Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Mistletoe Medium by Elizabeth Delisi
A New Beginning
Lottie Baldwin glanced in her rearview mirror and frowned. Red flashing lights reflected from the revolving dome atop a sheriff's car, trailing directly behind her. After driving four hundred miles, the final hundred with the afternoon sun glaring in her eyes, the last thing she needed was a speeding ticket. Why hadn't her tarot cards foreseen this? She eased off the accelerator and pulled into the breakdown lane of the small, two-lane highway.
The sheriff's car stopped behind her and a tall, muscular man in a black uniform got out. Lottie watched him in the mirror, patting her tousled blonde curls into place absentmindedly, fascinated by the lithe way he moved. She'd never been interested in the law-and-order type, but this one might be the man who could change her mind. She opened her window, letting in the unseasonably mild early December air.
He leaned down and removed his sunglasses. "May I see your license and registration, please?"
"Of course, Sheriff," Lottie said, smiling briefly to bring her dimples into view as she read his badge?Lake County, North Dakota Sheriff's Department. He was even more gorgeous up close, with dark blue eyes and broad shoulders that strained the top buttons of his shirt. The setting sun tinged his blond hair coppery-gold, a light breeze brought the subtle scent of his spicy aftershave to her nostrils. His proximity made her lightheaded. "What's the problem? Was I speeding?" she asked innocently as she rummaged in the bottom of her purse for her driver's license.
"You were going sixty-eight in a fifty-five zone, ma'am," he said, accepting her license and registration.
"I'm sorry, Sheriff. I've been on the road since six this morning. I guess I was anxious for the trip to be over." She smiled again, more intimately this time.
"Lottie Baldwin," he read from her driver's license. "Blonde hair, gray eyes. From New York?"
"Not anymore." She shook her head. "I'm moving to Cheyenne and I'm so sorry to make such a poor first impression on the local law enforcement. Can we start over?" She extended her hand.
The officer studied her for a minute then grasped her hand in his. "Pleased to meet you, ma'am. My name is Harlan Erikson. I'm a deputy sheriff here and as lovely as you are, I'm afraid I'm going to have to write you a ticket."
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As their hands touched, tingles shot up Lottie's arm. Lovely, was she? The man had good taste! "You just do what you have to do," she purred. "I respect a man who does his job." She made no move to withdraw her hand, letting it lie trustingly in his.
Harlan stared at her for a moment, then blinked and dropped her hand. "Do you have a local address, ma'am?"
"Please, don't call me ma'am. It makes me feel old. You call me Lottie and I'll call you Harlan." She toyed with her gold hoop earring. "I'm staying with a friend until I find a place of my own. Her name is Janet Randall and she lives at 501 Chestnut Street, Apartment 3."
"You're friends with?I mean, you're staying with Janet Randall? You don't seem like?" Harlan stopped, a blush creeping up his neck.
Lottie laughed. "Janet is my dearest friend and yes, I'm staying with her. We've been friends since we graduated from college three years ago?though I know you may find that difficult to believe."
"Well, you never know, do you?" He shook his head, a bemused expression on his face.
"I know," she said. "I always know. And I have a feeling about you, Deputy Sheriff Harlan Erikson. I have a feeling we'll be good friends." She winked. "Very good friends."
"Oh?" He grinned and leaned closer, almost taking her breath away. "Well, normally I like to choose my own women, but in your case I might make an?"
"Unit Four." Harlan's portable radio crackled to life, cutting short the rest of his vision of their future.
Harlan straightened, turned away from Lottie and spoke into the radio clipped to his epaulet. "Four. Go ahead."
"We've got a 10-31 at 1910 Baker Street. You copy?"
"Four clear. En route." He turned back to Lottie. "You're a lucky lady. I have to go, so I won't issue you a ticket this time?just a warning to watch your speed."
"Thank you, Harlan. That's very kind of you," Lottie murmured. "I hope you're able to get there before the criminal leaves the scene of his crime."
Harlan's eyes narrowed. "How did you know that a 10-31 was a crime in progress?"
"Madame Carlotta sees all, knows all." Lottie waggled her fingers mysteriously.
"Oh, does she? Well, then, maybe you can tell me?" He shook himself. "Oh, no, you don't. I have to leave. Nice to meet you, Lottie. Enjoy Cheyenne!" He turned and strode to his patrol car.
"I'm sure I will," Lottie called out to his retreating form. "Come visit me at Janet's!"
He hopped into his car and pulled out into the road, lights flashing. As he passed Lottie's car, he turned to her and waved.
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Life in Lottie's new hometown was definitely looking up.
* * * * *
A few minutes later, Lottie pulled up in front of Janet's place. Her apartment was in a large older home with white clapboards and a spacious wraparound porch. True to the street name, two chestnut trees?majestic despite their December barrenness?towered over the front walk. Lottie located Janet's doorbell and pushed the button firmly.
After a moment or two, the door opened and Janet appeared. She looked exactly as Lottie remembered her?tall and slender, with short dark hair, wide green eyes and porcelain skin. Janet stared for a moment, then flung out her arms and pulled Lottie into her embrace. "Lottie! What are you doing here?"
Lottie returned the embrace with enthusiasm. "I'm moving to Cheyenne. Can I stay with you until I find my own place?"
Janet's eyes went even wider. "Wait a minute?you're moving to Cheyenne? Just like that? You make my head spin!" She pulled Lottie into the hallway. "It's so good to have you here?life is too dull without you around. Of course you can stay with me! Come on up and I'll make you a cup of tea. We have a lot of catching up to do."
Minutes later, Lottie was seated at Janet's red and white enamel kitchen table, sipping a cup of freshly brewed mint tea. Janet put a plate of cookies on the table, then sat down across from Lottie. "So, why are you moving to Cheyenne? I have to tell you, it doesn't strike me as your kind of town. It's quiet and sedate."
"I needed a break?quiet sounds good to me." Lottie's smile faltered. "Let's just say, the love train derailed and I had to get away. I couldn't bear another moment there."
"Oh, no! Don't tell me you broke up with Jack?" Janet reached for Lottie's hand and patted it.
"Yes, I did." Lottie ignored the self-pity tugging at her heart. She'd done her mourning and now it was time to move on with her life. Besides, if Janet gave her too much sympathy, she'd start bawling.
"Why? What happened?"
Lottie grimaced. "I should've figured it out a long time ago, but I guess I was blinded by love." She toyed with the spoon on her saucer. "My tarot cards kept telling me something was very wrong with Jack. But he assured me that everything was all right and foolishly, I believed him."
"What did he do, Lottie?" Janet asked.
"He was involved in some?unsavory activities. Apparently, he was fencing stolen jewelry." Lottie sighed. "I should've known?I kept drawing the Seven of Swords when I tried to do a reading on Jack. But like a stubborn fool, I refused to see it."
"The Seven of Swords? What does that mean?"
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"Well, usually it indicates someone who's running away from responsibility, afraid to face the music. Someone who would rather go it alone. Naturally, I thought that meant he wasn't ready for a committed relationship with me." Lottie swirled the tea in the bottom of her cup. "But there's another, more literal meaning to the card?robbery or theft. I guess I was only seeing what I wanted to see. That's why I hate to read the cards for myself?I can't be impartial." She shook her head. "Anyway, that's over and done with. This will be the first time I've spent Christmas alone in a long time. But, that's all right. I'm starting over, here in Cheyenne. I'm taking charge of my life again."
Janet rose, came around the table and hugged Lottie. "You won't be alone, Lottie. I'm so glad you're here! You'll spend Christmas with me. We'll have lots of fun! I'll help you find a job and a place to live. Before you know it, you'll be all settled in! You won't regret coming."
"Oh, I can always build up another tarot clientele like I had in New York," Lottie said, waving her hand airily. "I'm sure I'll like it here. I've already met a very eligible man!" She winked at Janet, deliberately thrusting Jack and his deceptions from her mind.
"Good heavens, Lottie, you're certainly a fast worker! Who is he? Maybe I know him."
"I'll bet you do?at any rate, he seems to know you. He's Deputy Sheriff Harlan Erikson." She smiled as she remembered his parting wave. "I think he'll come visit me here before too long."
"Ooh! He's a hunk, that's for sure. But do you think he's really your type? I mean he's pretty straitlaced."
"Don't worry, honey. I'll unlace him in no time flat." Lottie arched her eyebrows.
Janet giggled. "It is so good to have you here! Cheyenne will never know what hit it."
* * * * *
Tall, Blond and Handsome
The doorbell buzzed. "Lottie, can you get that?" Janet called from behind the bathroom door. "I'm not finished with my hair yet."
"Sure, honey, don't worry." Lottie set aside her magazine and stood up. As she walked down the stairs to the front door, a vision popped into her mind of blond hair, broad shoulders, a black uniform. "Harlan, I'm delighted to see you again!" she cried as she pulled open the door.
Harlan's mouth dropped open. "How did you know it was me? I didn't tell anyone I was coming here." He frowned down at her.
"Ah, but you forget, Madame Carlotta sees all, knows all." She grinned.
"Just what does that mean? Never mind!" He cut her off as she opened her mouth. "It's probably safer if I don't know." He paused. "Well, aren't you going to ask me in?"
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Lottie laughed. "Oh, yes, of course! Where are my manners? Won't you come in, Deputy Sheriff Harlan Erikson?" She bowed grandly.
Harlan brushed closely past her and stepped into the hall. "After you, Madame Carlotta," he said, gesturing toward the staircase.
His proximity flustered her. She covered her sudden shakiness by marching up the stairs and into Janet's apartment. "Janet!" she called from the living room. "Harlan's here!"
"I'll be out soon," came the muffled reply.
"Have a seat," Lottie said to Harlan. Her temperature rose as he chose the middle of the couch instead of a chair, crossing his long legs in front of him. "Can I get you some tea?" she asked.
"No, thanks. I just thought I'd stop by and make sure you were obeying the traffic laws," he said, grinning and patting the cushion next to him invitingly.
"Oh, yes, I am, Officer," she murmured as she sat down next to him, closer than was strictly necessary. "I wouldn't want to run afoul of the law!"
"Glad to hear it! So?how do you like Cheyenne so far?"
"Well, it's quite different from New York City," Lottie said slowly. "But I think I'm going to like it here." She smiled at him. "I certainly like the people!"
Harlan uncrossed and recrossed his legs. "I thought you'd enjoy a tour of the town. Such as it is," he said. "Would you like to have dinner with me tonight? I'm afraid there's only one decent restaurant in town?Nicky's?but they make terrific fettuccini Alfredo. Afterward, I'll drive you home and point out the sights along the way."
"Why, Harlan, I'd love to." Lottie smiled seductively. "I'm sure there are lots of things you can show me."
Harlan flushed. "Maybe one or two?"
The phone rang. "Excuse me for a minute, will you?" Lottie got up and went to the kitchen, then picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Lottie? That you, honey?" came a smooth voice.
Lottie sighed, her stomach lurching. "Yes, Jack, it's me. How did you find me?"
"I knew you'd go to Janet's. You don't have anyplace else to go. When are you coming back?"
"I'm not coming back, Jack. I told you that when I left." Lottie twisted the phone cord around her index finger. "Please, let's just leave it at that. What we had is over. Let's not make it ugly."
"Oh, c'mon, honey, you know you love me," Jack wheedled. "You're just mad. You can't live without me and you know it."
"Don't kid yourself. I can live without you very well," Lottie retorted.
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There was a brief silence. Then he spoke again, all trace of supplication gone from his tone. "Nobody leaves me. Nobody. Have you got that? Now, get your ass home, pronto!"
"No, Jack," Lottie repeated, trying to keep her voice from shaking. She had no intention of letting him know how much he frightened her. "I'm not coming back and you can't make me."
"Oh, yes I can," he growled. "If you don't come back on your own, I'm coming out there after you. I'll drag you back by your hair! You hear me?"
"I'm hanging up now, Jack," Lottie said. "Don't call me again. We're finished." She dropped the receiver into its cradle, then leaned against the counter, trembling. Suddenly, a warm hand stole over her shoulder and a sense of safety and peace flowed through her.
"I couldn't help but overhear," Harlan said. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
She straightened but couldn't face him. "No, there isn't. Though he threatened to follow me out here, Jack's all talk and no action. I doubt he'll make good on his threats. But, thank you."
Harlan grasped both her shoulders and turned her around. "If this Jack character gives you any trouble, I want you to call me and I'll take care of him. Promise me you will?"
She looked up into his eyes?they radiated care and concern. The ice in the pit of her stomach suddenly melted. "All right, I promise. Thank you. But for now, let's just forget about him. He's in the past." She winked at him. "I'm much more interested in the future."
Harlan pulled her hand into the crook of his arm. "Allow me to escort you back to the 'parlor'. I want to hear all about you!"
* * * * *
Lottie's life story had progressed as far as her one-day expulsion from high school when she'd turned over The Lovers card during an impromptu tarot reading for a friend and had been accused by the vice principal of "displaying indecent material".
"His eyes nearly popped out of his head!" Lottie giggled, wiping her eyes. "I thought he was going to explode."
Harlan leaned his head back on the couch, laughing freely. After a moment, he sat up and gasped, "Lottie, I haven't laughed so hard in ages. I think you're going to be good for me!"
"All right, now it's your turn. Tell me about you."
"Not much to tell." He shrugged. "I was born here, went to school here. I did go away to Fargo to get my police sciences degree, but I came back home after I graduated. I've been working for the sheriff's department ever since. I guess I've led a boring life?until now," he said, regarding her warmly.
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"Well, then, tell me more about your job," Lottie urged. "For instance, did you catch that burglar you were after when we met?"
Harlan frowned. "I can't tell you the details, but there's been a second burglary. And no, we haven't caught the guy yet. I don't think he's dangerous?he never takes more than one or two items and leaves the most valuable things behind. Just to be on the safe side, though, you and Janet should keep your doors and windows locked."
"We will," Lottie murmured. A vision nibbled at the edge of her mind and she leaned back and closed her eyes to focus it. Flowers?a strong scent of flowers. Tarot cards floated through her mind?the Seven of Swords and The Moon. Treachery?and deception.
"Lottie? Are you all right?" Harlan's concerned voice pulled her out of her vision.
"Yes." She rubbed her eyes. "There's something about this case that isn't right. These robberies aren't what they appear to be. Flowers are involved somehow."
Harlan snorted. "Flowers? You think it's the local florist pulling off these jobs?"
She shook her head. "No. I mean, I don't know. My visions aren't easy to interpret and sometimes they only make sense in retrospect. I wish I could help more." She spread her hands in a helpless gesture.
"Don't worry," he said stiffly, frown lines etched deep in his forehead and around his mouth. "I may not have psychic abilities, but I assure you, I know how to do my job."
"I'm sorry. I wasn't questioning your abilities. I was just trying to help. These visions appear to me at random. I can't control them." She moved an inch or two away from him and looked down at her feet.
After a minute, he sighed. "I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't have jumped on you. It's just?well, this case is aggravating. There's no apparent motive for the robberies, since the thief leaves behind most of the valuables. The victims don't appear to be connected in any way. It makes no sense. But don't worry," he added. "We'll catch him. We always get our man?or woman."
"I hope so," Lottie said, moving closer at his encouraging tone.
Harlan squeezed her hand and rose. "I have to go now. I'll pick you up at six. Is that okay?"
"Perfect!" Lottie said. "See you then." She walked him to the door and closed it gently behind him.
Janet came out of the bathroom. "At last! I thought he'd never leave."
"You could have come out, Janet," Lottie protested. "You didn't have to stay locked up in there."
"I wanted to give you two some time alone. So?did he ask you out?" Janet arched her eyebrows.
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"Yes! We're having dinner tonight?as long as he doesn't change his mind." Lottie frowned. "Maybe I shouldn't have told him about my psychic abilities so soon. It scares a lot of men off."
"Not Harlan," Janet said. "He may take some time to adjust to new ideas, but he's pretty open-minded."
"You think so?" Lottie asked doubtfully.
"I know so! Madame Janet predicts." Janet laughed. "Now, let's have some lunch. I missed breakfast while I was stuck in there and I'm starved!"
(c) 2007 Elizabeth Delisi - Do not reproduce in any form without the permission of the author/owner.
If you like this sample chapter, you can read the rest and 5 other stories by purchasing a copy of ENCHANTED HOLIDAYS, available from Cerridwen Press http://www.cerridwenpress.com in both electronic and print.