NEW RELEASE…INSIGHT from JENNIS SLAUGHTER

Final Front Cover 2 INSIGHT

 

When Delaney Delacroix is called to locate a missing girl, she never plans on getting caught up with a human trafficking investigation or with the local witch. Meeting with Raelin Montrose changes her life in so many ways that Delaney isn’t sure that this isn’t destiny.

 

Raelin Montrose is a practicing Wiccan, and when the ley lines that run under her home tell her that someone is coming, she can’t imagine that she was going to solve a mystery and find the love of her life at the same time.

 

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Chapter 3 of JENNIS SLAUGHTER’s new book INSIGHT coming soon from Shadoe Publishing!

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Chapter 3 ~

Stepping into the shop, Del called out for Jasper.  The shop was small but well-kept and it was obvious that the man had a passion for his work.  She walked around as she waited for him to join her, running her fingers over an old vanity and opening the drawer on a well-loved desk that had intricate carvings.

“Hello there Missy.  It’s good to see that some people have the good manners to show up on time.”  The white haired gentleman walked in from the back.  “Isn’t she a beauty?”

Del smiled as she didn’t often take to people so quickly, but this man had an ease about him and she couldn’t help but enjoy his company.  “Well, if my grandmother taught me anything, it was manners.  It really is a beautiful piece.  Where did you find it?”

Rubbing his hand along the top, Jasper smiled.  “The person who is getting the desk tonight, well, it used to be her mother’s, but she had to sell it years ago to Regina to pay off a debt.  Regina finally decided to sell it since her husband, Arthur Senior flew the coop and so it’s going back to its rightful owner as a trade for the vanity.”

Del continued to look over the vanity.  “It really is a wonderful piece of woodworking.  I can’t imagine giving it up.  I would guess that it is probably worth a pretty penny, yeah?”

Wiping his fingerprints off the wood, Jasper agreed.  “It is a Kindle and worth about a thousand dollars, but the desk means more to the buyer, so I’m going to make it an even trade.  Anything to help a friend out.”

“That’s very kind of you Jasper,” Del said quietly.  It had been a while since her days living in a small town and she sometimes forgot the generous nature of most small communities.  “I’m sure your friend is mighty happy about it, but I’m sure they’ll be even happier if we get it there soon.  How about we get it packed up then, besides I was promised a good roast,” the blonde chuckled.

The older man agreed, and they soon had the desk loaded up.  Turning back to the blonde, Jasper asked.  “You wanna ride with this old man or you wanna follow behind me?”

“No offense, but I’d rather take my own ride, so I’ll follow behind you.  I’d feel better knowing I have my own ride if I wear out my welcome too soon,” she laughed; in truth, she wanted to make sure she had her own ride in case something went bad.  As much as she enjoyed this man’s company, she couldn’t forget that she was here on a job.  One some people might not appreciate her doing.

The older man agreed, got into his truck, and headed towards the outskirts of town, kicking up a trail of dust in his wake.

***

Del followed Jasper’s truck, observing the town as it passed them by.  She made a mental note of the locations of buildings and paid special attention to the residential areas.  It wasn’t a large town and soon enough they had passed the last of the houses and hit an old dirt road.  After what she thought to be about two miles of driving, she noted a house up ahead.  Most of the land had been cleared, with the exception of a large old tree in front of the house.  She looked to her right once they had stopped in the yard and saw a tree line a few yards from the back porch.  Filing that away for later, she quickly hopped out of the old Jeep to help Jasper with the desk.

“It’s a nice house.  Quiet out here, I bet?” she asked him, even though she hated to drill him, but years of investigating just wouldn’t go away.

The house was secluded with the tree line nearby and by the looks of the small pickup, probably only housed one person.  Del knew a perfect hiding place if she ever saw one.

Pulling on his work gloves, Jasper opened the bed of the truck and chuckled as the blonde nimbly jumped inside.  “Yeah, but this family doesn’t mind the silence.  In fact, you can ask her all about it,” he nodded his head towards the brunette that had opened the back door and walked out.

Raelin had heard the truck pull up as she put the roast on the carving platter, but she cocked her head in puzzlement when she made out the sound of a second vehicle.  Then she remembered that Jasper had said that he was going to bring someone to help him.

Wiping her hands on a kitchen towel, she opened the door and started out.  When she saw the blonde in the bed of Jasper’s truck, she almost stumbled.  She wasn’t prepared to see her yet.

Del glanced in the direction Jasper had indicated and wasn’t at all prepared to see the brunette from earlier in the day.  She started and took a step back to steady herself, but caught nothing but air as her foot slipped off the end of the truck bed.  Catching herself with her knee, she grunted at the pain, struggling to keep the desk from falling, knowing its worth.

“Take it easy, Missy.  Don’t want to bruise you up before we finish.”  Jasper smiled to himself as he noticed the look on Raelin’s face.  ‘This was gonna be fun.’  “Hey Raelin! We’re here right on time.  This is Delaney Delacroix, and she’s offered to help me out tonight.”

Swallowing her embarrassment and a good chunk of her pride Del smiled and nodded her head, choosing to get the desk off the truck in one piece before she did something stupid.  Once the desk was safely on the ground, she looked back up at Rae, noting the mild shell-shocked expression on her face.  “Uh, you can just call me Del if you’d like, most people do.  Thanks for having me.”

“Umm, nice to meet you Del.  Any friend of Jasper’s is welcome here,” she held out her hand for the blonde to shake, and wasn’t surprised at all at the mild tingle that she felt as soon as they touched.  ‘Oh Goddess…I am in so much trouble.’

“Where do you want the desk, Raelin?  Let us get it inside, and then we can start on the pot roast that I can smell from here.”  Jasper wiggled his eyebrows at the suggestion.

Turning around, Raelin walked over to the back porch and threw open the French doors.  “I was thinking that it should go into the side room.  I made sure that there is plenty of room.”

The low thrumming in her limbs had intensified for the split second she’d held the other woman’s hand, and Del finally let out the breath she’d been holding when Rae started to direct them into her home.  ‘I am so dead,’ she thought; maneuvering the desk into what Rae had called the side room.  She watched Rae’s form as she moved about the room, adjusting things here and there.  ‘But what a way to go!’

“Well, Raelin.  I think that that is a perfect spot for it.  You can see outside to the front and into the garden.”  Jasper rubbed his hands together.  “Now let’s eat.”

Laughing at her friend, the brunette led the way to the dining room to where the food was ready and waiting on the table.  “Would you care for some tea Del, or like Jasper, have a cold beer?”

Del weighed the options for a minute.  She wouldn’t normally drink on a job, but somehow she felt safe in this place with these people.  It was a feeling she got, an insistence in the back of her mind that she could trust these two, if no one else.  “A beer would be great thanks.  It smells great in here.”  And it did, Del was suddenly aware of just how lackluster her own cooking was.

Raelin blushed at the compliment.  “I enjoy cooking for my friends,” she walked into the kitchen and came back out with bottles of beer and iced mugs.  “I hope that dark ale is all right with you.  It goes better with the roast.”

Jasper reached for one of the mugs and poured his beer.  “If I know Raelin, she used a bottle of beer with the roast,” he had just taken a swig of the cold beverage, when his cell phone went off.  Putting down the glass, he answered it and frowned.  Huffing, he closed the phone and turned to the two women.

“Ladies, as much as I really do want to have dinner with you, someone else beckons who doesn’t like to wait.”  Turning to Del, he smiled.  “I know that you will enjoy the meal.”

Del looked at him, barely managing to hide the panic. ‘Well, this will be interesting,’ she thought.  “As long as Raelin doesn’t mind me staying.  I can head back into town if you’d prefer.  I don’t want to impose or anything.”  Del wasn’t entirely sure she could trust herself to be alone with this woman.  She so wanted to get to know her better, but she was here for work and still hadn’t ruled her out as a potential suspect.  She hadn’t had the chance to rule anybody out yet.  Perhaps it would be best if she did stay.  Raelin might just have some valuable information.

The brunette took a swallow of beer before she answered.  “No, I don’t mind you staying at all.  Please stay and have dinner with me.  That way you can take Jasper some leftovers.”

Del couldn’t have said no if she’d wanted.  If it hadn’t been for the silky smooth tone the brunette had asked her in that convinced her, surely the mouthwatering smell coming from the roast would have done the trick.  Already well out of her comfort zone, Del decided she’d try and get back some of her dignity while she still had the chance.  She swallowed a mouthful of beer and dove in.  “It’s a date then,” she smirked.  “Jasper, I’ll be by the shop tomorrow with those leftovers.  If I don’t eat it all myself, that is.”

The older man nodded his head in agreement with the blonde and hugged the brunette tight.  “Enjoy the company Darlin’.  You deserve it,” he whispered into Raelin’s ear.

The young woman hugged him back.  “You are so bad, Jasper.  I’ll make sure she brings you something.”

He laughed and waved goodbye, leaving the two women alone.

Turning back to her guest, Raelin smiled.  “So, I hope that you’re hungry.”

Raelin’s smile was infectious, and Del couldn’t help but smile back.  “Starving, I only had a muffin and coffee for lunch.  Jasper tells me I’m in for quite a treat.”

Motioning to the table, Raelin shook her head.  “I’m an okay cook.  I don’t get a lot of practice just cooking for myself, and I don’t have many visitors.  Would you mind carving the roast?  I’ll get the side dishes,” she quickly disappeared into the kitchen.

***

Once in the kitchen, Rae leaned against the counter and took a deep breath.  Closing her eyes, she offered a quick prayer. ‘I don’t know who’s listening, but please give me strength to get through dinner without making a fool of myself.  Please, please, keep everything normal.  So be it.’  Picking up the bowls of potatoes and corn, she walked back out to the dining room.

Del watched Raelin leave the room and groaned inwardly.  ‘Keep it together Del. You aren’t some stupid teenager.  It’s just a dinner.  Surely you can manage to eat without doing something stupid.  Besides, you are working, keep to the job.’ 

She shook her head to clear it and started to carve the roast, trying not to drool over the aroma too much.

“Here we go.”  Raelin set the bowls on the table and looked at the blonde.  She smiled at how serious the woman looked; like it was the most important thing in the world to get the slices just so.  “I take it that you don’t cook a lot either.”

Del, having sliced the roast to her satisfaction, threw a sheepish grin Raelin’s way.  “That obvious?  I live on a whole lot of take-out really.  I’m not home enough to have time to cook.  Work keeps me busy.  Do you need me to help with anything else?”

Shaking her head, the brunette sat down.  “Just help me eat all of this or I’ll have leftovers for a week.  What kind of work do you do, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Del looked over at the brunette, half sizing her up.  She caught the dark gaze of the other woman and held it, searching for any hint that this woman might be trouble.  Seeing nothing but sincerity but still hesitant to open up, she decided it would be best to keep quiet until she’d talked with her more.  “Oh, a little of this, and a little of that.  Whatever needs doing mostly,” she replied, never breaking her stare.

Offering her guest the food first, Raelin held the blonde’s stare.  “What exactly are you searching for Delaney?”

Del had to pause a moment, the bluntness of the question catching her off guard.  She suddenly remembered the words of the waitress and figured she might want to tread lightly with this one.  She slammed her detective face into place, making sure the other woman saw nothing, but a casual curiosity.  “What makes you think I’m looking for anything?” she asked, taking a bite of roast.  “This is pretty fantastic you know.”  Perhaps a subject change would steer this in a safer direction.

The brunette smiled as she filled her plate.  She knew that Mary at the diner had probably filled the newcomer in on her and her family.  Cutting the meat, she took a bite before she answered.  “No one comes to Leroy except for fishing, hunting, or if called by Regina.  And I figure the only reason the she would call you would be to find her wayward husband, Arthur Senior.”

“Which of those three do you think I’m here for then?”  She smiled, lightly chewing on the end of her fork.  She’d have to come back to the wayward husband in a bit, but the opportunity for a little harmless flirting was too much to resist.

Putting down her fork so that she could stare deeper into jade green eyes, Raelin pulled in some of the power of the lines so she would be able to see more clearly.  After a few moments, she whispered,  “You’re here to find someone, but not who I think.  You’ll find something dark that doesn’t want you here, but there’s someone else who needs you to stay.”  Shaking her head slightly, Raelin closed her eyes, knowing that she had said too much and would have scared Del off.

Del regarded her closely, reading her face, seeing no signs of a lie.  Those words sounded so much like the ones in her dream, and she suddenly remembered how much she hadn’t wanted this job in the first place.  Seems she was going to have to get to the point with this lady.  “You see a lot for someone who’s known me for less than an hour.  Care to explain that?”

Picking up her fork again, she speared a potato slice before answering.  “I’m sure that Mary told you that I’m a witch.  I knew that someone was coming, and here you are.”

“She did inform me, yes.  I don’t think I need to tell you though, that small town gossip isn’t really very reliable.  I am looking for something yes.  I don’t imagine you get too many visitors out this way, do you?”  If Rae wanted to talk shop, Del was all too happy to comply.  Any information she could get was going to be an asset in this job.

Smiling at the blonde, Raelin thought for a moment before answering.  “When you want help or some answers, just ask.  I’ll do my best to give you what you need, and not freak you out at the same time…glad that you like the roast.”  She didn’t want to push the woman away, and since she wasn’t running, Raelin decided to let her do things in her own time.

“I’ve seen many a thing in my line of work.  Trust me; a little otherworldly help is not the worst of them.  Thank you for dinner, I won’t keep you too much later, but before I go, I want to ask you a few questions.  Is that okay?”

Del had noticed how Rae had avoided her question in regards to getting much in the way of visitors.  Figuring she’d hit a sore spot, she left it be for now.

Leaning back, Raelin smiled.  “Please don’t rush off.  It’s nice to have someone to talk to, and you can ask me anything.  I don’t lie.  Karma, you know.”

Del couldn’t help but chuckle at that as she stood to clear her plate.  “Let me help you clean up and we can talk while we work.”

Raelin stood up and picked up the platter of meat and an empty bowl.  “I hope that you saved some room for dessert.  I have homemade vanilla ice cream with caramel or chocolate sauce.”

“If I didn’t, I do now.  It’s so hard to get homemade ice cream now.  My father, he used to make it every once in a while when I was a kid.”  Del grabbed a few extra plates and some utensils and followed Rae to the kitchen, depositing the dishes in the sink as directed.

“Just leave everything in the sink and I’ll get them later.  It will give me something to do.”  Nodding towards one of the cabinets, Raelin directed the blonde.  “Get a couple of bowls out.  Which do you want?  Caramel or chocolate sauce…or both?”  She paused next to the fridge.

Smiling childishly, Del grabbed the bowls and turned back to Rae.  “Both please.”  Del couldn’t help but drop her guard around Rae.  As much as it had gone up during the dinner, Rae had managed to set her at ease again with that earthy charm Del was quickly falling for.  ‘Oh Lord, help me,’ she thought.

Filling the bowls with the ice cream, Raelin handed the blonde one and watched as she poured the sauce over it with glee.  When Del reached out to catch a drip of the caramel and put her finger in her mouth to clean it Raelin barely smothered a moan, instead she turned to put the ice cream back into the freezer.

“So Rae, is it okay if I call you that?  You grow up around here?  This seems like a pretty big house for one person,” she asked around a mouthful of ice cream.  “Oh, this is heaven in a bowl.”

Chuckling, the brunette answered.  “Yes, you can call me Rae.  I’ve always lived here.  This house has been in my mother’s family for generations.  My mother died a few years back so it’s just me now.  I never knew my father.”

Del sensed sadness deeper than Rae was showing.  “I’m sorry about your Mom.  You were close?”

Nodding slightly, Rae swallowed before continuing.  “We were all each other had.  In fact, the desk used to be hers, but she had to sell it a few years back to cover something, and I’ve been trying to get it back ever since.  I like to keep family items within the family.”

Del felt guilty having brought up something that was obviously pretty upsetting for the brunette.  She reached out and rested her fingers lightly on Rae’s arm, the odd thrumming returning.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.  We can talk about something else.”

Sucking in a breath at the blonde’s touch, Rae shook her head.  “There are no bad memories when it comes to my mother.  She lived the way that she wanted and I am surrounded still by her spirit and her love.”

Del gave Rae’s forearm a reassuring squeeze before retracting her hand.  “So it’s just you huh?  I have a hard time believing there isn’t a line of handsome young suitors outside your door.”  Laughing, Del took another bite of her now partially melted ice cream, taking her time licking the sticky sauce off the spoon.

Closing her eyes briefly, it was all Rae could do not to go over and taste the sauce left on the blonde’s lips.  “Not interested in a knight in shining armor.  I prefer the princess.”  The brunette couldn’t believe that she had blurted that out.  No one in town knew of her preference, and she had hoped to keep it that way.  ‘Way to go Rae.’

Del smiled devilishly.  “Can’t blame you there.  I always found the princess to be a little high maintenance,” she looked at Rae sideways.  “Perhaps a small town girl is more my thing,” she leaned back against the counter, crossing her ankles and tapping her chin with her spoon thoughtfully.

“You’re gonna get your chin all sticky if you keep doing that,” Rae teased.

Del paused for a minute, realizing Rae was right.  Dropping her spoon into the now empty bowl, she could already feel the caramel sticking to her chin where the spoon had touched it.  “You’re right, and it feels gross,” she chuckled and started scanning the room for something to wipe her chin with.

Without realizing what she was doing, Rae stepped forward and lightly ran her tongue over Del’s lips before moving her lips down to clean her chin.  Moaning lightly, she placed her hands on the shorter woman’s hips, holding her right where she wanted her.

Heat spread from where Rae’s hands held her hips, and she couldn’t help but whimper as Rae went to work on her chin.  She allowed Rae to linger there for a few moments before she reached up and fingered the collar of the taller woman’s shirt, guiding her up into a gentle kiss.

***

When Rae felt Del’s acceptance of her kiss, she almost turned it into something hard and hungry, but she didn’t want it to be something that was fast and over with before either one had the time to enjoy it.  And Rae had been waiting a very long time for something like this.

Pulling away, Del watched her fingers as they continued to play with Rae’s collar.  The thrumming in her limbs was an insistent buzz, and she felt light headed.  There was no denying the pull Del felt, but she wasn’t about to blow it by rushing things.  She needed to clear her head and get her mind back on her work.

She finally looked up; taking in Rae’s flushed face and brown eyes darkened nearly to black.  “It’s getting late, and I still need to get back to town.  Thanks for dinner.  Can we maybe do it again sometime?” she whispered, running gentle fingers across the bronze skin where Rae’s neck met her shirt.

It took Raelin a moment to realize that Del was leaving, and she stepped back, almost tripping over her own feet.  “I’m sorry.  I don’t know what came over me.  Umm, yes, you are always welcome here.”  Turning away, she stopped herself from wiping her eyes.  “Let me fix you a plate for Jasper, if you don’t mind waiting.”

Del just stood there a moment, suddenly wishing for Rae’s warmth again.  Seeing the other woman’s embarrassment, she sought to do some damage control.  Del couldn’t deny that there was a potential for something great with Rae and she wanted to try to see where it went.  She walked up behind Rae and rested her hands softly on her waist.  “It’s okay.  You don’t need to be embarrassed.”

Shaking her head, Rae piled slices of beef with generous helping of vegetables in a Tupperware container.  “I should have asked you before I did that.”  She reached down to cover one of the hands resting on her hips with one of her own.  “I want to see where this will go Delaney.  I don’t know how to tell you, but I need to see where it leads.”

Del closed her eyes, taking in the warmth of the taller woman.  “I think I’d like that.  I don’t usually take to people so quickly, and certainly never while I’m working, but I want to try.  Let’s see how it goes, okay?  No hurry and no pressure.  How does that sound?”

Nodding her head, Rae turned around with a smile.  “I’d like that very much.  I just want you to know that I’ve never…this is new to me.”

Del brows furrowed for a moment, before she got the meaning of what Rae was trying to tell her.  “Oh, uh in the spirit of fairness, you should probably know that this isn’t my first time.  Is that a problem for you?  I mean, it’s not like I’ve had a lot of partners or anything.”  Del realized she’d started rambling, and quickly shut her mouth before she made herself look even more stupid.

“No, not at all.”  Rae reached up to run her fingers through golden hair.  “I guess that I shouldn’t keep you any longer.  You probably have a lot to do tomorrow and you need to get your sleep.  You probably didn’t get a lot last night.”

Del was suddenly aware of how exhausted she was, and despite really not wanting to leave; a bed seemed like a pretty fantastic idea.  “You’re right, I didn’t.  The call for this job came through at four-thirty this morning.  You keep playing with my hair like that, and I won’t make it out of this kitchen,” Del murmured, eyes closing against her will. She found herself leaning into Rae’s arms, trying to keep her body from shutting down.

Shaking her head, Raelin made a decision that she hoped wouldn’t come back and bite her.  “You’re not leaving.  There’s an extra room, and you’re staying the night.  I won’t take the chance that you’ll fall asleep on your way back to town.  Besides, your Jeep won’t start this late.”

Del’s eyes snapped open, and she stepped back from Raelin’s arms. “Rae, I couldn’t possibly impose on you like that.  I’ll be fine; I’ve driven in worse shape before.”  Even as she said the words, she swayed a little on her feet, hoping Rae wouldn’t have noticed.

“You’re staying Delaney.”  Raelin quickly threaded her fingers with the blonde’s and led her upstairs to the spare bedroom.  “There’s a bath right over there, and the clean towels and a change of clothes are in the closet.  Make yourself at home.”

“I’ll just take a shower then,” she headed for the bathroom to shower off the day, but poked her head out quickly, flashing a charming smile Rae’s way.  “Thanks Raelin.  I’m really glad we met today.”

“Me too.”  Raelin headed back into the kitchen to put away the food and quickly washed the dishes.  Making sure that she heard the water still running, she silently made her way through the house, making sure that everything was buttoned down, and that there would be no surprises during the night.

***

Del sighed as she stepped quietly into the spare room.  She was a little more awake now, and the shower had felt amazing.  She pulled on the extra clothes that she had found in the bathroom and then she stopped to listen for a few moments, and hearing no signs of movement anywhere, she quickly darted down the hall, then the stairs and towards the front door.

She couldn’t get Rae’s comment about her Jeep out of her head, and while it had been rather off handed, she was in a strange town in a house owned by someone she had only just met.  She really didn’t want to take the chance that her Jeep had been rigged, years of work told her that as much as she was attracted to this woman, she needed to keep a level head just in case.  Reaching her Jeep, she quietly popped the hood, hoping to take a quick peek.

Before she could look around too much she heard the front door open and turned to find Rae looking back at her.  “Uh, hey there.  I figured you’d gone to bed?” she said lamely.

Leaning against the door jam, Rae smiled.  “It actually took you longer than I thought to come out here.  I didn’t do anything physical to your truck.  Go ahead and try to start it.”

Del looked at her oddly.  “If you haven’t touched the Jeep, then it should start.  I’ve always been sure to do the work on it myself.  It’s old, but runs like a dream.”

The brunette arched an eyebrow.  “I just told it not to start.  That’s all.”

“Rae, you can’t just tell something not to work and have it not work.  The world doesn’t work that way.”

“That’s your world Delaney.  In my world, I work with the powers that be, not against them.  They like me.  Please, go ahead and try it.”  Rae waited.

Sighing, Del walked the driver’s side door and jumped in.  She pushed the key into the ignition and turned, surprised when nothing happened.  Frowning, she tried again, still nothing.  Huffing in annoyance, she tried one last time before she pulled the keys out and jumped out of the Jeep.  Hearing Rae’s light giggle at her expense, she stalked over and poked her in the side, tickling the taller woman lightly.  “Yeah, yeah, laugh all you want, but that Jeep better be running in the morning or you’re in trouble.”

“Ooo, I’m scared.  If you want to try it once more, it will start, but I am asking you to please stay the night.”  Rae had a serious look on her face.

Del stopped her tickling, but left her hands on Rae’s sides.  “I’ll stay, but in the spare bedroom.  I don’t want to rush this and risk messing it up.  I especially don’t want to push you into something you aren’t ready for.”

Looking down at the shorter woman, Rae smiled.  “I know.  What do you want for breakfast?”

“I even get breakfast?  Wow, uh whatever you want to make is fine.  I’m not too fussy,” the investigator replied, stepping into the house.

Watching the blonde walk inside, Rae laughed as she realized that Del was taking what she said at face value now.  She didn’t have to go start the Jeep.  Closing the door and locking it, she turned back to her guest.  “I should warn you that I tend to walk the floors some nights when I can’t sleep, so please don’t be alarmed if you hear some strange noises.”

“I know what that’s like.  I have some weird dreams sometimes, and I can’t usually go back to sleep after.  I’ll keep it in mind if I hear you.  Now it’s pretty late so we should head to bed.  Or I should at least.”  Del was stalling and she knew it.  She really did need to sleep, but she was reluctant to part with Rae just yet.  ‘I’m in way too deep, way too soon,’ Del thought idly.

Leaning forward, Rae brushed her lips against Del’s.  “Good night Delaney.  Sleep sweet and have fresh dreams.”  Taking a step back, the brunette smiled as she headed towards her room.

Pausing in the doorway, Raelin glanced back at the blonde and smiled.  “I’m glad that you came out to help Jasper.  He’s a good friend, like I hope that you will be.”

Del smiled, and nodded.  “Night Raelin, I’ll see you in the morning.  Sleep well.”  She watched the other woman until she closed the door before heading to her own room for the night.

Changing into her nightclothes, Rae sat cross-legged in the middle of her bed and concentrated on her house.  She felt Del’s energy in the spare bedroom and smiled at the emotions coming off the blonde.  Shifting her mental eye, she made sure that all of her wards were set and active before she shut off her ‘sight’, and crawled into bed.

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Chapter 2 ~

Graceful hands left the warmth of the coffee cup, and reached up to rub at tired eyes.  After finally dragging as much information out of the Kingsleys as it seemed she would get, she’d made a beeline for the local diner.  Del sat, staring at the picture of the girl in front of her.  She’d already gone through all the contacts, familiarizing herself with the names, of which there were few, before she’d picked up the photo.

It was fairly recent, and showed the missing girl with her arms wrapped around her mother.  Red, nearly auburn waves fell around her face, and past her slim shoulders.  Her smile was charming, if not a little shy, and Del thought she was hiding sadness behind the warm hazel eyes, peeking out from under the unruly set of bangs.  She wasn’t a big thing, petite without being frail, and her face still held the soft roundness of youth.  Del wouldn’t give her a day over eighteen, let alone her actual age of twenty.

She had just picked her mug up for another mouthful of caffeine when a flash of bronze across the street stilled her hand halfway to her mouth.  She set the mug down, and leaned closer to the window.  Jasper was across the street sweeping again, but it was the woman he was talking to that caught her attention.

She let her eyes drift over well-toned calves, following bronze thighs that disappeared into the running shorts currently covering one of the nicest asses Del had ever had the pleasure to look at.  She followed the curve of her spine, nearly whimpering as she reached well-formed shoulders left bare by a dark tank top, and continuing with the wonderful line of a graceful neck until it was covered by the messy, caramel tinted ponytail resting at the base of her skull.

The woman had obviously been running before she’d stopped to chat, her golden skin flushed with the exertion, her top damp with sweat.  Whoever it was must have sensed her stare, and before she could look away, she found her eyes locked with the dark gaze of the stranger.  Del felt her stomach twist, and her insides clenched in a long forgotten ache.

The gaze held for a few seconds longer, and when the woman turned away to continue her conversation Del let out a breath she wasn’t aware she was holding.  She felt the waitresses presence beside her, asking if she wanted anything more.

“Can you tell me who that woman across the street is?” Del asked, her eyes never leaving the woman’s back.

The waitress leaned across the table looking out the window.  Finally she pulled back some, refilling Del’s cup as she spoke.

“That there is Raelin Montrose.  A real odd one she is.”  The distaste in her voice made it pretty clear to Del that this woman was not fond of Rae.  “I heard she performs some kinda cultish rituals out at her house just outside town.  Her family’s been here a while, but they were all a bit weird.”

Del finally tore her gaze away, and regarded the middle-aged woman next to her.  “How do you mean weird?”

“Well, they always kept to themselves mostly.  You head up to her place sometime, you’ll see what I mean.  They got pentagrams, and funny stuff hanging all over the place.  It’s been there ever since I can remember.  Just Rae up there now though.  Folks try to stay away from her, we don’t want to get tangled up in no Satanic hocus pocus.”

Del watched the woman as she spoke, reading her discomfort quickly.  Not wanting to ruffle too many feathers this early in the game, she decided to change the subject.  She read the waitresses nametag quickly, and slid the photo of Jenny across the table.  “Tell me Mary, you ever see this here girl around?  She’s been away for a week, or so now, and her family are getting a bit worried.  I promised I’d help find her.”

Mary studied the picture a few minutes before she slid it back.  “Yeah sure, that’s our Jenny.  She lives with her mom just up the way.  Haven’t seen her in a few weeks though.  She doesn’t like to eat here much, trying to watch what she eats, and all.  You know what young girls are like.”

“Thanks for your help.  Here’s my card.  You just let me know if you see her, or hear something okay?”

Mary glanced at the card before nodding, and tucking it into her apron.  Del started to turn her attention back to her work when Mary spoke up again.  “If you gots a missing girl on your hands, you might wanna try heading up to Rae’s place.  They say she sees things normal people don’t see.  It’s nonsense to me, but who knows what kinda voodoo happenings she got going on up there.”

As Mary rushed off to serve another customer, Del glanced out the window hoping to catch another glimpse of the beautiful woman, but when she looked, Raelin was gone.

***

After her client left, it was all Raelin could do to not go charging out to the middle of town, curious, no, needing to know who, or what had arrived.  Instead, she opted to put on her running clothes, and at least work off some of the excess energy.  Besides, running always got her in tune with her surroundings anyway.

It was about a mile into town, but Rae followed one of the older lines, and it felt like she was running with an old friend.  By the time she started into the town proper, her nerves were all but gone, and she was feeling relaxed.  Jasper Wilkins was out front of his store, sweeping the sidewalk as she jogged up, but as she got closer, the tingling started again.  “Morning Jasper, how’s business?”

Looking up, Jasper regarded the woman in front of him.  She was beautiful, the whole town knew it, with her deep brown eyes, and smiling face.  Her dark hair was pulled up into a rare ponytail, the ends falling in loose ringlets against her back.  The light sheen of sweat she worked up only served to make her bronze skin glow, a pink hue splashed across her cheeks and bare shoulders from the run into town.

He’d had to restrain himself from following a stray drop of sweat as it ran down her neck, where he knew it would meet the generous curves under her tank top.  She was tall, and unlike the blonde he’d met earlier he didn’t have to look down to catch her eyes, eyes that aside from being amused by his appraisal, were a warm chocolate color.

He was well aware of what the other townsfolk thought of Rae, and her family, but she’d never been anything but nice to him, and he couldn’t bring himself not to like her.  She had an earthy charm to her, and for the second time that day he found himself longing to be about thirty years younger.  “Oh, you know Rae, about the same as always.  You seem in good spirits today.”

Rae could feel someone’s eyes caress her body, starting at her calves, and slowly make their way up her back.  It took all of her will not to whip around to look around the town square, so slowly she turned and locked gazes with a blonde woman sitting in one of the tables in the diner.  Her heart started to race faster than it had been when she was running, and she hoped that she wasn’t blushing as she turned back to Jasper.

“I’m sorry.  What did you say?” she asked the older man.

Jasper looked over Raelin’s shoulder, and smiled to himself as he saw the blonde from earlier.  He had guessed Rae’s preference a few years back when a few young men who were dared by their peers came back like dogs with their tails between their legs.  Clearing his throat, he repeated himself, “I got that roll top desk in for you.  Would it be alright if I brought it by tonight?”

“Sure, why don’t you come out around six, and I’ll fix you dinner?  I’ll make that pot roast you like so much.”  Rae offered with a smile.

Chuckling, he replied, “You know me so well.  I’ll be there.  Is it okay if I bring a helping hand?  This back isn’t as young as it used to be, you know.”

Reaching out to lay her hand on his shoulder, the brunette could feel that his arthritis was acting up a bit, so she pushed some healing energy through his bones.  “No, not at all.  The house needs more people in it every once in a while.  It gets too used to just being me there, and it loses some of it happiness.  I’ll see you at six.”  She waved good-bye, and started back home.

Jasper watched his old friend jog off before he turned to look back at the diner to see the blonde looking around for the brunette.  Chuckling, he started singing underneath his breath.  “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.”

***

Not seeing the woman anywhere, Del decided it was time to catch some sleep.  She’d been running on fumes when she got to Leroy, and the meeting with Mrs. Kingsley had sapped what little energy she had left.  Leaving enough money on the table to cover her meal, she left the diner, blinking in the early afternoon sun.  Hearing her name, she glanced quickly around to find Jasper heading towards her.

“Hello again, Jasper.  I was just about to head to the inn you recommended.  You said it was a right at the light, yes?”

Smiling at the blonde, Jasper nodded his head.  “Yep, right at the light.  I was wondering missy, if you wouldn’t mind helping an old feller out?  I need to deliver a desk this evenin’ around six, and I could use some help.  I’d be more than happy to pay you for your time?”

Del looked at him, truth be told she didn’t mind helping him out, but she figured a little bit of fun would be good for her mood.  “But, Jasper, what about that dinner date I was promised?”  She flashed him a wide smile.

The old man could barely contain his joy.  This was going to be much easier than he thought.  “I offered you a dinner, and I never go back on my word.  I promise that you will have the very best pot roast with new potatoes, carrots, and dessert that you can get this side of the Mississippi.  What do ya say?”

”I’d say you’ve got yourself a deal.  Now that we’ve cleared that up, I best be off before I fall asleep in the street.  Where should I meet you?”

“Just come on back here at the store, say at five thirty, and we’ll get the desk loaded, and head on out.  I’ve got a pair of work gloves that should fit you, so you just bring your muscles, and an empty stomach, and I’ll get you all filled up.”  Jasper shook her hand, and headed back to the store.

He called the inn to let them know that he was sending someone their way, and to give her a room in the back away from everyone else.  He had a feelin’ that this woman liked her privacy.

***

Del’s bag had barely hit the floor before she’d collapsed face first onto the bed.  She’d been pleasantly surprised, and more than a little grateful to discover that Jasper had called the hotel on her behalf, and made sure she was roomed away from prying eyes.

Lying there, her thoughts once again drifted to the gorgeous woman from the town square.  The last thing Del saw before she drifted off were the memory of dark eyes locking with her own.

***

The sounds of bullfrogs, and crickets were beginning to get on Jenny’s nerves.  During the day, the sounds from the river were different, more soothing, but at night, the young girl saw shadows in every corner, and even the wind brought unusual noises.

The young woman had gone walking through the fields almost a week earlier when she came across three men tossing two women into the back of a van.  She thought that she had ducked out of sight, but had stepped on a branch, which alerted the men that she was there.  One had chased her down and, despite her struggles, had thrown her in the back of the vehicle along with the other women.

Two of the men had gotten in the back of the van with the women, and had held guns pointed at them until they arrived at a fishing camp.  Upon arrival, each of the women had been put in a small room that had a window about six feet off the ground, and a cot with a blanket.  Twice a day they were fed sandwiches and water, and allowed to use the facilities.

Jenny hadn’t been able to talk with the other women but she heard them crying.  When she tried to talk with the men, all they told her was to shut up and behave. 

One afternoon she overheard two of the men talking that they only need one more girl and they would have enough for a shipment.  That was when she decided that she had to get out of there no matter what. 

Later that evening, she heard the van drive away, and knew that it left at least two of the men there and that everyone was fed around the same time.  As soon as her door opened Jenny rushed it tackling the man bringing in her food.  They both crashed to the floor with him yelling out and trying to grab hold of the young woman.  She kicked and swung her fists at him, striking the sweet spot between his legs, and struggled to her feet.  Doubling over, he managed to trip her up as she darted past him, making her strike her head against a table, splitting it open.  She managed to make it to the brush, and run for her freedom.

Del jerked awake with a gasp as the full terror of the girl in her dream hit her.  She sat up panting, getting her bearings back as she looked around the room.  Her sheets were tangled around her legs, obvious signs of her fitful sleep, while her clothes clung to her, damp with sweat.  She quickly pulled her sheets back up around her chin, struggling to get her breathing under control.

She lay back, closing her eyes.  She was used to these dreams, she had them often when on cases, but the emotions always caught her off guard.  She didn’t want to sleep anymore, she never did when she had these dreams, but her body had other plans.  Not even a few minutes after she’d woken, gasping for breath, her body was pulling back into sleep, dreams of dark eyes, and bronze skin replacing the lingering terror.

***

Raelin was so distracted on the jog back to her home that she actually ran past her house all the way to the lake before she realized where she was.  The blonde with the jade green eyes filled her mind while the memory of her eyes caressing Rae’s body caused emotions, and needs to surface that she had long forgotten, and pushed down.

Standing at the edge of the lake, the young woman closed her eyes, and tried to calm her racing heart, but it was proving to be harder than normal.  She knew that the cards had been talking about the mysterious blonde as soon as she felt her gaze.  It was as if she’d been standing behind Rae, and touching her with her hands, hands that had a gentle touch, but with a hidden strength.

Moaning, the brunette tried to banish the vision of the woman in her mind, but it was as if she had taken root.  Shaking her head, she turned towards home, and once again lost herself in her running.

***

Jenny woke from a fitful sleep as the woman brushed her hand across her forehead.

“Your fever seems to be breaking.  Do you think you can take some soup?”  The woman’s voice caressed her ears.

Nodding her head, she sipped a few mouthfuls before she motioned that she had enough, and closed her eyes, and drifted back to sleep.

***

After getting home, and showering, Raelin sat out on the front porch in a lounge chair, and just listened to the sounds of the afternoon float by with a glass of iced tea.  Sipping the tea, she closed her eyes, and thought about the blonde.  She had to be the one that the cards told her about, who else could it be?

Getting up from the chair, she went inside to get the cards, and as she walked back out onto the front porch, she shuffled the cards while picturing the beautiful woman.  ‘Beautiful woman!  Where did that come from?  Get a grip, Rae.’ the brunette thought to herself.

Cutting the cards three times, she then spread the cards out and choose the first one.  The Context was a reversed Empress, the unraveling of matters.  The blonde was searching for something, or someone, and she was going to bring many things to light.  The second card, considered to be the Focus, was the Chariot, and that meant trouble.  She was going to bring it, or cause it, but she would triumph over it.  Closing her eyes, Rae reached out, and turned over the final card, the Outcome.  It was the Lovers…Rae held onto the card as a warm glow spread throughout her body.

***

Del stood, leaning against the hood of her Jeep, watching the brunette approach, and stop in front of her.  “I’ve been searching for you, and I didn’t even realize it.”

She watched as Rae brought a hand up to brush her cheek, instinctively leaning into the touch.  “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Del gave a soft smile, reaching out to finger the buttons on the front of Rae’s shirt, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to keep you waiting, but I’m glad I’m here now.”

Static electricity ran along Raelin’s skin, making her catch her breath.  Leaning close, she whispered.  “Things are going to get rough, and confusing.  Trust in yourself and what you feel deep inside.  Trust what you can see with your heart, and with your gut.  Beware of what you see with your eyes.”

Del held Rae’s gaze with her own, tucking a stray strand of dark hair behind her ear, her fingers lingering.  “You need to be ready, there is something dark at work, and it doesn’t want me here.  It’s not safe, and you need to be careful.  Don’t provoke it, let me take care of it.  It’s what I’m here for.” 

“Not to worry.  Together we can banish the darkness.”  Leaning her head into the woman’s caress, Rae gave her a hopeful smile.

Del nodded, and reached up to bring their lips together, feeling the weight of the darkness lift away, taking the buzzing in her mind with it.

Del’s eyes snapped open, and she realized with a groan, she’d been dreaming again.  She’d never had more than one of these dreams at a time, and something about this town didn’t sit right.  She climbed out of her bed, licking her lips where they still tingled, and grabbed her bag on her way to the bathroom.

Knowing she’d need to meet Jasper soon, she started the shower, stripping off her clothes, and checking the temperature.  Before getting in, she glanced at herself in the mirror.  She reached out, and touched the reflection of her lips, eyes closing in memory.  She quietly set up a silent prayer for strength before she stepped into the shower.

***

After Rae finished the reading, and her contemplation, she made her way into the kitchen to start dinner for Jasper.  She didn’t have very many friends in this town, so she always enjoyed having someone come over when they had a chance.  The pot roast was seasoned with fresh herbs, and put in the oven along with some sliced carrots, and new potatoes from her garden.  Fresh salad greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers made a light salad to go along with her homemade salad dressing.  Soon the house was filled with tempting aromas.

Setting the table, she glanced at the clock, and saw that she had just enough time to change clothes into something more appropriate for guests.

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~Preface~

Spots blurred her vision as she ran, stumbling through the underbrush like prey trying to evade capture.  Her lungs burned, desperate for more air as she gasped for breath.  Her body was starting to shut down on her, but she pushed on.  What had started as a simple quest for answers had turned into something much darker, and much, much more sinister.  Never in her short span of years would she have suspected such a small, quiet community to harbor such secrets.

Her feet tangled beneath her, nearly sending her to the ground as she heard the distinct sounds of her pursuers crashing through the bushes behind her.  They were getting closer, and she was getting tired.  Her initial struggle for freedom had drained most of her energy in the first place, and she had suffered a nasty hit to the head along with a few good shots to her stomach.  She’d been running for a good ten minutes now, unsure how much longer she could go on, desperate to get away.

Blood dripped into her eye from the gash in her forehead, and adrenaline was the only thing keeping her going.  She was lost, hopelessly so, having run blindly across the backfield, and in the dead of night no less.  She’d been hoping to make the forest line, and some cover.  Perhaps she could find a good place to hide, and allow her body some rest  At least the initial brush had turned to tall grass.  For once in her life, she was thanking the Gods for her smaller stature.

Auburn hair fell into her face, and she quickly brushed it away.  She was almost there, she could smell the pine, the tang of decomposing leaves, and she pushed harder.  Using the last of her energy, she struggled through the last few yards as she allowed herself one small moment of hope, if she could just make the tree line she might be okay.

Suddenly her foot snagged a root, and sent her toppling forward.  She rolled, feeling a rib give under her weight, and gasped at the pain.  Winded, she groaned, knowing she had nothing left to get her on her feet again.  She looked up, spotted vision revealing she had fallen only a few feet short of the protection of the forest.

She heard the tell-tale sounds of her attackers, the rustling of the grass, snapping of twigs, and the murmurs of communication between various members of her pursuit team.  Any minute now, they would be on her, and the hell she had worked hard to escape would be her reality once again.

She tried once more to get to her feet, but her chest protested the movement, and sent her flat to her back in anguish.  The sounds were getting louder, and she resigned herself to her fate.  The last thing she felt before the world went black was a set of hands reaching out, and dragging her into the darkness of the forest she had hoped would save her.

***

Hands moved with practiced ease as they shuffled the cards, before eventually stopping to cut the deck, and then to deal three.  Dark eyes studied the faces, widening in realization.  The first told her to wait.  The second said something, or someone was coming.  A shiver told her it was the latter.  Okay someone was coming, but who?  Soon was the only response the third gave.  She glanced at her clock, four-thirty a.m..  Something told her she needed to start preparing for something.  She asked her Goddess what, but it seemed like she wasn’t in the mood to reveal her secrets just yet…She closed her eyes, reaching, seeking the lines running under the town.  They were shifting, restless.  Whoever it was, they were close, and she needed to be ready.

Opening her eyes, she looked at the cards one last time, asking them how she would know when she’d found the right person…The only answer she got as she gathered the cards back up was, ‘You’ll feel.’

***

A shrill ring sliced through the silence of the small industrial loft, ripping the woman in the bed from a fitful sleep.  One pale hand shot out from the covers, retrieving the ringing cell phone off the nearby nightstand, and hauling it under the blankets where she was currently huddled  She jabbed the answer button with her thumb, and brought it to her ear.

Before she could say anything, a thick sob carried across the line, and she pulled the phone far enough away to blink blearily at the time displayed.  four-thirty a.m..

“Excuse me for calling so late, but may I speak with Delaney Delacroix?  This is a matter of utmost urgency,” a woman’s tearful voice came over the line.

Delaney sat up in her bed, scrubbing her blonde hair away from her face.  She could tell instantly that this was a woman with money, or at the very least a woman who wanted you to think she had money.  Her abrupt and formal way of speaking told the detective that much.

“This is she.  What can I help you with, especially at this hour?”  She wouldn’t normally have been so curt, but the hour, coupled with her recent late nights, was clouding the good manners she had been raised with.

A clearing of a throat was heard before the woman continued.  “My name is Regina Kingsley, and I wish to hire you to find my granddaughter Jenny.  She has been missing for almost a week, and we fear the worst.  You come highly recommended by the Morials, and they said that you are very discrete.”

Del wracked her sleep-fogged brain for the name Morial, and her mind quickly dredged up the memories for that case.  A particularly dirty one in which the New Orleanss ex-mayor had suspected his boy was up to no good.  She’d had to be extra careful on that one, not a family she wanted to be on the bad side of.

“Yes, well, I’m glad they think so highly of me.  How old is your granddaughter exactly?”  This wouldn’t be the first time some grandmother had feared the worst for a grandchild, and she’d been sent on a wild goose hunt for a kid who just wanted to go on vacation.

“Jenny is twenty years old, and she would never leave her mother without telling her.  They are very close, and I’m sure that something awful has happened to her.  I don’t care about the cost, Ms. Delacroix, I just want my granddaughter found.”  Regina sounded like she was a woman who was used to getting her own way.  “I shall expect you to arrive tomorrow in Leroy promptly at eleven.”

Del rubbed her chin in mild frustration, she could tell this case, and this woman, were going to push her patience.  In all honesty, she wasn’t sure she wanted another missing kid case, not after the last one that had ended with a corpse.

“Well, Mrs. Kingsley, have you tried the police yet?  Have you asked her friends, and other family perhaps?”  She figured she might as well try to reason with the lady, although she had a feeling this woman wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

An indignant huff could be heard through the phone.  “The police in this town is a joke.  They don’t have the intelligence to find a jaywalker right in front of them, and I’m not even sure that they don’t have something to do with my poor Jenny’s disappearance.  I’m sure that once you get here, you will see things my way, and understand why I have asked you to come here.  Will fifty cover your time?”

“Clarify just how much fifty means, and I might be able to work something out.”  Truth be told, Del could use the money.  Work had been slow, and groceries weren’t getting any cheaper.

“Fifty thousand, of course.  If that isn’t enough, I’m sure that we can come to a figure that suits both of us.”

Fifty thousand for a kiddie search.  It was way more than she would normally charge for a job that usually went down pretty easy.  Then again, who was she to look a gift horse in the mouth?  Still, the nagging feeling in her gut that showed itself every now and then, told her that maybe this wasn’t going to be as easy as she was hoping.  ”No, that will cover things just fine I believe.  I’ll see you at 11 a.m.  I’ll need any information you have on Jenny.  Everything you can find on her friends, family, hobbies, any boyfriends, or even girlfriends for that matter.”

“Till tomorrow then, Ms. Delacroix,” Regina gave the blonde her address, and the call ended.

Getting an abrupt dial tone, Del tossed the phone, and flopped herself back onto her bed.  She had a feeling she would regret taking this case, but there was nothing she could do now.  Finally she managed the energy needed to haul herself from her warm bed, and began pulling out the supplies she knew she was going to need.  It was going to be a long day.

~Chapter 1~

Regina Kingsley looked at the Rolex on her wrist, ten-fifteen.  Walking into the reading room, she looked over at her son Arthur Junior, or AJ as he liked to be called.  She frowned disapprovingly when she noticed that he was already sipping on a glass of bourbon.

“Arthur…what have I told you about drinking before noon?  I do not want the detective to smell it on your breath.  It’s bad enough that we have to have an outsider to find your lost mistake, but we also have to dismantle this operation before we’ve squeezed every little dime out of it.”

“Well Mother, maybe if Father hadn’t pissed off, and left us with nothing, I wouldn’t need to drink before noon.  Besides, you’re the one who made the decision that we needed outside help.  I told you this would all come back to bite you.  I have always said that I wanted to tell her that I was her father…she’s a smart girl, and would have kept her mouth shut, but no, you had to go and keep everything quiet.  As far as my mistake goes, I was told that she wouldn’t be a problem.  It seems the people you hired to keep an eye on Jenny aren’t as reliable as you thought now, are they?”

The older woman stalked over to her son and slapped him.  “Don’t talk back to me young man.  I can still end your life with a snap of my fingers.  You are lucky I’ve kept you around this long, considering you can’t hold down a job, and all you’re good for is spending my money.”

Arthur’s hand instinctively snapped up to rub his cheek.  Realizing his mother was dead serious, he backed down, not wanting to push his luck.  Setting the drink aside for another time, he cleared his throat, and decided to try to change the subject from his own shortcomings to the detective en route.

“So what am I to expect of this detective, Mother.”

Taking a deep breath, the older woman turned to look out the front window overlooking the Kingsley Lake.  “Ms. Delacroix did come highly recommended from the Morials; they said that she knows how to keep her mouth shut.  What we need her to do is to find your mistake, and make sure that she finds enough evidence to point the blame elsewhere.  It would not do to have our name dragged through the mud.  Maybe once all of this is over, we can start something else.  We were so close to being out from under the rock your father had left…why I married that man, I will never know.”

He stood there, regarding his mother.  Her stiff posture, and stony face.  She had been beautiful once, long ago when things had been so much simpler.

“For the only reason that matters of course.  His money.”  At this, he joined her at the window, hands in his pockets.  “Now, is there anything you would like for our detective to find?  Let me know so I can arrange some coincidences.”

Turning her head to look at her only son, she reached out to caress the cheek that she had just slapped.

“Let’s just give her a day or so to see what she comes up with before we start changing the direction in which she looks.  We don’t want the others too suspicious.  Like you said, it could surely come back to bite us.  Now go brush your teeth, and gargle.”

***

Raelin Montrose was a pretty patient woman on most days.  Today, unfortunately for the older woman standing in her front room, was not one of those days.  Even though it had only been a few hours since she had been advised to be prepared, it seemed like days.  Something was coming, and she wasn’t sure what.

She sighed as the woman begged her for another reading, disappointed in the results of the last one.  She picked up the cards, and reshuffled, unconsciously glancing at the clock one more time.

She dealt the cards again, and began the reading, noticing with a smug satisfaction that she had the absolute attention of the woman before her.  The meaning of the first card was the same as the previous draw, but she worded it a little differently to please her customer.  She paused to pull her dark, wavy hair into a messy ponytail, keeping it out of her face.  Flipping the second card, she described its meaning, realizing how her heart was just not in her work today.

She glanced at the clock again.  When had her heart started racing?  She felt a chill settle over her, and she felt like shooing the woman out.  As she drew the third, a sudden jolt raced up her spine.  She felt the town’s energy immediately shift, and for the first time in months, settle into something calm, as if a sudden weight had been lifted.  Her eyes widened, and her words stumbled, and then stopped.  The woman gave her a curious look.  She felt like bolting out the door, and running to the middle of town.

Her eyes darted from the window where she had looked towards the clock on the wall, ten-thirty.  She wanted to run to whatever, or whoever it was had come, to demand her answers to questions she wasn’t even sure she had.  She looked at the cards she had dropped in her surprise, the card on the top giving her a start.

‘Wait’, it told her.  Frankly, she was getting tired of all the waiting.  The woman was asking after her now, and she replied with a hurried reassurance that she was fine.  Raelin finished her business with the older woman, feeling that whatever had come to this town would find her soon enough.

***

After driving for a large portion of the night, Del was glad when she finally passed the Welcome to Leroy, Louisiana sign.  Her eyes were burning, and she had lost all feeling in her lower half a few miles back.  The Pines, Live Oaks, and Spanish Moss were starting to dwindle in numbers in favor of a few farmers’ fields.  Eventually she had left the trees behind, and could see the main drag of the sleepy country town just ahead.

She passed a small strip mall and grocery store before she pulled her old Jeep to a stop in front of an antique store.  An older gentleman whom she assumed was the owner was busy sweeping the sidewalk in front of the entrance.  He looked at her oddly, mildly wary of her, but she had been expecting that.  It wasn’t unusual for an outsider to arouse a bit of mild paranoia in tight knit communities such as this.

Slowly she rolled her shoulders, feeling the joints pop, and a quick glance at her watch read ten-thirty.  Opening the door, Del stepped down onto the dusty street, and immediately got the sense of something unknown.  She felt a tingle up her spine, and it spread into an awareness of everything around her.  She wasn’t sure what it was, but it made her feel light, like an old friend was looking out for her.  She felt inwardly calm, like she hadn’t in a long time and that alone unsettled her.  Almost as quickly as it had come it settled down again into a barely noticeable hum through her limbs, and she shook it off as she approached the man, hoping to get directions.

“Excuse me sir, can you tell me where the Kingsley estate might be?” she asked with a shy smile.  She knew her looks could be used to her advantage, and wasn’t afraid to use them to get what she needed on the job.

The old man stopped his sweeping to lean against the broom for a few moments, judging the young woman standing in front of him.  She was a tiny thing, only reaching to about his chin with a thin frame, but he could tell she wasn’t frail.

She looked at him, sizing him up, and as he watched, she reached up to brush a long lock of corn silk hair out of her face.  Jade green eyes bore into his own, and he could see not just the intelligence, but the strength of their owner, betraying the softness of her face.  He followed the creamy skin of her neck until it disappeared under the well-pressed oxford shirt, currently tucked into well-worn jeans that fit like a second skin.  She must have noticed his appraisal because she shifted her weight onto one foot, pushing the sleeves of her fitted jacket up to her elbows.

“Well, it depends on whose askin’?” he asked cautiously.

Del was tempted to reply with sarcasm, but knew it wouldn’t serve any use.  Still, having driven most of the night on only a few hours’ sleep for a job she still wasn’t sure she should have taken, she wasn’t in the mood for games.

She shyly tucked a piece of long blonde hair behind an ear, and peered up at him through her lashes, flashing a charming smile.  “Well, I’m Delaney Delacroix, and I’ve an appointment with Mrs. Kingsley to help her with some private family matters.  She’s given me an address, but I’m not from around here.”  Charming the pants off him seemed like the fastest way to get the information out of him, and all she wanted was to get this over with so she could have a nap.

The old man threw back his head, and laughed.  “Oh, you’re good missy.  You think that those green eyes, and pearly whites will charm the hell out of me.  They just might later on, but I know that Regina Kingsley don’t like to be kept waiting.  You head down that road over yonder, and when you see a lake on your left, take the road right beside it, and you’ll dead end into the house.”

Del flashed him a genuine smile this time, thankful for his sense of humor.  “Thanks for your help.”  She turned to leave, but stopped as a thought crossed her mind.  “You wouldn’t also know where I could find a nice place to get a room for a few nights, would you?”

Scratching his head, he turned, and pointed down the street.  “If you turn right at the light, about a half mile or so, you’ll see the Buck n’ Doe’s inn.  They’re pretty clean.”

She nodded, and placed a hand on his forearm.  “Thanks again Mr…?”  She paused, expecting him to finish with his name.  He seemed kind, and something told her an ally in this man would be beneficial to her work.

“Well missy.  You can call me Jasper, and if you want some company one of these nights, I would be honored if you’d join me for dinner over at the diner.”  He smiled down at the young woman.  ‘Oh, to be thirty years younger again.’  He patted her hand.  “You’d better get in gear.  Like I said, Regina Kingsley doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”

“Well, Jasper, you can call me Del.  Most do.  Thanks for all your help.  I’ll see you around, I’m sure.”  She turned, and headed to her Jeep, pausing to throw a wink over her shoulder.  “And Jasper, I’ll be sure to take you up on that dinner invite.”

She climbed into her Jeep, letting out a deep sigh as she did.  Dinner would provide a good opportunity to get some information out of him, about the town, and the people living in it.  Her dashboard clock confirmed the time, and she set out for the Kingsley estate feeling all the while like a lamb about to head into the Lion’s den.

Jasper cocked his head, and admired the view from behind.  It was just as good looking as the view from the front.  He smiled, and gave a tiny wave as the pretty young blonde drove off.

***

AJ was standing at the front window as he saw Delaney’s Jeep round the bend of the road.  Quickly he put down the glass of bourbon that he had poured earlier, and was about to drink from again.  Looking around, he was glad that Mother was nowhere in sight.  Taking a step closer to the window, he whistled softly as he watched the blonde get out of her vehicle.

‘That is a fine looking woman,’ he thought to himself.  ‘Maybe I can have some fun after all.’

Stepping out of her Jeep in front of the large manor, Del rolled her eyes slightly at the sight.  It was large, and extravagant, pretty typical for old money.  Approaching the front stoop, her sharp eyes noted small signs of disrepair.  Paint peeling, chipped molding, and a garden around back that needed some attention.  Perhaps things weren’t as prosperous as the Kingsleys would like people to think.  Then again, these were hard times.  She reached up, and knocked roughly on the door, listening for signs of movement from within out of habit.

“Mother…the detective is here,” AJ called out as he walked to the foyer, and opened the door.  “Yes, may I help you?”  His eyes traveled up, and then down the slim body, liking what he saw.

Del regarded the man carefully, groaning inwardly at his less than subtle leering.  He was tall, she had to crane her neck to catch his dark eyes when they finally left her chest.  He may have been handsome in his younger years with his strong jaw, and thick hair, but there was something behind those brown eyes that she wasn’t so sure she liked, something that told her not to take this man at face value.

“Yes, I’m Delaney Delacroix, and I’ve an appointment with Regina Kingsley.”  She kept her tone professional.  For all her good-natured flirting with Jasper in town, the unsettled feeling this man gave off warned her to play it careful.

She looked subtly over his shoulder, gauging the layout of the foyer before she had to step in.  Large, and extravagant, with elaborate mahogany paneling, it too showed signs of aging, but what really got her attention was the display case of marksmanship trophies.  Pausing, she noticed they were all awarded to an Arthur, or Regina.  So, the woman of the house could fire a gun, not that surprising for a Southern town though.  She quickly noted the lack of sensors around the doors, odd that a house with money wouldn’t have an alarm system.  That told her that these people had the power in this town, Mayor be damned.  AJ was quick to extend his hand to shake hers.

“I’m her son Arthur Junior, but you can call me AJ, everyone does.  Mother should be down momentarily.  Won’t you please come in?”  He liked how smooth and silky her hand felt in his.

“Arthur!  I’m quite sure that Ms. Delacroix can walk a straight line without your assistance,” Regina’s voice called out sharply as the older woman appeared at the top of the stairs.

Retracting her hand, Del turned her attention to the woman at the top of the stairs.  Tall, but not as tall has her son, Regina Kingsley descended the staircase with a regal bearing most royalty would envy.  Grey hair was pulled into a severe bun on the back of her head, and steel grey eyes never once left Del’s face.  Del noted in the back of her mind that Regina was sporting some pretty expensive accessories out of date though they were.  Flashing a smile at her client, she reached out, and clasped the hand offered to her.

“And so we meet, Mrs. Kingsley.  Is there a place a little more private in which to discuss the matters that called me here?”

Regina liked the not too firm handshake the blonde gave her.  “Ms. Delacroix, I have no problems in discussing this in front of my son…he may not have the head for business, but he does care for the young girl.  We’ve all known Jenny all her life.  Why don’t we adjourn to the library, and we can talk more comfortably.”  Turning, she led the way into an oak shelf lined room, filled with books, leather chairs that were still in good condition, but worn around the edges, and a wet bar.  Sitting in a wingback chair, Regina waited for the young woman to ask the first question.

She took a seat in the chair offered, her jacket falling open to reveal a holster tucked into her left shoulder.  She noted with a smug satisfaction the slight widening of the eyes when AJ caught a glimpse of the weapon.  Reaching into a pocket inside her jacket, she pulled out an old notebook and pen, flipping to a new page.

“Did you get the information I requested?”  She figured Regina was a woman who liked to keep things simple, and straight to the point.  For now, Del was willing to indulge her.

Arching an eyebrow at the blonde’s tone of voice, Regina thought better of the cutting remark that was on the tip of her tongue, and instead let her eyes tear up.

“Yes, I had Arthur go to her mother and had her write down everyone that she could think of who might know where our sweet Jenny went.  Trust me Ms. Delacroix, she just wouldn’t leave without telling her mother good-bye.”

“And the father?” she asked, jotting notes as they spoke, years of practice allowing her to write while barely looking at the page, leaving her eyes open for body language.

Smoothing back her hair, Regina sighed.  “I’m sorry to say that Jenny’s father is no longer in the picture, and hasn’t been for most of her life.  To tell the truth, Jenny LeBlanc isn’t my granddaughter, but is the daughter of a family friend.  Amelia can’t afford to search for her, so I offered to help.  Anything for a friend, you know.”

AJ crossed over to the wet bar, and almost picked up his glass again, when he thought better of it, and grabbed a handful of peanuts out of a nearby bowl.  “Yes, Mother, and Amelia are such close friends.”

Putting down her pen, Del let an annoyed look pass over her face before she schooled it back into something more neutral.  Standing, she watched them both as she spoke, “Mrs. Kingsley, who exactly do you think you’re working with here?  If you think I drove all this way after being dragged out of my bed at some ungodly hour of the morning to be lied to, you have another thing coming.  Now, I’m willing to help you here, but there isn’t a damned thing I’m going to be able to do if you can’t even give me some straight answers.  In the future it would do you well to give me some answers when I ask.”

The older woman stared at the blonde while AJ almost spit out the mouthful of peanuts he was chewing.  Finally smiling, Regina nodded her head.

“You are good.  No wonder you came so highly recommended.  Yes, you were being lied to, but not completely.  Jenny is my granddaughter, and while my son here is her father she doesn’t know, nor does anyone else outside the family.”

“Well, it wouldn’t have taken a whole lot of work to figure out.  You see, as soon as I mentioned the father, your son went about as rigid as a steel pipe.  AJ over there has a ring on his finger, but judging by his not so subtle once over of me at the front door, I wouldn’t put it past him to have a few adventures from time to time.  I’m going to assume all this secrecy is because she wasn’t exactly planned?”

Glaring at her son, Regina silenced any type of defense that he was going to offer for checking out the detective.  Sighing, and turning back to the younger woman, she motioned for Del to take her seat.

“Boys will be boys, but at least he learned to use protection, and no, Jenny is a result of a fling he had early in his marriage.  I paid Amelia off to keep her silence, and have made sure that Jenny is well cared for.  She has been missing for almost a week, and no one knows where she has gone.”

Dropping once again into her chair, Del decided she had made her point, and resumed her note taking.  “Now, when was the last time she was seen, and who was she with?”

Check back for Chapter 2!  Like me on Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/JennisSlaughterBooksFans

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A GOOD EDITOR

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A GOOD EDITOR

 

One of the hardest things as a writer is finding someone or someone(s) who can help us be better writers.  No matter how much self-editing we do we will always miss something.  After a while we won’t ‘see’ our errors however obvious they may be to the rest of you reading the book, the novel, the novella, the short story or whatever it may be that our writings come out in.

For one starting out the idea of hiring an editor can be scary, overwhelming, or a matter of ego.  After all they are going to take your creation and judge it.  Some editors even alter it to their own egos, their own satisfaction, their own agenda, perhaps to their own frustrated writing abilities.  Not all editors are like that of course, but I have heard enough stories from other writers about an editor who ‘destroyed’ their work or made it into something they never intended.

Another thing is that editors can be expensive.  It varies of course and you can shop around to find a ‘cheaper’ editor whose abilities you must question.  Having beta readers (for those who don’t know what a beta reader is, it is a (hopefully) unbiased second reader of your work who can catch some of the errors) helps but isn’t always as productive as you would like.  Let’s face it you are hiring them for their skills in grammar, spelling, and proper form, not for their personality or agenda’s.

I personally know about form and feel in a story.  I’m not the best story writer and certainly can’t ‘tell’ one verbally to save my life, but I do know how to create worlds that people relate to and can enjoy.  I am not however always grammatically correct and without a good word processor it would be worse with other errors which would drive this A type personality crazy.  I cringe when I’ve tweaked and edited my own stories to death and think I have a finished product only to go back after it was published and find errors.  Worse yet when I get a review that ‘tells’ me of my errors.  Some readers do not care, some find the anonymity of the internet too much not to say something and become arm chair editors and critics.

Let’s face it; even the great works of art still have errors in them and as a prolifically published author who reads just as voraciously I get a thrill out of spotting said errors.  If they made them then perhaps my own errors aren’t so glaringly obvious.

I battled with the cost of hiring an editor much less finding one that would understand my works and not alter them but still bring out the best in my stories.  I finally found one editor that I will heartily endorse and recommend here:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nikki-Busch-Copyediting-Services/385081231593084

I met Nikki Busch through one of the various writing groups that I am a member of.  I believe in Kismet, Fate, or a few other titles you can give such a ‘meeting.’  She and I discussed what I wanted, what I needed, and what she could do for me.  I believe I have found an editor not only for my works but the authors I associate with and I think I can heartily recommend.  It’s not easy to trust someone else with your ‘baby’ and to find someone that does an honest critique, honest editing, and treats it with the respect it deserves is difficult.  I believe I may have found said person and I’m letting other’s know since I too know how hard it is to find this person.

Take a moment, check her out, don’t just take MY word for it, but give her an inbox, give her a trial, and you may be pleasantly surprised at the work she does for you.

Some may ask why give away this secret, well, because I believe in paying it forward.  If someone is good they should be known, I’m making her known here and I will probably regret it when she doesn’t have as much time for my own work but hey, if she is that good, she will find the balance needed to do not only my work but yours as well…..