This is the most something day—weirdest, definitely the weirdest—of Savvy’s life, and it’s barely past noon.
“Do you think your flower crown should have more hemlock?” Savvy’s best friend Brie squints at her in the rearview mirror of the car she’s driving along the dirt-and-gravel road.
Savvy’s in the back seat with a garment bag holding The Dress, capital letters, and another with the pink dress Brie plans to wear in her role as maid of honor. There’s also a duffel her other best friend Elle, short for Louise, handed her as they piled in to leave for the venue.
“No, it will overpower the rue,” Elle says. Elle is in her chic suit already and has planned this entire day within an inch of its life.
Underlying their fussing is the actual question her best friends are not brave enough to ask her: Is Savvy hexing Wilde really about to get married? To a regular human man?
Savvy never indulged in fantasies about her wedding while growing up. There were some other little witches who swooned over the fairy tale of the pitiful frog who could be transformed back into a much-reformed prince by the right witch and then put a ring on it. Or the story of the witch who saved the father and his three stepdaughters by banishing bad fairies from their chimney and then married the oldest daughter and they all lived happily ever after. The girls might have gone to sleep afterward dreaming of the charmer who’d steal their heart.
Savvy took away a different moral from those stories.
She believed in witches saving the day. It was her entire job, and, until recently, her entire life. She figured she’d be fine on her own. Forever. Her mother always assured her that was the best, safest way to be. She never thought she’d need to marry a prince or princess, or, well, anyone, to keep saving the world in small and large ways every day. She has C.R.O.N.E.—Covert Responses to Occult Nightmares by Enchantresses—for that.
But here she is, being driven to the Atlanta C.R.O.N.E. chapter’s extensive property outside the city. They’re headed to the rustic barn venue on the outer edge, used for social occasions where outsiders are invited. The entire property, with its rambling houses, barns, other buildings, fields, and forests, is known to the witches as the Farmhouse. Its iron-clad, blood-bound protective spells will prevent any guests from getting lost or seeing any secrets they shouldn’t. On this, her wedding day. Because apparently it can happen to anyone. By which she means love.
Griffin changed her plans . . . and, after some major freaking out, she’s surprisingly okay with that. Savvy can be impulsive, which occasionally gets her in trouble. But usually also back out again. You have to think on your feet when you could accidentally release a magic plague into the sewers of London or need to keep an angry dragon from burning a town in the Balkans. At first, the idea of marrying Griffin a year after meeting him felt on the same level as those things. A catastrophe in the making.
Then she looked at him, across the dinner table at their favorite Mexican place, waiting for her answer. Patiently. Over tacos.
Her sweet, mild-mannered, bespectacled, and yet still sexy as hell antiquities professor Griffin. And in that moment, she knew. He’s worth the risk. He’s the thing she never let herself admit she wanted.
So she said yes. Surprising not only herself, but her nearest and dearest.
“My mother will meet us there?” Savvy asks.
While Elle and Brie are on board with the marriage—they actually like Griffin—her mother is decidedly not. Savvy figures once the ceremony is over, her mother will just have to get over it. Eventually.
“Uh-huh,” Brie says, evasively.
“She’ll be there.” Elle turns sideways so she can pat Savvy’s knee. “I’ve got this.”
“Shit!” Brie shouts suddenly, jamming on the brakes. “No! No! No!”
Savvy and Elle exchange a look. Savvy cranes her neck to see what’s in front of them to merit this reaction, but Brie shouts, “Blindfold!” Savvy feels the energy of the spell and suddenly she can’t see anything. “Why?” Savvy asks, reaching up to adjust the cloth now covering her eyes.
Brie huffs. “I told Diego to make sure he got Griffin and the groomsmen here thirty minutes from now so we would not run into them. You can’t see each other before the ceremony.”
“Oh, come on, do we have to be that traditional?” Savvy asks.
“You can’t see the face she’s making right now, but I’m getting a big yes,” Elle says in her calm way.
“He can’t see her either!” Brie says, and Savvy hears her pound the steering wheel. “Why aren’t they going inside?”
Elle interrupts Brie’s dramatics. “I’ve conjured another blindfold. I’ll put it on him.”
Brie grumbles, but the car starts to move forward again.
Savvy guesses it’s a good sign there are invisible butterflies fluttering inside and around her like a Disney witch at the thought Griffin is up ahead. I’m going to marry him.
No one is more surprised than her. Marriages are rare among witchkin—especially with men, or outsiders—if not entirely unheard of.
The car stops. “Wait here!” Brie barks. Her door opens and then slams shut. Elle gets out too.
Savvy waits until the back door opens and Elle reaches in to guide her out of the car. She hears the low honey of Griffin’s voice protesting.
“Griffin?” she calls out.
“I take it you’re blindfolded too?” Griffin sounds amused.
“Yes.” Savvy laughs.
“You can thank me later, when you don’t have bad luck!” Brie inserts.
“Keep talking so I can find you,” Griffin says, closer now.
“I’m not sure—” Brie says.
Griffin’s friend and best man, Diego, says, “Let it be, woman.”
Savvy has to bite her lip to keep from laughing again. She can picture Brie with her hands on her hips, glaring at Diego, imagining hexing him.
“Marco,” Savvy says, “I’m right over—”
“Polo.” Griffin bumps into her.
She reaches out to find his hands with hers.
“There you are,” he says.
“Here I am.” Every nerve in her body sings at the contact between their fingers, at his nearness. He smells fresh out of the shower, one of her top three favorite Griffin states. Clean and woodsy.
“We’re really doing this, huh?” she murmurs.
“We are,” he murmurs back.
And then his lips find hers. There are cheers and also groans from their friends on either side, but Savvy blocks them out easily. Griffin fills her senses. His lips gently move against hers, teasing her lips open. He slides one hand around her back and she presses against him as close as she can without breaking contact. She deepens the kiss and . . .
“Okay, that’s enough,” Brie says right beside her. “Save something for later.”
“We should’ve eloped,” Savvy says, finishing the kiss with her palm on Griffin’s cheek before dropping both of her hands into his again.
“You shouldn’t be doing this at all,” a frosty, feminine voice she recognizes too well says.
“Hi, Claudia,” Griffin says as if he’s unbothered. He’s chosen to try to wear her mother down by simply being nice. He doesn’t understand, because of course he can’t. He doesn’t know the truth about Savvy. He has no idea she’s a witch.
And he never will.
“Mom,” Savvy says, “we’ve been over this.”
“I don’t have to like it.” Her mother sniffs. “And I won’t.”
Her mother, the mood killer. But Savvy refuses to let her disapproval be a hovering dark cloud over this occasion.
Savvy rests her forehead against Griffin’s for a beat. “See you soon,” she says.
“I can’t wait.” Griffin releases her hands with a reluctance she relates to.
Her friends each take an arm and steer her inside.
Savvy stands in front of the mirror in the preparatory suite. She wears The Dress, aka a tasteful off-the- shoulder beaded gown fitted to accentuate her curves. Her medium-length caramel curls are topped by the flower crown. She’s in flats instead of heels, because she’s plenty tall as is. She should feel entirely comfortable in this ensemble, which she chose.
She can’t quite manage it.
It doesn’t help that every witch Savvy knows has been around to ask her about one thing or another, some reprising Brie’s and Elle’s questions from before. Is her flower crown statement enough? Should it have more rue or maybe hemlock? How is she feeling? Because a quick spell, not even a spell, truly, just a suggestion of an incantation, can nix those nerves in a jiff, if she likes? And, oh, does she need more champagne? It’s charmed, so it won’t get her sloshed. But it’ll take the edge off those nerves she must be feeling.
Still, Savvy knows this is an unusual occasion, not least because it involves her. Seemingly every witch located in the continental United States has traveled here to either celebrate or side-eye her decision. She’s grateful that among all the gossipy strangers and, well, her mother, she also has Brie and Elle.
Or at least she is until Brie marches over with a flute of bubbly in one hand and considers Savvy’s reflection. Brie’s celestial-themed tattoo sleeves are a striking contrast with her slinky pale pink bridesmaid dress and fuchsia-highlighted hair.
She tsks. “I just think—look at this.” She points at Savvy and casts a glamour. “It has more of a wow factor,” she adds. Brie is trying and failing to keep a straight face.
Savvy raises an eyebrow like a drawn arch. Because Brie has bestowed an entirely animated Jessica Rabbit look on her from head to toe, red gown and all. Yes, even her eyes resemble the cartoon sexpot’s.
“Okay, so not that. . . . How about something ethereal. Like the goddess herself.”
Savvy would protest that this fun is at her expense, but at least Brie isn’t asking any more questions. And anyway, her friend has to get this out of her system first.
She gestures at Savvy, and her spell transforms Savvy back into 3D and the red cartoon dress into a flowing nightgownesque garment. She hesitates, then nods to give Savvy knee-length Lady Godiva hair.
“I look like I’m about to start a cult,” Savvy says. She puts her hands on her hips. “Stop trolling me.”
She waves at her reflection, restoring the chosen look that she doesn’t feel entirely comfortable in, which Brie knows.
“I’m nervous enough as it is,” she says. “No more mockery. I think it might be suspicious if I show up to my own wedding in glamour.”
“Let me live,” Brie whines.
And, of course, this would be the moment when her mother reenters the fray. She’s been lingering over by the champagne, tossing back one after another.
Savvy braces as she struts over in her low-cut, diamond-studded rose-colored jumpsuit. She’s always embraced Dolly Parton as her style guru. But her personality is less Dolly’s sweet sass and more murderous “bless your heart.” C.R.O.N.E. and Savvy are her entire life—she can’t understand why Savvy wants anything besides the job and their community in her own.
Savvy has always looked up to her mother, the famous Claudia, one of the leaders of this, what might be the most powerful C.R.O.N.E. chapter in the world. She wishes her mom would approve of the wedding, but has given up. Claudia has too much baggage about men and about love being a distraction from their mission.
“I was just playing around,” Brie says. “This is a once-in- a- lifetime thing.”
Claudia snorts. “We’ll see about that.”
Savvy may have to murder someone before the day is out. Except Brie’s right. This is a special day. And she’s pretty sure there’s no murder on wedding days. (Well, unless it’s a TV show and George R. R. Martin is in charge.)
She imagines Griffin witnessing the magic dress-the- bridezilla shenanigans that just happened and has to press down guilt. There’s a reason she doesn’t find Brie’s antics funny. She’s getting married as Savannah Wilde, which is who she is, but also as a respectable, non-witch citizen, which she most definitely is not.
C.R.O.N.E. operatives can’t break their covers, not even for their spouses. So as far as Griffin knows she’s a public relations consultant. He believes one of her biggest clients happens to be an animal rescue located at the Farmhouse that a lot of her friends and her mother are involved in. That’s how it will stay. It’s remarkable how much travel the PR gig covers for, and she’s absorbed enough marketing speak over the years to sell the ruse. She’s glamoured when she’s actually working, so even if he did see her doing something with her powers, he wouldn’t know he had.
He’ll never find out who he’s really marrying. That feels unfair. But there’s nothing she can do about it, except be a good wife and a better operative. Witches have always had to live with a reality that can’t accept them for who they are. She’d like to think Griffin is different, but the rules are the rules on this one. No testing that premise.
Elle comes bustling into the suite, carrying a tablet. The first warning sign is how she avoids Savvy and heads over to whisper to the table of bridesmaids (and fellow operatives) drinking champagne. There are gasps. Her mother, sensing gossip, immediately gravitates back to that end of the large room with the slanted wood-beamed ceiling. “
You really hated the red, even in theory?” Brie asks. “I bet Griffin would like it. I seem to remember you wearing a red dress when you met.”
Not exactly. But the heat in the memory the statement conjures puts a flush in Savvy’s cheeks.
“I don’t want to be glamoured today. Or ever around Griffin, if I can help it.” Savvy shakes her head. “You wear red.”
“Blasphemy.” Brie fluffs her hair. She’s so fond of pink, it’s basically the limit of her wardrobe. That’s the reason Savvy agreed to have it be the color scheme for today. “
What?!” Her mother’s shock is audible across the room. When she catches Savvy and Brie paying attention, she lowers her voice and turns away from them.
Savvy exchanges a look with her best friend and they stalk across the room. “Mom, what’s going on?” she asks.
“Well . . .” Her mother evasively pours champagne. “I don’t want to say I told you so.”
This is a lie. Her mother loves saying that phrase. “Why would you be saying it?”
The others are silent.
“Seriously, what’s up? Did Griffin pull a runner?” She gives it a teasing note, but she finds she’s bracing for the response.
“No, nothing like that,” her mother says. “Though you’d be better off . . .”
“Mom, stop it. Now, someone tell me what’s going on. Right now.” Savvy is using her means-business voice. It tends to be effective.
The group exchanges troubled glances. Elle finally says, “The Butcher of Salem is here.”
“What do you mean?” Savvy is halfway to conjuring up an enchanted crossbow when Elle adds, “He’s on the groom’s side.”
“Wait.” Savvy isn’t sure she heard correctly. “Come again?”
“The Butcher of Salem is downstairs, sitting on the groom’s side.”
Savvy can’t believe this is happening. “How do we know it’s him?”
“Apparently Mother Circe recognized him,” her mother says.
That’s confirmation, all right.
The Butcher of Salem is their oldest enemy. He presides over an organization that C.R.O.N.E. avoids in the field when it can—when it can’t, the two inevitably clash—and still uses glamours to avoid detection. For centuries, the Butcher and his men were in open conflict with the witches, the battles razing villages and forests as they hunted down her kind. Eventually, Mother Circe made a show of force with her coven that convinced the Butcher to agree to an armistice . . . of sorts. Whatever scuffles they have must stay out of the public eye, to keep the supernatural world secret.
The Butcher and Circe faced one another down hundreds of years ago—they’re both long-lived through means not exactly natural, because he’s a hypocrite—and for the two of them to be anywhere in public, let alone at the same event, is . . .
Savvy was surprised when Mother Circe RSVP’d to begin with; she rarely visits Atlanta these days. Savvy hasn’t seen her since her C.R.O.N.E. induction at eighteen, and from what she understands Mother Circe declines to attend them these days.
“It has to just be a terrible coincidence,” Savvy says. “You’ve all met Griffin.”
There are some murmurs of agreement. A snort from her mother.
But whoever Griffin is, he’s no Butcher of Salem, for goddess’s sake. “
The question is, what do we do?” Brie asks.
Savvy frowns. “What do you mean?”
“You’re going to let him stay? At your wedding?” She sounds skeptical. “He would kill every single one of us if he could get away with it.”
“And hold trials first to drag it out,” her mother says. “When Brie puts it that way, you can’t mean to let him enjoy this day. That’s not my daughter. Some company your husband-to- be keeps.”
Savvy bristles. She has a reputation and it’s not for cowardice. She puts dragons back to sleep without tucking them in. She keeps demons from releasing poison into water supplies. She isn’t known for backing down.
An evil man has strolled onto their turf to witness her marriage. She wants to march downstairs and show him to the door with a passel of hissing poisonous snakes at his heels, while asking him if he enjoyed hunting down her lost sisters . . .
But it would blow her cover and potentially put them all at risk.
“Back off, y’all.” Elle gives a no-nonsense head shake and holds up her hand. “I have planned this wedding meticulously, but it’s Savvy’s day. The call is hers to make.”
Brie presses. “What if he’s here for us?”
A fair point. But . . . that would result in the kind of conflict that might blow up the accords. Mutually assured destruction. None of that matters, though. Not right now.
“Griffin can’t find out about me,” she says. “No, this has to be random. There’s no way Griffin knows who he really is. We do the ceremony. We’ll figure the rest out later. Can Cretin follow the Butcher afterward?” Her mother’s familiar is a grumpy raven worthy of her name. Some of the others’ familiars are nearby, hidden outside in the woods. Not Savvy’s. Hers is back at her and Griffin’s house. But her mother doesn’t go anywhere without Cretin staying close.
Claudia catches her eye, nods. “Of course.”
Savvy can tell that Claudia wants to say something more, so she plows ahead. “Good. Then it’s final. Let’s do this.”
She goes back to the mirror to give one more subtle adjustment to the flower crown, the only armor she gets to wear into this battlefield. She reminds herself: Griffin is worth it.
If the Butcher stays out of their way, she’ll stay out of his. For now.