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~ Chapter 2 ~
Graceful hands left the warmth of the coffee cup, and reached up to rub at tired eyes. After finally dragging as much information out of the Kingsleys as it seemed she would get, she’d made a beeline for the local diner. Del sat, staring at the picture of the girl in front of her. She’d already gone through all the contacts, familiarizing herself with the names, of which there were few, before she’d picked up the photo.
It was fairly recent, and showed the missing girl with her arms wrapped around her mother. Red, nearly auburn waves fell around her face, and past her slim shoulders. Her smile was charming, if not a little shy, and Del thought she was hiding sadness behind the warm hazel eyes, peeking out from under the unruly set of bangs. She wasn’t a big thing, petite without being frail, and her face still held the soft roundness of youth. Del wouldn’t give her a day over eighteen, let alone her actual age of twenty.
She had just picked her mug up for another mouthful of caffeine when a flash of bronze across the street stilled her hand halfway to her mouth. She set the mug down, and leaned closer to the window. Jasper was across the street sweeping again, but it was the woman he was talking to that caught her attention.
She let her eyes drift over well-toned calves, following bronze thighs that disappeared into the running shorts currently covering one of the nicest asses Del had ever had the pleasure to look at. She followed the curve of her spine, nearly whimpering as she reached well-formed shoulders left bare by a dark tank top, and continuing with the wonderful line of a graceful neck until it was covered by the messy, caramel tinted ponytail resting at the base of her skull.
The woman had obviously been running before she’d stopped to chat, her golden skin flushed with the exertion, her top damp with sweat. Whoever it was must have sensed her stare, and before she could look away, she found her eyes locked with the dark gaze of the stranger. Del felt her stomach twist, and her insides clenched in a long forgotten ache.
The gaze held for a few seconds longer, and when the woman turned away to continue her conversation Del let out a breath she wasn’t aware she was holding. She felt the waitresses presence beside her, asking if she wanted anything more.
“Can you tell me who that woman across the street is?” Del asked, her eyes never leaving the woman’s back.
The waitress leaned across the table looking out the window. Finally she pulled back some, refilling Del’s cup as she spoke.
“That there is Raelin Montrose. A real odd one she is.” The distaste in her voice made it pretty clear to Del that this woman was not fond of Rae. “I heard she performs some kinda cultish rituals out at her house just outside town. Her family’s been here a while, but they were all a bit weird.”
Del finally tore her gaze away, and regarded the middle-aged woman next to her. “How do you mean weird?”
“Well, they always kept to themselves mostly. You head up to her place sometime, you’ll see what I mean. They got pentagrams, and funny stuff hanging all over the place. It’s been there ever since I can remember. Just Rae up there now though. Folks try to stay away from her, we don’t want to get tangled up in no Satanic hocus pocus.”
Del watched the woman as she spoke, reading her discomfort quickly. Not wanting to ruffle too many feathers this early in the game, she decided to change the subject. She read the waitresses nametag quickly, and slid the photo of Jenny across the table. “Tell me Mary, you ever see this here girl around? She’s been away for a week, or so now, and her family are getting a bit worried. I promised I’d help find her.”
Mary studied the picture a few minutes before she slid it back. “Yeah sure, that’s our Jenny. She lives with her mom just up the way. Haven’t seen her in a few weeks though. She doesn’t like to eat here much, trying to watch what she eats, and all. You know what young girls are like.”
“Thanks for your help. Here’s my card. You just let me know if you see her, or hear something okay?”
Mary glanced at the card before nodding, and tucking it into her apron. Del started to turn her attention back to her work when Mary spoke up again. “If you gots a missing girl on your hands, you might wanna try heading up to Rae’s place. They say she sees things normal people don’t see. It’s nonsense to me, but who knows what kinda voodoo happenings she got going on up there.”
As Mary rushed off to serve another customer, Del glanced out the window hoping to catch another glimpse of the beautiful woman, but when she looked, Raelin was gone.
After her client left, it was all Raelin could do to not go charging out to the middle of town, curious, no, needing to know who, or what had arrived. Instead, she opted to put on her running clothes, and at least work off some of the excess energy. Besides, running always got her in tune with her surroundings anyway.
It was about a mile into town, but Rae followed one of the older lines, and it felt like she was running with an old friend. By the time she started into the town proper, her nerves were all but gone, and she was feeling relaxed. Jasper Wilkins was out front of his store, sweeping the sidewalk as she jogged up, but as she got closer, the tingling started again. “Morning Jasper, how’s business?”
Looking up, Jasper regarded the woman in front of him. She was beautiful, the whole town knew it, with her deep brown eyes, and smiling face. Her dark hair was pulled up into a rare ponytail, the ends falling in loose ringlets against her back. The light sheen of sweat she worked up only served to make her bronze skin glow, a pink hue splashed across her cheeks and bare shoulders from the run into town.
He’d had to restrain himself from following a stray drop of sweat as it ran down her neck, where he knew it would meet the generous curves under her tank top. She was tall, and unlike the blonde he’d met earlier he didn’t have to look down to catch her eyes, eyes that aside from being amused by his appraisal, were a warm chocolate color.
He was well aware of what the other townsfolk thought of Rae, and her family, but she’d never been anything but nice to him, and he couldn’t bring himself not to like her. She had an earthy charm to her, and for the second time that day he found himself longing to be about thirty years younger. “Oh, you know Rae, about the same as always. You seem in good spirits today.”
Rae could feel someone’s eyes caress her body, starting at her calves, and slowly make their way up her back. It took all of her will not to whip around to look around the town square, so slowly she turned and locked gazes with a blonde woman sitting in one of the tables in the diner. Her heart started to race faster than it had been when she was running, and she hoped that she wasn’t blushing as she turned back to Jasper.
“I’m sorry. What did you say?” she asked the older man.
Jasper looked over Raelin’s shoulder, and smiled to himself as he saw the blonde from earlier. He had guessed Rae’s preference a few years back when a few young men who were dared by their peers came back like dogs with their tails between their legs. Clearing his throat, he repeated himself, “I got that roll top desk in for you. Would it be alright if I brought it by tonight?”
“Sure, why don’t you come out around six, and I’ll fix you dinner? I’ll make that pot roast you like so much.” Rae offered with a smile.
Chuckling, he replied, “You know me so well. I’ll be there. Is it okay if I bring a helping hand? This back isn’t as young as it used to be, you know.”
Reaching out to lay her hand on his shoulder, the brunette could feel that his arthritis was acting up a bit, so she pushed some healing energy through his bones. “No, not at all. The house needs more people in it every once in a while. It gets too used to just being me there, and it loses some of it happiness. I’ll see you at six.” She waved good-bye, and started back home.
Jasper watched his old friend jog off before he turned to look back at the diner to see the blonde looking around for the brunette. Chuckling, he started singing underneath his breath. “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.”
Not seeing the woman anywhere, Del decided it was time to catch some sleep. She’d been running on fumes when she got to Leroy, and the meeting with Mrs. Kingsley had sapped what little energy she had left. Leaving enough money on the table to cover her meal, she left the diner, blinking in the early afternoon sun. Hearing her name, she glanced quickly around to find Jasper heading towards her.
“Hello again, Jasper. I was just about to head to the inn you recommended. You said it was a right at the light, yes?”
Smiling at the blonde, Jasper nodded his head. “Yep, right at the light. I was wondering missy, if you wouldn’t mind helping an old feller out? I need to deliver a desk this evenin’ around six, and I could use some help. I’d be more than happy to pay you for your time?”
Del looked at him, truth be told she didn’t mind helping him out, but she figured a little bit of fun would be good for her mood. “But, Jasper, what about that dinner date I was promised?” She flashed him a wide smile.
The old man could barely contain his joy. This was going to be much easier than he thought. “I offered you a dinner, and I never go back on my word. I promise that you will have the very best pot roast with new potatoes, carrots, and dessert that you can get this side of the Mississippi. What do ya say?”
”I’d say you’ve got yourself a deal. Now that we’ve cleared that up, I best be off before I fall asleep in the street. Where should I meet you?”
“Just come on back here at the store, say at five thirty, and we’ll get the desk loaded, and head on out. I’ve got a pair of work gloves that should fit you, so you just bring your muscles, and an empty stomach, and I’ll get you all filled up.” Jasper shook her hand, and headed back to the store.
He called the inn to let them know that he was sending someone their way, and to give her a room in the back away from everyone else. He had a feelin’ that this woman liked her privacy.
Del’s bag had barely hit the floor before she’d collapsed face first onto the bed. She’d been pleasantly surprised, and more than a little grateful to discover that Jasper had called the hotel on her behalf, and made sure she was roomed away from prying eyes.
Lying there, her thoughts once again drifted to the gorgeous woman from the town square. The last thing Del saw before she drifted off were the memory of dark eyes locking with her own.
The sounds of bullfrogs, and crickets were beginning to get on Jenny’s nerves. During the day, the sounds from the river were different, more soothing, but at night, the young girl saw shadows in every corner, and even the wind brought unusual noises.
The young woman had gone walking through the fields almost a week earlier when she came across three men tossing two women into the back of a van. She thought that she had ducked out of sight, but had stepped on a branch, which alerted the men that she was there. One had chased her down and, despite her struggles, had thrown her in the back of the vehicle along with the other women.
Two of the men had gotten in the back of the van with the women, and had held guns pointed at them until they arrived at a fishing camp. Upon arrival, each of the women had been put in a small room that had a window about six feet off the ground, and a cot with a blanket. Twice a day they were fed sandwiches and water, and allowed to use the facilities.
Jenny hadn’t been able to talk with the other women but she heard them crying. When she tried to talk with the men, all they told her was to shut up and behave.
One afternoon she overheard two of the men talking that they only need one more girl and they would have enough for a shipment. That was when she decided that she had to get out of there no matter what.
Later that evening, she heard the van drive away, and knew that it left at least two of the men there and that everyone was fed around the same time. As soon as her door opened Jenny rushed it tackling the man bringing in her food. They both crashed to the floor with him yelling out and trying to grab hold of the young woman. She kicked and swung her fists at him, striking the sweet spot between his legs, and struggled to her feet. Doubling over, he managed to trip her up as she darted past him, making her strike her head against a table, splitting it open. She managed to make it to the brush, and run for her freedom.
Del jerked awake with a gasp as the full terror of the girl in her dream hit her. She sat up panting, getting her bearings back as she looked around the room. Her sheets were tangled around her legs, obvious signs of her fitful sleep, while her clothes clung to her, damp with sweat. She quickly pulled her sheets back up around her chin, struggling to get her breathing under control.
She lay back, closing her eyes. She was used to these dreams, she had them often when on cases, but the emotions always caught her off guard. She didn’t want to sleep anymore, she never did when she had these dreams, but her body had other plans. Not even a few minutes after she’d woken, gasping for breath, her body was pulling back into sleep, dreams of dark eyes, and bronze skin replacing the lingering terror.
Raelin was so distracted on the jog back to her home that she actually ran past her house all the way to the lake before she realized where she was. The blonde with the jade green eyes filled her mind while the memory of her eyes caressing Rae’s body caused emotions, and needs to surface that she had long forgotten, and pushed down.
Standing at the edge of the lake, the young woman closed her eyes, and tried to calm her racing heart, but it was proving to be harder than normal. She knew that the cards had been talking about the mysterious blonde as soon as she felt her gaze. It was as if she’d been standing behind Rae, and touching her with her hands, hands that had a gentle touch, but with a hidden strength.
Moaning, the brunette tried to banish the vision of the woman in her mind, but it was as if she had taken root. Shaking her head, she turned towards home, and once again lost herself in her running.
Jenny woke from a fitful sleep as the woman brushed her hand across her forehead.
“Your fever seems to be breaking. Do you think you can take some soup?” The woman’s voice caressed her ears.
Nodding her head, she sipped a few mouthfuls before she motioned that she had enough, and closed her eyes, and drifted back to sleep.
After getting home, and showering, Raelin sat out on the front porch in a lounge chair, and just listened to the sounds of the afternoon float by with a glass of iced tea. Sipping the tea, she closed her eyes, and thought about the blonde. She had to be the one that the cards told her about, who else could it be?
Getting up from the chair, she went inside to get the cards, and as she walked back out onto the front porch, she shuffled the cards while picturing the beautiful woman. ‘Beautiful woman! Where did that come from? Get a grip, Rae.’ the brunette thought to herself.
Cutting the cards three times, she then spread the cards out and choose the first one. The Context was a reversed Empress, the unraveling of matters. The blonde was searching for something, or someone, and she was going to bring many things to light. The second card, considered to be the Focus, was the Chariot, and that meant trouble. She was going to bring it, or cause it, but she would triumph over it. Closing her eyes, Rae reached out, and turned over the final card, the Outcome. It was the Lovers…Rae held onto the card as a warm glow spread throughout her body.
Del stood, leaning against the hood of her Jeep, watching the brunette approach, and stop in front of her. “I’ve been searching for you, and I didn’t even realize it.”
She watched as Rae brought a hand up to brush her cheek, instinctively leaning into the touch. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
Del gave a soft smile, reaching out to finger the buttons on the front of Rae’s shirt, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to keep you waiting, but I’m glad I’m here now.”
Static electricity ran along Raelin’s skin, making her catch her breath. Leaning close, she whispered. “Things are going to get rough, and confusing. Trust in yourself and what you feel deep inside. Trust what you can see with your heart, and with your gut. Beware of what you see with your eyes.”
Del held Rae’s gaze with her own, tucking a stray strand of dark hair behind her ear, her fingers lingering. “You need to be ready, there is something dark at work, and it doesn’t want me here. It’s not safe, and you need to be careful. Don’t provoke it, let me take care of it. It’s what I’m here for.”
“Not to worry. Together we can banish the darkness.” Leaning her head into the woman’s caress, Rae gave her a hopeful smile.
Del nodded, and reached up to bring their lips together, feeling the weight of the darkness lift away, taking the buzzing in her mind with it.
Del’s eyes snapped open, and she realized with a groan, she’d been dreaming again. She’d never had more than one of these dreams at a time, and something about this town didn’t sit right. She climbed out of her bed, licking her lips where they still tingled, and grabbed her bag on her way to the bathroom.
Knowing she’d need to meet Jasper soon, she started the shower, stripping off her clothes, and checking the temperature. Before getting in, she glanced at herself in the mirror. She reached out, and touched the reflection of her lips, eyes closing in memory. She quietly set up a silent prayer for strength before she stepped into the shower.
After Rae finished the reading, and her contemplation, she made her way into the kitchen to start dinner for Jasper. She didn’t have very many friends in this town, so she always enjoyed having someone come over when they had a chance. The pot roast was seasoned with fresh herbs, and put in the oven along with some sliced carrots, and new potatoes from her garden. Fresh salad greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers made a light salad to go along with her homemade salad dressing. Soon the house was filled with tempting aromas.
Setting the table, she glanced at the clock, and saw that she had just enough time to change clothes into something more appropriate for guests.
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