Read CnC 4 A Harvest of Bones Online

Authors: Yasmine Galenorn

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery Fiction, #Single Mothers, #Occult Fiction, #Washington (State), #Ghost Stories, #Women Mediums, #Tearooms

CnC 4 A Harvest of Bones (2 page)

BOOK: CnC 4 A Harvest of Bones
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I stood back and stretched my neck to the right, wincing as the vertebrae popped. In just two months, the yoga classes I’d been taking had made a tremendous difference in my flexibility, but my body was still rebelling. I wasn’t giving in, though. I’d been feeling on top of the world lately, fitting into clothes I’d tucked away three years ago, and I could make it through an afternoon of physical labor without getting winded now. Maybe one of these days I’d get a chance to really unleash my inner Lara Croft.
Joe pulled off his bandana and mopped his forehead. The thermometer read fifty-six degrees, but we were both sweating. “That’s the third batch, and we aren’t even halfway done,” he said, gazing over the weed-strewn lot.
We’d carted away three loads of thorny blackberries.
Surrounded by thick, chest-high weeds, the lot buttressed up against my yard on the fourth, separated by a tall fence over which the brambles tenaciously crept. We discovered a driveway parallel to my own when we started cutting back the weeds, giving us the impression that perhaps a house had once stood on this lot. A few scrub trees dotted the yard, rising out of the brambles and weeds. Near the back, a tall yew—gnarled and knotted—towered out of the jungle, watching over the neighborhood, stark and solemn.
I calculated the amount of foliage left to clear before we’d be able to see the entirety of the lot. “I’m estimating at least another full day’s work ahead of us,” I said. “Then you can bring in a rototiller and dig up the roots.”
“Sorry you agreed to help?” Joe asked, a grin on his face.
I planted a kiss on his cheek. “Nope, I may not like the spiders or the thorns, but I needed this break. Besides, this way, I won’t have to hire somebody to cut these damned brambles back next year. They’ve been trying to creep over the fence ever since I moved in.”
“I just thought that, you put in such a hard week, you might be regretting all the work this is turning out to be.” He knelt down in the dirt near the leading edge of the remaining blackberries and dug away at the rich loam. “Hey, look at this. What do you suppose it is?”
I cautiously picked my way through the thorny stubble and squatted beside him. He was staring at what looked like a layer of bricks jutting out from beneath the front line of the bramble brigade.
“I don’t know.” The bricks continued beneath the brambles and I used a stick to pry away the vines. “Patio, maybe? Maybe we were right—maybe there was a house under all this mess. Whatever it is, it seems to go back a ways. Why don’t we hack off another two or three feet of berries to get a better look?”
He picked up the machete he was using and started whacking at the vines while I gathered them up and tossed them aside. After a few minutes, more of the brick became visible. As we cleared another few feet, I began to realize that what we thought was a patio actually led to a large brick-lined hole in the ground. The afternoon light was waning, and it was difficult to tell just how big the chamber was.
Joe lay down on his stomach and stuck his head over the edge. “Hand me the flashlight.”
I sorted through the tools until I found the high-beam light. I placed it in his hand and he shone it down into the inky void and scooted forward a bit. Worried that he’d scoot himself right over the edge and plunge to whatever might be waiting below, I knelt beside him and planted a hand on his butt, holding onto his belt.
He glanced over his shoulder with an evil grin. “Want to take a break?”
I smacked his ass. “Yes, but not right now. Get your nose back in there and tell me what you see.”
“Yes’m.” He peered back into the hole and flicked the light from side to side. After a moment, he rolled back up again, looking confused. “That’s a pretty big hole down there. Basement, maybe?” He shrugged. “Do you know if there was a house on this lot? When I bought it, the lawyer didn’t mention anything about one. He just told me that Mrs. Finch said go ahead and start work on it whenever I wanted, because she didn’t have any use for it.”
Irena Finch, nee Irena Brunswick. One of the town’s economic mavens. She ran in the same circle as Harlow, but she had old money. Once in awhile, she showed up in my shop. I had a suspicion she belonged to the smelling-salts crowd—those women who used fainting as a form of manipulation, and who practiced the art of the guilt-trip with as much finesse as Trump practiced the art of the deal.
I frowned. I’d lived here going on three years, but had never heard anything relating to a house on the corner. “I have no idea. Until we uncovered the driveway, I thought it was just an empty lot that had never been used. I’ve never had any reason to ask. What did you see?”
He shrugged. “Hard to tell. The brambles are still covering most of it. They’ve draped down over the sides, and it looks like the longer vines grew over the top until they formed a canopy. Whatever the case, this has been covered up for a long, long time.”
Curious, I jerked my thumb, motioning for him to move over. “I want a look.”
He handed me the flashlight and I stretched out, poking my head over the edge. The next thing I knew, Joe had grabbed a firm hold onto my legs. Probably a good idea, considering my track record. In the past year, my skirmishes into mayhem and murder had landed me in the hospital twice. Though, to be fair to myself, during my last adventure, it had been Joe who’d ended up in a cast.
As I flickered the light around, I began to get a feeling for the immensity of the brick-lined lair. Joe was right. It looked like a basement, and I was pretty sure I caught a glimpse of a staircase descending from the other side, but any access—if it
was
a set of stairs—was still obscured by brambles. I caught my breath as the scent of bonfires and decay and mold settled into my lungs. A chill raced along my spine and I suddenly longed to be in my house, warm in front of the fireplace. I scooted forward as a sound caught my attention.
“What is it?” Joe asked.
“Shush. Let me listen.”
I closed my eyes and reached out with all of my senses, listening to the creeping tendrils and soft fall of soil where we’d dislodged the roots near the edge. There—a movement of the wind through the leaves, something shuffling through the foliage? A small animal stalking its prey through the bushes?
Perhaps. Then, a lone caw of a crow echoed and once again, a sound that didn’t belong. Soft and low, like a woman sobbing. As I tried to pinpoint where it was coming from, a cold gust of wind shot through the tangle and slapped me in the face. A single shriek echoed in my ears, and then, all was silent.
“What the hell?” Shaken, I rolled away from the edge. I stumbled to my feet. Joe was staring at me, a bewildered look on his face.
“What happened?” He slipped an arm around my waist. “Are you okay?”
I tried to gather my wits. “Didn’t you hear that? The scream?”
He shook his head. “No, I didn’t hear a thing.”
“But it was so loud that my ears are still ringing.” How could he have missed it? Unless it had been my imagination.
“Em, honey, I didn’t hear a thing except you grunting. There couldn’t be anybody down there. Look, there’s no way we can even think of getting into that hole without tearing ourselves to shreds on the thorns. Maybe you’re just tired.”
I muttered something and stared at the brambles. I was sure I heard something, but if it was as loud as it sounded, surely Joe would have heard it, too. “Well, maybe so. But I have a nasty feeling about it, and I want to go home. Now. I need a hot shower and some light.”
Quizzically, he turned back to the basement of bricks, then wrapped his arms around me. “Hon, it’s just the foundation of an old house. There’s nobody down there. We have to clear out the brambles at some point. Don’t get upset, please. With all the storms and stress, everybody’s been on edge lately.”
I took a deep breath. “You’re probably right, but I could have sworn I heard someone scream, Joe.”
“I know, I know.”
“We’d better rope this off so nobody goes tripping in and breaks their neck,” I said.
As Joe and I strung a rope around the area, tying it to several bushes, he glanced at the sky. “Come on, time to get inside. The light’s almost gone and the temperature’s dropping. The weatherman’s wrong, there’s another storm on the horizon.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had the feeling that the storm had already broken and was bringing with it more than a downpour of autumn rain. In silence, we gathered up our tools and placed them under the tarp. I took one last look at the sky as we headed back to the house. All Hallows Eve was on the way, all right. I could feel it in the air.
 
 
I’ M EMERALD O’BRIEN, the owner of the Chintz ’n China Tea Room, and I’m also the town witch. I gave up fighting the title long ago, because it fits, and the majority of folks in Chiqetaw use it as an endearment rather than a putdown. My two children are my life’s hope and joy. Miranda’s a fourteen-year-old genius who wants to go race around the stars someday, and Kipling—or Kip, as we call him—is my nine-year-old son who’s forever getting himself into one scrape or another. He’s a good kid, but I swear, half the silver hairs on my head are thanks to him.
Chiqetaw is a small town east of Bellingham, Washington, tucked away off Highway 9. My best friend Murray convinced me to pack my family up and move here after I divorced my ex—a nasty affair that left a deep, abiding desire for revenge in my heart. But ever since I fell in love with Joe, who’s hunky and buff in every sense of the word, and who has a heart as big as his biceps, I don’t give a rat’s ass what Roy does. As long as he treats his children right, a task he’s never proven good at, he could turn into a drag queen and head for Las Vegas, for all I care.
All in all, Chiqetaw has been good for us, even though it’s proven a test to my sanity at times. About a year ago the universe took it upon itself to plant a cosmic badge on my chest and, like it or not, I found myself drafted. Whether moving to Chiqetaw was the catalyst, or I moved here because of some predetermined destiny, I don’t know, but the area turned out to be a psychic powerhouse, and it swept me up in its vortex.
In the past year I’ve faced down astral beasties, mortal murders, monsters out of myth and legend, and broken an ancient Chinese curse. Half the time, I feel like I’ve been dumped into a movie produced by some maniac Holly-wood director. Think Lara Croft, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Jessica Fletcher, all rolled into one.
Trouble is, I don’t fit
any
of the uniforms.
Emerald O’Brien, thirty-six—all right, almost thirty-seven—year-old tea shop owner and tarot reader.
Nope, just doesn’t track with the same pizzazz. Kick butt? Highly doubtful, considering my couch-potato past and my never-ending sweet tooth. Invincible heroine by birth? Not really. I’ve learned the hard way that my psychic powers don’t imbue me with any mystical invulnerability. Detective extraordinaire? Not once have I
ever
expressed the desire to be a famous sleuth.
All the same, the universe handed me the role of karmic facilitator and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that we can’t escape our fate. I tried and failed. So now when the universe delivers a dossier to my doorstep, I take a deep breath, clench my teeth, and accept the mission.
 
 
SINCE IT WAS Friday, the kids were still at school when we tromped through the backyard to my brand-new porch. Joe, along with my best friend Murray and her boyfriend Jimbo, spent the second week in September building a small enclosed porch onto the back of the house, so now we had a place to remove our muddy shoes and overcoats before entering my far-from-spotless kitchen.
I flopped down on the bench and pulled off my sneakers, setting them on the shoe-stand. As I slipped out of my windbreaker and hung it on a hook, I had the oddest feeling that someone was watching me. I glanced over my shoulder but nobody was there. Must just be the day, I thought.
“Come on, time to get washed up. Horvald’s coming to dinner tonight and we’re not feeding him spaghetti.” I slipped through the door. Joe followed.
Joe was actually a better cook than I was. Or rather, he enjoyed it more. At first that bothered me, but pretty soon I realized what a find he was, and so when it came to company or special dinners, I let him take charge in the kitchen, contenting myself with the job of assistant.
He laughed. “No spaghetti—but first, come here.”
As I looked up into his eyes, I felt myself falling again. Falling into his gaze, into his arms, into what had quickly become a deep and dangerous love. Dangerous because I hated showing any sign of vulnerability, dangerous because if something happened, this one would hurt in a way that I hadn’t felt since Roy and I broke up.
He pulled me to him and planted a long, leisurely kiss on my lips. “Let’s get washed up, woman!” he said, and grabbed me by the hand. We hustled upstairs to the bedroom.
“Do you have a clean shirt?” I asked.
He pulled one out of the drawer I’d cleared for him in my dresser. “Yeah, I replenished my stash yesterday. So, you want to hit the shower first? I’ve got to call the station and make sure everything’s running smoothly.”
As I stood under the steaming water, scrubbing away the dirt, my thoughts kept slipping back to the hole in the ground. Joe was probably right, it had to be the foundation or basement from an old house. Whatever it was, I didn’t like the energy. I had the oddest sensation that we’d awakened something when we exposed it to the light. Even under the pulsing hot water, a line of goose bumps rippled across my arm.
I toweled off, then wrapped myself in my terrycloth bathrobe before padding back to the bedroom. Joe was flipping through one of my
Time for Tea
magazines. He hastily tossed it on the bed when I came in.
I grinned. “Thinking of going into competition with me, Files?”
He snorted. “Just trying to get some ideas for a birthday present.”
BOOK: CnC 4 A Harvest of Bones
5.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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