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Mind Over Matter

Nora Roberts


  He’d expected a crystal ball, pentagrams and a few tea leaves. Burning candles and incense wouldn’t have surprised him. Though he wouldn’t admit it to anyone, he’d actually looked forward to it. As a producer of documentaries for public television, David Brady dealt in hard facts and meticulous research. Anything and everything that went into one of his productions was checked and rechecked, most often personally. The truth was, he’d thought an afternoon with a fortune teller would bring him a refreshing, even comic, relief from the daily pressure of scripts, storyboards and budgets. She didn’t even wear a turban.

  The woman who opened the door of the comfortable suburban home in Newport Beach looked as though she would more likely be found at a bridge table than a séance. She smelled of lilacs and dusting powder, not musk and mystery. David’s impression that she was housekeeper or companion to the renowned psychic was immediately disabused.

  “Hello.” She offered a small, attractive hand and a smile. “I’m Clarissa DeBasse. Please come in, Mr. Brady. You’re right on time.”

  “Miss DeBasse.” David adjusted his thinking and accepted her hand. He’d done enough research so far to be prepared for the normalcy of people involved in the paranormal. “I appreciate your seeing me. Should I wonder how you know who I am?”

  As their hands linked, she let impressions of him come and go, to be sorted out later. Intuitively she felt he was a man she could trust and rely on. It was enough for the moment. “I could claim precognition, but I’m afraid it’s simple logic. You were expected at one-thirty.” Her agent had called to remind her, or Clarissa would still be knee-deep in her vegetable garden. “I suppose it’s possible you’re carrying brushes and samples in that briefcase, but I have the feeling it’s papers and contracts. Now I’m sure you’d like some coffee after your drive down from L.A.”

  “Right again.” He stepped into a cozy living room with pretty blue curtains and a wide couch that sagged noticeably in the middle.

  “Sit down, Mr. Brady. I just brought the tray out, so the coffee’s hot.”

  Deciding the couch was unreliable, David chose a chair and waited while Clarissa sat across from him and poured coffee into two mismatched cups and saucers. It took him only a moment to study and analyze. He was a man who leaned heavily on first impressions. She looked, as she offered cream and sugar, like anyone’s favorite aunt—rounded without being really plump, neat without being stiff. Her face was soft and pretty and had lined little in fifty-odd years. Her pale blond hair was cut stylishly and showed no gray, which David attributed to her hairdresser. She was entitled to her vanity, he thought. When she offered the cup, he noted the symphony of rings on her hands. That, at least, was in keeping with the image he had projected.

  “Thank you. Miss DeBasse, I have to tell you, you’re not at all what I expected.”

  Comfortable with herself, she settled back. “You were expecting me to greet you at the door with a crystal ball in my hands and a raven on my shoulder.”

  The amusement in her eyes would have had some men shifting in their chairs. David only lifted a brow. “Something like that.” He sipped his coffee. The fact that it was hot was the only thing going for it. “I’ve read quite a bit about you in the past few weeks. I also saw a tape of your appearance on The Barrow Show.” He probed gently for the right phrasing. “You have a different image on camera.”

  “That’s showbiz,” she said so casually he wondered if she was being sarcastic. Her eyes remained clear and friendly. “I don’t generally discuss business, particularly at home, but since it seemed important that you see me, I thought we’d be more comfortable this way.” She smiled again, showing the faintest of dimples in her cheeks. “I’ve disappointed you.”

  “No.” And he meant it. “No, you haven’t.” Because his manners went only so far, he put the coffee down. “Miss DeBasse—”

  “Clarissa.” She beamed such a bright smile at him he had no trouble returning it.

  “Clarissa, I want to be honest with you.”

  “Oh, that’s always best.” Her voice was soft and sincere as she folded her hands on her lap.

  “Yeah.” The childlike trust in her eyes threw him for a moment. If she was a hard-edged, money-oriented con, she was doing a good job disguising it. “I’m a very practical man. Psychic phenomena, clairvoyance, telepathy and that sort of thing, don’t fit into my day-to-day life.”

  She only smiled at him, understanding. Whatever thoughts came into her head remained there. This time David did shift in his chair.

  “I decided to do this series on parapsychology mainly for its entertainment value.”

  “You don’t have to apologize.” She lifted her hand just as a large black cat leaped into her lap. Without looking at it, Clarissa stroked it from head to tail. “You see, David, someone in my position understands perfectly the doubts and the fascination people have for…such things. I’m not a radical.” As the cat curled up in her lap, she continued to pet it, looking calm and content. “I’m simply a person who’s been given a gift, and a certain responsibility.”

  “A responsibility?” He started to reach in his pocket for his cigarettes, then noticed there were no ashtrays.

  “Oh, yes.” As she spoke, Clarissa opened the drawer of the coffee table and took out a small blue dish. “You can use this,” she said in passing, then settled back again. “A young boy might receive a toolbox for his birthday. It’s a gift. He has choices to make. He can use his new tools to learn, to build, to repair. He can also use them to saw the legs off tables. He could also put the toolbox in his closet and forget about it. A great many of us do the last, because the tools are too complicated or simply too overwhelming. Have you ever had a psychic experience, David?”

  He lit a cigarette. “No.”

  “No?” There weren’t many people who would give such a definitive no. “Never a sense of déjà vu, perhaps?”

  He paused a moment, interested. “I suppose everyone’s had a sense of doing something before, being somewhere before. A feeling of mixed signals.”

  “Perhaps. Intuition, then.”

  “You consider intuition a psychic gift?”

  “Oh, yes.” Enthusiasm lit her face and made her eyes young. “Of course it depends entirely on how it’s developed, how it’s channeled, how it’s used. Most of us use only a fraction of what we have because our minds are so crowded with other things.”

  “Was it impulse that led you to Matthew Van Camp?”

  A shutter seemed to come down over her eyes. “No.”

  Again he found her puzzling. The Van Camp case was the one that had brought her prominently into the public eye. He would have thought she would have been anxious to speak of it, elaborate, yet she seemed to close down at the mention of the name. David blew out smoke and noticed that the cat was watching him with bored but steady eyes. “Clarissa, the Van Camp case is ten years old, but it’s still one of the most celebrated and controversial of your successes.”

  “That’s true. Matthew is twenty now. A very handsome young man.”

  “There are some who believe he’d be dead if Mrs. Van Camp hadn’t fought both her husband and the police to have you brought in on the kidnapping.”

  “And there are some who believe the entire thing was staged for publicity,” she said so calmly as she sipped from her cup. “Alice Van Camp’s next movie was quite a box-office success. Did you see the film? It was wonderful.”

  He wasn’t a man to be eased off-track when he’d already decided on a destination. “Clarissa, if you agree to be part of this documentary, I’d like you to talk about the Van Camp case.”

  She frowned a bit, pouted almost, as she petted her cat. “I don’t know if I can help you there, David. It was a very traumatic
experience for the Van Camps, very traumatic. Bringing it all up again could be painful for them.”

  He hadn’t reached his level of success without knowing how and when to negotiate. “If the Van Camps agreed?”

  “Oh, then that’s entirely different.” While she considered, the cat stirred in her lap, then began to purr loudly. “Yes, entirely different. You know, David, I admire your work. I saw your documentary on child abuse. It was gripping and very upsetting.”

  “It was meant to be.”

  “Yes, exactly.” She could have told him a great deal of the world was upsetting, but didn’t think he was ready to understand how she knew, and how she dealt with it. “What is it you’re looking for with this?”

  “A good show.” When she smiled he was sure he’d been right not to try to con her. “One that’ll make people think and question.”

  “Will you?”

  He tapped out his cigarette. “I produce. How much I question I suppose depends on you.”

  It seemed like not only the proper answer, but the truest one. “I like you, David. I think I’d like to help you.”

  “I’m glad to hear that. You’ll want to look over the contract and—”

  “No.” She cut him off as he reached for his briefcase. “Details.” She explained them away with a gesture of her hand. “I let my agent bother with those things.”

  “Fine.” He’d feel more comfortable discussing terms with an agent. “I’ll send them over if you give me a name.”

  “The Fields Agency in Los Angeles.”

  She’d surprised him again. The comfortable auntlike lady had one of the most influential and prestigious agencies on the Coast. “I’ll have them sent over this afternoon. I’d enjoy working with you, Clarissa.”

  “May I see your palm?”

  Every time he thought he had her cataloged, she shifted on him. Still, humoring her was easy. David offered his hand. “Am I going to take an ocean voyage?”

  She was neither amused nor offended. Though she took his hand, palm up, she barely glanced at it. Instead she studied him with eyes that seemed abruptly cool. She saw a man in his early thirties, attractive in a dark, almost brooding way despite the well-styled black hair and casually elegant clothes. The bones in his face were strong, angular enough to warrant a second glance. His brows were thick, as black as his hair, and dominated surprisingly quiet eyes. Or their cool, pale green appeared quiet at first glance. She saw a mouth that was firm, full enough to gain a woman’s attention. The hand in hers was wide, long fingered, artistic. It vied with a rangy, athletic build. But she saw beyond that.

  “You’re a very strong man, physically, emotionally, intellectually.”

  “Thank you.”

  “Oh, I don’t flatter, David.” It was a gentle, almost maternal reproof. “You haven’t yet learned how to temper this strength with tenderness in your relationships. I suppose that’s why you’ve never married.”

  She had his attention now, reluctantly. But he wasn’t wearing a ring, he reminded himself. And anyone who cared to find out about his marital status had only to make a few inquiries. “The standard response is I’ve never met the right woman.”

  “In this case it’s perfectly true. You need to find someone every bit as strong as you are. You will, sooner than you think. It won’t be easy, of course, and it will only work between you if you both remember the tenderness I just spoke of.”

  “So I’m going to meet the right woman, marry and live happily ever after?”

  “I don’t tell the future, ever.” Her expression changed again, becoming placid. “And I only read palms of people who interest me. Shall I tell you what my intuition tells me, David?”


  “That you and I are going to have an interesting and long-term relationship.” She patted his hand before she released it. “I’m going to enjoy that.”

  “So am I.” He rose. “I’ll see you again, Clarissa.”

  “Yes. Yes, of course.” She rose and nudged the cat onto the floor. “Run along now, Mordred.”

  “Mordred?” David repeated as the cat jumped up to settle himself on the sagging sofa cushion.

  “Such a sad figure in folklore,” Clarissa explained. “I always felt he got a bad deal. After all, we can’t escape our destiny, can we?”

  For the second time David felt her cool, oddly intimate gaze on him. “I suppose not,” he murmured, and let her lead him to the door.

  “I’ve so enjoyed our chat, David. Please come back again.”

  David stepped out into the warm spring air and wondered why he felt certain he would.

  “Of course he’s an excellent producer, Abe. I’m just not sure he’s right for Clarissa.”

  A. J. Fields paced around her office in the long, fluid gait that always masked an overflow of nervous energy. She stopped to straighten a picture that was slightly tilted before she turned back to her associate. Abe Ebbitt was sitting with his hands folded on his round belly, as was his habit. He didn’t bother to push back the glasses that had fallen down his nose. He watched A.J. patiently before he reached up to scratch one of the two clumps of hair on either side of his head.

  “A.J., the offer is very generous.”

  “She doesn’t need the money.”

  His agent’s blood shivered at the phrase, but he continued to speak calmly. “The exposure.”

  “Is it the right kind of exposure?”

  “You’re too protective of Clarissa, A.J.”

  “That’s what I’m here for,” she countered. Abruptly she stopped, and sat on the corner of her desk. When Abe saw her brows draw together, he fell silent. He might speak to her when she was in this mood, but she wouldn’t answer. He respected and admired her. Those were the reasons he, a veteran Hollywood agent, was working for the Fields Agency, instead of carving up the town on his own. He was old enough to be her father, and realized that a decade before their roles would have been reversed. The fact that he worked for her didn’t bother him in the least. The best, he was fond of saying, never minded answering to the best. A minute passed, then two.

  “She’s made up her mind to do it,” A.J. muttered, but again Abe remained silent. “I just—” Have a feeling, she thought. She hated to use that phrase. “I just hope it isn’t a mistake. The wrong director, the wrong format, and she could be made to look like a fool. I won’t have that, Abe.”

  “You’re not giving Clarissa enough credit. You know better than to let your emotions color a business deal, A.J.”

  “Yeah, I know better.” That’s why she was the best. A.J. folded her arms and reminded herself of it. She’d learned at a very young age how to channel emotion. It had been more than necessary; it had been vital. When you grew up in a house where your widowed mother often forgot little details like the mortgage payment, you learned how to deal with business in a businesslike way or you went under. She was an agent because she enjoyed the wheeling and dealing. And because she was damn good at it. Her Century City office with its lofty view of Los Angeles was proof of just how good. Still, she hadn’t gotten there by making deals blindly.

  “I’ll decide after I meet with Brady this afternoon.”

  Abe grinned at her, recognizing the look. “How much more are you going to ask for?”

  “I think another ten percent.” She picked up a pencil and tapped it against her palm. “But first I intend to find out exactly what’s going into this documentary and what angles he’s going for.”

  “Word is Brady’s tough.”

  She sent him a deceptively sweet smile that had fire around the edges. “Word is so am I.”

  “He hasn’t got a prayer.” He rose, tugging at his belt. “I’ve got a meeting. Let me know how it goes.”

  “Sure.” She was already frowning at the wall when he closed the door.

  David Brady. The fact that she personally admired his work would naturally influence her decision. Still, at the right time and for the right fee, she would sign a client to play a
tea bag in a thirty-second local commercial. Clarissa was a different matter. Clarissa DeBasse had been her first client. Her only client, A.J. remembered, during those first lean years. If she was protective of her, as Abe had said, A.J. felt she had a right to be. David Brady might be a successful producer of quality documentaries for public television, but he had to prove himself to A. J. Fields before Clarissa signed on the dotted line.

  There’d been a time when A.J. had had to prove herself. She hadn’t started out with a staff of fifteen in an exclusive suite of offices. Ten years before, she’d been scrambling for clients and hustling deals from an office that had consisted of a phone booth outside a corner deli. She’d lied about her age. Not too many people had been willing to trust their careers to an eighteen-year-old. Clarissa had.

  A.J. gave a little sigh as she worked out a kink in her shoulder. Clarissa didn’t really consider what she did, or what she had, a career as much as a calling. It was up to A.J. to haggle over the details.

  She was used to it. Her mother had always been such a warm, generous woman. But details had never been her strong point. As a child, it had been up to A.J. to remember when the bills were due. She’d balanced the checkbook, discouraged door-to-door salesmen and juggled her schoolwork with the household budget. Not that her mother was a fool, or neglectful of her daughter. There had always been love, conversation and interest. But their roles had so often been reversed. It was the mother who would claim the stray puppy had followed her home and the daughter who had worried how to feed it.

  Still, if her mother had been different, wouldn’t A.J. herself