Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Second Excerpt from The Witching Well

For those of you interested, here's the second
excerpt from The Witching Well.

You can read the beginning of the story here:Witching Well

Celia lifted her head off the table, dazed. She must have fallen asleep. How embarrassing. She checked the tablecloth to make sure she hadn’t been drooling. It felt dry. What if she had snored? She cast a nervous glance around.
The party continued as if she had never left/slept. She wasn’t sure, but it seemed as if the band was even playing the same song. That wasn’t possible. The dream seemed longer than a few seconds, more than a few minutes even. But no one was looking or staring at her.
Becca was chatting up some guy over by the bar. Lacey had her arms wrapped around someone wearing a purple bow-tie and they moved to the music. Celia twisted around and caught the gaze of Jason West.
Flushing, she looked away. Touching her cheeks, she tried to quell the heat flaming her face. So grateful no one, and by no one she meant Jason West, could read her thoughts, Celia slipped off her pinchy shoes and fled.
Later, she would have to try and explain her sudden departure to her mom and sister. But there were some things she would never be able to explain. Or understand.
 Like the garter pressing something sharp into her upper thigh.

Jason followed Celia outside, but he hated himself for it. He didn’t know what he would say if she would just turn around and talk to him…or look at him with anything other than loathing. Standing in the soft moonlight, he watched her move away from him. He wasn’t used to rejection, and her contempt stung.
The sign hanging from the street lamp read, The Hunt Club. The Club, once a gentleman’s hunting and fishing playground, had been converted to a country club sometime within the last century. Fox and deer roamed much more freely now that the humans had replaced their rifles with golf carts and tennis racquets. Watching Celia pass through the dark gardens to the parking lot, Jason wished he had something, anything, that could make her stay.
She walked with a strange gait, and he blamed her lack of grace on her shoes. Knowing Mia, she had probably picked out bridesmaids shoes that matched the dresses in hideousness.
When Celia climbed in her Toyota Corolla, Jason headed for his Porsche. He sat behind the wheel for a moment before starting the engine.
The car sputtered and died.
He popped the hood and went to inspect. Everything reeked of fuel as if someone had spilled a jug of lighter fluid. He had a mental image of his car exploding into flames.
“Problems?” A vaguely familiar looking man in a dark suit approached.
Jason scratched his head. “I don’t know what’s wrong with it.” Suspicious, he got back behind the wheel to check the gas gage. “It says it’s out of gas, but that’s ridiculous. I filled it up on my way here.”
The stranger smiled and pointed the water bottle in his hand to the dark spot beneath the Porsche. “Careful, don’t light a match.”
Climbing back out of his car, Jason studied the pool oozing down the lot and softly swore.
“Here,” the man said, handing him the water. “You might need this.”
Jason looked at the bottle and then at all the cars in the lot. “If someone drops a light—this isn’t going to help.”
The man nodded and laughed. “You’d be surprised. Do you need me to call someone?”
“No, I got it.” Jason pushed buttons for roadside assistance on his phone.
The man looked like he wanted to say more, but after a long moment, he waved goodbye and headed for the shadowy corner of the lot.
While Jason waited for the tow, he had an itchy feeling on the back of his neck of being watched. He tried to ignore it, but his thoughts grew wary and suspicious. His gaze flicked around the parking lot before landing on the dark woods just beyond the pale street lights. The trees reached for the star studded sky and blackberry bushes, ferns and brambles clustered beneath their canopy. It would be an easy place to hide. Did his car mysteriously spring a fuel leak, or had the line been cut? And who would do such a thing? Celia Quinn?
Celia was the only person he knew that hated him, but she wouldn’t do this. Would she? He spent a few entertaining moments imagining her crawling beneath his car, her long legs poking out, the pink shoes pointing to the sky. Would she know how to find the fuel line?
No. There was no way.
She would have been dirty and smelling of gas, but instead she’d been sparkling and smelling of perfume. Jason dismissed all his dark thoughts, unscrewed the lid of the water bottle and took a long drink.
Just before he passed out, he thought he heard twigs breaking in the nearby woods.
 Resisting the urge to lift her skirts and inspect her leg, Celia limped toward the parking lot. She felt the gaze of Jason the elder and Jason the rat-fink on her back as she passed through the crowd.
A touch on her arm. “Are you okay?” her brother, Joel asked. “You’re walking funny.”
She pulled away from him and shook her head, refusing to give him an answer. Doing her best to ignore the pain in her thigh, she held her head up, braced her shoulders and tried to sail out the door.
Her tension eased when she hit the lot. The dark night steadied her. Sanity returned. The pain in her leg had to be phantom pain—the sort that plagued amputees—the all-in-your-head sort.
She waited until she got into the Corolla to lift her skirts.
Emeralds sparkled in the moonlight.
No. No. No.
Nothing about that little episode could be true. And yet, here were the emeralds to argue differently. After easing the necklace out from under the garter, she studied it. She really didn’t know anything about precious gems, but the size of these stones told her that if they were real they needed to be kept somewhere safe. Not knowing what else to do, she shoved them in the glove compartment and locked it.
Gripping the wheel, she tried to make herself put the car in drive, but a swelling nausea kept her in park. She rolled down the window and took a deep breath of the clean night air. The smell of pine, autumn leaves, and a nearby river filled her lungs. She leaned back, closed her eyes and drifted back in time.
Jason stood in a shaft of moonlight shining through the trees. His head thundered as if he’d been whacked by a heavy board…or a woman wielding a tree limb.
What the hell?
“Celia!” he burst out and flung his arms to cover his head. “Come on, I know you’re mad but murder is illegal…”
She swung the tree branch at him again. Chuckling came from behind him. Three men stood in the shadows, obviously enjoying the show. He wrenched the branch from Celia’s hands and was about to turn it loose on the three spectators when one of them said, “Getting bruised by a dame, boss?”
Jason stood up straight, his mind trying to fit together all the missing pieces of this puzzle. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Celia lunge for a revolver lying at his feet.
The thing looked deadly, despite its obvious antiquity. Jason’s instincts took over. His left arm shot out, knocking the revolver back to the dirt. He hit her with all his weight, and they tumbled to the ground. Everything felt soft about her, but not the hard, cold reality of the gun pressed against his back. He jumped to his feet, grabbed the pistol, and shoved it in his waistband.  She looked smashed and yet beautiful among the fallen autumn leaves.
She pushed her hair out of her eyes and glared up at him. He blinked back at her, confusion returning. Where had the horses and carriage come from? Who was screaming in the carriage? He pulled out his best court defense voice. “Celia, I don’t know what this is about.”
She scrambled up and brushed off her hideous dress. “You…” she paused as if searching for the right word, “…accosted me!”
I accosted you?”
Celia placed her hands on her hips. “Yeah, you were all,” she dropped her voice and did a fair imitation of him, “stand and deliver…”
Jason would have laughed on any other occasion.
“Stand and deliver? Seriously?” Jason tried to rake his fingers through his hair. He had forgotten he still held the gun. He studied it. It looked real. He let it dangle at his side, although he did wonder what he would do if she tried to whack him with another tree limb. “What did you do to my car?”
“Your car?” Celia rolled to her toes. “Look around you. No cars. Just this fancy carriage, complete with horses.”
Jason glanced around, his finger twitching on the trigger. He wanted to shoot something.
“No street lights…no throughway…probably no bathrooms…” Celia’s voice rose in panic. “Wait—when did you change?”
“Your clothes. Two seconds ago, you were wearing a cape and mask,” she waved her hand near her throat, “and a yellow cravat.”
“I would never wear a cravat.”
“But you were.” She looked serious and pointed over his shoulder. “Then you went into the woods. And now your back in your typical Jason attire.”
“My typical Jason attire? Are you mocking my suits?”
“No. I like your suits. But you know, that cape and mask—and especially the cravat—were over the top.”
This was an elaborate, cruel hoax. She must want to get back at him for getting her grandmother to sign over the lease, and she staged this…this… his mind skipped and stuttered over all things that didn’t make sense. Horses, carriage, three men in really dirty costumes…
But she was still Celia, the woman who hated him, and she still wore that putrid pink dress, so she had somehow drugged him…slipped something into his drink…carried him to the middle of the woods…
Really? Was she that crazy? Or that strong?
 “That’s it! I’m done. This was entertaining…until you hit me in the head with a tree, and tried to shoot me.” He stepped forward and grabbed her by the wrists.
She didn’t even try to wiggle away. “I never tried to shoot you.”
Jason nodded. “Attempted murder, a capital offense.”
“You pointed a gun at me! And you tried to rob me.”
“Rob you? Of what?”
Celia angled toward him, her eyes menacing and mean. “I don’t know. You’ve already taken everything I have of any value!”
“Really? Everything? What about your mom, your brother and sister, your grandmother?”
“And my health?” Sarcasm laced her voice.
“Yes! Your health…not everything has a monetary value.”
She snorted. “That’s very noble sounding, coming from a man who two minutes ago was willing to shoot an old woman for her ruby ring.”
“What are you talking about?” Then he decided he didn’t care. He plucked the handkerchief from his suit pocket. “Never mind. No more talking!” He shoved the handkerchief in her mouth.
Celia coughed and grunted while Jason pinned her wrists in his hand.
Now what am I going to do with her? He thought as he used his tie to bind her wrists together.
Jason took in the dark night, the carriage, the horses and his thoughts scrambled. The last thing he remembered, before Celia and the nightmare began, he had been in his car waiting for roadside assistance.
He must have fallen asleep.
“This isn’t real, is it?” he asked Celia.
She shrugged and made gagging noises.
“This is a dream, right? I’m dreaming.”
He took Celia’s bound wrists, drew her to him and pulled the handkerchief out of her mouth.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“If this is a dream…my dream…then I’m going to kiss you.” And he did.
Jason woke beside his car. His head still hurt, but instead of a 17th-century revolver jabbing in his back, he found a large rock. Slowly, he turned to his side, and pushed himself up to a sitting position.
Anyone leaving the wedding would think him drunk. Maybe he was. He tried to remember how much he had to drink, but couldn’t. It couldn’t have been that much, he told himself. Propping up his knees and folding his arms, he placed his head in his hands. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before. While his friends had boozed through college, he’d been too busy working, studying, and trying to up his score on the LSAT. In law school, he’d been on law review, moot court…passing out in a parking lot was not his thing.
But what was his thing?

Clearly, Celia Quinn was his thing.

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