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By Lisa Jackson
ZebraCopyright © 2006 Lisa Jackson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHelp me!
The old Maxwell House coffee can she used as a grain scoop slipped from her fingers. It hit the floor. Barn! Oats sprayed. Horses tossed their heads and neighed. Her legs buckled, and she grabbed hold of a rough-hewn post supporting the hayloft.
Maggie, please! Only you can help me.
"'Mary Theresa?" Maggie mouthed, though no sound passed her lips. Was it possible? After all these years would her sister's voice reach her? The barn seemed suddenly airless. Close. Cold sweat collected on her scalp though the mercury level in the old thermometer tacked onto the wall near the door dipped below fifty degrees.
It was Thane. He did this to me. The voice pulsed through her brain.
Thane Walker. Mary Theresa's ex-husband and the one man Maggie never wanted to lay eyes upon again.
"Did what?" This time she spoke out loud, though her throat was as tight as dried leather, any saliva that had been in her mouth long gone.
Maggie, please, don't let him get away with it ...
"Where are you?" she cried, spinning, looking up to the ancient rafters where an owl had taken up residence. Feathers and dust motes swirled in the faint shaft of light from a lone, circular window mounted near the ceiling. She knew that spoken wordswere useless. Mary Theresa was hundreds of miles away. So far. So damned far. Squeezing her eyes shut, she tried to throw her thoughts to wherever her twin might be. But it wouldn't work. It never had. Nonetheless, she tried screaming in her mind: Mary Theresa, can you hear me? Can you? What did that bastard do to you?
A restless mare snorted.
"If this is some kind of sick joke ..." she said, though her heart was pounding a million beats a second. "Mary Theresa, I swear ..."
Anxious, as if picking up the tension in the air, the horses shifted in their stalls, hooves rustling the straw, muscles quivering under coats that were becoming shaggy as winter approached.
Maggie shuddered, the inside of her skin quivering as it always had when Mary Theresa had contacted her through their own special means. Mental telepathy. Instinct. Magic. Witchcraft. ESP. Clairvoyance. Maggie had heard all the terms and slurs, knew that most people considered her eccentric at best and just plain crazy at worst. Slowly, her lingers sliding down the post and gathering slivers, she sank to her knees and rested her head against the solid wood.
She concentrated, willing her breathing to return to normal. Come on, Mary Theresa, come on. One more time. Eyes closed so tightly they ached, she strained to hear, but the only sounds that reached her ears were the constant rustle of hooves in straw, hot breath blowing out of nervous nostrils, the scratch of tiny claws as mice scurried along the concrete floor, hiding in the cracks and crevices of the old barn. "Don't stop now," she whispered, her teeth sinking into her lower lip until she tasted blood.
"Damn you, Mary Theresa ... or Marquise or whoever you think you are. Talk to me!"
The inside of the barn felt as if it were freezing, and yet cold perspiration broke out all over her skin. "Mary Theresa-"
"Mom?" Becca's voice sounded far away. The door to the barn creaked open, and a shaft of fading daylight sliced into the musty interior. "Hey, are you okay?"
"Fine," she forced out, climbing to her feet and dusting her hands on her jeans. She managed a weak smile, hoping it would mask her lie a little.
Becca with her freckled face, eyes a little too large and a lot too serious for the age of thirteen, was instantly suspicions. "What were you doing in here?" She motioned to the post. "Praying?"
"You were on your knees, Mom. Did you, like, have a heart attack or a stroke or what?"
"I was just feeding the horses and I, urn, needed ... a rest." Maggie cringed inside because the lie was so ridiculous, but what could she say? That her sister, whom she hadn't heard from in months, was finally contacting her through telepathy? She'd learned from past experience that no one would believe her, especially not her nearly estranged daughter. Becca eyed the empty coffee can that had rolled against a budap sack of feed. "Right."
"I was. I just ... well, if you want to know the truth-"
"That would be a change."
"Becca," she reproached, then held her tongue. The strain between them was palpable. Mother and daughter. How had they grown so far apart when they had once been inseparable?
"I-" Oh, God, how would she explain this-this connection she had with her twin? This weird way of communicating when it hadn't happened in years. "It ... It was ... just a little spell."
"A little spell?" Rebecca repeated, nodding her head as if she had expected just such an answer from a mother she could no longer trust, a woman who had single-handedly ruined her life. Turning away, she didn't bother hiding the fact that she rolled her eyes.
Frustration caused a headache to pound behind Maggie's eyes, and her fingers curled into fists. She'd love to tell Beeca the math, but then her daughter would just think she was crazy. Anyone who had heard her try and explain about the odd connection she had with Mary Theresa did. "Yes. A spell. When you get older-"
"You're only thirty-seven, Mom. You keep telling me it's not exactly ancient."
Thirty-seven and sometimes it feels like seventy.
"Maybe you should see a doctor. Another one." Was there just the hint of concern beneath the sarcasm?
"Maybe I will." Maggie bent down, picked up the can and found a push broom hanging from a nail. "Nothing to worry about." She swept with long, sure strokes, though she was still shaken. There was a chance she hadn't heard anything after all. Maybe she was just overworked-exhausted from the move and the emotional turmoil that she'd been through.
Becea lifted a thin adolescent shoulder. Beneath her baggy polar fleece sweater and faded jeans, she showed off the beginnings of a womanly figure. "I, urn, thought I'd go for a ride."
"The sun's gonna set soon."
"I won't be gone long. What do you care anyway?"
"I cam, okay?"
"But I'll take Jasper. You said yourself he's more surefooted than any other horse you've ever seen."
It was useless to argue. No reason to. Becca was right. "Just he back soon, okay? For dinner. Before it gets dark." She hung up the broom and scooped another ration of oats.
"No one's gonna get me out here in the middle of nowhere," Becca said as she pulled down a bridle. "It's not like when we lived in California, you know, in the middle of civilization."
"Just be careful."
"Take Barkley with you."
"He'll come whether I want him to or not, but he's not much of a watchdog."
"Just take him."
Excerpted from Twice Kissed by Lisa Jackson Copyright © 2006 by Lisa Jackson. Excerpted by permission.
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