BY: CHE GILSON
When three witches open a tea shop in the small Maine town of Midswich, the locals are none too happy. Leading the opposition is Pastor Austin, whose outspoken dislike of the witches hides a private pain.
The three witches, Bruleé, Anglaise, and Caramel, are only looking for a home. A place to start over after the death of their parents. With luck, and a little magic, they will make more friends than enemies and find a place in their new community.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Tea Times 3 by Che Gilson, three witches have opened a teashop in a small town in Maine. But even though it’s the twenty-first century, not everyone is amenable to having witches in their small town. Most notably, the town pastor, Oscar Austin. He doesn’t like the witches or their teashop and starts planning ways to get rid of them. But the delicious smells wafting from the teashop’s kitchen are hard to resist. As the residents give in to temptation and sample the wares, little by little, the bigotry and persecution heats up until disaster strikes, just when the witches think they may have finally found a home.
The story is cute, clever, and heartwarming, with a strong plot and plenty of surprises to keep you on your toes.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Tea Times 3 by Che Gilson is the delightful story of three sisters, who just happen to be witches and open a teashop in rural Maine, in a small town called Midswich. The three Crème sisters—Bruleé, Anglaise, and Caramel—are determined to make their teashop a success, in spite of the persecution they are suffering from some of the small town residents. They’ll just win them over with baked goods. But some residents aren’t that easily won over, despite the overwhelmingly enticing aromas coming from the teashop. Slowly the girls begin to make friends and win the townspeople over, but the local pastor has it in for them, and his word carries a lot of weight, especially with the more superstitious among them. But when the oldest sister helps an old woman with arthritis to walk again, most of the holdouts soften. All except the pastor who is still determined to run them out of town.
Tea Times 3 is heartwarming; funny; at times, suspenseful; at others, hilarious. It can make you laugh, cry, and bite your nails, sometimes all on the same page.
At 5:00 a.m., the town of Midswich, Maine, was silent. One person strode through the pre-dawn twilight. Geoffrey Callister kept the tradition of opening Callister’s Dry Goods himself every morning, same as his father and grandfather.
Geoffrey liked the hours of quiet he had to himself. He liked seeing Midswich wake up, watching the cobbled streets slowly fill with locals he knew on sight and tourists during the summer.
The old boutique was open.
He looked up and down the street, as if expecting to see a hidden camera or his friends laughing at him. The Piccadilly Boutique had closed years ago, when the economy went south along with Mrs. Herman’s mind. The shop was empty. Or, at least, it had been.
Overnight it had changed. Gone was the “For Sale” sign in the dirty windows. The windows were clean, the old faded awnings replaced by crisp white new ones, and window boxes filled with pink geraniums decorated the outside. A fancy ironwork shingle hung over the front door–a silhouetted teapot embellished by floral cutouts. The words Tea Times Three curved around the teapot in iron letters.
Across the street, two girls in their mid-twenties set up a folding chalkboard sign. They looked normal enough. But he couldn’t get past the fact that yesterday there hadn’t been a teashop in Midswich.
Geoffrey realized he stood frozen in front of his grocery store. Shut your mouth and man up, Geoffrey thought. They’re just girls. Ordinary young women who had opened a teashop overnight. He swallowed a couple of times, his mouth dry from hanging open.
The two girls finished putting out their sign. The tall, blonde straightened up and turned to Geoffrey. She was almost pretty enough to be a model or maybe an actress. But instead of “glamour,” there was a hominess that warmed her good looks.
The girl smiled at him and waved. “Good morning!”
The other girl was a few inches shorter, dressed for work in a chef’s coat, sneakers, and beige cargo pants. She looked across the street at Geoffrey, unsmiling, her eyes narrowed in suspicion.
Geoffrey raised a tentative hand and gave a weak hello wave. He couldn’t quiet force out a return greeting.
He looked at the chalkboard.
Chinese Blue Tea
Orange Pecan Scones
Chocolate Cherry Gateau
The menu didn’t look very magical. High in calories, but not actually witchy.
The distinct rumble of the news van’s engine drew near. The familiar sound was a relief.
As Geoffrey waited, he kept staring at the two girls. They were going to think he was a perverted old man pretty soon. But he couldn’t seem to look away, either. They looked so normal. There had to be some hint of the uncanny. The only thing so far was that the cheery blonde kept smiling and waving.
Geoffrey looked up. Descending from the sky was a third girl. The broom she flew on was loaded with packages, and the broom’s bristled end wobbled on descent. Geoffrey inhaled, amazed. This was the sort of thing normally only seen on television, like the Mona Lisa or Ferrari cars. He knew they were out there. But to see it in person was indescribable. A thrill bubbled up in his chest and fear curled in his gut then, like a rollercoaster, wonder rose up and overshadowed the fear.
The news van from Musquash arrived with Geoffrey’s morning delivery of newspapers and magazines for the Dry Goods. Geoffrey caught sight of Rob Harris, the deliveryman. Rob saw the witch land across the street. His granite face didn’t even twitch. He took in the sight of the girl on the broom, and the van peeled away from the curb, leaving a long black streak of rubber on the street. The van sped past, leaving Geoffrey in an acidic cloud of burnt rubber and exhaust.
“My papers,” Geoffrey coughed.
Three blocks away, in front of the town square, the van screeched to a halt. A bundle of papers were unceremoniously tossed out the back of the van.
“Oh, no. Your newspapers.”
The voice came from so close beside Geoffrey, he jumped, and his already taxed heart sped up. The blonde girl stood right next to him. He reminded himself he wasn’t in a horror movie. She’d just walked across the street while he’d been staring at the van.
“I’ll get them for you,” she said, and her eyes narrowed in concentration. She raised a hand, pulling back as if tugging an invisible string. The two bundles of papers lifted off the pavement and drifted toward them, landing at Geoffrey’s feet.
“There you are,” the blonde said. She let out a tired exhale, but her perky smile never faltered.
Geoffrey snapped. Too much was happening too early in the morning. He offered a weak, almost hysterical smile. “I have to go now,” he said.
He turned and bolted for the safety of the Dry Goods. Geoffrey hit the door full force, forgetting he hadn’t unlocked it. The door shuddered as he bounced off it and his vision went gray. There was a vague sensation of falling, and he knew he wouldn’t last long. After all, the pavement was only a few feet away.
“I told you not to show off, Bruleé.”
Bruleé gave her sister a sardonic look. The way she carried on, you’d think she was the oldest sister. “He’ll be fine, Anglaise.”
Bruleé knelt beside the man on the sidewalk. Secretly, she knew Anglaise was right, but she would burn at the stake before admitting it.
She ignored her sister and summoned her magic. A warm feeling rose from her bones, suffusing her body. She always pictured it in her mind as a golden light radiating from within, but there was nothing visible until she released it.
“See the unseen, good or ill, show me what’s in need,” she muttered.
Her slender hand passed over his light blue shirt and red tie. A white glow left a trail in the air behind her hand. He was fine. He’d bruised his head on the sidewalk, and his nose would be sore from its impromptu meeting with the door, but other than that, nothing was wrong with him. Though, he could use one of her slimming teas to get him back to his ideal weight.
“Well?” Anglaise demanded.
Perhaps she’ll be satisfied if I pronounce him dead, Bruleé thought. She could feel steel-gray eyes drilling into her, waiting to be proven right.
“He’s fine,” she said, “I just wanted to help.”
“You’ve helped us to a lynch mob,” Anglaise snapped.
“Don’t be ridiculous. That doesn’t happen these days.” And wait for it, Bruleé thought.
“Tell that to Granny Bonbon.”
There it was. The one example of modern violence against witches that Anglaise could dredge up to prove her mistrust of people was right.
Never mind that Granny Bonbon had gone senile and started cursing people when she thought she was aiding them. And never mind that a little boy had almost died. Granny had been assaulted by the parents, but then the police came, and now she was in a nursing home for old witches, her powers bound, where she could do no one any harm.
“Oh, look. He’s waking up,” Bruleé said.
“You should wipe his memory.”
“Nonsense. It’s not like the town won’t know we’re witches sooner or later.”
The man groaned and scrunched his eyelids in pain. Slowly, he cracked one eye open and looked around.
Bruleé smiled kindly.
“What–uh–” Both his eyes opened and he looked from Bruleé to Anglaise.
“You took a nasty spill, sir,” Bruleé said.
Anglaise snorted. “Because you scared him witless.”
“That’s enough, Anglaise.”
He frantically dug into his pants’ pocket. “No, no, no. I’m fine.” He jumped up and leapt for the grocery store. He thrust the key into the lock, sparing an anxious glance over his shoulder. “Thank you, anyway.”
The bang of the door slamming shut rattled the windows, and Bruleé felt a puff of wind in her face. She heard the click of the lock and knew he was trying to lock them out.
Anger radiated off Anglaise, standing stiffly beside her.
“I’m going to start packing,” she snarled then added softly, “Again.”
Anglaise turned and started stomping back across the street before Bruleé could rally.
“No, you’re not!” Bruleé shouted after her sister. “I said we’re staying.”
Bruleé ran after her. She caught the teashop door before it closed. Anglaise was already stomping past the wooden cottage tables and chairs that were ready for customers. Her baby sister Caramel stood in the middle of the room, holding a stack of menus fresh from the printers. They were what she’d been flying in when the news van drove off. She’d been placing them on the pink-and-white-striped tablecloths next to the porcelain and silver tea services laid out on all the tables. Her wide golden-brown eyes looked searchingly from Anglaise to Bruleé.
“Start packing,” Anglaise said, passing the glass display case next to the register. The bakery cases were full of cookies, scones, and golden pastries. Behind the baked goods rose a wall of cubbies, each one holding a glass jar of dried tea, herbs, spices, or flowers. A passage behind the counter led to Anglaise’s domain, the kitchen, and a staircase that led to the apartment above.
Caramel pulled the menus to her chest. “A–are we leaving?”
“Yes!” Anglaise disappeared into the kitchen.
“No!” Bruleé crossed her arms. “Don’t you dare fold a sock.”
Anglaise came back into the main shop. “Is that so?”
“We don’t know for sure that everyone will act like that guy. Maybe if–”
“Maybe if what?” Anglaise cut her off. “Maybe if we gave the green grocer a heart attack, they’ll really take a shine to us?”
“Um…p–p–please?” Caramel stammered, her voice a tremulous whisper.
“I was only trying to help. We need to make friends here.”
From up above came the thump-thump-thump of a small body rapidly descending the stairs. There was the skitter of nails on tile, and Fraiche, their Pomeranian, burst into the teashop, an excited ball of cream-colored fur.
Bruleé walked up to the counter and leaned over it, staring at Anglaise. Anglaise had a point. Witches had always been persecuted, even into the twentieth century. When the Jim Crow laws were abolished in the sixties, the anti-magic laws that punished the use of witchcraft with long jail sentences, and even death south of the Mason-Dixon Line, went with them. “We’re here to open a magic teashop. How can we, if we never use our magic?”
Fraiche jumped up and down beside Anglaise, each leap accompanied by a shrill yap. He sprang higher than the counter on his little legs.
Anglaise scowled. “There’s a time and a place.”
“S–stop fighting,” Caramel’s voice rose to normal speaking level, which for her was a shout. Caramel blushed bright red and dropped her eyes to the floor. Bruleé and Anglaise waited expectantly while Fraiche ran to her.
“I–I want to stay,” she whispered.
Fraiche shimmied and waved his pom-pom tail in support.
“See? Caramel is on my side,” Bruleé said.
“No, I–I’m not. I just l–like this town. It’s cute…” Her voice trailed off to nothing.
Anglaise looked furious, her chef’s temper close to boiling over. Bruleé could see her gears turning. Did she carry on, insist they leave, and crush her little sister, or did she agree to stay?
“Fine.” Anglaise spun on her heel and headed for the kitchen. “Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Bruleé let out a quiet sigh. She went to one of the tables and sat down. Head propped on hands, she stared at the china plates.
Caramel sat down beside her. “D–did you really s–scare the greengrocer?”
“Yes.” Bruleé nodded, miserable. “I did.” Her usual mistake. She’d used too much magic, too soon, hoping she could force people to accept them.
She glanced at Caramel, still hugging her menus. Unshed tears moistened her light brown eyes.
Bruleé nudged her with an elbow. “Want to bop me?” Caramel hit Bruleé on the head with the menus then offered a shy smile. “I deserve that.” Bruleé grinned. She looked around suspiciously. “Just don’t tell Anglaise.”
Fraiche whined at Caramel’s feet, and she picked him up. She hugged him and mumbled into his coat, “B–but what do we do n–now?”
Bruleé put an arm around her sister and looked around the teashop. The sparkling crystal, the chintz curtains, and polished hardwood floor–all of it was just as she’d imagined. Midswich had been her choice. They had one last chance to start over and this was it. Their inheritance was almost gone and, despite popular belief, witches couldn’t conjure money.
“Don’t worry.” Bruleé squeezed Caramel’s hand. “The Crème sisters will never be defeated.”
© 2016 Che Gilson
Author Reggie Lutz:
“This is a sweet, entertaining story with serious undertones, a lot of heart, and some truly hilarious moments. It will also make you want to eat all of the baked things. All of them.” ~ Reggie Lutz author of Haunted
Author Celia Swift:
“Tea Times Three blends small town drama and feel-good witchcraft into a story as sweet and fluffy as one of the pastries the Créme sisters sell. You’ll want to have some fresh baked cookies on hand while you read this one.” ~ Celia Swift, author of the Christmas at Kellynch Regency Romance Series
Author Suzanne McLeod:
“A delicious and clever concoction of magic, witches, and dangerous small town secrets.” ~ Suzanne McLeod, author of the Spellcrackers urban fantasy series