Set against the backdrop of secret missions, mistaken identities, Nazi spies, and larger than life characters, Mia and Jake discover that the past isn't always what it seems…
Mia staggered and a strong hand gripped her elbow while a gruff voice boomed in her ear. “Don’t be stupid; Betty is dead. And this poor thing certainly isn’t her ghost. Now move back.”
A chair seemed to materialize behind Mia’s knees, and she sank into it gratefully. Someone handed her a glass of water, which she took with a shaking hand. The glass was clean, but the water was lukewarm. She sipped it and pulled a face.
“Are you sick?”
Mia shook her head as she looked around her. Dizziness made the people in front of her appear fuzzy. One moment she was standing in the desert serving cheesecake, and the next she was inside a strange house surrounded by a gaggle of women in old-fashioned dresses. Cigarette smoke was thick in the air along with the cloying scent of Chanel No. 5.
Mia’s stomach twisted as she looked around. She knew this place from the old black and white pictures she had found in her grandmother’s battered tin box. It all looked the same, yet different. Larger than life, especially the woman who stood in front of her. Mia recognized her with a jolt. How could this be?
“I know I told Mac I needed another hostess, but I didn’t expect him to fly one in so soon.” The gruff voiced woman was murmuring almost to herself. “And why he picked one who looks so much like Betty, I’ll never know. But that’s a man for you.” Then she turned to Mia. “What’s your name, sweetie?”
“Well, Mia. I’m Blythe Skye, but I expect you already know that. I don’t stand on ceremony, so you’re to call me Sarge. Everyone does. I wasn’t expecting Mac to find a replacement for poor Betty quite this soon.” She glanced at her watch, and Mia could see it was a man’s silver watch. Then she paused and took hold of Mia’s chin, moving her head around. “Are you any relation to Betty Bishop?”
Mia carefully kept her expression blank as she shook her head. Hopefully, no one could see her surprise. She must have been successful, for Sarge continued without pausing.
“The resemblance is astonishing, but now that I take a closer look, I can see the differences between you. Well, no matter. I won’t be expecting you to go to work tonight since you’ve arrived so late in the day. However, I’ve been so busy, I haven’t had time to clean out her room—”
“I could do that.” Mia interrupted. “I wouldn’t mind.”
“I’ll help,” a tall, thin brunette offered.
“Thank you, Annie,” Sarge replied, “but the Colonel’s bringing out some VIPs from the flight test today, so I’ll need you in the dining room.”
Annie turned away with a shrug and a sullen look on her face.
“Let me introduce you to the rest of the hostesses,” Sarge said. She pointed to each young woman as she said her name.
Mia could still hardly believe she wasn’t dreaming. She’d looked at these women’s faces so often, she felt as if she knew them. Their names, scrawled on the back of the old photos, were as familiar to her as her own. She’d have to remember to fake a few mistakes.
“Bea,” Sarge turned to a short and slightly plump blond. “Perhaps you could show Mia to her new room and tell Mac to bring in a couple of boxes from the stable so she can pack up Betty’s belongings.” She shook her head with a sad expression. “I don’t know what we’re going to do with them. The poor child had no family.”
Mia opened her mouth to protest but instead of speaking, she lifted her fingers to hide a fake yawn. Betty Bishop had to have had a family or at least a child somewhere…for she was Betty’s granddaughter!
The screech of a screen door opening and the sound of male laughter wafted in. The women scattered, putting out cigarettes and checking their lipstick in a large gilt-framed mirror.
“Are you ready?” the woman named Bea asked. “It’ll have to be quick as I need to get back to work.”
Mia nodded and followed Bea out of the large room and down a dimly lit hallway. There were six rooms, three on each side. Bea led her to the last room on the right.
“Here’s Betty’s—” then she paused, “I mean, your room. I’ll go have Mac round up a box. I don’t suppose it will take more than one to pack up her things. She didn’t have much, but what she did have is nice. I’m glad Sarge didn’t give Annie the chance to get in here.”
“Why’s that?” Mia asked, looking around the room. The small twin bed was neatly made. A hairbrush, mirror, and several pairs of earrings were scattered on the top of the bureau. She was anxious to poke through Betty’s things for clues to her past, but didn’t want to rush Bea away. Mia could be patient, she’d have all night to snoop.
“Well, let’s just say things tend to disappear around Annie,” Bea replied. She, too, appeared to be gazing around the room. “It’s so hard to believe Betty’s dead. I saw her at breakfast this morning, and she was just glowing with happiness. But that might be my imagination since I’d like to remember her that way, instead of how I…”
There was a moment of silence.
“You were her friend. That’s what friends do.” Mia finally said.
Bea laughed, and the look she gave Mia was nothing short of sly. “Oh, honey. None of us are friends here. We work together and on the outside it all looks like moonbeams and roses, but on the inside, we’re all competing for the same thing.”
“Competing for what?”
Bea elbowed her in the ribs. “As if you don’t know.”
When Mia didn’t answer, Bea took a closer look at her.
“You really don’t know?”
Mia shook her head.
Bea leaned in conspiratorially. “Men. We’re all here for the men.”
“But I thought…” Mia began. She’d heard all the rumors. Even the kitchen staff at Blythe Skye’s one hundredth birthday party had been talking about it. Was the Blythe Skies Ranch really a brothel?
Bea smiled at her expression. “Oh honey, you didn’t fall for all that hostess malarkey did you? With only about twenty women in the area and a hundred flyboys at the base, the odds are pretty good you’ll leave here with a diamond ring on your finger.” She smiled and her eyes sparkled with mischief. She put her hands on her hips and stood with her legs apart. When she spoke, her voice had lowered almost an octave. “Honey, there’s only three ways to a man’s heart – his stomach, his cock, or by sawing through the breastbone. The Blythe Skies Ranch has the first two covered, and we can hire out the third.”
Mia giggled at Bea’s imitation of Sarge.
“Anyway, if you need anything, just knock on the wall by the bed. I’m right next door.”
“There is one thing.”
“How did Betty die?”
Bea paused, an odd look on her face. “I’m sorry, I thought you knew. She was raped and murdered. In this very room.” A small bell trilled and Bea started. “I’m sorry, I have to go.”
She left, shutting the door behind her. Mia had the sudden urge to run after Bea, tell her she didn’t belong here, that somehow, some way, she’d come from the future and wanted to go back. She choked back a sob. All that would get her was a one-way ticket to the loony-bin, if she didn’t end up there anyway—or in jail. The thought made her shiver. So far, Blythe Skye hadn’t asked any hard questions as she assumed Mac had hired Mia. When everyone had a chance to compare stories, it would fast become obvious he hadn’t picked her up at all.
A loud knock on the door made her squeak with surprise. She put her hand over her heart as if to still its frantic beating. What if Betty’s killer had returned?
Mia watched as the knob turned, and the door swung open.
“Oh, hello. I didn’t realize you were in here already.” A small man, looking like a wizened elf wearing faded blue overalls over a dark blue dress shirt, peered at her. She’d only seen pictures of Mac when he was old, but she would have recognized him as he looked exactly the same. “Bea asked me to bring you a box for Betty’s things.”
Mia gave him a weak smile. “You must be Mac.”
“Sarge said you looked like Betty.” The old man tipped his head from one side to the other. “I don’t see it myself.” He reached down and picked up a box, handing it to her. “I also brought up your bag.”
For a moment, she panicked. Obviously, Mac had picked up a woman and in a few minutes, Mia would be forced to explain where she came from and then all hell would break loose.
Mac tried to hand her a small duffle bag. Despite her attempts to act natural, he must have seen her hesitation.
“Don’t worry, honey. Sarge gives these to all the girls. Mostly because what you have isn’t quite up to par with the quality she insists on. There’s a riding habit, a dinner dress, and a couple of day dresses in here as well as,” the old man blushed bright red and thrust the bag at her, “well, you know, undergarments. You wear your own shoes and jewelry, if you have any.”
“Oh, thanks.” Mia took the bag.
“And miss, I’m really sorry you had to walk out to the ranch. Sarge told me you were pretty beat when you arrived. Lately, I’ve been terrible forgetful.” He scratched his head. “Then, with Betty’s death this morning…”
Relief washed over her, and Mia felt like she could finally take a full breath. “Oh, that’s all right,” she assured him, then she hastened to ask him the question preying on her mind. “Did they catch the man who killed her?”
Mac shook his head. “No, they thought they had, but it ended up Captain Sands was in a meeting at the time of the murder. I wouldn’t count on the Army figuring it out. They’re more concerned with looking good to the public. I think they’d just sooner cover it up and forget it happened.”
Is that what had happened? Had the Army covered it up? But, that was all wrong. Betty had been a spy, captured and imprisoned. Not murdered. Perhaps this Betty wasn’t her grandmother. But the year was correct. Things just weren’t making any sense.
Unexpectedly, Mia’s stomach rumbled.
Mac chuckled. “Sarge said I was to take you to the kitchen and get you some supper. She’ll give you a tour of the place and go over all the rules in the morning.”
Damn, she couldn’t very well protest she wasn’t hungry now. Her hands itched with the desire to start opening drawers and looking through all of Betty’s things, searching for clues to who Betty really was. She swallowed her impatience, and with a sense of regret followed Mac out of the room.
I hope you enjoyed this exclusive excerpt from Mojave Moon, available now from Dark Eden Press!
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