Heaven on Earth
Tara Varela secretly communicates with animals. Even stranger is her ability to heal others, which is getting stronger by the day. After tending to a mysterious man through an otherworldly connection, she embarks on a journey in a parallel realm she never knew existed.
Her journey to Wisteria is only the beginning. As she comes to terms with her magickal gifts, she finds that the man she has befriended understands more about her purpose than she does. As they unravel the mystery of their connection, they each struggle with their growing attraction.
The healing energy that Tara harnesses is powerful, but as with most magick, there's a cost. Theo's desires can't be acted upon without draining her powers and she's made it clear, she's willing to chance it. The choice between following their desires and doing what they must is something they will struggle with. Little do they know; neither has much choice in the matter.
Heaven on Earth is the final installment in the Power of Four series. If you like romance with magical elements, strong heroines and parallel dimensions, then this series is for you! Follow DA Henneman and Embrace the Journey today!
Release date: December 10, 2020
Publisher: Saray Books LLC
Print pages: 360
Content advisory: Adult content
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Heaven on Earth
The music from Tara Varela’s flute drifted down the hillside and into the valley below. She was in her favorite spot near the monument where she spent her days working. Her grandmother’s heritage that brought her to the Crazy Horse Memorial all those years ago. It was her love of the Black Hills of South Dakota that compelled her to finish her degree and stay there as a park ranger.
The Lakota people were proud of their heritage and wonderful stewards to the earth and Her creatures. The view from Tara’s afternoon perch overlooked the construction of the lower part of the mountain, far away from the proud face of the honored leader. Not much happened in the winter months, although tourists from all over the world still visited daily. While the monument was impressive to her for many reasons, the amount of work to be completed was unfathomable. After decades of construction, Crazy Horse’s face and the top of his pointing arm were the only things finished. However, the more she learned about the passion of the late sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, and his family’s continued work, the more she knew she was in the right place.
Another sour note, and Tara began again. She was still learning the correct movements for a song her co-worker, Paytah, had played at lunch recently. It had a Celtic vibe, unlike most of the music they heard day in and day out. Tara had been surprised to find it was from the soundtrack of Lord of the Rings and had watched the movie with new eyes. Much like the scenes they were played in, the haunting notes filled her heart with longing and hope. She had been trying to perfect the melody ever since. On the days the notes came easily, the lyrics were sung in her mind in a rich baritone, unlike the woman on the soundtrack. The elder, Mato, had always said that notes strung together in a tune weren’t as important as playing the music of her heart. With the recent addition of the man’s voice to her rendition of the tune, she wondered if playing from her heart was starting to mess with her head.
Running steps and rustling stopped her mid-blow, and she turned quickly to look up the hillside path. A frantic young woman ran up to her, with fresh cuts on her face and muddied clothes.
“I need your help,” she panted.
Tara had already risen to her feet, her flute and musings forgotten at the base of the tree. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” In a few steps, she met the woman on the path and did a once-over for injuries.
The woman shook her head, sucking in large gulps of breath as she tried to slow her breathing. “Not me. My boyfriend.” She waved up the path then turned to start back the way she came. “He’s hurt.”
The woman was winded, with a few superficial scratches, but otherwise, looked fine. She was just frantic. Panic came off her in waves. It increased Tara’s heartrate and made her ill. She sent the woman calming thoughts.
“Can you take me to him?” Tara’s question was logical, since she wasn’t sure how familiar the stranger was with the area. The woman looked as though she may have run a few miles.
“Yes.” The woman nodded.
The sun had already been blocked by the great mountain–another hour, and it would be gone entirely. She noted the woman was dressed properly for hiking. She had gear on her belt but no backpack, which made sense if she had been in a hurry to find someone. Tara gave her a directional nod and started to move.
The woman turned and ran ahead on the path. Tara kept up the quick pace while she pulled out her cellphone and lifted the privacy settings that shared her location. She hit Paytah’s contact next and started a text, tapping the microphone symbol allowing her to do voice-to-text.
“Hiker found me at my usual spot and needs help. Says her boyfriend is injured and we are on route. Location shared, follow with a med kit and blankets.” She kept walking behind the woman as she waited for a response. The three dots signifying it was coming stopped with Paytah’s reply.
“Will be 10 minutes behind you.”
Tara was comforted by the knowledge she had backup coming, especially since she only carried a small flashlight and first aid kit on her utility belt. From the way the woman was behaving, the injuries might need more than the bandages and gauze she had handy. Between her supplies and the woman’s, they should be able to provide enough aid until help arrived. She hoped the couple had a lantern, it would be dark soon.
Tara picked up her pace, causing the woman to walk quicker. Moving up the hillside was probably much slower going than the way down had been. “How long were you running before you found me,” she asked.
“About 15 minutes,” the woman responded. “Was about this pace. I didn’t want to slip. It took me about 6 or 7 minutes to find you.”
“Okay good. I’ve called for help. They are right behind us. My name is Tara, by the way.”
“Maggie,” the woman said as she glanced over to Tara, who had caught up to her. They were practically walking side by side. “My boyfriend’s name is Brent.”
“Before we get there, can you tell me what happened?”
“We were hiking back to our campsite, and Brent’s foot slipped into a fox hole. He fell forward, and I heard it snap.” Maggie’s voice cracked. “I managed to slow the bleeding, but it’s broken. It pushed through his skin.” She covered her mouth with her hand.
Tara gave Maggie’s arm a quick squeeze. Sounded bad, it would be tricky to move him. Maybe they could find some branches along the way to serve as a splint. Tara took her phone out again and sent another text to Paytah.
“Possible compound fracture, bring the gurney.”
Her response came quickly. “Got it. On the way.”
“My co-worker will come with no less than two other people. We will be able to get Brent help.”
“Thank you so much, Tara. I’m so glad I heard your music on my way to the Visitor Center. It was the only place I could think of where I would find someone.”
“We have a hospital nearby so once we get him off the mountain, they should be able to secure his break for transport.”
“I think it’s right up here through these trees.”
Tara squinted beyond the tree line to determine where Maggie’s boyfriend was sitting. She spied him across the clearing, his body unmoving, eyes wide and locked on something to his left. Tara saw it then and grasped Maggie’s arm to pull her back and down into a crouching position. Maggie attempted to pull away in confusion, crouching down beside Tara after her fierce whisper.
“You need to stay here, and keep quiet,” Tara said. “Don’t move.”
“Oh my God, I see it,” Maggie whispered. She had hardly taken a breath since crouching down beside Tara. Their eyes were all locked in the same direction, and while the boyfriend was closest to it, it wouldn’t take more than a few seconds for the mountain lion to make it to their location if it chose to do so.
Tara scooted closer to the clearing, leaving Maggie behind her by a foot or two. It was enough of a movement to attract the animal’s attention. Its gaze locked on Tara as it adjusted its powerful body to face hers. She could hear Maggie’s slight intake in breath, but otherwise, she was as silent as an evergreen. Tara slowly put her arms out on either side, her hands splayed with palms forward. The mountain lion bared its fangs with a sharp hiss, remaining completely still.
She couldn’t think of anything else to do. The idea came as a mental flash to her mind, much like some of the other things she had been shown in the past few months. Going with her gut in these types of situations took her in the right direction her entire life–but much more so lately. Besides, it worked at home on her cat, Misty.
Tara took a deep breath and pushed her thoughts out in front of her, directing her intention at the large cat a few feet away from the injured man.
Peace. No Harm. Friend.
Interesting. The animal formed words along with the images, just like she received from Misty. The response wasn’t angry, nor did it feel urgent. This animal wasn’t starving but had merely come across something that smelled like blood. Tara felt the waves of curiosity coming from the beast. If the animal had truly been hungry, Brent would have already been attacked.
Not Food. Friend.
The mountain lion’s head tipped to the side, much like Misty did when Tara spoke aloud to her. Her best friend, Brooke, had seen how attached Tara was to her cat and had left her behind when she moved away. Tara and Misty had their communication down to a science, but this was next level. It was only because they spoke to each other this way, Tara had even thought to attempt it with the wild feline. Words were always sent with images when she spoke to her cat. It seemed like now it worked on other animals as well.
“Unbelievable,” Maggie whispered in awe. Tara could only imagine what it must look like to her. After all, Tara had now lowered herself to her knees, and the cat had shifted its muscular body, so it was facing her fully.
Tara smiled as the large cat started a rumbling purr and stopped twitching its tail. Its ears were up in a relaxed position, and it was waiting for her response. Just a conversation between two friends.
The cat relaxed even further, rolling to its side and resting its head on the forest floor. It wasn’t leaving, but Tara decided it was safe enough to approach. She needed to get the cat to leave before the others arrived. It would be a shame to tranquilize it. She knew Paytah would have the necessary tools in her kit, especially at this time of night.
The cat watched, unblinking, as Tara stood in place with her arms still splayed at her sides. Maggie muttered under her breath, and Tara glanced back with a shake of her head to quiet her. She needed to concentrate and couldn’t worry that Maggie would draw any undue attention to herself.
Tara took a step forward and paused, glancing over to Brent, who was no longer staring the mountain lion’s way. He was still sitting against the tree, but his head was slumped forward chin to chest. He must have passed out from the pain. At least she hoped. Another step forward, and her attention was back on the large cat who gave her more and more of a Misty vibe as she continued to communicate with it.
The words that came to her were more visual than actual words. Pictures pushed into her mind by the cat, showed it rubbing itself across a tree stump and wrestling with its siblings. The images flickered by, like an old black and white movie. The words formed after images were shown, allowing her to know what the mountain lion truly wanted.
She was now within a couple feet of the animal, which rolled over on its back and showed its belly to her. The cat was young, probably just old enough to be without its mother. She supposed that was part of the reason it was so easy to communicate with. It hadn’t had much human interaction, so its level of fear was minimal. Tara took the final few steps toward the cat and placed her hand on its chest. She could feel the rumble of the purr as she started to fill the feline’s request.
As she rubbed her fingertips across the mountain lion’s fur, she pushed more thoughts its way.
More humans coming. Cat must hide.
The large cat raised up and looked at her, cocking its head.
Tara continued to rub and pushed another message. Cat must hide. She pulled her hand off its belly and pushed one more message.
Man needs help.
The mountain lion understood and as Tara stood and took a step back, it rose to its feet and gave its great body a shake. The wet debris dropped from its fur. It stepped toward Tara and rubbed itself along her legs, practically knocking her over with its force. Even though it was young, it had to be over a hundred pounds. She reached down and rubbed the top of its head before giving it her final thought.
My friend. Cat hide.
Tara pointed toward the woods, and the animal gave one last look at her before turning and loping in that direction. The mountain lion was gone with a whisper, but Tara knew it wouldn’t go far. It made her wonder if it would run into any other hikers, but she couldn’t worry about that now. Its curiosity would keep it nearby and watching, but it would heed her warning. Of that, she was sure.
As she crossed over to Brent, the sound of running steps came up to Tara. Within seconds, Maggie crouched down beside her boyfriend. She was distraught. Her hands reached out then pulled back, shaking in the process.
Tara always gave folks something to do when she was trying to give aid. She found it was a good idea, as it kept them out of her space. Besides, for her next bit, she didn’t want Maggie around. Taking a quick inventory of the situation, Tara gave Maggie some instruction.
“I need you to find a branch, something straight and about two feet long. We might need it for the break.”
With wide eyes, Maggie nodded and hurried into the tree line to fulfill Tara’s request. Tara turned back to Brent and saw the gentle rise and fall of his chest. He was still unconscious. Time to assess the damage.
It looked like a compound fracture, although it was hard to see the injury with the amount of blood that had congealed near the wound site. Brent’s pulse was strong, his breathing steady. She was glad he was out of it, as panicked people never made the best patients.
From first glance, the two hikers had done the right steps to deal with the wound. They had used his leather belt as a tourniquet, wrapping it twice around before using the notches to secure it. It staunched the flow of blood to the site and seemed to have done the trick.
She cut the leg of his pants open with her knife to better see the break. The bone protruded from Brent’s muddy knee, and she decided cleaning the wound would be the best place to start. Her backup would be there shortly.
Tara unzipped her first aid kit and dumped out the meager contents, opting for the plain gauze to get most of the mud off before using the alcohol wipes. The tune she had been playing earlier came to mind, and soon she was humming the notes.
The melody soothed her. Tara concentrated on the injury, thankful Brent was still unconscious during the sting of alcohol on his open wound. Her fingers tingled, and she wondered if she had scratched them earlier on the bark of the tree she had been sitting beneath. When she looked down to check them for cuts, they were glowing white.
“I found this,” Maggie’s voice said from behind her. Tara internally jumped, her shoulders following suit for a brief second. When she looked at her hands again, the glow was gone.
Maggie handed her a branch about two inches in diameter, with only a slight bend in the middle. Otherwise, it was straight.
“This will be perfect. Do you have a flashlight? I’m having a hard time seeing what I’m doing.”
“I have one here, but weren’t you just using one?”
“Tara,” a voice called out from behind them.
“Over here,” she responded, thankful she didn’t need to answer Maggie’s question. “Go see if they need help. I’m not sure what they’ve brought with them.”
“Okay.” Maggie nodded and hurried out of the clearing, down the path that led to the Memorial. Tara heard snatches of their conversation as Maggie brought them up to speed.
Tara picked up her supplies and shoved them back into her pack, securing it on her belt. She took the blanket Brent had been using to cover himself and folded it up, laying the makeshift pillow next to him. By the time she stood up and attempted to shift Brent into a prone position, Paytah was at her side.
“I was just going to lay him down, so we can slide him onto the gurney,” Tara explained.
“Don’t worry about that,” a deep voice said. Tara glanced up and saw Paytah’s boyfriend, Robert, and another employee she didn’t know carrying the supplies. “We can take it from here. How long has he been unconscious?”
“Just after we arrived,” Tara answered. “Less than five minutes.”
“Good,” the other man responded. “What’s his name?”
“Brent,” Maggie replied. She gathered their belongings and zipped them into backpacks.
Tara watched as the man who came with Robert gave aid to the hiker. She was impressed by his muscular arms. He had a lot of tattoos, which wasn’t normally her thing, but on him, they looked good.
The man snapped a packet in his fingers and waved it under Brent’s nose, causing him to wake with a start. Tara and Paytah helped Robert finish the set up on the gurney.
“Brent, I’m Tyler and this is Rob. Ladies are Paytah and…”
“Tara,” she added quickly.
Tyler continued his aid without missing a beat. “We all work at the Crazy Horse Memorial. We’re here to get you to the hospital.”
Brent nodded. He was awake, but his eyes were glazed. The waves of pain that came from him made Tara nauseous. As she mentally pulled on the red threads of agony coming from his body, her stomach churned, but it seemed to be helping him. She imagined absorbing as much as she could, pulling it deep into her body and as far away from him as possible. Tara channeled her healing energy to Brent, just like her Grandmother had taught her and Mato’s teachings had reinforced. When Rob and Tyler moved him to the gurney, Brent’s breathing seemed much less shallow. His voice came out in not much more than a whisper.
“I’m right here,” Maggie responded. The emotion in her voice breaking, but she needed to hold it together just a little while longer. Tara gathered a ball of positive energy and kept her hands behind her back until she reached Maggie. With a brush to her shoulders, Tara passed the energy to the woman as she slid the weight of the backpacks from them.
“I’ll carry this for you.”
Maggie’s shoulders relaxed, the relief reflecting in her gratitude filled eyes. “Thank you all so much.”
A rumble of thunder sounded in the distance, with a flash of lightning not far behind.
“Don’t thank us yet,” Rob quipped. “We still need to get our asses off this mountain. The storm is coming.”
“Let’s do this,” Tyler said.
“I’ll lead the way with Maggie,” Paytah offered. “Tara, you can follow behind the men.”
“Ready when you are,” Tara answered.
As they left the clearing, Tara glanced back and did a quick sweep with her flashlight. The luminescent glow from a set of eyes made her jump.
She pushed a message to the mountain lion with a smile as she hurried behind the group.
In a land separated from ours by dimensions and magick, Theo stood near the tree where he lived, stretching the cramped state of his back. He had been content to sing along with the music that came to him each night of his lonely existence, but it had been silenced. He waited for its return until his ass grew numb and his fingers were chilled. Neither the music, nor the feathery voice that would sometimes hum the tune, could be heard. He looked forward to that voice, a soothing balm to his soul, but tonight’s concert was cut short. The music’s abrupt halt irritated him.
It had been nearly a century since he had seen another soul, and he grew weary of his solitude. With only his books and experiments to keep him entertained, he spent most of his time keeping the tree where he lived from dying. He wasn’t having much luck. The toxins from the long-kept secret he was sentenced to hide were seeping to the surface of the tree. Like oozing wounds on skin, the putrid magick was no longer held by the ancient runic symbols he carved in the bark. They now glowed green and without a dryad to protect it, the tree was suffering. It was only a matter of time before the last of the evil was released.
He ran his hands along the rough bark, the glowing symbols cool beneath his touch. The toxic magick had taken his remaining elemental powers long ago and, over time, had broken free of the prison he had built for it. There were days he wasn’t sure why he remained. It was evident most of the magick had already made its way out into the world he vowed to protect.
The obsidian box that held the weapon laid beneath the roots of the tree, far below the place he called home. The shard, once used by Erebos to kill Theo’s best friend, was inside and, like a siren’s song, called to its master. The only magick Theo had left were simple spellworks from his culture. His waning energy just wasn’t strong enough anymore.
Perhaps it was time to leave, to go back to his former life. But even as he considered it, he cringed at the thought. He had never been happy there and if he were to live elsewhere, he would be forced to live alone. The ladies he once knew wouldn’t be content with moving so far away from the festive atmosphere of court. Once the king of a thriving culture, his self-imposed exile had changed him to a ruler of nothingness. No woman in her right mind would want him. He once again questioned his motivation to support Fate all those years ago.
The dark magick had taken so much away from all of them, and he grew weary of his part to play. Nevertheless, he remained steadfast. He was bound by his promise to Fate to keep the weapon hidden until nature found new stewards for the Power of Four. Once the new group harnessed the powers of the elements, he hoped they would send word that his penance was complete.
“Aperiam ianua.” He waved his hands over the surface of the rune-covered tree. The glowing bark opened, as he had requested, showing a flight of stairs that led below the roots of the massive Dragon Blood tree. The command phrases were all he had left of his Elvish magick. He came from a long line of healers and empaths but worried the toxic energy would affect his immortality next. Gods help them all if that happened, he would be useless. Although Fate hadn’t been clear on his role in the future, he had been around long enough to know she had plans for him. He just hoped he was still drawing breath when she put them into action.
Walking into the depths of his home, he wound around the spiral staircase that led to his living quarters. He didn’t need firelight to see, since the glow from the magick was present inside as well as out. Every surface was covered with the symbols that had kept the magick contained inside the tree, but he was running out of empty spaces in which to carve them. He was at a loss as to what else he could possibly do.
He walked into the room he used as his library and threw another log on the fire. Confident the room would stay warm through the night, he walked along the wall of shelves that housed his immense collection of books. It was one of the few things he had thought to bring with him all those years ago. It turned out to be the best decision he had made, since the books had been his only company for well over seventy years.
He trailed his hand lovingly along the ancient spines. He was edgy and irritated that his musical reprieve had been cut short. Getting lost in a story was just the thing. He often used them as an escape. As he examined the titles on the leather-bound books, his mind wandered to another book once in his possession. He wondered if Fate still had the Elemental Journal or if Erebos had finally managed to claim it. With the current state of the tree he lived beneath, he dreaded the answer.
Theo selected a first edition of Pride and Prejudice, sat in his armchair, and opened Ms. Austen’s story to page one. He had wondered years ago what all the fuss was about. It seemed every female he ran into had read and raved about Mr. Darcy. He had already been through most of the books on his shelves and was looking for something different. If it was a decent story, he didn’t honestly care what he read.
He read aloud, as he always did. The sound of his own voice made him feel less alone. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” He snorted. The opening line seemed ironic, especially with the paragraph that followed. It made him wonder if Ms. Austen had been part Fae.
He was familiar with the snares the pretties in court would attempt. Matchmakers had always assumed he was looking for the future Queen Helthon. That was the primary reason he had left the management of his kingdom to his advisors. His living in solitude started long before Fate dealt him his current hand of destiny. In the past, there were always ladies willing to grant him ease, especially at the lavish balls he threw each festival season. He would almost be willing to stomach one of those senseless affairs, just so he could feel like a man again.
He poured himself a scotch and knocked back the stinging liquid in one swallow. Visions of the women he once knew started flooding his mind and tightening his pants. It had been far too long between interludes, and he was getting worked up. He poured himself another drink and attempted to distract himself, which was getting harder and harder to do. Literally.
Reading the next few lines, he realized perhaps the story wouldn’t be so bad after all, since the banter between the husband and wife was entertaining. Satisfied the story would be bearable, he sipped his scotch and settled in for a long night of reading. What the hell else did he have to do?
He wished he would have been able to at least bring a nixie with him. They were always up for a good time and never had any expectations beyond the pleasure of the moment. Pleasure. He wondered if he would ever know it again.
In another part of Wisteria, Fate was alone with her thoughts. She felt it in her bones but more so, the voices in her head verified it. The time had come. Her ability to speak in coherent sentences was back. It concerned her, since Theo had set the spell to tie her tongue in the first place. For the past several decades, she had only been able to speak in riddles or rhymes. Now that she was no longer forced to, it worried her. Perhaps something terrible happened to her dear friend.
Theo had done what was asked of him the day the magick was pulled from Erebos and the dark energy was released. Now, the final step in destiny’s new plan needed a nudge. The Shadowman, Erebos, to those who knew him and Roy, to her sister, Zilla, had not given her a moment’s peace in which to do it. He sensed something was happening, but since she hadn’t been able to communicate in any other form but riddles, he grew weary of her responses. He didn’t hover as much anymore, which worked to her benefit. But now that she could speak normally, he might demand new answers.
She had to be careful. The Shadowman held both her sisters hostage and used them to control her. The man he had once been loved Zilla, but that man’s essence had long been pushed out of the body by another. Zilla dealt with the cruelty of the second entity, Roy, with only fleeting glimpses of Erebos in her interactions with him. It wasn’t long until the Shadowman took over entirely. His essence hadn’t made the memories, but he remembered them. He ruined any past tenderness with his wicked tongue. And the woman his host body once loved, was left to rot in a cell in the dungeon. Zilla had been through a lot, they all had, but Fate’s treatment had been the least traumatic.
Fate’s only solace was the knowledge that her sisters were together. Sevilla and Zilla were locked in a cell far beneath the stone floors of the caverns, where the Shadowman made his home. She wasn’t entirely sure, but she thought perhaps Ryker, Sevilla’s husband, was on the premises as well. She hadn’t been able to confirm that, as there were some areas of the property she wasn’t allowed to enter.
Fate hadn’t talked to her sisters in weeks, and the only reason she knew they were still alive was the fact that she would know if they weren’t. The souls of the deceased were the voices who whispered the secrets of the future in her mind. They were the eyes she saw through by the words they flashed in her mind. Her sisters would have certainly made themselves known to her if they had transitioned through that veil.
Her thoughts went to those who had already crossed. To her lover, Anton, the shifter who had passed much too soon and whose soul had never failed to return to her in one form or another throughout the centuries. The man they knew as Erebos had killed him as he attempted to drain Anton’s essence and absorb his abilities. She wasn’t sure if the Shadowman had influenced his actions, though it mattered little. Erebos was no longer allowed to surface in the body the Shadowman now controlled. Neither was Roy.
Although Anton had crossed, he was the only one she was unable to communicate with. Destined to return to her one day, in a form she couldn’t control but only recognize, he waited in the void until destiny decided to reunite them. Such was the way with soul mates. She was always able to recognize him when he came back into her life, but he didn’t always know her. There were times she needed to be patient. This was one of them.
Her pulse fluttered, and her cheeks warmed as she thought of him. Her soulmate had finally returned to her, but this time, he was human. She worried about his mortal shell so kept her distance. She wasn’t willing to put him at risk, not until the danger had passed and the elements were able to keep the balance. So, she kept the secret to herself, locked up tight in her heart and mind. But the pull of his essence was hard to avoid.
There were times she had gotten close, just to feel the electric pull of his aura. Times when she had gotten closer still and spoke to him or snuck in a kiss. The Shadowman was suspicious but as far as she could tell, he didn’t know the man’s purpose. She was afraid that now, without Theo’s spell tying her tongue in knots, the Shadowman would force the truth out of her. More than ever, she needed to keep her distance from everyone she loved.
Fate shifted in the cushioned armchair near the dying fire in her room. It was the one place where the Shadowman would leave her alone and for that, she was thankful. There was a long thin table in front of her, which she had dragged from the wall six steps back from the right of the fireplace. The height was perfect for her purpose, and she had spread the selected tarot cards in front of her in the order she had pulled them. Even though she couldn’t see the images with her blind eyes, she could sense them by way of the voices.
As she held her hand over each one, the voices from beyond came to her and sent images to her mind to correspond with the cards. It was a slow process but since Fate had been blind from birth, it was the only way she was able to use the magical tools. She missed the days when her sister Sevilla did the readings, they were much more accurate when the three sisters were together.
The deck was old, the edges soft and the corners rounded with age. Sevilla’s deck. There had been magical tools she had gone back and taken from each sister’s home, and their favorite deck was the first thing she had packed.
She was hoping for a little more guidance than the voices were currently giving. She needed to understand what happened to Theo and if the final element was connected to his destiny. Earlier signs had showed she did, so she needed to make sure she found her way to him quickly. Especially since she feared Theo’s Elvish magick was no longer able to keep the secret safe. It was only a matter of time until the Shadowman found the tree he had been looking for. The tree she had once accidently told him about.
She moved her hands over the three cards she had pulled to signify how she felt, what would happen, and how the future would impact the question she held in her mind. The voices in her head flashed images of a card with a moon and a path between two towers. The card, which represented dreams, was telling her to stay her course, confirming what she already knew to be true.
Visions of the second card flashed in her mind, showing six swords all pointed toward a common enemy. In the deck, the six of swords represented science, and she took that as an incredibly good sign. Theo was still alive. As she had hoped, he would have a major part to play when the elements came together.
The third card was a little more subjective. The images, which came to her, were of hot and cold, yin and yang. The alchemy card represented restraint or temperance, and that could mean they would have trouble when the element of Earth entered the equation. This card warned that the energy they so desperately needed to balance, would be volatile at best.
According to the reading, the Elemental was on her way, and Theo had definite ties to her fate. It was fitting that the man who wielded the power of Earth last would be the one to mentor the woman who would embody it in the future. She was glad the reading confirmed he was still alive but worried the lack of the spell holding her tongue meant that his magick was all but drained. He might need healing, so it was even more imperative they find the final element quickly. Hopefully, she would instinctively know what to do.
A hesitant knock sounded on her door. It would have been more demanding had it been the Shadowman or one of his elemental golems. The last one, a fire golem, had all but burnt down the door.
“Come inside, I’ve nothing to hide,” Fate called out. It was the best she could come up with in a pinch. She sat in place until the door closed, and a light tread came across the room to her chair. She scooped up the cards she had read and placed them back into the center of the tarot deck. “My solitude has come to an end. Is that you, Sansa, my friend?”
“Yes, ma’am,” the young dryad answered. Fate was surprised she had heard her steps at all, since nymphs were notoriously light of foot. “Master Shadow has requested your presence for dinner. He said you have one hour to prepare yourself.”
“I’ll be ready,” Fate answered calmly. “Remember, he is not to know anything about my ability to speak freely.”
“I understand. I would never betray you, my lady. I swear by the roots of my tree.”
“Thank you,” Fate said with a smile. A dryad swearing by her tree was as close to a blood oath as one could get. Her secret was safe. “Now what kind of a mood is he in?”
“Foul, my lady.”
“And what was the color I wore last that he went on about? You know the one he detested?”
“I believe it was yellow, my lady. He prefers somber colors and has everyone around him dress in black or gray.”
“Sounds very drab, and since I come from a world of darkness and shade, I believe the presence of all colors should be celebrated. Please ready the yellow dress for me, Sansa.”
“Right away.” The young nymph’s giggle tinkled in the room, warming Fate’s heart. The Shadowman granting her a lady’s maid had been the best thing that had ever happened to her. They had become close in the months Sansa had been helping her, and Fate had every plan to take her with her when she left. She would find her the perfect tree to connect to, since the Shadowman had done the unthinkable and burned Sansa’s to the ground. Neither of them could leave without suffering his wrath, so in the meantime, upsetting him and feigning innocence was one of their favorite pastimes.
Sansa’s voice washed over Fate. There was nothing more musical than a Dryad’s joy.
“Let’s leave your hair loose and in curls tonight, since he prefers it in a simple braid.”
“Perfect,” Fate laughed.
After getting the hikers back to the complex safely, Tara and Paytah clocked out and went their separate ways. They had both managed six hours overtime by the time Brent was admitted and lined up for surgery, so their manager told them he would get the next day’s shift covered for them. Tara was appreciative of the extra time off, since she had an upcoming trip to pack for.
It was late when she got home. She had stopped at the store on the way. It was way past the normal time when she would give Misty a bit of wet food for dinner. The fluffy Angora cat met her at the door, meowing as if she had been home for days without eating. Since Tara had only left at 8 a.m. that morning, she knew that was far from the case. Besides, she was pretty sure the neighbor boy, Peter, had been over earlier in the day, since there was an open bag of chips lying on her coffee table. He must have been gaming while keeping Misty company again. He took his pet-sitting duties seriously and knew he was welcome anytime he saw she wasn’t there, especially on the days she worked late.
“Meow, rawr rawr.” Misty sent Tara mental images of her cat dish filled with canned food.
“Give me a minute, Misty. You rubbing on my legs, while I’m trying to walk, isn’t helpful.”
“Don’t get snippy with me,” Tara laughed. “You have dry food if you’re that hungry.”
The cat gave her a look then turned away with a flick of her fluffy tail. A dejected “mrawr” was all she tossed back. Misty was in enough of a mood that she wasn’t even speaking to Tara through their mental channel. That sometimes happened when she spent the afternoon with the neighbor boy.
Tara watched as she did the cat’s equivalent to stomping up the hallway, walking with purpose as her tail swished quickly from side to side. Right before she entered the second bedroom, she looked back pointedly to make sure Tara had been watching her.
“I see you. Give me a minute.”
Misty turned her head to break eye contact and slipped silently into the room. More than likely she was going to hop up on the perch Tara set up in the window. She had placed a bird feeder outside the window last weekend. Next to eating, watching the birds was Misty’s favorite thing to do.
Tara felt her phone vibrate in her purse and rushed to set down the groceries she had been juggling when she walked in. As she slid it out of her purse, she took a deep breath to squelch her disappointment. She wasn’t sure who she had expected to be texting at this hour, but she wasn’t honestly sure how she felt about this latest development. The hunky medic she had met and exchanged numbers with earlier had messaged her.
“Hey, U want 2 get a drink later?”
Tara checked the clock. It was past midnight. In her experience, the only dates that were considered dates were scheduled well before the witching hour.
“Later as in when?”
She was right, total booty call attempt. She was lonely but not desperate. Besides, it had started to snow.
“Sorry too tired tonight. Have a nice night.”
She placed her phone on the counter and started emptying the bags from her late-night grocery run. There was no more buzzing from the phone. It seemed she had been right about it being a booty call, and tool-time Tyler had gotten the message. She wasn’t interested in adding another ex-boyfriend to the list, best to nip it from the start.
A few years back, she would have jumped on the chance to twist the sheets with an amazing specimen like him. His smile had warmed her in places she hadn’t thought much about since she had moved to South Dakota. But so much had happened since her days of insecurity and loneliness. In the last few years, she had come to terms with solitude and learned to love herself. Going back to school had a lot to do with her personal growth, as did moving out of state. She was grounded here, much more than she was when she lived in Florida with Brooke.
The phone buzzed once more, and Tara picked it up with a roll of her eyes. She read the message, and a smile came to her face. Not Tyler, thankfully, it was her best friend Brooke. Strange. She had just been thinking of her.
“You up? Too late to call?”
Tara sent back a text, very much used to Brooke contacting her in the middle of the night. Back when Brooke’s anxiety bothered her more, the calls were more frequent. Since Will came into her friend’s life, the panic attacks happened less.
“I’m up, and no. Give me 5.”
Tara pulled a wineglass out of the cupboard and poured herself the last of the Pink Zinfandel from the bottle she had opened earlier in the week. She set the glass on the table near her couch and then went back to her room to slip into her pajamas. She was back on the couch, sipping her wine in less than 4 minutes. Brooke’s call came in right on time.
“Hey girlie, I was just thinking of you!”
“Really?” Brooke remarked. “That’s strange, you’ve been on my mind all day, and I thought I had better not wait until tomorrow to contact you. I was getting a weird vibe.”
“It’s always strange when you do that. I did have some stuff happen at work today that was a bit stressful. But in the end, it turned out fine. I just got home as a matter of fact.”
“So, what happened?”
“Had a couple of hikers with an emergency. One of them had broken their leg and needed help down the hillside.”
“That’s awful. I hope they’ll be okay.”
“Yeah, I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Tara took a sip of her wine and settled her back against the couch. “So, why are you up so late?”
“Just have so much to get ready for the shower. It’s a bit draining. You still arriving at 9:40 a week from next Saturday then?”
“Yes, I hope that’s still okay. It was better for me to work then leave right for the airport.”
“That’s brilliant, actually. I can pop out to get you after Will heads to work. He has two shows that night.”
“I am excited to see the new illusions in his show. Is Trina still assisting him?”
“She is. Her baby girl is 16 months now. Hard to believe she’s that old already.”
“Well, you and Will have been together for that long, so it makes sense.”
“I suppose,” Brook mused. “So, I hope you don’t mind, but I planned for tea with Will’s parents the day after you arrive. They are anxious to see you again. And I think Will’s mum Nancy wanted to talk to you about some ideas she had for the centerpieces.”
“Sounds great. I’m excited to help. I can’t believe your wedding is only a few months away now. Seems like just yesterday you and Will met.”
“It does, doesn’t it?”
Her voice sounded strained. Tara wasn’t sure if it was because it was late or if there was something bothering her.
“So, how is James doing?”
“He’s doing better. The therapy he received in Sedona really helped with his PTSD. He’s made some friends and is thinking about moving to the States actually.”
“I’m so glad. I know how worried you were about him.”
“Yes, he gave us all a fright.” Brooke quickly changed the subject. “So, how’s Misty?”
“She’s fine. Pretty pissed at me now though,” Tara laughed.
“She’s in a snit, huh? Why, what did you do now?”
“I was late getting home and missed giving her some wet food at dinnertime.”
As if the cat knew she was being spoken about, she hopped up onto the couch and walked across Tara’s legs, stomach, then chest to bring herself nose to nose with her owner. “You smell like tuna.”
“Pardon me?” Brooke laughed.
“Not you. Misty. She must have found the wet stuff. God, it stinks.”
“I can’t wait to see you, Tara. It has been way too long between visits.”
“It has but impossible between our schedules. Trying to get a day off here is like trying to move Mount Rushmore over three feet to the right.”
“They aren’t working you too hard, are they?”
“Naw,” Tara said, taking another sip of wine. “I work at the more chill of the visitor sites. The Crazy Horse Memorial is way less busy. Besides, I love it. It is so peaceful out here, Brooke. I can see why my grandmother liked it so well.”
“It’s crazy to think how much our lives have changed in such a short period of time,” Brooke said quietly.
“I’d have to agree,” Tara answered. “Is everything okay, Brooke? Sounds like something’s bothering you.” Her tone made Tara think she was hiding something. Although who was she to judge? She had been hiding things from her as well.
“I’ll be fine. I just have loads on my mind, and I miss my friend.”
Brooke had a life now with Will, a life Tara knew little about and only visited on occasion. After the bridal shower and the wedding, she wasn’t sure they would be seeing much of each other. She tried to keep up the pep in her voice that she didn’t feel. “Well, I’ll be there in about a week.”
“Can’t wait to see you, lovie.”
“Me either,” Tara answered. The strange things that had happened with her glowing fingers or healing co-workers by touch tickled her mind, but she kept her thoughts to herself. Her friend sounded anxious enough. “Get some rest tonight. I am sure part of it is that you haven’t been sleeping well.”
“You know me so well, my friend,” She said with a laugh. “Sweet dreams.”
“You too, Brooke. See you soon.”
“Some friend I am,” Tara murmured. “I can’t even be honest about the things going on in my life.” Misty was laying on Tara’s stomach and scooched up higher on her chest. She bumped against Tara’s chin and sent her images of comfort.
“I don’t know, Misty. We just don’t seem as close anymore.” Saying it aloud had her throat tightening and her eyes watering.
“Yeah, I know. I just never imagined a life without my friend, and now it seems that will be exactly what I get.”
Misty put her paws on either side of Tara’s neck and licked the tears that slid down the side of her face. Tara rubbed her fur, thankful that all was forgiven for her earlier food mishap, since she needed the comfort right now. Her life had been a series of changes, and she wondered when things would settle down and she would find happiness. Even as much as she loved it in South Dakota, she still wasn’t content. There was something else out there for her–she knew it–but what it was and when it would find its way to her, had yet to be seen.
“You’ll be there for me though, won’t you girl.”
“Ah, so now you are talking to me,” Tara laughed. “You’re a good cat. I’m so glad Brooke couldn’t take you with her. My life would have been much lonelier without you. Ready for bed?”
Misty sprung off Tara’s chest and waited as she placed her empty wine glass in the sink and double-checked the locks on the door. She was drained and had no energy for a shower, so she would catch one in the morning. Her new haircut wasn’t something she could let go without washing for more than a day anyway. She was excited to show the cut to Brooke, it was way shorter than she had ever dared to go before.
She walked into her room and turned on her bedside lamp, quickly changing into her pajamas she left neatly folded at the end of the bed. She nabbed her book from her nightstand before sliding between the cool sheets. Misty curled up on the pillow beside her and watched with heavily lidded eyes. Tara opened the page to Chapter One and read aloud, as she often did. It made her feel less alone. Besides, Misty liked to hear the stories too.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
She heard something that sounded like a snort. Had Misty sneezed? Looking down, she saw the cat curled up peacefully on the pillow next to her. She was sound asleep. Convinced she was hearing things, she settled back down into her pillow and continued to read. Within minutes, a masculine voice blended with hers, reading the exact words of Jane Austen that were on the pages of her book.
Tara paused her reading and pinched herself. Yup, she was still awake. The voice continued reading, first as if spanning a great distance but clearer with each phrase. His voice had a musical quality to it, soothing and peaceful. She wasn’t afraid, even though she knew she should be. There was something familiar about the voice. Comforting. Then she realized she had heard it before. It was the voice that sang to her as she practiced her flute.
She looked around her room and tried to determine where the voice was coming from. Was she hallucinating? Perhaps she had overdid it on burning the smudge wand the other day? She didn’t think so, but it was a theory. The voice didn’t seem to bother Misty, so perhaps it was only one she could hear?
“Must be tired,” she muttered. Deciding she was overdue for sleep, she slid the bookmark into place and set her book on her nightstand. With a click of her light, the room filled with inky darkness, but the voice continued to read. As strange as the entire thing was, she enjoyed being read to and found herself laughing aloud at the antics of the Bennett family. The reading would pause, as she chuckled, then continue where the story had left off.
With the lights off, she noticed a faint glow from her nightstand getting brighter by the moment. She picked up her grandmother’s hand mirror and examined it. The glow was coming from the symbols carved in the frame. Now that she had it flipped over, it lit her room. Tara had believed the carvings had been her grandmother’s way of keeping the evil spirits out of her image after her husband passed. Now, she wasn’t so sure.
With the mirror lifted, the man’s voice was louder. Curiosity outweighed any nervousness she had. Her mind registered that what was happening wasn’t normal, but she was compelled to solve the mystery. Her grandmother’s heritage wove spirituality and magick into their everyday lives, and Tara had been raised to be open to seeing it. More than most folks were.
She looked into the mirror, squinting her eyes to see beyond the reflection of her own face. There was something there, although it was hard to determine, since it wasn’t moving. The outline of a chair, she thought, with the glow of a light behind it. As the voice became clearer so did the image. She could see him now, seated on a large chair in front of the light. He was holding a book open in front of him, presumably a copy of Pride and Prejudice, since that was what he was reading aloud from.
He shifted in his seat, pausing for a moment as he took a sip from a tumbler near him. As he set the drink back down, his gaze shifted upward, and he squinted. He leaned forward and cocked his head. His smooth voice was no longer reading but addressing her.
“Ah, there you are,” he said softly.
He rose to his feet, and his image came closer to the surface of the hand mirror. She was stunned and tried to make sense of it, but she could hardly think straight. Before she could stop herself, an explanative came bursting from her lips.
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