Lunatic Times Two

Lunatic Times Two

Sharon Sala

September 2013 $11.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-362-7

Book 4 in The Lunatic Life Series
 
Our PriceUS$11.95
Code978-1-61194-362-7
 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

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New York Times bestselling author Sharon Sala concludes her Lunatic Life mystery series the way it began—with lots of Team Spirits.

In My Lunatic Life, Tara Luna is the new girl in school, trying to hide her ghostly friends and fit in—impossible, since she’s soon tracking down kidnappers and dodging Dee Dee Broyles, a murdered teen girl who just happens to haunt Tara’s new house.

In Lunatic Detective, Tara and hunky bad-boy classmate Flynn O’ Mara partner to find Dee Dee’s killer while admitting they’re more than just friends. Now that he knows she’s "different,” will he stick around?

The stakes are even higher in Lunatic Revenge, as bad guys come after Flynn and Tara to find out where his dying father, and ex-con, hid a stolen fortune. A surprising twist gives Flynn a gift neither he nor Tara ever expected.

And now, in Lunatic Times Two, that still-hidden money threatens Tara and Flynn again. This time, Tara may not survive. She’ll need the help of every friend she’s got on the other side. Including some she’s never met before.

Sharon Sala is a seven-time RITA finalist, winner of the Janet Dailey Award, four-time winner of the Career Achievement award from RT Magazine, and five-time winner of the National Reader's Choice Award. Her books are New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher's Weekly bestsellers.

 


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Excerpt

 

Chapter One

TARA COULDN’T breathe, and despite how fiercely she was fighting, the hands around her throat kept squeezing tighter and tighter. Her field of vision had narrowed to the emotionless expression on the pockmarked face of the man above her. No matter how many times her punches landed, or how hard she bucked and kicked trying to throw him off her body, it had no effect. His sole purpose was to end her life at any expense, and it appeared he was willing to suffer to make that happen. Even after there was no breath left in her to make a sound, inside, she was screaming for Flynn.

Help me! Help me!

And then it was too late.

The man’s face was fading before her eyes. She could actually feel her spirit leaving her body. When she realized she was floating above, a wave of sadness swept through her. She saw her lifeless body below.

I wasn’t ready to die.

Tara! Tara! Wake up! It’s just a dream!

Flynn, is that you?

"TARA! TARA! Wake up! You’re having a bad dream!”

Tara woke up with a gasp then took a deep breath, shocked she could actually breathe. She wasn’t dead after all. Thank God, thank God!

Her uncle, Pat Carmichael, put a hand on her forehead to test for a fever.

"Are you sick, honey?”

"No, I’m fine, Uncle Pat. It was just a crazy dream.”

"Good. I have to go in to work early. They are going to need all hands on deck at the city barn today to help sand the streets.”

"Why? You don’t work on Saturday.”

"It’s snowing, and from the look of the roads, it’s been snowing most of the night. I’m glad there’s no school. You stay inside and stay warm. Gotta go. Call if you need me,” he said, and blew her a kiss as he hurried away.

She threw back the covers and ran to the windows. A heavy snow was falling, and even though the reality of her dream was beginning to fade, the horror of it was still with her. She leaned her forehead against the cold windowpane and shuddered. As she turned away, she glanced toward her dresser to the picture of her boyfriend, Flynn. The fact that he had been able to mentally enter her nightmare and pull her out of it was shocking. She was still struggling with how he’d changed after his accident. He’d come out of the coma—from the brink of death—with the ability to hear thoughts—even hers.

Moon girl?

Tara spun around, but there was no one there.

Flynn?

Are you awake now?

Yes. OMG! This is going to take some getting used to, having you hear my thoughts. Did I scare you?

No. I could tell you were dreaming.

Really? How?

I don’t know. I just could. Stay inside and stay warm. Love you.

Tara put a hand over her heart as a big smile broke over her face.

I love you, too.

A pink puff of smoke drifted across Tara’s line of vision.

What about me? I loved you first.

Tara’s smile widened as the ghost who’d helped raise her injected herself into the conversation.

"Of course I love you, Millicent. I love you and Henry to death.”

You need not put that much effort into the relationship, Tara. We’re already dead.

Tara rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean.”

Henry, the other ghost who was part of her life, popped up in the middle of Tara’s bed wearing a coonskin cap and dressed in buckskins.

"Henry?”

He saluted, blew her a kiss, and floated toward the ceiling in a horizontal position, with the tail of the cap hanging down behind his neck like a rudder on an outboard motor.

Tara watched him floating, trying to figure out what was going on now. With Henry, it was always a bit hard to tell.

"What on earth is Henry doing?”

I think he’s reliving one of his past lives. He was a fur trapper once. I haven’t been able to get him out of that ridiculous cap. If he wants to wear fur, he should go for something elegant, like mink, or ermine. I had an ermine coat once. A Russian prince gave it to me then insisted I wear it, and nothing else, to bed.

Tara shrieked and put her hands over her ears. "OMG, Millicent! What part of ‘too much information’ do you not understand?” She grabbed a change of clothes and headed to the bathroom. After this rude awakening, there was no way she was going back to bed.

Later, she settled down in front of the television with a cup of hot chocolate and a piece of buttered toast as breakfast, absently watching the programming as she dunked and ate. A few cars went by on the street outside the house, but none were going fast. Some were even having trouble navigating. She watched them sliding sideways. She thought of Uncle Pat having to work in this weather and began thinking of what she could make for supper that would be hot and filling; she wondered where their crock pot was. She remembered unpacking it when they moved here, but hadn’t used it since.

Tara dug through the cabinets until she found the crock pot, then started a stew for supper. After that, it was down to the weekly chore of cleaning the house and sorting laundry.

A couple of hours later, she was making a grocery list and listening to the radio when the phone began to ring.

It was Nikki, her BFF.

"Hi, Nikki. What’s going on?”

"Rachelle and Morgan are outside trying to make a snowman, but the snow isn’t sticking, and they’re basically just freezing themselves for the heck of it.”

Tara laughed. "Isn’t that what kids are supposed to do? And why aren’t you out there with them?”

Nikki sighed. "I have a sore throat. Mom won’t let me.”

Tara frowned. "Bummer, Nik. Do you have a fever, too?”

"No, at least not right now. I sure hope I’m not getting sick with the flu. It’s going around town like crazy. Mom said there are three out of her office with it, and Dad’s got two out in his office.”

"Ick,” Tara muttered. "At least stay warm and dry, and I’ll see you at school.”

"Call me later. I’ll be bored.”

Tara was still smiling as she hung up and went to get the clothes out of the dryer before they wrinkled.

A short time later, she was hanging up the last of Uncle Pat’s work shirts in his closet when she felt a presence. The hair rose on the backs of her arms, and there was a pressure on her chest, like she was being pushing backward. She turned abruptly, quickly stifling a gasp.

There was a woman standing in the doorway wringing her hands, and Tara could see through her to the picture hanging on the wall in the hall behind her. Except for Millicent and Henry, there hadn’t been a ghost in this house since DeeDee Broyles, who had been in residence when they moved in, and she’d long since gone into the light.

This woman’s voice was shrill and shaking.

You can see me, can’t you?

Tara nodded.

Oh, thank God. They said you could, but I wasn’t sure.

Tara frowned. "They? Who’s they?”

A pink puff of smoke swirled into view.

That would be Henry and me. Sorry, but she has a problem you need to fix.

Tara groaned. "Millicent! Are you serious? There’s a blizzard outside. I have no car. What can I possibly do?”

Ask her yourself. Her name is Connie.

Tara frowned. The ghost was a curvy little blonde in a long pink flannel nightgown, and her feet were bare. Not that she could feel the cold anymore, but it told Tara that the woman had probably died in bed.

"So Connie, other than the fact that you’re dead, what’s wrong?”

Connie wailed. My husband! My children! They won’t wake up. They’re dying, too, and I can’t find anyone to help.

All of a sudden a wave of despair slid through Tara so fast there were tears on her face before she knew it.

That’s how mother love feels.

Tara thought of her own mother, wondering if she had been in this kind of despair when she died in the wreck that left Tara an orphan.

Yes, that’s exactly how your mother felt, but this is no time to dwell on history. Do something! Now!

Millicent’s warning made Tara focus.

"Why are they dying, too? What’s wrong with them?”

Carbon monoxide! The alarm upstairs is going off, but no one is moving.

Now she understood the need for haste.

"Connie, what’s your last name?”

The little blonde wailed. I don’t understand why this is happening, but I can’t remember.

Tara tried another question. "Where do you live?”

Connie was wringing her hands. I don’t remember that either.

Tara knew death was often confusing. Lots of times spirits didn’t even know they were dead, and in the confusion lost memories that had to do with the world of the living.

"We’ll come at this from another angle,” Tara said. "What do you remember?”

My name is Connie.

Tara groaned.

Millicent interrupted. She doesn’t remember the rest, Tara. The only thing I know that might help is that she works at city hall, because that’s where I found her. She was trying to make someone hear her and causing quite a stir. Papers were flying, and the coffee pot exploded. She doesn’t know how to control the energy her panic is causing.

Tara ran for her cell phone and called the police. The fact that she had their number on speed dial was not unusual—for a teenage girl who kept getting herself mixed up in dangerous situations and had psychic talents she couldn’t explain.

"Stillwater Police.”

"I need to talk to Detective Rutherford or Detective Allen ASAP. Tell them it’s Tara Luna calling.”

"One moment, please.”

Tara glanced at the ghost and the spiral of pink vapor around her head and knew Millicent was trying to calm the little spirit. She was moving into panic mode herself when she heard Detective Rutherford’s voice.

"Hey, Tara, this is Detective Rutherford. What’s going on?”

"I need you to find out the home address of a woman named Connie who works at city hall, and then dispatch rescue to the house. Her family is dying.”

She heard a gasp, then a groan, and sighed. Rutherford was obviously not happy with her.

"How the hel... excuse my French... do you know this?”

She glanced at the ghost again.

"Well, Connie’s spirit is standing in my living room begging me to help her family before they all die, too.”

"You’re talking to a ghost as we speak?”

Tara rolled her eyes. "No. I’m talking to you, but I’m looking at her. She said it’s carbon monoxide poisoning, and they won’t wake up.”

"Why doesn’t she tell you her last name and address?” Rutherford muttered.

"Because she doesn’t remember that anymore. Please! She has kids and a husband you might be able to save. Hurry!”

"Well, hell... excuse me again... hang on. I’ll make a call and see what happens.”

She could hear him yelling at his partner, Detective Allen, and then someone else saying they knew a woman named Connie in the court clerk’s office.

"Connie! Did you work in the court clerk’s office?”

I don’t know. I have to go! My babies will be looking for me!

All of a sudden she was gone.

"Now what? How can she find her kids when she doesn’t know her address?” Tara muttered.

The maternal cord of a mother is forever tied to her children, regardless of where a spirit might be.

Tara felt an instant pang of loss.

"Then why have I never seen my mother and father?” she whispered.

What makes you think you haven’t?

Before Tara could pursue that comment, Detective Rutherford was back on the line.

"Okay, we have a name and address and have dispatched a patrol car and ambulances. For once, I hope you’re wrong about this.”

"Keep me posted, okay?”

Rutherford sighed. "I will. Stay inside. It’s cold.”

He disconnected.

Tara caught a glimpse of Henry through the window. He was marching back and forth out on the porch with a long rifle cradled in his arms.

"Now what?”

Millicent’s voice was in her ear. He’s standing guard.

Tara stifled a spurt of panic. "Why? Am I in danger again?”

He’s on the lookout for other spirits. He thinks you don’t need to be bothered anymore. Just ignore him.

Tara shook her head and turned away. No one would believe her life, even if she tried to explain.

She glanced at the clock. It was already past noon, and whatever appetite she might have had was gone. This day was going to be very sad if that whole family died.

She headed for the kitchen to check on the stew. Her day might be in turmoil, but Uncle Pat was still going to be hungry when he came home tonight.

RUTHERFORD HUNG up the phone and grabbed his coat.

"Hey, where are you going?” Allen asked.

Rutherford sighed. "That dang girl has my curiosity up again. I need to see for myself if that family is really in danger. If there’s a woman named Connie lying dead in that house, I am never going to doubt Tara Luna again.”

Allen snorted softly. "I have heard you say that before, and yet here you are, still doubting and going for another look.”

Rutherford was putting on his coat as he walked. "So sue me. Are you coming with me, or not?”

"You know I am, but we’re taking your SUV. You’ve got four-wheel drive,” Allen said.

"Then hurry up. The ambulance and patrol cars are probably already there.”

They left the police station, buttoning their coats as they went. The moment they stepped outside, the swirling snow and cold hit them like a slap in the face.

"I hate winter,” Allen said.

Rutherford grunted as he unlocked the doors and started the engine. A few moments later they were on the street, sliding sideways through intersections, with the windshield wipers swiping uselessly at the swirl of icy snow.

As Rutherford had predicted, the ambulance and a couple of cruisers were already there. When they started toward the house, another detective met them at the door.

"Hey, what are you two doing here? Darrell and I caught this case.”

"We took the call,” Rutherford said. "Wanted to see for ourselves if it was on the up and up.”

The detective shrugged. "It wasn’t a hoax, if that’s what you’re asking, and it’s a damn shame. Fire department said carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Rutherford felt the skin tightening at the back of his neck just like it always did when he was presented with a truth about Tara Luna’s abilities he couldn’t ignore.

Allen was brushing snow off his coat. "Any survivors?” he asked.

"The woman is dead. Her husband and two kids still have a faint pulse. EMTs are working on them now for transport. Do you want to check out the scene or anything?”

Rutherford shook his head. "No. I only look at dead people when somebody makes me.”

"Coming through,” an EMT shouted.

They stepped back to make room for the gurney and the little girl on it. They had her on oxygen and covered in blankets against the cold. There was a second gurney coming up behind with a slightly older boy. Both children were ghostly pale, but alive.

"Damn shame,” Allen said softly. "I sure hope the father survives. It would suck if those kids lost both their parents.”

"Let’s get out of here,” Rutherford said. "We can check on their welfare back at the station.”

They ran to the car and jumped inside, shivering from the wind’s icy blast. Rutherford started up the SUV and drove away.

"Hey, the police station is that way,” Allen said, pointing to the left as Rutherford took a right.

"Thought I’d go by Tara’s house to let her know she was right.”

Allen snorted softly. "She already knows she’s right. You’re the one who keeps on doubting her. I’m staying in the car.”

Rutherford’s eyes narrowed as a gust of wind sent the snow swirling around the vehicle, making it appear as if they were driving in an arctic tornado. Just for a moment he wondered if it was one of Tara’s ghosts doing that, then decided that was stupid and kept driving.

He didn’t know that Millicent was in the back seat, admiring the cut of Rutherford’s jaw. She was fond of manly men, and these two fit her notion of manly just fine.

WHEN TARA WAS troubled, she baked. And after the visit from the sad ghost, Tara was more than troubled. If those kids lived, they were going to wake up and find out their mother was dead.

She’d gone to the kitchen with a heavy heart and began stirring up cookie dough to stay occupied. She was already taking oatmeal raisin cookies out of the oven when someone began knocking. She set the tray aside and grabbed a towel, wiping her hands as she went, then peeked through the window before opening the door.

"Detective Rutherford, come in.”

He stepped inside, shivering noticeably as he shut the door behind him.

"Thank you. It’s miserable out there.”

"I didn’t expect to see you. Are you by yourself?” she asked.

"No, Allen’s in the car. I wanted to apologize for giving you a hard time about your phone call. Maybe one of these days I’ll learn to act without asking you questions.”

"It’s okay.”

"No, it’s not. I don’t know how this will ultimately turn out, but the dad and two kids were still alive when we found them, and you can take credit for that.”

Tara heard a pop and saw the little barefoot spirit holding her hands against her breasts and smiling.

Tell him thank you.

"I will,” Tara said.

Rutherford frowned. "You will what?”

"Oh, sorry. I was talking to Connie.”

Rutherford eyed the room with a nervous glance. "So, you’re saying her spirit is here?”

"Yes. There,” she said, pointing to a spot beside Rutherford.

He jumped like he’d been goosed and landed right where Tara was pointing. When the hair suddenly stood up on the backs of his arms, he moaned. "I’m standing on her, aren’t I?” he whispered.

"Well, let’s just say you’re both sharing the same space.”

"Excuse me, Connie,” he whispered, and took four quick steps backward.

"You didn’t hurt her,” Tara said, as she watched the little ghost beginning to lose substance. "She wants me to tell you how grateful she is that you helped save her family.”

All of a sudden there were tears in Rutherford’s eyes. "I’m sorry we couldn’t save her,” he said softly.

Tara could hear Connie’s voice, but it was getting fainter. She was already moving toward the light.

"She’s not sorry. She says that she had to die to come find help, or they would have all perished.”

He took out a handkerchief and blew his nose. "Dang cold wind made my nose run,” he said.

Tara felt like crying with him and changed the subject. "I made cookies. Would you like some?”

The fact that she’d not only changed the subject but offered food was good.

"Yeah, that would be great!” he said.

"I’ll send enough for you to share with Detective Allen.”

"Don’t send him more than a couple. He was too big of a coward to come in.”

Tara laughed, then stopped and tilted her head.

"What’s wrong?” Rutherford asked.

"Your partner is going to wish he’d come inside with you.”

"Why?”

Millicent is in the backseat of your car messing with him. He’s not sure what’s happening, but he’s getting rattled.”

Rutherford’s eyes widened. "Make sure she stays here when we leave, okay?”

Tara smiled. "I’ll mention it to her, but she pretty much does what she wants.”

"Oh lord, lord,” Rutherford muttered.

"I’ll get the cookies,” Tara said, and hurried to the kitchen and bagged up a half-dozen.

When she got back to the living room, Allen was standing by his partner. His eyes were wide, and the expression on his face was somewhat shell-shocked.

"Someone was pulling on my hair,” he whispered, and glanced around the room as if he were about to be attacked.

"I’m sorry,” Tara said. "If she does it again, just tell her to stop and leave you alone. She has to obey. It’s part of the rules on the other side.”

"Nowyou tell us,” Rutherford muttered. "Thanks a lot for the cookies. We better get going.”

"You’re welcome,” Tara said, as she walked them to the door.

She heard a loud pop. Millicent was ticked.

You didn’t have to tell them about the rules.

Tara closed the door behind the two men. "And you didn’t have to bother him. You knew he was going to freak. You did it on purpose.”

Whatever.

There was another loud pop, a large puff of pink smoke, and Millicent was gone.

"Whatever, yourself,” Tara said, and headed back to the kitchen to finish the cookies.


 

 

Chapter Two

THE COOKIES WERE cooling on the rack, and Tara was asleep on the sofa with an old patch-work quilt pulled up beneath her chin. Outside, the snow was still coming down, and the wind was causing it to drift. The electricity flickered off then came back on again.

Millicent was perched on the back of the sofa keeping watch over Tara as she slept, while Henry was hovering between the living room and the kitchen, wishing he could still smell and eat. The stew bubbling in the crock pot looked enticing.

An old pickup truck with a load of firewood piled high in the truck bed drove past the house. It was the fourth time it had circled the block, which was why Millicent was keeping watch. She and Henry knew the person behind the wheel was up to no good, but they weren’t sure if Tara was a specific target. Until then, they would not interfere.

It was close to four p.m. when the phone rang. Tara threw back the covers and reached for the receiver even before her eyes were fully open.

"Hello?”

"Hey, honey, it’s me. I’m heading home. Checking to see if I need to bring supper.”

"Hi, Uncle Pat. No, don’t bring food. I made stew. It should be done by five.”

"Stew sounds so good. Do you need anything?”

"Not a thing. You just come home and get warm.”

"On my way.”

When he disconnected, Tara got up, folded up her covers and then headed for the kitchen, pausing in the hall to turn up the thermostat. The house was chilly, which meant it must be getting colder outside. The good news was, it had stopped snowing.

She had cornbread baking in the oven, and coffee was brewing, when she heard the front door open.

"I’m home!” Pat called.

"In the kitchen!” she yelled back.

Pat popped in long enough to give her a kiss and peek at the stew. "This looks so good,” he said. "I won’t be long, but I need to change into some dry clothes.”

"I did laundry, so your sweats are clean.”

He gave her a thumbs up. "I’ll be right back.”

Tara began to set the table, adding butter and molasses for the cornbread. Uncle Pat liked cornbread with stew, and cornbread with molasses for dessert, so she knew he was going to make a sizeable dent in the pan still baking.

A few minutes later he was back. "What can I do to help?”

"Just pour yourself a cup of coffee and sit and talk to me.”

He took his coffee to the table, stirred in some cream and sugar, and then leaned back, watching her work. She reminded him so much of his sister, Shirley, right down to the long legs and dark hair. All of their family was tall; the fact that Tara was like her mother was no exception.

"So what did you do today?” he asked.

Although what happened this morning wasn’t a secret, she wanted him to hear it from her.

"I have to say it was quite a morning. I was doing laundry and cleaning when the spirit of a woman who’d just died popped up, begging me to help save her family.”

Pat’s hands tightened around the coffee cup, but other than that, he didn’t react to what she was saying. However, he could tell by the expression on her face that she’d been shaken, which was unusual.

"How tragic, honey. Was it a traffic accident?”

"No, it was carbon monoxide in their home. She was frantic, trying to find someone to help before her husband and children died, too.”

"Dear God,” Pat said softly, and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table as she continued the story.

"To make a sad story short, we found out her name and address, and the police rescued the family. I haven’t heard anything more, but they were still alive when they found them.”

"Then that’s good, right? She accomplished her task and moved on. She did move on, right?”

Tara nodded then took the cornbread out of the oven and cut it into squares, then began dishing up the stew. She piled a platter full of the crusty yellow squares and carried it to the table.

"Yes, she’s gone, but when it was all happening, I could feel how frantic she was, and how much she loved them.”

Pat frowned. "Well, sure, honey. Any parent would be frantic.”

She carried the bowls of stew to the table, setting one at her place and one at his then went back for the cornbread. Even as she sat, Pat could tell there was more.

"Do you think my mother and father felt like that?” she asked.

Pat stifled a groan. So that was it. He reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze. "Oh, honey, you don’t even have to ask. There was never a mother more proud of her child than Shirley was of you.”

Tara’s eyes were glistening with unshed tears. "I can see spirits all the time. They’re around me no matter where we go, and yet I’ve never seen my mom or dad. They’ve never even tried to talk to me.”

"How do you know?”

She frowned. That was almost the same thing Millicent had said earlier. "I don’t know, but I would have thought they would at least have identified themselves.”

Pat sighed. He didn’t like to admit he’d grown up in a house full of psychics, but he knew enough to answer some of her questions. "I don’t know how the other side works, but I can remember my mom and Shirley talking about it some. Their rules are different than ours, right?”

She nodded.

"So maybe they aren’t allowed to pop up and say, ‘Hi, I’m Mom. How’s it going?’ You were so little when they died that maybe you just never had time to form a bond that would help you recognize them from this side. Do you know what I mean?”

Tara’s eyes widened. "Yes, I do, and that makes sense. I never thought of it that way.”

He smiled. "Then for now let’s agree that you were loved, and still are loved to distraction. You saved some lives today, this stew smells wonderful, and I’m starved. How’s that?”

She smiled. "Good.” She took a bite of the stew. "Needs salt,” she added, and passed the shaker.

After that, the conversation was less serious. She listened absently as he talked about the snowdrifts and the streets they’d sanded and the cars stranded all over town. It wasn’t until she’d carried away their empty bowls and was running water in them at the sink, that her uncle shifted the conversation again.

"It’s just a couple of days until New Year’s, and then you’ll be back in school.”

Tara nodded. "I know. I can’t believe that I’ll finally be graduating high school. Growing up is exciting and just a little bit scary.”

"No scarier than it is for me. Some days I don’t want to face the fact that you will get married and move away from me.”

She frowned. "Well, I can promise you that will be down the road a few years, so stop dwelling on that, okay?”

"Okay.” He was silent a few moments as he continued to eat. When he finished his stew, he pushed the bowl aside and then leaned forward. "So... if I took Mona to a New Year’s Eve party, how would you feel about that?”

Tara frowned. "What do you mean, ‘How would I feel?’ I’d feel fine. That’s a weird question.”

He shrugged and reached for another square of cornbread, then began drenching it in molasses. "We seem to be putting down some roots here in Stillwater, and I thought it might be a good idea if I got to know some people. She wanted to go and asked me. I told her it depended on what the dress code was. She laughed, but I was serious. I don’t own nice clothes.”

"Oh, Uncle Pat! I can help you with that. After we get groceries at Walmart tomorrow, we can swing by some of the clothing stores. It’s not a formal party, is it?”

"No, but she said anything I might wear to church would be fine, but as you know, that’s yet another thing I’ve failed you on. We don’t go to church. The older you get, the more I am beginning to realize that your life has been negatively impacted by me and my failures to provide.”

Tara strode over to the table and threw her arms around his neck, hugging him fiercely. "That is so not true, and I don’t ever want to hear you talk bad about yourself to me again.”

He patted her arm. "It’s apparent there are holes in your social life because we moved so much.”

Tara laughed. "Uncle Pat, get serious. There are holes in my social life because of who and what I am. Not because we moved around. Now, tomorrow we go shopping, and that’s that.”

She hugged him again and then got a small plate and a piece of cornbread and sat down.

Pat arched an eyebrow, popped a bite of his cornbread and molasses into his mouth and then shoved the thick, sweet syrup across the table. "I might want another piece of cornbread,” he said as she tilted the jar, eying the amount of dark syrup pouring freely onto her plate.

"Chill, Uncle Pat. It’s over half-full.”

His bushy eyebrows knitted over the bridge of his nose as he watched it continue to flow. "Ummhmm, I see it.”

She laughed, and just to make him nervous, poured an extra dollop on the plate, then shoved it back toward him.

He laughed. "You are something else, girl.”

A couple of spoons banged in the sink.

He jumped. "What was that?”

Tara glanced over her shoulder. "It’s just Henry checking out the stew. He wants to taste it, but unfortunately for Henry, ghosts don’t eat.”

"Lord,” Pat muttered swiped a bite of cornbread through the molasses, and popped it in his mouth.

Tara laughed. Right now, her lunatic life felt just about perfect.

SNOW HAD DRIFTED behind the old black pickup and onto the load of wood in the bed, concealing everything but the front part of the cab and the hood. The windshield wipers were frozen to the window, and the battery was dead because the driver, Vince Dudley, had tried to start the truck so many times after it stalled that he’d run it down. Now he sat huddled behind the wheel with his coat collar pulled up around his ears, cursing the weather and his boss for sending him out in this mess.

When he saw a small pair of headlights suddenly appear out of the dark, Vince breathed a shaky sigh of relief. It would suck eggs to freeze to death on this wild-goose chase here in the States, tracking down some stupid teenager who supposedly saw ghosts. Michael O’Mara was dead, and wherever he’d buried that damn drug money, it would most likely stay buried for eternity. If Vince had his druthers, he’d pack up and go back home to Canada.

He jumped out in the snowdrift, cursing softly as the snow went up past his knees, and began waving his arms as the old John Deere tractor came near.

Boots Digby pulled up to the snowbound truck and turned around until he was facing the other way, then got out of the tractor cab and waded through the snow. "Man, this stuff is deep here.”

Vince didn’t bother to comment. He wanted to get back to the house. "Did you bring a chain?”

"Yep, yep I did,” Dig said, returned to the tractor, and unwound the large coil of chain on the back.

"Here, give it to me,” Vince said. "I’m so cold I can’t feel my feet.” Vince dug through the snow beneath his truck to get to the front axle and hooked the chain around it. He got up, brushing snow off his clothes as he crawled back into the truck.

Dig had already hooked his end of the chain to the tractor and was patiently waiting for Vince to get back in the truck. When he did, Dig put the tractor in gear and moved forward slowly until the chain was fully extended, then began the laborious process of pulling Vince and his vehicle back to the house.

The house belonged to May Schulter, who’d been part of the gang Michael O’Mara belonged to when he was arrested and sent to prison. Their boss, Marshall Story, was May’s only child. She’d given him up at birth, never knowing what became of him: that he was adopted and raised in Canada.

It was only a few years back that they’d reconnected and ever since kept up a relationship through letters and phone calls. When all of the mess with Flynn and the Nettles gang was going down, she’d told him everything, including the fact that the money in question was close to a half million dollars, and she was looking for a psychic to help her find it. Then she got herself arrested, and they lost touch. Afterward, he’d thought and thought about all that money just waiting to be found, until it was driving him crazy. When he mentioned it to Vince and Dig, their excitement fed his interest, until they found themselves leaving Canada and on the way to Oklahoma to find it.

They arrived and found May’s house with no problem. The condition it was in had been staggering, but it was too far to go back without at least giving their plan a try. So they did their investigating, finally located the psychic, only to have the weather become an issue. Their visitor visas would expire soon, and, blizzard or not, they had to act fast or back out.

Vince’s fingers were so cold it was difficult to grip the steering wheel, so when his cell rang, he almost didn’t answer. Then he saw it was Marsh and picked up.

"This is Vince.”

"Did Dig find you?”

"Yeah. We’re about a mile and a half from the house, and I’m nearly frozen.”

"Coffee’s hot, and there’s some chili on the stove. We’ll talk when you get here.”

The line went dead.

"Yeah, goodbye to you, too,” Vince muttered, and dropped the phone in his pocket.

THE FEATHERS ON the dream-catcher hanging on the wall above Tara’s bed shifted slightly as the heating unit kicked on, sending a rush of warm air into the room. Tara moaned softly as she rolled over in her sleep.

Millicent hovered at the foot of her bed while Henry continued to keep watch outside. They knew she was in danger, but didn’t know when it would happen or where it would come from. They had decided between them to tell her in the morning. Even if it did frighten her, it was better for her to be forewarned.

While they were keeping watch, Tara was far from having a restful sleep. Once again, she’d fallen back into the same dream she’d had the night before and was running from the man with the pockmarked face, knowing that he would catch her before she could reach her phone, and knowing that she would die.

She was screaming for help when a voice forcefully entered her dream.

Wake up, Tara! Wake up!

Tara was gasping for air when she heard the voice. Her eyes flew open. The pockmarked man was nowhere in sight, and she was safe in her bed. She rolled over onto her back then sat up.

Flynn?

Yes, it’s me, Moon Girl. Same dream?

Yes. I’m scared, Flynn. I think I’m going to die.

Don’t say that, damn it!

I can’t help what I see.

It’s a dream. It doesn’t have to come true.

Tara combed the hair from her face with shaky fingers.

Tara?

I’m still here.

I’m coming to see you tomorrow.

She thought about the upcoming shopping trip.

Then I’ll come, after you and Pat get home.

She blinked. You heard me thinking about that, too?

Sorry. I’m so tuned into you it’s automatic, and I don’t know how to turn this off yet.

Don’t apologize. Just come see me.

I’ll be there. Go to sleep, Moon Girl. I’ve got your back.

Tara shuddered.

We’re here, too, honey. Go to sleep.

Tara’s chin quivered as her eyes filled with tears. "Am I going to die, Millicent?”

We all die.

Tara’s heart skipped. "Are you saying that my life is in danger?”

We were saving that for in the morning, but yes, Henry and I feel it. We just don’t know who or why.

Instead of increasing her fear, the verification of what she’d been seeing just made Tara mad. "Well, that’s just great. Why couldn’t I have been born normal, like everyone else? Being me is like living with a target painted on my back. I can’t turn around without ticking someone off or running into creeps.”

If you hadn’t been born as you are, Connie’s family would be dead, and so would a whole lot of other people you helped rescue after the tornado earlier this year. Not only that, but Flynn would never have been able to come out of the coma after the accident you two were in. Everything comes at a price. You’re not dead yet. Stop whining, pay attention, and I would assume it can be prevented.

Tara’s anger shifted. It was rare that Millicent ever scolded her, which made it all the more pertinent.

"You’re right. I’m sorry,” she whispered.

Go have some milk and cookies—and eat one for Henry and me. We won’t be far.

Tara threw back the covers, slipped into her house shoes, and pulled a hoodie over her pajama top as she headed down the hall. She paused in the living room, then moved to the front windows and shoved the curtains aside to peer out into the darkness.

Snow blanketed the houses and streets. The wind had finally quieted, but not before it blew massive drifts against the north sides of all the houses and cars. Uncle Pat was going to have to shovel their car out before they could get anywhere tomorrow. It looked so peaceful, and yet she knew better than most that evil lurked, always looking for the weak and unprepared. Well, she wasn’t weak, and she was no longer unprepared.

She let the curtains fall back in place as she headed to the kitchen and turned on the light. The worn blue and white tiles on the floor were clean and shiny. The dishes were done and put away. Everything was in its place. It felt safe to go farther. She poured herself a glass of milk and got a couple of cookies out of the cookie jar, then settled down at the kitchen table to eat.

She’d just taken her first bite when Henry popped up, still in his buckskins and coonskin cap, looking wistfully at the cookies. She smiled.

"I’m sorry. They’re chewy, oatmeal raisin cookies with a hint of cinnamon. Do you remember that?”

He nodded and rubbed his stomach.

She took another bite and leaned back, eyeing his outfit thoughtfully. "Did you ever know Daniel Boone?”

He nodded and clapped his hands together, indicating they had been buddies.

She thought about the stories she’d read and the song people had made up about Daniel.

"Did Daniel Boone really kill a bear when he was only three years old?”

Henry shook his head no.

"I didn’t think so,” Tara muttered.

He held up four fingers.

She laughed. "Oh, so he was really four years old and not three?”

Henry winked.

"You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

He shook his head and disappeared, but by then, Tara was in a much better mood. She finished the cookies and milk, rinsed the glass and put it in the sink, then turned out the light and went back to bed.

Just before she closed her eyes, she thought she saw a puff of pink smoke by the window and sighed. Millicent. She might be in danger, but she had her own brand of backup. It was enough to give her peace of mind.

 


 

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