Happy Day: and a new excerpt from Curses
Happy Valentine's Day!
Here's a Valentine's Day treat for all my wonderful readers out there. A never-before posted excerpt from Curses, coming in March fromTriskelion Publishing.
"I do not need to get laid!"
"Yes, my friend, you do. Desperately."
Mel's hand stilled on the mortar and pestle she was using, and she glared at her best friend, who was curled up in a chair by the window in Mel's kitchen. "You're nuts! Just because things have been a little off lately "
"Mel, you're more than just `a little off'. You haven't been yourself in weeks." Karen's voice had taken on it's `don't-mess-with-me-I'm-a-fifth-grade-teacher' tone, so Mel knew there was no use arguing, though she was strongly tempted to stick her tongue out. Instead, she stalled until she could figure out what to say. She nibbled on her lower lip while she dumped the mortar full of herbs into an earthenware mixing bowl and turned off the stove.
"I'm sure it's nothing, Kare," Mel forced her own voice to soften. Karen was going through a rough time herself right now, with a messy divorce and her mother dying of cancer. She didn't need crap from her friends. Determined not to ruin this rare opportunity to spend a sunny Saturday morning with her friend, Mel poured the steeped soapwort leaves through a strainer, allowing a thick, clear fluid to drain into the bowl. The sweet, pungent aroma of steaming herbs filled the room. "So a few plants are wilting; it's nothing to worry about. I've just got a lot on my mind, that's all."
"I know, honey, but for you, wilting plants are a big deal." She gestured around Mel's herb-filled kitchen. Sure enough, there were several brown leaves and dried stalks, something that had never happened to Mel before. Maybe she should move them outside, see if the warm May sunshine could help them out. "I just think you've been neglecting yourself. A few rounds between the sheets would go an awfully long way toward relieving some of that stress."
Mel rolled her eyes. "And, hypothetically, if I were to agree with you, where do you suggest I find someone? This is an awfully small town, remember. And everybody in it knows better than to screw around with the local witch." She squeezed the gelatinous sap from a couple aloe vera leaves into the bowl. "Oh, and then again, there's the little matter of a curse."
"Curse, schmurse. I'm not telling you to get married, though that might not be a bad idea eventually." Karen's brown eyes twinkled as she inhaled the fragrance of Mel's concoction. "I'm telling you to have some hot, steamy sex!"
Mel shook her head, refusing to comment. She loved Karen deeply, but sometimes She gave the bowl a final stir with the plastic spatula, then scraped the viscous liquid through a funnel into a pretty glass bottle. Tiny green flecks floated in a crystal-clear suspension, which glinted brightly in the warm sunlight streaming through the open window.
Karen must have decided it was time to shut up. She rolled her eyes and changed the subject. "Looks pretty. What are you making, anyway? Potion? Healing salve?"
Mel did her best rendition of an evil cackle. "Something for you, my pretty."
Karen laughed. "No, really!"
"Well, it is for you," Mel countered. She'd put a little soothing, relaxing magic into the batch, but her friend would never know. She wedged a cork into the bottle and handed it across the big pine table. "Consider it a Mother's Day present, since you're determined to act like you're mine. Shower gel."
Okay, so maybe Karen had been right, Mel admitted a few hours later. Apparently she did need a man, judging by the way her pulse started jumping as she looked up, way up, at the grade A prime specimen of masculinity standing just inside her office door. Well over six foot, with shoulder length black hair and intense amber-gold eyes, her new summer tenant was just about the sexiest thing Mel had ever seen. She supposed dragging him all the way inside for a late afternoon quickie was a bad idea, but for the first time since she'd been running her resort cabins, she actually considered it. Get a grip, Mel! She forced her mouth to close and really hoped she wasn't drooling.
"So the cabin is completely isolated?"
Her head went up and down like a bobble-head doll's. "Absolutely. The only road leading back to it is a two-track, and the only way to the two-track is across my property. Even the riding stables and fishing guides don't take tourists that deep into the woods."
"But what about your resort staff?"
"Staff?" Tilting her head, she tried for a moment to figure out what he was asking. "What staff?" Then she laughed, breaking the stupidity spell that his stunning presence had obviously cast on her normally down-to-earth brain. "Oh. Staff. I'm it, I'm afraid, at least for the next few weeks. Whispering Pines isn't exactly the Ritz." She gestured down the gravel drive to where six of her seven rental cabins were clustered in a tidy circle. The hunk, one Mr. Jonas Pierce, according to his registration forms, was renting cabin seven, which was really her great-great-great grandparent's cabin, located about a mile back into the woods. Her own house, though nearly a hundred years old, was actually the new residence on the property.
"If you need something, you can contact me on the two-way radio. There's no phone in that cabin, so you'll be completely on your own."
His deep sigh sounded heartfelt, and his crooked smile made her stomach do cartwheels. "Wonderful!" Tiny lines crinkled at the corners of those unusual golden eyes, and his broad shoulders relaxed.
She couldn't help smiling back. "See if you think so after a week with only yourself for company."
"I assure you, Ms. MacRae, I will. Myself and I get along just fine on our own." Dee p lines bracketed his mouth as he smiled, and it was all she could do not to touch them, try to smooth them away. His chiseled cheekbones made her think he had some Native American blood, but whatever his heritage, it had sure come together perfectly.
She wasn't sure if he was making fun of her or not, so she got back to business. "Well, then you've come to the right place. You're paid up in advance, so you're good till Labor Day. I hope you enjoy your summer at Whispering Pines."
"Do you close after Labor Day?" One straight dark eyebrow quirked upward.
"No," she replied. "As soon as the summer vacation season ends, hunting camps begin. Those, followed by ski and snowmobile season, make up the bulk of a Yooper's year." Life in Michigan 's Upper Peninsula was still as dependent on the changing seasons as it had been when Mel's ancestors had arrived a hundred and fifty years earlier.
"Yooper?" His amber eyes went blank, and Mel groaned silently. Apparently the stupid spell was back. The New York stud muffin might look like a local in his faded jeans and well-worn hiking boots, but he wasn't likely to know the regional slang.
"A Yooper is a person from the U. P., or Upper Peninsula ."
"Right then." He sounded faintly amused, but at least he didn't seem to notice that she still couldn't stop staring. Of course, with his looks, he was probably used to being ogled. A single band of white streaked down from his left temple, punctuating his thick black hair, and she had to fight off the urge to reach out and touch it.
"So how do I find the place?"
Mel handed him a photocopy of the local soil survey map with a trail highlighted in yellow. "I'm glad you have a Jeep," she told him, looking behind him to his vehicle. Judging by the New York plates, it was his own and not a rental. "The two-track gets pretty nasty when it rains." Grabbing her keys off her desk, she motioned him out the door ahead of her onto the wide porch, which wrapped around two sides of her log home. The office had a separate entrance on the side of the house, so she didn't need to use her front door for business. "You can follow me to the cabin."
He nodded, though he'd stiffened again while his lips tightened and his eyebrows drew together. Okay, so he didn't want company even as far as his cabin door. Fine. She watched him stride down the driveway to his dented and muddy four wheeler. That's why she kept the remote cabin, for guests who wanted to commune with nature in privacy.
The drooling problem started to come back, though, as she gazed hungrily at the supple muscles outlined by his close-fitting jeans and snug gray T-shirt. The Jeep and his worn, casual clothing projected the image of a man at home in the wilderness, even though the cabin had been booked by an accounting firm in New York City . After meeting the man, though, Mel had no qualms now about renting him the isolated cabin. Mr. Jonas Pierce definitely looked like he was able to take care of himself.
Realizing that she'd been staring again, Mel shook herself and hurried to her own vehicle. The ancient compact pick up truck sported as much rust as yellow paint these days; it was older than the hills and twice as cranky, but it got her where she needed to gomost of the time.
"Come on, Jezebel, don't let me down, now." She really didn't want to lose face in front of her new tenant, though she tried to tell herself it was just professional pride. She'd never been very good at lying to herself, so she was forced to admit to a more basic reason. In the last five minutes, she'd come to the conclusion that Karen was right. She needed a man, and this man was gorgeous, ostensibly single, and here for just three months. He was the perfect candidate for a hot summer fling, and she didn't want him to think she was an idiot.
After two false starts, Jezebel, as Mel's grandmother had named the truck years earlier, finally started with a sputtering cough. Great. Time for another tune-up. "Thanks Jez." Mel patted the dashboard. She hadn't wanted to ride up and back with her new tenant. Not when she wasn't really sure about her attraction to him and what she wanted to do about it. No, she admitted, again forcing herself to honesty as the truck bumped along the gravel road that led into the Sanctity Area Wildlife Preserve. She knew exactly what she wanted to do with that great looking package of testosterone, and once again, lying to herself wasn't going to do a bit of good. She very much wanted to jump his gorgeous bones.