The Magic of Lavender
Book One of The Goddess Connection
For two years, Jocelyn Gibson’s main companion had been her dog, Taz, but now strangers arrived steadily at her door. Costumed as witches and vampires, cowboys and clowns, guests stood in the front room clutching their drinks, eyeing the door as if ready to bolt. That is, when they weren’t eyeing the faded wallpaper or worn carpeting. Or eyeing her. Most probably came to ogle the woman foolish enough to buy the broken-down B&B.
Her friend Annie said a few had even asked her if Joss was crazy. Joss had to laugh, and repeated Gram’s saying: she might be crazy, but not insane.
With a glance in the foyer mirror, Joss adjusted the golden leaves in her hair. On a tight budget, the cream top, cream skirt cinched with a gold scarf, bronze eye shadow and lipstick sufficed to complete her golden goddess outfit. Way to make a first impression, Joss.
The doorbell chimed over their conversations. Joss pulled open the door and sighed in relief. “Oh Aunt Lydia. Thank goodness.” Now the party would pick up.
Her aunt entered with a flourish of silken orange and red skirts and shawl that set off her auburn hair. She swept past Joss, then halted abruptly, palms open to the air, eyes wide as she scanned the rooms with a look of concentration and awe.
Joss braced herself. So Lydia felt it too. The undeniable vibrations sizzling up from the very ground.
As if she hadn’t noticed Joss before, her aunt’s loud greeting carried across the foyer. “Jocelyn, my dear.” Lydia rushed toward her with open arms and crushed her against her ample bosom, then held her at arm’s length. “I’m not late, am I?” Her aunt relived her theater days in any crowd.
“No, you’re right on time.” To save this party from an early death. Her aunt had offered to give readings, and so would entertain some partiers.
Lydia’s hands went to her heart when she noticed the grandfather clock. “You kept it. I’m so glad.”
“I’ll never part with it.” How could she? Hand carved by her grandfather for Gram, it displayed the correct time, but never chimed the right hour. Not since–
“Darling, when you first told me about your purchase, I thought you’d gone mad. Buy a ramshackle bed and breakfast? But oh.” Lydia clasped her hands, her smile assured. “Now that I’m here, I know.”
“It doesn’t look like much now, but—”
Her aunt leaned close. “It drew you here. The energy is palpable.” She murmured, “But you must be careful. Others will be drawn here seeking to tap into its force too.”
A curious warning. “What do you mean?”
Lydia grabbed Joss’s arm, her trembling clutch tightening.
This was no act. “What’s wrong?”
Closing her eyes, Lydia moaned. “Oh, it’s… overwhelming.”
“What is?” In alarm, Joss squeezed her aunt’s quaking hand.
As the door opened, Lydia opened her eyes. Gusts of wind blew inside, gaining in intensity. They riffled through the black and scarlet flowers, made the candlelight flicker in a wild dance, and sent the paper decorations whirling.
Shimmering white lights swarmed inside. They played across the walls and ceiling as if reflecting a thousand tiny mirrors. Or as if a flock of glowing wild creatures had broken in to wreak havoc. The shining figures swarmed everywhere, though no one else appeared to notice. Except for Taz, who pricked up his ears and trotted along with the light display, barking happily.
The fae. It took away Joss’s breath to see them enter her home. Only once before had she witnessed it.
From the dark porch, a man in black emerged and stood in the foyer. From behind the black eye mask, his gaze darted to follow the lights. He pulled the door shut and the air stilled. The shimmering figures flocked to the window in the front room and disappeared. The scene returned to normal.
Lydia’s breath shook. “Him.”
Joss didn’t need her aunt to tell her this man was different than most. Since moving in two weeks ago, she’d found herself drawn to the window for another reason – the veterinary practice down the road. A cloud of emotions roiled above it like a summer storm, a confusing swirl of auras: grief and longing, anger and loneliness. All emanating from the owner.
Eric Hendricks. A widower, Annie had said. Handsome enough to be a movie star, but ruined, she’d warned, by his wife’s tragic loss. He never socialized. People said his curt manner was a side effect of grieving.
Annie had been dead on about his looks.
Through the black eye mask, Eric’s steely glance pierced Joss’s, his brow furrowed beneath a tangle of dark hair. His intense assessment shocked her to a halt, electrifying as a Taser to her nervous system. He walked toward Joss in what seemed like altered time. Capturing her gaze, his gait slowed. Heat twined through her like a wisp of smoke above smoldering embers crackling to life.
She wasn’t ready for that type of burn yet.
Never had Eric felt like such a fool. He should have dressed the part—clown, jester, harlequin. Black made him more conspicuous rather than less, but he had no idea how to assemble a costume. While paying for his vitamins at the drug store, the cheap black face mask caught his eye, and he’d tossed it in with his items without thinking.
Everything leading up to this moment, in fact, he’d done without thought. He’d simply gotten dressed and driven here as if he’d planned to all along, when he had no idea why he’d come. Costume parties made him more uncomfortable than regular ones. Yet here he was, standing in the foyer of the old bed and breakfast, awkward as a teenager at the prom.
In utter contrast, there stood his new neighbor Jocelyn Gibson, angelic in white and gold. Looking at him in wonder and surprise. Probably thinking him a lunatic. He’d glimpsed her a few times in passing the bed and breakfast. What would make a single woman want such a Victorian horror? Perfect for Halloween, at least.
Inhaling a reinforcing breath, Eric moved stiffly in her direction. A few minutes, he’d stay. That was all. Then he’d slip out, he hoped with less fanfare than he’d arrived.
Strange. He’d thought fireflies died out weeks ago, but they’d swarmed in front of him like a glimmering cloud. Funny no one but Jocelyn Gibson and the woman standing beside her had noticed. And the border collie.
To his dismay, she glided toward him. Paralyzed, he could only stare as she approached. Candlelight caught the gilded leaves woven through her hair, the golden chains at her wrists. Her white tunic, leggings and split skirt revealed enough of her curves to tantalize him to distraction.
A few steps away, she halted. “You’re here.”
Even in the dim light, she had a glow about her.
“You’re luminous.” He snapped his mouth shut, a vain attempt to stem the flow of any more errant thoughts.
Rose tinged her golden face. “It’s the glitter makeup. You’re Dr. Hendricks, aren’t you?”
“Right.” Tonight, he wished he were anyone else. Someone with no history, who could start fresh, not mired in his past.
“It’s so good to meet you. I’m Joss Gibson.”
He searched for something witty to say, something to ease the awkwardness. In five years, the most he’d said to a woman was hello. They’d already covered that.
Instead, he drew out his wallet and handed her a bill. “Everything looks great.” Except for the woman in the short white dress covered with bright red hearts. Staring at him. Was that the diner waitress, Sheree? What the hell was she supposed to be, a clown?
Lifting her chin, Joss smiled. “It’s kind of a last hurrah for the old place before we start renovations.”
“Oh.” He’d never been one for small talk, and never was it more painfully obvious to him than now.
Joss glanced away. “I’m sorry you don’t approve.”
“It’s not that.” Right now, he was surprised he approved of most everything about her.
Before he could explain, the older woman reappeared next to Joss. Her auburn hair fought the red of her lips, pursed as her gaze cut into him with sharp assessment. She gave a tsk, and in a throaty voice, said, “Oh my.”
Joss shot her a warning glance. “Aunt Lydia, this is Dr. Eric Hendricks.”
“Doctor.” Her tone caressed the word like a favorite pet.
He held out his hand. “A veterinarian. Nice to meet you.”
Encasing his hand in hers, she turned it over, and traced a finger across the center of his palm. “Oh yes. Come with me.” Turning, she tugged him through the crowd.
With Frankenstein steps, he rigidly followed. Glancing back at Joss gave him no reassurance. Frowning, she might have been irritated with him, or her aunt, he couldn’t tell.
They passed underneath paper bats fluttering from the hallway ceiling. Small carved pumpkins leered at him with crooked fiery smiles from atop book shelves.
Sheree turned as he passed. “Eric? Where are you going?”
Good question. It seemed futile, but he had to ask. “Where are we going?”
“The future awaits for those who dare to seek it,” Lydia said over her shoulder.
Near a small wooden table holding cards and a candle, she dropped his hand and plopped onto the chair behind it. “Sit. Then please shuffle these.” She waved toward the chair opposite, scooped up the cards and handed them to him.
“Clear your mind and shuffle the cards,” she urged.
Might as well. It would at least hurry this along so he could disappear into the crowd again. Or out the door. He did as she asked and set them on the table.
“Fan them out and then select five cards.”
Surely she didn’t intend for him to take this seriously. Still, he slipped five from the rest. “I don’t…”
“Shhh.” Concentrating on the cards as she laid them out, her eyes widened.
Her audible gasp made him lean closer. “What?” He tilted his head to read their titles: The Tower. Judgement. The Fool. The Lovers. The Moon.
Clucking her tongue, she frowned. “Oh.” She leaned closer. “Oh my. Most unusual.”
He tensed. “What?” What sort of trickery was she up to?
Her voice softened. “You’ve been through an ordeal. But your loneliness will soon end. Great happiness awaits, after a terrible trial.”
“You don’t know what you’re saying.” The accident had ripped all his happiness away when it took Karen. Nothing could be worse than that.
“Of course I do. I’m never wrong.” Lydia’s gaze slid to the room’s entrance.
Eric glanced over to where Joss spoke with Charlie Fulton, dressed in painter’s overalls. Some costume.
Lydia intoned, “Tonight is a fateful night.”
The ominous statement settled over him like a mist. Fate had never been kind to him before. “Why?”
She leaned forward, candlelight sparking in her brown eyes. As if revealing a great secret, she said, “Your life is on the verge of great change toward a destiny you cannot avoid. Finding your true soul mate.”
His heart twisted as if pierced. He jolted out of the seat. “No.”
“Oh yes. It’s all here.” She splayed her hands across the cards.
Stupid parlor trick. That’s all this was. Maybe some other fool wanted to hear such words, but not him.
Pushing away from the table, he strode to Joss, who poured green liquid into the punch bowl. “What the hell is that?”
After ladling some into a glass, she held it up. “Drink some and find out.”
“It looks disgusting.” But smelled citrusy. His fingers closed around hers, and the tiniest jolt sparked feeling through his hand, like deadened tissue reanimated.
With a gasp, she slipped her hand away. “Don’t judge things you don’t know about.”
Wincing, he sipped. His taste buds danced in delight at the refreshing fizzy drink.
“Good, isn’t it?” Her tone held a challenge.
Unlike his evening. “Your aunt shouldn’t play at things she doesn’t know.”
Her shoulders stiffened. “My aunt does know. She’s been reading tarot and palms since before I was born.” She turned the corner and disappeared down the hall.
Following, he caught her arm and spun her around. “She shouldn’t meddle. Not where people’s feelings are concerned.” Towering over her, his senses sharpened, emotions surging along his veins with a buzz. Every impulse urged him to press her against the wall and taste her golden skin. His hands itched to explore her curves.
Her lips parted, and hovered open for blissful seconds. “I’m sorry.”
Her whisper hit him like a gale-force wind. It broke whatever spell he was under, and he stepped back. “No. I am.” For coming here. A glance to the other room revealed her aunt staring with an odd expression. Pity? Self-satisfaction?
He couldn’t get away fast enough.
Outside, he ripped away the mask and let it fall to the ground as he got in his truck. The only thing fateful about tonight was its social disaster. The fate he seemed doomed to relive over and over.
The arrival of more guests drew Joss to the foyer again. Another matronly witch and an older man wearing a checked flannel shirt, jeans and boots stepped inside, followed by a princess and a boy in a fabric turtle shell.
Joss recognized the girl as one of the riders whose horses boarded in the stable. After greeting them and pointing them toward refreshments, she returned to Lydia. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t apologize. It’s wonderful you have so many guests.” Lydia fingered the scarlet and black flowers in the vase on the table.
One woman stood in the archway to the front room, her bright-eyed glare directed at Joss. Wearing a short white shift adorned with large red hearts, the woman held a wand topped with a glittering red heart.
Confused by her malevolence, Joss approached, and fought to overcome the negativity emanating from the woman. “Did you try some of the booscotti?”
The woman squared her shoulders. “I’m not hungry, Mrs. Gibson,” came her familiar nasal reply.
Recognition finally hit. The girl who worked at the diner in town. “Sheree?”
At her curt nod, Joss forced a smile. “I love your costume.”
Sheree’s gaze darted her length. “Likewise.”
What could be her problem? The woman wielded her wand like a weapon, ready to strike. “Please come in and make yourself at home.”
Her narrowed eyes swept the room as if suspecting an ambush, then she moved stiffly away. “Thank you.”
Joss went to Lydia. “That was really weird.”
Lydia whispered, “Be careful of her.”
“Who, Sheree? I can’t imagine why.” Could she be nervous the inn would take away some of the diner’s business? Though Joss would have liked to think so, Sheree’s vibes told Joss otherwise. Business had nothing to do with it. The waitress directed her bad feelings at Joss personally. Had she unintentionally insulted Sheree? She’d barely met the woman.
Leaning close, her aunt spoke sternly. “I warned you to watch for others who seek the power of this place.”
More guests entered, and Joss had to excuse herself. She left Lydia deeply inhaling the air. Joss couldn’t deny the charged atmosphere had been one of the reasons she’d bought the place. Not to tap into any lines of power, not for herself anyway. For the lavender field she planned, maybe. Joss needed the garden to thrive so the inn would too.
Waving to the costumed guests on the porch, she recognized Tom Larsen in his jodhpurs and riding jacket. The stable manager set her nerves on edge. He spoke too harshly to the horses, and they rebelled at his touch by tossing their heads and pinning their ears.
“Welcome.” Joss extended her hand. “I’m so glad you could come.”
He grunted. “Where’s the bar? Drinks are included, right?”
She pointed him toward the refreshments table. “Yes. It’s such a bargain, isn’t it?” Tonight they wouldn’t make enough money to cover their expenses. The value would be in gaining recognition for the great food. So far, Annie’s werewolf cupcakes, booscotti and goblin cheese ball had all but vanished.
Tom grunted and reached in his pocket and handed her the bill.
To her relief, the arrival of a cowboy and cowgirl nudged Tom ahead. Following, Joss welcomed a princess and prince, a jester and wench, and two clowns.
“Jocelyn.” Aunt Lydia waved furiously.
“What is it? Shh, Taz.” What had gotten into him? The fur on his neck stood up, and the dog growled beside her. Maybe the same thing that had gotten into Eric Hendricks, she thought with a rueful glance toward the door the veterinarian had slammed on his way out.
So strange. Normally a look allowed her to sense at least a mood. To see the person inside.
Not with Eric Hendricks. Emotions, pent up for years, churned within him and shifted faster than light. Strength emanated from him, in his firm stance and gentle touch. More than that: power, though she couldn’t quite discern what type. Beyond that, her senses failed her.
“The question is who,” Lydia said. “That man, standing with the Queen of Hearts. Or princess, whatever she is.”
Following her aunt’s gaze, Joss froze in skin-crawling fear. “I don’t know. And I don’t want to.”
He moved like a shadow, furtive and with the illusion he was underwater. Beneath his black face mask, red flashed in his eyes. When his gaze passed over her, so did a wave of dizziness. Her heart flipped, and her stomach churned as if she rode a roller coaster through the dark, not knowing where the turns ahead lay.
The dog growled more fiercely. Grabbing hold of his collar, Joss gasped. “I wish he’d just leave!” She wished with all her heart. Go!
A deep rumble shook the ground. The windows rattled in their frames. Guests cried oh! and clutched at their chairs, or one another.
“What’s that?” Joss wished it would stop, and it faded away.
Lydia glared, and rushed toward Sheree, now standing alone. “Where did he go?”
Glancing around, Sheree said, “I have no idea.” She held a hand to her head. “I don’t feel well.”
Taz sniffed at her tentatively, cringing as if she might strike him.
Arching a brow, Lydia said, “I imagine you wouldn’t. You should not dabble in darkness until you understand the risk. What did it say to you?”
“It?” Joss asked in alarm, and searched the crowd to be sure he didn’t linger there.
Sheree held a hand to her stomach. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“You should leave,” Lydia said. “Now.”
“Yes. I need to go home.” Sheree headed toward the door.
“Please Lydia, she was a guest.” But Joss knew the man with her wasn’t. “What’s going on?”
Tugging her to the end of the hall, Lydia said, “You could be in danger, my dear.”
“That makes no sense.” Yet somehow, she knew it was true.
Lydia’s shoulders slumped. “I must call your grandmother. It’s time you knew.”
“Gram? Knew what?” What was her aunt going on about?
“Your family heritage.” Taking out her cell, Lydia pressed Gram’s name.
Driving down Yellow Breeches Road, Sheree cursed. “I hate this town. No street lights on these back roads.” Her head still spun.
The gusty wind blew so many leaves, she switched on her windshield wipers. “I want to move someplace warm.”
A man’s deep chuckle echoed. “That can be arranged.”
Screeching, Sheree hit the brakes. “Who said that?”
A black figure materialized beside her. “Aw. Forgot me so soon?”
She’d like to. The jerk made her skin crawl. She’d never seen a costume that could make a person appear to shift through the shadows. He probably wasted a fortune on it.
“Were you in the back seat? What are you doing in my car?” Sheesh. Talk to a guy for one minute at a party, and he thought he could take liberties.
As if bored, he sighed. “The question is, how badly do you want your veterinarian friend?”
She should demand this guy get out of her car. He seriously creeped her out. “What do you care?” How did he know anyway?
He hooked an elbow behind the seat. “I don’t. Except that I might be able to help you. If you help me.”
Sure, there was always a catch. “Help how?”
“Which? Help you, or help me?” he prodded.
“Both.” Her patience had waned. Tired and queasy, she wanted to go to bed. Something about this guy frightened her, but if he could help her get Eric, she’d at least hear him out.
“The gentleman I work for is interested in the property we just left. If you could distract Dr. Hendricks, my employer would have a better chance at gaining control of it.”
“Control? You mean buy it?” Would Mrs. Gibson sell so soon? Oh… she might, if the situation grew too uncomfortable. Sheree noticed the gleam in Joss’s eyes when she looked at Eric. A gleam Sheree wanted to turn to ice.
With a smug smile, the man said, “Something like that.”
Get to the fine print. “So what would I need to do?”
He spoke with a casual air. “Become our ally. Report to us on the goings-on of the town. Especially the inn, and its proprietress.”
No harm in that, was there? But this sounded too easy. “But how would that help me get Eric?”
When the man smiled, the air in the car grew hot. And smelled like something burning. Something awful, like rotten eggs.
“Let’s just leave that to us, shall we?” he sneered, easing closer.
Sheree’s vision blurred. She fought to murmur, “I don’t know.”
Red flashed in his eyes like flames. “Of course you do. You want Eric so badly, you’ll do anything, won’t you?”
She felt compelled to answer, “Anything.”
“I thought so.” His voice trailed into a hiss.
Gripping the steering wheel, Sheree touched her forehead to it. “Anything.” She imagined walking hand-in-hand with Eric, him stopping to pull her close, bending to touch his lips to hers.
A knock on the window startled her.
A state trooper stood outside, his grimace suspicious.
“Great.” She opened the window, her mind racing with possible excuses.
“Everything all right, miss?”
“Yes, officer. I’m a little dizzy, that’s all.” Stupid! Now he’d think she was drunk.
Straightening, he sighed. “Right. Step out of the car please.”
“Both of us?” How would she explain this guy to a police man? His appearance went way beyond any Halloween costume. She didn’t even know his name.
The officer crouched again and scanned the interior. “Pardon?”
“Do you want us both to get out?” She glanced over at the passenger seat.It was empty.
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