Tuesday Tales: From the Word HOOK

badge-for-tt-very-small-1 Good morning. Well, October’s behind us as are the dog days of summer, and if you live in any northern country, late fall is upon us, soon to be replaced by early winter. We’ve already had a taste of that with our first snowfall, and yes, my heat is on! When it dips below O degrees Celsius, it’s time to turn on the furnace–at least for part of the day. It’s also time for me to escape into a book where the setting is hot and inviting.

This week, I’m posting once more from Wedding Bell Blues. Our word is HOOK. Enjoy!

wedding-on-beachThe carriage pulled to a stop near the beach, now decorated with lights and planters filled with exotic bushes and flowers, as well as chests full of faux jewels and gold. Rows of benches created an aisle to the archway, placed to capture the setting sun, where the service would take place. Offshore, a camera crew moved up and down the beach in a small boat, taking in all the festivities from that angle, while other camera men stood off to the side getting a different perspective on things.

On the far side of the seats, most of the hotel’s hundred guests milled around, chatting and enjoying champagne or one of the other cocktails provided. There would be an introduction to the event before it started. Louis Rich would talk about the filming and get everyone’s permission forms signed and witnessed. Other couples would be interviewed and the sponsors identified, their prizes handed out throughout the event.

Waiters dressed in white tuxedos with plaid cummerbunds moved through the crowd. Women, in white dresses and plaid sashes, their hair covered by elaborate, plaid headdresses, offered canapés.

“Hello,” a man in a dark shirt and pants stepped over to them and opened the door to the carriage. “I’m Giles. If you’ll come with me, Mr. Rich is waiting to go over the evening’s events with you.”

MJ allowed him to help her out of the coach, but as soon as Paul was beside her, she hooked her arm in his, desperate to hang onto her lifeline.

“I’m terrified I’m going to get sick on camera,” she whispered, the butterflies in her stomach in full revolt.

Paul squeezed her hand. “Do that, and we’ll have far more serious rumors to squelch.”

She felt her cheeks heat at the implication and groaned. If that were to happen, people might assume she was pregnant, the last thing she needed.

“Hey, I’m only joking. You’ll be fine. Just remember. We’re in this together.”

She nodded, licked her lips nervously, and reached for the glass of champagne that materialized beside her, downing it in one gulp, and grabbing another.

“Take it easy,” Paul admonished and smiled. “You don’t want to stumble down the aisle, either.”

“If I thought I could stumble and pass out, only to wake up and realize this was all an ugly nightmare, I would.” But she heeded his advice and sipped more slowly.

“Mrs. Davis,” a man in a white dinner jacket, black shirt, white tie, and black pants  stepped up to her as soon as they entered the tent that had been set up on the far side of the clearing. “Congratulations.”

“Mr. Rich. Nice to meet you. Marilyn and I can’t thank you enough for being part of our surprise celebration,” Paul answered for her.

It was a good thing he did. She felt as if her mouth was full of sand, just like the beach on which she stood, silver heels sinking deeper each second.

Louis Rich laughed. “The pleasure’s all mine. I have a feeling this extra show is going to boost my ratings nicely. Thanks for letting us horn in on your honeymoon. When I decided to do the whole treasure seeking thing, I hadn’t thought about exactly what kind of resort this was, but once my staff did more research, … well, you know what they say … never look a gift horse in the mouth.”

“The Trojans should’ve.” Paul mumbled.

She stifled a giggle.

“Look on the bright side, millions of American viewers are going to share this special moment with you, and we have all kinds of sponsor prizes waiting to be delivered to you when you get home. You’ve become America’s couple. Everyone is rooting for you to find the treasure, too.” He turned to the woman beside him. “This is Kate. Since the proceedings are in French, she’s going to translate everything for the audience at home. If you’ll go with her, Mrs. Davis, she’ll hook you up with a microphone. The folks at home may not understand what’s being said, but they will expect you to agree in English.” He turned back to Kate. “Have them check her makeup. There’s a lot of white here and I don’t want here to look washed out.”

“Yes, sir. If you’ll come with me?”

MJ looked forlornly at Paul, knowing she would have to let go of him and that was the last thing she wanted to do.

“It’s okay,” he said, his gaze telling her he understood her trepidation. “I’ll be right here when you get back.”

“Actually, you won’t be. Makeup’s waiting for you, and then we’ve got a pre-event interview. The bride will join you when the official is ready to start.”

Fear gripped MJ, but the look of concern on Paul’s face—and the three glasses of bubbly she’d had—eased her worries. This interview scared him more than the marriage did. What was he afraid of?

“We’ve got this,” she whispered shakily. “Go and wow them. I won’t let you down.” Turning to the woman, she smiled. “I’m all yours.”

That’s it for this week. Please take the time to check out the other selections on  Tuesday Tales

 

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Midweek Tease: More Paranormal Moments

MWTease15Good morning! Well, we’re five days away from the end of the month and Halloween. I thought I would finish off the month with another tease from Echoes of the Past. Have you ever had a dream that felt too real not to be a memory?

In Echoes of the Past, understanding the past and accepting it are critical to being able to move into the future. Step into Michelle’s nightmare one last time.

echoesebookfinalRun! Run faster! Don’t stop! They can’t catch you. If they do, it’s over, and you’ll both die a horrible death. The thought spurs her on. The night air’s cold, colder than normal for this time of year, yet she’s soaking wet from her exertions. The stitch in her side cripples her in its intensity. Her feet ache from stepping on sharp rocks and twigs, and in one of her falls, she’s lost her left moccasin.

She’s felt her uncle’s anger before, and she knows if her father turns her over to him again, she’ll never survive another of his beatings. As chief, her father must set the example for his people as well as for her sisters. What she’s doing is wrong, and if she’s caught, she’ll have to be punished.

Exhaustion slows her movements, but she reaches the edge of the sacred waters minutes ahead of her pursuers. She slides into the marsh, its frigid water numbing her feet, and squats down in the bulrushes, waiting for her enemies to pass her by and continue to the edge of the lake where the village keeps its fishing canoes. She begs the spirits to forgive her for violating their waters this way.

The men have almost reached the place where she veered away from the path. Will they see the telltale signs of her passing? It’s dark, and the moonlight barely reaches the forest floor. She hears them approach, but they don’t even slow down, as they continue along the well-worn trail.

She moves slowly through the rushes toward the water’s edge where she’s hidden her canoe. Last night, she risked her life to save him. They’d beaten him so badly, and there were so many cuts on his beautiful body. His face was a mass of dark purple bruises, but he refused to leave the island without her. She hurried back to the village so no one would suspect that she’d been the one to release their prisoner.

All day long, she’d sat by the longhouse with the women grinding corn for the winter stores. She knew they hadn’t found him—they’d looked in the waters of the great river as she’d hoped they would. They’d launched canoes and scoured the riverbank thinking he’d tried to return to his people, but they’re wrong. He waits for her.

She sits shivering in the marsh, listening to their hurried footsteps as they continue along the trail. They’ve got no need for stealth, but she, on the other hand … Where can she go? The path leads to the lake and nowhere else.

She trembles, and her teeth chatter. As she moves toward the bank where she’s left the means of her escape, she glimpses the main body of the lake. Unlike last night, the harvest moon coats the surface of the water in silver, and she can see the gentle current flowing toward the waterfall and the man she loves.

Why did her father decide to give her to Annosothka tonight of all nights? He’s a handsome brave, but he isn’t the man she loves.

She hadn’t expected them to discover her missing so soon. Now, her uncle and her husband pursue her, and if they catch her, the punishment will be more than she can endure. She’s supposed to be a maiden. What will Annosothka do if he discovers she isn’t?

She moves stealthily to the edge of the water and slips into her canoe. She paddles slowly but silently along the shore. Thinking she is far enough away not to be noticed, she begins the trek across the water, but the moonlight betrays her. She hears her uncle’s cry when he spots her and the sound of their canoe being launched is loud in her ears.

They’re much stronger than she is. Two men paddling in a canoe eat up the distance between her and themselves quickly—too quickly.

Sisters, help me, she prays to the spirits of her people, but the men continue to gain on her. She knows he can see her and those pursuing her, but he’s unarmed, without a canoe of his own, and powerless to help her.

She’s only minutes from him and freedom when she feels their canoe nudge hers, and knowing she can’t let him be taken again, she does the only thing she can do. She throws herself into the frigid waters of the lake, feels the water tug at her, and sinks beneath its surface.

Kicking with all her might, she forces herself to start swimming and surfaces a few feet from the canoe.

“Tayouroughay!”

She hears them calling her name and prays they won’t realize there’s a third voice calling. She strikes out toward the center of the lake where the spirit sisters dwell, as far away from his hiding place as she can get.

As strong a swimmer as she is, she can’t make any progress with the weight of her garments pulling her down. She slips under the water, the icy liquid filling her nose and her mouth. She kicks up to the surface again, coughs, and looks around her. Their canoe is moving closer. She ducks back under the water, hoping they haven’t seen her, and moves in the direction of the far shore.

Her lungs ache and burn from lack of air, she fights her way back to the surface that seems almost too far away to reach. Her hands and feet are numb, refusing to obey the commands of her mind. Her head breaks the surface of the lake, and she gasps, swallowing mouthful after mouthful of water. She chokes, unable to breathe properly as the current and her clothing work together to pull her under again.

She forces her weakened legs to kick, fighting to keep her head above water, and looks toward the shore, now much farther away than she expects it to be. Exhausted, she floats for a few moments, hoping to regain some of her strength. She’s so cold, so tired.

She hears the water sing loudly and realizes the sisters have refused to help her and have sent her in the wrong direction. A hand even colder than the water reaches up and grasps her right heel, pulling her down. She betrayed her people, gave herself to the enemy, and this is her punishment. Her fate is sealed. There’ll be no escape. She thinks she sees him run into the water. She thinks he cries her name—the sound of it carries on the wind. Goodbye, my love. She screams only once as she tumbles over the lip and the current carries her down the rocky slope into the waters of the great lake hundreds of feet below.

Echoes of the Past is on sale this month only for 99 cents USD.

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Tuesday Tales: From the Word GHOST

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Good morning and welcome to this week’s Tuesday Tales. It’s definitely autumn here in Eastern Ontario, but on Paradise island, the Quimbois magic continues for MJ and Paul as Wedding Bell Blues  head s for its climax.

Here’s is this week’s scene. Enjoy!

MJ cocked an eyebrow at him.

“Why are you really doing this, Paul? And don’t give me anymore of that helping out an old friend or getting even with a bully crap,” she said, her gaze insisting on an honest answer, not another quip or deflection. “This pseudo wedding isn’t just going to transform my life; it’s going to change yours, too. I know you think we can get out of it easily, but so many things have gone wrong already. A lot of people are going to be hurt when the truth comes out, and Mama’s only one of them. I’ve always hated lies, and this is a whopper.”

Looking down at her, he swallowed. Maybe it was time for some truth.

“Change isn’t always a bad thing, MJ, but when it is, you’ve got a choice—let it beat you or do whatever you can to overcome it. I loved being a soldier, helping people, doing what little I could to make the world a better place, but sometimes, the best intentions blow up in your face. I made it back from Afghanistan alive—not everyone did—but I lost a piece of myself there. When I woke up in the hospital in Germany, I swore that if I survived, I would find a way to atone, a way to make my life count for something. Being able to go back to work as a police officer is a big part of it. I bought the house in Watertown because I believe it can help me lay to rest the ghosts that haunt me.”

“I don’t understand. What ghosts?” she asked, her gaze filled with compassion.

“Maybe someday I can share that with you, but believe me, this is the last conversation we should be having right now. Let me just finish with this. My life wasn’t perfect in Stilton, but I was happy when I was part of your family. That’s what I’m searching for. I need to find my happy place, and having you in my life will help me get there. You wanted honesty? Here it is. I’m a selfish bastard. I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing it for me.”

“Bullshit! You may think you’re being selfish, but you don’t have an egotistical bone in your body. There’s a lot you aren’t telling me, and I respect your right to keep your secrets. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. I promise I’ll do whatever I can to help you find that happy place and make the next few months as bearable as I can. I haven’t been through hell the way you must’ve, but I will do whatever I can to help you find what you’re looking for. The only thing more I’ll ask from you is that we don’t lie to one another. Do we have a deal? It isn’t too late to back out. Everyone will hate us, but these are our lives on the line.”

Before he could answer, the door opened and Monsieur St. Louis stood there, his face split by the biggest grin he’d seen yet.

Vous voilà,” he said, obviously relieved to see them. “I was on my way to speak to you. Monsieur James has decided to film the noce civil on the beach near the cabanas. He says the sunset will make it more dramatic. The staff has taken care of everything. Many of the guests are already there, and there’s a cart waiting to take you down to the area where the ceremony will take place.”

“That’s fine” Paul answered, aware that MJ would probably welcome a few minutes more to prepare herself. She’d sounded confident, determined, and accepting of the situation, but he was positive it was an act. The pulse at the base of her throat displayed her agitation even if her words hadn’t.

MJ nodded and smiled, slipping her arm through his. “Of course. Louis Rich knows best, and if the sunset is as gorgeous as it was last night, I can see how standing with a liquid gold ocean in the background would be the perfect backdrop for a treasure hunt.”

Monsieur St. Louis nodded. “C’est vrai. If you’ll follow me? We can go through the main building.”

Paul put his hand over MJ’s as she held his arm and followed the manager. He could feel her nervous tremor. Leaning down, he whispered into her ear.

“Just think of it as a scene in a Hollywood movie. It’ll be over in one quick take, and then, everyone will reach for champagne, toast the occasion, and then focus on the treasure—the real reason they’re here. We’ll be nothing more than window dressing.”

She chuckled. “I hope so, but I can’t help thinking this is one of those movies, where, just as the bride and groom kiss, the camera cuts to the water and an enormous Great White shark surfaces.”

Paul laughed, unable to erase the image of a bad B-rated horror movie from his mind as Monsieur St Louis opened the building’s main door.

“You crack me up, you know that—”

carriage“Oh my God!” MJ cut him off before he could finish. “I wasn’t expecting this.” The awe in her voice matched his surprise. “If this is Quimbois magic … It’s Cinderella’s coach. Paul, it couldn’t be more perfect.” Her eyes shone with excitement, reminding him of the countless pictures he’d seen of radiant brides on their wedding day. Come hell or high water, he wouldn’t let her down.

“Your carriage awaits, princess,” he said softly.

The beautiful, white, antique calèche was shaped like a pumpkin.Votive candles front and back would provide lighting for it tonight.  A man, dressed in the island’s livery, held the carriage door open for them.

“You like it?” the manager asked, the smug look on his face telling him he knew she did. “Monsieur Rich brought it to the island this morning, horse and all.”

“It’s a dream come true,” she said. “If I’m asleep, please never wake me up.”

Monsieur St’ Louis chuckled. “Madame, as I’ve said before. On Paradise Island, all your dreams come true. Alphonse will drive you around the island, and I will meet you at the outdoor chapel. Enjoy!”

Can you imagine a more perfect way to get to a wedding?

That’s it for this week. Please take the time to check out the other selections on  Tuesday Tales

 

Cover Reveal! Desert Deception

It’s here! As I put the finishing touches on my newest novel, I want to share the blurb and cover with you.desertdeception-600x960

Desert Deception, isn’t an entirely new story. It grew out of Coming Home, Taking a Chance on Love, the book I co-wrote as Misty Matthews, that is no longer available. When SCP closed its doors as a publisher, Misty and I parted ways. We divided the spoils of our writing career between us, and we remain good friends.

Like Nature, I abhor a vacuum, and having that book sit there on my desktop, alone and forgotten bothered me. I wanted to do something with it, something that spoke to my  preference for romantic suspense and so, I opened the manuscript and went to work–slash and burn would be a good way to describe the changes I made.

Instead of a contemporary romance, you’ve got a modern day western, set in Arizona. I loved the idea of a writer keeping his identity a secret, and the idea that we don’t always remember the past accurately. With that in mind I tweaked that skeletal part of the story and built one of “my” style of murder and mayhem novels around it. This one is full of the twists and turns my readers love.

Here is the new blurb:

Seeing is believing, or is it?

When high-powered Santa Fe attorney Casey Stevens reluctantly returns to Fortune for Gold Rush Days, she is drawn to Cole Walker Junior, but he is no longer the shy, quiet boy she recalls. Then again, Cole isn’t the only one who has changed. The town may be celebrating its past, but someone is trying to destroy its future. A hit and run accident leaves Fortune’s only lawyer in a coma, forcing Casey to choose between helping innocent people and running away once more. Can she face the demons of her past or will they destroy her this time?

Cole Warner has a secret identity, one he’s determined to protect at all costs. The police officer, volunteer firefighter, and part-time store owner, is also popular western novelist, CJ Coleson, who uses Fortune and its people as the inspiration for his books. Having Casey walk into his life turns it upside down. When someone starts using the murders in Cole’s books to stage a killing spree of their own, keeping his secret may be too costly, but admitting the truth could ruin any chance they have for a happily ever after.

As the bodies pile up and the buildings burn down, Casey and Cole have to work together to stop a madman with gold fever before more people die. The answer lies on Superstition Mountain or is it all a desert deception?

Desert Deception will be out in e-book format by November 1st with the paperback to follow. Looking for a book to give as a Christmas present? This might be it!

 

Midweek Tease: Paranormal Adventures

MWTease15Good morning, welcome to this week’s Midweek Tease, a place where I share my writing with a number of gifted authors. The blog hop is administered by the lovely Angelica  Dawson. If you are into erotic vampires, she’s your go-to author.

Since it’s October, I thought I would focus my teases for the rest of this month on the paranormal moments in my novel Echoes of the Past. 

Here’s today’s tease:

echoesebookfinalNaked, she lies on her back inside the green, leafy grotto, which meshes seamlessly into the landscape. It’s late morning, and after last night’s storm, everything smells clean and fresh. She stares up at the man she loves, but darkness and his long, honey-brown hair shadow his face. Her body hums in anticipation of his touch. Her nipples harden. His large, calloused hands caress her, and where they touch, her flesh burns with desire.

He runs the fingers of one hand through her unbraided hair. His lips capture hers in a searing kiss, branding her his. She reaches up to him. She opens her mouth, and a deep moan escapes her as his lips meet hers.

The scene changes. He runs along the edge of the forest across the lake. Run, my love, she screams silently as all around her the women urge their men to hurry, pointing at him, screaming instructions. He stops, and once she knows he’s seen her, she turns away. They’ll catch him, and she can’t bear to watch him be killed. She pulls her marriage blanket tightly around her shoulders. Everyone thinks she’s made it for another. Sobbing, she hurries away from the beach…

 

Michelle Thomas awoke in tears as she had so many nights since arriving in Thunder Bay. Bathed in sweat, she shivered with need and a bone-deep cold invaded her body. The strange birthmark on her right ankle throbbed as it often did after the dreams. The nightmares, usually terrifying, realistic visions of her watery death, exhausted her. Recently, the dreams which had plagued her most of her life had changed, and these new ones in which she was both participant and witness, frustrated and grieved her. She preferred those old night terrors to these out of body erotic fantasies with a man whose face she never saw, but loved with every ounce of her being. Tonight, the thought of his capture and death made the pain of loss worse than ever. How could she go on like this?

Her wild weeping slowed to sobbing. She got out of bed and padded into the motel room’s washroom. She turned on the light and gasped at the mirror’s reflection. The face of a woman who closely resembled her—the Mohawk woman in braids she’d been seeing off and on for weeks now—glared accusingly at her.

“What do you want from me?” she yelled at the face in the mirror, her anguish clear in her tear-filled voice.

“You’re dead. He’s dead. I don’t have any answers for you. Go away. Leave me in peace.”

Echoes of the Past is available from any Amazon retailer for less than a USD this month.

Now please check out the other blog posts.

 

#MidWeekTease October 19, 2016

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Tuesday Tales: From a Picture

badge-for-tt-very-small-1Good morning. Welcome to Living the Dream. It’s time for this week’s Tuesday Tales. Since I picked up a few new followers last week, let me explain what I do here.

From one week to the next, a group of very talented ladies allow me to participate in a blog hop designed to stretch the imagination and a writer’s creativity. Most weeks, we are given a word, but one a month we are provided with a picture and on those weeks, we have to limit our posts to 300 words. In the past, two of my Tuesday Tales have ended up as published works–Forever and Always, a novelle and Hello Again, a paranormal romance suspense. My current wip for this activity is entitled, Wedding Bell Blues.

This week, we had to choose one of three photographs provided by our fearless leader, Jean Joachim.Most of the time, I’ve been able to make the word or image fit my current manuscript, and I did it again this week, but I might’ve stretched the intent of the image just a little bit. As the announcers say in baseball–just a bit outside.

Here is the image I chose:

bread

What do you think of the way I used it?

While it was true this civil marriage wasn’t legally binding, it was just too real. Part of him wanted it to be,  but his conscience screamed that, knowing what kind of man he really was, he didn’t deserve someone as wonderful as MJ in his life. He was broken, unlovable, and incapable of loving anyone. The last time he’d cared about someone and that person had trusted him, all hell had broken loose. People had died.

Paul swallowed and pasted what he prayed was a reassuring smile on his face, determined not to blow this. He’d do whatever had to be done to protect her and get even with the schmuck who’d broken her heart and caused her so much pain.

“Cold?” he asked, realizing it was an inane comment since it was at least eighty degrees out since the sun wouldn’t set for another three hours.

“Not cold—maybe a little nervous,” she admitted, her gorgeous sea-green eyes begging for reassurance. “Isn’t a girl supposed to be anxious on her wedding day?”

“Only if she’s marrying a frog,” he said and winked. “There’s nothing to be antsy about. It’s like slicing bread. Think of that loaf they gave us at lunch. You don’t like crust, but once I cut off the heel, the bread was perfect—manna from heaven.”

She burst out laughing.

“You’re comparing our wedding to bread? Seriously?”

“Sure. Why not. Bread’s a staple of life. The Achilles Heel was the crust, and I’m the white, fluffy interior. It works for me.” He reached for her hand and entwined his fingers with hers. “I’ll be by your side the whole time, just like I was this afternoon. You had fun then, you can have fun now. The ceremony takes about ten minutes max.”

That’s it for this week. Please take the time to check out the other selections on  Tuesday Tales

Last Day of the October Frights Blog Hop

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Welcome to the final day of the October Frights Blog Hop. Getting to share my words with you and read yours has been a lot of fun. I hope we’ll all keep in touch. I have so many ideas on the back burner as I’m sure you do.

Today, I thought I’d go back and give you a last taste of Echoes of the Past. The book is on sale for 99 cents USD all month. https://www.amazon.com/Echoes-Past-Susanne-Matthews-ebook/dp/B014X8XLLY

echoesebookfinalTasha opened the shop door, and Michelle reluctantly followed her inside. The store smelled of incense and age. Some of the books moldering on the shelves had to be a hundred years old. There was some kind of punk music playing in the background—not a musical style she enjoyed. She looked around her. There were crystals of every shape, size, and color, some on chains, others in dishes. Cones and sticks of incense, burners, and candles in every scent known to man littered the counters. She noted the numerous apothecary jars filled with powders of various colors all neatly labelled.

If I look hard enough will I find eye of newt and mandrake root? Michelle relaxed. I don’t think I have anything to worry about here. There’s no way this woman will figure out my secret.

The young Goth girl standing by the cash register didn’t even look up when the bell attached to the door announced their arrival. The open magazine on the counter engrossed her. Dressed entirely in black, a spiked dog collar around her neck, she had short, spiked, black hair with tips dyed to match the blood-red lipstick she wore. She was quite pretty if you could overlook the ghoulish make-up and way too many piercings. “Can I help you?” She didn’t take the time to look at them and sounded as bored as she probably was. The place didn’t look as if it had had customers in days.

“Yes, you can,” Tasha spoke before Michelle could turn tail and run.

“My friend is here to see Audra. Is she accepting clients tonight?”

The girl’s head jerked up, like a bobble-headed doll pressed too hard. Surprise and excitement glowed in her startling, black-lined, green eyes. She smiled, showing off teeth so white, they must recently have been bleached. She looked from Michelle to Tasha and back to Michelle again. “This is like, so cool. Audra said you were coming. She always knows.” She pointed a black-fingernail-tipped finger at Michelle. “You’re Michelle, right?”

Tasha gasped. “How did you know her name? That’s freaky!”

A frisson coursed down Michelle’s spine. What was going on here? There was no way this woman could know her name. While Michelle believed in ghosts, witches and warlocks were the stuff of fairy tales. Tasha!

“You called ahead and made an appointment, didn’t you? You’re pretty sure of yourself,” she accused.

“As God is my witness, I didn’t call. How could I? I didn’t even know you were going to go through with it. I waited all afternoon for you to call and tell me you were going on that case and leaving right away. That’s why I’d arranged to meet Simon at The Copper Kettle, too. He’d have been there if it hadn’t been for that accident, or are you going to accuse me of arranging that four car pile-up, too?”

Tasha tried to look indignant, but the combination of awe and fear on her face spoiled the look.

Her expression convinced Michelle she was telling the truth.

The girl behind the counter giggled self-consciously and closed her magazine. She’d been following their conversation closely. While she might have been told to expect them, she seemed slightly spooked, too.

Michelle’s level of discomfort rose.

“This is so awesome! Audra said you’d be skeptical. Your friend is right. She didn’t call or anything, but Audra knew you were coming. She even told me you’d be the dark-haired one, and I should treat you with respect. Are you a witch, too? I’ve never been told to be especially nice to anyone before.”

Tasha laughed. “Let me think, I’ve heard her called something like that, but I’m sure it started with a ‘B’.”

The girl giggled again, the innocent sound at odds with her macabre appearance.

Michelle glared at Tasha. “Very funny. I love you, too.”

“Go on back, Michelle. She’s waiting for you.” The girl pointed to Tasha. “Sorry, but Audra says you’re to wait out here with me.”

“Dang! I wanted to sit in on the audience.” She made a face and pouted. “You’ll tell me everything, promise?”

Michelle nodded.

Tasha then fell into the overstuffed chair in what must be the reading-waiting area. “Okay. You’re on your own. Since it’s my idea, I’ll pay.”

“No, you won’t,” the cashier interrupted. “Audra says there’s no charge.”

Michelle looked from one woman to the other, shook her head, and turned to face the heavy black velvet drapery separating the audience area from the rest of the store. She felt a sense of impending doom.

What the hell is going on here? I should just turn around and walk out of this place.

As much as the idea of leaving appealed to her, she realized she couldn’t do it. It was like watching two cars speeding toward each other. You knew something bad was going to happen, but you were powerless to stop it. She separated the curtains and stepped through.

She’d entered a different dimension. Gone was the punk rock music in the background. Even the smell was different in here. How was that possible? Michelle looked around the small enclosure, her gaze coming to rest on the woman standing behind the small, round, black-cloth-covered table. She blinked.

If you wanted someone to pose for one of Macbeth’s witches, Audra would be the perfect choice. The woman, old and bent, resembled everyone’s Halloween-inspired image of a sorceress—minus the warts. She had long, gray hair, which probably hadn’t seen a comb, or shampoo, for that matter, in years.

The minute Michelle sat on the chair in front of the seer, she knew she wasn’t a fraud. The spirits were with this woman, and Michelle had long since learned to respect the spirits even if she didn’t like the hold they had over her.

The woman sat after she did and smiled. The gesture transformed her. Suddenly, instead of an old crone, the woman who sat before her had an ageless beauty and wisdom about her. Her sightless eyes remained as before. She was calm.

Instantly, Michelle relaxed. “What are you?” she whispered.

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