CHAOS & CABERNET

The Witch of Cheyne Heath

Prequel Novella

A lonely witch.
A haunted house.
Can kindness and compassion save them both?

In Cheyne Heath, London’s most dangerous and supernatural borough, Agnieszka, a widow, fills her days helping visitors to her kitchen with charmed candles, magic teas, and readings from her witches’ telling deck. On her dead husband’s birthday she would rather have a quiet night with her knitting in front of the television, but an intriguing reading and an invitation to dinner lead her to venture beyond the cozy comfort of her living room to take on the seemingly straightforward case of exorcizing a haunted house.

Strong-willed and stubborn, Agnieszka treats the ghost in Juliet Greek’s house as she would any other, but the wrong spell sends it into a murderous frenzy. With wild magic cascading around her twisting her spells, it takes Agnieszka all her wits and wiles to get Juliet and her husband out of the house alive. Realizing she can’t quell the phantom on her own, she must swallow her pride and ask the help of a quartet of busybody, meddling witches she usually goes out of her way to avoid.

Trapped inside the house with her new friends and faced with a terrifying adversary with time, space, and Chaos at its command, Agnieszka must figure out the mystery of the phantom before magic so wild and untameable even a witch cannot control it leaves them dead, or worse, and the evil in the house spreads to infect the neighborhood.

Can Agnieszka abandon a decade of judgmental reclusiveness and dig deep within herself to free her new friends, save the borough, and even find love? Grab your copy TODAY!

Available at select retailers

PRAISE FOR THE SERIES

5 star rating
5 star rating
5 star rating
5 star rating
5 star rating
The entire series is marvelous – a delightful page-turning read. Fitz-Simon has created an intricate and absorbing witch/bewitching world in similar vein and quality as Harkness, Grossman and Pullman. I wholeheartedly endorse the whole series and just wish it continued.
BT
Amazon Reviewer
5 star rating
5 star rating
5 star rating
5 star rating
5 star rating
“A world where magic ripples below the surface of the mundane, building with tension until it explodes into reality like the breaching of a killer whale.”
James Wright
Amazon Reviewer
5 star rating
5 star rating
5 star rating
5 star rating
5 star rating
What a great start to a series that will unfold with grace and careful awareness of blending two worlds. Great characters, fun, fraught and fragile relationships that are believable, compelling and detailed.
Kellie R.
Amazon Reviewer
5 star rating
5 star rating
5 star rating
5 star rating
5 star rating
I wish I could add more stars!!! What an awesome ride this story is!!! I couldn’t put the book down. A must read if you like modern magic witch stories with glam rock !!!
Wonder Girl
Amazon Reviewer

READ AN EXCERPT

AGNIESZKA SIGHED AT THE congealing lumps of sour milk fat that bobbed to the surface in the shape of a skull.

She sat at the kitchen table for a cup of tea and a moment of peace with her dead husband on his birthday, but the milk in the cup curdled before her eyes.

“Oh, Jacek.” She kissed her fingertips and touched them to the cheek of her husband’s photo in the silver frame her mother had given them as a wedding present some thirty years before. “It looks like your birthday will have to wait.”

In her experience, curdled milk was never the direst of omens, but the skull and the shiver that ran down her spine were an interesting complication. She reached for her handbag on the credenza and pulled from it the silk drawstring pouch where she kept her telling deck. It was a rare day that she didn’t need the deck in the course of her work, but the challenges the visitors to her kitchen had brought her on this sunny Thursday had required nothing more taxing than an anointed candle, a bowl of smudge, a poultice, and an understanding ear.

She glanced at the clock on the wall, ten minutes to two, and shook her head. She had brought this upon herself. Letting her guard down before the invisible witch marks on her door had shifted from attracting those needing a witch’s help to turning them away so she could have a moment of quiet was the mistake of much less experienced hard-working woman, and she should know better.
The telling deck was fat in her hands, the cards irregular in shape and thickness. A witch made her own deck however she saw fit, but Agnieszka never had much aptitude for crafts other than Craft and had made hers with collages put together from pictures in magazines and sticky tape. The tape on half the cards was yellowed, the glue dried up. It would take a long week of work to renew them, and she didn’t have the time.

Her husband stared out at her disapprovingly from his frame. In life, they had agreed it better for both of them that he stay out of the kitchen when visitors came calling.

“You know this is not for you.”

She lay the frame down on its face and began to shuffle her deck. Her daughter, looking grumpy and garish in her usual excess of makeup, stared at her from a frame next to Agnieszka’s handbag on the credenza. Agnieszka had tried to teach her daughter Craft before the girl ran away from home to discover herself, but Gosha had refused to learn anything. Though there were spells to force a daughter to do her mother’s bidding, there were none to make her want to be a witch. Hoping that something might transfer across the ether to the obstinate girl in her fancy house on the other side of Cheyne Heath, Agnieszka let her daughter watch from her picture frame, Gosha’s arms wrapped around Agnieszka’s two lovely grandsons, as Agnieszka shuffled her deck, but her fingers slipped at the third riffle and the cards sprayed across the table and onto the floor.

She swore as she struggled to gather them up but stopped at the sight of the three cards that lay face up on the linoleum.

“The Witch, the Unknown, and the Queen of Brushes,” she said to herself as she picked up the cards and placed them on the table. “An odd spread for a Thursday.”

She touched her talisman, an acorn pendant on a fine gold chain around her neck, to activate her second sight so she could see the flow of Influence, the psychospiritual force that emanated from all men and women and powered a witch’s Craft, but the flow was slow and sluggish as it generally was of a Thursday afternoon and gave her no clue as to the meaning of the cards.

There was a knock at the door, a hesitant hand rapping the knocker against the iron plate. Sometimes Influence would jump to attention when a new visitor arrived, its shifting waves granting Agnieszka a vision of who might be on the other side, and if they might wish a witch ill, but the waves crashed against the door in froth and spray, and no helpful images came to her second sight.

She swore in Polish under her breath as she went to answer. It wasn’t as if there was anyone else in the house to hear, but it didn’t do for others to see a witch perturbed, and to be lax at home was to invite judging eyes when out beyond the safety of her front gate.

“Good afternoon,” she said, softening her expression to welcome the visitor as best she could. Though she wasn’t a tall woman, she knew her appearance could be intimidating. Her face fell naturally into a stern expression. The arch of her dark eyebrows and her white hair, leached of all its color in an unfortunate encounter with a wood nymph several years before, were a formidable weapon whenever she needed to get her way, but weren’t much use when she had to coax a visitor to reveal their secrets.

And they always had secrets.

The woman at the door was tall, an unseemly height for a woman, thought Agnieszka, with pale skin and orange-red hair piled up haphazardly upon her head. She wore an overcoat draped across her shoulders against the late autumn chill over her floral print dress with three-quarter length sleeves and a full skirt over her suede boots. Her oval face, long nose, and down-sloping eyebrows gave her a melancholy air made stronger by the confusion on her face, an expression Agnieszka knew well.

The witch marks whispered to a person’s subconscious when they were in need, drawing them to her door. There were many witches in Cheyne Heath and Greater London beyond, each with their own marked doors. How the network of marks decided which lost soul was guided to which door, Agnieszka neither knew nor cared, being a witch of a practical nature. It was sufficient for her that they came to her door with interesting problems and a willingness to show their gratitude with a returned favor, or a gift, and sometimes, even, money. She had only been in London for a handful of years, having moved here to be closer to her grandsons, and already her web of obligations stretched from Becklow Towers to the top end of Morel Market.

Agnieszka held her tongue. It was generally best to let the visitor make the first overture. The woman took her in, her mouth open as if to speak her confusion, but no words came. Thinking to give the woman a gentle nudge in the right direction, Agnieszka brushed her fingertips to her talisman and prepared to mutter a calming spell, but the sight of the woman’s aura gave her pause.
A witch had no aura, all her personal Influence siphoned into her talisman. The aura of most normal people was a weak affair, a suggestion of flow about their bodies as their Influence bled off into the atmosphere. This woman’s aura radiated from her with the cool brightness of an evening star, marking her as a person who meant something to many people, perhaps a celebrity of some sort. Agnieszka squinted at her and wracked her memory for a clue as to who she might be, but nothing came.

“I’m so sorry,” said the woman. “I don’t know why I’m here. I was taking a stroll to clear my head and suddenly I found myself on your doorstep. I don’t know why I knocked.”

“Many people knock on my door, and I’m happy to offer them my hospitality.”

Between the hours of nine and two, she thought as the sound of the hall clock inching itself closer to her afternoon break ticked behind her. A simple spell would send the woman on her way to another witch’s door, but the premonition and the woman’s aura piqued Agnieszka’s interest.

“Is there something I might be able to help you with?”

The woman frowned and glanced down the street at nothing in particular.

“I feel foolish even mentioning it,” she said.

Sometimes the Influence of a strong aura could interfere with a subtle making like a witch mark, but Agnieszka was proud of her workmanship, and she could tell the sigils had drawn whatever was troubling this woman to the brink of her tolerance. She would soon be unable to deny whatever her problem was, no matter how outlandish.

“Why don’t you come in. I’ll make us a cup of tea, and you can tell me all about it.”
A simple invitation and not a spell in any meaningful way, the words had a potency to them that transcended nationality, gender, occupation, and social standing. The woman’s frown softened into a smile of relief.

“That sounds delightful.”

Agnieszka stepped to one side and gestured for her to enter.

“Follow the passage to the kitchen in the back.”

Once past the threshold, curiosity bolstered the woman’s confidence as she looked around at Agnieszka’s modest comfort.

“What a darling home you have. These detached Victorians are such good, sturdy stock, aren’t they?”

The visitor glanced back with a meek smile at Agnieszka in search of a response.
She’s a pleaser, this one.

“It’s a fine house,” said Agnieszka.

“And your decor is so…”

Whatever she had been about to say was startled out of her by the sight of the large painting of a Russian Tatar, complete with headdress and elaborate mustaches, hanging over the mantelpiece. Agnieszka had taken it as payment for a cure for arachnophobia from an antiques dealer off Morel Road. The painting reminded Agnieszka of Jacek when he was a young man, when they first met in Poland in the village of Agnieszka’s birth outside the bakery in the town square.

“… Bohemian,” said the woman, recovering adroitly. “I love it.”

Agnieszka led her to the kitchen and offered her a seat at the table. “The kettle is just boiled. Do make yourself comfortable.”

“You’re an aficionado of spy thrillers, I see.”

Agnieszka didn’t use a kettle, but rather a special saucepan that boiled water in a fraction of the time. A brush of the handle with her fingertips while her other hand touched her talisman and the water, still warm from her curdled cup, began to bubble. She glanced back and was surprised to see the woman’s aura extrude from her body and wrap itself around the stack of four novels on the kitchen table awaiting return to the library. Agnieszka popped teabags into mugs, poured the boiling water over them, and carried them to the table.

“The milk’s off, I’m afraid,” said Agnieszka as she sat. “Help yourself to sugar.”

“Thank you. What do you think of Donald Godalming, the writer?”

The woman took the top book off the pile and flicked through the pages.

“Mostly trash,” said Agnieszka with one eye on the clock. “But they pass the time.”

The woman snapped the book shut with a start at Agnieszka’s response, her mouth opened with shock, but she burst into laughter, a bright, infectious laugh that went a good way toward lifting Agnieszka’s spirits on Jacek’s birthday.

“You’re right,” said the woman, still giggling as she replaced the book on the stack and drew it closer to her. “You’re absolutely right. They are the most terrible trash, but they’re so much fun to write. I have a confession to make. I am Donald Godalming. I wrote these.”

Agnieszka was neither surprised nor impressed. She had met writers before through her work, and it explained the woman’s aura.

“How lovely,” she said, trying her best to be gracious. “You must be very proud.”

The woman’s gaze turned inward in self-examination as she considered what Agnieszka had only intended as a pleasantry.

“Why, yes,” said the woman, as if surprised by her own answer. “Yes, I am proud. Is that terrible of me?”

Ugh, the British. Agnieszka tried not to roll her eyes. So out of touch with their emotions.

“Not in the least. Writing a book must be a lot of work. How many have you written?”

The woman picked up the book again and looked inside.

“Ten as Godalming. Six as Jessica Williams. They’re romances. Very steamy. And four as Martin Robinson. Children’s books.”

Agnieszka had no idea what it took to write a book, but twenty of anything was certain to be a lot of work.

The hands of the clock on the wall clicked over to the top of the hour and a chime rang brightly through the house from the antique timepiece on her bedroom mantelpiece. Agnieszka took in a deep breath and did her best not to sigh as she exhaled. This would take as long as it took.

“I have never written a book.” She sipped her tea, hoping to encourage the woman to drink her own. The brew Agnieszka had made for her was Crafted to be mildly relaxing, intended to help the woman better accept the strangeness she might see during their consultation. “I can’t imagine what it entails.”

The woman looped her fingers around the handle of the mug and cradled it with her other hand, testing its warmth.

“It is a lot of work. I used to do it all myself, but once we started trying to have children, I took on two assistants, and I dictate to them. Now I always have two books going at once.”

“That seems like more work, not less. How do you have time for your children?”

The woman cast her eyes down, her shoulders sagging ever so slightly.

“I don’t have children. I had a baby, but I miscarried.”

Agnieszka perked up. She took no pleasure in the woman’s misfortune, but the revelation put her on firmer ground, and she began to run through in her mind how she might help her.

The woman sipped her tea, blinked, and frowned. She put the mug down and looked around at Agnieszka’s kitchen as if seeing it for the first time.

“Why am I telling you this? Why am I here?”

Agnieszka raised an eyebrow at this unexpected result of drinking the tea. She brushed her talisman and the woman’s aura flared in her second sight, no different than before. Even a sorcerer would have been charmed by the tea. The aura of a regular person untouched by High Influence shouldn’t have interfered. Anticipating a bad reaction, she prepared to speak a simple spell that would calm the woman and convince her to stay, but the woman made no attempt to leave.

The woman’s eyes sparkled with curiosity as they took in the room. To the untrained eye, it was a kitchen like any other, the tools of Agnieszka’s trade no different than the contents of any kitchen. All the dangerous tools and ingredients were locked up in a high cabinet away from the probing fingers of grandsons.

“You said many people come to your door,” said the woman. “Are you a faith healer?”

Were the traditions of how a witch should treat a visitor to her kitchen not so deeply ingrained, Agnieszka would have taken offense at the question. There was a woman two streets over who called herself a faith healer, but all Agnieszka ever saw her do was con people out of their hard-earned money with sleight of hand and wishful thinking.

The way this woman looked at her, taking in her every detail, unnerved Agnieszka. It didn’t do for a witch to be so seen. How long before a witch hunter came knocking?

The woman must have sensed Agnieszka’s discomfort. Her manner changed completely, her hawk-like attention softening as she picked up the mug and took another sip of tea, though Agnieszka suspected the hawk was still there, but hidden. The woman took another sip, sighed, and sat back in her chair, the mug clutched to her chest. The tea had finally done its job.

“I think my house is haunted,” she mumbled into her mug, unable to meet Agnieszka’s gaze.

A haunting. Unexpected, though it explained the Unknown card landing face up on the floor. There was no such thing as ghosts. When a person died, they were gone. But there were many things an ordinary person could mistake for a haunting.

“When did the trouble start?” Agnieszka already knew the answer. The trauma of the woman’s miscarriage must have shaped the Influence of her powerful aura and cast it into the house. A house was a perfect container for such things, but it was easy enough to clear them out. A candle usually did the trick. She had recently bought a bundle from Iron Jenny in the market Crafted by the witches of Benbecula Island in the Outer Hebrides. She was itching for an excuse to use one.
The woman looked up, surprised that Agnieszka took her revelation so calmly. “About six months ago.”

“After the miscarriage.”

The woman shook her head. “No, I was still pregnant then. It started when we renovated one of the bedrooms to become a nursery.”

“What happened?”

“I began to feel a presence. It was as if someone was always in the room with me, even when I was alone.”

Probably the baby, thought Agnieszka. Mothers with auras as strong as the woman’s often connected to their children in the womb in ways others did not.

“I started to have terrible dreams of being trapped in a coffin. I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in months. I think my husband is having them, too. He’s not been himself.”

“Have you spoken to him about them?”

The woman shook her head slowly and sorrow passed across her face. She took another sip of her tea. “We haven’t been able to talk about anything important without it turning into a row.”

“What does your husband do?”

“Finance. He works in the City.”

“He’s not home much, then. Leaves you alone in the house.”

“Oh no, not at all. If anything, we can’t get away from each other. We’re constantly throwing dinner parties just to have time apart.” She glanced at the clock. “We’re having one tonight, and I haven’t even picked up dessert yet.”

She began to fidget, shifting in her seat. The tea was failing again.

Most peculiar, thought Agnieszka. Best move this along before I lose her.

“I have a simple solution for you.” Agnieszka rose to retrieve one of the candles and the other ingredients she would need for this recipe. “I will make you a candle that will dispel the spirit. All you need do is set it in the nursery, light it, and leave it to burn down until it is spent.”

“A candle?”

Agnieszka returned to the kitchen table with the supplies she needed and laid them out before her in a line, her telling deck to one side.

“Are you a wi—”

Agnieszka cut her off with the full intimidation of her best stare, augmented with a little push of Influence, her fingers touching her pendant. Best that word never leave the lips of an ordinary person.

“I am a woman who knows a thing or two about the world and how it works. Nothing more.”
She shuffled through her deck to find the cards that would best describe the intentions of the candle, laid them out around it, and slid it out of its glass jar so she could inscribe it. She would need her hands free to make the preparation, so she slipped her talisman under her blouse where it could rest against her skin and give her access to its power.

“Tell me your name.”

“Juliet. Juliet Greek.”

“You may call me Mrs. Mierzejewska. Now, let me have quiet while I make this for you.”
Agnieszka set about carving the woman’s name into the wax of the thick candle and anointing it with grammet oil and a special mixture of herbs. When she was finished, she replaced the candle in its jar, wiped her hands clean, and muttered a spell under her breath to finish the job. The spell, a word in a secret language her mother had taught her, created an opening within her that lifted her spirits better than any tipple, and the Influence flowing through her talisman blew through it in a puff that settled in the candle.

Juliet Greek watched the entire procedure with fascination.

“Here you are,” said Agnieszka. “Place it on a saucer on the floor in the center of the nursery and light it. It will be quite safe. Leave it until it burns out, then place the remains in a brown paper bag and throw it out in the nearest rubbish bin on the street, preferably at a crossroads. Do not leave the remains in the house. Understood?”

She handed Juliet the candle. “I suggest you go home this minute and light it. The sooner the better.”

Juliet cradled the candle in her arms like a baby, her eyes wide with amazement.

“Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“Come back and thank me when it’s done, and your house is clear.”

“May I pay you for your help?”

It spoke well of Juliet Greek that she understood the transaction and was willing to offer Agnieszka compensation without the application of Craft. The British were generally so uptight about so many things, including talk of money.

“When it’s done, I will accept your gratitude in any way you think appropriate.”

If the woman were wealthy, she was likely also to be cheap, but even a favor was valuable to a witch.
Agnieszka accompanied her to the front door.

“I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have found you,” said Juliet at the threshold, clutching the candle to her chest. “Would you like to come to dinner this evening? It’ll be a lovely group of people. All sorts. It would mean so much to me if you came.”

Another surprise from this unusual woman. Agnieszka had never been invited to dinner before.
“Thank you, but I have plans this evening,” said Agnieszka with one hand on the door, ready to close it. “Light the candle straight away. And best to lock the door if you’re having guests while it burns.”

“Oh, do consider coming. Bring friends if you wish. It’ll be very informal and there’s plenty of food and wine. Number seventeen Bisset Street at seven o’clock.”

“That’s very kind of you, but I think not. Remember, let the candle burn all the way out and remove it from the house.”

She closed the door before the woman could badger her more about her dinner party and returned to the kitchen to prop Jacek up next to the stack of Juliet Greek’s books.

“You don’t understand,” she said to the picture as if it had spoken to her. “You never did. A witch is not a country doctor to make house calls.”

She sat at the kitchen table in the peace and quiet of her lonely house and shuffled her telling deck. It would be nice to be among people, today of all days, even those who did not know her. In her four years in London, she had made acquaintances, but no real friends.

What would it be like to go to a writer’s dinner party?

She cut the deck and drew a card.

Chaos. The card that symbolized untamed Influence, ancient power that stretched back to the dawn of time. That could be good or bad. She remembered drunken nights in Poland with Jacek that had reeked of Chaos.

She shook her head to clear it and breathed deep. Foolish of her to seek an oracle when she wasn’t focused. Jacek was gone, and she remained. Though she still loved him, she had needs. She reshuffled the cards, focusing on her question.

What will the party be like?

And drew a card.

Chaos.

Frowning, she turned the picture of Jacek face down. Even in death, he had a powerful effect on her. She shuffled and drew again.

Chaos.

Once was an inkling. Twice was a possibility. Three times was a certainty.

It seemed she was going out to dinner after all.

Available at select retailers

Related Books:

Book 1 in series
Book 2 in series
Book 3 in series
Book 4 in series
Prequel Novella
Prequel Novella