Welcome, readers! It's been a little while since I've posted here, I know, but I have exciting news: each month I'll be posting a special Free Read, both here and in my newsletter, that's a companion piece to one of my current books. Why? Well, it gives me a chance to write a prequel, or an epilogue, or a character sketch, or just delve a little deeper into one aspect of the story that I didn't before.
Even better, along with every month's Free Read, the companion book will be on sale! (Okay, except for this month, because it's a Samhain title and Samhain still holds the right to this one). BUT I hope you'll enjoy this short story, which takes place about 6 years before the start of Winter's Wonder.
Enjoy "It's In The Cards"!
It's In The Cards
“Want another?” Bud Howe held out a beer, dripping with ice cold water from the cooler at his feet.
Zane Andrews shrugged. “Sure.” He finished the one he’d been holding, tossed the empty in a nearby barrel, and popped open the new one. He kicked back in the ratty recliner and took a long look around the Howe garage. Mounted deer heads hung next to Chevy signs and old, peeling pin-up calendars. The entire place smelled of diesel exhaust and sweat.
Headlights skated across the ceiling, and Bud jumped. “Shit. My old man’s home.”
Zane swallowed most of his beer and helped his friend hide the evidence before they beat it out the back door. Pauly Howe was about as mean as they came, and if he was home before five, that meant he’d been laid off. Again.
“Where we goin?” Zane asked as they climbed into Bud’s beat-up Camaro, hidden around back of the garage. From here, a dirt road led straight through the woods behind the Howe’s mobile home. If Bud kept the lights off and stayed below twenty miles an hour, they could make it to the street without getting caught.
“I don’t know. What’s going on tonight?”
“In Pine Point? Nothin, same as any other night.” Man, if Zane had a steady job, he’d save up some money and get the hell out of here. But dropping out of high school last year had left him with little more than his hands and his winning smile to find him a job.
That meant he had to take part-time gigs doing construction work, hauling Christmas trees, or raking leaves and plowing driveways when and where he could.
They broke from the woods onto the south end of Main Street, where Bud gave the Camaro full throttle. Nothing but a few streetlights until they got closer to the high school, and then it looked like a goddamn party. The whole building was lit up, cars filled the parking lot, and people milled around the bleachers and the ball fields.
“What’s going on there?” Zane rolled down the window in time to hear rock music and laughter.
“Probably after-graduation all-nighter.”
“Oh.” He stared at the circular drive outside Pine Point High, filled with guys and girls in town who’d actually made it through school. Zane hadn’t had the patience to sit through class after class of monotone teachers. He cracked his knuckles. He kind of wished now that he had.
Bud grinned. “Wanna crash it?” He cut the wheel so hard Zane’s teeth ground together.
“Sure,” he said as soon as he’d peeled his cheek off the window. Then he reconsidered. He hadn’t exactly left high school on the best terms. And it wasn’t like he was rocking a full-time, six-figure job now. A second of doubt skated through him. He didn’t make a habit of going backwards in life. Walking through those halls would probably just remind him of the ways he’d screwed up.
Bud careened into a parking spot before Zane could say he’d changed his mind. “Look at that.” Bud gestured at a group of cheerleaders holding red plastic cups and giggling. “I forgot how good-lookin’ hometown girls can be.” He ran one hand over his hair, perpetually sticking up in the back, and grabbed a wrinkled pack of gum from the console. “Want a piece? In case, ya know...” He grinned again at the giggling girls.
“Nah. I’m thinkin’ I’ll be doing good tonight if I don’t get slapped.” He’d left more than a few broken hearts behind him. If he ran into Candy Adams or her best friend Chelsea, it might be drama central.
Bud chuckled as they climbed from the car. “What you need to do is find someone who doesn’t know you yet. Grab her, kiss her, and win her over with those baby blues, the way you used to.”
Zane shook his head. “Sure. Like that’ll happen.”
Becca Ericksen looked over her shoulder at the teachers clustered near the gymnasium door. “What if I get caught here? I’m not a senior.”
“Who cares?” Her sister Ella fussed with her blonde extensions as she surveyed the gym, hung with disco lights and streamers. “What’ll they do, send you home? School’s over. It’s not like they can suspend you or take points off your perfect GPA.” She tugged the vee in her T-shirt a little lower, until the edge of a black lace bra peeked out. “Ooh, there’s Jason Kinderhall. That’s who I’m going home with tonight.” She propped her hands on her hips. “How do I look?”
Becca resisted the urge to say Like a centerfold, because Ella would probably take it as a total compliment. “Like someone Jason Kinderhall would want to go home with.”
Ella tossed her extensions and smiled. “Good. Now, please go have some fun of your own. Isn’t that why you came?”
“I guess.” Becca frowned. And to prove to her stupid, cheating ex-boyfriend that she didn’t care at all that he’d left her for slutty Samantha Paulsen. She lifted her chin. Maybe she ought to find a Jason Kinderhall-type of her own.
She pulled out her phone and walked into the school’s main lobby. The All-Night Party following graduation was a tradition almost as old as Pine Point High itself. Ella was right; juniors and even sophomores crashed it all the time, both to prove they could, and because there weren’t a lot of other ways to spend a Saturday night in this town.
She leaned against the wall between a fortune teller and a tarot card reader. You coming tonight? she texted Mel and Katrina, her two best friends.
Can’t. Babysitting, Mel sent back at once.
I’ll try, Katrina replied a few seconds later. No car right now.
“Would you like a reading?” the woman at the tarot card table asked. She had a multi-colored turban wrapped around her hair and earrings that dangled to her shoulders.
“I don’t..." Becca began. Then she reconsidered. “You know what, sure. What the heck.”
The woman picked up the deck and began to shuffle the cards. “Think about a question you’d like answered,” she said in a soft, musical voice.
Becca glanced around.
“Any question you’d like,” the woman went on as she placed the cards on the table. “It’s important to focus while you cut the cards.”
Becca waited a moment, reached down, and split the deck in two. Will I ever meet a guy who takes my breath away?
Okay, maybe that was a silly question. But tarot cards at a high school party were kind of silly too, right? And why not ask? Did it exist, a guy who could actually bring a girl to her knees with blind desire? She kind of doubted it. The few guys she’d dated so far were nice enough, but their kisses sure didn’t make her lose her mind.
The woman lifted five cards from the deck and laid them on the table in a cross figure. She tapped one finger to her chin and then smiled as she pointed to the card in the center, a lonely-looking man holding a lantern. “This is the present. The Hermit card. It is where you are right now in relation to your question.”
Hermit? That didn’t sound very promising. Becca shifted from foot to foot.
“It suggests that you are doing some soul-searching on your own, and that you don’t mind being alone as you focus on the journey ahead.”
That wasn’t actually too far off. Becca stuck her hands in her pockets and waited.
“These are your past influences.” The woman pointed to the card on the left. “The Tower card, but reversed. This suggests that in the past, you’ve avoided risks or taking chances, making major changes, anything that might cause harm or failure.” She gave Becca a long look, as if waiting for an affirmation.
Becca’s toes squirmed in her flip-flops. “Um, maybe that’s a little like me.” Or a lot. What was wrong with avoiding risky situations? Nothing at all, in her book. Except maybe that’s why her sister was the one with all the crazy stories-of-a-lifetime, while Becca was the one who listened to them.
“This is your future,” the woman continued, pointing to the card on the right. “The Sun card. The Sun suggests warmth, success, good things in your future.”
Now they were getting somewhere. Becca leaned in.
“This bottom card, the fourth card, is the reason behind your question. It is the Empress, but reversed.” The woman gave a slight frown. “This means that you often rely on someone else for your guidance. You need to trust your own inner voice. You asked the question because you doubt the answer.”
Well, that might be a little bit true. “But what is the answer?” Becca asked, growing impatient. Would she meet someone who took her breath away, or not?
The woman looked at the card on the very top, two naked figures standing under an angel, and smiled broadly. “Ah. The Lovers. This is your potential. This card means that you have someone very special waiting for you. A unique, powerful connection that will surprise you.” She folded her fingers. “I hope you are ready for it.”
Becca studied the card. A unique, powerful connection? Sure. Like that would ever happen. These cards were probably fixed to tell every hopeful teenage girl the same thing.
“Thanks,” she said, and found a dollar in her pocket to drop in the woman’s tip jar. She shook her head and walked outside. Like a deck of cards could predict the future.
“Whoa!” A pair of strong hands grabbed her just before she collided with someone.
A very tall someone.
A very good-looking someone.
Her heart stuttered as she looked up into eyes so blue, she could drown in them.
“Hey there, beautiful.” Zane Andrews said with a wink. Becca’s knees went weak. Oh good Lord above. They’d never spoken before. He probably didn’t even know who she was. He was two years older than her, maybe three, and rumor had it he’d dropped out last spring, a month before graduation. Now here stood Mr. Bad Boy himself, with his cleft chin and muscles upon muscles, his mile-long reputation of breaking half the female hearts in Pine Point High, a drop-dead gorgeous devil who’d once been suspended for his artistic talent of drawing dicks of all shapes and sizes on every locker room wall.
In both the boys’ and the girls’ locker rooms.
“Cat got your tongue?” he asked. He hadn’t yet let go of her shoulders. Without warning, he bent down and kissed her. Sure, strong, full lips claimed hers. A delicious slip of tongue moved over and inside her mouth, teasing her, tasting her, as a faint scent of his cologne wafted between them.
Becca closed her eyes and was pretty sure that the entire world shifted under her feet in one single heartbeat.
“Guess it’s just me that’s got your tongue, huh?” he said when he finally broke away. He winked again. “Not that I mind.”
Breathless, boneless, unable to speak, all she could do was stand there on the back steps and watch as he walked inside. Her mouth tingled. The space between her legs tingled.
...you have someone very special waiting for you. I hope you are ready for it...
Becca ran her fingers over her lips. Five seconds had just rocked her sixteen-year-old world. Maybe she needed to give those tarot cards a little more credit.
Zane turned around and caught her staring. He pointed to himself, then to her, and even through the glass door, she could read his lips.
One day, sweetheart. You and me. One day…
I hope you enjoyed this read! Happy Holidays to my wonderful, faithful readers. I hope you have a warm, safe, happy December with all the people who matter most to you :) And if you never got a chance to read Winter's Wonder, maybe it's the perfect gift for yourself this year :)