“Careful! That box is already spelled! Anything could happen if you mix them up,” I shouted at my triplet Star, who was paying me no mind, just moving things haphazardly around as she ‘dusted’ the shelves of the Tea & Tarot café.
Star twitched her whole body into a pretend robot, her blonde curls bouncing when she dime-stopped her limbs in an abrupt series of motions. It was a lightning change of mood that had become far too common of late. I gave a deep sigh of frustration I didn’t bother to hide. She’d been getting worse by the day, antsy no doubt for The Call. Darn movie people. Telling her she had a role, then delaying production.
“Oh, really.” Okay, she was good at the robot dance, I’d give her that, if a job ever asked for such a dubious ability. But that didn’t stop me from rushing forward to rescue the Promise Bags. They held the precious trinkets of all the females around town who were participating in the upcoming Sadie Hawkins dance. Each midnight blue velvet bag had been magically infused with a specific wish, ranging from a marriage proposal to a spa vacation. Mix up those babies and all Hades will break loose, because this year the items had been blessed under the decade’s most awesome supermoon.
Maybe that’s a bad idea? I chewed on a fingernail while I worried about going too far in my overwhelming urge to have my fellow goddesses receive their fair due from men who did not always appreciate them. Men could be so lame sometimes, not reading the signals right under their very noses, though that did not appear to be the case with our local Mountie, Ace Collins. He could be a little too astute at times. Goddess, give me the strength…
The emotive notes of a musical instrument native to Scotland, one that defied the noise ordinance of Snowy Lake, broke through my worry fog.
I set the rescued box safely aside on a shelf and scurried toward the huge picture window of the Tea & Tarot café to where Tulip sat perched on a stool. The third triplet of our McCall clan, she was a matching bookend to Star, which made them both polar opposites to me with my Elizabeth Taylor-esque violet-colored eyes and dark hair. Or at least according to Granny Toogood, who loved her old movies.
Tulip was keyboarding as per usual on her computer, working either on her blog posts or selling our newly rolled out ‘potcakes’ to the Canadian masses. I sent a silent prayer to the goddess that the extra revenue the items were supposed to bring in happened. We’d invested in producing cannabutter to add to our spectacular line-up of bakery goods, and to think it might go to waste if the idea didn’t catch on induced serious heart palpitations. And that just isn’t right when a gal’s only twenty-one years old.
“Shoot! What’s Auntie T.J. up to now?”
“She only brings out the big guns when she feels threatened,” Tulip said. “See, Sergei McCausland.” She pointed at the business owner our auntie was serenading with her warmongering.
The town hound dog owned the Bowl-a-ram-a, the five-pin bowling alley tucked away at the outskirts of town, which was located a hop, skip and a jump from our café, Snowy Lake being so small with only twelve hundred and fifty-nine residents, that I could run across it quicker than I could be bothered to start up my Jeep, Thor.
Though that had been changing somewhat of late with the arrival of Constable Collins and his annoying active pursuit of law and order. Sheriff Winn Duffy was more beloved of course, having turned a blind eye for decades, but the new Mountie was gaining ground. Did I share that he’s a handsome devil?
“What’s Hound Dog up to now?” Star asked, joining us behind the counter.
“Star, don’t be saying that out loud. Granny Toogood might overhear,” I chastised my sister automatically. The woman who had taken us in at eight years old had a thing about swearing and speaking ill of others, among a host of other things that she expected everyone to have learned in kindergarten. I gave a quick glance around the café, taking a second to admire the décor of midnight blue walls with enough glitter to choke a horse, thanks to Star, our resident glitter mistress. No Granny and no customers at the moment. Of course, it was an off-time, Sunday morning before church let out.
“Why is she upset with him?” Tulip asked, computer forgotten as she got to her feet to join us. The three of us stood shoulder-to-shoulder and stared at Auntie T.J. in her full Highland dress that was a touch too plaid-mad for my tastes. Her newly tinted burgundy hair with a wide pink streak down one side shone sparkly in the sun and drew attention to the bright slash of siren-red adorning her lips. She stood on the solid-yellow divided line of Main Street and blasted away in the face of the far larger Sergei, who appeared, from his wide-legged stance and wild hand gestures, to be pretty darn angry.
“I heard that he’s been manufacturing Auntie’s special elixir out at Skull Cave. Pretty much stole her recipe,” Star said, punctuating her remarks with a significant raising of her perfectly groomed eyebrows.
“No! Not Auntie T.J.’s Magic Elixir, her special apple pie moonshine?” Tulip asked, her mouth pursing into a rosebud, her eyes as wide as a snowy owl’s.
“The cure for whatever ails you.” I repeated the oft-heard company slogan. My auntie had a lot of entrepreneurial spirit, I’d give her that, though that might explain our own venture into marijuana edibles, since the Canadian laws had changed a few days ago. Can’t escape DNA. I pushed past Star to storm out through the front door into the unseasonably warm mid-October morning. The angel chimes overhead went wild with a chorus of Halleluiah as I let the door slam shut behind me.
“Auntie T.J.!” I screamed at the top of my lungs, wind-milling my arms to get her attention over the caterwauling of the pipes. She either didn’t see me or was studiously ignoring me. The sound was even louder this close, and I cringed from the instant eardrum pain, clasping both hands over the sides of my head.
Sergei came right up to me, catching me before I could confront my auntie, grab hold of the ‘musical’ instrument and tear her fingers from the chanter. Actually, I loved the sound of the bagpipes…when they were located over the hill and moaning into the distance, as they were meant to be enjoyed.
“Would you talk some darn sense into that woman? She’s going to drive away all my business. I have half a mind to sue her. Did you know she was at my place this morning before following me here? Nearly drove a van-load of senior citizens away. I had to offer the first game half-price. I can’t have that.” He shook his head with vigor. “You need to talk to her, make her see sense. Daft old bird.”
“What’s got her riled? You know she only does this when she’s driving away bears or someone’s done her wrong,” I shouted back.
His expression shifted and his eyes narrowed. “I have no idea. The woman is certifiable. I’m calling the cops if she persists. We’ll see what Sheriff Winn Duffy thinks about all this. He’ll toss her in jail for disturbing the peace. Mark my words.”
I placed my hands on my hips and cocked my head at him. “That’s not what I heard. I think you know very well what’s going on here.”
He flushed darker and didn’t look me in the eyes.
“That’s what I thought. You stole her Apple Pie Moonshine recipe!” I pointed my forefinger at his broad chest. Sergei stood a full head taller than I am, with me being by far the shortest of the McCall triplets. But nature made up for that by having me born a whole day earlier than my sisters, or one minute to midnight, if I was being specific.
“I didn’t steal her darn recipe. I just worked it out for myself. It’s not rocket science, you know. I just came downtown to buy some edibles from the Tea & Tarot and this is the thanks I get.” He began to pout like a five-year-old. Of course, Auntie T.J. was no better. Granny Toogood’s only sister was not only ten years younger than her, but also six decades behind her in the smarts and maturity departments.
“Let me deal with my aunt. You can leave now. I’ll have a talk with her.”
“You’d better. Just sayin’. Because I’m not putting up with this much longer, missy!”
The blast of the police sirens firing off must have been droned out by the moaning of the pipes, because suddenly there was Constable Ace Collins standing at my side. We’d even missed the flashing lights atop the Royal Canadian Mounted Police SUV.
But my oh my, he was looking handsome this morning, all six-foot-plus, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, Stetson-wearing Mountie that he was. He touched his large fingers to his fine hat and nodded at me before turning a steely-eyed glance on Sergei McCausland. Even the bagpipes had silenced with his arrival. Auntie T.J. stood quiet with her fingers poised over the chanter holes in case she needed to punctuate her point yet again. I shook my head at her in an exaggerated motion, a finger to my lips.
“Are you threatening Miss McCall?” he asked. He must have picked up on the recipe-stealing man’s last comment. The Bowl-a-ram-a wasn’t the sure-fire business plan that Sergei had dreamed of, I suspected, which was probably why he’d gone into manufacturing moonshine. That tempered my thoughts. Business was hard won in a small town, and it was good that he offered people entertainment during the endless months of a typical long and freezing Canadian winter. But still, using my auntie’s recipe sucked. She’d spent years fine-tuning it to what she thought her hero from the TV show Justified’s Mags Bennett’s moonshine tasted like, and she was rightly proud of it. I’d enjoyed it on a few occasions myself…when I didn’t have to work the following morning.
“No, of course not. I was just wanting a bit of peace, for heaven’s sake. That woman’s been doing this for three days running. She’s trying to ruin my business. You have to do something, Constable, or so help me I will go over your head and speak to Winn Duffy. I know you’re too fond of the McCall family by half.”
Oooh. That last comment was uncalled for. Ace Collins was a man of complete integrity. A straight shooter. A man of conviction. I backed up a couple of steps in the dead silence while the two men glared at each other, then I backed up a bit farther.
A surge of anger forced its way through me. Who did this guy think he was? Casting aspersions on Ace and my family like that? A streetlamp popped nearby, blowing up and showering sparks in the nearby vicinity, which included the three of us. We all ran for cover, well, except for the Mountie, who gave me a look, shaking his head with a steely look on his handsome mug. He flicked a smoldering spark from his sleeve and strolled over to join me standing on the sidewalk in front of the café. Auntie T.J. and Sergei had vanished like vampires at sunrise.
Behind me, I experienced the emotions of my sisters burning into my back. The town was suddenly silent, like the whole universe was holding its collective breath. Goddess, do not fail me now. I ask for your protection and understanding. I sent the prayer into the crisp morning air before turning a benevolent smile toward my favorite Mountie.
“Morning, darlin’. I trust you will be talking to your aunt for me? Sharing my concerns over her breaking the town’s sound ordinance, jaywalking and obstructing traffic on Main Street laws?”
I glanced around pointedly, about to say that no one was waiting to drive down the street that I could see, when he reached out to take my hand with his far larger and far warmer one, throwing me off-kilter in a heartbeat. I nodded mutely as a momentous electrical charge coursed through me, making me feel I could provide lighting for the entire town. I groaned, only imaging what Tulip was observing with her new-found gift of reading auras. Now she had ammunition up the yin-yang for blackmail or teasing. Had I just lost the oldest sister advantage?
Trying to tug my hand away from his without appearing too obvious about it didn’t work. He held on, then did the unexpected—leaned his head down toward me and captured my lips for a kiss. A modest one for certain, quite quick, but oh so memorable. My insides trembled at the pleasurable sensations that rippled through me.
When he pulled his head away, he gave me a certain look from under the brim of his Stetson, then let go of my hand. “Be sure to talk to your aunt or I will.”
“Are you threatening me?” Hands back on hips, I glared at him with all the emotions our impossible-to-consummate relationship produced. Until we knew for absolute, unequivocally dead certain that he was my one true love, we couldn’t do much at all as it might jeopardize my goddess-given gifts.
My searcher gift—finding lost items—wouldn’t be missed near as much as my healing gift, because the whole town counted on that. And as Granny Toogood had shared a few weeks back, if I gave myself to someone who wasn’t The One, I’d lose it all. And the town wasn’t helping us a bit on this one. Instead, it was always interrupting us. If we didn’t steal kisses on the run, there’d be none at all.
“No, Miss McCall. But consider yourself fully warned of the consequences for your aunt if you don’t fix this thing. I don’t want to hear it happens for a fourth day.” A twitch that I had observed on the odd occasion began in his cheek. He was feeling the effects of our needing to restraint ourselves to only kisses as much as me. Good. Fair play. Though, in truth, it was more a hesitation on Ace’s part than mine. I was about ninety-nine-point-nine percent certain he was my one. I just had to persuade everyone else that it was the case. That my healing gift would stay intact.
“I’ll handle it,” I said, tucking my hands behind my back while rolling on the balls of my feet. Nice to see a man sweat. Not that I didn’t want more than a few chaste kisses from Ace, but in the meantime, it was a fun if somewhat frustrating time. And I was pretty sure I knew how it would all end. Or at least I had my hopes.
Another light standard winked as if it too were going to blow. “Oh, relax already. I got this.” I turned and headed back into the café, bracing myself for my sister’s comments.