Authors: Denise Grover Swank
By Denise Grover Swank
The Curse Keepers
THE CURSE KEEPERS
Rose Gardner Mysteries
(Humorous southern mysteries)
TWENTY-EIGHT AND A HALF WISHES
TWENTY-NINE AND A HALF REASONS
THIRTY AND A HALF EXCUSES
A CHANGE IN THE WIND (short story collection)
On the Otherside Series
(Young adult science fiction/romance)
Off the Subject Series
(New adult contemporary romance)
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2013 by Denise Grover Swank
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47North
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013939859
Cover illustration by Larry Rostant
To my son Trace, who always believed in the impossible. And still does.
The moment I laid eyes on him, I knew he was trouble.
He stood in the doorway of the New Moon restaurant, filling the space with his tall, slightly muscular frame and sucking the air from the room. Literally. As I focused on inflating my chest with the limited air supply, I tried to ignore the warning bells ringing in my head.
Always listen to your instincts.
My instincts had been honed by years of working as a waitress in a tourist town. You learn a lot about people working with the public.
From the beginning of May until the middle of September every year, my town of Manteo on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, was overrun with tourists. They came to see our quaint little town but mostly to see the alleged site of the first English colony to settle in North America, the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Everyone had a theory about what happened to the colony that settled on the Roanoke Island shores over four hundred years ago, from a massacre by neighboring Indian tribes to alien abduction. My family had their own take on what happened. A version I’d forgotten fifteen years ago, except for the very basics.
The late lunch crowd was clearing out so it was that rare period in the summer when we got a breather before dinner. Marlena seated the guy in her section, but I could tell she did so grudgingly. She tried to fix me up with any man who walked in the door without a wedding ring.
I nearly groaned when I realized that I’d checked.
I hurried out the back door and leaned against the building, gulping deep breaths as the brick pricked my arm.
How can I be having an asthma attack? I don’t even have asthma.
I’d never experienced anything like this before. No matter how much air I sucked into my lungs, I still felt short of breath.
After about five minutes, I got control of my panic and made myself go back inside.
Marlena had already taken the guy’s order, and he sat brooding over a beer, staring out the window onto the tourist-filled street. I only had two tables left and Marlena had rung both of them out while I was hiding out back. With nothing to do for the moment, I picked up a towel and wiped the bar counter in tiny, mindless circles. My chest felt tight, but my breathing was manageable.
I must be coming down with a sudden summer cold.
Finding a rational explanation settled my frayed nerves. Slightly.
“You rub that spot any more and you’re liable to wear a hole right through it.” Marlena winked. She seemed to be breathing without any problem whatsoever. “Someone got you shook up?”
I shot her a scowl, then looked around the small restaurant. No one else seemed to be having issues either. Except for the guy Marlena had seated. His chest rose and fell at a slow, even pace, as if he were concentrating on the movement.
A small part of the back of my brain screamed that it knew what was going on, but I shushed it, pissed off the thought had even crossed my mind.
The curse was a fairy tale. It wasn’t real.
“No,” I said to Marlena.
“Then good. I’m due for a break and the only one left in my station is that one.” She shot a thumb in his direction. “You won’t mind finishing up Mr. Hottie for me.”
I knew I’d gotten off too easy with her putting him in her own section. Shaking my head, I turned my back to the dining room, just as I saw the man give me a quick glance. “Nope. No way. He just sat down, and he hasn’t even ordered his food yet.
take his order,
take your break.”
“He doesn’t want any food, just the beer.” Raising her eyebrows, she lowered her face to mine. “He’s a fine-lookin’ man close to your age, and he’s been eyeing you since he walked in the door.”
“That’s what worries me.” But truth be told, that wasn’t all that worried me. My difficulty breathing worried me. The fact that this guy dredged up all kinds of ugly, terrifying memories full of curse nonsense, the kind that drained the life out of my soul—that’s what worried me. The sooner “Mr. Hottie” walked out the door, the better.
Marlena nudged me with her shoulder. “You should give him your number, Ellie.”
My mouth gaped, and I quickly shut it, glaring. “I’m
giving him my number!” I spat. “I don’t even
him. Besides, I’m dating Dwight. And tonight is date number five. Tonight’s
.” I really needed tonight to be the night.
“Dwight the insurance adjuster from Michigan? You’re still dating him?” Marlena crossed her arms over her ample breasts and shot me a stern look. Marlena was an intimidating woman, standing nearly six feet tall with the body of a small linebacker. When Marlena put on that stern look, most people cowered in fear. Unfortunately for her, I’d learned she was mostly bark. But she still scared me a bit. I just tried not to let her know it.
I put a hand on my hip and tilted my head in defiance. “Of course I’m still dating him. Why wouldn’t I?”
To my surprise, Marlena refrained from commenting on my tumultuous dating history, despite the fact that she’d been forced to endure four years of listening to me complain. Sometimes in excruciating detail. Maybe she was worried if she pushed too far, I wouldn’t give Mr. Hottie a chance. Releasing a sigh, she put her palm on the counter and leaned forward. “Look, sweetie…”