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Paranormal thriller by Lorraine Carey
The alarm went off at 5:00 am. Brandt leaned over and gave me a peck on the cheek. “Don’t get up, babe. I’ll grab a coffee on my way up to Cleveland. See ya round 6:00 tonight.”
I tried to lie there and go back to sleep but couldn’t. I was too excited to get my car as well as my freedom back. I also worried about Brandt and what his duties were with this Mike Gadson guy. I threw on my robe and headed into the kitchen to brew a cup of coffee. I wanted to call Mother but was aware of the two-hour time difference. I decided to have one cup, cruise social media, then give her a call.
As I perused over the Lakewood School District site, I noticed an ad for a homeschool teacher. This would be perfect! I needed to get all of my documents in order and send them off. Being temporary was perfect, as I wasn’t sure how long Brandt and I would be here.
The doorbell rang just as I was finishing up my call with Mother. It was the man with my car. I realized I still had my robe on but had no time to change.
And there it was—a shiny new silver Nissan in the driveway! The customer service man entered with one paper for me to sign. He had the dealership van waiting for him outside. I thanked him and stood in the doorway admiring my new ride.
The frigid February air didn’t stop me from running outside to take a picture of my new ride. I shot it off to Brandt with a good luck message.
I rummaged through my few pieces of workout gear and then decided to head over to Mosquito Lake to get in a good run. I punched in the address to my dash navigator and was ready to roll. Being 9:30 am, few cars were on the road. I had missed the rush hour—however small that was for Cortland. I headed up Interstate 5 and was there in no time. My heart pounded with anticipation. I couldn’t wait to get back to what I loved. The parking lot was pretty much empty except for two cars and a pickup. Shades of my last run in Sherman crept through my mind—no mysterious cars. This felt different—safer.
The air was crisp and smelled like pine. I picked up my pace, knowing I’d soon be losing this hoodie after a good sweat. The lake was beautiful. Most of the trees were still bare being late February, but a few still had sparse crimson leaves on them. The lake wasn’t frozen, but the morning sun cast an icy shadow over it making it look like a huge shimmering sheet of ice. My breath was getting heavy as I rounded the first corner of the lake. I glanced at my Fit Right watch delighted to see I had already done two miles and my heart rate was 110. Not bad for being out of shape.
I spotted a park bench and stopped for a minute to pull off my hoodie and sip my water. Just as I set my water down, I heard birds cackling above. Oh no! Here we go! I watched them circle above me, trying to figure out if they were crows. Sure enough, they were. They looked a bit like ravens, but I knew ravens were rare in this part of Ohio. I resumed my run trying to ignore their caws. I received no message from them and finally realized they were simply plain crows. I reasoned I had most likely lost my intuitive connection with animals—one I’d greatly miss.
After another half hour, I was spent and headed back to the car. There was only one car left when I returned. I had no feeling of dread or fear. Maybe this was the place I’d come to love and feel safe again?
I clicked my phone back on. I had a message from Brandt. All was well and he’d be home by 6:00. It was10:30. Still being early, I decided to head to the market to get something for dinner, and then home to work on my resume for the homeschooling job.
Heading home from the market I thought about Marta, Nina Santos’s sister, and how proud she’d be of me for staying on my healthy eating track. I picked up organic asparagus, chicken and wild rice for dinner. Since Auntie informed me the Sisters were still keeping an eye on me, I hoped they’d report to Marta that I was doing well.
While preparing dinner, I glanced out the kitchen window at a small red fox that was out by the edge of the property line. He looked almost fake, like one of those statues for the yard. I dried my hands, threw on my hoodie. I wanted to get a better peek at him. I didn’t want to scare him off, so I went outside the front door, staying light on my feet as I padded around to the backyard. He noticed me right away, and I froze when I reached the back patio. He inched closer as if he wanted to come my way. I wasn’t going to move. I had the sense that he wanted to communicate with me. I watched his eyes, deep and chocolatey brown that they were. ‘All is not as it seems,’ was the message coming through. I crouched down to his level, calling him over to me. He turned and ran back toward the woods.
Hmm, now how about that? His message rang loud in my mind as I headed back into the house. I sat on the sofa and closed my eyes, trying to decode this message. I saw him again in my mind’s eye. I recited his message aloud. “All is not as it seems” Hmm . . . I still had it! And I was grateful for this gift.
I had to wonder if this was intended for Brandt, or me? Either way, something was up. It was no surprise the way my life was going these past few years. What really had me was the fact that I was able to communicate with him. I wondered why I wasn’t able to do this with the crows at the lake. The thought of dinner brought me back to the reality of my kitchen duty.
While dinner was cooking, I completed the application for the homeschool teacher assignment. Now it was a waiting game. It was almost 4:00. I wanted to shower and put something nice on for Brandt. Knowing this was a special day for him, I knew what he’d like, but I had no desire to serve him dinner in fancy lingerie. There were still serious questions to be answered: How did his day go? What did he have to do? Just what exactly did the fox’s message mean? Hopefully, I’d get the first two questions answered this evening. As for the fox’s message, I’d keep that to myself for now. I had some vague knowledge of its symbolism, according to Native American beliefs, as representing the practice of negative energy and sorcery. But like the coyote, he was also regarded as a Trickster, therefore, messages could be more complex. I’d dig into this deeper in the next few days.
My phone was pinging shortly after I jumped out of the shower. I had four new emails, one being from the Lakeview School District. That was fast! I couldn’t help but wonder if one of the Sisters had arranged this. It seemed too odd. I had an interview tomorrow for the homeschool teaching position. I did my little happy dance right there in my towel. I ran into the closet, searching for the appropriate attire. I did have a few nicer dresses I’d saved from my previous teaching days. I pulled out a navy blue, knit, knee-length dress and black pumps. Yep, this would work.
The smells of dinner wafted from the kitchen. I went to check on the chicken parm and started to boil the wild rice. Brandt would be home in an hour. I felt excited as my mood lightened with the promise of a new job. I rummaged through my lingerie drawer for a special outfit to wear at dinner. Damn! I really needed to go shopping. Not much there but a few pieces I’d picked up in Sherman. A red lace teddy seemed appropriate for a celebratory dinner. I think I’ll scope out that mall over in Warren after the interview tomorrow. I wouldn’t need more career wear if I was going to be a homeschool teacher, but I surely needed new jeans and tops, let alone more outfits to tantalize Brandt.
Just as I was taking the chicken out of the oven, Brandt walked in. He had a big smile on his face. I wasn’t sure if it was due to his first day or seeing me cooking in next to nothing. I ran to give him a big hug. “Well, how’d it go?”
“It was good. Better than I expected,” he added, setting his briefcase down on the hall table. “Mmm, something smells good.”
“It’s your favorite. Go get comfortable. Dinner will be ready in fifteen. I can’t wait to hear about your day.”
I watched him saunter down the hallway. Hmm, that’s odd. He didn’t mention how I looked. He’s usually ready to jump all over me. It must be nerves or stress from his new job. I didn’t want to pressure him too much, but I was curious.
Brandt sighed as he plopped down in his chair. He was tired. “It looks wonderful, Dani, and so do you, by the way. I hope you didn’t make dessert, as I’m planning on devouring you.”
“Well, that can be arranged.” I served him first then sat down.
Brandt dug into his meal. I watched him eat as though he hadn’t eaten in days. “Didn’t you get lunch?”
“No time. I was in meetings all day. Lots to catch up on.” He took a few swigs of iced tea. “I know you’re anxious to hear all the details, Dani— I’m still learning myself. I had an IT man there to help me with data and security clearance stuff. He’s teaching me the routine I’ll need to follow prior to all of Mike Gadson’s meetings. This guy’s big time. By the way, I have to go back up to Cleveland tomorrow, too.”
“Yes. It won’t be like this forever. For now, I need to make good money and buy us some time.”
I listened with high interest. “Will you just sit at a desk all day, or have to accompany this Mr. Gadson on trips?”
“It’s going to be a little of both. He knew I was a bodyguard so he’s utilizing that skill as well.”
“I take it you’ll be gone out of town at times?” I pried.
“Yes, but it’ll be once or twice a month at the most. Don’t worry, Dani. I wouldn’t leave you alone for more than a few days.”
Silence took hold of me. Somehow the news of my job interview seemed to pale with his announcement. I picked at my food as my head swirled with more questions. I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t happy or interested.
We finished dinner, and Brandt helped me load the dishes in the dishwasher. I poured us each a glass of wine. We headed to the large, overstuffed sofa in the living room.
I sat on his lap and wrapped my arms around his neck and locked eyes with his. “I’m happy as long as you’re happy. I have something to tell you.”
“Let’s hope it’s good news.” His eyes sparkled.
“It is! I have a job interview tomorrow for a homeschool teaching position with the Lakeview School District.”
“Well now! That’s another reason to celebrate.” He picked up his wine glass, ready for a toast.
“I haven’t gotten the job just yet. It was very weird, though. I submitted my resume before I hopped in the shower. A reply came within a half hour.”
“Not very odd, Dani. You do have great qualifications, not to mention a great ass.” His hand traveled down over to my backside, giving me a light slap on the butt. It was right where my V tattoo was. It burned slightly causing me to flinch.
“I don’t believe that’s one of the qualifications.” I melded my body into his and my hormones were in high gear once again. My teddy was on the floor in no time. We never made it off the sofa.
Brandt was carrying in a few black bags into the closet as I stepped out of the shower. They looked like gun cases. I trailed him, still in my towel. “What is that?”
“This is my magic, Dani. You have yours.” He placed the two black holsters on the top shelf.
“You know how I feel about weapons.” I stood there with my hands on my hips.
“Yes, I do. And must I remind you that if my men didn’t use weapons at the Sherman compound, you and I would not be standing here tonight.” Those turquoise eyes echoed a passion—one very different from mine.
I swallowed hard before responding. “I appreciate your honesty. I’m sorry I snapped at you. I’m just—well, leery of what we’re facing. I’m done with all of this.”
“I understand, but I don’t think we’re out of the woods just yet. And by the way, I need these guns to do my job. I have a very high profile man to guard, as well as a beautiful woman to protect.”
Once again, he had me. I always felt safe with him and believed what he said. I liked the fact that he felt he needed to protect me, but I also knew in the back of my mind I was a big girl now and was capable of protecting myself—or at least I thought so. Who else was capable of saving souls at the risk of losing their own?
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