Authors: Cate Dean
CARRY ON WAYWARD SON
THE CLAIRE WICHE CHRONICLES BOOK 3
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without written permission of the author, except for use in any review. This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, locales, and events are either pure invention or used fictitiously. No character is based on or inspired by any known or unknown persons, and all incidents come from the author’s imagination alone.
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Claire Wiche is home again—and putting together the pieces of her life. The life she thought she left behind forever.
Now that new life is tested by a familiar stranger, and a ghost haunting that becomes much more.
Claire and her friend Annie will have to face off with a volatile force, who traps them with his own needs. And Claire will face her true self, making a sacrifice that will change what she is, and what she will become.
ocus, now, Mildred.” Laying out a quick three card spread, Claire Wiche set down her tarot deck and gently pushed away the old woman’s grasping fingers. “You know how this works.”
“I just want the answer, girl, not a lecture on tarot.”
Claire smiled, swallowing the numerous remarks she wished she could say. “All in good time. You want the answer, you need to follow the steps. The ritual.”
“Fine.” Mildred mumbled something under her breath, but she kept her hands to herself.
Nodding, Claire continued, wanting to be done with the reading. She had a headache building behind her eyes—and she could tell already it was going to be a monster. “Now, ask your question, out loud—and without a complaint attached. It could skew the reading.”
Mildred clasped her hands together, let out her breath. “Does Jeremy love me?”
Her faded eyes shone with hope, and that kept Claire from rushing the reading, or directing her to ask a different question. She adjusted the soft leather band on her left wrist, covering her scarred triquetra, and turned over the first card. Mildred let out her breath.
“This is the other person.” Claire managed not to flinch; the card was the Knight of Cups—reversed. Which marked her intended beloved as unreliable and reckless, as well as a liar. “And this is you, Mildred.” She said a silent prayer and turned over the second card. The Queen of Swords. Reversed.
Mildred hissed—and Claire had to grab her wrist to keep her from slapping the card off the table.
“I am not intolerant and narrow minded!”
“Mildred.” Claire kept her voice quiet, soothing. “You know the cards can be fickle. Perhaps we should wait for another time—”
“I want to see the last card.”
She tried not to cringe at Mildred’s high-pitched whine. “All right. This is your relationship.”
Closing her eyes briefly, she turned over the third card. And waited for the temper explosion.
“The Three of Pentacles reversed? You pulled three reversed cards—”
“I had you pull them, Mildred—”
The old woman kept going, talking over Claire. “Three cards meant to doom my relationship! Cards that lie about both of us! Jeremy is a wonderful man—he would never lie to me, never use me—”
“Mildred.” Claire gripped both of her hands. “I need you to calm down. There is nothing to this—they are simple cards, chosen at random.” And told the truth, this time, in colorful detail. Claire knew this Jeremy, and dreaded the day he tried to work his snake oil charm on her. Or, heaven help him, Annie. “If it is meant to be, it will happen—no matter what the cards say.” Claire stood; rubbing at her now throbbing temple she moved behind Mildred’s chair and helped the still angry old woman to her feet. “I will send you home with a pink candle and some rose quartz. No charge,” she added, before Mildred could protest. “Consider it part of the reading. I’ll put them in a bag for you.”
Grabbing what she needed on her way to the front counter, she nestled the quartz in a small silver box, wrapped the candle in tissue and slipped them both in one of her nicer handle bags, adding more tissue.
She knew Mildred had been bitterly disappointed by the reading, but the old woman forced down the rest of her complaints, which made Claire feel even more generous. Handing over the bag, she gripped the counter when pain stabbed through her head.
“Are you all right, dear? You look even more pale than usual.”
“Just a headache. I’ll be fine. Thank you for your concern, Mildred. I am sorry the reading didn’t go well for you—”
“There’s always tomorrow. And I’ll bring my own deck next time. You rest up,” she patted Claire’s hand. “I want you at your best. A Celtic Cross will take all your talent.”
Proud she didn’t cringe, Claire managed a smile. “I look forward to the challenge.”
She waited until Mildred toddled out of sight, then locked the door, pushing the sign to Closed before she switched off the lights. The headache had a nasty grip on her now; she would be lucky to make it to the back room, never mind going home.
She rubbed the vise-like pain at the back of her neck, still startled when her fingers met the shoulder length ends of her hair. Less than a month was not enough time to adjust to her shorn hair, when she had worn it long for decades.
She got as far as the reading table. Clutching the back of the chair, she used it to sink to the floor, every move making her nauseous. Cradling her head, she moaned as another jolt of pain tore through her head.
The vision slammed into her, as fast and vivid as the first one she had been subjected to. The day she met Marcus. The Jinn’s power yanked her out of the quiet shop and into a sand-whipped landscape.
Heat surrounded him, from sun and wind. Sweat poured down his bare torso, the wind drying it as fast as he could produce it. His left arm shook—the arm that had been all but useless when he left her. Now it trembled under the weight of a heavy sword, the scar from his gunshot wound stark and white against his sun-darkened skin.
Claire flinched with him when his opponent’s blade nicked his bicep. She felt the scorching heat, the hot bite of the wind, the sand that found its way into every opening in her clothes. And she felt every emotion, every pain that Marcus felt as he moved across the burning sand.
The sight of him twisted her heart. Tall, lean, thinner than when he left her. His hair was longer, tied back in a curling black tail that hung between his shoulders. Sunlight winked off the hamsa he wore in his left ear as he danced lightly over the sand, graceful and deadly.
His opponent towered over him, swinging an axe that could cut a bull in half. She let out a cry as Marcus ducked a sideways blow and whirled out of range.
“Better, Jinn. But not good enough.” His opponent propped the axe on the sand and rested one arm on top of the massive handle. His other arm wiped sweat off his angled, handsome face. Thick black dreadlocks fell to his waist, banded with silver and small medallions. “If you follow through with your foolish plan and appear at their mockery of a trial, one of them will take your head off before you can duck.”
“I will move fast enough to suit both of us, Jamal.” That deep, sand rough voice wrapped around her, eased the pain drumming through her head. The pain faded more as she was drawn into the conversation between the two men. “It is my life I am fighting for; another life I am fighting to return to, if she will have me.”
“The sweet little demon?” Claire blinked, startled by his blatant description. “She intrigues, Marcus. I would meet her, before my time on this plane is done.”
“Only if you keep from calling her a sweet little demon.”
With a fierce smile, Jamal swung the axe up and rushed him. Marcus met the weapon with his heavy blade. Metal slid against metal. The sound of it sang through the air, scraped through her mind.
Claire clutched her head, dropped to her knees. Straight through the sand and on to the hard wood floor of her shop. She let out a raw cry and toppled, darkness rushing up at her.
unning down the tree-lined sidewalk on Forest, Annie Sullivan cursed under her breath.
She was late—again. And her excuse was the same. Again.
She wouldn’t blame Claire for being mad at her. Two speeding tickets in the same week was a sorry ass excuse for being late during their busiest time after the solstice festival. And not finding a parking space closer than two blocks turned that into a whiny ass excuse. With Halloween less than a week away, she knew better than to—
Her thoughts flew out of her head when she skidded to a halt in front of the store. The lights were off. Heart pounding, she tried the door, swallowing when she found it locked.
The last time this happened she found Marcus inside, bloody and unconscious after Claire flung him against the wall. Just before she ran off to try and stop her cousin Natasha from hurting some innocent girl. Her cousin—who turned out to be the vessel of choice for a demon.
Fingers shaking, Annie pulled out her key and unlocked the door.
“Claire?” No body blocked the door as she pushed it open. She let out her breath, closed and locked the door behind her. Just until she knew what was what. “Claire—are you here?”
She flipped on the lights—and a low moan from the back had her dropping her bag on the run. Panic shot through her when she saw Claire curled on the floor, whiter than her shirt and soaked with sweat.
“Annie . . .”
“Shush.” Dropping down next to her, Annie carefully brushed wet hair off her face. Then she helped Claire uncurl herself, until she was stretched out on the floor. Pulling off her jacket, she draped it over Claire and stood. “Don’t you move. Not a muscle.”
“No worries there.”
She still had her sense of humor. That made Annie feel a little better. Stalking into the back room, she hunted through the small fridge, found several bottles of water, and what looked like half a sandwich from Lily’s fabulous little takeout down the street.
Along with the sandwich, Annie grabbed all the bottles she could hold, and dumped them on the reading table before crouching next to Claire. “I’m going to help you sit. Slow, Claire—don’t play the ‘I’m all right’ card with me.” She slipped one arm under her friend’s shoulders, appalled by how thin she felt under the loose shirt. With Claire clutching her other hand, Annie eased her up. “Stay.”
She snagged the first bottle of water she could reach and opened it, pushing it into Claire’s hand. After a couple of false starts, Claire managed to swallow most of it. Annie took the bottle, wrapped one arm around her waist, and pulled her to her feet, lowering her to the chair before she could sink to the floor again.
“You eat, I don’t take you to the emergency room. Deal?”
With a sigh, Claire started to unwrap the sandwich, cursed as her fingers shook against the paper. She laid her hands on the table, whispered into the silence. “I saw Marcus.”
Shock jolted through Annie. “He’s here? Why the hell did he leave you face down on the floor—”
“I had a vision.”
Annie sank to the other chair. “Bad?”
“It felt like I was there, Annie.” Swallowing, Claire looked at her, blue eyes dark with pain. “Hot sun, hot wind, and sand as far as I could see. He was fighting another man—not fighting, training. For some trial. His arm was better, but he looked thin, tired—”
“Like you?” She ignored Claire’s flinch. “You think I haven’t noticed? Only you lost more weight than even I thought. Loose shirts, flowy skirts, bulky sweaters—they helped hide the fact that you are practically down to bone. What the hell, Claire? I thought I was your friend, your sister. Why haven’t you told me why you’re letting yourself just waste away?”
“It wasn’t intentional—the wasting or the hiding.” Sighing, Claire rubbed her face, pushed back her red laced brown hair. Annie had finally gotten used to seeing the shorter waves that brushed her shoulders instead of the long cloud of hair that always floated around her. “I’ve felt—off, since we returned from Huntsville. I don’t know if it’s because I can’t touch my power, or if what happened with Jane simply took more out of me than I thought.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? Or Simon? Why do you always think you have to suffer alone?”
A smile tugged at her mouth. “Maybe because I have spent so much of my existence doing just that.”
“Well, stop, damn it. Stop thinking like the demon, and start acting like the mortal.” Claire blinked at her, obviously surprised. “You don’t have that superior metabolism, or whatever it was that kept you from becoming a walking skeleton. Time to remember you’re human, and start taking the responsibility that comes with it. Now eat.”