Authors: Karen Leabo
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
2013 Loveswept eBook Edition
Copyright © 1998 by Karen Leabo.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States of America by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
is a registered trademark and the L
colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.
eBook ISBN 978-0-345-54489-6
Cover Design: Susan Schultz
Cover Photograph: © Photodisc/Getty Images
Originally published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, in 1998.
She didn’t look anything like a witch.
That was the first thing that struck Nate Wagner when he finally got a good look at the woman he was following. In fact, with her short, wispy blond hair and sea-blue eyes big enough to swim in, Tess DeWitt reminded him more of a siren than a sorceress.
His reporter’s brain made quick, mental notes on her appearance: medium height, slim build, great legs. Kissable mouth.
He quickly deleted that last attribute from his list. He wasn’t interested in sex; he was interested in a great story.
Or maybe not. His informant had to be wrong, Nate decided as he trailed a discreet distance behind the woman, who casually licked an ice-cream cone while she ambled along the sidewalk of a fashionable Back Bay street with a friend. This lovely woman with the come-hither eyes could not be the notorious
Moonbeam Majick, the child witch who fifteen years earlier had captured the attention of Boston and then scared the whole town silly.
Nate remembered the incident clearly, although at eighteen he’d been scarcely more than a child himself. “Moonbeam,” a skinny, prepubescent girl with wary, suspicious eyes and long black hair, had been a popular guest on a local talk show. Appearing with her mother, Morganna Majick, Moonbeam had been billed as the most gifted young psychic in the country. And indeed, her on-air mind-reading performances had been impressive, although most people, including Nate, dismissed them as parlor tricks.
Then one day during her routine she had stopped mid-sentence and treated the show’s host, one Don Woodland, to a piercing stare that gave him and everyone who had been watching a case of the willies. “Be careful going home today,” she’d intoned mournfully before continuing with her routine.
That evening, as he’d crossed the street on his way to the subway station, Don Woodland had been killed by a hit-and-run driver.
Moonbeam’s “amazing prediction” was in the headlines for several days as she and her mother were swamped with demands for psychic readings. Not everyone was so favorably impressed, however. Some angry citizens, most notably the family of Don Woodland, had demanded an investigation, hinting that perhaps Don’s tragic end was no accident. Others, even more hysterical, accused Moonbeam of putting a
witch’s curse on Woodland. They called her a devil worshiper and suggested she should be put away.
Subsequently there had been an investigation—not. by the police, but by the Department of Family Services. Someone had complained that Morganna was no fit mother. At the very least, Morganna had been practicing devilish magic of some sort, as indicated by the pentagrams, black candles, and other more sordid evidence uncovered in her house, and she’d been indoctrinating her daughter into the practice as well. Moonbeam had been removed from her mother’s custody, and no one had heard a word about her ever again.
A friend of Nate’s, Barbara Kirkland, had tipped him off. The notorious Moonbeam was actually Tess DeWitt, a seemingly innocuous product manager who worked for the software company where Barbara was a secretary. Nate figured it would make a good story—“Whatever Happened to Moonbeam Majick?” The editor of
magazine had told him to go for it. If it turned out to be interesting and sensational enough, Nate might even be able to sell it to a national publication.
But first he had to gain the cooperation of Tess DeWitt—if she was indeed Moonbeam, which he really doubted now that he’d seen her.
The two women paused to look in the window of an antique shop. Nate strolled by them, listening to their conversation. As he passed Tess he got a whiff of the most delicate, indescribable scent. He inhaled
deeply, wanting a second helping, but all he got was a noseful of exhaust from a passing car.
“I can’t go inside holding an ice-cream cone,” Tess said to her friend, a tall woman with an outlandish hat perched atop her short red hair.
“Well, come inside when you finish,” the friend said. “I need you to help me pick out a birthday gift for my aunt Dora. You’re always so good at knowing what people like.”
“You know, Judy, this shop has the highest prices in town,” Tess admonished with a shake of her head. Her hair, which caught the brisk autumn breeze and fluffed up around her face, fell back into place in an artfully windswept order that Nate had seldom seen in real life—only in the pages of magazines.
“Price isn’t everything,” the woman named Judy replied.
Nate paused near the two women, pretending interest in a collection of old dolls that sat in the antique shop’s front window. From the corner of his eye he watched as the redhead went inside, leaving Tess alone. Tess didn’t seem to mind. She finished her strawberry ice cream with sensual abandon, biting off the end of the cone and tipping back her head to catch the last few pink drips. Then she threw the rest away and delicately wiped her mouth and fingertips with a paper napkin.
“Are you interested in dolls?” she asked.
Nate’s head jerked around. “Uh, yeah. Well, no, not for me.” Way to go, Wagner. She’d caught him loitering. Quickly he improvised some cover. “I was thinking about my older sister, though. She had a baby
a few weeks ago, and now she’s feeling kind of down. I thought a present might perk her up.” The story was true, for the most part. “She likes dolls.” Or she had when she’d been six years old.
Tess walked over and stood beside him so that she could study the collection of dolls herself. This close to her, Nate could catalog additional traits: skin like fine china, a neck impossibly slim and graceful, breasts that were neither large nor small, but softly rounded and natural looking beneath her cream silk blouse.
“Hmm, I’m afraid I don’t know anything about antique dolls,” Tess said, “but the one on the far left is pretty.”
“Yeah, I guess. Maybe I’ll go in to have a look at her.” He moved toward the door, but Tess didn’t follow his lead. “Are you coming inside?”
She made an obvious grimace. “Might as well.” He opened the door, which announced their entrance with a cheerful jingle of bells, and she stepped in ahead of him.
The store, which was crowded with furniture, glassware, and knickknacks of every description, smelled strongly of lemon oil and lavender, not an unpleasant combination. Nate watched with interest as Tess closed her eyes and took a deep breath, as if acclimating herself to some rarefied foreign environment. She didn’t appear comfortable.
“Tess, I’m over here,” the redhead called, waving from across the store. “Look at this wonderful Chinese vase I found.”
Tess went to join her friend, leaving Nate to figure
out how he was going to pursue his acquaintance with her. He had already decided on the best approach for his story: He would get to know her first, then ease into the subject of the occult and see if she nibbled. Then he would act as if he’d only just that moment thought of writing a story about her. Not entirely aboveboard, perhaps, but he had scared away more than one sensitive source by being too up-front.
Noticing another group of dolls closer to where the two women were chatting about a rather ordinary-looking blue-glazed vase, he ambled over.
“Three hundred dollars seems a lot to pay for a cracked vase, Ming dynasty or not,” Tess was saying.
“But it’s so old—almost four hundred years!”
“Hmm. I don’t know.…” Tentatively she touched the vase, again closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. “No,” she said decisively. “I’m sure your aunt Dora wouldn’t like this piece. How about …”
She quickly scanned the shop’s contents until her gaze caught abruptly on something very near Nate. He thought she was staring at him, until he realized the focus of her attention was something above and behind him.
He turned to see what it was. There, sitting in a place of honor on the top shelf of a massive bookcase, was a stone figurine of a jungle cat of some sort, a panther, maybe, crouched as if ready to pounce. The stone was red—deep, dark, bloodred—and the cat had iridescent yellow stones for eyes. It was quite a striking piece.
“I don’t believe it,” she murmured as she came closer.
Nate stepped aside to give her access. Then, realizing the statue was up too high for her, he reached toward it himself, intending to bring it down for her closer inspection.
“Don’t touch it!” she cautioned, but it was too late. The figurine was already in his hands.
It was heavy, and warmer than cold stone should have felt. “What’s wrong?” he asked as she backed away from it. “I thought you wanted to see it.”
“P-put it back,” she said. Her huge blue eyes clearly revealed her dread.
Judy, who had come up behind Tess, was apparently as confused as Nate. “Why?” she asked. “That’s a beautiful statue. How much is it? I think my aunt Dora would love it. It’s Chinese, isn’t it?”
Nate looked on the bottom. The price seemed very reasonable, considering the tags he’d noticed on some of the other items. “It’s fifty dollars,” he told Judy.
“Perfect,” Judy exclaimed, reaching for the statue.
“No!” Tess barked. “Judy, listen to me. Your aunt Dora would hate that statue. Trust me on this one.”
“But you don’t even know my aunt Dora.”
“I know what old ladies like, and that statue is all wrong for an old lady.”
By now their heated words had drawn the attention of the store’s proprietor, who had been seated behind a rolltop desk attending to some kind of busywork. She hobbled over, using a cane because her entire left leg
was encased in a cast, a pinched expression on her thin, aristocratic face.
“May I be of some assistance?” she asked, peeking over the top of her reading glasses. Then her gaze fell on the statue in Nate’s hands. “Oh, I see you’ve found one of my favorite pieces.”
“Where did you get it?” Tess demanded without even a semblance of polite curiosity.
The proprietor, whose name tag identified her as Anne-Louise Morrell, didn’t seem to notice. “A young gentleman brought it into the store one day. He seemed quite anxious to part with it, though I’m not sure why, and he wasn’t particular about compensation. I paid him a pittance for it—that’s why I was able to price it so low.” She paused, looking expectantly from face to face.
“How old is it?” Judy asked.
Anne-Louise was only too happy to wax enthusiastic. “Oh, it’s very old. I can’t say for sure when or where it originated, but have you ever seen the carved figures displayed at the palace of Versailles? This one is very similar.”
I’ll just bet, Nate thought. And if the expression on Tess’s face was any indication, her thoughts were running along the same skeptical track. Still, the statue was worth fifty bucks for aesthetic value alone, never mind its value as an antique. If this Judy didn’t buy it, he just might.