Not Your Ex’s Hexes by April Asher

1
Mr. Wiggles

From clubbing at popular urban hot spots to in-home versions complete with bottomless margaritas and a fifteen-season binge-watch of Supernatural, Girls’ Nights were long-standing traditions. Some would say a rite of passage. And they had more variations than Yoplait yogurt . . . or sex toys.

Rose was an expert on both.

Her fondness for dairy rivaled only her adoration for Jensen Ackles, but her familiarity with the latter? Pure survival. Poor Mr. Wiggles’s batteries had been replaced twice already this week alone, and she predicted at least one more swap-out in her future before the weekend came.

There’d been that backroom tryst a few months ago with a certain tattooed hottie, but as pleasurable an experience as it had been, one drop of moisture couldn’t stop a raging wildfire. It was either take matters into her own hands or be persona non grata on Smokey Bear’s hit list.

But tonight’s GN theme didn’t include clubbing attire, alcohol, or the five-speed waterproof vibrator tucked in her weekend underwear drawer, and instead, required all-black hoodies, the cover of night, and the gigantic horse trailer she’d rented earlier that morning. Side-seat driving, Rose swung an arm in front of her triplet, nearly crushing Vi’s nose as she pointed to the gravel lane they’d nearly missed. “There! On the left! Kill the lights and make the turn! Quick!”

Vi eased the truck to the left but kept the headlights on. “If I can’t see, how long do you think it will be until I drive us into a ditch? I’m not exactly on Lady Luck’s favorite persons list.”

From the backseat, Olive, the youngest Maxwell triplet, snortled. “That’s putting it mildly.”

Vi aimed a glare into the rearview mirror. “Hey!”

“What? I was just showing my sisterly support. I was agreeing with you!”

“Well, stop.”

Rose rolled her eyes even though no one could see the gesture in the truck’s dark cab. “If you don’t turn off the lights, someone will see us coming and then this mission ends before it even begins.”

And the whole point of Operation Equine Freedom was to get in, out, and deliver the two nearly emaciated mares she’d seen on her drive earlier that day to their forever homes where they’d be loved and cared for . . . and not whatever the hell the current owners had done.

Rose had passed the run-down barn on her way into the city after a failed meditation class at Jones Beach, and it had taken everything in her not to liberate the poor horses right then and there—sans plan and backup. But she’d channeled her youngest sister, Professor Olive McBrainy Maxwell, and refrained from any rash decisions.

Until now.

“Who the hell’s going to see us? We’re in the middle of nowhere.” Harper Jacobs, the fourth woman in their quartet of liberators, glanced out the side window into the abyss of darkness. With her green-glowing succubus eyes, she could see better than the three witchy triplets combined. “Even if Vi went supernova again and lit up the sky from here to Connecticut, there’s no one within a twomile distance.”

The oldest triplet released a hefty sigh. “Seriously? Is this Pick on Violet Day? That happened one time, and only because Rose told me I shouldn’t hold back. The second I realized Sparky was offroading, I reined it in pretty damn quick if I don’t say so myself.”

“Not quick enough to stop the news station from reporting that we were about to undergo a real-life Independence Day à la Will Smith . . .”

Rose’s laugh ended on a snort and a glare from Vi. “What? She’s not wrong . . . but control will come with time. You’ll see . . .”

“I should only live so long,” Vi muttered grumpily.

Unlike Rose and Olive, who’d exhibited their witchy powers at eight years of age like most in the magical community, Vi’s powers hadn’t manifested until the spry age of thirty-two. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but as the eldest Maxwell triplet, Supernatural law dictated that Vi would become the next Prima—aka witch leader—a position their grandma Edie now held.

A magicless Prima was a bit like having a swim instructor who’d never swum a day in their life. It didn’t happen. As the second oldest in the Magical Triad, Rose had assumed the role and spent every waking moment of her childhood—and hell, adulthood, too— training for it.

Until six months ago when Vi’s abilities surfaced and Magic itself announced her as the next Prima.

Nearly immediately, Rose could breathe. As much as she loved their grandma, standing by her side as the Prima Apparent had never felt right, and it was because it had never been her path.

It was Violet’s.

A baby witch wrapped up in an adult-sized package, Vi nicknamed her ever-growing Magic “Sparky” because of its love of lighting things up in displays worthy of a Disney light show. At the rate of escalation, it wouldn’t be long before she met—and even surpassed—their grandma, and even though her sister would never express her worries aloud, Rose knew it weighed on Vi like an anvil.
Anyone would feel the pressure. Goddess knows she had when she’d been the Prima Apparent. But what Rose knew that Vi didn’t yet see was that she’d be great at it. Not at all like Grandma Edie, no. She’d put her own unique stamp on the Prima title and provide a much-needed stir in the Supernatural community.

“Supernova aside . . .” Rose steered the conversation away from Vi’s Magic and received a grateful look from her sister. “We’re on Long Island for Goddess’s sake. We can still be seen.”

Harper cocked an auburn eyebrow. “Are we in Manhattan?”

“No.”

“Brooklyn?”

“No.”

“Queens?” At Rose’s pursed lips, Harper waved an I-told-you-so finger in front of her nose. “Exactly my point. If we’re not in one of the boroughs, we’re in the middle of nowhere. They probably don’t even have a decent pleasure club out here.”

All eyes temporarily flickered to the succubus demon.

“What? How much do you want to bet? I’ll search it right now.”

With a heavy sigh, Vi flicked off the lights. “If Lincoln’s Jeep comes out of this night with so much as a scratch, I’m blaming all of you. And not to mention I’ll never forgive you all for making me be the voice of reason. I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.”

“You’re the light of Linc’s world,” Rose said, reminding her sister about her fiancé. “He wouldn’t give a damn about the car . . . just that you’re okay.”

A smile flirted on her triplet’s lips as she thought about her True Mate, the Alpha of the North American Pack. Rose’s heart ached with the knowledge that they’d come so damn close to missing their second chance at happily ever after. If anyone deserved to find their soul mate, it was Violet.

And Violet couldn’t have asked for a better one than the gorgeous wolf shifter. Seeing their eyes light up when they were together was almost enough to make a witch contemplate giving dating another try.
Almost . . . but not quite. For now, Mr. Wiggles would do. She’d just buy batteries at the nearby wholesale warehouse.

A half-mile down the gravel lane and made to look even more sinister by the glowing moon backdrop, a looming barn came into view.

Vi slowed the Jeep to a tentative stop. “If Freddy, Jason, or Michael Myers pop up from behind a hay bale or something it’s every witch—or succubus—for herself.”

Olive pushed her glasses higher up on her nose as she peered out the window. “This place has definitely seen better days.”

Rose agreed. The building and surrounding structures would make the perfect horror movie backdrop. “All the more reason to get those horses out of here. Who has the sugar cubes?”

“I do.” The youngest Maxwell triplet pulled a bag from her hoodie. “Let’s hope they’re sugar addicts like me.”

“Does everyone remember their job?”

Rose received three nods in answer.

“Then let’s do this.”

They all slid out of the Jeep as quietly as possible, Olive’s door closing louder than the others with an audible thud. She grimaced. “Sorry.”

Vi scanned their surroundings warily. “This triplet personality switch thing we’re doing is throwing me off. I’m the Bad Idea triplet, Olive is the Brilliant Brain . . .”

“Thank you.” Olive smiled with a proud nod.

“And you”—Vi drilled a look at Rose—“you’re the—”

“Boring one?” Rose asked, only half-teasing.

“I was about to say the levelheaded one. Not that I’m not up for a little midnight mayhem—Goddess knows I’m a bit overdue—but this is the kind of thing you’re usually talking me out of.”

Vi wasn’t wrong and Rose didn’t have an enlightening reason for the triplet-switch except Vi wasn’t the only sister out of sorts. Not that she begrudged her sister for coming into her Magic and taking her rightful place as the next Prima Apparent, but until six months ago that had been Rose’s future.

Hell, it had been her entire life.

While Olly and Vi had attended summer camps designed for outdoor fun, Rose had been stuck in a room with their grandma learning how to deescalate feuds between grumpy shifters and volatile vampires, and not tick off the witch covens in the process.

Now that Rose had a little extra time on her hands, she was . . . lost . . . and had evidently taken Vi’s former position as the Bad Idea triplet. Except this this wasn’t a bad idea. They’d load those two sweet mares into the trailer and get them the help they needed.

Harper got behind the steering wheel and flashed them a thumbs-up. “Go get it done, witches. I’ll be right here waiting to make a clean getaway.”

Rose and her sisters walked as quietly as possible to the dilapidated barn. The only sound other than their breathing was the distant traffic and the soft huffs of the animals inside.

With Olive shining her phone flashlight on the door’s rusted slide-latch, Rose yanked on the lock, unsurprised when it didn’t budge. She tried again, giving it a little more oomph. It moved an inch before sticking. “Damn it . . .”

“Remind me why this has to be a magicless operation?” Vi asked.

“Because unless these animals have been around Magic before, they could have a bad reaction to it. Getting a hoof to the head isn’t on my list of things to do.”

“See, I didn’t know that.” Vi shot her a pointed look. “Which is why I need a wing-witch with this whole Prima thing. Honestly, how long once I get the title do you think it’ll be until I offend someone by calling them by the wrong name? It’s not only a huge faux pas in the bedroom, you know?”

Rose sighed. “We’ve had this discussion.”

“Discussion implies back-and-forth communication. We didn’t have that. It was me begging, and you flat-out saying no. Adrian is Lincoln’s Second-in-Command. There’s no reason why I can’t have a wing-witch. We could even get you a little button . . . or a sash. No one wears sashes anymore.”

As flattered as Rose was by the offer, it wasn’t happening. For the last six months, she’d been content living in Vi’s Queens studio apartment while she searched for her own thing. That thing might be a little elusive, but she was determined to find it.

Maybe it was what brought her to this run-down farm in the middle of the night and about to horse-nap two sick mares. Who knows? She wouldn’t if she let herself take the easy route.

Harper hung her head out from the Jeep’s open window, and hissed, “Less chitchat and more breaking-and-entering, please. My spidey senses are tingling and not in a good way.”

Vi grumbled, putting her hands over Rose’s on the rusty latch. “Fine . . . but we’re not done with this conversation. On the count of three, yank with everything you’ve got.”

As they hit their count, they each threw their weight into the pull. It finally released with a heavy groan. The second Rose opened the barn door, they were hit with the scent of horse and hay . . . and a few more unpleasant smells.

Vi gagged, covering her nose. “I have never been so glad to be a cat owner. Even Mr. Fancy Pants’s most volatile poops don’t smell anything close to this, and they’re pretty damn putrid after he eats turkey breast.”

Rose sniffed, failing to hide her smirk. “I don’t smell anything.”

Vi threw her a glare because it was common Magical Triad knowledge that while Rose had inherited their father’s mountainlion shifter eyesight and Olive called dibs on amplified hearing, Vi, unfortunately, had acquired his augmented sense of smell.

Rose chuckled as she aimed her flashlight into the interior. Four stalls lined each side of the barn for a grand total of eight, and all but the two on the end were empty. When the light beam flickered over their resting spots, a chocolate-colored horse and a vanilla-colored horse poked their heads over their doors, shifting their long-lashed stares their way.

“Hey, girls,” Rose purred, glancing at the blond mare’s wall nameplate. “Let’s get Butternut into the trailer first. We’ll come back for the chocolate one when she’s settled.”

Rose’s chest ached as she unlatched the gate and got her first up-close view of the horse’s state. Her hips stuck out at sharp angles, and if there’d been better light, they’d be able to count every single rib through what little hair patches remained. Whatever this poor creature had been through, she’d suffered through it for a damn long time.

What Rose wouldn’t give for a few minutes alone with the owner.

A rush of anger—and Magic—swelled close to the surface, and as if sensing it, the horse shifted anxiously in her stall.

Violet’s hand squeezed hers. “Maybe Olly should lead Butternut to the trailer.”

“Why?” Rose asked.

Olive glanced to where Rose’s fingers still emitted a soft pink magical glow. “She’s obviously been through a lot and you’re a bit . . . supercharged at the moment.”

Rose took a deep breath, one after another, until her Magic slowly receded. “There. All good. Butternut and I will get along famously.”

Rose didn’t miss the look her sisters shared as she slipped into the mare’s stall.

Showing the horse the soft lead in her hand, she gently rubbed the white diamond on the center of Butternut’s nose, letting her fingers glide over the ears until she slid the lead into place. The horse huffed and shifted, burying her nose into Rose’s hair and making her giggle.

“I think she’s ready to get out of here.” Rose handed the rope to Olive and gave the horse a gentle rump push. “Let’s get you to Equine Disneyland, Butternut.”

The mare didn’t move except to swing her head sideways, her big brown eyes looking at her as if asking her what the hell she was doing.

Rose patted her hindquarter. “Come on, girl. You don’t want to stay here, do you? Are you two teasing her with the sugar cubes?”

Vi waved a cube in front of the horse’s muzzle. “She couldn’t care less. Aren’t sugar cubes like dangling Jason Momoa in front of . . . me? And if either of you tell Lincoln I said that, you’re dead to me.”

Olive frowned. “Maybe it’s something to do with her condition. We can try and lure her out with grain. I don’t know. When it was time for camp trail rides I usually snuck off to go read.”

They couldn’t afford to be tapped for ideas. They needed to get the two horses on the trailer, and to get the hell out of Dodge—or Long Island—before their owner realized what was happening.

The barn door opened and slammed closed, Harper’s appearance startling them all.

“Hells Spells, Harp,” Vi hissed. “You’re supposed to stay with the Jeep!”

“We need to get this show on the road, witches.” The succubus glanced over her shoulder. “They’re on our tails.”

“Who?”

“The police! Do you not hear the sirens?”

At first, Rose didn’t. Her hearing was only a smidge elevated and only when she concentrated so hard Vi joked she looked constipated.

Rose probably looked severely backed up right then. It took a full ten seconds of hard concentration to hear the sirens over her thundering heart, but then with every beat, the wails got louder.

“We need to move faster.” She gently pushed on the horse’s rump again. “Please, Butternut. Let us help you.”

The horse finally shifted, but instead of following Vi and Olive from the stall, the mare backed up, pinning Rose against the wall with her bony behind.

Everyone coaxed and clicked, begging the horse to move as the sirens got louder.
Rose shook her head. “You three need to get out of here. Now.”

Vi’s eyes widened. “We’re not leaving you! Witches who ride together die together.”

“And witches who get caught trespassing also get thrown in jail together,” she quipped, locking eyes with her sister. “You’re the Prima Apparent. What do you think the Supernatural Council would say if you’re tossed in jail?”

Vi visibly paled. “Actually, I’m more afraid of Gran. I don’t think she’s gotten over the whole insulting the Italian warlock commissioner thing yet.”

Edie Maxwell, as the Prima and head of the Supernatural Council, had more power in her little finger than did a dozen covens combined. But she didn’t need Magic to deliver a disappointing punch. She got the same effect with a single stone-faced look.

Vi lifted her chin. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll deal with the fallout. I’m not leaving you.”

Olive nodded. “No witch left behind . . .”

Harper shrugged. “I give you all ten seconds and then I’m out of here . . . we succubi are lone creatures for a reason.”

Rose chuckled, knowing there was no way the sex demon would leave them.

They worked together to coax the mare out from the stall. What felt like a lifetime later, they took their first few steps to the door only for it to be flung open.

Two cops stormed inside, flashlights zeroing in on their faces. “Do not move another muscle! Hands up! Now!”

Harper being Harper, she tossed her hands into the air and grinned coyly. “Who wants to frisk me first? Fair warning, though . . . I’m ticklish.”

Rose couldn’t suppress the chuckle that escaped with the absurdity of it all . . . until a flashlight beam hit her square in the eyes.

The offending officer muttered a curse. “Maxwell triplets . . . and a mouthy sidekick.”
“You’ve got to be shitting me.” A second light beam had Rose seeing rainbows. “Well, hell. You see, this is why I don’t pick up extra shifts. Shit always happens. I call not-it on ringing up the Supernatural Council. The paperwork for this will be ridiculous.”

“The hell you say. You’re the damn shifter. Besides, I did it last time this one got into trouble, and I still see the Prima’s glare in my nightmares.” The Norm officer flipped his light to Violet. “It’s your turn for night terrors.”

Rose pushed a hopeful smile to her face as she faced the two cops. “Why does anyone have to ring up anyone else, let alone fill out paperwork? It’s late and people are sleeping, and not enough rest has been linked to a whole host of medical problems. You could just let us mosey on our way. Spare someone the co-pay.”

Both officers turned back to them, matching blank expressions on their faces.

Any hope she had that they’d look the other way was dashed when the taller of the two clicked on his radio. “We’ve apprehended the culprits, and are on our way in.”

Operation Equine Freedom was officially dead in the water.

Copyright © 2022 by April Asher