Imperfect Witch, An Online - Debora Geary

Chapter 1

If you were going to totally embarrass yourself, it was better to do it alone.

Lizard Monroe shooed her boss out the door of Berkeley Realty and locked it, feeling foolish. It was no big deal. Just a stupid letter. And there were any number of people in her life who would be all happy and shit if she let them.

Not this evening.

With a final surreptitious glance at the door, she headed to the back room—the place where files went to die and no one would look for a hot up-and-coming young realtor on a Friday night. She grabbed her red leather backpack and slid down the wall, feeling like the abrasive delinquent she’d once been.

Two years, four months, twenty-three days—a lifetime and a hiccup.

Big emotions churned up Lizard’s throat and back down again. Old ones—shame and inadequacy, guilt for the past and guilt for escaping it. And the even harder ones to admit. Victory. Pride.

This was why she needed to be alone. For the next few minutes, she was going to be one very messed-up Lizard.

Ignoring the shaking of her fingers, she reached into her backpack for the letter. A totally innocuous white envelope—until you saw the return address. California Department of Corrections. Region II Parole Headquarters.

The place where stupid punk twenty-one-year-olds nobody cared about went to die.

Okay, that was probably a little extreme. Lizard fingered the envelope. Twenty-six months ago, the Department of Corrections had been threatening her with a lot more than parole.

And then she’d fallen into Witch Central—a big, happy collection of people with magic and those who loved them. They’d taken her in, mindreading powers, petty crimes, bad attitude, and all. And in between cookiefests and water fights, insisted that she find a better path.

Reason number two she needed to be alone. She still hadn’t figured out how to say thank you. Her life was way damn better than Lizard Monroe had ever expected or deserved. A great job, a sexy and astonishing guy, and an obnoxiously loyal clan.

The letter wouldn’t change any of that. But Lizard had known the moment she’d spied it in her mailbox that it was going to change her. Words in writing always managed to do that somehow.

Unsettled and annoyed, she slid a finger under the flap.

The single sheet of paper inside was impersonal, printed out by some machine that could care less that she’d hijacked a car. Or that she’d tried to bring it back after one really awesome fast joyride along the coast.

Joy always had a price.

Or it had, until she’d fallen in with people who served it up on waffles for breakfast.

She read the words. Effective October 27, 2013, let it be known that Elizabeth Eleanor Monroe has hereby met all conditions of parole as specified by the court in reference to case #32531257, and is no longer required to comply with relevant sections of the California Penal Code.

There was more. A dry list of things she was no longer required to do. And then a spark of life. Three short lines at the end, right above the signature of the man she’d met only once.

Haven’t seen much of you. Keep it that way. Best of luck to you.

She tried to imagine him sitting at a desk, coffee stains gathering on the paperwork of the latest poor schmuck assigned to his caseload, typing the words by rote into a letter he’d seen a thousand times.

And couldn’t quite get there. He hadn’t been an awful guy. Maybe he actually meant it.

And he needn’t fear. If she attempted a detour back to that life, there would be a lot more than one overworked parole officer standing in her way.

She closed her eyes for a minute, in this space of quiet, and let herself simply sink into the life that was hers now. The last time she’d been this happy, she’d been nine, Gram had still been alive, and the world hadn’t yet shown her how mean it could be.

She opened her eyes and read the letter one more time. Not really news—more like an epitaph. For the misguided delinquent named after royalty and the wives of presidents.

People kept asking her what came next. When you were Lizard Monroe, the present was a freaking miracle. Yesterday and tomorrow were bridges she had no intention of crossing.

She scrunched the letter into a ball and shoved it in her backpack. Time to go. The present was calling, in the form of a date with a trio of four-foot-tall hellions.

None of whom would ever