Read on for a sneak peek at Chapter 1 of my new release Bedsocks and Broomsticks (out on 31 October!). This is a cosy, witchy urban fantasy with a touch of mystery, set in the Cotswolds. Think Murder She Wrote meets Jam & Jerusalem meets magic…now read on:
“Have you tried turning it off and then on again?” Fi kept her face neutral as she watched the young man in a suit through the video chat.
“Of course I have!”
“Right, OK, let me have a look,” her tone was blank, but she didn’t believe him. Her power flickered under her skin. She forced it down. Her shift was nearly over, and she was not going to lose control today. She went through the standard checks then continued, “OK, this looks like a straightforward PICNIC error.” Her lips quirked upwards at the use of her favourite acronym; Problem In Chair, Not In Computer.
“I’m going to force a restart and that should do the trick. Our connection will cut out, but you can call me straight back if that doesn’t work.”
The man on the other end of the call mumbled his thanks just before Fi disconnected the call. She let out a sigh and her mouse hovered over the next call in the queue. Just before she clicked it, an incoming call blared in the centre of her screen. She frowned at the picture of her boss’s face. Normally he booked in meetings unless it was important. Probably more work for her to do or, maybe they’d announced the half-year bonus. She composed herself before she clicked on the picture and accepted the call.
“Fiona! Glad to see you.”
“Hi Brian, what can I do for you?”
“Ah, well, I’ve got some news for you…” That was never good. She guessed her six-monthly bonus was going to be smaller than she thought. Probably due to the computers she’d accidentally destroyed. Fi listened to her boss on the screen as he droned through a pre-prepared speech about budgets and new directions for the company. She frowned, why tell her this? Was she not getting a bonus at all?
“…and so, I’m sure you can see that there are no other options. I’m very sorry we’re letting you go.”
Fi stared at the screen for a moment. Then she narrowed her eyes.
“I see. And who else is being ‘let go’, as you put it?” Fi wasn’t quite able to stop the sarcasm edging into her voice.
“Er, well yes, at the moment it’s only one role. The company feels it doesn’t need a remote IT consultant any longer.”
“Who’s going to do my work, then?”
“Your calls will be divvied up around the rest of the team.”
“So, if I understand correctly; I am the only one being made redundant.” She took a deep breath. “But why? I’m the best consultant you’ve got. I even fixed the issue with the Davidson account when no one else could—”
Her boss held a hand up to interrupt Fi’s protests, “Look we went through a fair process Fiona, we looked at past performance and cost to the company.”
“Are you saying it’s my fault the computers broke?”
“What I’m saying,” her boss’s voice was deliberately patient, “is that you’re the only IT employee to need five replacement laptops and seven replacement phones in the last twelve months. You’re also the only IT consultant who seems to have hardware issues thirty-three per cent of the time with your calls.”
“So, you think it is my fault.” Fi struggled to keep her breathing even as she felt the sparking energy build up inside her.
“I’m just looking at the figures here…”
“And there’s no other options?”
“Well, we do have some roles in executive support or the in-house distribution centre.”
“The post room?”
“If you’re not interested in reasonable alternatives, then there really is no other option. Your mandatory severance pay will be in next month’s payslip and–”
Fi didn’t hear any more. Her magic surged, and the computer gave a small fizzle as the screen winked out. She swore. Another laptop bites the dust. She considered throwing the laptop across the room, but instead, took a deep breath and closed the lid before heading to the kitchen.
She defaulted to her normal method of calming her swirling emotions by baking up a batch of scones with a true crime podcast playing in the background. She threw the ingredients into a large bowl and began to mix by hand. After burning out several electronic mixers, she now stuck to wooden spoons for her baking.
It just wasn’t fair, she thought, as she pounded the dough. Why did her magic have to be so inconsistent?
She was good with technology. Well, about fifty per cent of the time…The rest of the time, it had a habit of blowing up around her. But she was getting better.
She rolled the dough out and selected a circular cutter before viciously pressing it into the mixture. She slammed the baking tray into her small oven and set the timer.
She leaned on the wooden counter and took three deep breaths. Normally, cooking helped Fi to control her emotions. Not today. She clenched her fists and headed outside. Once she was far enough away from the house that her power wouldn’t affect the electrics, she let loose with a frustrated scream. Sparking electricity looped from her body and crackled in the air. She directed it up into the sky and screamed again.
“Having a bad day?”
Fi opened her eyes and looked into the concerned honey-coloured eyes of her neighbour.
“Hi Glen, yes, er, I just got fired. Again.”
“Sorry to hear that. I really thought they’d keep you on after you lasted the first six months.” He looked at her sympathetically. This wasn’t the first time the werewolf had caught her letting loose at the end of her extensive garden. Glen cocked his head and looked back towards their houses. “I don’t want to be the bearer of more bad news, but I think your mother’s coming up the path.”
Fi let out a sigh. “Typical.”
“I’ll bring over one of Steve’s comfort casseroles later.”
“Thanks Glen, but there’s really no need. See you later.” Fi hurried inside. If she didn’t answer the door, her mother would only let herself in. She opened the wooden door just as her mum was rummaging in her handbag for the key.
“About time! What kept you so long?” Nell stepped inside and made her way to the small kitchen. “Well, are you going to offer me a cup of tea?”
Fi rolled her eyes behind her mother’s back and followed her into the kitchen. She filled the kettle and got out two mugs from the cupboard. She noted her mother’s lips purse in disapproval and Fi allowed herself a small smile. Her mother had Standards. With a capital S. Tea should be made in a teapot and served in a teacup on a matching saucer. Fi took a perverse pleasure in deliberately making it in mismatched mugs.
Fi’s shoulders tensed. “What do you mean?”
“Your hair is standing on end, and I can smell baking.” Her mum’s voice softened, “Come on, you can tell me.”
Fi stirred the milk into the mug with tea in it before adding two sugars to her own cup of coffee and turning to face her mother. Better to get it out of the way sooner rather than later. She handed the tea to her mother and then took the fresh scones out of the oven and fumbled one onto a plate.
Nell opened her mouth, but Fi cut her off, “I just got fired.” She hung her head as if she were a small child about to get a telling off.
“Again?! But I was so sure you’d keep your job this time, I mean, it’s been eighteen months. That’s the…”
“…Longest I’ve been at a company. Yes, I know Mum. But they tend to frown on things that cost them money, like going through five laptops in a year.” She thought back to the meeting with her boss. “Make that six laptops. I’ll get a new job, don’t worry. They always need IT consultants.”
“You’re so good with technology…if only you could control your powers better when you get emotional…”
“I don’t blame you. It’s my fault for asking the hotel to put in electricity, but I mean really it was the eighties and we were practically the only place in the UK without electrics. I never thought it would affect your powers.”
Fi blinked. That was the closest her mum had come to an apology for anything. They both drank their hot drinks, and Fi savoured a rare mother-daughter bonding moment of quiet.
“You can always come back and live with me, you know.” Her mum ruined the moment.
“No thanks! I can take care of myself,” Fi tried not to notice the hurt in her mother’s blue eyes. She changed the subject. “Why are you here, Mum?”
“I wanted to make sure everything was ready for the meeting tonight; you have done the slides?”
Fi sighed. Of course. The bloody Witches, Wizards and Warlocks Institute monthly meeting. Just what she needed tonight. No wallowing on the sofa watching brain dead TV and eating ice cream to commiserate yet another job loss. Fi took another bite of a warm scone. No, she was going to be pressing the forward button on a load of slides because none of the witches who were actually members could be bothered to do it, and her mum had volunteered her for the job. Bloody brilliant. They could all work a computer when they wanted to, just not when it came to pointless presentations for the WWWI.
“I’ve done the slides, Mum.”
“And did you put in the photos like I asked?”
“Yes Mum, but it really is very simple to set up yourself, why don’t I show you?”
Nell waved her away. “Oh no, I trust you, you’re the expert with these things. Besides, it will give you something to do this evening instead of wallowing in self-pity.”
Fi narrowed her eyes. Her mother didn’t have psychic powers, or so she claimed, but that had been uncannily close to what Fi had been thinking. Self-pity and blowing up something in a violent computer game sounded just like what she needed. Fi took another bite of scone, barely tasting the buttery sweetness.
“Right, well, I’ll be off then. Lots to do before the meeting and you’ll be wanting to get on those job search websites. See you later.”
Fi followed in her mother’s wake as she swept through the hall and out the door. She considered slamming the door behind her mum but instead closed it with a sharp click. Bloody job websites. She felt the pressure of her power building and cursed as an arc of electricity shot from her fingers and blew the fuse of her hallway lamp. She stamped her way back to the kitchen, grabbed another scone, and cracked open a bottle of cold lager. Electricity crackled around her.