Hello, my lovelies ~~
I know, I know, long time no write, but that's another post in itself, and for the time being I wanted to get this out to you.
Look what was just delivered to my door:
It's probably wrong to be so enamored of an inanimate object, but . . . whatever. Because the good things in life need to be fawned over. They need to be reveled in. They need to not ever be taken for granted.
And so, my dear ones, I had to share. And by the way...
Missed you all, mwuah mwuah!
And just to prove I love you, here is a long snippet from A WITCH IN TIME:
I’ve often been told happiness is relative and that truth is subjective. Words of wisdom usually wielded with deflating precision by cautioning mothers, well-meaning aunts, busybody neighbors . . . and always, always intended to keep you on the straight and narrow. Because that was important, you know. Can’t let a girl get a big head about things. Too much happiness is bad for the complexion, or was that the equilibrium? No matter. And truth . . . well, no one really wants to hear it, do they? Regardless of how much they ask. So of course it’s good to put out the notion that it depends on something nebulous, something individual, something completely indefinable. That way, when you argue your truth with someone of a different mind, your truth can always trump theirs, simply by playing the “Subjectivity” card.
And that, dear friends, really is the cold, hard truth. Hoosiers like the cold, hard truth . . . but only when it doesn’t apply to themselves.
And then there are stoic platitudes. They’re very popular here. You get out of it what you put into it. There are two sides to every story. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. Patience is a virtue. There’s no such thing as ghosts. Do unto others, before they can do unto you . . .
Whoops, that last one isn’t quite right in spirit, is it?
And yet we see its effect day after day as it is reenacted in the day-to-day.
Dark thoughts for a sunny mid-August afternoon, I admit . . . but I couldn’t seem to help myself. Month after month, every time I thought things were getting better, every time I thought, surely that was it, now the town can get back to healing itself . . . Time after time I had been proven wrong. It was too much.
I shook my head to clear away the mists of worry that hovered there on the fringes as I rang up the purchases for what would likely be Enchantments’ last customer of the day. At least I hoped it was our last. For once, I was Ready. To. Go.
“That will be thirty-nine ninety-six,” I told our customer, a regular, as the numbers totaled on the cash register. It had been a long, hot day, our air-conditioning had been acting up, the HVAC crew was missing in action, and a seemingly endless period of Mercury being retrograde in the cosmos had ensured that Murphy’s Law was alive and kicking. Things at the store had been chaotic at best. Add in the missing shipments, a broken crystal vase thanks to my little furry fiend, I mean, friend and store kitten Minnie, and a laptop whose hard drive suddenly stopped talking to its keyboard, which forced us all to rely on memory to locate items in our extensive inventory, and what you got in total was frazzled nerves.
All mine. Liss was, as per usual, as cool as the proverbial cucumber. My proverbial cucumbers, on the other hand, always turned out pickled.
“How do you do it?” I asked her when the customer had walked out with a gift bag packed chock full of goodies and a smile of satisfaction on her face. The admiration coloring my tone was not for effect. I would be the first to admit that I aspired to achieve my boss’s Zen approach toward life someday. It would be nice not to be affected by all of the small annoyances and frustrations some would consider a normal part of spending time on this earth.
“What’s that, ducks?” Liss asked, peering at me from over her half-moon glasses as she tucked a pencil absentmindedly into the hair above her ear and pushed the return key on the non-functioning laptop.
“Stay calm and cool in the face of adversity?”
Liss laughed, a lovely, merry sound that in all the months I’d known her had never yet failed to make me feel better. “I wasn’t aware that we were facing adversity. I’ll have to keep my eyes open now, won’t I?”
Her unfaltering good mood stopped me in my tracks. Was I making too much of things? “You’re right. I’m being overly dramatic.” And I, for one, despised melodrama.
“It’s just the heat getting to you, love. Now, where are those repairmen? They were supposed to be here hours ago. This old building needs some TLC.”
She was right. August had been sizzling, steamy, and sultry and just plain abysmal as far as the weather went . . . not that that was unusual for this time of year. But sometimes there was a sense that we were all dancing around like grease on a forgotten griddle. You’ve heard of jumping from the frying pan into the fire? Yeah. Despite all of the good things that had been happening in my life of late—the most interesting of which had been the blossoming of a new and potentially promising pairing with the not-nearly-so-dark-as-everyone-thought but nevertheless dangerous-to-my-equilibrium Marcus Quinn—there was still an element of edgy uncertainty swimming around in the mix. Or was that just me, being dramatic again?
Liss was right. What was a little hot weather in the overall scheme of things? What were a few minor annoyances? It was the town gone mad that we had to worry about.
And on that cheery note . . .
“Would you like me to wait with you for the repairmen?” I offered, although I freely admit that for once the offer was only half-heartedly made. Tonight was a scheduled off night for me, and I had made plans. Big plans. Hopeful plans.
I caught Minnie gazing at me with her luminous bi-colored eyes. I shot her a meaningful look that said, And said plans will not require input from you, Missypants! None of your funny business. She just blinked at me, the soul of innocence, then bent over to acrobatically lick the back of her leg.
“Oh, my dear. I wouldn’t dream of keeping you. Now, now,” she said, brushing away my hands as I made a move to tidy the counter. “None of that.” She examined me more closely. “If I didn’t know you better, I’d say you were procrastinating.”
“I’m not procrastinating! I’m— ” I wasn’t, was I? I double-checked myself. Of course I wasn’t. What was there to procrastinate about? A night of movies, munchies, and Marcus in front of the television at his house, away from the nervous energy cycling through town . . . what was there to be nervous about that?
Except the butterflies in my stomach were calling me out as a liar. Because that after three weeks of exploring every facet of making out with Marcus like a teenager in the heated throes of new love, I knew that we were standing on a precipice that would change things forever, for better or for worse, and while I wanted it as much as I thought he did, there was still that edge of uncertainty about what it would mean to the relationship. What it would mean to us.
Get a grip, Maggie, I told myself. It’s not like you’ve never done this before. Visions of a young Madonna flashdanced through my head, and I don’t mean the beatific one.
But it really had been a while, and all the What Ifs were making me crazy.
Hormones. I blamed hormones. They get all out of whack when not let out of their padded cells every once in a blue moon.
“I’m not procrastinating,” I repeated, ducking away from her all-seeing gaze. “I just . . . I . . . well, tonight’s a big night,” I finished simply, unable to find the words to explain further.
It didn’t matter. Liss seemed to understand. The soft look she gave me was both compassionate and reassuring. “Deep breaths, my dear. Don’t fret. Whatever is troubling you, you’ll make it through with flying colors.”
That was Liss for you. She always understood. She did however seem to be waiting expectantly for me to offer up what it was that I was so nervous about. But somehow I just couldn’t. Despite the fact that I knew without a doubt that Marcus and Liss had never been the item I had originally imagined them to be, it still felt a bit like the new girlfriend comparing notes with the former. Silly, really. But there it was.
To ward off her preternatural ability to read my thoughts and moods, I bent down and picked up Minnie, who had raised herself on her hind legs and had planted her front paws against my kneecaps. (The little minx was growing so fast! Sniffle . . .) She’d also been hitching her rear quarters back and forth like a hula dancer with a bad knee--in preparation for launching herself up my body, no doubt. Poor girl--foiled again! She didn’t seem to mind so much. She’d closed her eyes and started to purr the moment I’d scooped her into my arms. “Well, look at you,” I cooed to her. “Pretty girl.”
Liss went back to fussing with the laptop. “Minnie, dear, do tell your mummy that a few well-placed red and pink candles can do much for generating a lovely romantic glow. Not that I think you’ll need it, mind you,” she said, switching the point of her attack to me. “Marcus seems to know what he’s doing, good lad. But the Love candles are upstairs in the loft in the event you feel the need to prime the magickal pump. So to speak.”
So much for thwarting her psychic prowess. “Stop that,” I said, the heat in my cheeks speaking volumes for the blush I knew must have taken root there.
“Stop what, dear?” Liss asked, guileless as any mother gently guiding her child through a troubling situation.
“Stop being so good at the whole Vulcan mind meld thing. I swear, sometimes you are positively spooky.” And sometimes a girl liked to keep her secrets.
“Thank you, my dear. I do try.”
She didn’t have to try, and I knew it. It was just a part of her, a very positive, very para-spooky part of her. One that I could only hope to aspire to one day. It could come in handy, at that.
More and more I thought of Liss as a second mother . . . only one who didn’t have a vested interest in the eventual advantageous outcome of my life’s trials and travails, and unbiased by anything more than a bighearted wish to help and a goodly dose of love. My own mother could have learned a thing or two from that. I love my mom, mind you, but Holy-Mary-Mother-of-God, that woman really knows how to push my buttons. God love her.
The Goddess, too. And all the angels and saints and protective spirits, to boot. My mother needed all the divine intervention she could get to counteract what was a majorly controlling nature.
“Come on, Minnie,” I said, placing a resounding smooch on the velvety fur between her pointy ears, “let’s leave Liss to fight with the computer gremlins. You and I have places to go. People to see.”
Movies to watch.
Men to . . .
Come to think of it, maybe the candles would be a good idea. They certainly couldn’t hurt.
“The candles are in the top right drawer in the large cabinet up in the Loft,” Liss couldn’t resist calling after me as I covertly made my way toward the stairs. “I dressed them myself in Goddess oil, cloves, dragon’s blood, and cinnamon for that extra boost. Should be just the trick.”
No use pretending I wasn’t interested. I paused in my cross-store trajectory as a thought occurred to me, and turned back to face her. “Liss . . . can I ask you a question?”
“Of course, dear. You can ask anything you like.”
“Well . . .” It took me a moment to find the words. It could be a sensitive subject, after all. “Why is it you haven’t found yourself a willing male and taken your own counsel?”
“You mean, why am I not out, looking for love in all the sacred spaces?” I was relieved that she took the question for what it was—curiosity. Humor crinkled at the corners of her eyes. “What makes you think I’m depriving myself?”
I had seen the woman in action, charming every man of a certain age that she came into contact with . . . but: “That doesn’t mean you have opened yourself up to love.”
She smiled, and I saw a hint of wistfulness behind the pragmatism. “One does not control or influence the heart. Love happens only if or when it is meant to happen. Not before, not after.”
It had been four years since her husband Geoffrey had crossed beyond the veil that parted the earthly plane from the more nebulous realms of spirit. Perhaps it was still too soon, I mused, for her to move on in that way. The romantic in me wanted all of my girlfriends to be completely and utterly happy, and while a man should never be deemed a necessary ingredient for a girl’s happiness, the fact remained that having one around sure could make life a whole lot more interesting. But maybe it would always be too soon for Liss. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.
I was getting myself all misty. I cleared my throat. “So. Top right drawer, big cupboard.”
The Loft was one of the most peace-filled places I had ever been lucky enough to experience. It was Liss who had made it that way, injecting her own personal energy into the space until the entire area sparkled with life. When the weather outside prevented her from using the circle in the forest clearing on her property just outside of Stony Mill, the Loft was where she performed many of her meditations, rituals, and spells. I myself often came up here when I needed a few minutes to clear my head, or when I just wanted to meditate and soak up the powerful atmosphere of the place. Powerful in a good way. In a way that spoke of protection, and lightworking for the good of all, and keeping out the dark. In a way that called up my own power from deep within.
I slid my hand along the gallery rail as I made my way toward the wall of cabinets, mostly big solid antiques. As was my habit, I circled around the center rug that marked the ritual area—to me it was sacred space, just as much as her forest glade, and not something to be crossed lightly and without regard. My deference might also have something to do with the protective Invisible Threshold wards Liss cast over the area, although as one of her inner circle, it’s not as though I wasn’t allowed to spend time there.
I found the candles right where she’d said I would, in a drawer clearly labeled “Candles, Red and Pink—for all romantic magickal purposes.” Bingo. I selected three, a power number. Going for the big bang, without bankrupting the store for my own personal gain. I preferred to cache my romance karma, thankyouverymuch. Better safe than sorry.
“Might I suggest that you take a sampling of rose petals and violets from the bulk stores as well?” Liss called up the stairs, ever helpful. “Although now that I think of it, you might not want to burn it in his presence. Marcus is a smart cookie--it’s not as though he doesn’t know what the herbs are for. A sachet, perhaps, to tuck into your pocket?”
I decided to forgo the herbs. She was right, Marcus wasn’t oblivious. And besides, while I wasn’t against a little bit of pump-priming, I really didn’t think much of it was needed in this case. If the last few weeks were any indication, things were well primed as it was. Granted, it had been a while for me . . . but not that long! I did, however, grab a little package of dried catnip to keep the wee one well plied.
Call it insurance.
Liss was waiting for me when I returned once again to the main floor. “Or maybe some fresh fruit. Strawberries, cherries, apples are all good for love. Add in a bit of chocolate, and a savvy witch is in business.” She arched a meaningful brow.
I shook my head at her persistence and grinned in spite of myself. “Goodnight, Liss.”
A savvy witch also knows when to butt out. Which she did. Gracefully, of course. “Goodnight, ducks. And good everything else, too,” she said with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
Honestly, maybe she should rethink her stance on finding love again, I thought to myself as I gathered Minnie into her soft-sided carrier and hit the gravel parking spaces behind the store. If her current zeal for the topic was a true measure, it seemed quite possible to this armchair therapist that she was living vicariously through others as a defense against reentering the dating game for her own gain. Always a matchmaker, never a match of her own. P’raps the two of us would have to have a talk one of these days. When the time was right.
In the meantime, I had places to go . . .
And so it was with a wildly beating heart that I loaded Minnie into my aging VW Bug (early on in our partnership my dad had jokingly compared her to Stephen King’s Christine due to her cantankerous and unpredictable nature, and the mostly affectionate epithet had stuck), and headed home to my basement apartment in the aging Victorian on Willow Street for a quick pit-stop to freshen up before my scheduled meet-up with Marcus.
“What do you say, Minnie?” I asked the Furry One, who blinked at me sleepily from her spot in the sun on the passenger seat. “Have a little kibble while I get dressed?”
Lifting Minnie’s carrier, I made my way across the surprisingly-green-for-August-thanks-to-a-bevy-of-rainstorms lawn to the sunken entrance to my basement apartment. Eager to escape the steam, I let myself in, grateful for the immediate blast of cool darkness. My basement apartment wasn’t exactly Home Beautimous material, but at least it was always temperate, despite the weather raging outside. My things I set down on the old dining room chair just inside the door, all except for Minnie’s carrier, which I placed on the floor. Immediately she began pawing at the zippered escape hatch.
“Hold on, silly. So impatient!”
The moment she could wiggle her way out, she did, squeezing through the gap I was making like a squirt of ink from a plastic bottle. Once free, she shook her head hard enough to see stars. She blinked blankly until her vision cleared, then scampered off to the kitchen. I knew what was coming next; I stood to one side to watch the entertainment unfold. First, the industrious pawing at the food dish until it scooted right off the soft braided mat that kept the kitty dining area mess-free. Next came the unrelenting flicking with hooked claws at the bottom of the door to the cupboard where I kept the kitty kibble. Finally, she hopped from the chair to the tabletop to the counter, meowed at me—loudly—and while I waited to allow her to finish what had become a nightly performance, she proceeded to knock any item within reach to the floor. Notepad, pencil, keyring. When her beady little eyes fixed on her next target, I moved in quickly.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa there, Turbo. Not the glass,” I said, putting it in the sink. “I take it you want food?”
She began to purr and sauntered back and forth along the counter. And then, just to seal the deal in the event I was a little too dense to understand her meaning, she waited until I had bent down to open the cupboard before stretching out a paw and deliberately pushing the salt shaker over the edge. It missed me by inches, dousing me with a shower of salt crystals as it fell. “Hey, knock it off!”
She tilted her head quizzically to one side as if to say, But I just did . . .
I scooped the crunchy kibble into her bowl and set it down on her mat. Before I could straighten again, Minnie had taken a falling leap from the counter, landing gracefully, and started crunching away happily. I only wish I could eat with that same lackadaisical absence of guilt. Instead I had to worry about the elastic on my underwear creating unsightly ripples.
You know, sometimes I think coming back as a cosseted housecat wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Smiling indulgently down at my girl, I dug the milk out of the fridge and poured a bit into a clean dish. The moment I set it down beside her, Minnie changed tactics and pushed her nose deep into the newest offering, her bubblegum pink tongue lapping away.
I watched her until I realized I was postponing the inevitable . . . what was I waiting for?
Leaving Minnie to nosh at her usual breakneck pace, I bypassed the lights blinking on my answering machine, because I knew it was bound to be nothing more pressing than the daily calls from my mom, just “checking up on me,” and I really wasn’t in the mood to handle her queries and complaints just yet. Instead I slipped directly into my bedroom. I’d worn ankle cropped pants with ballet flats and a close-fitting tee to the store this morning—which was fine—but I thought maybe I’d kick things up a notch. One flirty, drapey, babydoll cami and a pair of strappy Mary Jane peeptoes later, and I felt I’d heightened my sex-appeal enormously. To this I added some earrings that sparkled and flashed when I moved my head, and deepened my makeup just a tad. After shaking out my hair, which had been twisted up in clips all day to keep its unruly waves from frizzing in the August steam, and running my fingers through it, I looked in the mirror to find I actually looked quite . . . good. Maybe even better than I’d intended. Hm. That was a happy surprise.
“What do you think, Min? Do I meet with your approval?”
Minnie had finished with her evening feast and was now perched, round-bellied and satisfied, in the middle of my bed, watching me. She tilted her head sideways and gave me an inquisitive stare.
“Now, don’t go giving me that look. Yes, I’m going out tonight. But you get to go, too—we’re going to Marcus’s house.”
Minnie yawned, but I knew it was all an act. Pretending to be disinterested, when inside that fuzzy little noggin waged schemes and daydreams of mayhem and mischief, and possibly even world domination. She perked up again the instant she saw me pick up her favorite toy, a stick-string-feather combo that would have her dancing around like a Spanish flamenco dancer, but before she could leap I popped it into a canvas tote along with her nibble treats, then cast an eye around me for anything else Minnie could possibly need.
Yet another stalling tactic on my part, and an obvious one at that.
I couldn’t believe how nervous I was about tonight. It wasn’t the possibility of rejection that was making me as distracted as a cat in a room full of parakeets—with Marcus, rejection had never really crossed my mind. It was the possibilities that were making me run both hot and cold today. And what possibilities they were! Because my deepest fear was that I was falling for him, fast and hard, and my track record with love hadn’t been what anyone would call “exemplary.” In fact, I was the poster girl for sad tales with bad endings. I had definitely been left nursing a wounded heart once or twice before. But that shouldn’t be a concern with Marcus. Should it?
Good grief, my sister was right. I am neurotic.
I took a deep breath. There was no reason to worry. Not this time. Things were going swimmingly with Marcus. So much so that it was easy to forget the strange events that had brought me to him. The weirdness in town. The murders. The rise in the tide of spiritual energies, light and so-not-light. My unexpected awareness of said energies, an awareness that, once acknowledged, had kept growing and growing and growing, until now it had evolved into something I didn’t understand, with no clear end in sight. But none of that mattered, as long as this one thing in my life was going well.
So . . . what was I so afraid of?
Minnie’s placid stare seemed to echo what the voice in my head was whispering:
What are you waiting for?
Taking a deep, fortifying breath, I made myself move.
The first step is always the hardest, Margaret. . .
The voice of my conscience all too often took on the vocal stylings and attitudes of my late Grandmother Cora. It wasn’t something that I relished—Grandma C had always been a pragmatically stern woman of country ways and devout sensibilities, and that side of her had never failed to come across loud and clear, even as a whisper in my head. Does everyone out there have a snarky conscience? Or was I the only one?
It was because of that that I now turned a dubious eye inward. Because . . .
Since when had Grandma C ever been on my side?
Suspicious minds, Margaret, the soundless voice tsked.
And just what was that supposed to mean?
Only that they always find what they expect to find. Remember that.
Hmm. There was something to that, actually. Deepest fears always seemed to manifest into the direst of circumstances at the worst of times, somehow, some way. It was the biggest reason Murphy’s Law was viewed as truism with a capital T. It was up to all of us to do our best to banish the Murphmeister from our lives. I understood that. In theory. Practical application proved trickier, but I was trying.
And you see Marcus as good for you, I think? the Grandma C conscience voice prodded.
Yes. Oh, yes.
For once, Grandma C had it going on. And with her, and Liss, and Minnie on my side, how could I resist?
Crosstown traffic was clearing by the time we ventured past our quiet neighborhood. Not that Stony Mill rush hour could ever compare to or compete with a larger city, but with narrow streets and parking along the curb, safe passage could at times be a complicated process. I cut across via the byzantine residential routes, wending through subdivisions, until I hit the sleepy older neighborhood on the outskirts that Marcus called home. Before I got to know Marcus, I would never have envisioned him living in a one-and-a-half story Craftsman-style bungalow, complete with a deep porch and low-slung roofline. The spiky iron fence at the front might not have matched in theory, but the river stone posts separating the sections made it work. The house was far from modern, but it possessed a quiet dignity that felt comfortable and familiar. I loved everything about it, from the faded linoleum in the kitchen, to the carriage barn in the rear that had been converted into a garage-slash-motorcycle workshop, a.k.a. the ideal Man Cave. Now that was what I had always expected from my Marcus.
My Marcus. I smiled at the very thought.
I parked at the curb. Deep breaths, Maggie my girl, I told myself. A quick check in the mirror I’d long ago velcro’ed onto the visor assured me that neither the heat nor the humidity had demolished my best beauty efforts yet, though getting out of the elements would certainly help. I glanced over at Minnie and smiled.
“Here we go.”
I grabbed my bag, Minnie’s carrier, and the canvas tote of kitty goodies and let myself in through the front gate. It made the usual squawk of the hinges as I closed it and dropped the latch into place. The cobbled walk under my feet felt like the curving yellow brick road of Oz, leading me to . . .
I felt a flush of pleasure sweep through me as I looked up to find Marcus waiting for me in the crook of the old-fashioned wooden screen door and looking nothing like the wily Wizard. I stopped in my tracks at the base of the steps. Even from deep in the belly of the porch, his eyes seemed to glow in welcome. My heart did a little bounce and wobble.
Oh, yeah, I was in big trouble, all right.
I lifted my hand and gave a weak, fluttering wave. “Hi.”
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
Another wobble, and this time my stomach got into the act. Keep your head on, nice and straight,Grandma C’s voice intoned inside my head. “You have?”
“Oh.” I was having trouble getting the gears in my brain to function. All they did was whirr. Madly.
“You going to stand down there all day?” he asked, a lilt of amusement lifting one corner of his mouth as he leaned a shoulder indolently against the inner doorframe. “Or did you want me to come down there and get you?”
Well, that option did present some distinct possibilities . . .
Flustered, I cleared my throat and made a show of displaying my things as I mounted the steps. “I come with baggage.”
“Do you, now. Hello, Minnie.” He reached down to take them all from me, setting it all inside the door, which he still held propped open with one foot, then turned back to face me. His clear blue eyes searched mine. I couldn’t help wondering how much he saw there. “And you . . .” he said, his voice trailing off as he took my face between his hands and lowered his mouth to mine for one long, heart-stopping minute.
“Hellooo, Miss O’Neill.” The low croon teased my tingling lips most pleasantly.
“Hello, Mr. Quinn,” I breathed back, linking my fingers together behind his neck.
“I’ve been waiting to do that all day.”
“You have? That’s funny. Me, too.”
The slow curve of his lips was all I could see. Truth be told, it was all I wanted to see. Without another thought I slid my arm around his neck and kissed him soundly, pressing myself to his body tight enough that he was forced to reach behind himself to grope for the doorframe with one hand to support us both. His other arm was wrapped up and between my shoulder blades, his long fingers cradling the nape of my neck. I couldn’t have gotten away if I’d wanted to.
I didn’t. Want to, that is.
Nervous . . . had I been nervous? How ridiculous. This was exactly what I had been hoping for. What was to be nervous about this?
I didn’t know how long it was before I drifted away from the enchantment of his mouth and back to the realization that we were standing on his front porch, displaying the full measure of our mutual fascination before God, Goddess, and the entire county. I pulled away slightly, regretfully, my hands lingering on his chest. “We should probably go inside. Someone might see.”
He raised one eyebrow in amusement. “And?”
“My mother has a lot of friends.”
“You ashamed of me, Maggie?”
“Of course not.”
“Or are you just afraid of your mother?”
I frowned at that. I was less than three weeks away from my thirtieth birthday. A woman, full grown and in charge of her own destiny. I did not need my mother’s approval for my life. On the other hand, it certainly did make life easier if the two of us weren’t at loggerheads with each other.
“I’m not afraid of her,” I told him, and I couldn’t help nibbling on the inside of my lower lip. “I’m . . . wary of her web of spies, that’s all.”
“I see. Well, in that case, maybe you’d better come on inside.” He took my hand and tugged. “I have a special way of dealing with spies and busybodies and other unwanted entities.”
I knew he was just being funny, but I had seen firsthand how he dealt with unwanted entities, and in truth the experience had both frightened me and made me feel very safe in his capable hands, all at the same time. There was something deeply reassuring about his knowledge and mastery of all matters spiritual, a certainty I did not yet possess. Maybe I never would. But one thing I did know: Next to Liss, Marcus made a pretty good counselor of the mysterious. Between the two of them, I was covered.
I followed him inside, privately enjoying the warmth of his hand holding mine.
“What’s all this?” I asked him when my eyes had adjusted to the more shadowy interior. Unusually shadowy. I couldn’t help noticing that all the curtains were drawn, and that set up in front of the big windows were what appeared to be a couple of cameras on tripods, as well as a couple of other odd-looking devices whose purposes I couldn’t guess. Heavy wires, neatly bound with tie-wraps, snaked across the hardwood floor and down the hall toward the bedroom he used as his own private digital compound. While on his stint in the military, Marcus had served in Intelligence. Something told me he hadn’t completely gotten that lifestyle out of his system.
“This? Nothing, really. Call it . . . insurance.”
Marcus wasn’t usually this circumspect. I peered up at him, curiously. “Insurance for what? What’s going on?”
He shrugged away the question. “Nothing I can’t handle. Trust me on this.”
I had no misgivings about his ability to handle, oh, just about anything. Without a doubt he had an innate understanding of how to handle me.
“Cameras. Wires. What’s this?” I asked him, pointing to a round dishlike object.
“Just a little listening device.”
“And this?” I indicated a smaller black box.
He grabbed my hand and drew me away, carefully avoiding the various tripods and tripwires. “A voice amplifier. Nothing to worry about.”
Noooo, nothing to worry about here. Nothing at all . . .
“And why are we doing the whole James Bond thing with the neighbors?” I pressed, knowing the story had to be a good one.
“I would never spy on my neighbors without good reason,” he protested as he plopped down onto the sofa and pulled me into his lap. His arms closed immediately around my waist to hold me in place.
Distractions were not going to work on me this time. No sirree . . .
“And you explain all of the devices and whatnot pointed at them, how?”
He tilted his head back on the sofa, staring thoughtfully at the ceiling for a moment. “Hm. Would you believe me if I told you that they’re not directed toward the neighbors specifically?”
I glanced over my shoulder. The cameras certainly seemed to be aimed in all the pertinent directions.
He sighed, his fingers toying with one of my curls. “I take it you’re probably not going to be able to just let this go.”
“I suppose you’re going to need an explanation.”
The one word answers seemed to be working in my favor. “Well,” he said, considering his options, “I suppose I was kidding myself to think that you could come over without wondering what was up.”
“So I guess you’re wanting answers.”
“Mmhmm.” Was that one word, or two? Or none?
“You’re awfully cute when you’re curious,” he said with a wicked grin.
Maybe the one word answers weren’t working so well, after all. “Stop trying to confuse me.”
“Maybe I want to confuse you. Maybe—” he twirled the strand of hair around his index finger then flicked his gaze to mine— “just maybe—” he said, his voice dropping to a low murmur intended to warm a girl’s blood in an instant, “that was my plan all along.”
Before he could lean in to kiss me and scatter my senses to the four winds, I placed my fingertips over his lips. “Neighbors?” I prompted.
“Can’t see a thing, I promise.”
“But you can see them.”
“Nah.” He shook his head. “It’s not for the neighbors, Maggie. I told you that.”
“Then who is it for?”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out.”
All of this talking in circles was making my head hurt. I just looked at him, waiting patiently.
Finally he relented. “Take a peek through the view finders.”
I got to my feet and walked over to one of the cameras, bending close to peer through. To my surprise, the object in view wasn’t the house on the opposite side of the street. “It’s pointed at the street itself,” I realized, frowning.
I did. Same story, second time around. The camera that seemed to be pointing at the neighbor’s house next door was actually capturing anyone approaching the house from that direction.
“There’s another camera in the dining room,” Marcus told me.
The question was, why? I turned to him in bemusement.
“I think someone has been watching my place. I just wanted to see if I could catch said someone in the act. Get it on film. Try to figure out what’s up.”
My eyebrows lifted and I glanced sharply toward the window. “Someone’s been watching you? Why would anyone do that?”
“I don’t know.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“I don’t know,” he repeated. “A week? Two weeks? I’m not sure. I’ve been a little distracted lately.” He winked at me.
I could relate. Boy, could I ever.
While I was up, I unzipped Minnie’s carrier and set her down on the floor. “There you go, little one.” She stretched and yawned, hooking her claws down to the floor as though searching for carpet to latch onto. I handed her one of her catnip mousies. “Run and play.”
Obediently she picked up the tiny mouse in her mouth and darted for the nearest hidey-hole. She was almost as comfortable at Marcus’s house as she was at the apartment. We’d been over often enough that Marcus had surprised us both by setting up a litter box in the laundry room and a soft kitty bed in the office window that overlooked a group of bird feeders he had installed in the yard, and by installing resident food and water dishes in the kitchen. Already Minnie thought of Marcus’s place as her own.
I turned back to the living room. Still as bemused as ever, I sat down next to Marcus on the sofa. Immediately he drew my legs up over his and placed a steadying hand on my knees to hold me in place.
“Who do you think it is?” I asked him.
“Not a clue,” he said, I didn’t like the way his gaze slid away from mine. Why did I have a feeling that wasn’t entirely the truth?
“Well, have you said anything to anyone?” I persisted, “About all this?”
“Uncle Lou and Aunt Molly know.”
“I don’t mean them. I meant, have you filed a report?”
His eyebrows rose. “With the police? Uh, no.”
The look he gave me made me realize with a start how pointless the question was, considering Tom’s role with the S.M.P.D.
“Oh. Oh, yeah.” And yet the situation frustrated me. Worst of all, I knew it was entirely my fault. Not intentionally . . . but did that make a difference when someone’s heart was hurting? “There has to be some route available to you. What if this turns out to be serious?”
“Hey . . . Hey.” Turning, he tipped my chin up to look at him, and my heart turned over. “It’s no big deal, Maggie. I’ve got it covered.”
He pressed a kiss to my lips to quiet my protests. “No worries, okay?”
It was easy for him to say. He wasn’t the one who was responsible for his inability to go to the police if he needed to. I was.
“So . . . what’s in the bag?” he asked, purposely deflecting my concern toward another topic altogether. I understood immediately what he was doing, but since there was no easy solution to the stalker problem, I quickly decided we might as well try to forget about it. For now.
“Oh, just a few goodies for tonight.”
My airy reply made his eyebrows lift in interest. A slow smile began at the corners of his mouth. “You know, this sounds promising.”
“Maybe.” I kept things light and teasing, though inside me the element that had perked up was far more fiery in nature.
“Mmm. So are you going to show me what you’ve got? Or are you going to make me wait?” The blue of his eyes blazed a little hotter. “I’m not sure I’m going to be good at that.”
I smirked. I couldn’t help myself.
“Waiting,” he supplied quickly as clarification. “I’m not great at waiting.”
I giggled this time. I couldn’t help that, either.
“I assure you,” he leaned in closer, pinning me with his gaze, “I am very good at the rest of it.”
Copyright 2010 by Madelyn Alt. All rights reserved.
****** A WITCH IN TIME will appear magickally on bookstore**********
****** shelves April 6, 2010, or you can pre-order it today***************
A WITCH IN TIME (#6, The Bewitching Mysteries)
Berkley Prime Crime
Coming April 6, 2010