A Snippet, a Reminder and More

We’ll start with the reminder first. Vengeance from Ashes (special edition with exclusive content) is currently available for pre-order. Release date is Oct. 17th. This new edition expands on the original edition without changing the overall story arc. Work is progressing on the special edition of Duty from Ashes, as well as Honor from Ashes. They will be released in December and January.

Now for the “more”. Actually, it is a request. Indie authors get most of our PR by word-of-mouth. The best comes from reviews. So, if you’ve read my books — or books by any indie author — please consider leaving a review. It doesn’t have to be long or in-depth. Just a paragraph or two is enough. And they do help. Not only do potential readers look to see if a book has been reviewed and what other readers think, Amazon looks at how many reviews a book has when it comes to their own advertising metrics.

Finally, for the snippet. This is the second snippet from Light Magic. This novel is set in the Eerie Side of the Tracks universe and many of the characters already introduced are returning, as well as a few new characters showing up. This is the unedited version. That means things can and probably will change between now and publication. You can find the first snippet here.

***

I rode past the green and white sign proclaiming “Welcome to Beautiful Mossy Creek” and almost instantly wondered if I’d somehow managed to step back in time. Downtown could have been lifted straight out of the 1950’s – heck, even earlier for all I knew. Small shops with colorful awnings and sandwich board signs on the sidewalks lined Main Street. More than a few of the shop windows contained signs supporting the high school football team in its quest to become the regional champion. Parked along the street and in the surface lot across the street from the courthouse were everything from battered farm trucks to, I kid you not, a Lamborghini.

Next to the courthouse stood Peggy’s Café. I slowed, looking for a parking spot. I’d been on the road since well before dawn. My stomach growled, reminding me I hadn’t eaten. If that wasn’t reason enough to try the café, the fact I needed more coffee was. Besides, if the café was like those in other small towns I’d visited over the years, someone would know where I could find this Serena Duchamp. Who knows, they might even tell me something about the woman and why my mother thought it so important I make the trip to see her.

Or, more likely from the stares I’d gotten since pulling into town, they’d clam up and not say a word. Maybe riding in on my Harley SuperLow and dressed in black leathers hadn’t been the smartest thing I to do. Not that I cared. I was here only because my mother told me to come. It was, in a way, an attempt to fulfill her dying wish. I didn’t have to understand it or like it. I’d do it and, hopefully, be able to leave without delay.

I found a spot not far from the café and backed in. As I did, I glanced around. Early as it was, people hurried up and down the sidewalk, some to work and others in the direction of the café. Some even glanced my way and nodded in greeting. Others actually wished me a good morning. That was certainly more than I’d ever gotten in Maxon’s Mill, not that it meant anything.

Or did it?

I switched off the engine and reached up to remove my helmet. For a moment, I squinted against the morning sun. Then, as a light breeze kissed my cheeks, I lifted my face and inhaled. A moan escaped my lips as the tantalizing aromas of freshly brewed coffee, frying bacon and fresh pastries wafted toward me. With my mouth watering and my stomach growling, I climbed off the Harley and secured my helmet to the back of the seat. I might not get any answers inside the café but it at least smelled like I’d get something much better to eat than the fast food I usually survived on.

That had to count for something, didn’t it?

Those enticing odors drew me ever closer to the café’s door. A moment later I reached out and the door opened with the tinkling of a bell as I stepped inside. Instantly, I braced for the silence that always greeted me whenever I went anywhere in Maxon’s Mill. Instead, those present looked up to see who had entered and, as with those I’d seen on the street, they nodded in greeting before going back to their conversations. Surprised and even more relieved, I made my way the counter and an empty seat near the far wall.

“Mornin’, hon. What can I get you?”

The cheery voice belonged to a woman I guessed to be in her forties or early fifties. In one hand, she held a coffee pot. When she lifted it in question, I nodded and watched her expertly fill the white mug that had somehow appeared on the counter in front of me. As she turned to place the pot back on its burner, I lifted the mug and inhaled the rich aroma.

“If you think that’s good, you should try the Irish coffee,” she said with a grin as I moaned in pleasure after my first tentative sip.

“A bit early for that, I’m afraid.” Which really was too bad if it that first sip was any indication.

“It’s never too early for a good mug of Irish coffee,” someone said from behind me.

I looked over my shoulder and a grey-haired man sitting at one of the four tops lifted his mug in greeting. Seated next to him was a young boy of maybe six I guessed to be his grandson. Across from him were a man and woman I figured were the boy’s parents. They smiled in greeting and the young woman, who looked to be about my age, shook her head, a smile of affection on her lips.

“You’ll have to excuse him,” the redhead said. “But he’s right. It never is too early for one of Miss Peggy’s Irish coffees. They are one of the things I miss most right now.” She lightly patted her swollen belly.

“My mother’s already promised to have one ready and waiting for you as soon as you quit nursing that little one, Annie,” the woman who served me said.

“She has to decide she wants to be born first, Janny,” the redhead grumped.

I chuckled softly and then turned back to the counter. As I did, Janny pulled a pencil from behind her ear and produced her order pad. “Know what you want, hon?”

Since I hadn’t looked at the menu yet, I shook my head. “What do you recommend?”

“Miss Peggy’s pancakes are awesome!” the little boy volunteered from behind me.

I bit back my laugh. “I guess I’d better try them then.” I turned and smiled at the boy who now shyly hid behind his grandfather. As I did, his parents smiled at him in amusement. “Thank you.” As I spoke, I could almost hear my mother telling me I was forgetting my manners. I didn’t sigh, not quite, but it was a close thing.

“You’ll have to forgive Robbie, ma’am. He really does think the pancakes are the best,” the older man said as he got to his feet. A moment later, he stood before me, his hand extended in greeting. “Bob Caldwell.”

I stood and grasped his hand. “Pleased to meet you, sir. Meg Sheridan.”

“The pleasure’s all mine, Ms. Sheridan. Let me introduce you to this young scamp.” He motioned for the boy to join him. “My grandson, Robbie, and his parents, Sam and Annie.”

“It’s nice to meet you.” I grinned at Robbie and shook his hand. “And thank you for recommending the pancakes. They sound perfect this morning.”

“Are you passing through or will you be staying for a while?” his grandfather asked.

“Judge, you let her be,” a woman called from the kitchen. “She’s here to see Miss Serena.”

The world came to a screeching halt. As I turned toward the kitchen, it was as if I moved through molasses. Suddenly, all eyes in the café were on me. I sensed rather than actually saw Judge Caldwell reach out to steady me. Someone else, maybe the redhead, asked if I was all right. Then, as a short, wiry, gray haired woman in khaki slacks, pink tee shirt and matching pink orthopedic shoes stepped into the dining room, the world sped back up.

“Who are you and how in the hell do you know why I’m here?”

One part of my brain registered several of the patrons shoving back their chairs and getting to their feet. Whether to flee or move to the woman’s aid, I didn’t know and, just then, didn’t care. Nothing mattered more than finding out who she was and how she knew why I’d come to Mossy Creek. I hadn’t told anyone about Mom’s letter. The attorney wouldn’t have said anything for fear of violating attorney-client privilege. There certainly wasn’t any way Mom could have said anything. Surely if she’d figured out a way to talk from beyond the grave, she’d be talking to me and not some stranger.

“Peggy?” the judge asked.

Instead of answering, the woman walked briskly – walked was putting it mildly. I knew drill sergeants who would have shed tears of joy if their recruits marched with the precision she did just then – to the door. The little bell tinkled once again as she opened it. As if understanding the signal, most everyone gathered stood. Some gulped down the last of their coffee while others took one last bite of their meals. Then they tossed money on their tables and headed out. Sam Caldwell lifted his son in his arms, kissed his wife and said he’d see them later. Then, to my surprise, he reached over and rested a hand on my shoulder.

“You’re safe here, Meg. I promise.” With that, he reached for Robbie’s backpack.

When the last of the customers stepped outside, Miss Peggy shut the door, flipped the sign over to CLOSED and turned the lock.

Eyes narrowed, I waited, wondering what in the world I’d gotten myself into. No, what my mother had gotten me into. I was locked in a café with four people I didn’t know. At least one of them knew why I’d come to town. This wasn’t good. Not good at all.

“Someone had better explain and quickly or I’m out of here.” I ground out the words, doing my best not to let my temper get the better of me. None of us would like what happened if it did.

“Janny, get the girl her pancakes and bring us all some coffee,” Miss Peggy said as she gently tried to steer me to the table the judge and the others had occupied moments earlier.

Without another word, she cleared away the plates. The judge held Annie’s chair out for her and probably would have for me except I shook my head. Then I positioned myself so my back was to the wall and I had a clear view of both the kitchen and the front door. I hadn’t felt this trapped in a very long time and I didn’t like it. But I needed to remember Mom sent me here for a reason. It would have been nice if she’d told me what that reason was. Unfortunately, she hadn’t and now I needed to figure it out before everything blew up in my face – again.

“You’ve never been here before, have you?” As she spoke, Annie reached across the table and lightly rested her hand on mine, drawing my attention back to her.

I shook my head. “Never even heard of this place before my mother died.” My throat tightened and tears burned my eyes. I blinked them back. I would not cry. Not here and certainly not now.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

The strange thing was, she did seem to be sorry, certainly more than those who had known my mother in Maxon’s Mill. But it was the look on the judge’s face that had me swallowing hard. A few moments before, he had been as nonplussed by Miss Peggy’s comment as had I. Now sympathy and something else darkened his expression. When he closed his hand over Annie’s and mine, it was as if he was offering protection and something more. Concern, caring maybe?

“Meg,” he began. “May I call you Meg?” he asked, as if suddenly remembering his manners.

I couldn’t help it. I smiled slightly and nodded.

“Meg, you’ll have to forgive Peggy. We haven’t figured out how she does it, but she knows everything that goes on here in town. Sometimes she knows it even before those involved do.”

Miss Peggy snorted and slid onto the seat to my right. A moment later, Janny served us fresh mugs of coffee. They were followed a few moments later by my pancakes. Her mother told me to eat while they were still warm. One bite was enough to convince me to do as she said. Robbie had been right. They were the best pancakes ever. But, good as they were, they didn’t answer my questions.

“At the risk of repeating myself, how do you know why I’m here?”

“Because I knew your mother. You did too, Judge.”

His brow furrowed and he looked from her to me in question. At least I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what was going on.

“Faith Luíseach.” She pronounced the last name lee-shock.

For the second time in much too short of a period, I found myself wondering what in the world was going on. Faith had been my mother’s first name. But I’d never heard that last name and certainly had never run across it in any of the legal documents or correspondence I’d come across closing out her house and there had been more of those than I’d expected. Could this all be some sort of strange misunderstanding? Maybe this Miss Serena was expecting someone else and had told Peggy to be on the lookout for her. Except that was too much of a coincidence and I most definitely did not believe in coincidences.

“Her last name was Sheridan.” I spoke flatly, doing my best to keep the flair of temper in check. If these people condemned her for having a child out of wedlock like those is Maxon’s Mill had, I wouldn’t be responsible for what happened next. I’d kept my mouth shut, at least once I was old enough to understand protesting that my mother was better than anyone else in town wouldn’t help, when others attacked her. But no more and certainly not with people who hadn’t known her.

Judge Caldwell looked from me to Peggy and back. Then he blew out a breath and shook his head. I waited, my patience growing thinner with each passing second. At least Annie looked as confused as I felt.

“Dad?” She spoke softly, her blue eyes concerned. “One of you owes Meg an explanation and, to be honest, I’d like one too.”

For that alone, she earned points in my book.

“Peggy, are you sure?” Judge Caldwell asked.

She waved off his question and looked at me. When she did, I fought the urge to move to another chair – hell, another table, one far away, possibly one in the next county, maybe even the next state. In that moment, she reminded me of my first grade Sunday school teacher. Mrs. Hebert could look right into your soul and knew what you were going to do before you did. I hadn’t felt that from anyone since then and I liked it no more now than I had back then.

“Look at her, Judge. She’s the spitting image of her mama.”

I closed my eyes and reminded myself I couldn’t do anything foolish. There was the possibility, remote though it might be, that Miss Peggy wasn’t crazy. But why would Mom have changed her name and not said anything about it?

Damn it, Mom, what the hell is going on?

“Miss Peggy, Dad, I really do think you’d better explain,” Annie said softly as I pushed away from the table.

Thank goodness, someone seemed to be thinking clearly because I certainly wasn’t.

“Janny, call Serena and asked her to join us here as soon as she can. Tell her Faith’s daughter has come home,” Miss Peggy said. Then she turned her attention back to the rest of us. “Bob, you remember Faith, don’t you? She was a year or so behind you at school.”

For a moment, the judge said nothing. Then he nodded once. Even so, his expression remained skeptical. But, when he looked at me, his skepticism seemed to ease.

“Faith Luíseach.” A slight smile touched his lips. “Annie, do you have your iPad with you?”

The redhead seemed as surprised by the request as I was. Instead of questioning it, however, she nodded. A moment later, she pulled one from the briefcase I hadn’t realized rested under the table. After activating the tablet, she handed it to him. We watched as he tapped the screen, opening an app. Then he typed in something. A few moments later, he nodded and handed me the tablet.

I glanced down at the screen and found myself staring at what looked to be a page from an old high school yearbook. For a moment, I didn’t understand why the judge wanted me to see this. Then one picture seemed to jump out at me and my breath caught. It couldn’t be. I’d never seen a picture of my mother before she’d been in her twenties. She always said those photos had been left behind when she left home.

My eyes tracked down slightly to the name under the photo. Faith Elizabeth Luíseach. I’d never known her middle name. I didn’t know she had changed her last name or why. How much more about my mother didn’t I know?

Why had she kept all this secret from me?

“I don’t understand.”

And that was putting it mildly.

Before anyone could begin to explain, something shifted inside the café. It was subtle at first, like a change in air pressure. A moment later, the bell over the door jangled once. But it couldn’t have. I’d watched Miss Peggy close and lock that very same door only minutes ago. I tore my eyes from the picture of my mother but no one was there.

Then I caught sight of someone in the distance, a woman of indeterminate age, moving surely down the sidewalk in the direction of the café. Those still gathered outside the door turned toward her. I didn’t need to hear them to know they greeted her. Then they stepped aside, giving her free access to the door.

The locked door.

So why had the bell jingled? The heater hadn’t come on and I sensed nothing else that could have caused it to ring. Was the woman somehow involved or was it something else?

And did I really want to know?

My focus narrowed to the door. The knob turned and then the door began to open. The moment it did, the air around me turned electric. It felt alive, as if someone or something was searching ahead, seeking something out and that something was me.

Instinct kicked in and, without thinking, I acted. I stood quickly enough to send my chair skittering across the linoleum. As I stepped away from the table, I bladed my body, making myself as small of a target as possible. Part of me screamed to run. Whoever – whatever – this woman was, I had never before felt such power. But another part told me I couldn’t run. There were others here, people who might not be able to protect themselves, one of them very pregnant. I had a duty to stay and do whatever I could to keep them safe, no matter what.

Thanks Mom, for giving me that sense of duty.

Once again, time slowed. This time, however, I expected it. I welcomed it because it gave me time to think and act. I took another step away from the table, putting myself between the others and whoever – or whatever – was about to enter the café. I might be without mundane weaponry but Mom had trained me well in other ways of self-defense and that training and saved me more than once in my thirty years. I hoped it was enough to do so again.

The air seemed to almost sizzle as I waited. As I sought out the threat, my consciousness expanded beyond the door. A light breeze moved around me, teasing the loose strands of hair that had escaped my braid. As if from a distance, I heard Annie gasp. Even so, I sensed no fear from her or the others. Surprise, yes, but no fear. That was yet another difference between Mossy Creek and Maxon Mills. Interesting and something I’d have to think about later, after this was over.

Assuming I lived that long.

Slowly, the door swung open. I watched as the woman neared. No longer nondescript, she appeared to be in her seventies. She looked like someone’s loving grandmother, the sort who baked chocolate chip cookies and had wonderful tales to help pass away the night. Not that I planned on lowering my guard. I learned long ago that appearances could be deceiving. Besides, the door had opened without anyone touching it. As the bell tinkled again, my right hand fisted at my side. I felt the energies building and focused them. If necessary, these people would soon learn why my mother and I had been feared by most of Maxon’s Mill.

The woman stepped inside the café. She paused and glanced around. As she did, I swallowed hard. Never before had I felt so much power associated with one person. I had no doubt she could wipe the floor with me without so much as batting an eye. Even so, I wouldn’t let her near the others. Whoever or whatever she was, she would not get past me.

I shifted my feet slightly, tracking as she moved further inside. As I did, I inhaled and steadied myself. If anything happened, it would be soon and I had to be ready. I would be ready.

The breeze inside the café picked up and the temperature rose. As it did, the woman’s lips curved up in a smile. Then, as she looked at me, I caught my breath. I knew her. But how?

Before I could ask, she waved her right hand in front of her and the breeze died away and the temperature inside the café returned to normal. All the energy I’d drawn around me in preparation for, well, whatever, flowed away. Knees weak, I looked at her, praying she wasn’t about to hand me my head – figuratively or literally or, more likely, both.

Instead, she smiled again, affection lighting her expression.

“Hello, Meg. Welcome home.”

I rode past the green and white sign proclaiming “Welcome to Beautiful Mossy Creek” and almost instantly wondered if I’d somehow managed to step back in time. Downtown could have been lifted straight out of the 1950’s – heck, even earlier for all I knew. Small shops with colorful awnings and sandwich board signs on the sidewalks lined Main Street. More than a few of the shop windows contained signs supporting the high school football team in its quest to become the regional champion. Parked along the street and in the surface lot across the street from the courthouse were everything from battered farm trucks to, I kid you not, a Lamborghini.

Next to the courthouse stood Peggy’s Café. I slowed, looking for a parking spot. I’d been on the road since well before dawn. My stomach growled, reminding me I hadn’t eaten. If that wasn’t reason enough to try the café, the fact I needed more coffee was. Besides, if the café was like those in other small towns I’d visited over the years, someone would know where I could find this Serena Duchamp. Who knows, they might even tell me something about the woman and why my mother thought it so important I make the trip to see her.

Or, more likely from the stares I’d gotten since pulling into town, they’d clam up and not say a word. Maybe riding in on my Harley SuperLow and dressed in black leathers hadn’t been the smartest thing I to do. Not that I cared. I was here only because my mother told me to come. It was, in a way, an attempt to fulfill her dying wish. I didn’t have to understand it or like it. I’d do it and, hopefully, be able to leave without delay.

I found a spot not far from the café and backed in. As I did, I glanced around. Early as it was, people hurried up and down the sidewalk, some to work and others in the direction of the café. Some even glanced my way and nodded in greeting. Others actually wished me a good morning. That was certainly more than I’d ever gotten in Maxon’s Mill, not that it meant anything.

Or did it?

I switched off the engine and reached up to remove my helmet. For a moment, I squinted against the morning sun. Then, as a light breeze kissed my cheeks, I lifted my face and inhaled. A moan escaped my lips as the tantalizing aromas of freshly brewed coffee, frying bacon and fresh pastries wafted toward me. With my mouth watering and my stomach growling, I climbed off the Harley and secured my helmet to the back of the seat. I might not get any answers inside the café but it at least smelled like I’d get something much better to eat than the fast food I usually survived on.

That had to count for something, didn’t it?

Those enticing odors drew me ever closer to the café’s door. A moment later I reached out and the door opened with the tinkling of a bell as I stepped inside. Instantly, I braced for the silence that always greeted me whenever I went anywhere in Maxon’s Mill. Instead, those present looked up to see who had entered and, as with those I’d seen on the street, they nodded in greeting before going back to their conversations. Surprised and even more relieved, I made my way the counter and an empty seat near the far wall.

“Mornin’, hon. What can I get you?”

The cheery voice belonged to a woman I guessed to be in her forties or early fifties. In one hand, she held a coffee pot. When she lifted it in question, I nodded and watched her expertly fill the white mug that had somehow appeared on the counter in front of me. As she turned to place the pot back on its burner, I lifted the mug and inhaled the rich aroma.

“If you think that’s good, you should try the Irish coffee,” she said with a grin as I moaned in pleasure after my first tentative sip.

“A bit early for that, I’m afraid.” Which really was too bad if it that first sip was any indication.

“It’s never too early for a good mug of Irish coffee,” someone said from behind me.

I looked over my shoulder and a grey-haired man sitting at one of the four tops lifted his mug in greeting. Seated next to him was a young boy of maybe six I guessed to be his grandson. Across from him were a man and woman I figured were the boy’s parents. They smiled in greeting and the young woman, who looked to be about my age, shook her head, a smile of affection on her lips.

“You’ll have to excuse him,” the redhead said. “But he’s right. It never is too early for one of Miss Peggy’s Irish coffees. They are one of the things I miss most right now.” She lightly patted her swollen belly.

“My mother’s already promised to have one ready and waiting for you as soon as you quit nursing that little one, Annie,” the woman who served me said.

“She has to decide she wants to be born first, Janny,” the redhead grumped.

I chuckled softly and then turned back to the counter. As I did, Janny pulled a pencil from behind her ear and produced her order pad. “Know what you want, hon?”

Since I hadn’t looked at the menu yet, I shook my head. “What do you recommend?”

“Miss Peggy’s pancakes are awesome!” the little boy volunteered from behind me.

I bit back my laugh. “I guess I’d better try them then.” I turned and smiled at the boy who now shyly hid behind his grandfather. As I did, his parents smiled at him in amusement. “Thank you.” As I spoke, I could almost hear my mother telling me I was forgetting my manners. I didn’t sigh, not quite, but it was a close thing.

“You’ll have to forgive Robbie, ma’am. He really does think the pancakes are the best,” the older man said as he got to his feet. A moment later, he stood before me, his hand extended in greeting. “Bob Caldwell.”

I stood and grasped his hand. “Pleased to meet you, sir. Meg Sheridan.”

“The pleasure’s all mine, Ms. Sheridan. Let me introduce you to this young scamp.” He motioned for the boy to join him. “My grandson, Robbie, and his parents, Sam and Annie.”

“It’s nice to meet you.” I grinned at Robbie and shook his hand. “And thank you for recommending the pancakes. They sound perfect this morning.”

“Are you passing through or will you be staying for a while?” his grandfather asked.

“Judge, you let her be,” a woman called from the kitchen. “She’s here to see Miss Serena.”

The world came to a screeching halt. As I turned toward the kitchen, it was as if I moved through molasses. Suddenly, all eyes in the café were on me. I sensed rather than actually saw Judge Caldwell reach out to steady me. Someone else, maybe the redhead, asked if I was all right. Then, as a short, wiry, gray haired woman in khaki slacks, pink tee shirt and matching pink orthopedic shoes stepped into the dining room, the world sped back up.

“Who are you and how in the hell do you know why I’m here?”

One part of my brain registered several of the patrons shoving back their chairs and getting to their feet. Whether to flee or move to the woman’s aid, I didn’t know and, just then, didn’t care. Nothing mattered more than finding out who she was and how she knew why I’d come to Mossy Creek. I hadn’t told anyone about Mom’s letter. The attorney wouldn’t have said anything for fear of violating attorney-client privilege. There certainly wasn’t any way Mom could have said anything. Surely if she’d figured out a way to talk from beyond the grave, she’d be talking to me and not some stranger.

“Peggy?” the judge asked.

Instead of answering, the woman walked briskly – walked was putting it mildly. I knew drill sergeants who would have shed tears of joy if their recruits marched with the precision she did just then – to the door. The little bell tinkled once again as she opened it. As if understanding the signal, most everyone gathered stood. Some gulped down the last of their coffee while others took one last bite of their meals. Then they tossed money on their tables and headed out. Sam Caldwell lifted his son in his arms, kissed his wife and said he’d see them later. Then, to my surprise, he reached over and rested a hand on my shoulder.

“You’re safe here, Meg. I promise.” With that, he reached for Robbie’s backpack.

When the last of the customers stepped outside, Miss Peggy shut the door, flipped the sign over to CLOSED and turned the lock.

Eyes narrowed, I waited, wondering what in the world I’d gotten myself into. No, what my mother had gotten me into. I was locked in a café with four people I didn’t know. At least one of them knew why I’d come to town. This wasn’t good. Not good at all.

“Someone had better explain and quickly or I’m out of here.” I ground out the words, doing my best not to let my temper get the better of me. None of us would like what happened if it did.

“Janny, get the girl her pancakes and bring us all some coffee,” Miss Peggy said as she gently tried to steer me to the table the judge and the others had occupied moments earlier.

Without another word, she cleared away the plates. The judge held Annie’s chair out for her and probably would have for me except I shook my head. Then I positioned myself so my back was to the wall and I had a clear view of both the kitchen and the front door. I hadn’t felt this trapped in a very long time and I didn’t like it. But I needed to remember Mom sent me here for a reason. It would have been nice if she’d told me what that reason was. Unfortunately, she hadn’t and now I needed to figure it out before everything blew up in my face – again.

“You’ve never been here before, have you?” As she spoke, Annie reached across the table and lightly rested her hand on mine, drawing my attention back to her.

I shook my head. “Never even heard of this place before my mother died.” My throat tightened and tears burned my eyes. I blinked them back. I would not cry. Not here and certainly not now.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

The strange thing was, she did seem to be sorry, certainly more than those who had known my mother in Maxon’s Mill. But it was the look on the judge’s face that had me swallowing hard. A few moments before, he had been as nonplussed by Miss Peggy’s comment as had I. Now sympathy and something else darkened his expression. When he closed his hand over Annie’s and mine, it was as if he was offering protection and something more. Concern, caring maybe?

“Meg,” he began. “May I call you Meg?” he asked, as if suddenly remembering his manners.

I couldn’t help it. I smiled slightly and nodded.

“Meg, you’ll have to forgive Peggy. We haven’t figured out how she does it, but she knows everything that goes on here in town. Sometimes she knows it even before those involved do.”

Miss Peggy snorted and slid onto the seat to my right. A moment later, Janny served us fresh mugs of coffee. They were followed a few moments later by my pancakes. Her mother told me to eat while they were still warm. One bite was enough to convince me to do as she said. Robbie had been right. They were the best pancakes ever. But, good as they were, they didn’t answer my questions.

“At the risk of repeating myself, how do you know why I’m here?”

“Because I knew your mother. You did too, Judge.”

His brow furrowed and he looked from her to me in question. At least I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what was going on.

“Faith Luíseach.” She pronounced the last name lee-shock.

For the second time in much too short of a period, I found myself wondering what in the world was going on. Faith had been my mother’s first name. But I’d never heard that last name and certainly had never run across it in any of the legal documents or correspondence I’d come across closing out her house and there had been more of those than I’d expected. Could this all be some sort of strange misunderstanding? Maybe this Miss Serena was expecting someone else and had told Peggy to be on the lookout for her. Except that was too much of a coincidence and I most definitely did not believe in coincidences.

“Her last name was Sheridan.” I spoke flatly, doing my best to keep the flair of temper in check. If these people condemned her for having a child out of wedlock like those is Maxon’s Mill had, I wouldn’t be responsible for what happened next. I’d kept my mouth shut, at least once I was old enough to understand protesting that my mother was better than anyone else in town wouldn’t help, when others attacked her. But no more and certainly not with people who hadn’t known her.

Judge Caldwell looked from me to Peggy and back. Then he blew out a breath and shook his head. I waited, my patience growing thinner with each passing second. At least Annie looked as confused as I felt.

“Dad?” She spoke softly, her blue eyes concerned. “One of you owes Meg an explanation and, to be honest, I’d like one too.”

For that alone, she earned points in my book.

“Peggy, are you sure?” Judge Caldwell asked.

She waved off his question and looked at me. When she did, I fought the urge to move to another chair – hell, another table, one far away, possibly one in the next county, maybe even the next state. In that moment, she reminded me of my first grade Sunday school teacher. Mrs. Hebert could look right into your soul and knew what you were going to do before you did. I hadn’t felt that from anyone since then and I liked it no more now than I had back then.

“Look at her, Judge. She’s the spitting image of her mama.”

I closed my eyes and reminded myself I couldn’t do anything foolish. There was the possibility, remote though it might be, that Miss Peggy wasn’t crazy. But why would Mom have changed her name and not said anything about it?

Damn it, Mom, what the hell is going on?

“Miss Peggy, Dad, I really do think you’d better explain,” Annie said softly as I pushed away from the table.

Thank goodness, someone seemed to be thinking clearly because I certainly wasn’t.

“Janny, call Serena and asked her to join us here as soon as she can. Tell her Faith’s daughter has come home,” Miss Peggy said. Then she turned her attention back to the rest of us. “Bob, you remember Faith, don’t you? She was a year or so behind you at school.”

For a moment, the judge said nothing. Then he nodded once. Even so, his expression remained skeptical. But, when he looked at me, his skepticism seemed to ease.

“Faith Luíseach.” A slight smile touched his lips. “Annie, do you have your iPad with you?”

The redhead seemed as surprised by the request as I was. Instead of questioning it, however, she nodded. A moment later, she pulled one from the briefcase I hadn’t realized rested under the table. After activating the tablet, she handed it to him. We watched as he tapped the screen, opening an app. Then he typed in something. A few moments later, he nodded and handed me the tablet.

I glanced down at the screen and found myself staring at what looked to be a page from an old high school yearbook. For a moment, I didn’t understand why the judge wanted me to see this. Then one picture seemed to jump out at me and my breath caught. It couldn’t be. I’d never seen a picture of my mother before she’d been in her twenties. She always said those photos had been left behind when she left home.

My eyes tracked down slightly to the name under the photo. Faith Elizabeth Luíseach. I’d never known her middle name. I didn’t know she had changed her last name or why. How much more about my mother didn’t I know?

Why had she kept all this secret from me?

“I don’t understand.”

And that was putting it mildly.

Before anyone could begin to explain, something shifted inside the café. It was subtle at first, like a change in air pressure. A moment later, the bell over the door jangled once. But it couldn’t have. I’d watched Miss Peggy close and lock that very same door only minutes ago. I tore my eyes from the picture of my mother but no one was there.

Then I caught sight of someone in the distance, a woman of indeterminate age, moving surely down the sidewalk in the direction of the café. Those still gathered outside the door turned toward her. I didn’t need to hear them to know they greeted her. Then they stepped aside, giving her free access to the door.

The locked door.

So why had the bell jingled? The heater hadn’t come on and I sensed nothing else that could have caused it to ring. Was the woman somehow involved or was it something else?

And did I really want to know?

My focus narrowed to the door. The knob turned and then the door began to open. The moment it did, the air around me turned electric. It felt alive, as if someone or something was searching ahead, seeking something out and that something was me.

Instinct kicked in and, without thinking, I acted. I stood quickly enough to send my chair skittering across the linoleum. As I stepped away from the table, I bladed my body, making myself as small of a target as possible. Part of me screamed to run. Whoever – whatever – this woman was, I had never before felt such power. But another part told me I couldn’t run. There were others here, people who might not be able to protect themselves, one of them very pregnant. I had a duty to stay and do whatever I could to keep them safe, no matter what.

Thanks Mom, for giving me that sense of duty.

Once again, time slowed. This time, however, I expected it. I welcomed it because it gave me time to think and act. I took another step away from the table, putting myself between the others and whoever – or whatever – was about to enter the café. I might be without mundane weaponry but Mom had trained me well in other ways of self-defense and that training and saved me more than once in my thirty years. I hoped it was enough to do so again.

The air seemed to almost sizzle as I waited. As I sought out the threat, my consciousness expanded beyond the door. A light breeze moved around me, teasing the loose strands of hair that had escaped my braid. As if from a distance, I heard Annie gasp. Even so, I sensed no fear from her or the others. Surprise, yes, but no fear. That was yet another difference between Mossy Creek and Maxon Mills. Interesting and something I’d have to think about later, after this was over.

Assuming I lived that long.

Slowly, the door swung open. I watched as the woman neared. No longer nondescript, she appeared to be in her seventies. She looked like someone’s loving grandmother, the sort who baked chocolate chip cookies and had wonderful tales to help pass away the night. Not that I planned on lowering my guard. I learned long ago that appearances could be deceiving. Besides, the door had opened without anyone touching it. As the bell tinkled again, my right hand fisted at my side. I felt the energies building and focused them. If necessary, these people would soon learn why my mother and I had been feared by most of Maxon’s Mill.

The woman stepped inside the café. She paused and glanced around. As she did, I swallowed hard. Never before had I felt so much power associated with one person. I had no doubt she could wipe the floor with me without so much as batting an eye. Even so, I wouldn’t let her near the others. Whoever or whatever she was, she would not get past me.

I shifted my feet slightly, tracking as she moved further inside. As I did, I inhaled and steadied myself. If anything happened, it would be soon and I had to be ready. I would be ready.

The breeze inside the café picked up and the temperature rose. As it did, the woman’s lips curved up in a smile. Then, as she looked at me, I caught my breath. I knew her. But how?

Before I could ask, she waved her right hand in front of her and the breeze died away and the temperature inside the café returned to normal. All the energy I’d drawn around me in preparation for, well, whatever, flowed away. Knees weak, I looked at her, praying she wasn’t about to hand me my head – figuratively or literally or, more likely, both.

Instead, she smiled again, affection lighting her expression.

“Hello, Meg. Welcome home.”

(Light Magic is scheduled for a mid-November release)

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1 Comment

  1. Posted October 16, 2017 at 1:40 am | Permalink

    Is your snippet doubled? Look for Welcome home — I think you’ll find two of them?

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