On Sale September, 2005, MIRA BOOKS (ISBN: 0778320987)
Setting: Minnesota, present day
Ojibwe holy man Birch Trueblood (often referred to as a medicine man) has been asked to "smudge" the buildings and grounds at Rosewood, the 100-year-old estate belonging to the descendants of a lumber baron whose business once wrecked havoc with the lives of Birch's ancestors. The ceremony is meant to settle the restless spirits that some believe to be hanging around the grounds. Birch is a bit cynical about the whole idea, but he's not one to turn down an interesting invitation. He thought he knew the women who reside there now--Rochelle LeClair, who had a crush on him years ago, and her elderly aunt, Margaret Bruner. But in this scene, either someone is playing a good trick on him, or the spirits at Rosewood more interesting than most.
Birch plugged the drain in the claw foot bathtub with its chained-up rubber stopper and flipped the faucet handle. He had been looking forward to a long hot soak all evening–so much so that he’d been tempted to cut back on the singing and shorten the ceremony by half a braid of sweetgrass. But he guessed he just wasn’t that kind of a guy. He gave himself a mental pat on the back as he pulled his shirt over his head. He’d given the ladies of Rosewood the full treatment, earning himself a warm bed and a hearty breakfast, not to mention a nice hot bath. Not only that–he moved from lighted bathroom to darkened bedroom–he deserved a drink and a little music along with it. He was pretty sure the funny-looking brown box on the fireplace mantel was a radio.
But it didn’t work. Even more disappointing, the pint he could have sworn he’d tucked into the side pocket of his duffel bag wasn’t there. Unless he wanted to sip on mouth wash, he’d have to depend on the hot water to unwind his brain and untie his knots. In the dark he felt around the ruffles surrounding the windows, looking for a cord or a shade, and noticed a light on in the other house.
He felt a little slighted. Rochelle LeClair had shown no interest in his ceremony. She had said as much, but he’d expected her to show up anyway. No longer did she wear her girlish interests all over her face, and she hadn’t let her mouth give her away the way she once did, but the vibes were still there, and he’d expected her to show. He’d been looking for her the whole time he was singing and smudging, smoking the spirits out of every nook and cranny on the place. Maybe she’d been watching him from behind a tree or a curtain. Had to be. He wasn’t one to misread a woman’s signals.
She’d always been kind of sweet and shy. A kid the first time he’d met her, a young woman the next, she’d been visibly drawn by the Trueblood magnetism. He remembered thinking, Wipe that look off your face, rich girl, before it buys you more trouble than you can afford. But he’d played around with her some, either because he’d been feeling sorry for himself or just because he could. He couldn’t remember which.
It was a little vexing that she hadn’t given him his due this time. Things were different now, and she was just as tempting as ever. Maybe he was losing his appeal.
He stripped off his boots and his jeans and stole a glance at himself in an old free-standing mirror as he reached for the towels, folded and stacked at the foot of the bed.
Same ol’ Trueblood.
And then some.
Something extra, somebody extra. Someone standing behind him in the shadows.
He smiled, mostly to himself—You doubted?—and turned to welcome his overdue visitor.
It was a wooden coat tree.
He moved in for a closer look at the imposter. Befuddled, he pulled a heavy wool coat off its hook and dropped it on the floor, leaving a skinny wooden pole to mock his conceit.
He breathed. Then he chuckled and turned away. How long had it been since he’d gotten laid? Obviously he was the one who was overdue.
He tried to move away, but the mirror beckoned. He risked a second glance. Wrapped in the dark coat, the unmistakably human image was back, reflected even more clearly than before. It was definitely a woman. She had smoky eyes, honey-colored hair, and tissue paper skin. She looked familiar, but he couldn’t say he knew her.
In fact, he couldn’t say anything at all. His mouth was suddenly stuffed to the gills with his own swollen tongue. His lips felt icy. If he could only release his breath, he knew it would form a cold mist. He shivered uncontrollably inside, but he saw no movement in the mirror. Just a man in a towel staring at a woman in a coat, who simply stood there, waiting.
For what? If she wanted sex, she wasn’t getting it from him right now. Something had suddenly struck him dumb and chilled him boneless. It seemed like an eternity before he could tear his gaze from the mirror and his bare, frozen feet from the floor, but finally he turned around.
She was gone. The coat lay on the floor where he’d dropped it, at the base of the pole that stood as rigid as his own.
Damn. He had to look down to make sure what he thought he felt was real. Sure enough, he had a spectacular boner. Where had that come from? He felt a little embarrassed by it, and then stupid over the embarrassment, and then angry over the stupidity.
What the hell was going on?
"Is there someone here?"
At least his tongue had shrunk back to normal. As for the other . . .
"Is this how you women get your excitement around here?" he asked, finding his cool in a sarcastic tone as he reached for the overhead light switch. Nothing was out of place except the coat. He checked the closet on the opposite side of the room and found nothing but his own clothes and a white bathrobe that he hadn’t noticed before. He checked the bathroom. It was steamy, the tub full of billowing water. Who had turned off the faucet? Had he? He did a double take in the mirror, making sure his face was the only one he saw. It had lost a little color and maybe some of his faculties, but it was Birch Trueblood.
Old houses were famous for having secret doors and passages, weren’t they? But if he was being watched, he wasn’t about to make a fool of himself by tapping around on the walls.
"Okay, you got me. Whatever the trick is, I’m impressed." He stepped back, flashing his palms in surrender, along with everything else he had to offer. "Are you? Do I pass muster?
"Because there’s more where that came from." Which made no sense, but in the absence of an answer, he felt like he had to keep talking while he pulled on his jeans. This kind of silence was not golden. "You can’t keep a good man down with, uh . . . whatever."
Damn, he needed a drink. He crept downstairs to see what the kitchen had to offer, but he came up empty.
He’d been had by the Rosewood ladies. What he ought to do was forget the whole thing, pretend it never happened. Take his bath. Crawl into that frilly bed upstairs and get some sleep.
But there was that light on in the other house. He lifted a lacy kitchen curtain and took another look. Across the dark way–if he wasn’t mistaken, dreaming, or completely unscrewed–that was a female silhouette behind the drawn shade.
Birch smiled. "All right, lady, you asked for it."
Copyright 2005. No part of this material may be used without permission.
Available in paperback from Mira Books.
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