The same psychic prediction three times is definitely a sign. Even though Esmeralda McElroy is ready to reunite with a man from her past, she doesn't expect Mitch Margolin to be him. Mitch is no longer the sexy musician who once caught her eye. Now he's a conservative, buttoned-downhotguy. So not her type.
Still, the steamy way they connect between the sheets is making her see stars. The tricks he does with his fingers are sinful! But out of bed their different views collide. Does that mean he's Mr. Wrong? Is she tempting fate by continuing to sleep with him? Where is that crystal ball when she needs it?
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"So if i want this grant, I should let you read my palm?, The young woman bumped the table with a knee, sloshing the gingko-chamomile tea Esmeralda McElroy had brewed to enhance alertness and calm for her and her clients.
"It's not a requirement, hon. Consider it a bonus gift." Esmeralda zeroed in on Cindy's face. Something was wrong with Cindy's grant application and Esmeralda had to figure out what. Esmeralda's psychic skills weren't a formal part of her job as director of the Dream A Little Dream Foundation, but they were the reason she'd been hired after the first director left. Olivia, the founder, had been a palm client and trusted Esmeralda implicitly.
The proposal for an exercise playland for toddlers was solid, but as Cindy explained the benefits of large-muscle development and parent-child bonding, her eyes were empty, her aura gray with gloom. Cindy had a dream, but it wasn't this one.
"A gift? And this will help?, Cindy bit her lip.
"I could read tea leaves if you prefer." Esmie had recently ordered some silver-needle tea that produced dramatic configurations. "Your aura is as gray as a rain cloud." smiled kindly.
Cindy extended a hesitant hand and when Esmeralda cupped it, she felt a rough spot on Cindy's left thumb. "Cuticles need a trim." She paused, then spoke in the somber voice of a TV fortune-teller. "Through my crystal ballI see in your futurea healing manicure." She grinned. "I do nails, too."
"Really?, Cindy laughed, relaxing as Esmie had hoped. It was no accident that her own aura was wild with light-hearted yellow.
"I love this." Cindy touched Esmie's index fingernail, which held the stenciled star with a rhinestone fleck she'd created for the thirty-fifth birthdays of her and her friends.
"Thanks. Solet's see what's going on with you, hmm?, She took Cindy's hand again, closed her eyes, silently prayed for clarity and wisdom, then looked down at Cindy's earth hand with its square palm and short, evenly spaced fingers.
The girl's heart line held passion, but the angle of her thumb showed she was not ambitioushmm.
Cindy's story came together in Esmie's head, clicking into place like puzzle pieces. "Ah I get it."
"You do?, Cindy said. "You get it?"
"You want to work with kids, Cindy, but not in a business, as a teacher. Here is your passion" She pointed to the line. "This shows how you lead by example. This shows your need to interact with people. you're a natural teacher."
Cindy gave a sad smile. "But I only have one semester at Phoenix College."
"That's easy to fix. Request a scholarship from us." Esmeralda tapped the grant application. "Whose dream is this?"
The girl flushed. "My dad's. He read about childhood obesity and how yuppie parents hover over their kids, so he thought this would be a moneymaker."
"He's right, I'm sure, but you need to overcome your tendency to please others, sometimes to your own detriment. Use the courage that's here." She touched the large, curved upper Mars mount.
"That's my courage?, She looked so hopeful.
"Absolutely. Tomorrow night I'm holding a Wish Upon A Star workshop. We help people pin down dreams and make them real. I think you and your dad should come."
"Sure. So he can own this dream" she patted the application" and understand yours."
"Okay. We'll come. Thanks." Cindy beamed, then looked down at her hand. "You see anything else I should know?"
Before Esmeralda finished, Cindy had a plan to declare her independence from her father, an appointment for a full readingand a manicureand tears in her eyes.
Esmeralda accepted Cindy's hug and said goodbye, pleased, but drained. Back-to-back appointments, some-one's dreams on the line every hour, was exhausting. But this was only week four. Surely she'd build stamina.
She had to make time to read through the grant applications on her desktwo daunting towers of spiral binders, portfolios and folders. She should work weekends, too, except her palm and nail clients needed her.
This week she had to hire a consultant to make sense of the jumbled business plan she'd inherited. Lack of business expertise was her Achilles heel, but she wouldn't let that stop her. Phoenix was a mecca for entrepreneurs and people starting over. She should have no trouble finding a consultant.
Thinking of all she faced made the knot in her chest tighten and her stomach churn, but she would make this work. The Dream A Little Dream Foundation was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a difference in lots of lives. She loved reading palms, of course, but sometimes it seemed like such an insubstantial thing. The foundation was big and tangible and important.
It would make her mother proud, too. As a dedicated social worker and counselor, her mother had always given so much to her own clients. She was Esmie's hero. This job was a way to follow in her mother's footsteps, to honor her memory.
Needing energy, Esmie bent into a fan pose, legs apart, elbows to the floor, and eased into a refreshing stretch.
"So, it went well?, The voice of her assistant, Belinda Warwick, made Esmeralda jump up so fast she had to grab her desk for balance.
"It did. Yes. Once I read her palm and saw what she needed." That success reassured Esmie that she belonged here. A person without her skills might have funded the well-crafted proposal without noticing the disconnect between the dreamer and the dream. The purpose of the foundation was not just to give out money, it was to fulfill dreams.
"I wish I had a thimble-full of your talent," Belinda said. "I study, but it doesn't get through." She tapped her temple with the nail on which she'd had Esmeralda stencil the star design, making her many bracelets rattle. She'd asked where Esmeralda bought hers and doubled the number she wore.
"It takes time, Belinda. Hundreds of readings, hours of study. You can't rush it."
Esmeralda had inherited Belinda, Olivia's niece, who aspired to be a palm reader. She saw herself as Esmeralda's protégée and took notes on everything Esmie did, practically giving an "I'm not worthy" bow when she left the room. Esmeralda feared Belinda's hero worship kept her from picking up her own inner voice, which was crucial for success.
"Your four o'clock had to reschedule," Belinda said.
"I wasn't able to get a fill-in."
"That's fine. Gives me time to catch up." She nodded at the towers of proposals.
"We're still getting calls from the newspaper article."
"That's good." A feature in the Arizona Republic about the foundation had tripled the calls and applications. The story had even been picked up by papers outside Phoenix.
"I'd be happy to go through these," Belinda said, looking through the top few.
"Let's see how it goes." Belinda knew even less than she did about grants and business. Esmeralda had to blaze a trail first.
"I'd love to helpreally." Her voice faded as she flipped through the stack. "Tomorrow, your nine o'clock is a man you know."
"Really?, Esmeralda's heart jumped. Could it be Jonathan at last? Was her ex-husband finally showing up as predicted? You must begin anew with a man from your past were the exact words from three separate readings. Their marriage had ended abruptly and she blamed herself, so a second chance was perfect.
Belinda's gaze shot to her. "Oh, wait. I'm sorry. It's not the man from your past. At first, when he said he knew you, my heart flipped, too, but he's a bartender from Moons. Jasper?"
"Oh, sure." Esmeralda knew him through a hairdresser at her shop who also waitressed at the strip club. Before Jasper could start the stock group he wanted a grant for, he had to control the gambling impulse she'd read in his hand.
"I'm so sorry it wasn't him." Belinda had done one of the readings that picked up the man from her past message and seemed to feel responsible for his arrival. Esmeralda hadn't mentioned Jonathan to Belindashe was embarrassed enough about how eagerly she kept an eye out for the familiar dimples, the blond thatch and the big smile of her ex-husband. She really missed him. And she was dying to see him.
"He'll get here when the time is right," she said, showing a patience she didn't feel.
"Shall I smudge your office?, Belinda asked. "Make some tea? Light your incense?"
"I'm fine, Belinda. Truly." Belinda behaved as though assistant was code for slave. Absolutely not Esmeralda's way. "Don't you have a reading in a bit?, Belinda used Esmie's salon station to see a few clients.
"Why don't you take off early?"
"Are you sure? I really want to help in any way I can."
"You are helping. You've got the appointment calendar just right. The grant evaluation rubric and spreadsheet look great. The Web site's coming along. The biggest thing is getting the books straight."
Belinda cringed, ducking her head. "That. Right. I got some help from a friend of mine? Rico? If that's okay? He did the books for Uncle Louis, so he's showing me the basics."
"Sounds like a plan." She'd never met him, but if Rico worked for Olivia's brother, he'd be trustworthy. She had some vague recollection that Rico and Belinda had dated, too. "So go. Leave early. Study the palms I gave you." She'd given her several photos with interpretation for training purposes.
"If you're sure?, When Esmie nodded, Belinda bounded away, her bracelets jingling, blond curls bouncing. She'd bleached and curled her hair to match Esmeralda's. Wore similar clothes, too. Esmeralda found it embarrassingand potentially disturbing but she knew from Belinda's palm that she needed a role model to develop security. Esmeralda would do her best to be that person.
She headed into her office for a head-clearing meditation.
Her cell stopped her. It was Annika, her temporary roommate, with an update. One of Esmie's foster dogs had bitten a hole in the sofa she was holding for a friend; Esmie's neighbor wanted to borrow her car; two friends needed advice; three people wanted palm appointments.
Sometimes Esmeralda's life felt so full it seemed ready to pop, but giving felt too good to have regrets. The universe never gave you more than you could handle.
To clear her head for reviewing grants, she warmed her strawberry-scented shoulder bag in the microwave, lit strawberry incense, put Yoga Chill on her CD player, and hefted herself into a legs-up-the-wall pose.
She laid the steamy, sweet-smelling bag across her face so it rested on either side of her head, blocking all but a whisper of music. Air brushed her bare legs, since her skirt had fallen to her lap.
She breathed in slowly through her nose, out through her mouth, letting her thoughts gather one by one.
They were mostly worries. Could she nail the business aspects of the work? Would she make good grant choices? Would she impress the board at the first meeting? Olivia had hinted some board members were skeptical about Esmeralda's skills. Would she even be ready in a month?
As each worry arose, she pictured a fat, fluffy cloud lifting it away across the blue sky of her mind. What about Jonathan? That was a hope, not a worry, at least.
She'd almost called him in San Diego, the last address she had. But she knew she should let the universe churn, not try to wrestle the prediction into what she wantedher tendency. As with many psychics, readings on herself or those she loved were rarely accurate, consisting of wishful thinking and selective omissions. He'll appear when he's supposed to, she told herself and let a gold-tinted cloud float Jonathan away.