Storm magic – wild, unpredictable, and guaranteed to turn the world upside down. Roxie Mathis is stronger than ever now that she’s learned to call thunder and lightning and she’s rebuilding her life. But her lover Blake doesn’t trust her new supernatural assistant or the untamed magic she now practices. Roxie will have to decide between making him happy or being true to herself.
To complicate things further, her old love Ray Travis asks her to come home. A dead girl is haunting the entire town and the only way to bring the spirit to peace is to solve her murder. With her vampire ancestor along for the ride, Roxie bites the bullet and decides to face her past. Caught in a web of secrets and magic, going home could kill Roxie – or set her free.
Halfway through the séance, my supernatural assistant started getting handsy with the clients. First he went after the girl with the long straight blond hair. He picked up a thick hank of it, held it in the air and gave it a sharp tug. She jerked back in her seat, gasping.
I tried for a save. “Now, now, Patsy. Let’s not tease the ladies.”
Curly Blond Hair said, “You trying to say she’s really here?”
Straight Blond Hair said, “Shit! She yanked out one of my extensions.” She leaned down to retrieve her fake hair from the floor. “Bitch.”
“I told you we should have asked for Little Jimmy Dickens instead,” said the one I thought of as Ditzy Brunette. I couldn’t keep their names straight but then I wasn’t much for top forty country.
Brunette With Blond Highlights screeched, slapping at her chest. “Patsy Cline’s ghost just groped me!”
A disembodied voice whispered in my ear, “Ought to charge extra for that.”
I closed my eyes, willing Stack to cut the nonsense and stick to the routine we’d worked out beforehand. My spectral assistant didn’t care for routines, though. He liked to improvise. “Miz Cline, you need to behave yourself. Please remember you’re here at our invitation.” Plus I was getting paid for this gig and hoped for a decent tip.
A deep chuckle echoed through the room, followed by the scents of smoke and whiskey. Okay, time to wrap it up. Stack was through pretending to remember the rules.
I cleared my throat. “It’s clear to me Patsy Cline is not the spirit among us. Some uninvited shade has slipped through the veil, looking to make mischief. I feel it’s best to end the séance now, before things get out of hand.”
“Or things get in hand,” Stack murmured.
“Be gone, unwanted spirit.” I waved my hands over the table, making sure to clink all my bracelets for a nice, noisy effect. “Be gone from this place and leave us in peace.” Good thing I took my fee upfront, because this might kill any chance of a tip.
Stack made a show of blowing out the candles and scattering the tarot cards. The receding scents of smoke and whiskey let me know he’d left the room, hopefully departing for my car, or even better, Mars.
I clapped my hands and turned on the lights. I could have done it with just a thought, but the gesture was part of the show. While my eyes adjusted to the brightness I stared at the tin sign on the wall of a smiling pig taking a bath in barbecue sauce. We were in an upstairs meeting room above a popular restaurant.
Straight Blond Hair and Brunette With Blond Highlights made for the door. One of them mumbled about what a lousy birthday party this had been. I had to agree, though for not quite the same reasons.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” said Ditzy Brunette, dropping the cornpone from her voice. “Was this some kind of magic trick like those shows in Vegas?”
Before I could come up with a reply, Curly Blond said, “I heard she’s the real deal.” She gathered several of my tarot cards and handed them to me. “I was looking forward to the tarot reading more than the séance. Think we could still do that?”
I picked up the rest of the cards, stacking them all together into a deck. “Sure thing.” I waved at the empty chairs. “Have a seat.”
Curly Blond sat. I looked at Ditzy Brunette, who didn’t look so ditzy anymore. She shook her head. “No thanks. I don’t want anything to do with that.” She swept from the room, leaving me alone with Curly Blond.
For the first time I paid attention to her. Petite and curvy, she looked like a Barbie doll with attitude. A mane of long curly hair framed a heart-shaped face with light brown eyes and full lips arranged in a smirk that would have made a certain sorcerer I knew proud. Dressed in designer jeans and a plaid shirt with pearl buttons, she wore her new country star money with ease. “Don’t ask me why she thought a séance was okay but tarot cards are evil.”
I took a seat opposite her. “People are funny about stuff like this. Especially the cards.” I shuffled them, my fingers sliding across the slick paper. “What kind of reading would you like?” My professional voice had disappeared, replaced by my natural speech patterns and accent.
She propped her chin on her hands. “What are my choices?” Her Texas drawl sounded real.
“I can do one that’s real involved, lots of cards. Or I can have you cut the deck and pull a single card.”
“Cut to the chase, I always say.” She grinned. “Let’s do that one-card thing.”
I shuffled a few more times then placed the deck in front of her. A giant princess cut diamond engagement ring flashed on the hand she used to split the deck. She took a card from the middle, held it for a moment, then gave it to me.
Without looking at it first I placed it face up on the table. Seeing how a client reacted to the cards was half the job of reading for them. Curly Blond touched her engagement ring with the thumb from the same hand, her smirk softening into a smile. I glanced at the card. People unfamiliar with tarot usually assigned a literal interpretation to the cards, especially a card like this one – The Lovers.
“I’m getting married,” she said, smiling.
“Congratulations.” I meant it, too. “But The Lovers isn’t always about romance.”
“What’s it about then?”
“Choice. You might find yourself at a crossroads, maybe in a relationship, maybe in some other context. Whatever it is, you’ll have a choice to make. One that will have repercussions.”
She frowned. “You mean like, going out on tour on my own or with my fiancé? Stuff like that?”
“That sounds like the kind of decision that could be big for your relationship, one way or another. Is that what’s going on?”
She nodded, curls bouncing. “Hell, I didn’t need tarot cards to tell me about that. I thought they were supposed to tell the future.”
“Maybe there’s another choice you’re going to have to make. I can do a more in-depth reading if you want.”
“Nah. I think I’m gonna head out.” She was halfway to the door when she turned around and said, “Hey, you wanna tell me how you did all that stuff from the séance?”
I grinned. “What, and share all my trade secrets? No way.”
Laughing, she said, “Thanks for the show, Madame Roxella.” She put a twist on the cheesy name. I really needed to think of a better one. Or better yet, stop playing party spook as my cousin like to call it.
Alone, I surveyed the room. There was a lot to clean up. Candles, various props, my empty tip jar. I started with the damn bracelets, tossing them into my kit bag with a weary sigh. The party was supposed to have lasted for several more hours. No one expected to see me until late evening, giving me extra time for a conversation with my invisible frenemy Stack, and then to get down to some serious magic.
* * *
Stack was not in the car, which was nice. I hated being seen talking to myself. Instead I found him at home, helping himself to a bottle of bourbon and messing with the stereo. At least he wasn’t smoking. It had taken some doing but I’d finally convinced him not to pollute the inside of my home.
After all these months I still didn’t understand the physics of his existence. If he did, he wasn’t talking. No one saw or heard him at the hastily ended séance, though he had been able to touch people and objects there. No one other than me, I mean. He could be as incorporeal as the average ghost, though he was not a ghost. He could also be solid enough to drink my booze and knock a book off my coffee table with his boot. What he was doing with the stereo was all magic.
I had an MP3 player hooked up to it. From across the room Stack manipulated the device to play whatever he wanted from its library. At the moment it was Gangstagrass, good and loud. I dropped the kit bag on the floor, sat on the coffee table, and retrieved the paperback. “So what was that all about?”
“Roxanne.” It came out a deep rumble, the last syllable stretched out. “Have a drink.” He offered me the bottle, a lazy grin spreading across his sharp-featured face.
I ignored him and found the stereo remote instead, turning down the volume. “They didn’t tip me. You cost me money.”
“They paid you plenty. I know, I saw the cash change hands.” He shook dark shoulder length hair out of his eyes.
“But I could have made more.” I wanted my house rebuilt, damn it.
My home had been destroyed in the catastrophic flood that had carved a path through Nashville and much of West and Middle Tennessee. I’d been living in this used trailer since a few months after, fighting with my insurance company and working as much as I could to earn the cash to start rebuilding. It was one damn thing after another and I didn’t need Stack blowing my chances at making money.
That damn flood had caused me more problems than just taking my house. I nearly drowned. Out of desperation I had used magic to get myself out of the rushing water, calling upon the land my home stood on and the chaos busy destroying it. Not that I realized it at the time. It wasn’t an act I gave much thought to, as I was about to drown. I conjured up energy and the ultimate result of my desperate act was Stack.
Like I said, he wasn’t a ghost. Or a demon or anything else I could find in hours of research. He was an entity I had created out of various parts, a sort of spirit Frankenstein.
Guess who he thought of as his bride.
“Look, I’m serious. I need the money so quit messing up my jobs.”
“Then quit wasting me on this petty crap.” Anger made his form solidify even more. “Quit wasting yourself on it.”
Why did every argument with Stack feel like an argument with myself? I shook my head and tossed the paperback to the floor. “We’ve been over this. And over it and over it. I want to rebuild my house and to do that I need money. To get money, a witch has gotta do what a witch has gotta do.”
I put a smile on it to hopefully head off any temper tantrum. Stack could poltergeist with the best of them. Or perhaps I should say worst.
He downed another slug of bourbon then plunked the bottle on the coffee table. “What you need to do, hoodoo woman, is get outside and get your mojo on.” Grinning, he stood and strode to the door, his form shimmering. “There’s a storm coming and I aim to be right out in it.”
The taste of fear soured in the back of my mouth. I’d seen the worst nature could do. Lost my home to it. Nearly been killed by it. Every rumble of thunder sent me shaking. Rain terrified me, as did rivers and lakes. Howling winds had me climbing the walls. The spring storm season was just getting a good start. They’d already been violent, full of enough power to rattle my bones and fry my senses.
But if I could push through the fear, crash headlong past the worst of my waking nightmares, something waited on the other side. Stack had shown me the way. So I swallowed the sour taste, chased it with a sip of bourbon, and followed him into the storm.
Fat drops of rain hit my skin like coins. The wind turned my hair into a tangled flag. Energy rolled through the night, calling to the magic that dwelled deep inside me. I planted my feet firmly in the wet grass, and raised my hands high to touch the sky. Magic above, magic below, my body a conduit between the two sources. More than my body, everything that was me. The storm intensified, lashing me with its power. Stack had acted as a buffer when we first started this. Now he rode the lightning and thunder like a madman, his laughter howling right along with the wind.
I let the storm shake me, and raised my face in welcome to the rain. Blue-white lightning danced in the sky, but too far away. The storm would get closer in time, and be strong enough to shatter every nerve in my body. It seethed in my auric vision like a live thing, which of course it was. Anything with that much energy was alive, if not entirely sentient. The storm and I spoke to each other on a cellular level, in some wordless language beyond spells and incantations. It called to me and I gave a response.
Lightning cracked open the dark, filling my auric vision with a whipsaw of violet. I screamed under the onslaught. The bolt hit the ground close enough for me to feel the sizzle through the soles of my shoes. Magic wrapped around me in spirals of energy. I drew it in with a breath.
The rain calmed to a steady shower rather than a frantic downpour. I relaxed my stance, whirling my arms. Light flew from my fingertips in thin streamers, the blue-white of the lightning I’d captured. I painted the dark night with it, laughing.