- Author: Amanda Lee
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Prelude to a Witch
Wicked Witches of the Midwest Book Eighteen
Amanda M. Lee
About the Author
Books by Amanda M. Lee
Books by Lily Harper Hart
Seventy-Five years ago
Tillie Winchester was in a tizzy.
It wasn’t all that much of a surprise to her mother. Caroline Winchester had learned long ago that Tillie was always in a tizzy. In fact, the day she gave birth to Tillie they were in the midst of a tornado ... and infant Tillie had more energy than the storm. Still, Caroline couldn’t help but be concerned as she rolled dough for a pie and watched her daughter stomp through the house.
“What’s wrong with her?” Caroline asked her other daughter as she watched the spectacle. “Is she in one of her moods?”
Ginger, always the calm one of the two, shrugged as she washed blueberries. There was little more she loved than helping her mother in the kitchen. She had grand plans to learn every family recipe and claim the title of best Winchester chef. Upon sliding a look toward Tillie, she realized that wasn’t going to be difficult. Tillie had never shown any interest in cooking.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with her,” Ginger admitted as she studied her sister. They were close, something their mother was happy to know. That didn’t mean they always got along. “I haven’t seen her in a few hours.”
Caroline’s gaze was speculative as she studied her calmer child. “Are you two fighting?”
“No.” Ginger answered. “Well ... maybe,” she hedged.
“What are you fighting about?”
Ginger’s gaze darkened as she flicked her eyes to the window at the rear of the house.
Caroline wanted to match her daughter’s expression but forced herself to remain calm. “What about Willa?” It was difficult for Caroline to feign caring when it came to the third Winchester child. Oh, she’d tried over the years. She’d spent time with Willa in an attempt to make her part of the family. But the girl belonged to her husband and another woman — he’d always had a wandering eye. Caroline had agreed to bring her into the family home despite her dislike for her husband. He didn’t know she was plotting a way out. She wasn’t quite there yet, but soon would be. Then she would divorce him and keep the family land. Her husband would be on his own after that. As for Willa, well, Caroline still didn’t know what to do about her.
“Willa is sneaky,” Ginger explained to her mother. She wasn’t a tattler by nature — Tillie melted down when she was tattled on — but she couldn’t help herself. The one thing she did better than anybody was worry, and she was legitimately worried about Tillie’s relationship with Willa. “She kind of lurks in the corners and waits for Tillie to do something so she can blackmail her.”
“Lurks?” Caroline arched an amused eyebrow. “Have you been reading in bed again when you’re supposed to be sleeping?”
Ginger hesitated. Her mother never gave her grief about reading — in fact, she encouraged it — but her father was another story. “I know Papa said he didn’t want us to read too much,” she started.
Caroline shook her head. “Don’t worry about that. His opinion doesn’t matter. What I say goes.”
Ginger’s lips quirked. “I don’t know that he would agree with that.”
“I don’t really care what he agrees with.” Caroline pinned Ginger with a pointed look. “Who are you more afraid of?”
Ginger’s answer was automatic. “You.”
“Well, maybe Tillie.”
Caroline snorted. “She is going to be a force to be reckoned with. She’s a tyrant at the age of nine. Who saw that coming?”
Ginger lifted her hand.
“Yes, well, you always were gifted when it came to seeing the future.” Caroline winked at her fair-haired daughter and then turned serious. “What seems to be Willa’s problem today?”
“She was hiding in the barn when Tillie went in there with the Harper boys,” Ginger started.
Caroline’s eyes narrowed. “What was Tillie doing with the Harper boys in the barn? She’s nine.”
“Oh, it wasn’t anything gross,” Ginger reassured her quickly. “She’s been making stuff and selling it.”
This was news to Caroline. “What sort of stuff?”
“Oh, just stuff,” Ginger replied evasively.
Caroline folded her arms over her chest and pinned Ginger with her harshest look. “What has your sister been doing in the barn?”
“She’s just been inventing stuff,” Ginger replied. “It’s not bad. You don’t have to worry.”
“Why would I worry about your sister inventing stuff?” Caroline deadpanned. “I mean ... that’s silly talk. There’s nothing frightening about your sister selling ... whatever it is she’s selling, right?” The question was pointed.
Caroline was taken aback. “Excuse me?”
Ginger shrank back in the face of her mother’s fury. “Um ... or not.”
“Your sister is making wine?” Caroline was dumbfounded. “Where did she even learn to do that?”
“She found a book,” Ginger explained. “It was in the basement, with Papa’s stuff.”
Caroline’s expression shifted. “Of course. I forgot about that book. I told him to get rid of it. Did he listen? Of course not.”
“Tillie says it’s not hard,” Ginger offered. “She said we can make extra money selling the wine, enough so that we can afford a new house and get away from Papa.” It was only after she finished that she realized what she’d said. “Or ... we could do something else with it.”
Rather than chastise Ginger, Caroline took pity on her. “Don’t worry about your father,” she said. “He can’t touch you. He has no say regarding what you are, or who you’ll grow to be. Don’t be afraid of him.”
Ginger was familiar with her father’s drinking. Because of that, she had no choice but to be afraid of him. “Tillie thinks we’ll be able to buy a new house if she