A waning moon, p.14
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       A Waning Moon, p.14
 

           Bliss Addison
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  Whit expected the door to be bolted and was prepared to kick his way into her bedroom. To his surprise, the knob turned easily in his hand. He rushed in, took quick stock of the scene — Blossom standing limply amid pinpoints of variegated, dazzling light and the scent of sweat and sulphur pervading the room. In that moment the radiance dimmed to nothingness and Blossom, resembling a rag doll, slumped toward the floor. He sprang forward and caught her before she landed. He took her in his arms, carried her to the bed and placed her gently on the mattress.

  “I'll look after her,” he said to Lyron when he entered. “Secure the rooms. We may have an intruder.”

  Whit noticed Blossom's normally rose-hued skin had taken on the pallor of the dead. “Blossom, honey.” When she didn't stir, he experienced the same intense feeling of horror when he’d looked at his mother's lifeless body after the car accident.

  "All clear," Lyron said. "Ian's gone missing."

  "We'll deal with it later." Whit raised her hand to his cheek and whispered her name. “Blossom.” He knew how the overture would look to Lyron, but he didn't care what Lyron thought. “Take from my strength, Blossom.”

  He closed his eyes and concentrated deeply on transmitting energy to her. “You can't die. I only just found you again.”

  ***

  Blossom opened her eyes and sat up. She looked around, squinting into the darkness.

  Where was she?

  She peered to her left, to her right, then over her shoulder. Darkness and silence surrounded her.

  Her head ached. She massaged her temples. Had she died and gone to…where? She looked around again.

  If this was Heaven, she would be terribly disappointed. What happened to the bright sunshine, the green grass, the fields of wildflowers, the endless sky with puffs of snow-white clouds floating by, the lakes of tranquil water, and the blue jays nestled on the branches of oak trees she’d imagined of Heaven?

  Maybe she was banished to a life of darkness as punishment and torment, after all.

  Hell.

  She sucked in her cheeks. Doomed to an eternity of damnation shouldn't surprise her. She’d hoped for salvation, or in the alternative, Purgatory or Limbo. Sometimes we just couldn’t have our druthers.

  Determined to make the most of her after-life, she believed she could get used to the blackness. She’d make it her friend. She twisted her bottom lip between her teeth. Maybe she could make a pact with the devil — not that she would do his work, but only pretend to.

  At least, she wasn't put in the general population, among murderers, child molesters, rapists and cheaters.

  The sound of footsteps froze her in place.

  The devil coming to welcome her?

  Since God appeared not to have taken into consideration the good in her and the time had passed to gain His grace, she thumbed her nose, but before she could spew the string of curses that she knew would give her some satisfaction, the devil called her name.

  “Blossom.”

  Hands, cold and clammy, grabbed hold of her forearms. She fought them off. “Get away from me. Git!”

  The devil didn't listen. Instead, he tightened his grip.

  She kicked her legs and applied all her strength into pulling her hands from his grasp.

  Something smacked her cheek, the sting of the slap felt straight to her toes. Tears spilled from her eyes. She cried from the pain, but most of all she cried for all the years the Drummond curse took from her, her failed marriages, for the years she didn't have with her mother, for the pain her father endured in the months before his death, his anguish for not being able to help her, for the –.

  “Blossom, honey.”

  Honey? The devil wouldn't call her ‘honey’.

  She opened her eyes, looked into the bluest eyes she'd ever seen, then her chest was crushed against something hard and unyielding. Her breath blew from her mouth with an oooff. She closed her eyes again.

  “Careful, Whit. You're squeezing the life out of her.”

  She recognized that voice. The little red-haired guy.

  He died with her? How had that happened?

  “Blossom. Oh, thank God.”

  She recognized that voice, as well. The Whit fellow. Everyone around her had died? Lardy, was she responsible?

  Wait. Someone was missing. Ian. She looked around for him. He was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he went to a different place, a different after-life. “I'm sorry, Ian. It's not your fault. The Curse is too strong, too powerful. At least, it died with me.”

  Dimly, she heard someone say, “She thinks she's dead.” Then she felt the sting of another slap across her cheek.

  She opened her eyes wide and grabbed the hand by the wrist. “Do it again and I'll be takin' at ya with me mother’s broom, I will.”

  Ian entered the bedroom just then and she used the distraction to get her temper under control.

  “You'd be smart to heed her advice,” Ian said, walking to the bed. “The woman packs a wallop.”

  Chapter Twenty

  “You're sure you're feeling fine?” Whit asked.

  Blossom nodded. “Thanks.”

  “If you need anything —”

  “I'll holler.” She watched him and Lyron leave the room.

  "I'll be right back," Ian said. "There's something I need to ask Whit."

  "Take your time." Blossom closed her eyes and before long she fell into a light sleep. The door opening and closing woke her several minutes later.

  “Whit's really worried about you,” Ian said and sat on the bed beside her.

  She sat up. "He shouldn't be. I'm fine."

  "Do you remember what happened?"

  The moment flashed in her mind: her kissing him; him jerking backward in surprise or fright, she didn't know which; her falling back against the window and hitting her head against the window frame; her spine scraping the window ledge as she slid downward, then merciful nothingness.

  "Unfortunately, yes." She wanted to scream. It was this damn curse. It made her do things she wouldn't normally do. Like behaving like a feline in heat.

  "There can never be anything between us, Blossom," he said softly.

  She looked at him. "Don't you like me?"

  "It's not it."

  "Then what is it?" The matter seemed simple enough to her. When two people liked each other —

  "I have commitments to fulfill that require my full attention and time." He brushed a strand of hair from her cheek. "You would be too big a distraction for me. I'm sorry."

  She jutted her chin and hoped the hurt she felt didn't show on her face.

  “Besides, Whit is who you were destined to be with,” Ian said. “The one who fate intended you to father your children, and the fact that you don't find him handsome reinforces my conclusion. Free yourself, Blossom. Let yourself live. Love him.”

  She considered that more difficult to do than say. There were times when she really liked Whit and other times when she could barely stand the sight of him. “Do you find him handsome?”

  “Well...”

  She smiled when a blush colored his cheeks. “Speaking strictly from a woman's point of view, of course.”

  “In that case.” He grinned and said, “He’s drop dead gorgeous.”

  “I don't think so.”

  “Exactly!” He check-marked the air.

  It took her a few seconds to catch on. “I should.”

  “Exactly!”

  It was her turn to nod. “So there must be some part of the Curse that prevents me from seeing Whit as I normally would, as my Mr. Right.”

  “That's what I'm thinking. From what I see and hear, Whit's been waiting for you all his life.”

  “Really?” That made her smile and hopeful for the future until she remembered she might not have one and saddened. My thirtieth birthday. The day when...no, I will not think about it. Not one more thought on the subject. Not one!

  “Really.”

  She believed in Ian. “Now to find a Higginbotham relative,
preferably one who doesn't carry a grudge.”

  “That's turning out harder than I anticipated.” Ian pulled at his bottom lip. “It's not Whit, nor is it Mary Ellen. Whit doesn't think there were any Higginbothams in Mary Ellen's family, but he's not absolutely sure.”

  “You asked him?”

  “We shared a moment in the parlor before a fire and over a cognac.” He grinned and rolled his eyes.

  “He's mine, remember.” She kidded, but the notion sat well with her. “So, what we have to do is right the wrong of great-granny Aggie, then I fall madly in love with Whit as my destiny prescribes.” She massaged her cheek where the skin was still tender from Whit's slap. “He has a strange way of showing how much he cares.” Was it her imagination, or did she detect a sheepishness about Ian? “What are you not telling me?”

  “He isn't the one who slapped you.” He hung his head.

  He appeared so contrite, she couldn't be angry.

  "Whit had a visit tonight from the man who abducted Mary Ellen."

  "Really? That's odd. What did he want?"

  "He didn't have time to say. You interrupted, but he told Whit he would be in touch and also instructed him not to tell anyone about the visit.”

  "This whole matter is getting weirder by the second."

  ***

  The following morning Blossom brushed snow from the Mustang while the engine warmed and the interior of the car heated. Ian, Whit and Lyron took turns peeking out the living room window to watch her. She didn't mind, really. Seeing someone care had encouraged her to take this time to think about her situation, about her remaining time on this plane, and to prepare for the end. Not that she believed anyone could do that. The incident last night had scared her. The darkness and the loneliness had opened her eyes, she supposed, to what she might expect when death claimed her. She suspected, though, the experience would do nothing to make her demise easier.

  Peripherally, she glanced at the living room window but didn't see anyone spying on her. Once she left the house, she imagined Whit and Lyron, with Ian ambling along behind, running to the kitchen to sit around the table and discuss her at length. Her injuries, her behavior, her reaction.

  She smiled at the thought as she cleared snow from the taillights, strolled to the driver's door, then positioned herself behind the steering wheel, all the while pretending to be unaware that one of the three men watched. She backed out of the driveway, tooted the horn, waved to the house and drove down the road.

  When she set out, she had no destination in mind but found herself driving straight to the Cathedral. For so many years, she had done exactly this, come to the one place that gave her a feeling of serenity, to seek answers to questions beyond her comprehension and understanding. She would pay a visit on Ol' Faithful.

  Traffic was heavy on the downtown streets but moved at a fast pace.

  Nothing too much slowed a Newfoundlander, certainly not a foot of snow, a dusting to anyone born and bred in the province. She stopped to give a pedestrian who jaywalked the right-of-way. He tipped his fedora at her. She smiled in return.

  Five minutes later, as she climbed the stone stairs of the Cathedral, she remembered cushioning herself against Whit's chest last night and the security she experienced. She stopped, let out a deep breath, closed her eyes, and fought hard to recover the memory of his smell — soap and shampoo. She remembered his cheek brushing against hers. The scrape had a soothing, comforting feel, and the stubble, a masculine feel. Everything about him was masculine, his walk, his talk, his body. It should have been easy for her to let herself go, to taste him. Maybe Ian was right when he said Whit was her destiny. She decided to leave herself open to the possibility. Whit seemed willing to act on what he felt for her, but held back, perhaps waiting for a cue from her. A gentleman would.

  The handle slipped from her grasp and the double doors of the church banged closed after her. Looking around from the back of the church, she breathed a sigh of relief the parish priest was not around. She wanted this time alone with God. To tell Him about the events of the last few days and ask for His understanding, for the strength to accept what might befall her in the days to come, the grace not to think and the willingness to forgive herself for the wrongs she’d done.

  At the back of the church, she slipped into a pew, knelt, bowed her head, and lost herself in prayer.

  After a brunch of bacon, eggs, toast, and freshly squeezed orange juice, and while Lyron and Ian brainstormed, Whit became optimistic that everything would turn out well. He'd find Mary Ellen and Graham unharmed and Blossom would fall in love with him and they'd marry and live happily together for the rest of their lives.

  He pushed his chair away from the table and agreed with Lyron's assessment. “The police don't need to know about Baleman's visit last night. In fact, the less they know, the better.” He told himself it was the right decision, yet a part of him argued he should have informed Quinn. Of course then the police would launch an official investigation, which would soon become public knowledge. Baleman would then sign Whit's sister's death warrant. A shiver swept through him. No, they were doing the right thing for the kids by not reporting the incident to the police. Whit had no faith in the police department. Lyron had set him straight on the integrity of his former colleagues with his stories about dirty cops and evidence going missing from the police evidence locker.

  “Who’s your nearest neighbor?” Ian asked.

  Whit turned his full attention to him. “The Humbys. Two acres away. This house is the last on a dead-end road. You're thinking someone, a neighbor, might have seen someone or something around?”

  Ian nodded.

  “Not too many of us pay any particular notice to a storm, particularly one that only has wind gusts of a highway speed limit.” Whit smiled.

  “Been there, done that, seen it all before, huh?”

  Whit shrugged. Without intending to, his mind drifted back to last night. In that second, the world had consisted only of the two of them. Setting aside that Blossom was unconscious at the time, she felt soft and pliable in his arms, like she’d been meant to be there. When she had turned to look at Ian, her lips had brushed his cheek. Though the contact was minimal and purely accidental, he wanted more. He wanted to feel her naked in his arms and knew if he’d touched her, placed his mouth on hers, she would have accepted his kiss and welcomed his touch with as much love for him as he had for her. He knew that as surely as he knew himself. How he knew didn't matter, just that it was God's honest truth. The intimacy wouldn't have gotten him slapped around, either.

  His stomach fluttered as he imagined his hands running over her body, his fingers tangling in her hair, his – . Something hard kicked him in the shin. He looked at Lyron. "What?"

  “Ian suggested we use snowmobiles to scout the area.” Whit noticed someone in the backyard and stood, recognizing Favian Quinn immediately. “One of St. John’s's finest is paying us a visit,” he said.

  Lyron looked out the window and shook his head sadly. “The man couldn't find an Eskimo in Alaska. Shall we wait to see if he can find his way to the door?”

  Whit grabbed his coat. “Why don't we go to him, save him the trouble. Besides, I'd feel obligated to offer him a coffee, and I'm not feeling very charitable to the police at the moment.”

  Lyron grabbed his jacket. “I'm right behind you.”

  “Me, too,” Ian said, racing them to the door.

  Gathered in a loose circle around a holly bush, Ian, Lyron and Whit nodded their greetings to Quinn. Whit, anxious to cut Quinn's visit short, dispensed with the usual niceties of the day and went straight through to the chase. “What can we do for you today, Quinn?”

  “You can tell me why you didn't inform me that Mary Ellen's abductor contacted you last night.”

  “What makes you think he did?” Whit kept an unreadable expression when Quinn looked him directly in his eyes.

  “You're not the only one with sources.”

  “Whatever your contact saw or t
hinks he saw, he's mistaken.” Before Quinn could get out a word, Whit draped an arm around Quinn's shoulder and steered him toward the pathway at the side of the house. “Forgive me for being abrupt, but I was just heading to the office.” He checked his watch to further his statement. “I've already kept my client waiting too long.”

  Quinn stopped. “Just a minute, Mr. Hawkes. I have a few questions for Mr. Mahoney.”

  Whit cocked a brow, turned and watched Quinn, hunchbacked and waddling, backtrack. When he stood in front of Ian, he said, “Did you know you're dead, Mr. Mahoney?”

  ***

  Blossom, expertly maneuvering the snow-packed streets, headed home. Home. That the word rang melodically in her ears both frightened and exhilarated her. She took notice of everything in her line of vision — the rich blue of the sky, the brightness of the setting sun, the trees laden with snow, the white-capped hills in the distance and the smoke puffing from chimneys.

  Motorists either dipped their heads or executed an imitated salute as they passed.

  She was reminded how in love with life she was. She didn’t intend to miss one second of the time she had left.

  Her father's voice popped into her mind. Why're you being so negative, girl? I raised you better. It ain't over 'til it's over.

  He was right. Negativity would get her nowhere, and she had fought too hard to give up now.

  When she pulled into Whit's drive, she spotted someone, a man she didn't recognize, surveying the house from behind a blue spruce. She parked the car, dropped the keys into her purse and strode around the house to where he’d stood. When she reached the area, the stranger had disappeared.

  She turned and peered at the house where he’d been looking, and for the second time in as many days, she felt the blunt force of something hitting the back of her head and darkness descending upon her.

  Chapter Twenty-One

 
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