A waning moon, p.17
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       A Waning Moon, p.17
 

           Bliss Addison
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  “To love another day?” She smiled. “You betcha.”

  Every time she looked into his eyes she couldn't put aside the thought of how easily they’d slipped into this kinship, as if all of it — the conk on the head; the wandering around in delirium; Jason's friend being in the right place at the right time; ending up here — had been predestined.

  Jason was an exceptional listener, and though she did most of the talking — she had many stories to tell, some sad, some not, but chose only those which would give him a chuckle or two — he gave away precious tidbits of information about himself.

  She listened attentively as he spoke of his friend, a magnificent smile transforming his face. Beneath the pain etched in his eyes, she saw the man he once was — the compassionate man with a goofy sense of humor who loved life, the man who had devoted his life to helping the ill.

  He considered her his friend.

  She would hold that dear to her heart forever and thought how fortunate his friend was to have known Jason's love. She hoped he realized it.

  Her heart suddenly grew heavy. She didn't want him to die. She wanted him to live. She wanted him to have the life the Higginbotham curse would soon rob from her.

  It occurred to her she didn't know Jason's last name, and she giggled at the thought. When he looked at her oddly, she winked and said, “Here we are talking and trading secrets like we've known each other for ages, and we don't know each other's last names.” She held out her hand. “McDougall. Blossom McDougall.”

  He smiled, taking her hand in his. “Higginbotham. Jason Higginbotham.

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  “Shut-up!” was all she could manage after a hit between the eyes with the strange-development-fastball. With her fingertips resting against her lips, she watched with dismay the smile in Jason's eyes flicker, then burn out.

  “Did I say something wrong?” he asked.

  Dear, sweet, Jason. Of course, he would think that. “No,” she said around a catch in her throat.

  “What is it, then?” he asked, his voice barely higher than a whisper.

  As certain as her freckles, she knew the answer to the question she was about to ask, but asked anyway. “Was your great-grandmother's name Hesper?”

  He nodded. “Why?”

  Impulse prompted her to answer, and she almost did, were it not for the Curse.

  Trusting herself not to tempt fate, or give away too much of the story, she gave Jason an abridged version of her life, the words spewing from her lips in one steady line, then she jumped up. “I've got to go.” At Jason's shocked and frightened face, she leaned forward and, as naturally as she would kiss a long-time friend, she planted one on his cheek. “I'll be back.” She ran to the recliner and grabbed her jacket. “Tomorrow.”

  She reached the staircase, grabbed the newel post with one hand and turned. “Okay?”

  “Okay.”

  When she saw his bewildered expression, she said, “I'll explain everything then.”

  Despite the noise of her thumping down the steps, his voice carried to her. “I'll be here.”

  She high-throttled the snowmobile across the lake. Pillowy, soft snow that had laid in silence parted as the powerful machine cut a path, sending puffs of flakes flying into the air and over her. Enjoying their cool touch against her exposed skin, she broke into boisterous laughter and turned the throttle even more.

  Soon Whit's property came into view. She slowed and the machine effortlessly climbed the bank. Only when she dodged fir trees and zig-zagged toward the back of the house did it dawn on her she had ridden Jason's snowmobile directly to Whit's rather than parking it on the dock across the lake.

  It was something she would never have done, or would even consider doing without permission, which went to show her state of mind. No matter. Jason would understand, and he would make sure his friend understood, also. She was not a thief.

  Like a woman on an overdose of happy pills, she burst into the kitchen expecting to find Ian helping Whit's housekeeper make bread at the butcher's block, but didn't.

  She threw off her boots, and undeterred that only Mary Ellen's parrot was there to ask, “Wassup, matey?” she flounced through the hallway and peeked into each room for Ian. In the foyer, she stopped and asked in a sing-song-ey voice, “Are you here, Ian?” When she realized only the walls spoke to her, she muttered, “Bummer.”

  Wasn't it just her frickin' luck? She had good news to impart and no one to tell.

  Her revelation should be delivered to Ian first, but right now anyone would do. “Hello, is anyone here?” she asked in a desperate attempt to reach someone. If she didn't unburden herself soon, she'd detonate.

  When her pleas went unanswered, disappointment crushed her rib cage against her heart.

  No one was around to hear her news.

  After a moment of spinning her heels in the spacious entryway, an idea came to her. She pulled her cell phone from her jacket pocket and called the one person who knew everything about her and the one person who was sure to answer her call. She smiled in anticipation of finally be able to impart the glorious information she'd acquired. Her fingers trembled as she punched in the number to call her home in Dickeyville.

  The answering machine picked up on the sixth ring. “Hello. You've reached Blossom. Please leave a message at the beep.”

  She let loose the information and continued to chatter long after the machine stopped recording.

  When she ended the call, she felt weightless. She sighed, closed her cell and skipped up the stairs.

  In her bedroom, she fell across the canopy bed and stared upward, thanking God for Ian and for giving her the courage not to give up.

  For years, back before disillusionment and pessimism and somewhere between faith and optimism, she traced Hesper and Milton Higginbotham's ancestral tree and learned of one Allan J. Higginbotham. To her knowledge he was the last living relative of the original Higginbothams. Strange, but both she and Jason were the last living relatives of their lines. Jason probably hadn't procreated and neither had she.

  Go figure.

  Comfortably positioned on the queen-size bed, she speculated how finding the great-grandson of Hesper Higginbotham would change the course of her life, if indeed, it would. Soon she fell asleep to the sounds of laboring snow blowers, snowplows and gusts of wind against the window panes and images of her blowing out thirty birthday candles.

  Blossom woke to the feeling of someone watching her. She opened her eyes, stretched languidly and smiled at Ian. “Hi.”

  “Have a nice nap?”

  She looked around his head at the clock on the bedside table — five-ten — and calculated she had slept almost three hours. It seemed only minutes ago her mind shut off and she drifted off. She nodded and stretched her arms. “Uh-huh.”

  He swept a curl from her eye. “What time are you leaving on your date with Whit?”

  Still not yet fully awake, her eyelids drooped, but she was not so dopey not to keep the facts accurate. “He didn't say, and it's not a date.” She rolled onto her stomach.

  He slapped her heinie playfully. “Time to rise and primp, then. Whit is pacing the study, muttering to himself and has the look of a man who thinks his date might have had second thoughts about going out with him.”

  "If you stop hitting me, I'll tell you my news."

  He shoved his hands in the pockets of his pants.

  She didn't need more convincing. The words rushed from her mouth. “It turns out my new friend, the gay guy, is the great-grandson of Hesper Higginbotham.” When she saw Ian's eyes widen and his smile broaden, she nodded. “Yes, indeed. Coincidence, or what?”

  “I don't think it was a coincidence at all. More like fate getting it right."

  "For a change. Now that we finally discovered a descendant of Hesper Higginbotham, how do we use the information? We originally thought we could ask him to forgive my ancestor for her past indiscretion and the two of us could make a pact, but now that I've gotten
to know Jason, that feels calculating. I won’t use him.”

  Ian nodded.

  “What do you suggest?”

  “I don't know, but I'll come up with something.”

  Blossom didn't doubt for a moment he would. It filled her with hope. She jumped from the bed and hugged herself. "I'm going to live," she said, repeating it over and over as she danced around the room.

  “Not so fast.”

  She stopped abruptly. Tears filled her eyes. “Let me have this moment, please.” She desperately wanted to believe finding Hesper's long lost and only surviving relative meant putting an end to the Curse.

  Ian obliged her.

  She took no longer than what she’d asked for. “Okay, where do we go from here?”

  “It's more like where you're going.”

  With both brows raised, she asked, “Where might that be?” An image of an endless pit of fire and the devil pricking her behind with a blackened pitchfork flashed in her mind. “Oh God, this is it, isn't it? My time has come. I'm going to Hell, aren't I?” She couldn't take a breath. The room spun before her eyes. Her legs turned to mush. She reached out and latched onto something hard and sturdy. Ian's bicep, she realized.

  “Are you feeling squamish?” Ian asked, pronouncing the word as any good Newfoundlander would. When she nodded, he said, “Easy, easy.” He led her to the bed and sat her down.

  His voice soothed her and his arm around her waist reassured her. He wouldn't let anything happen to her. She took a long, deep breath, exhaled and took from his strength. Her resolve came with little effort. “I'm fine now.”

  He sat beside her. “Why do you always assume the worst?”

  She wiped her nose with the sleeve of her sweater. “It's what always happens to me. I know how that sounds, and I'm not feeling sorry for myself.” She sniffled.

  He wrapped his arm around her neck. “I would never think that of you. Never.”

  She relaxed against his chest.

  They shared a quiet moment.

  Blossom used the time to reflect, ponder and give thanks for all that she was and all that she had. She didn’t have a clue what Ian thought about.

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Blossom knew why Ian checked on her. He wanted to make sure she went on her date with Whit. Though she had assured him she would go, he insisted on staying with her until she left.

  She perched herself at the foot of the bed and pouted, which was only part act. She snuck a sideways peek at Ian who lounged lazily on the bed, head resting against the padded headboard. His eyes were closed and his breathing, even and relaxed. Hoping to wake him, she gave the air a swift, hard kick with her foot. The bed shook from the movement. His eyes flew open.

  “It's not fair,” she said now that she had his attention.

  “It's not.”

  “I shouldn't be having to deal with Whit.”

  “You shouldn't.”

  She filled her cheeks with air and exhaled noisily. “Maybe Hesper had a book on spells or something and maybe Jason has it. Maybe there's a spell in it to undo the Curse she cast on great-granny and her successors.”

  “Maybe.”

  “We should be questioning Jason.” She wouldn't put sound to her thoughts that Jason might not have much longer to live and the one source they could get answers from might be gone.

  “We should.”

  His response brought her to her feet. “Then let's do it.” She grabbed his hand and yanked him to a sitting position.

  “First things first.”

  Criminey. Didn't she know he wouldn't waver on his decision. Could he be right? Could Whitfield Hawkes be her answer? The little voice in her head, the one she trusted, told her to chance it and go along with Ian. Absently, she fingered the scar on her chin, a souvenir from her third husband, faded by time, but the abuse indelibly imprinted in her memory forever.

  “When then?” She needed something, anything to cling to.

  “Tomorrow.”

  “Tomorrow brings me one day closer to – ”

  “I haven’t forgotten.”

  She nodded. “What are your plans for tonight?”

  “I'm tagging along with Lyron, following up on a lead he received. What it is, I don't know. He plays his cards close to his chest.”

  She harrumphed. “Like someone I know.”

  “It's for your own good, Blossom, and you know the reason for it.”

  “Uh-huh. The Curse directs my life. But knowing why you're secretive with me doesn't make it easier to accept.” She plopped on the bed, landing all floppy arms and legs like a raggedy Ann doll.

  Ian gathered her in a tight bundle against his chest and swept a kiss to the top of her head. “I know, darlin'. But it'll soon be over.”

  “Yeah. When I'm dead.”

  ***

  Ian suggested she give Whit a chance, but they could never work as a couple. For one thing, a man like him — career-oriented, social-ladder-climbing lady killer — wouldn't want to have the children she planned on having once she was free of the Curse. For another, she was a homebody; Whit appeared a man who liked to travel. He also seemed like a man who wouldn’t accept ‘no’ for an answer.

  From the upstairs hallway, Blossom watched Whit pace the foyer, probably worrying she’d changed her mind about dinner. She also saw how important she was to him. He would be disappointed when he learned she didn’t return his feelings.

  Seemingly sensing her presence, he stopped pacing, looked upward and broke into a wide smile when he spotted her.

  Ian was right. Whit was in love with her.

  She descended the stairs, coming up with a few how-to ideas to make him fall out of love with her. Maybe she wouldn’t need to do anything at all. Maybe once he knew her better, his feelings for her would change.

  “Hope I haven't kept you waiting too long,” she said, smiling.

  “Not at all,” he said. “I only just got ready myself.”

  If he hadn't said that with a straight face, she would have believed him. Uh-huh.

  She put her arm through his, bumped his hip with hers and, clinging to him like the hounds of Hell bore down on them, led him out the door. If he didn't like a woman in charge, this would certainly inflame his temper.

  As they approached the side of the house, Whit pressed the button of a remote control and the garage door pried loose from its frozen confines.

  Three quarters from the roof and the invisible space where the panels of the door folded into, he turned to her. “What shall it be? Four-wheel drive or two?” He pointed to the vehicles.

  Holy Toledo. BMW or Land Rover? Land Rover or BMW? She swallowed her drool, determined not to show her excitement. “Well, I can see where you stand on environmental issues,” she said, lifting a brow to demonstrate her feigned disdain. “Have you seen the new go-green cars? They're quite fetching.”

  He walked to the side of the Beemer and opened the passenger door. “And quite impractical for our climate.”

  True. “I don't need any help, thank you,” she said when he attempted to help her. “I'm capable of getting into a car without assistance.” At another time, she'd give him points for chivalry.

  “Of course.” With a practiced flick of a button on his key chain the engine ignited.

  She swung the door closed before he had a chance to grab the handle. In the seconds it took him to walk around the car, she ran her hand over the leather seat, hiccupped her awe, choked up at the sight of the buttons and switches on the dashboard, and bit into her forefinger at the quality of the CD changer.

  He settled into the driver's seat, inserted the key in the ignition, adjusted the tilt of the steering wheel, buckled in and looked at her.

  “What?” she asked. Was there drool on her chin?

  “Buckle up.”

  Everything-done-by-the-book-Whit. He was so predictable. “I never wear one.”

  “I don't mind paying the fine, but the seatbelt is for your personal safety. Humor me.”

&nb
sp; Before she had a chance to protest, he reached around her and fastened her seatbelt. She closed her eyes and breathed in the sweet scent of his after-shave. Heavenly. She sensed him looking at her, quizzically, she thought.

  She opened her eyes. “Something the matter?” Her voice virtually purred.

  He drew his brows together in a neat V. “I was about to ask you that question.”

  “It's your…” She let her voice trail off.

  He dipped his head in slow motion. “Yes?”

  “After shave.” Heavenly after shave. She swallowed, hard. “It's cloying.”

  “I'm not wearing any.”

  “Cologne, then,” she said, opening her eyes wide and hoping to God something man-made caused him to smell so divine.

  He shook his head. “No cologne, either.”

  “Oh.” He just smelled like that naturally? T’underin Jaysus. She sucked in a deep breath and let it out in a rush. “Okey, dokey, then. Shall we get moving?”

  “About that...” He put the car in reverse.

  She knew it. He'd changed his mind. Fast food was beneath him.

  “Could we stop by my office first? I need to check on a few things.”

  Wrong again. This was beginning to be a recurring happening where he was concerned. She didn't like it a bit. “Sure.”

  Ten quiet minutes later, Whit pulled into a parking space at the front of a four-story brick building.

  “I'll just be a minute,” he said.

  He thought she would wait in the car like an obedient pet? Ya! She unfastened her seat belt. “I'd love to see where you work miracles.”

  He chuckled. “I wish I could. I'm only a lawyer.”

  Humble, too. Just then she pictured him naked and atop her. She choked on her saliva, but recovered nicely with the aid of a pretend yawn. “I imagine you're pretty impressive.”

  “So I've been told.” He grinned impishly.

  “Modest, too, I see,” she said, enjoying the playful banter and forgetting the role she played.

  It was a close race to the building, but she managed to outrun him. She pulled open the door before he had a chance and pranced toward the lobby aware he watched with obvious appreciation her rear view.

  “I'm on the top floor,” he said when he caught up to her. “Stairs or elevator?”

  She liked to keep fit and at any other time and with someone other than Whit, she would have chosen the stairs. “Elevator, of course. Why walk when you can ride?”

 
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