Cricket by Willow Hadley

 

Chapter One

Cricket

“Oh, thank God.”

My brothers chuckle in amusement, and I half-heartedly kick the passenger seat in front of me. We’d just passed the sign officially welcoming us to Emery Ridge, Colorado, and I keep my face practically pressed up against the window as my eyes drink in the town I’d soon be calling home.

“Did you not have fun on our road trip, baby sis?” Killian turns around to ask me with a pout on his face.

Honestly, I’d had a ton of fun. It had taken us four days to drive here from Tampa, Florida. I’d never been on a trip like this without my parents before, and my older brothers were the most entertaining travel buddies in the entire freaking world.

I give Killian a sweet smile and admit, “I had fun.” I gently run my fingers through Stella’s soft beige fur, and she curls into an even tighter coil in my lap. “But Stella’s feeling a little cooped up in here.”

“Is that right, Stella?” Killian grins down at the sleepy Siamese cat.

Stella yawns and stretches her toes out before lazily opening her eyes to look up at him. She hisses and promptly curls back up to sleep.

Killian squints his eyes and smiles even wider. “Aww, I love you too!”

Emerson snickers from beside him, and I roll my eyes while I scratch behind her ears. Stella can be such an ass sometimes, but I love my little familiar.

My oldest brother reaches an arm behind him without looking and pats my knee affectionately. “Almost there, kiddo. I’m feeling pretty cooped up too.”

Killian snorts at his twin and wiggles his eyebrows. “Are you sure you’re not just missing your boyfriend?”

A giggle escapes my throat, and I share a conspiring smile with Killian when Em doesn’t immediately deny the accusation. It’s still the weirdest thing ever to think Emerson has a boyfriend! My brothers and I have never dated anyone seriously, and Em’s always been the biggest player between the three of us. At least, he was before he met Luca.

“Luca’s not working today,” Emerson grumbles. “We probably won’t even see him until tomorrow.”

“Aww,” I whine. Despite our teasing, Killian and I are both thrilled for our older brother. I’ve seen tons of pictures of Luca, but I haven’t had the chance to meet him in person yet.

We turn onto a picturesque street with adorable shops and restaurants lining both sides. In the background, I can see mountains for miles. It’s so ridiculously gorgeous that it takes my breath away. I’m going to miss my parents, for sure, but I can’t help but feel a tiny thrill as my magic curls blissfully inside of me. I’m not sure how or why, but I suddenly have the strongest feeling that I’m meant to be here.

Emerson parks right in front of our Aunt Aurora’s place. I grin as I stare up at the gorgeous chateau-style four-story building.

The first floor is dedicated to an eclectic bookshop called Flora & Feathers Books, and Aurora renovated the upper apartments and offices into one large living space. Emerson’s boyfriend Luca works here with Aurora too, which is how he and Em met last year when the twins first started university.

On the second floor of the building, Aurora has her office and workshop, and a room she uses for tarot card and palm readings for customers on the side. The third floor is reserved for most of her living quarters—a living room, kitchen, her bedroom, and another guest room. The fourth floor and attic will be my room.

Since my parents agreed to let me move in with her, my aunt’s been sending me almost daily pictures and updates as she’s fixed the room up for me over the past few months. After waiting for what feels like forever, I’m finally going to see my new bedroom in person for the first time.

The moment the vehicle stops and I move to get out, Stella stretches out her legs and hops onto my shoulder. She digs her nails into my skin to steady herself, but I barely notice. Stella goes practically everywhere with me, perched on my shoulder like a fuzzy, demented little parrot.

Emerson walks around to the back of his black SUV, but Killian runs ahead of us into the bookshop. As excited as I am to get inside and see Aurora, I help Em with the luggage first. He yanks out one of my massive suitcases and sets it on the ground with a grunt. He gives me a look out of the corner of his eye, and I giggle for a second as I watch him struggle with the second even larger suitcase that’s still in the car. Eventually, I take pity on him, since he technically is carrying my bags for me. I quickly wave my left hand and use my magic to control the air surrounding both bags. They’re basically floating, that’s how light they should feel in Emerson’s hands. He shoots me a thankful smile and starts making his way into the shop. I grab two smaller bags and follow behind him.

Inside, Aurora is standing near the counter with her arms wrapped tightly around a grinning Killian. She looks up when she hears the bell over the door, and she beams when she sees me and Emerson. She pulls us both into a tight, warm hug.

She pulls back and pats Emerson lovingly on the cheek. It’s only been a few months since she’s seen the twins, as they both go to school in Denver a couple hours away from here. I haven’t seen my vivacious aunt in almost two years. Even though we talk on the phone and FaceTime frequently, it totally isn’t the same. I bump my hip into Emerson and push him away so I can have her all to myself.

Aurora laughs and places her hands on either side of my face. “Oh, my darling Cricket, look at how beautiful you are!”

A huge black crow flies over and lands gently on my vacant shoulder. I lift my hand to softly stroke Harold’s feathers, and he nips at my fingers affectionately. Stella growls lightly and swipes a paw at the other familiar in irritation.

“Oh, Stella.” Aurora laughs. “I see you haven’t changed a bit.”

She taps Stella playfully on her small brown nose. Stella growls even louder and turns so that, even though she’s still on my shoulder, she’s now facing away from Aurora. God, she’s so dramatic.

Aurora pulls me and Emerson further into the bookshop and asks about the trip. I look around the shop, admiring the smell of so many books. The bookshop is fairly large, with several shelves and aisles of books leading all the way to the back of the building. The cash register sits atop a beautiful wooden counter near the front entrance, and on the opposite wall there’s one long shelf of books with one of those sliding ladders. I already can’t wait to play around on that thing.

Aurora continues talking as she walks toward the door that leads to the upstairs. Her silky, silver hair is swinging around her tall, willowy figure, reaching nearly to her waist. Before she guides me and my brothers upstairs, she calls out to a girl stacking books onto a shelf further back in the shop.

As the girl approaches, I notice that she looks close to my age. She’s a little shorter than me, a bit heavyset, and she has a cute round face with curly brown hair and soft brown eyes. Her eyes quickly glance over me and my two brothers, and she thoroughly blushes when her eyes land on them.

“This is my niece, Cricket, and my nephews, Killian and Emerson,” Aurora says. “Cricket’s going to be living here until she finishes school. Actually, I believe you’re in the same grade!”

I grin at Paisley, totally relieved. I’d been going to the same school with the same judgmental kids my entire life, and I’d never exactly fit in. As excited as I am to get a fresh start, it’s nerve-racking to think of starting over completely.

Paisley gives me another considering look and frowns slightly when she takes in my outfit. I glance down, making sure I don’t have a nipple hanging out. It’s happened before. But nope, I’m perfectly decent. I’m wearing cut-off shorts with the pockets poking out from the bottom of the hem, a cropped tank top, and a flannel with the sleeves rolled up over top. I’m also barefoot, and I’m wearing my usual exorbitant amount of rings, bracelets, and necklaces. I want to tell Paisley this is a pretty conservative look for me. If I could get away with it, I’d probably go naked all the time.

She finally meets my eyes again and offers me a shy smile. “It’s nice to meet you, Cricket.”

“Yeah, same! It’ll be nice starting off the school year knowing at least one person.”

Emerson jumps into the conversation and says, “My brother and I go to school in Denver, so we’re not too far from here either.”

Killian gives her an appraising look but isn’t unfriendly when he asks, “ Did you just start working here? I don’t remember seeing you around last year.”

With the twins’ attention on her, Paisley completely freezes up, and a vibrant blush forms on her cheeks. I’m not surprised. Girls and guys are always fawning over the twins. They’re nearly identical with short, dark brown hair and blue eyes, and they’ve got muscles for days. Em’s a little more muscular than Killian, but they’re both six feet tall. It’s totally not fair. They got all the tall genes, and I’m stuck at a whopping five-foot-three.

Since Paisley’s speechless, Aurora answers for her. “Paisley started working here in June. My dear, can you mind the shop while I help them settle in upstairs?”

Paisley nods and waves at us before turning and heading toward the front of the shop. The twins start up the stairs, my bags still in Emerson’s hands, and I slowly follow behind them.

By the time I make it to the third floor, my legs are killing me. Killian’s already sprawled across the couch, flipping through channels on the television. He’s such a lazy little shit, making himself right at home. I look at the final staircase that will lead to my new attic bedroom and groan. I slowly make it up the steps, silently motivating myself by imagining how amazingly toned my legs will be after living here after just a couple of months.

Emerson’s already waiting for me, and he laughs when he realizes I’m panting. I flip him off and flop down onto the bed. Offended by the sudden movement, Stella hops down from my shoulder and starts exploring around the room.

I know I’ve seen pictures, but the room is seriously beautiful. The floors are hardwood, matching the rest of the house and bookshop downstairs. The walls are a pretty cream color, and there’s a fluffy white rug centered on the floor of the room. There’s a queen-sized wrought iron bed on the wall opposite the door, centered underneath a large window. At the end of the bed there’s a small bench with some folded blankets on top of it, and a light green and cream-colored duvet covering the bed, and matching cream sheets and pillows. On the right side of the room, underneath another window, there’s a white wooden desk and chair. On the left side of the room, there are two doors—one for a decently sized closet with a dresser inside, and the other leading into a small, updated bathroom with a large walk-in shower.  In the corner next to the desk, there’s a beautiful full-length mirror outlined with fairy lights.

“Do you love it?” Aurora asks from the doorway at the top of the stairs.

Emerson mumbles that he’s going to head downstairs to chill with Killian. Aurora squeezes his arm as he slips by her, promising to be down in a minute.

“Yes, it’s totally perfect! Thank you so much for letting me stay here, Ror.”

Aurora shows me where everything is in the bathroom and gives me a key to the shop. She has some protection spells up around the building to prevent break-ins, and she promises to show me how to check those later. After she goes downstairs to hang out with the twins, I open both the windows in my room and relish in the cool mountain breeze. From the window above the desk, I can see Aurora’s garden behind the shop. It looks like Stella has already found her way there. I can see her tiny beige form darting through a bed of flowers. I’ll have to remind her to be careful with Aurora’s plants, as she uses a lot of them in her spells and potions.

Behind the garden, I can see a row of other buildings from the next street over and a beautiful mountainscape. It’s stunning, and my magic is humming happily just from being here in this new place.

I can’t wait to see what Emery Ridge has in store for me.