Heather Graham’s bestselling series Krewe of Hunters continues next week with a new suspenseful paranormal tale, The Hexed. This time, the Krewe tackles witchcraft and ghosts in an infamous location — Salem. Keep reading for an excerpt from The Hexed and pick up your copy July 29 wherever books are sold.
A PLACE OF HISTORY, SECRETS… AND WITCHCRAFT
Devin Lyle has recently returned to the Salem area, but her timing couldn’t be worse. Soon after she moved into the eighteenth-century cabin she inherited from her great-aunt Mina—her “crazy” great-aunt, who spoke to the dead—a woman was murdered nearby.
Craig Rockwell—known as Rocky—is a new member of the Krewe of Hunters, the FBI’s team of paranormal investigators. He never got over finding a friend dead in the woods. Now another body’s been found in those same woods, not far from the home of Devin Lyle. And Devin’s been led to a third body—by…a ghost?
Her discovery draws them both deeper into the case and Salem’s rich and disturbing history. Even as the danger mounts, Devin and Rocky begin to fall for each other, something the ghosts of Mina and past witches seem to approve of. But the two of them need every skill they possess to learn the truth—or Devin’s might be the next body in the woods…
Every once in a while Devin Lyle couldn’t help herself. People did such outrageous things sometimes that she just had to step in.
She stepped forward, positioning herself a little closer to the group standing by the memorial so she could hear what they were saying.
“Burn, witch! Burn!” a young man said. Despite his words, he was actually reverently placing a flower on the bench dedicated to one of the victims of the witch trials.
“How horrible. I can’t even imagine burning to death,” an older woman said.
“Excuse me,” Devin said. “None of the condemned in Salem were burned. Nineteen were hanged, and one man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death.”
“Really?” The older woman sounded relieved. “Not that hanging must have been less than horrible, but to burn…” She shuddered.
“Almost any tour you take in Salem is going to tell you about the victims—and tell you that no one was burned,” Devin said. They were all staring at her, and she suddenly felt self-conscious. She wasn’t a tour guide, after all. She wrote sweet, fun children’s books about a slightly crazy “witch.”
But Salem was her home. And she hated the misinformation about it that spread far too frequently.
“I saw it in a movie,” a kid said, nodding sagely. “They burned them in the movie.”
“That movie took license with history, I promise you,” Devin assured him.
“And men were called witches, too? Not warlocks?” the older woman asked.
“Yes, they were all accused of being witches. And at the time, witchcraft was punishable by death,” Devin said. “So, if you ‘hexed’ a neighbor—just cursed him, or say you had a voodoo doll, whether there was any real magic there or not—you were considered a practicing witch and subject to execution.”
“So they were all guilty?” someone else asked.
“No, not all of them―you have to remember, even just saying that you had cursed someone was considered to be witchcraft. Kids would read their futures in broken eggs, and that was witchcraft, by the standards of the time. Those who were condemned and hanged refused to plead guilty, because they were innocent and feared for their souls if they did. During the hysteria, all kinds of crazy things happened. You really need to take a tour—or just start at the Witch Dungeon and get a good overview of the entire situation.
“People were at odds politically, creating an atmosphere ripe for petty arguments. It was winter, it was bitter cold and it was, frankly, miserable. Most scholars believe that the tales Tituba—a slave from the Caribbean—told to a group of girls started them making up their own stories. And since people not only believed fiercely in the devil but that he also lived in the woods, they…” Devin’s voice trailed off, and she smiled as she saw an old friend, Brent Corbin, standing nearby. He owned an occult and souvenir store on Essex Street, and led one of the best night tours of the city.
She could see that he was grinning at her, with a teasing light in his eyes. Brent was a little stout, but he had a cute thatch of blond hair, beautiful bright blue eyes and a great smile. He was clearly as bemused as she was by the conversation.
Ten years ago Brent had graduated with her from Salem High. They’d fought like crazy when they’d been kids, teased and tormented each other over dating as they’d gotten older, and now—especially with her living back in Salem—they laughed over their old squabbles. It had been great to spend time with him now that she was back to town, and no way was she letting him get away without an introduction.
“Hey,” she said, smiling. “We’ve got one of the city’s best tour guides right here. This is Brent Corbin. He owns Which Witch Is Which just over on the mall and no one—seriously, no one—knows Salem’s history better than Brent. I’ll leave you in his capable hands.”
She waved to him, laughing when the smile disappeared from his face. But then it was back, and he shook his head in amusement as he watched her go.
A few minutes later he sent her a text message. I’d throw you in the stocks for that—except half of them signed on for the tour tonight. Thx. See ya later.
Devin laughed and continued on to Essex Street, where one of her best friends carried Devin’s books in her shop, the Haunted Dragon. She not only carried books, but toys and Salem T-shirts, as well as finely made cloaks, clothing and jewelry. Beth Fullway was a practicing Wiccan. She had graduated a few years before Devin, then stayed in the area and, like Brent, opened a shop. She was open from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily, with two employees to help her cover all the days of the week. When seven at night rolled around, she was done. Unless, of course, it was October and they were in the middle of Haunted Happenings. In Salem, Haunted Happenings was one of the year’s biggest events—a money event. People came in droves, and all the rules changed. Stores stayed open later, and there were more special tours, historical events, haunted houses and whatever other manner of “spooky” entertainment an up-and-coming entrepreneur could imagine.
A little bell tinkled when Devin went in; the store was about a thousand square feet, with curtained rooms in the rear where Beth and her employees sometimes did readings.
“Hey!” Beth said, rising to greet Devin with a hug. Beth was about five-eight but so slim she appeared small. Even with Devin being an inch taller at five-nine, they had to stretch over the counter to greet each other.
“Glad to see you,” Beth said. “I mean…now. I’m always glad to see you.” Her verbal confusion was a frequent result of her effervescent sincerity. “I have to tell you—I sold out of the last batch of your books in two days. Of course, it’s summer and this town is teeming with kids. But still….”
“That’s great,” Devin said. “I’m impressed—and flattered.”
“Anyway, if you happen to have any extras, can you bring them by?” Beth asked her. “I’ve ordered more, but I could use a few to tide me over.”
“I’ll bring my author’s copies.”
Devin looked in the display case by the counter as they talked. She wasn’t really much for costly jewelry—diamonds, platinum, elegant pieces—but she loved artistic costume jewelry. Silver. And, okay, sometimes silver with stones.
“Wow!” she said, and looked up at Beth.
“You’re looking at the Sheena Marston series, right?” Beth asked.
“They’re gorgeous pieces, aren’t they?” came another voice.
Devin looked up. Theo Hastings, one of Beth’s employees and mediums, had come from the back. He waved at the young women to whom he’d been giving a reading and smiled at Devin. He was about forty, devilishly handsome and great at his work. He was a practicing Wiccan—though Devin suspected that he was “practicing” more because it was good for his image and his work than because he believed the way Beth did. He had the right look, with dark hair that fell to his shoulders and was highlighted with just a touch of gray, dark eyes and perfectly sculpted features. And of course, he always wore black suits that hinted at the 1800s without being costume pieces. He was always nice, but she hadn’t known him all that long, and he wasn’t an open book like Beth, so Devin always kept a little distance.
“Take that one,” he said, pointing to a gorgeous silver medallion hanging from a delicate chain, a pentagram entwined with enamel glass-green leaves and tiny stones. “Beautiful—truly beautiful. So many people come in here thinking that the pentagram is evil, but it isn’t. It even symbolizes the Freemasons, who do a lot of good things and fall under suspicion, too. Pentagrams were important religious symbols for the Babylonians, and they were also used in ancient Greece. Christians have even used the pentagram to represent the five wounds of Christ. It’s no different than the cross or the Star of David or any religious symbol. How do people get these things in their minds…?”
His voice trailed off as he shook his head.
“Hey, you’re asking that question in a place where ‘spectral’ evidence was considered proof of guilt,” Devin reminded him.
“Amazing, right?” Beth asked. “A kid said she was being pinched by the astral projection of some poor old woman, and people believed her.”
“Different times,” Devin murmured. “And sometimes I’m not so sure we’ve evolved very far. Look at the prejudices we still practice.”
“Hey, not me,” Beth protested. “I love everyone.”
Devin laughed. “And everyone loves you. I mean, as a species, we can still be pretty wretched. You can make prosecuting witches illegal, and we can enact laws against discrimination, but that doesn’t mean we can change the human mind.”