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Cass sucked in a breath, the gasp audible in the silence of the small room. Oh no . . . The walls pressed in on her, loomed over her, threatened to suffocate her. This can't be happening again.
"Is everything all right?"
"Umm . . . sure." Darkness encroached, tunneling her vision. She forced it back, counted to ten, took deep breaths-anything to fight back the blackness. She struggled against the urge to push the glass ball away from her. "Sorry. I must have zoned out for a minute." She averted her gaze, hoping the other woman wouldn't catch the lie.
The woman's eyebrows drew together, a frown creasing her forehead. "Are you sure you didn't see anything bad?"
Cass forced a laugh as she shoved her chair back, stood, and moved away from the table. "Of course not. I told you I would only allow good spirits to enter." Liar.
Ellie Callahan shrugged. "So, what's the verdict?" Though she feigned indifference, eagerness lit her eyes.
"You know I can't give you specifics, Ellie." Impatience shortened Cass's temper, and she worked to soften her tone. She sighed and started to clean up. "Everything will work out. It's just going to take time." She wanted to tell her the truth-that her husband was a no-good, two-timing cheat who would never amount to anything, but she bit her tongue. It wouldn't change the fact that Ellie was going to go back to him, but it would hurt her. The young girl had been hurt enough. Besides, if the shadow that had slipped across Cass's vision was any indication, Ellie had bigger problems headed her way. Should she warn her? Warn her about what? Cass shook off a chill.
"Thank you so much, Cass." Ellie stood as well, lifted her bag from the back of the chair, and tucked it beneath her arm. Relief had relaxed Ellie's rigid posture and softened the scowl she usually wore, leaving her with a vulnerable appearance that tugged at Cass.
"No problem. Just do me a favor and don't tell your mother you were here."
Ellie blushed. "I'm sorry about Mom. She's kind of old-fashioned, and she doesn't understand . . . well . . . you know." She lowered her gaze to the crystal ball in the center of the table.
Cass nodded. "I know. It's okay."
Ellie held a twenty out to Cass.
"Don't worry about it. This one's on the house."
Ellie smiled and met Cass's gaze. "You sure?" She pushed her mousy brown hair back out of her face.
"Thank you." Ellie turned to go.
As she crossed the room, Cass fought the urge to call her back. What could she say? Be careful? Of what? The woman already had enough on her mind, her fragile nerves strung taut. A wandering husband, an overbearing mother-she didn't need any more.
As the door fell shut behind Ellie, Cass finally yanked the sash off her head, tumbling her long blond hair down her back, and reached up to massage her pounding temples. The constant throbbing kept time with the frantic beating of her heart, reminding her once again of the shadow that had crossed her vision. She shivered and dismissed the thought. She couldn't deal with this now. She was going to be late. Again.
The coin belt jangled as she slid it off and dropped it onto the table. She quickly discarded the flowing robe, hanging it over the velvet chair she'd just vacated, and pulled an oversized sweatshirt over her leggings and camisole.
After tossing the empty foam cups in the garbage, Cass pushed the remaining three chairs into place, returned the crystal ball to the shelf on the side wall, and ran a rag over the scarred wood table. That would have to be good enough for now.
The huge back window framed a perfect view of the bay, as well as the lighthouse that stood at the tip of the island, not far from her shop. A young couple crossed the beach, hand in hand, and climbed the two steps to Cass's back porch. Not local. She knew most of the locals by sight, if not personally. These two were tourists, for sure.
The wind chimes above the door tinkled as they entered the shop. Great. Just what she needed.
A quick glance at the clock above the door confirmed her fears. Three thirty. Ellie's reading had taken half an hour longer than expected. She'd have to hurry if she was going to make it to the theater on time. "May I help you?" She moved behind the counter and tossed the rag into a basket beneath the register.
"Hi." The man smiled and used his free hand to gesture toward the lighthouse while his companion looked on dreamily. "We were just over at the lighthouse, but there's no one around."
A blush stole over the young woman's cheeks as she giggled. When she lifted a hand to her mouth, her engagement ring caught the reflection of the late-afternoon sun.
"Nope. After Labor Day, the lighthouse is only open on weekends."
"Oh." Disappointment emanated from him.
"They have beautiful ceremonies, though. Well worth coming back out over the weekend if you want to book one."
The woman gasped. "How did you know we wanted to get married?"
Cass tapped the sign beside the register: psychic readings. "Sunset is the best time. Sometimes I sit out on the back porch and watch if I'm not too busy. Gorgeous."
"Wow. Are you really psychic?"
Not exactly. "That's what the sign says."
The woman's hand fluttered to her chest. "That is so cool. I've always wanted to go to a psychic."
Cass grinned. "I'll tell you what. I'm closing right now, but if you come back to talk to someone at the lighthouse over the weekend, come on in. I'll even give you a discount as an early wedding present."
"That'd be great. Thanks." They turned to go, but the woman stopped and turned back. "Do you do parties?"
"I do group readings."
She chewed her thumbnail. "We can't get back out this weekend, but if I come back next weekend with my bridesmaids, could you do a group reading for all of us together?"
"Sure." Cass rounded the counter and handed the woman a business card. "Just give me a call and we'll set something up. While you're out here, if you haven't already chosen a dress, Dreamweaver Designs is only a few doors down and has a beautiful line of beach wedding dresses." Maybe Bee would cut her some slack for being late if she sent him a customer. Another quick look at the clock. And then again, maybe not.
After locking the back door behind the couple, Cass grabbed her keys from the shelf behind the counter, slung her big leather tote bag over her shoulder, and headed for the front door. She turned the key in the lock of Mystical Musings and ran for the small, gravel parking lot. Crap. She stood frozen, staring at the empty lot. Great. How could she have forgotten she walked to the shop this morning? It had been such a beautiful fall day, and the walk along the beach from her house to the shop always relaxed her.
She heaved a sigh of resignation and started walking down the boardwalk. Bee would just have to start rehearsal without her.
She passed Dreamweaver Designs, only three doors down from Mystical Musings, and hesitated. Bee must have worked all night redesigning the front window display, which was typical for him. A black evening gown she'd never seen before was prominently displayed. Stunning. He'd really outdone himself this time. Maybe he'd let her wear that for the fashion show.
Of course, she'd have to lay off all the late-night fast food if she was going to wear the completely open back reflected in the mirror behind the display. As it was, she managed to stay slim only because she walked along the beach so often.
A shadow fell over her as someone rode past on a bike. Ellie. That disturbing darkness during her reading would undoubtedly haunt Cass all day. What was she going to do about warning Ellie? Doing nothing didn't sit right in her gut, and yet . . . What could she really do?
She hurried on her way, stepping off the boardwalk, crossing the narrow beach road, and heading toward the theater. She inhaled deeply. The cool, crisp air did little to relieve her headache but soothed her nerves a bit. This was her favorite time of year; the red, gold, and orange leaves creating a colorful backdrop for the island brought her such comfort. Her footsteps tapped a steady rhythm against the pavement, past the quaint shops, which dotted the beach road. As she headed toward the center of the island, old farmhouses lay scattered between small fields filled with corn, pumpkins, wildflowers, giving the entire landscape the look of a patchwork quilt-tranquil, comforting, and relaxing. A place you could snuggle down and enjoy the cozy feeling of being home.
Until the weekend, anyway, when crowds of tourists would flock to the tiny island that sat between the North and South Forks of Long Island. On Friday they'd come from New York City in droves, jamming up the expressway, filling the Long Island Rail Road cars, scrambling to reach Bay Island before ferry service stopped for the night.
She couldn't complain, though. Winter would come soon enough, and then she'd have to rely on her savings from the summer tourist season.
The acres slowly gave way to newer housing developments, and she stepped onto the sidewalk where it began. As she waited to cross Main Street, several passersby waved. She returned their greetings without much enthusiasm, though. She glanced at her watch, impatience warring with the throbbing in her head. The headache won out. She was already well over an hour late, but Bee would have to manage without her a few minutes longer.
When she reached the two small strips of white clapboard stores, which sat facing each other across Main Street and made up the "town" of Bay Island, she ran across the street and into the deli.
Habit had her scanning the small shop as she entered. Her gaze faltered when it landed on a stranger seated at one of the tables arranged in one corner of the shop. On the table in front of him was an open laptop, which he appeared to be totally engrossed in, with a coffee cup beside it. While strangers weren't unusual in town, especially at this time of year, there was something about this man that caught her attention.
She laughed at herself. It was most likely his devilish good looks. Dark, shaggy hair hung just past the collar of his leather jacket, giving him the bad boy look Cass had always found so attractive.
"Hey, Cass. How come you're not at the theater?"
Cass jumped, startled by the question and feeling a little guilty about getting caught checking out a complete stranger. "I could ask you the same thing." Cass joined the line waiting for service.
Stephanie laughed. "I was there. I just ran out for coffee." She lifted a cup holder with three large to-go cups as proof.
"Is one of those for me?"
Stephanie's smile was contagious, and Cass grinned back. "You're a lifesaver." She took a step forward as the line inched up. "Hey, could you hang out a minute? I have to grab something for this headache, but I walked to the shop this morning and I'm already late and, well, you know . . ."
Good humor lit Stephanie's brown eyes. They both knew Bee's tantrum would be worse the later Cass got there.
"Yeah, I can wait. Of course, then we'll both be in trouble."
"You know what they say-misery loves company." Cass moved up again.
"What's the headache from?" Stephanie held one of the coffee cups out to Cass. "Here, maybe caffeine will help." At the sound of bells tinkling, Stephanie glanced past Cass toward the door that had just opened. Her smile faltered, and she tucked her frizzy brown hair behind her ear. She mumbled something under her breath, but Cass didn't quite catch it.
Cass turned to look over her shoulder and came face-to-face with an irate Marge Hawkins. Uh-oh.
The deep scowl and flushed cheeks were all the warning Cass needed to know Ellie hadn't kept her promise not to tell her mother she'd visited Cass for a reading. Oh well-that poor girl never could stand up to her mother.
"What did you tell my Ellie?" Marge pointed a finger and a wickedly sharp, bloodred nail within an inch of Cass's face.
Cass took a step back and bumped into the person in line in front of her.
"Sorry." She didn't even turn at the indignant cry, hesitant to turn her back on Marge and her claws.
"We've been through this before, Ms. Hawkins. What I tell a client is confidential." Cass gripped her cup tightly and held her ground.
The irate woman huffed out a breath and moved even closer. Spittle sprayed from her mouth, and Cass had to resist the urge to reach up and wipe her face. "You listen to me, young lady. This is the last time I'm going to tell you to stay away from my daughter. I don't give a hoot about your fancy degree or your hocus-pocus. Just stay away from my Ellie. The next time I catch you near her, I'm calling Chief Langdon." She poked her claw into Cass's chest for good measure, then spun on her heel and strode out of the deli.
Cass heaved in a deep breath, struggling for control. The headache battered at her, and clamping her teeth so tightly together wasn't helping matters. Hot coffee trickled onto her hand, and she loosened her hold on the cup.
"Hmm . . . next time I say 'Don't look now' . . . you might want to listen." Stephanie's laughter seeped through Cass's rigid muscles, releasing some of the tension.
She reached up to massage the back of her neck. "Oh, is that what you said? Next time speak up a little." She laughed, but without any real humor. Sure, Cass had been publicly humiliated, but there wasn't much Marge could do to her. Cass hadn't done anything wrong, and Ellie was a grown, married woman. That didn't stop the chill from racing up Cass's spine at the memory of the dark shadow that had crossed her vision while Ellie had been with her. Ugh . . . She was going to have to call Ellie and give her a warning. No way would she be able to sleep tonight if she didn't at least try to tell Ellie to be careful.
"Come on, move up." Stephanie took her arm and turned her toward the register. "If we don't get going soon, Bee's fit is going to make Marge's tantrum look tame."