Read an Excerpt
By Caroline Burnes
Harlequin Enterprises LtdCopyright © 2003 Caroline Burnes
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAh, the first full day of summer, the solstice, as it were, when the buds have reached full, lush bloom, and a handsome cat's thoughts turn to ... check out the gams on the walking piece of artwork.
Tall, elegant, and with a definite air of mystery, aided by that sexy little black shawl that's draped so dramatically around her head.
Must be a movie star. Let's see, maybe Michelle Pfeiffer in disguise. Or Ingrid Bergman's interesting daughter, Isabella Something or other.
I can't say much for the choice of a black dress on such a summer day, but those witchy, little black leather boots are the perfect selection for those long, shapely stems. And, brother, can she walk. She's going across Pennsylvania Avenue like she's got a hitch in her get-along.
Hey, hey, it's my lucky day. That shawl has slipped off her head and she's got a mane of hair that catches every highlight in the sun and shoots it back. And that style, all long and curly, with those sexy, dark tendrils hiding her face. An air of real mystery. Reminds me of one of those old movies - mysterious woman walking along a street with great purpose. You just know she's on some errand with a sinister twist, maybe to pay the ransom. This gal looks like she's got a secret. Or maybe a secret assignation. Yes, a meeting with a man.
Check it out. She just looked over her shoulder - and her eyes! One's gray and one's green. Only a Trained Observer like yours truly would notice such a thing at a distance, but it is startling. But there goes the headgear, and she's crossing the street away from me, a woman of mystery continuing toward her destiny.
It's one of the pleasures of Washington, to look up from the bustle of a busy day for a little glimpse of intrigue. A cat's thoughts turn to flights of fancy, and let me say that this little episode is pure, visual dessert.
Hmm, speaking of dessert, I could go for a little taste of Sarah's cheesecake. Her shop is just around the corner. Traffic's a bit thick now.... Hey, Madame Mysterious, that car's not going to slow down!
Hey! Take a look to your right, woman! That bumper's got your name on it! Hey! Somebody, get her attention!
Holy moley, no time for human intervention - their reactions are too slow. I've got to do something and fast.
The best I can do is try to knock her out of the way!
Abigail felt the sharp pain in her back, right between her shoulder blades just as she heard the squeal of tires. The momentum of the punch threw her forward, hands breaking her fall into the gritty Washington street. Chaos erupted around her as tires squalled and horns honked. Several people on the street screamed, and Abigail concentrated on not rolling under the tires of oncoming traffic.
From somewhere behind her she heard several screams and the sound of a woman's sharp cry of horror. "He hit the cat!"
Abigail West forgot the confusion around her as her body began to register the sharp, painful sensations that come with a tumble into unforgiving asphalt. It was only a matter of seconds later that she struggled to her knees and saw the still form of the black cat lying just inches away from the car tire.
The commotion around her was disorienting. People were talking, pointing at her and the cat and the now-motionless car. The driver's door was open, but there was no sign of the driver.
In an instant Abigail knew what had happened. Caught in the tangle of her own thoughts, she'd walked directly into the path of a car. The cat had launched himself at her and pushed her to safety, but he hadn't been as lucky. The bumper of the car had caught him as he'd fallen back.
Crawling over to the prone body, she looked into the crowd for someone who might be able to help her. There were only dozens of strangers, all staring back at her. She saw the range of emotions from mild interest to genuine concern. "Someone, please call a veterinarian!" She made eye contact with a woman who ran immediately toward one of the shops.
Abigail bent over the motionless cat. He was still breathing, his lungs moving too fast and too shallow. There was a tiny trickle of blood by his mouth, and Abigail lightly stroked his body, feeling for broken bones. "You saved my life," she whispered. "You came out of nowhere and saved my life." She slipped the silk shawl from where it had fallen around her shoulders and eased it under the cat's head.
"I tried to stop." A tall, slender man in a dark gray suit knelt beside her. "I went over to the drugstore and called the Pet Unit. They're sending a vet right away. They said not to move him."
"He saved my life." Abigail repeated the phrase again and again, chanting it like a prayer. "We've got to do something." She didn't look up, but her long, slender fingers continued to move gently over the cat's body. "What could have possessed him to risk his own life to save mine?" She leaned over farther and a crystal pendant slipped free of her black silk blouse. The elongated crystal swung on the end of a silver chain, catching the light in a rainbow of shimmering patterns that danced over the cat's sleek black coat.
For the first time, Abigail West looked up at the man who hovered beside her. His eyes were a solemn gray, a gray as troubled as the dark Atlantic waters, and as stormy. His hand reached out and caught the pendant of the necklace. In that split second their eyes held and Abigail caught the scent of something burning and found herself falling, falling into a dark, black hole where the last pinpoint of light disappeared.
The ground was rocky, harsh, a physical symbol of the life of the people around her, and Abigail hurried down the narrow cow path that sloped toward the summery rush of the small creek. She moved as swiftly as possible in the thick, ungainly folds of the dress she wore, a dress she had put on as if it were her own.
Only it wasn't.
She couldn't say how she knew that it was not her dress - it fit her perfectly - but it was not hers.
Just as the house she lived in was not hers. Yet she knew where every pan, every crude wooden spoon, every sewing needle and spool was supposed to be. Just as her hands knew to mix the coarsely ground flour and salt with lard for biscuits. It was her house, and yet not her house. Her clothes, and yet she could not shake the feeling that she'd never worn them before this very week.
The situation was maddening, and frightening, and she sought the solitude of the thick woods, for Abigail West feared she was losing her mind.
Excerpted from Bewitching Familiar by Caroline Burnes Copyright © 2003 by Caroline Burnes
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.