Enchanted Destiny - Book One - by Rayka Mennen
Kat never believed she’d fall victim to her family’s stories about destined soul mates—she makes her own fate, thank you very much. When she walks by a construction site and admires the same sexy architect for the zillionth time in a week, the last thing she expects is to be slammed by a vision of his death.
Which activates the spell that will change their lives forever.
Jake is a single dad with a singular focus—create a stable life for him and his son. His ex-wife cured him of any desire to fall in love, but when an intriguing woman saves him from what should’ve been a deadly accident, he can’t shake his fascination. Too bad she’s crazy, claiming she’s a witch and that they’re soul mates—not exactly the “stable life” he had in mind.
Kat’s destiny comes with a deadline. If they don’t fall in love by her twenty-fifth birthday—a mere three weeks away—Jake will never find the peace he seeks and Kat will lose her magic forever.
Praise for Enchanted Destiny:
★★★★ stars. “Mennen’s latest is a delightful tale of destined love. Her characters are colorful, from straightlaced Jake to Kat, the witch who is determined not to get caught in her family’s legacy … until she does. Readers will laugh and cry along with Kat and Jake as they become ensnared in their destiny.”
- Sabrina Cooper, RT Book Reviews
© Rayka Mennen
Jake Taggert dragged his eyes away from her front door for at least the fifth time in as many minutes. With a muttered curse, he forced his attention back to the unrolled plans spread across the hood of his truck.
Three days. Three days since he’d begun this job, and three days he’d been drawn to that woman with the gorgeous curly hair. And legs that reached the sky. She must work nearby—she walked past him every day. Or maybe she took the bus or train? Had she already left before he arrived today?
Do not look at her house again.
With his coffee mug held away from the drawings, he squinted at the blue lines. One of the construction workers called out a greeting and he glanced up, raising his free hand in response. He noticed the trailer pulling onto the verge opposite him, piled high with sections of metal storm drains. Good. He’d called in a couple of favors and the company had come through with the delivery.
The crisp autumn breeze sent gold oak leaves scurrying along the sidewalk. It blew his hair over his eyes, reminding him he needed to get it cut. Shoving the too-long strands off his forehead, he kept his wavering focus on the intricacies of sewer pipe designs, trying to make sense of the land gradient and the lay of the new drains.
He scrunched his eyes. Lord, he was tired. If Cam would stop waking up at three in the morning, he’d be more functional. Of course, then the kid then fell asleep on the way to the sitter’s.
He stepped back from the truck and knocked into a body. A soft female body. By pure reflex, he half-turned and caught her around the waist before she fell.
“Oh, damn.” Her husky tone brought forth instant images of silk sheets and king-sized beds. Some exotic, flowery scent wafted over him.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I didn’t realize you were there.”
He stared. It was her. The woman he’d watched for three days. The sun shone down on her just a little brighter, the grass on the verge behind her just a little greener.
“It was my fault.” Her full lips curved into an apologetic smile. “I wasn’t paying attention.”
Her hair was curlier than he realized from those short glimpses of her. She smiled again, flashing pearly white teeth at him.
When the hell did I started noticing women’s teeth?
She looked down at his arm still holding her waist.
“Er… sorry.” He let go, wishing he could think of something witty to say. Something that would keep her there, talking. But that had about as much chance of happening as the Bears winning the Super Bowl this year. He wanted—no, needed—to hear that bedroom voice again.
Her eyes widened for an instant as she gazed at him. Beautiful, and grass-green. Thank God her lids swept down, hiding those eyes behind thick, curling lashes. He could have drowned in all that green.
Great, now I’m mooning over her eyes.
“Thanks for not letting me fall.” She nodded at him and walked on, heading away from the construction. He couldn’t help following the line of those long, long legs under her red skirt. The same light wind blew again, and flirted with its edges, teasing him with half glimpses of the backs of her thighs.
Head bent, bag slung over her shoulder, she must have walked about fifty feet before she stopped. She swung around on one heel and ran back toward him and grabbed his bicep. “Quick! You have to move.”
What the hell? “Excuse me?”
Even startled, Jake still registered the softness of her fingers on his arm and the tingle of awareness that shot through his skin.
“Please, just get away from the truck.” Her voice rose, urgent, strange. Had she flipped her lid?
“Look… ” he began.
She caught his arm with both hands and tugged, and he took an involuntary step in her direction.
Hell, when a gorgeous woman pulled him toward her, who was he to say no?
Still hanging on, she towed him away from the vehicle. He followed, more curious than alarmed. “Miss, what’s going on?”
“I… can’t explain. Please just… just get away from the damn thing.”
“Hey, I don’t know what you want. What’s wrong with my truck?”
“Just a feeling.”
A feeling? She’d super-glued her hand to his arm because of a feeling? They stood about a hundred feet from the truck now. Enough was enough. He dug in his heels and shook loose from her grasp. “Miss, you want to tell me what’s going on?”
“It’s just that… oh, how do I explain this?” She raked a hand through her hair, her bewildered tone touching a chord inside him.
“Explain what?” he asked, softening his tone. He glanced back at his vehicle. Maybe this was a scam and someone planned to carjack him.
The shout caught his attention. He looked in the direction of the noise, and stiffened in shock. The trailer, filled with sectional storm pipes, slid off the pavement, the tubes clanging as they knocked against each other. Tires spun as gravity took over.
“Oh. My. God.” Jake breathed the words and watched in horror as the trailer slammed into his truck. The side where he had stood not a minute ago.
The resounding crunch of metal against metal echoed above the sounds of cars and machines. He flinched. People shouted, the words barely penetrating the haze over his mind. Unable to tear his eyes from his mangled truck, he stared, stunned.
Something sharp dug into his arm. He moved his head slowly, like swimming upstream in swamp water, and looked down at the hand still curled around his bicep. She had nice nails, painted a pale pink.
Jesus, she had saved his life. But how the hell had she known?
Kat Richetti shoved open the door to her salon.
“Hey. You’re late, but you don’t have to break the door down.”
She glanced at her cousin, Gina, then stumbled into the reception area and sank into the nearest chair. Too early for customers, thank goodness.
“Kat? What’s wrong?”
She opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. A steamroller had taken residence on her chest. Swallowing, she tried again.
“Accident,” she squeaked, her voice far from normal.
“Who’s had an accident? You? Damn it, Kat, talk to me.” Gina’s worried words pierced the fog that hung over her. She clutched Kat’s hand in hers. Hard.
“Not me. A man. Out there.”
Breathe in, breathe out.
She took another deep breath, the ritual associated with her meditation calming her somewhat. “By the construction site. Mon… Monroe Street, you know where they’re repairing the road?”
“By your townhouse, yeah.”
“There was an accident.” The trembling in her legs had stopped. Or maybe she couldn’t feel it because she was sitting down. “One of the guys doing work on the street. And I saw it.”
Gina sank onto the arm of the overstuffed chair, her hand smoothing Kat’s hair. “You saw him get hit by a car or something? Did he die?”
“No, Gina.” Her voice rose in exasperation and she caught herself. No point snapping at her cousin. Gina wouldn’t understand until she told her.
“This guy. I don’t know who he is but I’ve seen him there before. He’s with the work crew. A supervisor or something. A big trailer came loose and smashed into his truck.”
Gina’s hand flew to her chest. “With him in it?”
She rubbed her cold hands together. “No, he was off to the side.”
“So he didn’t get hurt?”
Kat shook her head.
“Then why are you so upset?”
“Gina! I saw it.”
“Yeah. You just told me that. The guy wasn’t hurt, so what’s the big deal?”
“I mean I saw it before it happened.”
Understanding dawned in her cousin’s eyes. “You mean… ”
“Holy cow! Tell me the whole thing.”
At least her heart had stopped racing like a Chicago cabbie beating a red light. “He brushed against me on the street. I started to feel funny, kinda hazy. I walked a few steps away when I saw the whole thing flash in front of my eyes.”
“Oh, my God.” Gina bounced off the chair. “What’d you do?”
“I ran back to him and tried to get him to move away from the truck. Sure enough, he wouldn’t. Kept asking me why. So I grabbed his arm and pulled him away, right before the trailer hit his truck.”
Her cousin whistled. “What happened then?”
“People started shouting, running up to us. I slipped away and practically jogged here.”
“Do you think anyone knew?”
“No. I mean, how could they?” No one else had been around her at the time she had the premonition. “Except him.”
Gina knelt before her. “Him! You know what this means, don’t you?”
Of course she knew. It had been a tradition every firstborn woman in their family hoped would happen to them. Except for Kat. When the vision didn’t show up, she’d thought it was skipping a generation. Or maybe just her. She pulled at the lone curl falling over her left shoulder, and her heartbeat picked up the pace again.
It had really happened.
She buried her face in her hands and groaned.
“What?” Gina asked, rising and standing before her, hands on her hips.
“If it is the vision—”
“Don’t start second-guessing yourself.”
The timing was just so bad because they had applied for a loan to expand the salon.
“It’s not about second-guessing. We have plans for the salon.” She glanced up at Gina. “You haven’t forgotten our loan application?”
“I’m not forgetting anything. So, yeah, we’ve asked for a bank loan to expand the business. We can’t exactly ask fate to stop, can we?”
“But—” She clutched her head.
“But nothing. Stop with the head holding, your hair’s starting to look like a rat’s nest. We’ll manage.”
“But now more than ever, we need to put all our focus into the business.”
Sometimes she worried that Gina didn’t realize how serious this venture was, or how they could lose all the money she had put into the business if it didn’t succeed.
“I know that. But there’s two of us to do it now. Trust me, I’ll pull my weight.”
“I know you will.” She hastened to reassure her cousin. Gina had plenty of insecurities piled on her by their family without Kat adding to them. “I’m not doubting you. But it’s going to take the two of us putting in everything we have to make this work. I don’t have time for a man in my life. If I hadn’t given up on the vision I would never have agreed to us applying for that expansion loan.”
Too restless to sit, Kat stood. She patted Gina’s shoulder in reassurance.
“You know,” she said, and chewed on her lower lip. “It doesn’t have to be the vision. I’m almost twenty-five. No way would it show up this close to the deadline. Not with this much at stake.”
Gina snorted with derision. “Okay, so now I know you weren’t listening when Nonna was lecturing us.” Gina shook her head in exaggerated disapproval. In perfect imitation of their grandmother’s storytelling voice, she continued. “The tradition will find you. The vision will happen. But you must accept your destiny by your twenty-fifth birthday. Or you will lose it all.”
She stepped closer and placed her hands on Kat’s shoulders. “Your birthday is in five weeks. Seriously, Kat. How many friggin’ visions do you think you’ll have where you save a guy’s life before then?”
Damn, damn, damn. Had she really thought she could escape the family tradition?
She should have paid more attention to his looks. She couldn’t even remember the color of his eyes. And now the man was destined to be her soul mate.
Kat sat in the cramped office at the salon, eyeing Gina’s accounts. Spreadsheets covered the table. She didn’t mind going over the numbers—Gina did such a great job of creating order out of chaos. But today she had the attention span of a hummingbird. The clean, soothing lines of blue and ochre borders on the walls seemed to mock her.
Let’s see how orderly your life is now.
Thank goodness she had no clients this morning. Her earliest appointment was at three, and while normally she would be disappointed at the lack of business, today she was glad. Having the office to herself gave her a chance to regroup and try to make sense of what happened.
Her mind yo-yoed between anticipation and dismay.
At first she tried to ignore the events of the morning. That worked for about ten seconds. Who was she kidding? Images of the mangled truck and the man’s stunned face flittered in and out of her mind.
A small part of her hadn’t believed it would happen. After all, she hadn’t witnessed anyone in the family actually having the vision. The last person she knew of who had it was her mother. She wound her hair around her finger and settled back in the swivel chair, eyes closed. She could meditate herself out of any mood. So that’s what she would do now. Calm herself and think logically.
For generations, if Nonna could be believed, certain women in their family were privileged to have a vision about the man they were destined to marry. This only happened to firstborn females.
Kat had been told she would likely be affected as the eldest of three in her family, and her powers were strong. Her abilities had even frightened her at first. When she turned twenty-one she had tiptoed around every corner expecting the vision any minute. When nothing happened, she had gradually stopped thinking about it, assumed it wouldn’t happen, focusing instead on strengthening her empathic powers. The rest of her magic she honed but didn’t practice often. Really, what chance did she have to use telekinesis? For as much energy as it took out of her, she was glad she didn’t do much with that side of her powers. Magic comes with a price. Another lesson dinned into them in witch school.
But she’d put her empathy and her restorative magic to darn good use with her massage therapy and intuitive healing practice. What a bonus that her powers were something she enjoyed using to heal people’s emotional scars. Unlike Aunt Ester, who mostly had premonitions, many of which were unpleasant. Try telling your neighbor that her husband was about to leave her for another woman—and empty the bank account in the process. Or Gina, whose premonitions came when they pleased and rarely covered anything important. Nor were they were very clear, a source of constant frustration for Gina.
Which cycled her right back to her own experience that morning, and the fact that she would lose it all if she didn’t accept her destiny.
One day, Katy, it will come. When you least expect it. And your powers will magnify, take you places you never imagined. Her grandmother’s words echoed in her ears. For a second she thought Nonna stood in the room.
The walls were closing in, the office too small. Why had they thought such a tiny workspace was ideal?
Magic comes with a price.
She knew no one was saying those words to her, but they rang in her head, in her mind, nevertheless. She sprang up from the chair, sending it back into the wall. She stuck her head around the door into the main salon area. Gina sat at the front desk, flipping through a magazine.
Kat twisted her hair into a low knot on her nape. “Hey, I’m going to stock the massage rooms.”
Gina looked up. “You okay?”
“I’m fine. Just need to do something physical for a bit. Those numbers were giving me a headache.”
“So what’re you going to do?
“Oh hell, Kat.” Gina raised her eyes to the scrolled, painted ceiling. “About this guy. You can’t just ignore it.”
She curled her fingers into an irritated fist. “Why not? If he’s meant to marry me, he’ll come find me. Right?”
Her cousin grimaced. “You’d better not act so casual about it. Seriously, what will you do?”
“Stop hounding me,” she said, her voice rising in aggravation. “I’ll stop at Nonna’s this evening on the way home.”
Then, noting Gina’s surprised look, she added, “Sorry, didn’t mean to snap at you. It’s just… just all too much right now.”
Gina nodded her understanding. “No problem. I can just imagine.”
Kat waved a hand to her cousin and walked into the first massage room. The cream-colored walls and soothing green murals always relaxed her. Flipping the switch by the door to turn on the sound system, she let the rich sounds of a flute fill the room. She topped a bottle with massage oil, then checked the aromatherapy vials. Inhaling her signature blend, she waited for the scent to soothe her, but today, all she felt was a sneeze coming on.
Everything else was in order. Their part-time manicurist had put fresh towels and sheets in the rooms yesterday before closing, while Kat was at the bank meeting.
Which was the main reason why this vision had lousy timing. If their loan was approved—and it looked like it would be—they’d have enough to worry about with expanding the salon, adding more massage rooms, maybe even reconsidering their initial decision not to have hairdressers rent space from them. With all that ahead, who had time for destined husbands? And she had thought the whole tradition had passed her up for the soul-mate pairing.
Though, as far as destined mates went, the vision had chosen well for her. The man had a certain wow factor about him. Tall, tanned, and pretty nice-looking. If she was honest, very nice-looking.
His gaze had certainly held an interested spark when they’d met. Now that she concentrated on the memory of his face, she realized she had noticed his eyes. The color of bellflowers, almost purplish. She used the essence of the bellflower in her healing sessions, when a client needed respite from memories of a trauma. Heartsease was the other name for bellflower. Funny, when he’d brought such chaos into her life.
By now he must have figured her for a kook. She’d have to leave the house early for the next few days. He couldn’t know where she worked, so as long as she avoided him in the mornings, she’d be fine. Usually, she got home well after the crew had left. She needed a couple of days to try on the destiny idea; just walk around with it for a while before she talked to him.
If she did.
What if this wasn’t the vision? What if she’d simply been meant to save his life?
She released the washcloth she clutched like a lifeline and smoothed it back on the pile of linens on the counter.
Evening couldn’t get here soon enough. She needed to talk this out with her grandmother.
Kat paid the cabbie and walked up the drive of her grandmother’s house. Typically, she would have taken the train, but emergency funds were made for days like this. The profusion of mums and asters lining the walkway waved their welcome in the wind. The light scent of lavender floated on the air. For a seventy-year-old, Nonna still tended her garden with the same energy and spirit as when she was younger.
The door opened as Kat stepped onto the porch.
“Knew you’d come today.”
Kat arched a brow. Oh, the benefits of having a clairvoyant in the family. Wrapping her grandmother in a big hug, she grinned. “So you made cannoli?”
“Of course I did. Come in, come in, before the dog gets out again.”
She laughed. “Has he escaped already today?”
“Twice. Once when a man came selling magazines. And then when your grandfather left for his walk.”
A tiny animal came rushing into the living room, sliding to a halt on the polished hardwood. Kat bent to pet the little terrier, whose excitement translated into high-pitched yaps.
“Stop it, Chispa. You can say hello without so much noise.” Nonna herded Kat into the kitchen, followed by the bounding dog. “Chispa, stop. Or you’ll have to go into the study.”
Chispa, named for her diminutive stature, had adopted Nonna, rather than the other way around. She had belonged to the neighbors, who decided to leave her with Nonna when they moved into an assisted living center.
The dog stopped barking.
“You don’t like that, do you?” Nonna scolded the terrier, her fond tone belying her stern words. “Well, be quiet then if you want to stay here.”
Chispa gave Nonna a disgusted look, then turned a beseeching one to Kat. Her expressions couldn’t have been more human. No more immune than her grandmother to the dog’s charm, she settled in a chair with the animal in her lap.
Nonna set a teapot and a plate of cannoli on the table. Kat’s mouth watered at the sight of her favorite pastry but she refused to be sidetracked. Sipping her tea, she waited for her grandmother to sit.
“So, Katy, tell me what brings you here.” Only Nonna called her Katy. It always gave her a warm feeling, like she could just lay her troubles down and Nonna would take care of them as she had when Kat was little.
“You mean you don’t know?”
Her grandmother chuckled. “I’m not that psychic. Especially where you’re concerned.”
She bit her lip and tugged on her hair.
“Leave your curls alone and talk to me, girl,” Nonna said, pouring Kat a cup of jasmine-scented tea.
Kat let her hair be and wrapped her hands around the warm ceramic mug. She took a deep breath and plunged right in. “This morning I had a vision that a man would get hurt by some road-repair equipment.”
She paused, unsure how to go on.
Nonna waited, patient as ever.
“I got him to move away from the spot just seconds before he would have been badly hurt. I guess you could say I saved his life.”
Her grandmother’s dark eyes gleamed with interest. “A-ha. And it involved a young man?”
“I guess you could call him young. Thirtyish, maybe. I don’t know, I’m pretty bad at telling age and—”
“Stop rambling, Katy. He’s young enough. And you will soon be twenty-five.” Nonna leaned over and took one of Kat’s hands in her gentle hold. “It is time. Your destiny is calling out to you.”
Her heartbeat hiccupped, then sprinted in a mad dash toward some imaginary finish line. Her fingers tightened around her grandmother’s. Nervous anticipation filled her chest like water overfilling a jug. She couldn’t breathe. Having it confirmed by her grandmother just about yanked the proverbial rug out from under her.
Destiny. So it really was her time. She never even considered questioning her grandmother. Nonna knew these things. She’d always known about the traditions, and she was keeper of the family’s history.
“Now, now, Katy.” Nonna let her hand go and walked around the carved pine table to Kat’s side. She put her arms around Kat’s shoulders and Kat sank into her diminutive grandmother’s embrace. “What are you afraid of, honey?”
She wasn’t ready for marriage, not just yet. And certainly not to some guy she’d never even dated. Or for her powers to grow, as they would after her union with him. That’s how it had been described to all the girls in her family. She’d never questioned what that union might be, exactly. Sex? Marriage? She had a business to expand, other dreams to fulfill before she settled down. In hindsight, she should have asked a whole lot more questions.
“But it’s such a bad time,” she said, her voice thick with tears.
“So you think. But fate decrees otherwise. You knew this might happen. Why are you so nervous?”
“Knowing something might happen is quite different from actually having it happen. Besides, I can’t imagine telling Mom and Dad.” And her brothers. “I’m not as comfortable with it as you were, or Mom.” She wished her mother was here, but her parents were on a well-deserved cruise and nothing was so bad that she had to call them back.
“We would have had a hard time if your dad hadn’t been the chosen one. Your mother was smitten the minute she saw him.” Nonna laughed, lost in memories for a second. “I know you sometimes wish you were normal. As did all of us.”
“When you talk about a union happening, what exactly does that mean?”
Nonna hugged Kat hard before she let go and walked back to her chair. “It means everything that should happen when two people promise to be with each other. Love, the physical part of such a commitment, all of it.” She nodded her head as if confirming some internal thought. “It’s a heavy burden to carry. And it’s all right to wish it gone some days.”
Her wise grandmother sliced to the heart of the matter, as usual.
Kat swiped at the tears streaking down her cheek. “I just feel guilty sometimes, like I don’t appreciate all I have. All this power I have. What do I really do with it? I mean it’s not like I’m out battling demons or something. I’ve never really had to use my other powers.”
Kat smiled at the memory that came out of nowhere. “I used to wish someone would mug me just so I could freeze the person in place. It seemed such a cool thing to do. But then one day I was reading your grandmother’s diary, Nonna, and it occurred to me I should be glad I don’t have to fight evil warlocks or wizards or witch hunters like she wrote about.”
Nonna chuckled. “Thank goodness our world is more peaceful now. Although there will always be those who hunt us for our power, they are much better controlled.” Her eyes took on a faraway look for an instant. “We can never be too prepared.” She tapped her fingers on the table. “But you do a lot of good. You heal people from emotional hurt. Look at your salon. Business is booming, yes?”
Kat couldn’t disagree. “Business is good. And that’s part of the problem. Gina and I applied for a loan to expand the salon. I can’t take my focus away from that. G does the books but I need to concentrate on clients. If this doesn’t work out and I lose my powers, I’ll lose half the clients I have. We wouldn’t have grown the business so fast if I couldn’t do what I do.”
“You can do both. It’s the human side, your non-magical persona, that balks at the tremendous responsibility you bear. You’ve chosen to do much good with your gifts. Don’t fight this last step. You need it to make you complete, to hone your talents.”
Nonna wasn’t making any earth-shattering prophecy. Kat had heard the same story at different times in her life as her mother and grandmother prepared her to deal with her fate. What an idiot she was to have dismissed it as not-gonna-happen-to-me these past few years.
“So, this man,” began Nonna. “Is he good-looking? A hunk, yes?”
With his tanned face, engaging grin, and startling blue eyes? Kat grinned. “We don’t quite call them hunks anymore, but yes, he is one.”
“And how did he react to you?”
She’d have been blind not to have seen him standing on the pavement by her house, pretending not to look at her. While she might be cautious, and not your average free-spirited witch, she did have eyes for a pair of jeans molding a tight, tight butt.
She was so not discussing that with Nonna. And how was she going to explain this to him? She couldn’t just waltz up to him and announce the vision and its consequences. “Right now, he probably thinks I’m a nut job.”
The wind whipped around Kat’s legs as she trudged from the salon to her house. The edge of her skirt lifted to flirt with her thighs, and she held it down with one hand. She should have worn a coat, but she hated to acknowledge any sign of the coming winter. Those long, cold months were the only thing she would change about Chicago.
Dry leaves skipped along the pavement, keeping pace with her. Her neighbors two doors down had hung orange lanterns, ghostly cotton webbing, and spiders on their balcony. People seemed to decorate earlier and earlier for each holiday. Hefting her tote onto her shoulder, she strode the last few steps to her brownstone. Darkness shrouded the small porch and she clicked her tongue as she remembered the burned-out light. She really had to start adding things like that to a list so she didn’t forget.
Running up the steps, she let out a tiny scream as a figure rose from a chair. Hand to her throat, she turned to dash back to the street.
“Whoa, hold up. It’s just me.”
The thumping in her chest almost drowned out his next words.
“You don’t remember me? You saved my life this morning?”
She stopped her headlong flight and turned. His voice penetrated the rush of fear. But this was Chicago after all, where crime stats rose every day. Keeping a safe distance from him, she groped among her keys for the small flashlight she carried and aimed it in his direction. The beam wasn’t the brightest, but she recognized him.
Great. For just about ten minutes there, she’d managed to put him and her destiny out of her mind. Willing her still-racing heart to slow down, she walked up the steps again. She wasn’t normally this jumpy. But all day, it had been like there was a thorn under her skin she couldn’t get rid of. “What are you doing here? You scared me.”
“Sorry,” he drawled, shielding his eyes from her light. “I meant to call out before you got this close so I wouldn’t frighten you, but I must’ve dozed off. Didn’t hear you ’til just now.”
“What are you doing here?” she repeated, still not climbing the steps the porch.
Never mind that she could immobilize him long enough to call the police. She glanced around his head and spied the pot of pink and blue pansies just at his eye level. She could use her magic to whack him on the forehead with it.
“Waiting for you.”
“I guessed that. But why?” she asked, thinking fast. Considerably braver now that she had a plan to defend herself if she needed to, she walked up the stairs, moving her light away from his eyes. She hadn’t had time to think about what to say to him. How to say it.
“You saved my life this morning. I never got a chance to thank you.”
“No thanks needed. Just did what anyone would have done.” She edged toward the door and swung the flashlight toward the keyhole.
His wariness crept over her, tinged with uncertainty. She tried to close her mind to her awareness of him.
“We both know there was more to it than that. That wasn’t just what anyone would have done.”
“You must have a pretty jaded view of human beings if you think most anyone wouldn’t have tried to get you out of immediate danger.”
He rubbed his chin with his thumb and forefinger. “And you must think you could sell me some prime swampland in Florida. Not buying.”
Seriously? He wanted to have this conversation, here? Now? Her sigh gusted between them, her uncertainty hung in the air. “Look—”
“You really should have a light out here,” he said.
No shit, Sherlock.
“I know that,” she snapped. Then, as she continued to sense his confusion, she softened her tone. “Sorry. I don’t mean to be rude. I just wasn’t expecting you. I keep forgetting to replace the bulb. There’s just too much happening in my life right now.” She fumbled with her bag and her keys. “Let me turn on the lamp inside.”
“Here, let me hold that for you.” He took the flashlight out of her hand and held it steady as she unlocked the door. She reached in and flipped the hall light on while leaving the door half-open.
“There, now I can see. Have a seat.” She wasn’t quite ready to ask him inside. The night wasn’t really cold. They could talk on the porch.
He hooked a foot around a wicker chair, pulled it to him, and sank into it.
She sat, too, and fiddled with the bag in her lap. What now? She should’ve asked her mom way before this. How exactly did you break the news to Dad? Letting him stick around wasn’t such a hot idea after all. She needed time to practice this talk.
“So, will you be around tomorrow? I can stop by the site and talk to you in the morning.” That would give her the night to map out her strategy.
Again, her senses swarmed with her awareness of his feelings. Nothing tangible like thoughts, just sensations—bewildered, fatigued, a faint hint of… something stronger. With other people, she had to open her mind consciously to sense their emotions. With him, it was like her mind just gaped wide with an engraved invitation. Come in, let me feel everything you’re feeling.
She let her intuition take over. He needed to talk.
The shadow of the wooden post behind, coupled with the warm yellow light spilling out from the hall, threw his face into sharp relief. He looked down at his hands, loosely intertwined between his knees. He opened his mouth, hesitated, then words tumbled out, almost like he had to get them out or he’d lose them. “This morning, something really weird took place. Besides that trailer smashing my truck.”
Okay, this she could do. Calling on her counseling background, she reflected his statement back to him. “What else do you think happened?”
He gave a laugh, which quickly cut off like he was embarrassed. “Jesus. We haven’t even officially met.”
Small detail, that, but important. She took a moment to wonder what his name might be—something strong and masculine. Very Chicago, salt-of-the-earth.
“Katherine Richetti,” he cut in before she could finish.
That sparked her surprise. “How do you know?”
He shrugged. “I looked up the housing records. I’m Jake Taggert.”
A-ha. Jake. Yup, she’d called it on the name.
“Everyone calls me Kat.”
She took the hand he offered, and wished she hadn’t. No, she wouldn’t have missed this for all the world. The tingle in her palm, the warmth of his hand, the strength of his fingers. And most of all the jolt of awareness that chased up her arm, then slowly slid over her. Like maple syrup blanketing a hot pancake.
She let go and leaned back in her chair to settle her nerves. Just one touch and she wanted more. And more. And more. Oh God, was this how it happened? Did he feel it, too?
“What do I think ?” he asked.
What? Oh, her question to him. “Yes, you said something weird?”
His gaze caught hers, deep blue holding her captive. “You knew the accident was going to occur. How?”
Straight for the jugular. Jake Taggert didn’t fool around.
“Okay. Guess it has to be now,” she muttered.
“You deserve to know the truth.” She realized she had to tell him. What he did with the information was his choice. Still, she hesitated. How did she explain?
He leaned forward elbows on his thighs, fingers laced. “What truth?
“Well… ” Her words came slowly, reluctant to open the can of wiggling, doubting worms. “You were right. I did see something.”
He sat up straight. “What did you see?”
“The accident. I saw it happen.”
His lips thinned, his brows shot up. “Of course you saw it happen. Half a dozen friggin’ people did.”
Argh. Here she went, step one into quicksand. “I saw the accident before it happened.”
“Let me get this straight. You saw the pipes sliding off the trailer before they actually did?”
She nodded, hoping, hoping, hoping he had an open mind about the supernatural.
“What the hell are you playing at? No way you could have known… ” He jumped up and stepped back from her. His expression closed, his gaze hardening. “Is this some sort of setup?”
For a brief second, she mourned the loss of the camaraderie that existed for a few minutes “There’s no setup. I had a vision. I’m… ” She inhaled hard, her breath taking on the consistency of clay in her chest. “I’m a witch.”
“A witch. A witch? What the hell does that mean? Like you’re a Wiccan or something?”
Irritation laced her voice and she spoke louder. “No, I am not Wiccan. I’m a witch. Big difference.”
His eyes clouded with uncertainty and he stepped back. And back. And not just physically, but in the psychic sense, too. She hadn’t realized until just then how connected she’d been to his emotions.
“A witch? What’s the difference?” His voice, too, rose with each word. His expression hovered between I-think-you’re-a-kook and something else.
She should just tell him everything. Doing it in degrees meant more uncertainty and waiting. “The difference is it isn’t a religious tradition or belief with me. With my family, we really are witches.”
He leaned one shoulder against the post and stood there, looking like some male model in an ad for happy homes or something. The chuckle that turned into a disbelieving laugh was what sent her over the edge. Why couldn’t her destiny have found her a male psychic?
“Sure,” he drawled in mock agreement. “This is the swampland thing again. Like I said before, I’m not buying. People don’t just have visions about saving someone’s life.”
“Some people do,” she retorted, her mind racing over the different ways she could explain the situation to him.
He shook his head, disbelief patent in his face. “So you make a living doing this kind of thing? Causing accidents, scamming people… I mean if you could do this for people, bet they’d pay well.”
He chuckled again, a mean sound that pushed her patience to its breaking point.
“You think that’s funny? Well, color me a comedian. That vision I had? It was my first. Guess what? In my family, the first vision we have is about the man we’re destined to marry.”