taking in the branches of the large oak in front of me. A tiny kitten peered over the limb, barely visible.

Danu must have seen her at the same time. “How in the world did she get  up there?”

“Huh. I have no idea.” We continued to gaze upward at the baby feline. “A better question is how are we going to get her down?”

“You could climb up and get her.” Danu waved her arm as if giving me permission.

Glancing down at my bare legs and arms, I could only imagine the scratches that would cause. “Nope. Not gonna happen.”

The kitten’s frantic meows came faster and louder as we stared at her.

“Hey! You could use your magic to float her down. Right?” I couldn’t believe neither of us had thought of that before.

“Yeah. I could try. But, you know, this would be a good time for you to practice.”

I shuddered. “Seriously? You want me to practice my wonky magic on a helpless kitten? I’d probably make her explode or something.”

My cousin laughed. “You’re probably right. Save the practice for something inanimate.” She stood straighter and focused her attention on the cat. “Be ready to catch her, just in case.”

Being two years older than Danu, you’d think that I’d be better at the whole magic thing, but I didn’t even know I was a witch until a few months ago. I thought the witch gene had skipped me completely. My cousin, on the other hand, got her magic right on time at the age of thirteen had been causing mischief with it for nearly two years.

The kitten’s cries increased in intensity as she levitated from the tree and descended slowly into my arms.

I cradled her to my chest where she curled up shivering in fright, her nose buried into my tee-shirt. “You poor baby. It’s okay. You’re safe now.”

Danu reached out and rubbed her finger against the ball of fur but jerked back when the kitten’s head popped up, her eyes focused on my cousin, her nose wrinkling as she sniffed in Danu’s direction.

Mama!” The cat squirmed in my arms frantic to leap from my arms.

“Did you hear—” Danu’s question cut off as the kitten jumped from me to her. She caught the tiny creature out of reflex but held her out like she had no idea what to do with her.

The cat wriggled, legs pinwheeling, as she tried to crawl up her arm. “Mama! Mama! Mama!”

Danu looked stricken. “Is she saying… no way. I’m losing it.”

I laughed. One of my abilities included being able to understand and speak to animals. But, if Danu was hearing her…

“Congratulations. You’re the proud mama of a familiar.” I pushed her arms toward her chest. “Hug your baby.”

“What? No! I can’t take care of a cat.” She looked terrified.

I watched the kitten snuggle into my cousin’s neck, falling almost instantly to sleep. “Of course, you can. And, you don’t really have a choice. She’s yours and she already loves you.”

Danu’s mouth opened and closed as if she wanted to say something, but couldn’t find the words. I wanted to laugh at the expression on her face but managed to hold it back.

“Come on, cuz. Let’s go to the house and get her some food and water.” I started toward my backyard and picked up speed after Danu finally began to follow.

Once in the kitchen, Danu tried to hand the kitten off to me, but I refused to take her, knowing my cousin would convince herself that the feline wasn’t her familiar if she could. She wasn’t good with attachments after her father left. 

I sighed thinking of my uncle. Questions about his disappearance and return circled around in my brain as I gathered up a couple of small bowls. Filling one with water, I placed it on the floor in a corner, then opened up a can of tuna and put a small amount in a bowl. 

Danu lowered the kitten to the bowls and she greedily lapped up the water. She sniffed the tuna and tried to take a bite, but gave up.

“I think the chunks are too big.” Danu scooped up the bowl and pulled apart the chunks into tiny bite-size pieces with a fork. She set the bowl back down in front of the cat who tackled it with gusto.

“What is that?” I hadn’t even noticed Babette, our miniature pig, saunter into the room.

“She’s a kitten, you know, a baby cat.” I answered sarcastically.

Babette’s eyes rolled upward. “Obviously. But, what’s she doing here?”

 “What’s she squealing about?” asked Danu, looking from the pig to the cat.

“I think she’s jealous of the kitten.” 

Babette snorted. “I most certainly am not jealous. Does your mother know about this?”

Babette was Mom’s familiar and had been the only animal on the property for a long time.

“Not yet. We just rescued her. But, she’s Danu’s familiar.”

“I don’t think…” Danu’s denial was cut short when the tiny black kitten rubbed against her leg.

Mama.”

I laughed. “You were saying?”

My cousin’s shoulders sagged in resignation and she bent down to pick up the tiny animal. She held her out to look at the furball and shook her head. “What am I going to do with you?” 

I knew she was a goner when she cradled the kitten to her chest.

The front door opened with a bang.

“Danu?”  A voice rang out from the entrance hall.

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