A waning moon, p.20
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       A Waning Moon, p.20
 

           Bliss Addison
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  The society columnist must have a nose like a bloodhound to sniff a romance between Blossom and him. He'd only been out in public with Blossom one night and already the rumor mills were hard at work. The woman must have spies posted on every street corner.

  He looked out the window at the unblemished blue sky and the rising sun and reckoned today would be a day of revelation. In mid-sentence he tuned in to the reporter.

  “…most eligible bachelor in town.”

  Thank goodness no one recognized him in The Blue Flamingo last night. He could see Ms. Buff's column in his mind: It seems our most eligible bachelor is not so eligible, after all, at least to our female population. According to my sources, high-profile and unattached attorney, Whitfield Hawkes, is off the market, ladies. He was seen last night entering a gay bar located on the outskirts of the city…

  He rolled his eyes, heaved a breath, and picked up yesterday's newspaper from the desk. Mary Ellen's photo took up a three by five inch space on the left side of the paper below the fold. The words: HAVE YOU SEEN THIS WOMAN? were imprinted in bold capital letters below the photo.

  His sister had been missing less than a week and already the press had moved on to other stories. He would make sure no one forgot about her or Earley.

  “A few minutes of your time, that's all I'm asking, Mr. Hawkes.”

  “Ms. Buff —”

  “Perhaps I could have this conversation with Miss McDougall. My sources tell me she's taken up residence with you.”

  Whit visualized the conversation and smiled. As much as he would like Blossom to tell the aggressive reporter where to go, he had to stay on civil terms with the press.

  He put on his best smile and forced calmness into his voice. “As I explained, Ms. McDougall's a relative and here on family business.” He hoped the lie wouldn't come back to haunt him. He bid the reporter a good day and ended the one-sided conversation.

  Whit had only a few minutes to rid himself of the aftertaste of the telephone call when Lyron stomped into the study. Judging by the look on his investigator's face, this would be another unpleasant conversation. Better to have it over and done with. “What's up?”

  “Do you really believe that cockamamie story of Ian and Blossom's?”

  “I heard of stranger things.” Whit jutted his chin. “So have you.”

  “But a spirit…come on.”

  “I believe in God, so believing in spirits is not a stretch for me.”

  “That's from a distance. Doesn't thinking you're sitting next to one make you the least bit skeptical?”

  Whit appeared to ruminate on that awhile. He didn't care how or why Blossom came back into his life after this many years. That she had, was what mattered to him. He wished Lyron would see it and be happy for him. “Why can't you accept them at face value? You're being argumentative.”

  Lyron crossed his arms against his chest and stood his ground in front of Whit's desk. “All I'm suggesting is that you keep an open mind where they're concerned.”

  Whit settled down. Perhaps his problem wasn't with Lyron at all. Being so near Blossom and knowing he couldn't be with her yet was pure torture and if this excursion this morning proved fruitless, she would insist on moving to other accommodations or worse still, go back to Dickeyville. She had already mentioned it. That didn't sit well with him, either.

  “I thought you were okay with them,” Whit said as he sat behind his desk. “You believed their story last night.”

  “That was last night.”

  “Coleridge said it best when he gave credence to 'the willing suspension of disbelief'.”

  Lyron drew his brows together. “Wasn't he a poet, and wasn't that reference to reader's response to his work?”

  “What about King? His stories are a perfect example of a reader willingly suspending their disbelief. Another excellent for instance is Grisham. I know firsthand lawyering isn't as romantic or exciting as he portrays it in his novels. I haven't read all of his works, but the ones I have, I enjoyed. Why? Because I was able to put aside dubiety. I suggest you do the same where Ian and Blossom are concerned.”

  Whit watched as Lyron hauled in his bottom lip — a sure sign of his discontent. He decided to give him something. “At least until we're given a reason to mistrust.” There was something else, too, that had occurred to him. Not that he believed it, but it would serve as a good argument. “Supposing for a minute that Ian is the real thing, a bona fide spirit, and supposing he cast a spell on you last night to accept their story, wouldn't that account for your readiness to believe them last night?” Whit watched Lyron's eyes grow larger and larger to the point where he thought they might explode. He could virtually see the wheels turning in Lyron's brain as he relived every second of the night before. “Just something else to consider.” He shrugged, but smiled inside seeing the effect his words had on Lyron.

  Two minutes passed before Lyron cleared his throat and asked, “Who were you on the phone with just before I came in? Something about Mary Ellen?”

  Whit shook his head. “A nosy reporter.” Which reminded him — he needed to call Candace and give her a heads-up before Ms. Buff got to her. The telephone rang just as he lifted the receiver from its cradle. He could hear Candace shrieking his name. He rolled his eyes and thought, Wellhell.

  ***

  Whit hadn't liked the idea of Blossom handling a snowmobile over terrain she was not thoroughly familiar with. But, as Lyron pointed out, she'd already gotten herself from and to Jason's without injury and without losing her way. His neck muscles clenched. He wanted to protect her, to keep her safe, but something or maybe someone, always kept him from doing it. No, he wouldn't think like that. Too much talk about spirits and curses had him believing their lives were being manipulated by malevolent forces. Negative thoughts would get him negative results.

  The sun sat high in the sky when Whit, Lyron, Ian and Blossom, bundled in ski-wear, set off across the frozen lake.

  Blossom, with Ian riding backseat, led the way with Jason's snowmobile.

  Whit and Lyron, with each their own machines, followed a safe distance behind.

  The wind rose and fell around them. At their sides, whirlwinds of fat, wet snowflakes caught on shafts of air, hovered, then dropped in a puff of shimmering crystals onto the snow-covered ice.

  After five minutes of fast, steady careening over the snow, they reached the other side of the lake. Whit, followed by Lyron, formed a processional line behind Blossom and Ian up the bank and over snow-laden mounds of earth and onto a path through towering pines and leafless white birch. Above the roar of the machine's engines nothing could be heard — not the howl of a coyote, the chirp of a bird or the whistle of the wind through the trees.

  He checked his watch as a chalet-style log cabin came into view. Thirty minutes, Blossom had said the drive would take. She'd been spot on. He'd come to realize he could expect nothing short of perfection from her.

  Disembarking the machine, he looked up at the structure and noticed that no smoke puffed from the chimney. He noted, also, the absence of power and telephone lines. Not that it was unusual. Many camp and cottage owners generated their own electricity in these areas. Or maybe the lines came into the house at the back where he couldn't see or were underground.

  “Looks like no one's home,” he said.

  Blossom took off her gloves, tucked them in her armpits and lifted the helmet from her head. His breath caught in his throat when her hair, freed from captivity, danced in red spirals around her face.

  She glanced at him and smiled. “Jason's in no condition to go anywhere. He's here,” she said matter-of-factly.

  He stepped aside and let her take the lead up the snow-packed stairs while Lyron and Ian flanked either side of him as he followed behind.

  She turned the knob and opened the door wide enough to stick her head inside and said, “Knock, knock. Anyone home?” After waiting several seconds and Jason didn't answer, she turned. “That's strange.”

  “Maybe
he didn't hear you,” Whit said. “Or maybe he's asleep.”

  When she bit the inside of her lip, Whit moved past her and entered the living room. “Hello,” he said in a loud voice, looking upward at the loft. The place had an eerily empty feel that gave him the creeps. As though in confirmation, the hair on his neck bristled. He looked around at the furniture draped in sheets.

  He had great expectations for the day. He would find Mary Ellen, which would subsequently lead him to the other missing kids, and he would find a way to banish the Curse on Blossom, none of which seemed remotely possible now.

  “What is it?” Lyron elbowed his way past Ian and walked to Whit. He took one good hard look around. “Looks like whoever was here pulled up stakes.”

  “What?” Blossom pushed past them all and jogged up the stairs two at a time. “Jason? Are you here? Jason?”

  Whit climbed the stairs after her. On the top step, he stopped and watched Blossom twirl in a tight circle, her arms splayed at her sides.

  “His bed was there against that wall.” She pointed to her right where a recliner now took up residence. “And next to his bed was a nightstand filled with prescription meds, a water pitcher and a glass. There was a box of straws,” she looked over her shoulder at Whit, “those pink and white striped flexible ones. A box of tissues sat in the middle within his reach….”

  When a tear trickled down her cheek, he gathered her in his arms.

  “He's dead, isn't he?” She sobbed against his chest.

  He stroked her hair. “Maybe not. There could be another, totally different explanation.”

  She shook her head. “No, there isn't. It's always this way for me. Just when I think something is going right, kaboom, my life blows up in my face.” She sniffled and rubbed away moisture from her face with her fingers. “That sounds so selfish. I'm not a self-seeking person. I'm not.”

  He patted her back. “I know. Everything will be fine. You'll see,” he said softly, hoping to soothe her. He turned when footsteps sounded on the stairs.

  With raised eyebrows, Lyron asked from the landing, “What's going on?”

  Whit gave him a stern look. “Not now, Lyron.”

  Ian, gloves in hand, climbed to the top of the stairs, looked around, shook his head, turned, and headed back downstairs.

  “What's up with him?” Lyron asked, obviously perplexed.

  Blossom lifted her head from Whit's chest. “What happened? What's the matter with Ian? Did something happen to him? I can't lose him too." She shook free of Whit's embrace and sprinted toward the stairs. “I...we have to find him.” She looked back at them. “Don't just stand there. Get a move on!”

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Whit nudged Lyron in the ribs when he made no attempt to move. “You heard the lady. Get a move on.”

  Lyron twirled his finger in a tight circle at his temple. “These two are as loopy as loons.”

  “Oh ye of little faith,” Whit said, rushing down the stairs and thinking how Lyron's analysis was typical of someone who feared what he could not understand.

  When Whit, accompanied by Lyron, stepped onto the veranda, Blossom had her hands cupped around her mouth calling out to Ian. Her voice sounded steady and controlled at first but, little by little, worked its way toward frantic and screaming.

  “I know how much you wanted to help me, but it's just a little setback, Ian,” she said. “We'll work around it. Come back and we'll discuss it.”

  With eyes only for Blossom, Whit watched as the sunlight caught in her hair, making it seem like the curly mass had ignited into flames. Desire spread through him like molten lava. He remembered their kiss, how he had wanted to go further, and how it had taken all of his strength to fight the overwhelming urge to take her in his arms and prove to himself how fantastic their coming together would be.

  A gust of wind threw feathery snow across his face, the cool spray bringing him back to reality. He looked up at the sky, at the crow perched on the treetop of a lofty spruce, then at Blossom whose cheeks had turned rosy red from the cold.

  As though she sensed him looking at her, she turned and faced him. He smiled. She didn't smile back. Instead, she darted to the railing at the right side of the cabin and begged Ian to return.

  Involuntarily, Whit's mouth tightened. He couldn't stop the feeling that reminded him she didn't see him as he saw her and that she didn't feel for him what he felt for her. His throat caught and his stomach somersaulted. Maybe biding his time and taking things slow had not been the wisest move.

  Blossom continued her visual search for Ian as she dashed from one side of the porch to the other, pausing in her plaintive pleas for Ian to ask Whit if he saw him.

  He was shaking his head when a drumming sound, faint and methodical, pulsated from a grove of aspens.

  Her head cocked toward the sound. “Do you hear that?” She sprinted across the plank floor and leaned over the railing. “Ian, is that you?”

  Blossom's breath came shallow and fast. Whit worried for her health. He joined her at the railing and, feigning interest in Ian's location, looked where she looked — straight ahead toward the sound of beating drums.

  Curious now about the noise, he opened his mouth to ask if she saw anything or anyone when a fuzzy mistiness rose from the tips of the evergreens. At first, he thought the opaque cloud was fog until he saw a substance rise from the heart of the mass. Then suddenly and as though a light switch had been thrown, a brilliant aquamarine light erupted from the apex and shot upward.

  “Do you see that?” Blossom asked, her voice barely audible.

  “Uh-huh,” Whit said, without taking his eyes from the strange occurrence.

  He called out to Lyron. “Are you seeing this?” Just then, the light faded and the drumming ceased. When Lyron arrived at his side, he asked again, “Did you see that?”

  Lyron drew his brows together. “See what?”

  Whit looked at Lyron and sighed.

  “Do you mean that?” Lyron asked.

  Whit turned in the direction of Lyron's outstretched finger and watched Ian strut from the trees, smiling and zipping his fly. “No, not Ian. The mist rising from the trees,” Whit said, feeling a peculiar warmth in his chest, like his soul had been touched.

  “When you gotta go, you gotta go!” Ian said.

  Lyron laughed. “That's easy. A warm current meeting a cold surface.” He pointed to Ian's crotch.

  Blossom ran down the steps and threw herself against Ian's chest. “I thought you gave up on me.”

  “You should worry, Whit.” Lyron elbowed him. “Looks like you're coming in second best.”

  “Nonsense.” Whit scowled.

  “If you say so.”

  Despite the frigid temperature, Whit perspired. Lyron taunted him, goaded him into seeing the situation through his eyes, misdirecting his thoughts. No, he reassured himself. There was no validity to what Lyron insinuated.

  “Supposing.” Lyron held an index finger against his lips. “Just supposing Ian is a spirit…”

  “Continue.” Whit crossed his arms against his chest.

  “Maybe he's here to escort Blossom to Heaven.” He jutted his head toward her. “Looks like she'd follow Ian into Hell, and with that beautiful smile pasted on those beautiful lips, too.”

  Whit watched Blossom cushion her head against Ian's chest, her arms capturing his neck in a stranglehold. No, he wouldn't believe that. Fate wouldn't be so cruel. God wouldn't be so devilish. He worked saliva into his suddenly parched mouth and listened to Ian comfort Blossom with silkily spoken words and whispery-soft sounds. Without intention, his hands formed into fists at his sides.

  “Green doesn't become you, bro.”

  Lyron was right, as he often was. Jealousy was unlike him. Truthfully, he couldn't remember ever feeling this way over any woman. Whit's gut knotted in apprehension as he wondered how he would win Blossom's heart. He watched as Ian cupped her face in his hands, lowered himself to her height and looked into her eyes. “I would ne
ver leave you high'n'dry, darlin'. Don't you know that by now?”

  “They're cousins, Lyron,” Whit said…defensively he noted.

  Lyron scratched his head. “If memory serves, distant cousins, many times removed, in fact. Isn't that the way Ian put it?”

  “Enough,” Whit said. “You made your point.” He jogged down the stairs, determined to ignore the hostility he felt for Ian. “Glad to see you made it back without getting lost, Ian. Forests tend to have all the same look after awhile. A person can get turned around quite easily.” Some of the angst in the pit of his stomach eased when Ian and Blossom broke apart.

  “Thanks for the warning,” Ian said. “I'll keep that in mind the next time nature calls and there's not an available porta-potty around. Where do we go from here?”

  Whit gave him a hard, steady look, thinking: Out behind the woodshed, where I'll beat the crap out of you for putting the moves on my woman.

  “With the investigation, I mean,” Ian said, his mouth curving upward in a half-smile.

  Whit frowned and wondered if Ian was clairvoyant.

  Lyron cleared his throat. “I suggest we go back inside and have a look around for anything that might lead us to where these guys took off to.”

  “Good idea,” Whit said over his shoulder. He turned sideways and indicated the cabin with his hand. “Shall we?”

  With Blossom leading the way, he followed behind Ian, wanting to kick his butt two ways to tomorrow. No, he wouldn't resort to violence. He was a civilized, law-abiding man. He wished he weren't.

  Whit hadn't set out today to kick ass but to learn the whereabouts of his sister. Instead, he learned something about himself, something unflattering. All of his life, he had abhorred those who fought their battles and made their points with guns and fistfights. For the first time, he understood how someone could be driven to doing something not normally within their usual behavior.

  Inside the cabin, Whit suggested to Blossom and Ian that they step aside and let Lyron do his job.

  After they took positions on the oversized mat at the door, Whit shook his head sadly and said, “I didn't think today would turn out this way.” He directed his focus on Ian and asked, “How about you, Ian? Did you have the same expectations for today as I?”

 
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