Breathing heavily, the collar of her coat pulled up high, half obscuring her face, Penny rushed through the throng of people milling around the copious displays of books scattered around the entrance to the LitLiber. Her eyes twitched uneasily from left to right and back again. But she didn’t see anyone.
And, by anyone she meant Calida McDonald, of course.
When her fingers closed around the doorknob to Jake’s office, Penny felt her stomach pinch tightly, ears pressed momentarily against the wood gain of his door, waiting for any noise. What if they’d found her already, what if they were in their now, cornering Kate…
But silence met her probing scrutiny, and quickly checking around her, to make sure no one was watching, she slipped inside the door. The lights were off in the office when she stepped over the threshold. With only one small window up high, the room was cast in pitchy grey shadows.
“Shut the door!” The squeak of sound, which seemed to be coming from somewhere behind Jake’s desk was urgent, forceful.
With a slam, Penny did as she was bidden. “Kate?”
Navigating by touch, Penny eased herself around the chairs in front of his desk. “I can’t see anything in here.”
“Don’t turn on the light! Someone might notice!”
“Okay, okay,” Penny promised, her fingers sliding against the edges of Jake’s desk. Rounding the back of it, she found Kate, huddled on the floor underneath the massive structure. By now her eyes had begun to adjust to the lack of lighting, and the image which met her gaze was pathetic. “Oh Kate…”
“Penny?” Kate croaked, staring disconcertingly up at the woman standing before her. “What are you wearing?”
Penny had almost forgotten her incognito appearance: a curly blonde wig covered her head, the short, zany cut reminiscent of a childish witch; a long, tan trench coat hid her person from chin to heel. “Oh, this? Didn’t want to be recognized.”
“No chance of that,” Kate whispered.
Penny flicked her wrist impatiently, stepping back. “Come out of there,” she insisted.
Slowly, Kate unfurled her person, slipping up from behind the desk. “Did you see them? Are they still out there?”
Penny shook her head slowly. “I didn’t see anyone, but I was kind of in a hurry…”
Kate looked hopeful. “Maybe—do you think they could’ve gone?”
Penny doubted it. “I don’t know. Want to tell me what happened?”
Kate sighed. Throwing a hand through her unusually disheveled hair, she plopped down on one side of Jake’s desk. Watching her, Penny felt a flurry of activity explode in her stomach. Jake’s chair. She couldn’t help seeing him in her mind’s eyes, leaning back against the plush piece of furniture, his brow furrowed in concentration, his eyes intent as he studied business models—or whatever he did here. This was his space. She could practically feel his presence here, dominating this space. For a moment, she was glad for the darkness. Now wasn’t the time for distracting thoughts….
“I don’t know,” Kate said with a sigh, bringing Penny’s attention back to the task at hand. “I was just standing in the Romance section, stocking some new arrivals when I heard her.”
Kate’s voice was dry. “Nothing makes the hairs on my arms stand up quick like the sound of her voice.”
Penny could hardly disagree with that. Calida did have a way about her. Overwhelming. Terrifying. “Okay?
“It was loud, chilling,” Kate remembered, her voice eerie in the dark room. “She didn’t see me, thank God, but I heard her asking Delia if I was there…”
“I’m looking for Kate McDonald,” Calida had said, her voice carrying, determined. “Could you please tell me where I can find her? It’s rather urgent.”
Delia, bless her heart, hadn’t known exactly where Kate was; unfortunately, she had also been eager to help, assuring Calida that Kate was, indeed, definitely there—she’d go and find her, just one moment please.
“Then what happened?” Penny asked breathlessly.
“I panicked,” Kate admitted, looking down at her fingers, which were fused together, her knuckles aching in the tight grip. “Dropping the books back in the delivery box, I moved to the end of the bookshelf. Hiding behind its bulk, I went to peer around the side of it, hoping to catch sight of her…only it wasn’t my mother who I saw. It was the back of Phil’s head!”
Penny nodded wordlessly. That must have been a shock.
“I couldn’t,” Kate shook her head. “I mean, how did they even find me?”
“I don’t know…”
“So I did the only thing I could think of,” Kate murmured. “I ran.” Closing her eyes in mortification, Kate remembered how her heart had beat, thump-thump-thumping erratically in her chest.
She couldn’t breathe. Her body felt limp with fatigue. Crouched low, trying to keep her body out of sight, she’d leap-fogged from one aisle to another, her eyes ever-vigilant to shadows, sound, approaching footsteps. But she’d seen no one. When she’d reached the end of the line, she’d crawled (literally crawled, on her hands and knees) down the length of the last row there, until she’d found herself at an impassive: an open stretch of space between where she remained and Jake’s office stood. Straightening, she’d stopped, tossing her head from left to right, judging her next move. A group of teenagers was coming at her from the left, a mom and her two toddlers from the right. Jumping out in front of them, murmured “Sorry, sorry’s!” peppering the air, she’d wrestled herself between the gaggle of approaching, colliding bodies, hoping the crowd would conceal her until she’d cleared the area. Then, her body safely plastered up against the far wall, she’d tip-toed the rest of the way, her arms splayed out at her sides, her fingers stretching toward the door handle just out of reach…
“Oh Kate, you didn’t,” Penny breathed upon hearing this tale. “You poor thing.”
“Now I’m stuck,” Kate cried. “I wasn’t thinking clearly. I just knew I had to get away. But now—outside of escaping through that window,” she said, pointing to the dinky thing up high on the wall, which would hardly fit a grown woman, even one of Kate’s tiny size—“I’m a sitting duck.”
Penny smiled. “Not so fast,” she advised, and with a quick motion, whipped open her trench coat to reveal a backpack strapped to her front. Zipping it open, she quickly pulled out a long black wig, a floppy straw hat and a long maxi dress. “Here. Put these on.”
“What?” Kate looked at them dumbly. “Where did you get this stuff?”
Penny shrugged. “I keep them at the shop.”
Penny gave her a look. “Do you really think this is the time for questions?”
“Right.” Without further ado, Kate pulled on the dress, followed shortly after by the wig. Tucking the last of her hair inside its massive proportions, she looked at Penny. “Well? Will I do?”
“For a quick getaway,” Penny considered, “I think you’ll pass muster.”
Kate nodded. Straightening her shoulders, she asked: “So, what next?”
“We walk out the front door.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
Kate took a deep breath. “If you say so.” With more conviction then she felt, she marched toward the office door…
“Oh wait,” Penny said at the last moment. Rustling around in her handbag, she came up with a pair of ridiculously large sunglasses. “Put these on.”
Slipping them on, Kate took a deep breath.
“Ready?” Penny asked.
“Ready,” Kate assured her. She reached for the doorknob and then, with a smothered wail, snatched her hand back. “Wait. My car!” Kate cried, turning back to stare at Penny. Though her eyes were concealed behind the frames of her glasses, the psychic could easily picture their wide, frantic glance.
“Yeah? What about it?”
“They would have seen it by now,” Kate reasoned. “What if they’re watching it? Waiting for me to leave—!”
Penny refrained from commenting on Kate’s melodrama. It wasn’t the time. Still, she couldn’t quite keep the impatience out of her voice when she answered. “It’s fine. Maggie’s meeting us out front anyway.”
“You brought along a getaway car?” Kate asked, eyebrows raised.
Penny shrugged. “I figured we could use one. Plus, I didn’t think you’re nerves would be much for driving anyway. And my car…” Penny paused. Well, her car was back at her house but explaining that to Kate seemed—like too much, frankly. Shaking her head, she insisted. “Anyway, I called Maggie. Now let’s go!” With a waving motion, she shooed Kate out the door.
“I can’t believe that worked!” Kate screeched excitedly minutes later, once she was safely tucked inside Maggie’s SUV. Shaking off the itchy wig, she smiled hugely up at Penny, who was sitting beside Maggie in the front seat.
“I can,” Maggie muttered drily, sparing both of their outfits a quick look before pulling out onto the road. “Where’d you get those getups, anyway?”
“Apparently, we aren’t supposed to ask,” Kate chimed in, lips pursed amusedly.
“If you must know—” Penny sighed dramatically. “Sometimes, my clients feel more comfortable if I prescribe to a certain—well, image during our sessions.”
“So you dress in costume?”
“If that’s what the client wants.”
Kate giggled. Letting out some of the nervous energy, she grinned up at Penny. “Do the spirits ever confuse you for someone else?”
“Oh shut it,” Penny grumbled as Maggie turned the car down Kate’s quiet street.
Nosing the vehicle into her driveway, the pastor turned off the ignition. Turning back to look at Kate, she smiled fleetingly. “So we should probably talk…”
“Talk?” Kate asked guilelessly. “About what?”
“About what you’re going to do?”
“What do you mean, what I’m going to do?” Kate was defensive.
“Kate, they aren’t just going to go away,” Maggie said softly. “You can’t avoid them forever.”
“They’ve come all this way,” Penny added. “I don’t think they’re just going to leave…”
“Not until they get what they want,” Kate finished. “Story of my life.”
Maggie smiled tightly.
“Well tough,” Kate decided, arms crossed. “I don’t want to talk to them. I don’t want to be ambushed.”
“I know, and they shouldn’t have handled it this way,” Maggie agreed. “But Kate, don’t you want to end this feud once and for all? Put it behind you?”
“Don’t you want to stop running, stop hiding?” Penny chimed in. “You’re stronger than that. Prove it to them.”
Kate bit down on her lip. Then, with a jerk, she nodded. “Okay,” she said. “You’re right. I don’t—I don’t want to runaway anymore.”
With a contented sigh, Maggie opened her car door. “Good. Now, why don’t I make us a pot of tea and we’ll sit down and figure this out—sort out your thoughts, figure out your next move.”
“That’s right,” Penny said, nodding firmly. “This time, you get to be the one in control.”
“That’s right,” Maggie agreed. “And this time, you get to have a say.”
“I like the sound of that,” Kate agreed.
“And remember, we’re here for you girl,” Penny said, as they walked up the short drive to her front door. Little did the psychic know just how prophetic those words would turn out to be…!
“Katie?” The soft entreaty, coming from the shadows of the covered porch had all three women freezing on the front step, their heads rotating in synch as they turned to lock gazes with the voice belonging to that soft question.
Holding up her hand, a soft laugh pulsating out of her mouth, Calida forestalled any further talk. Brushing back her perfectly styled hair, she turned to look at Kate. “I was hoping to talk to you…?”
“How—where?” Kate sputtered nervously, staring helplessly at her artlessly turned-out mother.
“How did I find you?” Calida asked, with a perfectly raised eyebrow. She laughed hollowly. “I assure you, it wasn’t easy.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be,” Penny retorted.
“Phillip!” Calida called out suddenly, her head shifting to the left, her body leaning backward over the railing to yell down the side of the house. “Phillip, up at the front…”
“He’s here, too?”
“Well, surely you knew that?” Calida chided. “You saw us at the bookstore, after all.”
Kate’s face blanched. And, waiting, she soon watched Phil’s form come slowly into view. Walking up the narrow bath from the backyard, it was clear he and Calida had intended a trap, staking out the place at both ends.
They were good.
“You followed us?” Kate asked.
“Of course not,” Calida said, flicking off a piece of imaginary dirt from her shirt sleeve.
Calida smiled. “It’s a friendly place, this Whestleigh. Almost too friendly. When I stopped at the coffee shop in town, the barista was only too eager for a little gossip. When I mentioned that I was in the area to surprise you, she was only too glad to fill in the blanks.”
Kate bit her lip.
“That’s when I found out about the LitLiber. The girl figured you’d probably be there, it being a Tuesday and all,” Calida said mockingly. “I guess it’s true what they say: small towns know everything about everyone’s business, huh?”
Penny held up her hand. “Okay, but how did you know about Whestleigh, at all? How did you know about Connecticut?”
Phil, standing at the base of the front steps, remained silent throughout this whole exchange, his gaze intent upon soaking up Kate’s stiff posture. Her eyes, however, hadn’t dared to come within two feet of where he stood. Besides, she seemed too consumed by her mother’s presence anyway—
Calida smiled. It wasn’t very nice. “Actually Penny, Kate told me.”
Kate goggled. “Me?”
“Do you remember that day I took you ladies to my club?” Calida asked. “We went to the spa?”
Penny had a sinking feeling about that.
“Well, a few mimosas and loose lips and all that…”
“What did I say?” Kate whispered.
“That you were back in college,” Calida told them gleefully.
Kate blinked. “That’s it?”
“Well,” Calida smiled triumphantly. “Then Penny had told me about one of her clients.” She turned to the psychic. “And you used a very particular phrase in describing her—an old nutmegger if you’d ever met one, right down to her roots.”
“After that,” Calida shrugged. “It was simple game of connecting the dots. And in a few short weeks, the private detective I hired had pinpointed your general whereabouts.” She smiled amusedly at Phil. “Though to be fair, it still took a little time to find you here. We searched high and low in Hiltbolt looking for you.”
Of course. Hiltbolt; the town where her college was located.
“But you found me anyway.” Kate’s voice was resigned. She’d gotten over her shock now.
“We found you.”
“And?” Kate asked wearily. “What do you want?”
Calida blinked. “What do we want?” She shot a look at Phil. “We want an explanation, Kate. Closure.” She took a deep breath, pulling her shoulders straight. “We want an apology. And we mean to have it.”