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Cass propped her elbow on the driftwood countertop and rested her cheek on her hand. Only for a minute. She couldn't afford to take a break in the middle of the day, even if the shop was empty. And she definitely couldn't bear the thought of another nightmare. She jerked upright. She had to stay awake.
She leaned a hip against the counter, staring out the big picture window at the front of Mystical Musings, the shop she loved so much, had invested so much in. Daffodils had just begun to bloom in the beds surrounding the small gravel parking lot in front of the shop. She shoved the worries aside. Spring was here, and business had already begun to pick up with the start of the tourist season. There would be plenty of time to worry about her nightmares. Later. She didn't need any more stress than she was already under. She sighed.
Beast, the giant Leonberger she'd inherited from Marge Hawkins and then again from her daughter, Ellie, barked once in agreement-or more likely because a squirrel had scampered across the railing along the front walkway.
"Come on, boy." She weaved her fingers through the thick fur on his neck, inhaled deeply, and tried to gather the energy to get ready for her next reading. It wasn't going to work. Exhaustion, borne from too little sleep over the past week, battered her. She should never have agreed to keep the shop open late for a new reading, especially at the last minute. But when the man had called earlier, he'd sounded so desperate, and she'd been busy with customers and hadn't wanted to lose the business, so she'd relented. "If I don't make coffee, I'm going to sleep through this guy's reading." That would probably not make the best impression on a new customer. "Come on, Beast."
She shoved away from the counter and headed straight for the coffeepot on the counter that ran along the sidewall with Beast trotting beside her. Cass had never been prone to nightmares, yet the past week they'd plagued her every time she had started to doze off.
She readied the coffeepot, turned it on, and pulled out the big, velvet-covered chair from the round table in the corner of the shop. The customer-whose name she couldn't recall-shouldn't be there for another fifteen minutes or so. She'd just sit for a minute or two until the coffee was ready. She folded her arms on the table and rested her head on them.
Beast settled beside her, the rhythmic sound of his chewing on a bone bringing an odd sort of comfort. He'd become her best friend over the past months. It was hard to believe there'd ever been a time when she'd thought of not keeping him. But he was a big dog, and his training had been largely ignored. She'd have to give Herb Cox a call now that the weather was warmer. Because Herb ran his training classes outside, he didn't offer any during the winter, and it was well past time for some kind of obedience training. Beast was friendly enough, and had definitely been well socialized since he was at the shop with her every day, but he didn't listen. At all.
Her eyes drifted closed, Beast's gnawing keeping her grounded. If the sound stopped, she'd have to get up and make sure he hadn't gotten into anything. Just this week, she'd lost another chair, a basket, and half a blanket to his chewing. The TV remote had also gone missing, and though she couldn't prove anything, she had her suspicions about where it had disappeared to.
Slitting one eye open, she shot the big dog a wary glance.
He stopped chewing long enough to tilt his head at her, tongue lolling innocently out the side of his mouth.
He returned to his bone, and her eye dropped closed again. It was too heavy to keep open. She'd just rest a moment until the coffeepot stopped. The aroma of coffee brewing filled the shop, soothing her raw nerves.
She'd worked hard to make Mystical Musings cozy and comfortable, to create an atmosphere that would put her clients at ease. She kept the shop meticulously clean-knickknacks free of dust, crystals displayed neatly in baskets and cases, bath salts and lotions arranged perfectly according to scent and purpose. Even the various lighthouse souvenirs stood perfectly aligned on glass shelves along one wall-her driving need for organization a leftover effect from a time when her life had spiraled out of control, a year when she'd lost both of her parents, one of her patients, and had caught her ex fooling around with her best friend. A year when too many things had been beyond her control. Well, no longer. She'd regained control of her life, even if it did bring somewhat of an obsession with order, and she had no intention of giving that up.
A small smile tugged at her. Warmth at the life she'd made for herself spread through her, easing some of her tension, relaxing the taut muscles bunching her shoulders and straining her back.
A wisp of warm air whispered along the back of her neck. "Help me."
She jerked upright and lurched to her feet, slamming her leg against the table. "Ouch."
Beast jumped up beside her and looked around, as if sensing her discomfort. Or had he heard the soft plea as well?
She massaged her leg and glanced around the empty shop. Had she fallen asleep? She didn't think so, but she must have, or the voice from her nightmares couldn't have reached her. Right?
The tinkle of the chimes over the front door announced the arrival of her new client. Great. He was five minutes early. She hadn't had her coffee, she was totally freaked out, she hadn't yet put on her robe, and her long blond hair still hung loosely around her shoulders, instead of tied back beneath the sash she usually wore for a reading. Oh well. No sense bothering now. At this point, she'd be lucky to pull herself together enough to do the reading at all.
Beast stood at her side, a low growl emanating from his throat. Weird. Beast usually loved everyone; he rarely growled at anything.
He ignored her and crouched to spring.
She grabbed his collar before he could launch himself at her customer. "Beast." Her voice held a note of warning the big dog wasn't used to.
He paused and tilted his head to the side, staring at her, his big brown eyes wide.
She tried to infuse some authority into her command. "Sit."
He plopped back down with a pout. Hmmm . . . maybe there was something to this training stuff after all. Satisfied Beast might not knock the man over, she turned her attention to her new client. Hopefully, this would be a nice, light read.
One look at the frown marring the man's face and the lines of strain bracketing his mouth assured her it wouldn't be. She sighed. "Hello, Mr. . . . uh . . ." Ah jeez, she'd forgotten to look up his name.
"Becker." He met her halfway across the store and extended an extremely large hand. "Artie Becker. Thank you for seeing me on such short notice," he said, his voice the deep, harsh rasp of a longtime, two-pack-a-day smoker.
"No problem." She gripped his proffered hand. A vision slammed through her. A young woman in jeans and a dark sweater, her features obscured by her long brown hair whipping across her face. Cass's stomach heaved, and she ripped her hand away with a gasp.
Artie's frown deepened. "Is everything all right?"
Battling the nausea, she summoned a smile. "Yeah . . . I . . . uh . . ." No way was she going to tell him she was losing her mind. She massaged her temples. "Sorry, bit of a headache. Would you like some coffee?" She silently prayed he'd accept, desperately needing a moment to herself.
His stare lingered a moment longer, but then he shrugged. "Sure." He swiped a hand over his mouth, smoothing his full salt-and-pepper beard. "Thanks."
"Have a seat." She gestured toward the large, round, cloth-covered table in the far corner of the room.
Artie eyed Beast suspiciously as he crossed the shop and pulled out a chair.
Beast popped his head up and shot Cass a hopeful look. Her glare stopped him in his tracks, and he moaned, rested his chin on his paws, and returned to sulking.
Fairly confident Beast would behave, at least as long as it suited him, she turned to pouring the coffee. Her hands shook as she set out two foam cups, then lifted the pot from the burner.
Cass didn't consider herself psychic in any traditional sense, but her strong intuition combined with her psychiatric training and years of experience reading patients afforded her the skills necessary to "read" people with a fair amount of accuracy. Billing herself as a medium allowed her to bring an extra measure of comfort to her clients.
Recent events had her questioning that assessment. It seemed since she came back to Bay Island she was a little more intuitive than she'd originally thought. A shiver ran up her spine.
She shook off thoughts better left unexamined. She'd get through the reading then go home and take a warm bath, maybe make a small pot of herbal tea and relax. The image of the woman from her nightmares returned unbidden. On the other hand, maybe she'd see if Bee and Stephanie wanted to go to the diner and grab a late dinner . . . and coffee . . . maybe dessert.
She added milk to her cup and placed it on a tray with Artie's coffee, a small creamer, a sugar bowl, and a few stirrers, then set the tray on the table beside Artie. Pulling herself together, she lifted her cup and took a seat across the table from him. "So, how can I help you?" It felt weird to start a reading wearing yoga pants and a long sweater.
Leaving his coffee untouched, Artie pulled a small tape recorder from his shirt pocket. "Do you mind if I tape this?"
Used to the request, since people often recorded their sessions to share with friends and family or refresh their memories about the things she told them, she gestured for him to go ahead.
He placed the recorder in the center of the table between them and pushed the record button, then leaned forward, folding his bulky arms on the table. "I've been told you're a medium as well as a psychic. Is that true?"
Sort of. "If you tell me what you're looking for, I'll know better if I can help you."
The intensity in his gaze as it held hers sent goose bumps running over her. His dark eyes seemed to bore straight through to her very soul. "My daughter, Kelly, is missing."
Panic gripped her throat. If his daughter was missing, and he was in her shop having a reading instead of at the police station, well . . . it certainly explained some of the desperation she'd felt on the phone with him earlier. "Do you have reason to believe she's . . . uh . . . no longer with us?"
He lifted his hands to the sides and shrugged. "Quite frankly, I don't know what to think. I've been to the police, but they can't help."
An image of the woman she'd seen when she first gripped his hand shimmered into view behind him. Cass bit back a groan at her seemingly new ability to catch glimpses of ghosts-or something-and squinted, trying to make the woman's features clear, but it was no use. The image was hazy, too cloudy to offer any real detail. "Have you tried a private detective?"
He slapped his hands against the table and surged to his feet, sloshing coffee over the rim of her cup. "Look, if you don't want to help me-"
Beast growled again, but thankfully remained where he was. The last thing she needed was him chasing another man out of the shop.
"No, no." Cass stood and held up her hands. "I didn't mean I wouldn't try to help you. I just meant in addition to what you've already been doing, you might try a private detective." She grabbed a handful of paper towels, then mopped up the spill and set her cup on the counter. Best to just get this done and over with.
His clenched jaw worked back and forth a few times before he settled back in the chair and folded his arms across his chest. "Detectives cost money. A lot more than psychics."
Letting the matter drop, she tossed the paper towels in the garbage, grabbed a stack of white paper and a basket of colored pencils from a shelf beneath the counter, and returned to the table. "Do you have a picture of your daughter?"
"Not a recent one." He dug out his wallet then slid what appeared to be a standard school photograph across the table.
A young girl, around twelve or thirteen, stared back at Cass with a tight smile that didn't reach her muddy brown eyes. Her dark blond bob hung limply tucked behind her ears. A crease ran through one corner of the photo, as if it had been folded over, and the image had started to fade. "How long ago was this taken?"
"Ten or twelve years, I suppose." He met her gaze and held it. "Give or take a few."
Years of experience in her psychiatric practice helped her keep her expression neutral. "So your daughter is in her early twenties?"
She massaged her right eye to keep her brow from arching up on its own-and to cover the twitch she could feel developing. "Okay. How long has she been missing?"
"I ain't seen her in about six or seven years." His expression hardened, as if daring her to pass judgment. "But I sort of kept tabs on her. Seems she went missing sometime between six months and a week ago."
Cass frowned. No wonder the police couldn't help this guy. "Can you narrow it down any?"
"Nope." He lifted a wooden stirrer from the tray and stuck it between his teeth. He clenched his jaw, keeping his gaze on her the whole time.
It was past time to get this guy out of her shop. It didn't take any kind of psychic powers to feel the negative energy pouring off him in waves. "Okay, then. Why don't we get started?" She lit a white candle and pushed it to the side of the table, then set the paper and pencils in front of her.
Color readings tended to be calming, and her clients usually left with a sense of peace. Hopefully, it would soothe what she perceived as an undercurrent of violence in the big man. Maybe that's why Beast took such an instant dislike to him. Couldn't dogs sense stuff like that?