Happy New Year, Everyone!

MAGIC MAN...available January 24, 2008 from http://www.resplendencepublishing.com/

To everyone at the REO blog - to my fellow writers and my readers -
I'm wishing all of you a wonderful New Year, filled with lots of good things. Thank you for sharing your excerpts with me (I love them all!) and thanks for allowing me to share my written work with you.
Stay safe this New Year's Eve and...
Happy reading, everyone!
From -
Catherine Chernow
And here's a little excerpt treat for you from MAGIC MAN - a sensual start to a bright New Year...
“I’ve never seen a pear-shaped emerald,” Seth Masters gazed at the shimmering gemstone ring he held in the palm of his hand. Each time Seth moved his hand, the two-karat stone glistened as bright green prisms of light danced against the ceiling. The sign above him read: ‘Crystal Jewelers - Rare Gems and Unique Crystal Designs – Brides and Browsers Welcome!’
The owner of Bride’s Inn jewelry concession, Crystal Lane, lifted the emerald ring from Seth’s palm and held it up to the light. “Look at that sparkle,” she grinned as she admired the piece of jewelry she designed. “I think Serena will love it.” She laid it gently in Seth’s large palm. “It’s the perfect gift for your anniversary, Seth.” Crystal shook her head. “You’re married two years already? I just can’t believe it.”
Crystal’s heart had a funny little catch in it as she gazed at Seth Masters, a man she’d known most of her life, and now, one of the owners of what every home magazine in the country touted as America’s premier wedding establishment – Bride’s Inn.
“I think the color will match Serena’s eyes, don’t you?” Seth’s deep voice resonated with the sound of…love. The severe angles of his face relaxed, his dark eyes grew soft.
A sharp pang of envy pierced Crystal’s heart.
How she wished a man would look that way when he thought about her!
Men said they admired her, some told her they loved her, but none of them stuck around for the long haul. Seth had always been a good friend, and maybe, a friend is all she’d ever be with a man.
“Let me wrap that for you.” Crystal reached under the counter for a box and centered the magnificent ring in a velvet-lined jeweler’s box. As she did, a chill breeze swirled around her legs. The frigid air traveled up her ankles and calves, causing goose bumps to rise on her skin. Her eyes darted towards the windows where she gazed outside at a beautiful, sunny fall day. Not a cloud in the sky…the air temperature had climbed to a balmy sixty degrees…
A perfect early fall day on Long Island’s north shore.
She gave a small shudder as the cold air blew around her, rustling some papers next to the cash register. Crystal caught them just before they drifted to the floor.
“I’ll do something about the front door,” Seth told her. “I’ll get one of the maintenance people to see if they can’t get it to close properly. We’ve been having quite a bit of trouble with it lately.” He grinned sheepishly. “Seems like the renovations still aren’t complete.”
Crystal returned his smile but hers didn’t quite reach the corners of her mouth. “I’m not sure that’s the problem.” She darted a hesitant glance towards Seth. “I mean, the front door.” She shrugged, trying to let go of the jitters she felt whenever she was alone in her shop. The chill she felt deep in her bones, and the creepy feeling that settled over her seemed to have nothing to do with the broken front door in need of repair. Crystal pasted a bright smile on her face. “The renovations are daunting, especially for a seventy-year-old home like Bride’s Inn.” She closed the satin-lined ring box, placing it on the glass counter. For just a second, she thought she saw a shadow move in the far right corner of her shop. The hairs rose on the back of her neck. She concentrated on Seth, on his familiar, comforting face, but that creepy feeling returned. “I just can’t believe the work you and Jake did around here. Bride’s Inn is beautiful, Seth. You should be proud.”
Again the chill breeze snaked up her legs. At the same time, the lights above their heads flickered once…twice.
Seth shook his head and gazed upwards. “When did that start?”
Crystal shrugged. “It’s been happening all morning, actually.”
He sighed. “I’ll get someone on that, too.” Seth took his wallet from his pocket, but Crystal laid a hand over his when he placed it on the counter. “No,” Crystal shook her head. “This is on me.”
He raised one dark brow, his handsome, chiseled face set in determined lines. Seth was always a knock out, even in high school. How many girls, including her, had a crush on him at the time? But along with his dark, dangerous looks lay a heart of gold, a man who held her painful secret.
She owed Seth – for then as well as now. Crystal’s jewelry design business increased ten-fold since she opened Crystal Jewelers at Bride’s Inn, and it was all thanks to Seth and his wife Serena, for encouraging Crystal to take over the concession. A leading woman’s magazine had even featured her diamond wedding jewelry from her Bride’s Inn shop in one of their issues, increasing her sales and her popularity.
Crystal smiled as his beard-shadowed chin tightened. “Put your money away, Seth. It’s not good here.”
He raised both brows but then he smiled back, a wide, rakish beam she remembered every girl in high school sighing over. “Then I want a pair of earrings made too, and those, my friend, I’m going to pay for, whether you,” he reached out and tapped her lightly on the nose with the tip of his index finger. “…like it or not.”
Crystal frowned. “I don’t know if I can have them ready in time. When are you giving the ring to Serena?”
“Next week.”
She’d have to rush…put other things aside. The fall holidays were fast approaching. She had a wedding party to contend with and…
What did all that matter? If Seth wanted it for Serena by next week, then he would have it.
“They’ll be ready,” she told him. “But you’re one tough customer.”
He placed some bills on the counter. She gave him a stern look, but then her face softened. How could she be angry with him? Whenever she was around Seth, Serena, and their sweet baby boy, they made things seem…normal. Like she was just a nice, normal girl. With a nice, normal life…
Right. Well, she could dream, couldn’t she?
She smiled once again, all trace of her stern demeanor gone. “So, Mr. Tough Guy, what are your plans for today?”
Seth glanced at the watch strapped to his wrist. “I’ve got a meeting in a little while.”
“Oh,” she placed the jeweler’s box in a gift bag, stuffing the top with bright green tissue. “With who?”
“The Amazing Zodan - our star attraction for the holiday crowd. You remember him, don’t you? He went to school with us.”
Memories of tall, lanky Anthony Zodan swirled through her mind.
“Jake and my Aunt Clarice booked him for the holidays, so we’re going to meet with him today. He’s the hottest thing going right now – a mentalist…and a magician.” Seth snapped his dark brows together. “I think the term for him is…”
“…mind freak.” Crystal replied, recalling the time she watched Anthony levitate before her very eyes. She remembered a sultry, summer night when she had been with a group of friends, including Seth and…Anthony. In her mind’s eye, Crystal could still see Anthony rising from the ground, his feet dangling in mid-air, the full moon bracketing his tall, lean, bony frame as a lone wolf howled in the distance. She remembered a large bird with talon-like claws that flew over Anthony’s head, circling in the dark night sky as he rose from the ground, a strange, gray mist swirling around him, then the mist had settled around her…
She fluffed the tissue in the gift bag, her hand trembling as memories of that night filled her mind. Crystal handed the bag to Seth. Pasting another smile on her face, and hoping that her voice sounded steady, she replied, “Anthony Zodan will be one more attraction Bride’s Inn can count on, besides all these fabulous weddings.” She angled her head. “Don’t let Serena see this bag.”
He frowned. “You’re right. Can I leave it here with you, away from beautiful prying green eyes?”
She laughed, grateful for the reverie they shared. It broke the tension that memories of a long-ago summer night…and Anthony Zodan…created. “Of course.”
“Okay then, I’ll be in next week to get it.”
“That’s fine. You can pick up the earrings, too.”
Seth made his way out of her shop, his long legs eating up the floor beneath him as the bell tinkled above his head.
Crystal grabbed some paper towels from underneath the counter. As she spritzed the glass countertop with her special cleaner, a breeze kicked up, blowing the cleaning fluid everywhere but where she wanted.
“Oh for Pete’s sake,” she muttered as she wiped the foaming liquid from the side of the cash register. She started to leave her shop, intent on closing the large front doors at the main entrance when the lights flickered, causing the bright, power-track lighting over her jewelry cases to fade, plunging her shop into a state of semi-darkness. “Damn,” Crystal muttered. She flipped the light switch on the wall behind her, but nothing happened.
The breeze kicked up again, this time it lifted the stack of papers by the cash register, scattering them in the air, blowing them across the floor. They floated along the tiles, some landing as far away as the entrance to her shop.
Crystal shuddered as the icy cold air swirled around her shoulders, lifting the ends of her hair, her shoulder-length tresses skimming her cheeks. She removed the errant strands and made her way towards the entrance. Crystal stopped when she saw a woman standing there. She wore a long white dress and held a bouquet of white roses in her hands.
“Can I help you?” Crystal’s eyes remained intent on the woman. Her beautiful gown had the most delicate beading and lacework Crystal had ever seen, but…
Parts of it seemed tattered and worn.
Crystal bit down on her lower lip as thoughts swirled through her mind. She didn’t hear the woman come in…hadn’t heard the tinkle of the bell above the entrance.
The odd woman stared straight ahead. Even though a veil covered her face, Crystal noticed that the woman’s eyes appeared wide and vacant. She never blinked once.
Crystal’s heart started to pound. “Are you looking for something in particular?”
The woman still didn’t answer as she moved towards the jewelry counters. Crystal swallowed hard as she watched the woman’s slippered feet. They barely skimmed the floor as she floated towards her, stopping near the display of diamond wedding jewelry. Crystal shook her head to clear it - she must seeing things!
The lights flickered again.
Crystal sighed. “I’m so sorry about this, but my lights aren’t working. Would you like to come back some other time?”
No answer.
“Great,” Crystal muttered under her breath.
The woman looked down at the diamond-studded rings, the ends of her tattered veil trailing across the glass countertop. The light might be dim, but Crystal noticed that the bride wore no rings, no jewelry graced her slim fingers, and when she gazed at Crystal’s dazzling diamond designs, what Crystal could see of the woman’s face seemed sad.
Okay, so this was another customer. A rather odd customer; but a customer just the same – and it looked like she had no intention of leaving.
“Why don’t you give those flowers to me?” Crystal asked, trying for some levity. “You won’t be able to try on anything if you’re holding your bouquet.” The woman’s knuckles grew taut, the thin skin stretching across the backs of her hands as she gripped the wilted roses. The woman’s skin had an odd, shimmery, translucent quality, as thought Crystal could see through her hand, straight to the counter…
Crystal shook her head to clear it of her crazy thoughts. “Please,” she told the woman. “It would be easier for you to try on those rings you’re looking at if you’d just give me your flowers.” Crystal tried hard to keep her tone neutral, but the woman wore her patience thin.
The woman didn’t reply…and she didn’t let go of the flowers.
Another thought passed through Crystal’s mind. Where was the groom? What wedding could possibly be going on now during the middle of the week, and if it was, why was this bride in her shop?
She pushed those thoughts aside. A customer was a customer – no matter how weird.
Crystal stuck out her hand. “Crystal Lane,” she said by way of introduction, giving the woman a small smile. The woman’s sad face and her wide, unblinking eyes remained fixed on the rings displayed in the case. “It’s a pleasure to meet you…Miss…Ms.”
Crystal sighed. “Okay, you don’t have to tell me your name. But please, let’s put those down.” She reached over the counter and grabbed hold of the flowers. Her eyes grew wide as the rose petals crumbled, disintegrating into thin air. Crystal’s throat constricted with fear. How old were those damned flowers? What kind of bride carried an old, dried bouquet?
The chill breeze blew once more, its icy tentacles creeping up Crystal’s legs. She shuddered as the bone-chilling cold permeated every pore in her body.
The woman started to move. “Hey!” Crystal shouted. “What are you doing?” Was this woman completely out of her mind? Where did she think she was going?
Before Crystal could utter another word, the woman floated straight through the counter! She stood in front of Crystal, staring at her with those wide, unblinking eyes, her cold, frigid breath forming a white, misty puff of frozen air around them.
Terror clogged Crystal’s chest as she grabbed the bottle of cleaning fluid and hurled it at the woman. It passed through the strange bride’s body, landing with a loud crash against a jewelry case, the sound of splintering glass echoing throughout Crystal’s shop.
The woman spun around, the tattered train of her dress swirling around her legs, the tiny beads and pearls glowing as she disappeared into thin air before Crystal’s eyes. Her hand shook as she raised it to her mouth, but the scream lodged in Crystal’s throat. She stared at the spot where the woman had been…
All that remained were the jagged pieces of glass from the jewelry case.
Crystal tore out of her shop and flew down the hall towards the lobby, hoping against hope to find Seth there…or Jake or…
“Oh God, please, someone please be there!” she cried, feeling her eyes well with tears. She ran, but her vision blurred, making it difficult to see. “No, don’t cry,” she chided herself. “Don’t cry!”
Crystal skidded to a halt in the lobby, her eyes darting everywhere in search of Seth’s familiar face or Jake, Seth’s friend – the general manager of Bride’s Inn.
Relief filled her when she saw Seth on the other side of the lobby, admiring the paintings that graced the walls.
“Seth!” she screamed.
He turned his head and glanced her way.
“Seth! Oh, Seth,” she cried.
She ran straight towards him, her heart racing, her mind filled with the strange, eerie image of the woman in white.
He opened his arms and reached for her just as she collapsed in a heap against his tall frame. She blinked as her blurry, terror-filled eyes took in the sight of him…
Dark hair brushed lean, fit shoulders. He wore all black, from head to toe – including a long, black leather duster. It trailed down to the tips of his black boots.
“Did you see her?” Crystal willed her tears to stop, her breath hitching. Slowly, her vision started to clear, and that’s when she noticed his eyes. Like liquid silver, piercing gray eyes bored down into hers.
He brushed her cheek with the back of his hand, his knuckles smoothing across her skin. She gazed upwards and saw her reflection in his eyes, saw her mouth form a wide ‘O’ of shock when his long fingers trailed across her chin. Crystal couldn’t stop gazing at his eyes for in their depths, she saw a strange vision...
A bird. A large, black bird flew overhead, its talon-like claws reaching out as it landed on her shoulder. When the bird turned its head, she saw that it had red eyes - they glowed from within, the color of rubies.
Nestled in Seth’s arms, she looked down to see a large, silver ring on the fourth finger of his right hand. Fashioned into a large bird – it resembled a hawk with ruby eyes.
Crystal breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that what she had just seen reflected in his eyes was the ring he wore…
Or was it?
She glanced at the ring again, it seemed…old, almost…ancient. Crystal had never seen such a ring before.
A pair of strong hands circled her waist, pulling her against him, cradling her between his long legs. Crystal’s thigh brushed his, her face heating when she felt the long, hard length of him against the inside of her right thigh. Sensual heat seared her skin, burning through the silk material of the dress that swirled around her knees. Then he spoke.
“I should be so lucky.”
Crystal blinked as his deep voice washed over her, filling every empty space within her heart. His narrow, sculpted face came into focus…and that voice – it didn’t sound like Seth …
Her eyes opened wide as he smiled down on her. “Like I said angel, I wish I were Seth, more than you’ll ever know.” He tugged her closer…and closer still, leaning down to brush his mouth across hers. “Sweet,” he muttered thickly. “So sweet.” He had the most beautiful mouth – his upper lip slightly fuller than the lower lip, and his cheekbones – they stuck out prominently beneath his long, lean, sculpted face. Long, jet-black lashes lined his amazing silver eyes…
Her eyes fluttered closed as her lips melded with his, the tip of her tongue trailing over his full upper lip. A shudder of pure erotic pleasure tore through her body as her fear melted away.
“You’re not Seth,” she whispered, barely able to speak. The feel of him…oh, it was…magic! Her body hummed, her pulse quickening when she felt his long fingers gently squeeze her waist, his stiff member brushing against her mound. Her clit pulsed with the most delicious throbbing sensation, making her body vibrate.
“Anthony Zodan,” he said by way of greeting.
She blinked as she registered his words, but it was hard to concentrate. In fact, it was getting hard to stand, too. Her head swam…the precursor to one of those damned headaches.
Crystal felt her knees give way as her body started to slide, her nipples peaking as her breasts brushed his chest. Warmth washed over and an all-consuming feeling of lethargy.
“Easy, angel,” he whispered. “I’ve got you.”
Her eyes closed and then she fainted dead away, her last thoughts being she didn’t want to wake up as strong arms lifted her against a very wide, warm chest.
“Pass the bottle under her nose. Yes, just like that.”
Through the hazy fog clouding her mind, Crystal thought she heard Serena’s cool, crisp voice. She snuggled into the warmth surrounding her, rubbing her face against something soft and silky …
“Don’t hold it there too long, just enough so she gets a good whiff.”
The strong odor of ammonia filled Crystal’s nostrils. She blinked rapidly as the pungent burning smell lined her nose, her throat tightening around the searing heat. She coughed, and that’s when she felt a hand against her back, a wide, warm palm tapping her between her shoulder blades, using just enough force to help her rid her throat and lungs of the acrid ammonia.
Her eyes stung. She blinked again, willing the tears in her eyes to dry, using her old trick of opening her eyes wide, then shutting them tight, squeezing them to stem the flow. Crystal breathed a sigh of relief when she felt her eyes dry and the ammonia burn leave her throat, but the blissful feeling of respite fled when she gazed at the scene before her.
Jake Roper ran into the small, crowded banquet office. “Looks like someone tried to rob her, Seth. I’m calling the police. They cracked open one of the jewelry cases.”
Rob her? No one tried to rob her. What was he talking about?
Seth nodded in agreement then he turned to glance at Crystal, his face drawn in tight lines. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, but that’s not what happened,” Crystal replied, fearing Jake would call the police if she didn’t do something. She moved to get up, but a strong arm circled her waist, pulling her back down until her head lay pillowed against a firm, broad shoulder.
“You’re staying right here, angel.” A deep voice whispered in her ear. “…until I’m positive that you’re okay.”
She turned to face the person who spoke and whose lap she rested on.
Anthony Zodan.
This wasn’t the same, tall, lanky boy she remembered from high school! The feel of his hard, muscled thighs created sensations in her bottom cheeks – like tiny little sparks of electric energy. When she felt his member swell against her backside, Crystal bolted up from his lap, rising to stand on shaky legs, her face heating with embarrassment. She tried to ignore the rapid beat of her pulse, feeling the Amazing Zodan’s eyes on her back the entire time.
“Please don’t call the police,” she implored, looking at Jake.
Jake snapped his tawny golden brows together. “Crystal, someone tried to rob you. We have to call the police.”
Miranda, Jake’s wife, placed an arm around Crystal’s shoulders. “Did they hurt you, Crystal? Are you sure that you’re okay?”
Crystal nodded, turning slightly, her eyes locking with the Amazing Zodan’s silver ones. She wasn’t okay…she was feeling flushed and a little woozy, but she couldn’t be sure of the cause as she gazed at his sensual, dark looks. Her hormones spun into overdrive.
Serena placed a hand against Crystal’s cheek. “I’m sorry about the smelling salts, but you passed out. It was pure luck that Mr. Zodan caught you before you hit the floor.”
Passed out! Crystal groaned inwardly, not sure of how much more embarrassment she could take.
“You stay put.” Serena eased her back down on the couch, next to the Amazing Zodan. His long, lean body radiated heat. Crystal had to fight the urge to snuggle against him.
Crystal shook her head. “No, I can’t just sit here like this. I don’t want anyone calling the police.” She rose from the couch once more, placing a good amount of distance between herself and Anthony Zodan.
A nice, safe distance…as far away as she could get so her traitorous hormones would calm down.
He uncoiled his tall muscled body from the couch, rising to his feet. Her eyes remained glued to his. How had she missed those tiny, glowing red centers in the middle of his dove gray irises? They resembled the eyes of that bird on his large silver ring…
She tore her eyes from his and faced Miranda and Serena. “I’m fine.” Crystal patted Miranda’s swollen belly. “And a woman who’s due to give birth to her second child in the next few days shouldn’t be on her feet.”
“Nonsense,” Miranda replied, her smoky violet eyes large and round. “It’s you who needs to rest. Isn’t that right, Serena? Crystal seems too pale.”
“Absolutely,” Serena nodded in agreement. “She’s had quite a shock.”
“What’s going on?” All eyes turned to see Clarice Masters, Seth’s elderly aunt, standing by the entrance to the banquet office. She walked over to Crystal and laid a wrinkled hand against her cheek. “What happened?” She asked, her voice filled with worry.
Crystal blew out a shaky breath. “I-I think I saw the Lady In White. Th-that ghost that haunts this inn.”
It became deathly quiet. Crystal swore she could hear a pin drop.
Clarice shook her head. “Oh my, I was wondering when it was going to happen.”

Anthony Zodan stood off to the side watching as the owners of Bride’s Inn formed a protective circle around Crystal. An angel…that’s what she was. The beautiful woman who had collapsed in his arms just needed wings.
Crystal. The name suited her – it always had. With her light blue eyes, the color of topaz, and that long, pale blonde hair, she seemed ethereal. His shoulders slumped as he recalled the taunts he endured growing up. No one ever understood his curiosity for magic arts. The need to perform – the need to create illusion burned bright within him.
Like his need for Crystal. He also remembered that Crystal only wanted Gray’s Point High’s star quarterback…Bobby Michaels.
Anthony shut his eyes again, swallowing back the pain of hearing Bobby Michael’s voice ring in his ears as he boasted to his friends that he had fucked Crystal Lane.
He shook his head to clear it. All this talk of ghosts was getting to him.
Crystal was very real…and more beautiful than he remembered. The years melted away and time seemed to stand still for just a few seconds as he gazed at her.
Anthony glanced at her dress – a pale, gauzy creation that barely skimmed her knees. White, knee-hi boots trimmed with silver and tiny, ice blue crystals adorned her long, shapely legs. She wore a silver belt around what he considered the smallest waist he had ever laid eyes on…and had the pleasure to hold. His fingers tingled, their tips buzzing from the little contact he had with Crystal.
He placed two of those tingling fingers against his lips, recalling the taste and feel of her mouth…
Again he shook his head. There was no magic in the world and of all people, he should know, but when he gazed at Crystal, he seemed to lose all sense of time and space…and reason.
His cock swelled in response to his heated thoughts about Crystal. Anthony wondered if she had felt it earlier, wondered if she liked it or…not. How many times had he imagined making love to her over the years since he’d moved away from his hometown of Gray’s Point on Long Island’s North Shore? Gazing at Crystal now, he felt the urge to be back home…and stay there. It tugged at his heartstrings, creating a tight feeling in his chest.
Crystal turned away from all eyes but his knowing ones, placing a hand against her temple, closing her eyes as her face formed tight lines. It bothered him to see her face grimace in pain, her lovely features pulled into taut lines as she massaged her right temple. He had the most unholy urge to find the perpetrators, to hunt down the person or persons who attempted to rob his ethereal angel’s shop…he’d make them pay for hurting her…for causing her all this distress, this pain this…
He walked over to her, his body stiff with anger and…desire.
A deadly combination.
“I think you should lie down,” he said quietly, his body inches from hers. He turned so that he shielded her from the rest of the small room’s occupants as they gathered to confer about Crystal Jewelers and its lovely owner.
She shook her head, but he could see the slight movement pained her.
“I-I’m fine, really.” She raised her eyes to his. Faint blue veins lay beneath the surface of her pale, translucent skin. “I owe you an apology,” she told him, her voice quivering. “I thought…”
He placed two fingers against her lips. “No apology needed, angel.” He drew his brows together. “Does your head hurt?”
Her eyes filled with tears. The sight of them made his heart squeeze painfully in his chest. “It will pass,” she replied.
Twice he saw her start to cry and twice she had stopped. Why? She used to do that in high school, too. Like that time he saw her near her locker…alone…her eyes filled with pain and heartache as shimmery tears welled in the corners of her eyes. She choked them back as she tossed her load of books in her locker.
Anthony cradled the side of her head in his hand. “Look at me,” he commanded, his voice pitched low. When she didn’t raise her head, he lifted it gently, until her eyes met his. “Look directly into my eyes, angel.”
She did, raising her pale blue eyes slowly until they locked with his. “Now, relax one muscle at a time. Start at the very top of your beautiful head.”
Her eyes grew wide.
He smiled into them. “That’s what you are…you always were…beautiful.” Anthony massaged the side of her head and neck, his fingers kneading the tight muscles. He continued to croon softly. “You’re going to feel each muscle, each tendon unwind.” He rubbed her soft skin and silky hair, his heart tripping happily in his chest when her stiff, tense muscles loosened. “Keep your eyes focused on mine, angel.”
Crystal’s eyes dilated with each pass of his fingers. He bent his head slightly, inhaling her heady scent – a mixture of some sweet, flowery fragrance and something strong and earthy. She smelled fresh, new…
“Crystal, you really saw the Lady in White?”
She didn’t answer Serena’s question, but continued to gaze into his eyes. “Crystal? Did you hear me?”
He cupped Crystal’s chin in his palm and gave it a gentle squeeze. She blinked several times, her pale lashes sweeping across her cheeks.
“What?” She glanced at Serena, stepping away from Anthony. He felt instantly bereft. “Yes. I saw her. She came into my shop. She didn’t speak, but…” Crystal lifted a hand to her throat. “She didn’t utter a sound, but kept looking at the engagement rings and wedding bands in one of my jewelry cases. Serena,” she gripped her friend’s arm. “I swear, the Lady in White had the saddest look on her face and then…” She caught her breath. “Then she walked straight through the display case. I got so scared that I threw the bottle of glass cleaner at her but it bounced on the case and broke the glass.”
Miranda spoke next. Raising her elegant dark brows, she replied, “So you’ve joined our little club. You’ve seen her, too.”
“That’s ridiculous.”
All eyes turned towards Anthony.
“There is no scientific proof that ghosts exist.”
Clarice walked up to him. She narrowed her bright, blue eyes. “The skeptics who come to Bride’s Inn take the hardest fall, Mr. Zodan.” She poked him in the chest.
He grinned, admiring her spunk. “And who might you be, madam?”
“Clarice Masters. I’m one of the owners.”
Anthony beetled his brows. “Clarice Masters…C. Masters…are you the C. Masters who created those magnificent landscape paintings in the lobby?”
She smiled. “That’s me. You’ve seen them?”
He gave Crystal a sideways glance. “I was admiring them when Crystal came barreling into the lobby…and my arms.”
Crystal’s face turned pink. His body leapt into overdrive when he saw the rapid rise and fall of her pert breasts outlined beneath that silky, filmy dress she wore.
“Well, as long as you’re all right, that’s all that matters.” Jake Roper nodded at Crystal. “Seth, how about giving me a hand? We’ll grab a couple of the maintenance guys and get Crystal’s shop cleaned up.”
“Absolutely,” Seth replied. He patted Crystal’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about a thing.”
“I’ll help you.” Crystal moved towards them, but Anthony reached out and snagged her belt, halting her movements. She turned to face him, her chin set at a stubborn angle. “You should rest,” he told her. He had to stop himself from leaning down and kissing her mouth, set in mulish lines. His body burned when he thought about fusing his mouth with hers again. “You still look pale.”
She lifted one platinum, white-blonde brow. “Thank you for your concern.”
“Of course I’m concerned,” he snapped. Softening his tone, he grinned. “I care very much about beautiful women who hurl themselves at me.”
Crystal folded her arms across her chest. “Even ones who see ghosts?”
He laughed. “Yes. Even those.”
She took a step towards him. “You don’t believe me.” Her voice sounded flat and…disappointed.
He wanted to tell her yes, he believed her. Hell, he wanted to tell Crystal anything - anything that would wipe that crestfallen look from her face.
“You’re one of those debunkers, aren’t you?” Her voice held challenge. “You claim there’s a rational, reasonable explanation for everything.”
All eyes focused on him. “I venture to say that I can explain anything…including the existence of this mysterious ghost, this Lady in White.’”
Crystal’s voice vibrated with anger. “I know what I saw.”
For once, he wished he could say that he believed in ghosts - in her tale of a mysterious figure that walked through solid objects.
He sighed. “I’m sure you saw something.” Her frosty look made him sorry he said anything, but he pushed on. “The power of suggestion can be strong. I’m sure, working at Bride’s Inn, you’ve heard the tales of the Lady in White, so naturally, you just assumed it was she.”
“I saw her, too.” Serena told him. “When I first came to Bride’s Inn.”
“So did I,” Miranda added her two cents.
“We did, too.” Seth and Jake chimed in.
He glanced at the four of them, their faces set in determined lines.
Clarice spoke next. “I believe that my nephew, Seth, and his friend,” she cast a warm glance at Seth and Jake. “…and my niece and her dear friend ,” she beamed at Serena and Miranda. “…have seen her. The Lady in White shows herself to those who need her most.”
Crystal’s eyes flew to Clarice’s.
“One of the usual explanations people use to justify a ghostly sighting,” Anthony scoffed.
His angel turned to face him. “I don’t lie.”
Anthony held up a hand, palm out. “I didn’t say you did.”
“I know what I saw. And I won’t be dissuaded, even by you.”
He angled his head. “You have something against me, Crystal?” Her eyes shone bright with glittery tears. Great. Just what he needed. He glanced at the stubborn faces of the very people who hired him – and at quite an expense. They hadn’t balked at paying him his exorbitant fee – and his required large deposit without so much as batting an eye. If he didn’t need the money, he’d just as well leave this crazy bunch to their ‘haunt.’
“There are some things that just can’t be explained in scientific terms,” Crystal stated, her voice firm.
He raised a brow. “Like what?”
She inhaled sharply. Then a tear slipped from her eye…and another…and another…
As each one fell, they changed into tiny, glistening crystals, each one rolling down her pale cheeks and chin to land against the front of her dress. They clung to the material, forming a shimmery shield.
When the next tiny crystal slipped from her eye, Anthony reached out, catching it on the tip of his index finger. It glowed softly under the light, the small, crystalline bead winking at him.
“How did you do that?” he whispered.
Crystal’s hand flew to her mouth, stifling a sob. She ran towards the door and wrenched it open.
All he could do was stare as his angel ran through the doorway, her boot heels clicking across the floor.
Jake shook his head, giving Anthony a wry look. “Welcome to Bride’s Inn.”
Anthony stared at the tiny crystal that lay on the tip of his finger. In the next instant, it shrunk and disappeared before his eyes.
Seth nodded in Anthony’s direction. “And just how do you explain that, Mr. Magician?”
Anthony Zodan, the world’s foremost illusionist and debunker of everything everyone held true…
Didn’t have a damned clue.

copyright 2007 by Catherine Chernow
This excerpt is subject to final edit and may differ slightly from the final version

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Tory Richards said...

I like your book cover!