Divinity & the Python ~ Weste's Tarot Reading
This excerpt contains several of my favorite scenes from Divinity & The Python - most notably, we get to see superstitious hockey star Cameron Weste visit Shaynie's old morgue for the first time...and get a Tarot reading. Enjoy these 3 chapters on me!
The sinking sun stole her swagger. She should have known Jude’s doubtful eye would forecast the loan officer’s funding denial: “Ms. Gavin, I really thought I’d see more.” Driving home, the cloud of that conversation hung over her. How was she supposed to manage “more”, she had asked, without released funding? The banker’s answer was a pained face. “Could I see all the finish carpentry completed and all the furniture in the showroom by next week?”
That was a lot more than the vague “eighty percent completed” he’d initially requested, and as he’d bustled out into the cold she’d wondered if even a hundred percent done would keep him in the old morgue long enough to assess her craftsmanship and skill.
Sighing, she pulled off Whyte and parked in the lot of her brownstone apartment. Snow lumped the front steps, made them muddy and uneven. “God, this place is a dump.” She’d snap an ankle navigating those stairs in stilettos. “Note to self,” she muttered. “Wear snow boots to The Python and carry stilettos.” And tonight will be how many shifts Jude’s had you work without a night off? Not enough, she reflected grimly. Because finish carpentry meant baseboards, crown molding…and what she hadn’t been able to salvage from Divinity’s initial reno she’d need to buy—with money she didn’t yet have. “Pentacle Queen, I really need you tonight.”
Showering felt more like drowning than baptism, and once she finished she stared at the candle she’d lit. Blue for intuition. Yeah, right. It illuminated nothing more than dingy walls and places where condensate had peeled all the paint. Sighing, she toweled her arms, frowning at the amethyst spatters that stayed behind. Body glitter. That’s what she’d need. ’Cause Pentacle Queen or not, long sleeves were never tip friendly at The Python.
And you’re gorgeous when you dress like a whore.
With a gasp she dropped hard to the edge of the tub. Those words, hissing through her memory like dead leaves rustling on a breeze, were Hellnight. A memory. Heart hammering, she held her breath, willing silence and stillness to perhaps conjure more.
They did not.
The gaping hole in her memory yawned, wider it seemed with the attempt to remember. But those words—“You’re gorgeous when you dress like a whore.” They’d come from somewhere.
She reached back, a year ago, grasped what she knew. A liquor-soaked party. Hot bodies, hot lights. Then a voice, her voice, drunk on booze and bravado, “Will you do me rough?” All she’d wanted was to have some fun. Fun? Be honest. Okay. All she’d wanted was something that would seem racy but feel right, something that would justify the way she’d refused that practical ring and sensible life her then-boyfriend Steve had proposed just that afternoon.
All she’d ended up with was something more—something new— to feel guilty about.
Waking up the next morning she’d heard the strains of Let it Be, repeating itself from her stereo. She’d been all alone. But when she’d crawled from her bed, looked at herself…
Shaking, she opened her towel, certain the bruises would be resurrected there, every color the same shade as a scream.
But her skin, creamy in the candlelight, was every bit as blank as the empty memory erasing the face of her Hellnight lover. She exhaled audibly, rose. Two jars perched on her vanity and, ignoring the one winking with rainbow-colored stones, she reached instead to the left for the one full of ink-black obsidians. “Burdens.” She fished a rock from a bag of stones which, like the jars, she kept stashed everywhere. “Take this burden I call Hellnight.” She held the rock up in the candlelight. “Lift its footprint from my soul.”
The obsidian, glossy like a mirror, reflected her wide eyes, shamed and sad. She looked into them and spoke. “Burdens only magnify gratitude,” she announced, but the edict, usually strong, resounded as lifelessly as the click the black stone made when it hit all the others. So change the tone. End with gratitude. Exhaling she selected a colored rock, closed her eyes to conjure an image.
Good God. Weste’s florescent sex toy? And what she said stunned her even more. “I’m grateful for someone who made me laugh at being lonely.” The colored stone made a lively little click as it landed in the jar. She stared at it. “Lonely?”
Her cell, not the stones, answered, vibrating from where she’d set it on the toilet tank.
“Shaynes!” Jude, sounding harried, pulled her from the pit she’d been blown into. “I hate to ask, but we’re two hours from open and I’ve already got a line stretched ’round the block. Could you skip your ritual latte tonight? Come in early?”
Her latte at Has Beans. Her sedate drive—no music, just sports radio—to The Python. These predictabilities, these normalcies, ushered her completely back to the present. “I…yeah, I guess. What’s with all the people?”
“Hockey’s with all the people. The game’s a barn-burner and your sweetheart is stealing the show.”
“God, no. Not Pussyhound. He’s underperforming. Again. I’m talking about Noel.”
Her sweetheart? An unexpected shudder made her tighten her towel. “Why do you insist on teasing me when you know I detest that grease stain?”
“Because the way you and Gray make him out to be the devil is funny.”
The Devil. Summum malum. Hair stood on the back of her neck. “Gray has good reasons for hating Noel,” she said stiffly. “And not one of them is funny.”
Jude sighed. “You’re right, Shaynes. The fact that Gray can’t get over Noel stealing his girlfriend a hundred years ago when we were all sixteen isn’t funny. It’s pathetic.”
A stolen girlfriend? That was so far from all of it—
He spoke over her speechlessness. “The real devil was Jen.” The way he said it, so wearily, struck her. Maybe all old friends had scripts they knew. “She screwed around while wearing Gray’s ring. She, my dear, was a whore.”
Whore. It howled in her head like an ice breeze.
“Noel’s not a villain.” Jude clucked his tongue. “Case in point: he’s not the one sending you smarmy sex toys.”
Seriously? Of all straws to grasp. “You’re tossing Weste into this? He’s got nothing to do wi—”
“My point? Yes, he does. Pussyhound would bang you just for sport. Noel, however, has more scruples. He teases, but he knows your forbidden fruit act isn’t an act.”
But so did Weste. It was the message between the lines of the goofball vibrator, now a gelatinous sentry on her key table; a statement that said her “countenance” didn’t run from bed to bed. Or to any bed at all. All alone. She tightened her towel again. “Weste’s no devil, either.”
“Right, Shaynes. Just keep telling yourself that.”
* * *
“To hell with The Devil,” she muttered at her station an hour later. The hologram python trolled the floor, roaring with wind and green light. Shielding her cards from it she dealt a rapid-fire spread. “Quickly,” she whispered. “Show me past-present-future.” Her eyes skipped the cards like a stone over water.
The Two of Wands and a couple of Knights, Cups and Swords. Good news, bad news, in that order. But the Two…. The hair on her arms stood, electric. Why shudder over such an innocent card?
“Shaynes?” Jude called. “You set for swizzles and straws?”
Gold like the python swizzles, her straws looked, right now, like tiny wands. Wands. Wands meant work. And shivers. She swung her eyes back to the card.
“Uh—yeah. Yes. Lots of wands.”
She ignored him, rummaged for her cell.
“What about condiments? Got what you need?”
Hitting speed dial for Cele she raised the lid of her garnish tray. Citrus scent rose, sickly sweet. Poison. She wrinkled her nose.
“They’re fine, Jude,” she spoke over the ring tone in her ear. “Good to go.”
“Okay then.” He beamed. “Get ready for the countdown ’cause we’re open in—”
“Salut, Cheri!” said Cele, on her cell.
She cupped a hand over her other ear. “Cele, I just did a spread and—”
“Ten!” bellowed Jude.
“—the Two of Wands. I laid it for the past and I know it’s innocent, but it feels—”
“—sinister,” she said, then cringed. Aloud, her concerns sounded melodramatic. Foolish.
But Cele didn’t scoff. “Ambiguity is le deux de wand. A surprise. A nasty surprise.”
“Eight!” boomed Jude and Shaynie shivered. Eight. Past and present, both at once.
“Cheri?” said Cele. “What surrounds le deux de wand?”
“Knights—Cups and Swords. Good news, bad news.”
“Non. These would be a lover and an aggressor. Light and dark. Which is,” she said, “one more ten.”
“And five!” Jude called. Shaynie swallowed.
“And look, Cheri, on le deux. What is present in symbol?”
Shaynie looked at the card. A wand stood in the nobleman’s left hand while a globe was in his right, effectively creating “….a Ten,” she breathed.
“Three!” yelled Jude.
Shaynie covered her ear tighter while Cele spoke “A present lover. A past aggressor. And le deux may be a warning that you must choose between them.”
“A warning? But that’s obvious, isn’t it? Why would I choose the aggressor?”
“Because the Devil looks like an angel.” Cele paused. “And he acts like one too.”
“Two!” Jude echoed, as though he agreed.
“Remember, Darling—eyes open. Heart open.”
“And we’re open!”
The Pack flooded in, skin and adrenaline, and when the hologram roared it sent the two Knights on the bar flying. “I have to go,” said Shaynie and the last thing she heard Cele say was “Protection, Cheri! Your neck!”
Her free hand flew to her bare throat as the other whisked the Two of Wands from the bar. Then the night was underway. The Python Pack, parched, kept her hopping, and when the last period of the hockey game, visible from the TV over her station, ended with a hometown win, there was a frenzy of hiballs, high fives, and Pentacles raining into her tip goblet. Thank you Pentacle Queen.
The revelry drew on for hours, it seemed, until Gray’s music halted. Then the customary beat of anticipation hung in the air before the team’s song—and the team—filled The Python. Cheers drowned the music as player after player filed through the door. Shaynie watched. Some players she recognized, a few she didn’t, and she waited, waited…. but the snake mouth slid shut and her belly dipped, disappointment so sharp it surprised her. No Weste. She’d even dug his goofy sex toy from her bag, had planned to wag it like a finger. Now she jabbed it back into her purse. So much for trumping him tonight.
A new cheer arose. Her eyes raced to the door.
Noel Nelson high fived his way in, all teeth and testosterone. Shaynie’s toes curled. Narcissist Noel. She rolled her eyes at the big wave he exchanged with Jude then glanced over the dance floor to Gray. He shared her loathing in the form of a sneer then smiled, commiserative. Good luck, he mouthed. They shared a silent laugh before the entrance swooped open once more.
Cameron Weste did not so much strut as slink, head ducked as though he hoped not to be seen. Hmm. Shaynie watched him. Something’s off.
He raised his eyes as though he had heard her.
Whoa. Ice Deity, what’s with your countenance? No strut, no eye sparkle, and definitely no Smile. Still, she flung her arms wide, bowed so low her plunged neckline met her thighs.
It worked. When she straightened his frown had flown and when he laughed she did too. Grinning, she retrieved the vibrator and was about to wave it when a face stuck itself between them.
“Bowing to me?” Noel Nelson grinned. “Why? Did you see me…score?”
Good grief. Did guys never get tired of the ol’ double entendre? “You scored, I poured. You did your job and I did mine. None of it’s worth a bow, Noel. Not even a curtsey.”
His flash of teeth lost their shine. “Christ, Shaynie. Don’t you ever get tired of acting like such a little bi—”
“Nice bow.” Weste, pushing through the crowd, stood beside Noel. “You’re catching on.”
She grinned. “What’ll it be?”
“An answer,” Noel, between them again, leaned over the counter much like Panties the night before. “After all these years, tell me—” His hand flashed, cupped her chin. “—what color are your eyes, Gorgeous? Gold? Or green?”
“Neither,” said Weste, batting Nelson’s hand down. “They’re an eclipse. Gold behind green. Sun on a meadow.”
The statement, its poetry, erased the way her skin curdled where Noel touched her. Still she shielded her chin as she gazed back at Weste.
No eye glitter, no whiplash smile, instead…The Moon. The words shivered into her ear as though her Tarot had breathed them. The Moon hid its depth by reflecting the sun. So what did Weste keep locked behind a swagger, a smile, and a stupid orange sex toy? A reading would tell her.
Her hands crept to her cards. An old Cele-warning swatted them back. “Never query the Tarot because you want your querent’s answers.” Chastened, she clasped her own hands while her gaze—an “eclipse”? Really?—skittered away from him.
The longing to turn his cards, however, remained.
“Put that smile away, Gorgeous,” Nelson advised, dry. “Don’t waste it on this guy. He’s given more rides than Greyhound.” He thunked Weste on the shoulder. “You should try channeling that energy onto the ice. If I could I’d lend you one of my goals.”
God, what an ass. Shaynie took a read of Weste’s face.
Amused, yet a chill lurked there, she could feel it, The Moon, drifting behind his storm eyes. So what would your cards say Weste? What’s beneath your façade? She probed him, and only when Nelson laughed did she realize he was scrutinizing her, too. She crossed her arms over her navel-cut costume—who shows the façade?—and cleared her throat. “You guys drinking or yapping?”
Noel looked at Weste. “Buy me a beer?”
“Pfft. You shoot your wallet into the net tonight too? Get your own.”
Noel eyed her. “Draw a draught. Give it good head.”
If loathing were lethal he’d drop dead on the spot. She looked away from him. “Weste?”
“Ginger ale. Two of them.”
She blinked. He stared. “That a problem?” He folded a crisp twenty into a peak.
“Only the money.” She waved the twenty away. “Virgins are free.”
“Huh. Where was that advice in high school?”
She flashed a droll little smile and he laughed, mercurial once more. The Moon. She glanced at her Tarot. It’d be the first card he’d draw.
“Hey!” Nelson was back between them. “My beer.” He snapped his fingers in her face.
She smacked his hand. “Back off, Ladykiller.”
Yes, if loathing were lethal she’d be dead. “Don’t you call me that,” he hissed. “You know how I felt about Jen.”
“Yeah? Gray felt that way too,” she said, and—as though he’d heard them—the latter spoke into his microphone, over the music.
“Temptress of The Taps,” he said. “Are all your customers being good to you?” A thread of warning laced the words together, and from the corner of her eye Shaynie saw Jude cast a startled look over. Before her, Weste’s brow climbed. She sought Gray. I’m okay, she mouthed. He wouldn’t hear her, but over the years they’d become experts at lip-reading.
Nelson sneered. “Of course you’re still on side with that druggie loser.”
She bared her teeth, but any retort was lost to a swarm of short-skirts wedging between he and Weste. “Noel!” One fingered his collar. “Great game. Autograph?”
“No—a dance!” said another and grabbed him.
They melted into the crowd. Shaynie exhaled.
“You know,” Weste nursed one of his sodas. “He really does like you.”
“Noel likes himself.”
He smiled The Smile. “Sounds like someone’s been dumped.”
“By Nelson?” If her eyes popped any further they’d shoot out of her face. “He said that?”
“Nah, just a guess, Gorgeous. Take it easy. I’m only trying to peace-make.”
By hooking her up with Nelson? And here she’d thought he’d been interested. Two of Cups. Uh-huh. Right. “Thanks, Cupid, but I know Noel—not by choice—and trust me, I couldn’t be less interested.”
“Aw, c’mon.” The Smile danced. “Nelson’s better than no one.”
“Oh, but I have someone, remember?” She twirled the orange toy in the air and it made a perfect double gainer into his soda. The cherry garnish surfed overboard and, plucking it up from where it made a fizzy plop on the bar, she popped it into his gaping mouth. “Thank you,” she said, “For the thoughtful gift.”
“You’re welcome.” He grinned and, chewing cherry, snatched up the vibrator, fired it arrow style over the crowd.
It landed on the dance floor and “Hey!” someone yelled. “What the hell is that?”
Weste collapsed on the bar, eyes streaming. Shaynie shook her head. “What an overgrown teenager you are.”
“And what perfect entertainment you are.” The Smile beamed. “Especially on a crap night like tonight in cold Deadmonton.”
The slur to her city sailed by on a word. ‘Entertainment’? Whore. Her grin faltered. Hellnight. Why was it back? She visualized a black stone. Take this burden!
Before her, Weste snapped a scarlet fifty. “For you,” he said. “For enticing, then entertaining way too much ego.”
Enticing. Entertaining. Whoring. The Knight of Swords rode and “Cock tease,” she sputtered.
Weste’s eyes widened.
“I-I mean, cocktails.” She pushed his fifty back. “I’m paid to make cocktails not—”
“Ladies, gentlemen, Python Prowlers of all ages.” Gray, speaking on his microphone again, but this time his voice was paired with a collective crowd-gasp as he soared over the dance floor, holding fast to a zip-line aimed at the bar.
Oh, no. Shaynie’s gut sank. Not this.
“It has been a very long time since my lady and I entertained you.”
“His lady?” Weste’s eyebrows went up.
Gray plopped his feet on her counter and offered one hand, covering his headset with the other. “Looks like right now may be a good time to—”
“Dance! Dance!” The Python Pack chanted. They remembered.
“Gray…” She didn’t do this anymore. Not since Hellni—
“Say you still love me!” Gray, back into his mic, dramatized, clutched his heart.
The Python Pack screamed.
Nelson, back at her bar, snorted, “Seriously, Gorgeous?” He eyed Gray with derision. Weste, also watching, eyed her with derision.
And the decision was made.
Gray’s zip line yanked them both up, away. Then her feet got cold. “Grayson—”
“No thanks necessary. It’s not the first time I’ve rescued you from horny hockey players.”
“Hush!” He let go of the zip line, and as their feet hit the dance floor their old song hit the air. “Perfect timing.” He beamed. “I’ve still got the knack.”
She hesitated. He saw it. “Shaynie!” he admonished. “No backing out! Think money.”
Money. The banker. Divinity. The hologram blew through the club and with it her feet moved, their old routine that was really an inside joke, their mockery of The Python and everything it stood for.
When the song ended she heard The Pack cheer as Gray grabbed her around the waist and sailed again over the crowd. She took in the sea of upturned faces—and one whiplash smile of reality. Entertainment. And she’d just proved him right.
Gray didn’t appear to notice the hot embarrassment on her face as he deposited her at her station, just gave her a kiss that drew cheers anew. “Python Prowlers!” he called. “Give it up for the loveliest lady to ever have concocted a cocktail!”
The Pack went wild.
“Thank you for giving us love!” he cried. “Now show us that love!” With a flick of his wrist he passed his hat, headset never so much as twitching. Again he covered his mic. “We’ll split the spoils in the back?”
“Hey.” He frowned. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” she said again, but didn’t look at him. “Fine.”
He hesitated. She gave him a wee shove. “Dead air,” she said. “We need music.”
He grabbed the zipline and was off, just a deejay once more.
“Well that was interesting.” Weste, no smile, no eye-sparkle, assessed her. “You’re all starched-shirt about being called entertainment yet you’ll lapdance for money?”
“I—” She shrank within the lack of clothing she wore. “That wasn’t lap—”
“You’re quite the contradiction.”
A contradiction. A Ten.
Affecting curiosity, he tapped his chin. “So if entertainment is a no, but lapdancing is a yes, then where does stripping fall? And how much would it cost me?”
Her head snapped back and “Whoa!” Nelson, to her shock, glared at him. “Over the line, Weste. Let it be.”
Let it Be. Never—ever—had she actually felt the blood drain from her face. “W-why’d you say that?” Her heart was pounding.
Nelson scowled. “Because he didn’t need to be such a prick—”
“Hey!” Jude, swooping over, got between them. “What’s up?” His voice held the practiced tone of one used to balancing diplomacy with authority. “Fellas?” He looked from one to the other. “Is there trouble?” A bouncer, clearly cued, hovered to his one side.
“Nope,” Weste volleyed a steady gaze between security and Jude. “No trouble at all.” He drained both sodas then swaggered away and Nelson, after a beat of apologetic discomfort, sauntered after him.
Jude snapped his fingers at a barmaid, a redhead Shaynie didn’t recognize. “You,’ he said. “Spell Shaynie off. And you,” He turned back to her. “Come with me.” He steered her to the staff room, closed the door.
“What the hell did they say to you?”
Let it Be. “N-nothing,” she croaked. “It was nothing.”
“Bullshit. Do you need me to ban them?”
“Ban Noel?” She tried to laugh.
“For you, Shaynes? Yeah, I’d ban Noel.”
“I—no. Forget it.” Let it Be. That and stripping. Whoring. Hellnight. Please! She envisioned an inky stone. Take this burden!
Jude watched her face. “Gather your tips,” he said quietly. “Go home.”
“But—” Her tip goblet wasn’t nearly as full as she needed.
“Shaynie, I’ll pay you till closing. Just…go. You look like crap.”
Crap? But weren’t lap-dancers supposed to be gorgeous? She reached for the ice vat, grabbed a cube to slide against her hot cheeks.
“Go home,” Jude reissued. “This place is nowhere to make yourself sick over.”
Sick. Poison. She slipped the melting ice cube in her mouth as though it were an antidote.
Jude leaned in, kissed the top of her head in a way that reminded her of her brother. “Drive safe,” he said.
She should argue. Stand her ground. ’Cause dammit, there was money to be made, face to be saved, and yet…she was grateful that no one seemed to see her skulk back out, grab her tips and her purse, then was relieved to sit alone in the empty staff room with only Jude’s collection of faux snakes for company as she rolled all her change, securing the bills with elastics.
The amount she slid into the canvas deposit bag was nowhere near what she’d needed. Damn! She would not cry. I thought the Knight of Cups meant good news too.
“Le deux de wand is a nasty surprise,” had said Cele. “No kidding.” She buttoned her coat to the throat, scoured the floor for her boots.
No boots. Right. Because in her rush to get to The Python early she’d forgotten to wear them instead of stilettos. “So now I get to leave dressed like the lap dancer I am.” She shoved the back door open.
A blast of Edmonton cold stole her breath and made her uncovered toes cringe. “Knight of Swords, you caught and killed my Knight of Cups.” She wended her way down the stairs, steps slow and careful on the ice.
She jerked around, heels teetering.
Nelson and a few other hockey players congregated beneath a green spotlight. “Want to come with us? Go party?”
Was he kidding? And who the hell had authorized them to park in the staff lot? Jude, of course. She wanted to bark at them to leave, but Weste, present and watching her, struck her silent. His arm was around a more platinum—and more sober—version of Panties. ’Grats on finding yourself a lap dancer, Dildo. She lifted her collar, looked away.
“Gorgeous!” Nelson called. “C’mon! Don’t be mad.”
Again she looked over, but it was not his gaze she sought. “I don’t perform off the clock,” she said, then turned back to her truck, opaque with frost and waiting, alone and frozen. Its appearance somehow made her want to cry.
The shout came from behind her and she did not look back. Knew precisely who it was.
“Hey!” he called again, and she dove into her truck. The ignition was stiff, reluctant to turn over, and the engine whined as she jammed it into gear.
The shout reverberated over the whir of defrost blasting cold air against thick ice on the windshield. She twisted her wipers to high and, peeking through the wee hole they made in the frost, stepped on it, tires spitting snow as she raced away.
In her rearview she could see Weste, arms thrown up in a What the hell? gesture.
“Screw off, Ice Deity. The only whore I see is you.”
She cranked out onto Gateway, and as the defrost thawed her windows it wasn’t just the beads of moisture that blurred her vision. She reached up, swiped her cheeks. Damn it! Damn him. It was all his fault she didn’t make enough money, and thanks to that prissy banker and his renewed ransom list of demands, she couldn’t go home, either.
Bypassing Whyte and her scabby little brownstone she stayed on Gateway, made the hairpin onto Sask Drive to downtown.
Divinity. Tonight it felt less like a haven and more like just one more job, yet as she parked in the shadow of the old morgue she automatically felt her spirit rise, could almost see it float atop the evening’s ice crystals. “Thank you,” she whispered, and visualized a jewel-colored rock. As she stepped from her truck her eyes caressed the old building. Then squinted. Then adjusted.
“What…” Sharp angles were scrawled—no, carved—upon the regal front door.
She raced over, feet numbed by cold as she vaulted the front steps.
The sharp angle scratches took form.
STAY AWAY DEVIL’S WHORE
The icy damp of night carried her scream.
Call Cele! Call Andrew! Her breath blasted frost as she scrambled for her cell, blindly stabbing speed dial for her brother.
When he answered—“Detective Gavin”—her words were one long run-on sentence.
“Whoa,” he said. “Slow. Breathe. What happened?”
She tried keeping it calm, but her voice rose anew in the recount. He cued her again.
She stopped. Breathed.
“Do you have what I gave you?”
“Y-yes.” She reached in her pocket, grabbed her taser.
“I want you to take it out and start back for your truck. And I want you to keep talking to me while you do it. Do you hear me Shaynie Grace?”
“Y-yes, Andrew. I hear you.” Taser out, she walked.
“Head up,” he barked. “Eyes open.”
Echoes of Cele. She obeyed without question.
“Are you at your truck?”
“Y-yeah.” She popped the door.
“Good. Now lock yourself in. I’m on my way.”
Minutes, centuries, crept by, and around her the night sky was alive with wisps of exhaust that hovered over high rises, colliding with the dark like malevolent spirits. Occasionally a sweep of headlights from the odd late night driver would make her flinch, and when Andrew pulled into her lot his unfamiliar unmarked launched a scream into her throat. Then he exited, caught her gaze with eyes as familiar as her own. She exhaled, nodding when he signaled for her to stay put.
He vaulted the steps to the door and, unable to look as he read the scrawl, Shaynie instead shoved her stilettos up high on the floorboard, resting them beneath the blasting heater. It didn’t help. Shivering, she stared at the dashboard until from the corner of her eye her brother loped back down the stairs then disappeared around the back of the building.
When he came back she unlocked the passenger door. He flopped inside.
“Everything’s clean except the door. Vandals,” he spat.
He looked at her, sharp. “Any reason to think otherwise?”
Yeah, Gorgeous whore, is there? “I…” A million times she’d started to tell him. A million more shame shut her up. Now here it was again, a scarlet wash on her cheeks. Grateful for the dark confines of her truck, she shook her head. “No.”
“I don’t lie to you, Andrew.” Which was why it hurt to do it now.
He blew a harsh breath. “Have there been rednecks wigging out about a witchy place? Hassling you? Threatening you?”
“No,” she reissued, relieved that this was true. “Nothing like that.”
He assessed her, far less brother than cop. “Give me your key. I need to look inside.”
Dammit! He’d see that the alarm he’d paid for wasn’t set. “Can I come?” she hedged.
“You think I want to skulk through a morgue in the middle of the night all alone?”
“That was a joke, Shaynie Grace.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t feel much like laughing.”
He dragged a hand down his face. “Listen, vandals are assholes but also cowards.”
Cowards? Like a guy who’d seduce a drunk woman for brutal sex then disappear? She chewed her bottom lip.
“C’mon.” He shot a rare smile. “Be my partner and we’ll make sure some dick didn’t get inside.”
She accompanied him to the door, grateful when he splayed a hand over the carved scrawl. “Thanks.” She worked the key in the lock.
“You’re gonna get crap like this, Shaynie Grace.”
Crap, yes. But like this? She peeked at the letters spilling out from under his hand, the ‘r’ and ‘e’ of “whore”. Hellnight. Could it be? She opened the front door.
The alarm panel in the entrance should have emitted a warning shriek, and its silence was not lost on Andrew. He glared at it, then at her. “Goddamn it, Shaynie!”
Oh, damn. Whenever he choked out only her first name she knew she was in trouble.
“I pay a monthly fee for security you don’t bother to use?”
“I never asked for this alarm.” He’d imposed it on her and she’d cried when it had been installed, an ugly panel clinging to the wall like some sort of digitalized insect. “Oh, Divinity,” she had said, once the security tech had left. “Nothing can move freely now.”
The old morgue had responded, its embrace stained glass and lavender. The same scent which now floated between she and her brother.
“Smell that?” she ventured, voice small.
He rolled a deadpan gaze over her face.
She smiled in spite of it. “This place is its own security.”
“So then why didn’t some spook scare the shit out of the asshole who wrecked your front door?”
She gave him a death stare.
He gave it back. “Stop pissing me off and get rid of those idiot shoes.” He jabbed a finger at her stilettos. “Those stupid things make my feet cold.”
Wordless, she shucked the heels and slipped into her moccasins. They melted, comfort around her feet, one more extension of Divinity. “Where do you want to look first?” She already felt stronger.
Andrew hiked a thumb in the direction of the staircase. “Let’s get that over with.”
Downstairs, her current workroom. The once-upon-a-time embalming room. She swallowed a sudden grin. “Need me to lead?”
He glared and, chomping back a smile, she obediently trailed as he marched, all bravado, toward the staircase, flicking lights on in the divining rooms as he passed. “Whoa.” He winced at the first one. “There’s a whole lotta purple in there.”
“Ms. Gavin, I thought I’d see more.” Resurrected worry nagged her gut. “Not enough.”
“Well I can’t help you there. Suck at painting.”
“’s’okay,” she replied, but anxiety spiked along with the worry in her belly. A wrecked door. Furniture to retrieve. Painting which she sucked at, too and…How? How will I ever get this done?
Let it Be re-awakened, a head-serenade and, shut up! she told it, creaking down the stairs with her brother. Shut up, shut up, shut—
“Christ!” Andrew yelled and a crash like cymbals rang out.
“What?” She rushed to keep up. “What did you find?”
“These.” He clapped a hand against something that clanged. “I thought you were getting rid of these damn things.”
Oh. The body drawers. “I am. I just haven’t thought of anything reverent to render them into.”
“Render them into? Jesus, Shaynie Grace, is nothing sacred to you?”
“Everything is sacred to me, Andrew. That’s why I can’t just take them to a landfill.”
He looked skyward, seemingly for strength. “Okay.” He peeked into the old lavatory. “This place is clean. Can I follow you home now?”
So spooked. It would have been amusing but…“I’m actually going to stay.”
He made a show of gaping at his watch.
“I have work.”
Silence roared. She sighed. “The bank, Andrew. They want more than I’ve given, and now I have a door to fix too.”
He folded his arms. “Bullshit.”
Her brow jumped.
“There’s something else—or something more—eating you. Not just the bank or the jackass who trashed your door.”
Yeah. It’s a jackass who implied I was whoring. A bastard before that who called me a whore.
Gorgeous whore, memory corrected. Devil’s whore, it added. She shivered.
Several wordless seconds ticked by. He sighed. “I saw upstairs in the purple room that you still have a cot for when you sleep in this place.”
“Yeah, but why—”
“So go ahead and work. I’m gonna find that cot and crash.”
“You’re not on duty?”
“Nope. Just cleaning up paperwork when you called.”
And now rather than go home and have a decent rest he’d sleep in a place he admitted scared the bejesus out of him. “Andrew, you don’t have to—”
“Just wake me up before you leave ’cause I sure as hell don’t want to sleep in this place all alo—” Her cell rang, cut him off. He frowned. “You always get calls this late?”
“Hardly.” She fished for her phone. “Hello?”
“Shaynes!” Jude exhaled audibly. “You weren’t answering your landline. You okay?”
No. A vandal somehow saw my cards. And my mind. “Yeah,” she lied. “Fine. Tonight…it was just an off night. I needed Divinity.” God. Lie after lie. What was wrong with her?
A beat of silence, then, “A morgue. After midnight. Only Shaynie. You sure you’re okay? I’m on my way home soon. I’d be company.”
“I have company. Andrew’s here.”
As in, “why’s the cop there?” But damned if she was going to ’fess up to her biggest Divinity naysayer that she’d just endured her first vandal. “Sure.” She kept it light. “We’re spending a little brother-sister time.”
“In a morgue,” Jude repeated, and laughed a bit. “Well, whatever flies your family’s kite, Shaynes and, uh—hey, can you call Gray? He thinks something’s up because you didn’t stick around to split your money, and I tried deflecting, but he’s making up what he doesn’t know and now he wants to kick Noel’s ass. As usual.”
“Tell him—” to kick Weste’s too “—tell him not to fret. And that I’ll call him tomorrow, okay?” He agreed, and, “’Night,” she said, then slipped the cell into her pocket.
Her brother was examining her. “I’m surprised he didn’t want you to go over there, clean that shit-pit.”
“I’m the one who always offers extra shifts, he rarely asks.”
“I hate that skin buffet.”
One more script she knew. She wrapped her arms around herself, thankful her coat covered her. “You—uh—gonna crash on my cot or stay awake for a card reading?”
“Consider me crashed.” He climbed the stairs two at a time and as he retreated into her divining room she traced an ankh in the air, over his shoulders.
“I’m grateful for you, Andrew.”
“Uh-huh. Bill’s in the mail.”
* * *
Her brother slept while she stewed through the rest of the night, the rhythm of her tools carrying her through a room’s worth of re-attached baseboards and half a pile of crown molding before dawn finally awakened the sky, a palette of rose and tangerine. She lost herself in the shifting colors a moment then padded into her divining room, gently shook Andrew’s shoulder. “Morning, Guardian. Sure you don’t want me to turn a few cards for you before you go?”
He smoothed his wild hair. “How come in Shaynie-speak ‘no’ always means ‘maybe’?”
He followed her out into the parlor, slid on his boots, then unlatched the front door. “Hey!” He beamed at the offended panel, now smooth. “You’re a fast operator.”
“Nothing a planer and some good old sandpaper couldn’t obliterate.”
“‘Obliterate’.” He dropped his voice low. “To erase for all eternity.”
It sounded like a final benediction. A chill waltzed on her neck.
He didn’t notice. “How’s that for Shaynie-speak?” He shot her an Andrew-grin, there and then gone, then slipped out into the cold.
The rising sun lit drifting ice crystals, transfigured them into tiny glass fairies. She leaned against the door jamb and watched them.
Her brother assessed her glassy-eyed slump. “What time do you work tonight?”
“Night off.” Her smile was as lazy as the ice fairies. “Hard to believe, eh?”
“Go home.” He unlocked his unmarked. “Get some sleep. But before you do, set the damn alarm.”
An answering crack resonated above and a glistening shape hurtled from eaves to ground. An icicle, stabbed into the snow, looking like a sword. Swords. Life’s warnings.
“I—uh—I’ll call you,” said Andrew. His voice held the same uncertain waver as her breath.
Nodding, she waved absently as he pulled away then looked down at the ice sword. “Was that a yes or no to the alarm?”
Silence drifted along with the ice crystals.
“What are you trying to tell me?”
An answering prickle sizzled on her skin, a feeling inexplicable yet unmistakable. Someone’s watching. She darted a look north up Jasper Ave, then south toward the river. No cars, no pedestrians, yet the prickle—watching me!— was so strong her skin screamed. She slammed the door and bolted it, jabbed the code into the alarm. Watching me. She peeked through glowing stained glass. Who? The same Andrew-labeled redneck who’d carved into her door?
Outside traffic awakened on Jasper Ave, the rhythm of whishing tires making sounds like words. Let—it—Be. Let it Be? That was Hellnight. Breath hissed through her teeth and she flinched away from the window.
Deep in the old embalming room the ancient furnace growled.
* * *
The rest of the day, warmth, lavender, and talk radio, turned Hellnight into a distant bad dream and, relieved by the things she could both see and hear in the tangible present, Shaynie turned her companion, the radio, up. “A night off for our team this evening and what does the future hold?” asked a peppy jock. “Two contenders are vying for superstar status: Nelson, hungry to be hometown hero, and Weste, who seems to want to perform but for whatever reasons just can’t for this team.”
“Because he’s a contradiction like The Moon,” said Shaynie. “And an ass.”
“Inconsistency will hang him,” agreed the jock’s sidekick. “For the salary he commands Weste must step up and deliver.”
An echo of what the bank wanted from her. Feeling vaguely chastened, Shaynie rolled amethyst onto one final wall. “Trade day is looming,” continued the lead sportscaster. “And if Weste doesn’t pick it up, Edmonton won’t want to keep him—and no one else will want him either.”
A pang of pity surprised her. She flicked it off along with the radio. “Sympathy? Right. For seven million a year I’d not only score goals, I’d turn axels out on the ice too.”
Ah. Like a stripper?
She dropped her roller in the paint tray, startled by the thought that felt more external than internal. She looked around. “Are you planting reprimands in my head?”
A beat of silence elapsed. She retrieved her roller. “Not undeserved. After all, what do I know about how to play hockey? I can’t even skate.” She cleaned the roller and stretched, feeling loose for the first time in days. “I love being with you, Divinity.” She kissed her fingertips then pressed them against an inconspicuous spot near a door jamb, purposely leaving an impression of fingerprints in the wet paint. “Cele was wrong. You are the only partner I need.”
Scent accompanied her down the stairs and rushed through the water when she showered in what had been the scrub area in the old embalming room. Then, when she curled on her cot for a nap, lavender remained there too—and stained glass color. A chorus of comfort that lulled her to sleep.
The sky was velvet black when her cell woke her and, scrambling for it, she groaned at Jude’s name on the screen. Because she’d lied to Andrew when she’d said he rarely asked for extra shifts. “Hey there,” she purposely made herself sound breathless, busy. “Calling to see if I’ve fallen in my money pit and can’t get out?”
Silence, yet in it she could hear befuddlement. “Jude?”
“A money pit?” rumbled back. “Where are you?”
Whoa. That thunder timbre was not Jude. “Divinity,” she answered, automatic. “Who’s—”
“How am I supposed to mock you if you’re not here?”
Cameron Weste? “Why do you have Jude’s phone?”
“’Cause he wouldn’t give me your number to call you from my phone. What’s Divinity?”
“My club. What do you want?”
“Your club? What sort of club? You never said you had a club.”
Because she owed him the details of her life? “It’s under construction. And not a meat market.”
He snorted. “Every club is a meat market.”
“So what is it then?”
“It’s—” What the hell? She was going to answer him? Talk to him at all? “What do you want?”
He didn’t answer and for a moment she wondered if her cell had dropped the call. Then— “What I want is to tell you I was a jerk to piss you off.”
An apology? She wandered out into the parlor, plopped hard onto the window seat.
Weste cleared his throat. “Now tell me: how’s this Divinity not a meat market?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Did I not just ask?”
She tapped a foot. Tell him. Let him laugh. Get it over with. “Divinity will be a metaphysical lounge and retail shop,” she announced. “A place for Tarot readings, Reiki healings, and spirits—the liquid kind, not the phantom kind.” There. She squeezed her eyes shut. Now here comes the smart ass.
“I want to see it.”
Her lids flew open. “Wha—no. No. It—it’s not ready for guests.”
“Doesn’t matter. I want to come over.”
“Listen Weste, Divinity is not something to harass me about.”
“I’m hardly harassing you. Where is it? I’m coming over.”
“Yes, you are harassing me. You want to come over here, crack a few jokes about flakes and spooks, make me feel like an idiot then go back to The Python and laugh about it with Nelson and whatever same-different girl you scoop up. No.”
He was quiet a moment then “Believe it or not, I’m hardly a prick.”
“And I’m hardly a rube.”
He sighed, a noisy crackle in her ear. “You may as well tell me how to get there ’cause I’ll find out anyway. All I gotta do is ask.”
“Jude’s not going to tell you.”
“Rasputin’s not the only one here.”
Rasputin? She gave the phone a look. “Weste, rock The Python. It’s far more your style.”
He emitted another staticky sigh. “Do you not know anything about athletes?”
What did that have to do with it?
“We’re a superstitious lot.”
“So you have a Tarot lounge. I want a reading.”
See his cards. An electric crackle danced through her fingers. Still— “I don’t do readings,” she lied.
“Well you must have someone who does.”
“She’s home. Probably sleeping.”
“I am not going to call her. It’s late.”
“Not that late. Tell her I’ll pay double.”
“What? Can you even guess her base price?”
“I don’t care. In fact I’ll triple it. Quadruple it if she seems too lazy to get out of bed. Tell her that when you call her.”
Her cell clicked to dead air. “Weste,” she said. “You are far too used to getting what you want.” Although…a smile, faint as firelight, flickered on her mouth. What he wanted was Cele. “Hear that, angels?” Grinning, she hit speed dial on her phone. “Get ready to weep.” The phone rang once, twice—
Triple, he had said. Triple, my ass. “Cele,” she said. “How would you like to quadruple your rate tonight?”
“But I read you for free!” Cele, fuggy as if she was wrestling sleep cotton out of her mouth, sounded alarmed. “Darling, what’s wro—”
“Nothing’s wrong and it’s not for me.” She paused, wished she could conjure a drum roll. “Cameron Weste.”
A tonne of silence fell. “Himself?” Cele croaked.
Shaynie bit her tongue.
“His beautiful self…where will he be?”
So much for sleep cotton. She sounded wide awake now. “Divinity.”
“He is with you?”
“On his way. Can you co—”
“Barnabas!” Cele lilted. “A God has summoned me!”
I guess that’s a yes. Shaynie bit her tongue then, in the background heard Barnabas say, “A god? Then let us burn mace, my adored.”
Giggles came out, she couldn’t hold them. “I—uh—guess I’ll see you shortly?”
No reply. Cele had hung up. Shaynie laughed and Divinity joined her, a chug of heat ducts. “A God.” She grabbed a broom, began sweeping the showroom. Ten to one he wouldn’t even show—there were Python panties to distract him on his way to the door—but on the off chance he did, he’d be her first paying customer. “So we need to make you presentable,” she told Divinity, and ran a dust rag over her furniture, stuttering over one armoire’s crooked hinge. “How did this escape me?” She plucked a screwdriver from her tool belt.
“Told you I’d find you,” rumbled from over her shoulder.
Shrieking, she whirled.
Weste cocked his head. “Why so jumpy? You think I wouldn’t show?”
She pointed, shakily, at the door. “That was locked.”
“Nope.” He flicked it a glance.
She frowned. The alarm had been set too—hadn’t it? Her gaze tracked from corner to corner.
Weste examined her, not the room, and as his eyes swept her she knew what he saw. A scrubbed face and blue jeans. Ponytail and sweatshirt. She looked like The Anti-Python.
He, of course, looked every bit like the God Cele believed him to be.
She tucked a lock of hair, an escapee from her ponytail, behind one ear. “Welcome to Divinity.”
“Thanks for the invite.” The Smile played with his mouth.
“Got your checkbook?”
She jacked a brow. He jacked one back. “You thought I was joking?”
She wasn’t entirely sure what to think. Especially about that open door. “Cele’s not here yet.”
He flicked a shoulder. “Then how about a tour?” He surveyed the room from his spot at the door. “I’m dying to see what could seduce you away from The Python.”
Dying. Was that mockery? She examined his eyes.
Fathomless. Frowning, she beckoned him down the short steps into the lounge, swept an arm out. “Main seating area and showroom.”
He assessed it, also frowning. “People will have their cards read amongst one another?”
“No, this is where they’ll mingle. Shop. Have a drink—or ten.” She grinned.
He didn’t. “Won’t booze mess with the mojo?”
Good grief. He was worse than the bank. “House rule: You drink after your reading.”
This he chewed on, then— “That works.”
“So glad you approve.”
He gave her a look then crouched, eye level with one of her creations. “Quite the table.” He ran a hand over the pebbled stained glass she’d inlaid on top. “Custom made?”
“Yes. And thank you.”
His eyebrows flew up and she bowed, low and long. His lips hitched and he ambled over to a cut glass wind chime she’d affixed in one lonely corner. He flicked it, eliciting a pitch-perfect peal. “Ambience,” he uttered.
Ambience. Countenance. So much for predictable.
Unaware of—or maybe ignoring— her scrutiny, he eyed a group of sconces she’d centered on the wall that would face the eventual bar. She had needed a ladder to install them. He, however, faced them dead on. “Electric, yet they look like candles.” He slid her The Smile. “Nice touch, clever Shaynie.”
She had not heard him use her name before. Was half surprised he knew it. Rattled, she pointed. “The bar will be over there,” she told him, mostly because she just wanted something to say. “It’ll be marble and teak, but I—uh—I’ve had to hold off.” She pulled a face. “Things don’t always go as planned.”
“Huh. Have I ever been to that movie.” Not seeing, or again maybe ignoring, the question on her face, he assessed a bare wall. “You need something here. A wall hanging. Copper or metal—”
“Sorry.” Her cheeks heated. “It’s just…the body drawers. That’s perfect for them. I’ll haul them to my old tech school, have someone in the welding department fabricate them into—” A visual occurred. “—the four suits! Wands, Swords, Pentacles and Cups. Fantastic!”
He stared. “Did you just say body drawers?”
Oh, no. Not another Andrew. “Weste, you, uh, you can see what this building was, can’t you?”
His expression moved, from blank to befuddled then to beaming and he laughed, a little incredulous and a whole lot…sexy? “Ah…” He nodded. “I do now.”
And he was neither spooked like Andrew nor repulsed like Jude. She beamed too. “Want to see the body drawers?”
“No.” Laughing, he held up his hands. “I’ll take your word for them. You don’t seem like the type that would lie.”
I don’t do readings. Guilt painted her cheeks. “So,” she smiled, too bright. “Why query the Tarot?”
The sparkle stole out of his eyes. “Ever listen to the radio?”
“…no one will want him.” That earlier shard of pity found her belly again and she looked at him, really looked at him, a chiseled hockey god whose storm eyes saw things metaphysical that she had not expected. The Moon. “You really do want this reading.”
“Why would you think I was lying?”
She didn’t really know. And whatever she might have said was lost as the door reopened and Cele drifted inside.
He blinked. “Your reader?”
“Cele,” she confirmed.
“Is she…is she floating?”
He gaped, stunned. She swatted him.
“Of course she’s not floating! God.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s just her caftan. It creates an illusion.”
He grinned. “You gonna wear one of those too when you open this place?”
Yep, The Moon. From sincerity to smart ass in a nanosecond. She skewered him with a glare.
“Or maybe you’ll just run with this look—pixie meets blue collar. You need a ball cap, by the way.”
“And you need a slap.” She turned to Cele. “Allow me to introduce—”
“—Monsieur Weste.” Cele curtseyed.
“Cameron.” He took her outstretched hand, raised it to his mouth.
Shaynie stared. “How come you weren’t charming when you met me?”
“’Cause you never told me you’d show me my future.”
“So instead you sent me a vile present?”
“That vile present wasn’t for you.” He grinned. “I’m sure you look after yourself.”
Good God, but she wanted to slug him.
Cele cleared her throat. “It grows late,” she announced.
An unbidden shiver skated up Shaynie’s arms.
“Shall we get started?”
“Go ahead,” said Shaynie. She should have known Cele’s moony eyes would evaporate the moment she headed to the Divining Room. Her devotion to Tarot eclipsed even her love for Barnabas, and Cameron Weste certainly wasn’t about to hijack that ship. Giving them a little bow, she turned back to the crooked hinge on her armoire. “I have a job to finish. Take your time.”
“No,” said Weste.
She swiveled and, framed by soft light spilling from Cele’s divining room, he beckoned her with a hand. “Come.”
Another shiver, eerie or enchantment, she wasn’t sure, lit the hair on her neck. Still— “Readings are private.”
“I don’t mind, and besides…” He looked beyond her, out the window, smart ass gone and sincerity back. And something else too.
Her nape tingled.
“Shaynie,” he said. “Humor me.”
She followed his gaze to where street lights shone innocently through the stained glass.
This morning’s eyes peered back. I see you, Devil’s Whore.
Swallowing a gasp she strode to the door, flicked the deadbolt into place. “Customer’s always right,” she quipped, but was grateful to follow him, mentally casting colored stones as the morning’s eyes burned a hole in her back.
Weste sank opposite Cele. Shaynie sat by the door.
“The chair, Cheri,” said Cele. “Bring it closer.”
Weste slid over to make room and Shaynie hesitated—readings were private!—before lifting her chair, placing it next to him.
He knocked a playful knee against hers and shot The Smile.
She jerked her leg away. “Behave!”
Cele lit a candle. “Now, Cameron,” She handed him cards. “Shuffle your question into the deck.”
He obeyed, fingers not dwarfed by the cards like Shaynie’s always were, and she watched him, struck by a scarlet slash on his right knuckle, livid in the candlelight. “How did—”
“Hush, Cheri,” said Cele.
Chastened, she hushed while Weste soberly selected his cards, smile and eye sparkle gone. “Done,” he said at last, and righted the stack he’d created.
Shaynie itched to flip his first card—The Moon, got to be—and to stroke that harsh knuckle gash. She knitted her hands tight together.
And, as if he knew, he shot The Smile.
Cele cleared her throat. “We begin.” She turned his first card.
The Tower, shattered by lightning and with windows belching flames, was a study of shock-shades against a black background. “Prison break,” Cele said. “Change you do not expect, yet it liberates, for that which you crave, you will no longer need, and that which you need, you will crave.” She revealed the next card, laughed. “Ah, yes. the Nine of Cups, see?”
But he clearly did not see for he looked at Shaynie, quizzical.
“That’s the wish card,” she told him. “It trumps every card in the deck.”
His mouth split into a grin. “So my wish will come true?”
The sparkle in his eyes made her want to lie, say ‘absolutely,’ but— “The Tower means change. So that means your wish might change too.”
“Excellent, Shaynie!” Cele clapped. Weste snorted.
“Change my wish? Doubt it.”
Cele regarded him. “Let us see.” She turned the next card.
A familiar figure, stabbed and prone beneath ten swords. Shaynie’s breath caught and she cringed when the next two cards—the Nine of Swords and Three of Swords appeared right beside it.
“That’s a whole lotta knives,” Weste murmured.
Shaynie flicked Cele a glance. “I shouldn’t have come.”
“Tut! Cameron picked and shuffled them. His energy, Darling. Not yours.”
His energy? Shaynie stared at the Ten, swords in the back.
Weste looked at her, not the cards. “What do they mean?”
Nelson. The name splashed up in her head, intuitive certainty.
“Shaynie?” Cele prompted.
Nelson’s face in her mind was smug. Entitled. Nonetheless, as she sought Cele’s eyes she saw the warning. Never frighten your querent. She cleared her throat, recited the cards’ textbook meaning in order. “Betrayal, fear, and—” Her finger hovered over the Three. “Heartbreak.”
“Huh,” said Weste. “What fun.”
Her shoulders prickled, but whether it was from his spread or the coldness in his tone, she wasn’t sure.
“Turn the next one,” he said, and stuck his chin out, a challenge.
Death, its skeletal face eyeless yet somehow aware.
Weste snorted. “No surprise considering all those knives.”
“Non.” Cele assessed the cards, thoughtful. “Death is the most misinterpreted card of the Tarot. See?” She pointed to the flag Death was toting. “Victory. The change, complete.”
He eyed Death dubiously. Cele watched him.
“Not literal,” she said. “But this change that threads your cards…Shaynie is right; it is something—conscious or, more likely unconscious—that you have wished for. And,” one finger underlined the Swords. “Not easily achieved.”
Because Nelson’s up to something. Shaynie eyed Weste. With no whiplash smile and no eye-dance, he looked bleak. “There’s one left,” she reminded and, using a Cele-trick, flipped it with a fingernail.
“Oho!” Cele laughed lustily. “Recognize it, Cheri?”
“Of course,” Shaynie pulled a face. “It’s the card I never get.”
Cele grinned. “Oui,” she said. “Go on.”
“The Sun,” said Shaynie. “Another trump card, and I believe here to remind you that before all those Swords—”
“—was my wish card,” he said.
She smiled, impressed.
He took up The Sun. “I like this.”
She laughed. “You should like it. The Sun means everything’s worked out in the best possible way.”
“Really? So could it be a place?”
The way he asked, she couldn’t tell if he was hoping it was or hoping it wasn’t. She looked to Cele for direction.
Her teacher said nothing.
“Well...I guess it could be a place, but like Cele said, the Tarot is rarely literal.”
“What you need you will crave,” Cele added. “And The Sun says you shall have it.”
Again neither smiling nor frowning, he kept the card, looked at it.
Cele gently plucked it from his fingers. “Is there anything else you’d like to ask?”
“Is there anything else I need to know?”
“Oui,” she said. “That chain around your neck. You believe it is a talisman. It is not. Take it off, s’il vous plait.”
His brow arched.
“It’s from an old lover. And the protection that’s in it is as dead as what you feel for her now.”
He cast startled eyes Shaynie’s way.
“Okay, so maybe she floats a little bit.”
Cele’s hand flashed out, jerked her ponytail.
“Ouch! What the heck was that for?”
“Everyone floats,” Cele said sharply. “They need only accept it.”
Scowling, Shaynie tried fixing her mussed ponytail, succeeding only in messing it up more. She yanked the elastic out, shook her hair free.
“Much better,” said Cele, still sharp. “You’re loveliest with your hair down.”
“Sexy thang.” Cameron tweaked her nose.
“Shut up.” Self-conscious, she readjusted her shapeless sweatshirt. “So? Has Divinity been everything you expected?”
“Yeah.” Sobering, he looked at Cele. “Your fee. Let’s rack it up with some zeros.”
“Non! And don’t rush off quite yet. I’m going to prepare you something.” She opened a drawer, rummaged through it. “And Shaynie?”
“Do not think I’ve not noticed the absence of protection I told you to wear.”
Her hands flew to her bare neck. “Uh—”
“A necklace, Darling. It’s imperative.”
Cameron’s gaze volleyed between them. “Why?”
“Because my—uh—my cards weren’t quite as benevolent as yours.”
“Benevolent? Death looked me in the eye.”
“And The Devil looked at me. So did all your swords. But—” She offered a shrug. “—The wish card and Sun did not.”
“So wear the protection,” said Cele.
“I will. I promise.”
“Promise! You promised before.”
Shaynie looked at the floor.
Cele leaned over, pecked her smartly on the cheek. “Obey,” she said, then turned to Cameron. “For you. This.” She held a tiny, braided labyrinth of red silk, purple hemp, and shiny threads Shaynie could not identify.
“Under your clothing. Next to your skin.”
“What will it do?”
“What you need you will crave. This will bring what you want close to you.”
He took the little charm, tucked it in his hand. “Your fee and some zeros.”
Cele laughed. “Sometimes, Cameron Weste, I read for free.”
Shaynie shook her head. Such a flirt.
“The cards said things you needed to hear,” Cele told him. “Now.” She clapped her hands. “Barnabas will believe I’ve transfigured if I don’t get home.”
Shaynie rose, drew her close. “Love you, friend. Thank you for venturing out in the cold dark.”
“Protection.” Cele drew a line over Shaynie’s jugular. “My Darling, please don’t forget.”
Cameron rose, took Cele’s arm. “May I walk you to your car?”
“Merci,” she replied, visibly, and very dramatically, swooning.
Oh, my. Shaking her head, Shaynie smiled. “Au revoir.”
Cele blew her a kiss and was gone.
She was straightening the chairs and extinguishing the candle when Cameron returned.
“I did pay her,” he said.
“That’s between you and her.” She set the candle on a shelf, caught a yawn in her palm.
“Yeah. I was up late last night, dealing with my own deck of Swords.” Including the one that had sliced a word in her door. And the one that had been that set of eyes, glaring at her through the stained glass.
“Swords,” he said. “Is that what you call the idiot who sparred too hard in The Python last night, hurt your feelings?”
More apology. It caught her off guard.
He ducked his head, caught her eyes. “I told you: I’m not a prick. Thanks, incidentally, for letting me pirate your club.”
“Because you gave me such choice?”
He laughed. “Can I walk you out to your truck?”
“Me? Oh, I can’t—” Go? Why not? She’d worked all last night and most of today. “Home before midnight. What a concept.”
“You’re usually not?”
“I’m usually at The Python.”
“Ah, right. The Python.”
The scorn that crossed his face was a surprise, yet not a surprise. She laughed a bit. “I cannot believe you didn’t turn The Moon.”
His eyebrows climbed, a question.
“The Moon is the inner world that goes on behind slick smiles. It reminds us that sometimes when we step into a mud puddle we find out it’s an ocean.”
“Thanks—I think. And if that’s The Moon then I’m surprised you don’t get it.”
It was her turn to wear a question in her eyes.
He jacked a thumb toward her showroom. “You’re an artist who serves beer.”
An artist. A delighted little quiver danced inside.
“A contradiction,” he said. “Except tonight I mean it completely as a compliment.”
A contradiction. Her smile faltered. Like a redneck vs. a resurrection of Hellnight. The rogue thought caught her cold. Weste didn’t notice her shudder.
“Contradictions.” He looked beyond her, into the morgue. “Just like Divinity and The Python.”
More opposites. Another ten.
“—and like The Sun and Edmonton.” He dragged a hand through his hair.
“The wish card trumps the whole deck,” she reminded.
He rewarded her with a smile as brilliant as The Sun, and another rogue thought intruded. How would someone my size ever kiss him? “I-I what did you say?”
The sweet smile was gone. “I was going to ask you for coffee.”
Was going to? Now he didn’t look too sure. Her phone shrilled— “Hold that thought,” she said, and pulled it from her pocket.
“Hey,” said Andrew. “You still at your spook factory?”
“It’s called Divinity, and yes—the alarm is set.”
“That’s not why I’m calling. Last night I forgot to tell you—one of the uniforms’ wives opened a boutique and I scored you an order. Six door tables.”
“A grand apiece.”
“A gran—Andrew! I only charge five hundred!”
“So tell me: how much do you love your big brother? They’re due in two weeks.”
“Two—I can’t meet that sort of deadline! And it’s winter. I can’t even scavenge doors in all this snow.”
“You don’t have to. I showed him your brochure a while ago and it turns out wifey had access to an old farmhouse. She scavenged her own doors.”
“She has her own material and you still charged her double? What are you, a cop or a criminal?”
“A good detective is a bit of both. As for the price, she does want stained glass inserts.”
Which were tricky to accomplish. And needed in two weeks?
Andrew said “Gets the bank off your ass.”
“And a customer on it.”
“So take time off from the shit pit.”
“I want to kill you.”
“Pfft. Pack a lunch. And stick around, eh? Buddy was banking on my shitty memory and brought the doors tonight. We’ll be over in twenty.”
“But I was going to go home!” Or on a date? Maybe? She peeked at Weste.
He didn’t look terribly happy.
“You still can go home,” said Andrew. “Only later.” He hung up. She looked at Cameron.
“My brother tries to bail me out, but just digs my grave deeper. And he’s ripped some poor woman off—charged way more than my pieces are worth.”
His lips twitched, neither smile nor grimace. “Sounds like an agent.”
Her brow wrinkled.
“An agent,” he repeated. “Someone who touts you as being far more capable than you really are then sells you to the highest bidder no matter what you want.”
Oh. A hockey term. She slumped back against Divinity. “I wish my life was as easy as playing a game.”
“‘Easy’?” he echoed. “Is that what my life is?”
“Funny. Lately I’ve found it kind of hard.”
Oh, boy. We’re back on the moody Moon. “Weste—Cameron—I’m sor—”
“So these hot ticket tables you make. Why doors?”
Neutral ground? Somehow she didn’t think so. “Because doors are portals,” she answered, carefully. “Access between one place—one dimension—and another. For example: ever walk into a room and forgot why you’ve entered it? Folklore says it’s because you just moved through a door—and that by doing so you’ve entered a brand new dimension.”
“Like the Death card. Leave one state of being for another.”
“Ah. He learns.”
“He isn’t a stunned puck.”
She gaped. “I never said that you wer—”
“You know for someone who doesn’t do readings you sure seem to know a lot about Tarot and stuff.”
What was with the offensive? “I—”
“And, speaking of The Devil, here.” He pulled his chain from his pocket, a glitter of gold in the winking snow. “Cele’s sincere and honest. You should listen to her.” He dropped the chain into her palm then turned, crunched through the snow to where he’d parked.
She gawked after him, feeling the way he’d looked last night when she’d peeled away from him in The Python parking lot. “Cam—”
Goodnight? Sounded more like “goodbye”. He drove away, left her gaping. “What the heck did I say? Mercurial.” She twined his chain through her fingers. “He is The Moon.”
And you’re The Devil.
Startled, she whirled.
Crouched in the dark, Divinity was a seductress in a snow globe. A jury of one.
The Devil? Her? Although…selfishness: I wish my life was as easy as playing a game. Deception: I don’t do readings. And, maybe most importantly, there’d been Nelson, slithering amongst the swords in his reading and she’d said nothing. She’d Let it Be.
Divinity’s stained glass eyes did not look away. “I’m sorry,” she told them. “Tomorrow I’ll track him down, tell him everything.”
Want the rest of the story? Divinity & The Python, Secrets & Shadows, Book I is right here!