Aaaand finally, another nice long excerpt from Seer’s Choice:
He was so deep in thought he didn’t notice he’d reached the water’s edge, and continued strolling across the surface of the deep pool. Romana snatched the opportunity to observe him with impunity. The object of her scrutiny had shaggy, sun-streaked blond hair. He was tall and tanned, with muscles in all the right places. Aside from his startling golden eyes he could have blended with the crowd on any popular surf beach. Pity Dayamaria didn’t have any surf beaches. Or any beaches at all, for that matter.
Mid-way across the pool he paused, brow furrowed, obviously struck by some insightful revelation, and she clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from giggling. He muttered something beneath his breath and then sighed as he stretched the kinks from his spine. Because she was only human she admired the peep-show of washboard abs as his tattered t-shirt crept up, flashing his bare abdomen. She’d had a slight teenage crush on Marc when they’d first met, but those days were long gone. Now she valued their friendship above all else. Besides, a couple of decades ago she’d pretty much ensured Marc was romantically unattainable by accidentally killing him.
He clasped both hands behind his back and performed a pretzel-like contortion that made her wince. “You’re such a show-off,” she grumbled, making sure her voice carried.
He untangled himself and straightened. “Hey, babe,” he drawled. “Didn’t see you there.”
“Yeah. Kinda got that.”
His brows creased at her sour tone. “What’s up? Hopian giving you a hard time about something again? Want me to have a word?”
“You’re doing it again.” She snapped her fingers at his feet.
Marc stared at her, uncomprehending, and then cast his gaze downward. The instant he realized where he was standing he began to sink. “Shit.”
She snickered. “You really need to watch where you’re walking.”
A flush stole across his cheekbones. “It’s all right for you,” he said. “You’ve got your powers under control. I’m still learning mine.”
Her snort was too soft for even him to catch. If only he knew the truth.
He floundered for a few moments in the now shin-deep water, and then cast a pleading glance her way. “Any suggestions?”
“Prepare for a dunking.”
“Gee. Thanks heaps.” He screwed up his face—a picture of fierce concentration—and rose to the surface of the water again. Then he tip-toed gingerly to the bank and morosely contemplated his sopping wet sneakers.
“Would you like me to—?”
His shoulders sagged with relief. “Please.”
He opened his mind to her but allowed her to draw the merest trickle of power before he slammed up an impressive mental barrier and shut her out. She didn’t take offence. Marc was a god, and despite their friendship he wouldn’t risk her drawing too much power from him. They both knew how thoroughly the lure of unlimited power could corrupt those who’d had a taste of it. She concentrated, fine-tuning her will until steam rose from his wet footwear.
“Thanks,” he said when she’d finished drying his sneakers to her satisfaction. “If I’d tried that myself I’d probably have set light to myself or made them explode. I’m always overdoing things. Wisa says I lack finesse.”
Laughter bubbled to her lips but she hurriedly swallowed it when she noted the distress grooving harsh lines on his face. “Is it really so hard for you?” she asked.
He slumped and heaved a gusty long-suffering sigh that tugged her heartstrings. “Wisa assures me I’ve only got a few more millennia of lessons to catch up on before I know everything I need to about being a god.”
“Don’t sweat it, babe. Godhood has its compensations. For example—” he eyed her in a lazy, half-unfocussed fashion “—I know you’re wearing red undergarments. Hot stuff. Color suits ya, babe.”
Too late she halted her instinctive reaction to cover her breasts and groin with her hands. He caught the movement and leered at her but she could tell his heart wasn’t in it.
“You’re impossible.” She punched him on the arm. Hard.
He rubbed his biceps. “Didn’t anyone tell you you’re supposed to revere your gods, not bruise them?”
She stuck out her tongue. “What are you going to do? Put me over your knee?”
“Unh unh.” He shook his head. “Too risky. Hopian might take it the wrong way. And as much as I’d love to experiment with chastising you in a suitably godly fashion, I’m not willing to risk that, either. Too many weird things could go wrong.”
“It’ll get better.” She ruffled his hair until he batted her hand away.
“Yeah. Shikari’s pleased with my progress at least. Reckons I should be safe to take on my full powers in no time. Like, in a couple of centuries or so.”
Romana bit her lip. Shikari was a grounded, solid sort of a god—the antithesis of his male sibling, the mischievous, smart-mouthed Kunnandi. And Shikari never gave praise lightly. Marc must have been working his butt off and then some. “Well that’s good, isn’t it? Two centuries will fly by for you.”
“I dunno. Kunnandi keeps insisting Shikari doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And I’m never sure when Kunnandi’s serious or when he’s being sarcastic.”
She had to smile at his insistence on using Earth-style slang. Marc would always be a born and bred Earth-boy at heart—much to Wisa’s everlasting despair. As the only female of the four deities, Wisa considered it her duty to nag her siblings about displaying at least a modicum of decorum in public. The Elder Gods, Shikari and Kunnandi, paid attention some of the time, but when it came to convincing Marc to act like a god, Wisa hadn’t had much success.
Marc waited patiently for her to get around to voicing her thoughts. Romana knew he could have read her mind but aside from being highly rude, he valued their friendship too highly to resort to such tactics. “I’m glad you’re still… you,” she finally said. “I couldn’t have lived with myself if you’d changed.”
“No chance of that, my lovely.” He waggled his eyebrows and while she was busy being impressed by their antics he goosed her butt.
She squealed, slapping at his hands. “Hands off or I’ll tell Hopian.”
“Oooh. I’m sooo scared!” He mimed fainting at the prospect of her Sehani life-partner coming after him. “Now I’ve got your attention, will you stop distracting me so I can tell you why I asked you to meet me here?”
She rolled her eyes skyward. “My abject apologies, oh great Fourth God of the Dayamari.” She added a florid genuflection just to rub it in. “Please impart your gem of wisdom and enrich my impoverished intellect.” And she finished her little display by prostrating herself at his feet.
“Yeah. Yeah. All right, smartass, you win. Have you quite finished?”
She peered up at him and fluttered her eyelashes. “Actually.…”
“Have you thought about changing your name?”
“Why the heck would I do that?”
“Ohhh.” She covered her face with her hands and pretended to cringe. “I knew I shouldn’t have brought it up. Now I’ve offended you.”
“Cut the crap. You know you can tell me anything.”
“If you insist.” She fussed with her clothing, drawing out the moment. “I’ve always thought the name ‘Marc’ is a bit common. It doesn’t seem godlike enough. Even Chryss was only a shortened version of his true name, Merchryssi. Perhaps you should consider changing your name to something more imposing. Like… Balthasar. That’s got quite a ring to it.”
He gawped at her. “Balthasar? You cannot be serious.”
“What do you think?”
He blinked, and then flung himself on the ground next to her. “You win again,” he said.
“I win what?” she asked.
“The game we always play to put off discussing any of the serious stuff.”
“Ohhh. That game.” She climbed to her feet and wandered off to sit on a large rock and hug her knees—defensively, Marc thought.
“Listen up, sweets,” he said. “I don’t hold a grudge about what you did. It was two decades ago for gods’ sakes. You were high on power and totally out of control. You didn’t mean to kill me.”
She sniffed and gave a watery-sounding chuckle. “And that’s supposed to make it all better? Because it was merely manslaughter instead of murder? Right.”
Marc ignored the weak attempt at sarcasm. He had a shot at putting the past to rest once and for all, and he didn’t want to blow it. “Thanks to your brother and your mom resurrecting me, I was given a second chance at life. And I made my choice. I chose to take Chryss’s place. I wasn’t forced to do it. And although it hasn’t been easy—” he even dredged up a wry smile “—I know I did the right thing. I couldn’t have lived happy ever after with Merryn knowing what Chryss had to give up. He’d sacrificed too much already and he’d only just found Kirstyn. They deserved a chance.”
She slanted him a gaze from beneath her bangs. “Are you sure? You really loved Merryn. Because of me you’ll never be together.”
He rubbed his nose. Why was this still so hard to admit even to himself? “I’ve Seen the most likely future I would have had with Merryn. We wouldn’t have lasted. We’d have made each other miserable.” Ain’t that the truth.
“But you were so much in love!” Her big eyes conveyed shock and disbelief.
“Yeah. But it takes more than passion to make a relationship work for keeps.”
She must have caught his thinly veiled allusion to her relationship with Hopian for her cheeks went pink. “True. You know what, Marc?”
He pretended to examine his cuticles. “Yes—if I could be bothered reading your mind.”
Her answering eye-roll and exasperated huff were exactly the kind of reactions he’d hoped for. He exhaled slowly and silently, releasing the tension. It was going to be okay.
“I was about to say you’re pretty insightful for a self-involved young puppy who acts like he’s the gods’ gift to women.”
He mock-gasped. “You mean I’m not the gods’ gift to women?”
She shook her head, biting her lips to keep from laughing. “Not even close.”
“Gutted!” He flopped backward, moaning as he draped an arm over his eyes. “What’s the point of godly powers then?”
When she’d quit laughing at his antics he scooted over to sit next to her on the rock, and got down to business. “I asked you here because your brother’s causing me a bit of a dilemma. Seems he’s gotten so damn powerful he’s found a way to skip back and forth between worlds without causing himself lasting harm.”
“Shikari’s hairy paws!”
Marc snorted inwardly. Good try. She’d sounded almost convincing.“Dayamaru is the most pathetic language for swearing,” he said. “Why don’t you resort to our native English? Just say fuck and be done with it.”
“Hopian doesn’t approve of me swearing in English. He hates not knowing what I’m saying when I’m insulting him.”
“You two are so well matched it’s frightening. Look, Romana, this is serious stuff. No Sehan has ever been able to do what Ryley’s done. Not even your mother.”
“We all knew very early on he’d outstrip Mom,” she said. “So this is hardly new and surprising.”
“Perhaps this, then. One guess which world Ryley’s chosen to make these regular little visits.”
She wriggled and fussed with her clothing as her gaze slid from his. “Um, I have no idea.”
“Earth. And it gets worse.”
She paled and swallowed, had to clear her throat before she could speak. “H-how much worse?”
“After sojourning all around our former home-world and doubtless having a great old time sampling all manner of exotic treats, he’s fallen for a woman hailing from a little place called Seaview.”
Her thoughts came through loud and clear. She was making no attempt to veil them. Shock could do that.
Seaview. Her mother’s hometown. Her own hometown. A town that figured largely in Marc’s past, too, considering that’s where his parents had retired to.
Seemed Ryley had never gotten around to telling his sister which town he’d been visiting. “Fuck.” She moaned and buried her face in her hands. “What the hell was he thinking?”
“My thoughts exactly,” Marc said. “Better warn your brother Wisa’s looking for him. And I’m not going to be able to put her off for much longer.”
Rowan’s vision shimmered. Her mind filled with hazy images. Crap. Not now—please! Her hands shook as she carefully replaced her cup on the saucer. She fixed her gaze on a smudge on the wall and tried to blank her mind. Breathe. Just breathe. In and out. In and out. That’s it….
Slowly, carefully, she pulled her focus from the smudge to glance around the café and gauge her chances of escape. Might be a better option to stagger outside than stick it out here. Either way, chances were high she’d be making another public spectacle of herself.
Her vision fogged and the café patrons blurred. And then it was too late to choose. She’d have to stay put and ride it out. Maybe this time no one would notice.
She curled her fingers around the seat of her chair and held on tight as jerky images flecked with odd-shaped spots flickered through her mind. It was like watching an old black-and-white movie through a camera lens that needed a good polish.
The “movie” slowed. Some images wavered and then scattered. The others faded. She released the breath she’d been holding, pried her numb fingers from the sides of her seat and flexed them to get the blood circulating again. And she’d even been foolish enough to dare to believe it was over when one fading image abruptly sharpened and flared into full blazing Technicolor.
She bit back a whimper. Don’t look. Don’t look. No one will die this time if you don’t look. If you don’t see it, it’ll have no power.
Inevitably, the tragedy unfolded in her mind. On the floor of a kitchen Rowan had never seen before, a woman she had never met lay dying. A phone receiver dangled above her, ceaselessly beeping a disconnected call signal. The woman couldn’t speak but her mouth worked, struggling to get the words out. And Rowan heard her thoughts.
Please Lord, please let her get here soon. I want to say goodbye to her. Please! Tears trickled down her wrinkled cheeks. And Rowan felt the hot tears spilling down her own cheeks.
As though she was actually there, inside the woman’s house, she heard a key in the front door and footsteps rushing toward the kitchen.
Through the old woman’s rheumy eyes, Rowan watched a younger woman kneel to clutch her age-spotted hand.
“Mom? Can you hear me? Mom!”
Heather. Thank you, Lord.
Rowan heard the thought, felt the old woman’s relief that her daughter had arrived. Now she could let go. Now she could die. She had only one regret—that it was too late to tell Heather how much she loved her. So Rowan helped her say it, mouthing the words she heard, sending the thought and the emotion the dying woman was no longer able to convey directly into Heather’s mind.
I love you, Heather.
The woman stared into her mother’s fading eyes. “I love you, too, Mom. I called the ambulance before I left. The EMT will be here soon. Just hang on. Please!”
Both Rowan and the old woman knew it was too late. Her heart stuttered. Her chest rose one last time. And Rowan’s world went black.
The sharp prick of a needle piercing her skin jerked Rowan to consciousness. She pried open her eyes to gaze at the medic through a blurry golden haze. Everything lurched as she was lifted. She squeezed her eyelids shut against the onset of dizziness and the nightmare pounced.
She stood at her front door, hand outstretched, keys dangling from her fingers. A powerful sense of dread crawled down her spine. Something awful had happened, she knew it.
Before she could unlock the door it swung open. She crept inside and plastered her back against the wall, waiting for her eyesight to adjust to the darkness. And then she systematically checked each room of the small, tidy residence. Nothing had been disturbed. So far as she could tell not a single item was out of place. Her mind was playing tricks on her.
She switched on the bedroom light and stood blinking in the harsh light.
Her husband lay on the bed. Harrison’s eyes were closed, his handsome face serene, his hands clasped across his stomach. Blood spattered his crisp white shirt. It soaked the bed. So much blood.
A blink and she was standing by the bed with no recollection of having moved. She stared down at Harrison. A hand—her own—reached down to check the pulse at his neck.
His eyelids flew open. One hand snaked out to manacle her wrist and he smiled up at her. There was so much love in that smile. “Rowan, darling,” he said. “Don’t. It’s too late.”
She crumpled to her knees.
“I’m sorry, darling, but this was the only way. I wanted to die with dignity. I knew you wouldn’t help me when the time came. You’re strong, determined—a fighter. You would have fought the inevitable to the very end.”
His cultured English voice pierced her heart as surely as a blade. “I know it’s the coward’s way out but I’ve never been as strong as you. I couldn’t stand the thought of more treatments. And for what? A few more months of either fighting the pain or being spaced out of my mind on drugs? We both knew it was useless. And I couldn’t bear the thought of being incapable of making love to you, too weak to even hold you in my arms. Don’t blame yourself, darling. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s—”
She swam up from the murky depths of her nightmare. Her cheeks stung. Her skin felt raw. She’d been crying in her sleep again. She reached up to wipe her face but her arm felt cumbersome and heavy. She jerked fully awake and realized she was lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to one of those automatic blood-pressure monitor things. Hospital. Wonderful. How much of a spectacle had she made of herself this time?
The stark white tiles of the hospital ceiling gave no real answers. She shifted to ease the dull ache in her back and winced. Her body felt as bruised and battered as her soul.
The curtains around her cubicle yanked back without a by-your-leave. A harried-looking doctor stalked to the chart hanging at the foot of the bed without even registering that she—his patient—was fully conscious. Auburn hair framed a pleasant face sprinkled with freckles. Must be an intern. Good. Should be able to talk him into discharging her no problems.
“When—?” It came out as a croak. “When can I go home?”
“Eh? Um—” He scanned her chart. “Ms Havers. You’re awake. Wonderful. I’m Dr Kearney.” He whisked around to the side of her bed and started doing doctor-ly things, like shining a little light into her eyes and checking her pulse.
“I—” She coughed painfully.
“Here, have some water.”
“Thanks.” Gratefully she took a sip through the straw and tried again. “I want to go home.”
“There’re more tests we’d like to do first. And I’ve a few questions I need to ask.”
He had more than just a few questions. Rowan answered as best she could. She was painfully aware her answers were unsatisfactory but she could hardly tell the truth without him thinking she was a nut-job. By the time he’d finished with the inquisition she felt limp as a dishrag.
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” she said, and hoped she didn’t sound like a mutinous child. “I fainted—no big deal. I’ve been working too hard lately—you know how crazy it can be at this time of the year. When can I go home?”
“Do you live alone?”
She’d nodded before it crossed her mind to lie.
The young doctor frowned at her. “Then I’d feel better if we kept you in overnight. Just to be on the safe side. I see from your records you’ve been admitted before with similar symptoms, so I’d like to investigate what’s causing these blackouts. Okay with you?”
Too tired to muster a convincing argument Rowan gave in. “Okay. But only overnight. I’m going home tomorrow.”
“Anyone you’d like us to call?”
“My neighbor. James Woodford. He’s got a spare key to my house and he’ll feed Laptop for me.”
“Feed your laptop?” His eyebrows tried to crawl into his hairline.
Before she got fast-tracked to the psych ward she hastened to explain the whimsical name her husband had come up with. “Laptop is my dog. She was always crawling onto my lap when she was a pup. The name’s stuck with her even though she’s far too big for laps now. She’s a Malamute,” she added by way of explanation.
He nodded. “I’ll have our receptionist contact Mr Woodford for you. Anyone else? Relatives? Boyfriend?”
“No.” She struggled to sit up and he showed her how to adjust the back of the bed to a slightly more comfortable position. Whoever had invented hospital beds needed a smack upside the head.
“Yes?” He blinked when he noticed her flaming face.
“It’s a bit, uh, breezy. Could you please fasten the back of my gown properly? I can’t reach around to do it while I’m hooked up to this monitor.”
She bent forward to allow him to tie the laces of her gown, and held herself very still. He was a professional. He would hardly be ogling her butt.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “Preserving your modesty wasn’t much of a priority when you were brought in.”
“Thanks, Doctor.” Was that a slight flush staining his cheeks? Yep. Poor guy.
“I’ll check on you later Ms Havers.” He bolted, yanking the curtain shut behind him.
Rowan searched the cubicle for something to read. Of course there was nothing. She lay back and resigned herself to spending the night in the worst place imaginable for someone with her, uh, issues. In a hospital with a whole bunch of sick people. Chances someone was going to die? Pretty damn good, unfortunately.
Please, don’t let anyone else die today. I don’t want to have to watch anyone else die today. Please.
Laptop whined and huffed a trio of soft barks to inform her mistress it was time to wake up and get going. Rowan groaned, threw off the bedclothes and rolled out of bed to lurch toward the bathroom. She turned the shower to a smidgeon below unbearably hot and stepped beneath the water. The heat sliced through her skin and seeped into her bones. She gave her body a vigorous scrub with a loofah… and wished it could help scour away her guilt as efficiently as it scoured her skin. She should have been able to prevent Harrison’s suicide. She should have been able to convince him even a life shadowed by a terminal disease was a life worth fighting for. But she’d failed. And since discovering his body something inside her had fundamentally altered.
It was her punishment for failing Harrison—this bizarre emotional link she formed with the dying. She shared their thoughts, their fears, regrets—everything until the final moment of their death when her link to them was abruptly severed. Experiencing people dying over and over again was no picnic. She’d tried everything—sleeping pills, hypnotherapy, meditation, herbal remedies. Nothing worked. People suffered and died. She suffered with them. And in the back of her mind lingered the crippling fear that one day she might link to someone she knew. She suspected that experience would push her into insanity.
To protect herself she’d drawn back, keeping herself aloof from any form of intimate relationship. She was alone and it was better that way. Life was something to be endured. And sometimes, in the dead of night as she lay sleepless, waiting for the nightmare to take her, she thought that her own death would be a welcome relief.
She toweled herself until her skin tingled, and then rubbed ineffectually at the condensation misting the mirror with a corner of the wet towel. As she scraped her damp hair back from her face with a comb she stared at her foggy reflection. She seemed so… insubstantial now—a shadow of her former self.
The mirror began to clear and her reflection crept into focus. She practiced the “I’m fine, thank you. How are you?” professional smile until it almost fit her face. The effect was spoiled by the gaunt features staring back at her. Her hollow, haunted eyes had witnessed too many deaths, shared too many regrets and fears, and try as she might she couldn’t summon up an image of what she used to look like. Before Harrison.
She spun away from the mirror. Next task get dressed and feed her starving dog.
“Hey, beautiful.” As she bent to hug the big dog Laptop whined and licked her face. “Eeuuw! I wish you wouldn’t do that. Makes me feel like I need another shower.” She straightened quickly to avoid another slurp.
When the dog had finished her meal, Rowan opened the back door onto her large yard and leaped out of the way as Laptop lunged past her. The dog pranced around for a while and then flopped her butt down to scratch. The Malamute’s furry face scrunched up into that dreamy doggy-look she got when she managed to itch just the right spot. Rowan summoned a brief smile at her pet’s antics before retreating into the warmth of the kitchen.
The message indicator on the phone was blinking. She didn’t get many calls and hadn’t noticed it before. Her pulse quickened and the back of her neck felt clammy. Bad news—she knew it. Snatching a deep breath she thumbed the button on the answer phone.
Numbly she listened to Marilyn’s apologetic voice ramble on. “I don’t know how else to say this, Rowan. We had a complaint from that stuck-up old bat. She rang Head Office, threatening to take all her travel business elsewhere, and given you’ve had so much time off lately— Well, I can’t sweep this one under the carpet. I’m so sorry. You’re exceptional at your job and the clients love you and it makes me royally sick to have to let you go. Look, I’ll courier your severance pay and personal stuff from your desk. And please, ring me for a reference any time. I’m really sorry it has to be this way, Rowan.”
Bad news all right. Rowan resisted the urge to heave the phone at the wall. It wasn’t Marilyn’s fault—or the “stuck-up old bat’s” either, to be brutally honest. Right in the middle of handing Mrs. Riddick, AKA the stuck-up old bat, a cup of coffee Rowan had linked to a young girl who lay trapped and dying amidst the mangled wreckage of her car. Rowan had screamed, spilled coffee all over Mrs. Riddick’s pale pink, hideously expensive suit, and then passed out.
When she came to, she claimed to have suffered a debilitating migraine, apologized all over the place, and offered to pay the client’s dry-cleaning bill. But Mrs. Riddick refused to be soothed. She’d stalked out, announcing she’d require a visit to her therapist to recover from the “trauma”. With a young girl’s pain and terror and ultimate death still indelibly etched into her mind, Rowan found it difficult to care anything at all for Mrs. Riddick’s supposed trauma.
Fired two weeks before Christmas. Crap. The timing couldn’t be worse. Christmas was a stressful enough time for most people, but for Rowan the holiday was nightmarish. Elderly people, especially, had a tendency to pass away over Christmas. She desperately needed the distraction of work. Not to mention the money. She had a little saved but not much. Just enough to cover living expenses and payments on her house for a couple of months. If she didn’t find another job soon—
What the hell was she going to do? It wasn’t going to be easy. Ideally she needed a job where there’d be no questions asked if she took a day off or came in late. No raised eyebrows if she had to lurch off to the powder room to endure another living nightmare. No probing questions if she emerged looking like death warmed over after another brush with death. Yeah, right. Impossible, much?
She shook off the negative thoughts. Enough feeling sorry for herself. She’d head straight to the local employment agency to register for some temp work. Perhaps she’d luck out and find something filling in for someone taking holidays over the Christmas break.
She shoved her arms into her winter coat, grabbed a scarf and gloves, and ducked outside to read the riot act to her dog. “You behave—you hear me, girl? No digging under the fence and escaping again or I’ll have to leave you locked inside when I go out. And we both know how you hate that.”
Laptop nosed her hand and whined before racing off to chase something.
Rowan locked up and headed for town. She trudged through the snow-lined streets, head down and hands shoved in her pockets, ignoring the biting cold. For a while the numbness of her extremities mirrored the numbness of her mind. But it didn’t last. Her brain began dwelling on graphic details of that poor girl’s last moments on earth. The young ones were the worst. They’d never really had a chance to live.
When her thoughts started on a downward spiral toward depression and despair she resorted to reciting her personal mantra. Oh, she knew the words were lies, but the familiar rhythm of them comforted her. And maybe, just maybe, if she repeated them often enough, the sentiments might come true.
I am hap-py. I am heal-thy. I am free from suf-fer-ing. Soon her steps were perfectly timed to the tempo of the chant and she’d almost shut away the memories. Almost.
She crossed the busy intersection oblivious to the squealing of tortured tires and the warning shouts of other pedestrians as they scattered. And then a word echoed loudly in her mind. Run!
Rowan froze in the middle of the street. Her chin lifted and all she could do was stare at the car barreling towards her. This is it, she thought. And rather than fear she felt profound relief. James would look after Laptop and—
Run, you little idiot!
No, she thought back. It’s too late.
Shit. It wasn’t supposed to be like this!
A man appeared beside her—from nowhere. His movements were so unbelievably quick that one moment she was preparing to meet her maker, and the next he’d swept her into his arms and spirited her to safety. Her gaze latched onto his face and she took in his furrowed forehead, the tightly clenched jaw, the startling golden eyes that seemed to be… glowing? A part of her mind registered that the runaway car had skidded to a halt by the curbside without hitting a single pedestrian. Miraculous.
The man set Rowan on her feet, steadied her, and stepped back. After an achingly long moment he said, “You ought to be more careful, Rowan.”
“Th-thank you,” she managed to whisper.
“You’re welcome. You’ll be all right?”
“Good. I have to go help the driver of that car.”
“Oh. Of course.” Bemused, she watched him stride toward the accident scene and take charge. He extricated a heavily pregnant woman from the vehicle. A snap of his fingers had a concerned bystander shucking his coat and laying it on the ground. He lay the woman on the coat to examine her. More onlookers gathered, and as her rescuer disappeared from view Rowan finally pulled herself together and forced her legs to move.
“Holy shit! Check it out,” she heard a bystander say as she skirted the crowd.
“What happened?” another asked.
“Some woman went into labor. Doesn’t speak much English. Tried to drive herself to hospital and side-swiped a bunch of cars. No one’s hurt. Can you believe that?”
Rowan breathed out the tension. Thank God. No one had died. Yet.
She didn’t linger. The thought of sharing the death of a pregnant woman was too horrifying to consider. All she could do was pray the charismatic stranger would ensure no harm came to the woman or her baby, and get as far away from them as possible. But as she hurried down the street a thought smacked her. How had he known her name?
“From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven.
And when two souls that are destined to be together find each other, their streams of light flow together and a single brighter light goes forth from their united being.”
Ryley closed down the search engine and turned his attention to the pile of case note files on his desk. But now his concentration was shot to hell. The poignant quote had seared itself into his brain and resounded over and over in his mind.
And when two souls that are destined to be together find each other….
He swiveled his chair and as he stared out the office window his gaze blurred. Minute imperfections in the glass merged, combining with reflected light and shadows to form a face—a woman’s face. The face that had haunted him these past five years.
Enough. He exploded from his chair, grabbed his coat and exited the office. Some fresh air and a walk would help clear his head—anything to distract himself from thinking about her. Rowan Havers.
Hours later her misery awoke him. He switched on the lamp and fished a shaving mirror from the bedside drawer. He sat up, leaned his spine against the headboard, and stared into the mirror. In the light given off by the lamp his golden eyes glowed. No surprises there. It had been two decades since his eyes had changed color and he’d had plenty of time to adjust to their strangeness.
He transferred his memory of Rowan to the forefront his mind and re-created her unique colors. He tweaked shades here and there, and when they were perfect, he concentrated on the mirror. Its surface swirled with the myriad of colors and then it abruptly cleared and he could see her in the mirror.
She tossed and turned, tangling herself in the bedclothes.
He dipped into her mind. She was in the throes of that recurring nightmare about her dead husband. With a gentle psychic caress he banished the dream and calmed her mind. And then he watched her relax into a peaceful slumber.
He’d resolved not to linger but he couldn’t resist her allure. He wrapped himself in her essence and indulged himself for as long as he dared, and then he carefully withdrew to ponder what he’d learned.
You should leave her to sort out her own life. His brother’s voice whispered in his mind. She’s an intelligent young woman—she’ll find fulltime work soon enough. And our mother would not approve of your meddling.
I’m aware of that, Aryn. But it’s tempting.
She’s tempting, you mean.
That too. There’s something about her that draws me. And it’s nearly Christmas after all—a time for goodwill toward your fellow man. Or so these people believe. Gods know, she deserves a little help.
Poor girl has had a pretty rough life, his brother agreed.
Can I count on you for support? He asked because he absolutely did not want a repeat of the last time he’d acted against Aryn’s integral beliefs. Having your twin brother’s soul inside you made life interesting at times. A little too interesting.
I’ve always been a sucker for a pretty girl.
Ryley smiled. He and his brother had made up his mind. He’d do everything in his power to help Rowan get her life back on track.
Ironic, Aryn whispered.
That you could have your pick of women in Dayamaria, yet you’re obsessing over a woman from another world.
Ryley didn’t respond. And as sleep took him he thought he heard his brother murmur, And you’d choose the one woman you can’t have.
Copyright 2013 Maree Anderson
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