[BookStrand Romantic Suspense]
Mysterious lavender haze, which lingers around each victim, seems only visible to Heather Highmark. The haze defines each person. The fledgling physic doesn't yet trust her powers, but someone with a strong lavender aura is murdering members of the Recreation League one person at a time.
Heather must discover who the lavender feather murderer is before she strikes again and she loses the two people closest to her in the world. Her brother Roy and his friend, her lover Langdon Cruise, could be next. Her only clue is the face in the lavender haze and time is running out.
She is a deadly femme fatale out for revenge against real or perceived wrongs, and no one is safe.
"I'm sure you all know someone who has an office or business persona and a personal face they use when they are socializing. Take this a step farther as Elinore Muich does when she becomes Lavender Paige, and you have a deadly femme fatale out for revenge. If you get in her way she'll chew you up and spit you out, going over, under, around, or through you to achieve her goal. Thus my story Lavender Lust is born." ~Cricket~
A BookStrand Mainstream Romance
Elinore Muich pulled her car around into the alley beside The Wizard’s Bookstore. She watched the front entrance until the light over the door was extinguished, indicating the book store was closed for the night. The storm had left wide swatches of the city without power. Fortunately, The Wizard’s was spared, but many of the streets took on an eerie glow where only those with private generators had minimal power to remain open.
Everyone was told to stay put since stray power poles and trees twisted, downed, or in some way compromised by the storm, made travel hazardous. Elinore wasn’t worried about storm-weakened poles or trees. She was worried about a strong-willed young woman who claimed to see things future and past. She was worried about a young woman whose powers could wreak havoc with Lavender Paige’s existence and plans. Elinore was worried because this young woman named Heather could come between Lavender’s revenge, Lavender’s justice, and she simply could not allow that to happen.
Those people Lavender targeted had first targeted her in one way or another. There was no recourse but to snuff their miserable lights out. How dare they treat her like a piece of meat, an object of their animal lust? Vulgar men, vindictive women. The thoughts angered her as she slid from behind the steering wheel, popping the black telescoping handle of the black and white umbrella open as she held it out the door.
The wind tugged at the large Saks 5th Avenue black and white umbrella and the stinging rain tried to sneak under it to sully her white London Fog raincoat. Quickly she pulled herself out of the car, tugged up the collar of her raincoat to prevent the torrents of bitter rain from soaking into her.
Elinore knocked at the back door as Heather had instructed her to do. She felt an almost clandestine twinge, as though she had suddenly become Mata Hari or some other spy-worthy woman with a mission. Could she steel her mind to project only what she willed Heather Highmark to read from her tarot cards? She wondered. The girl was an amateur, her powers untested. It wasn’t like she’d solved some immense mass-murderer’s crime. Elinore had researched the newspaper archives to find out just how powerful Heather’s psychic abilities were in helping the police solve crimes. So far, as she could ascertain, her help had been minimal to this point. But Elinore also remembered the admonition from her mentor: “Keep your enemies close, Elinore, so you will always know what they’re up to,” he had said.
It was impossible to know at this point if Heather was an enemy. It was true she was helping Chief Grueder, that bumbling keystone cop, with his investigation of the—what was it the papers had dubbed them?—ah yes, ‘Purple Feather Murders’. The hilarity of the press’ unimaginative name, using the killer’s signature purple feather as the name for the murders, it was so like their narrow minded small town reportage.
“Ms. Muich, please come in,” Heather said as she opened the door. The wind swooshed in rain and a few stray scraps of paper danced across the floor. “Some storm we had, wasn’t it?” she said.
Elinore twirled her umbrella to shake the rain from it before closing it. “Bad luck, having an open umbrella inside a building,” she said by way of explanation, seeing Heather’s quizzical expression over the flourish and ritual with the umbrella.
“I’ve heard that, but I’m not superstitious,” she said, leading the way through the storage area at the back of the store. “You can hang your coat here if you wish.” She pointed to an old-fashioned coat tree and handed Elinore a hanger. She waited while Elinore slipped out of the white coat. She could see envy in Heather’s eyes as she carefully draped the coat over the hanger and hung it on the coat tree. You’ll never go to London and buy your coat direct from there, working in a dingy little bookstore like this, doing tarot card readings during your off-time, she wanted to tell her, but she didn’t dare. She didn’t presume a friendship, especially not of that caliber, where none existed. Instead she smiled demurely, silently following Heather to her tarot reading area.
“Ever since I was a child visiting my grandparents’ farm in the summer, I’ve loved storms. They energize me,” Heather said, motioning to Elinore to be seated at the table. “My grandfather used to sit on the front porch and cheer on the storms, his German expletives punctuating the air after each clap of thunder.”
“Every child should have such fun in a storm. There would no longer be fear, only respect for Mother Nature’s power,” Elinore said.
There was an air of camaraderie between them, which seemed to feed on the electrically charged atmosphere still contained in the stormy night as Heather spread the silk cloth over the small table.
“I see you’ve been involved with the police department’s investigation of those murders here lately,” Elinore said.
“A little. Chief Grueder is hoping I’ll be able to ‘see’ something at the scene of the crimes, but I’m afraid my powers are not that strong,” Heather said, shuffling the cards.
“What does he think you can see?” she asked more for herself, wanting to know what Heather might discover about the murders. ‘Keep your enemies close,” her mentor’s voice echoed again in her mind’s ear.
“I’m not sure. A lead, the killer’s face, any shred that might get him a place to start with this case.”
“According to the papers, they haven’t clue one.”
“Other than the purple feather, not a thing that they are releasing to the public anyway, which of course includes me,” she said. “Do you wish to cut the cards? Then we can begin your reading.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to keep you. It’s just such a bizarre thing to be happening in our quiet little town. It fascinates me.” Elinore’s hand hovered over the cards. She must pull her thoughts to something else, something safe to project into the selection of the cards.
“With your left hand, and cut them to the left,” Heather instructed her.
Elinore thought of the Cummings Account, the edge their bid needed to beat out the competition. She pulled on the image until Dominique Cummings and his starched wife, Erlene, appeared before her with the campaign logo behind them. Then slowly, deliberately, she cut the tarot card deck in the prescribed manner. If the cards had the power to know, and if Heather was skilled enough to discern their meaning, the Cummings account answers would be what she would read, and nothing about the purple feather murders would surface.
Heather proceeded to lay out the cards in the Celtic Cross formation. She had told Elinore on the previous reading that she felt most comfortable with that particular arrangement. “As for taking my time, that’s why I’m here. Relaxing through conversation actually helps focus the reading,” she said.
The reading took over forty-five minutes as Heather read and explained the significance of the various cards. She said she was having difficulty with some of the reverses as they seemed totally unrelated to the others. “But as you think about them in the broader context of your own life at the moment, you may interpret a meaning in them yourself, something different, one that I do not see,” she said with a frustrated edge to her voice.
“Actually, you’ve given me some very valuable insights into my current project. It really is insignificant what those other signs may be,” Elinore said, feeling a clawing at the base of her spine. The reversals, the anger and resentment she felt, the fools who saw her as the prostitute Lavender Paige, their desires—hard and bold; they wanted satisfaction. Oh yes, Elinore could read between the lines of the moon, the fool, and the rest. She didn’t need or want Heather to interpret those.
Heather cleared the deck, shuffling the cards one last time before she replaced them in the cloth and wrapped them gently, nearly lovingly, Elinore thought as she pulled several twenty-dollar bills from her wallet.
“Oh no,” Heather protested. “I only charge twenty dollars a reading.”
“I insist,” Elinore said, pushing sixty dollars into Heather’s hand. “You have to eat too, you know. And you have provided me with a great direction I need to travel.”
She watched Heather blush. My, what an innocent, she thought. If she sensed anything at all about me, she isn’t revealing it.
Heather thanked Elinore and slipped the money into the leather pouch on the counter.
“Have you had dinner yet?” Elinore asked.
“No, I haven’t. I usually go home as Mother has a meal ready for me to reheat.”
“Why not let me buy you dinner and you can reheat your mother’s cooking tomorrow? It will save her the work of preparing one meal anyway.”
When Heather hesitated Elinore added, “I hate storms. I hate eating alone, and I really would enjoy the pleasure of getting to know you better. I could pick your brains about some obscure titles I’ve been trying to find. What do you say?”
“I think I would enjoy that,” Heather said finally. “Let me finish up front and I’ll be ready.”
Heather disappeared beyond the beaded curtain doorway and Elinore slid into her raincoat. She wished she had bought the black fedora with the white hatband. It would have complemented the outfit. She felt so James Bondish watching her plan to move in on Heather—getting her to relax and become a friend. She would need her to get to Roy. Yes Roy…let’s not forget he was her real mission. She would dare anyone to come between her and Roy Highmark. There was a man who was not a filthy pig like the rest of them. That goal, and keeping Heather from helping with the murder investigation, were her two new priorities and, it would seem, get one and she’d have them both. You devious, clever woman you, she said to herself, giving Heather a broad smile as she followed her out the back door. Elinore popped the button on the telescoping umbrella and sheltered them both from the driving rain. Their feet made little split-splat noises in the puddle alleyway.
“Let’s take my car. I’ll bring you back to pick up yours later,” Elinore suggested between claps of thunder as the sky was illuminated with bursts of fireworks–like lightening.
* * * *
Obviously removing him from the mangled car proceeded without his help or knowledge, since he found himself on a stretcher in an ambulance with sirens blaring. He felt the lurching, slowing, careening around corners as he struggled to open his eyes. Were ambulance drivers ex NASCAR racers? As he was jostled to and fro, he groaned. Nothing like being injured further in an ambulance, he thought.
“There are so many downed trees and power lines it’s difficult to navigate through them,” the attendant taking his vital signs explained as they traveled.
At least Langdon assumed that was what he was doing. He wanted to shout at him— meanwhile you’re going to drive one of my broken ribs into my lungs or snap my neck and completely paralyze me. Slow down, he thought he managed to shout through clenched teeth.
Apparently the thought didn’t form the words. All he heard was the groan forced from him as they bounced in and out of a pothole, or over something; whatever it was he felt violated, abused, and oh so tired. The welcome blackness encircled him again and he let it transport him into that place beyond pain.
“Sir, sir,” the voice said beyond the darkness. As soon as you can call me by name, I’ll open my eyes. I’ll talk to you then, he thought as he drifted away from the voice and the jolting, jarring sensation of the ambulance and its screeching siren on its race to the hospital.
Langdon felt a jolt as the stretcher was removed from the ambulance and hit the concrete. There was a rush of orderlies surrounding the cart. Brightly lit corridors whizzed by as he squinted his eyes to the pain and the brightness of his surroundings. He could hear doors automatically bounce open ahead of them. He could smell the sterile antiseptic odor of the hospital and ether—how come he could distinguish ether?
“Crushed leg, possible fractured ribs, internal injuries, slight concussion,” he heard talk around him, and about him. He knew the routine. How many victims had he seen escorted through emergency channels in the same manner? “Accident. Tree, power poles. No idea how long he was trapped. Dehydration.”
All words he was familiar with, all words he found it hard to associate with himself—but the pain was real and it was everywhere and every doorway they passed through delivered a pair of excruciating jolts as gurney wheels clunked over the track way between the doors.
At last they stopped. “Transfer on three,” he heard. He braced himself for the lift and thud of reposition as his body was lifted by sheet and tossed to the slab of examination table. He felt like a numbered piece of meat. Weren’t any of these people ever patients? Didn’t they know what it felt like to be pulled, pushed, prodded, lifted, poked and plopped? He groaned again as the air was jarred out of his lungs from the impact of the maneuver.
His clothes were cut away. Wait, wait! Calvin Kline’s clothes, hullo? he tried to say but the effort tired him. Who will pay for replacing them? he wondered, thinking of his meager policeman’s salary. Never mind, he was a homicide detective. No, correct that. Lead homicide detective; never been shot in the line of duty, never hospitalized in the line of duty—until now. The pain became red flashes in his brain as IVs were attached, x-rays ordered, pain killers–did someone say painkillers?
Some hours later, bounced once again from stretcher gurney to hospital bed, the painkillers had taken blissful effect. His ribs were taped and leg splinted until the swelling went down.
“Is there someone we can call for you? Someone who will notice you aren’t home?”
“As a matter-of-fact my boss, Chief Grueder. I’m his lead homicide detective. He might notice if I don’t show up by six,” he managed out of the fog of drugs meant to relieve the pain from his multiple fractures. They thickened his tongue and made it hard for him to talk. His mind seemed to float in and out of a haze. Was he too drugged? The cautious thought clawed at his insides.
“What time is it?”
“Noon,” she said.
“You’ve already contacted my boss and cohorts then? There is no one else to notify.”
The redhead nodded. She looked like she was about to ask him something else, but then seemed to change her mind. She turned to leave and said over her shoulder, “If you need anything, just ring. We’re open all night just like K-Mart” Then she laughed.
Langdon tried to take stock of himself, but it was hardly fair given the medication he was being fed intravenously, sedated nearly to ecstasy. How could a thunder storm…? Then he remembered—the wind, the howling wind, the roaring freight-train wind. How, he wondered, had his city faired? No one was talking about the storm. He hadn’t overheard any conversations. Sleep came. He was awakened by the sounds of breakfast carts clinking, clanging and squeaking breakfast to the patients. His stomach reminded him he hadn’t eaten since…he couldn’t remember. He strained to see if there was a clock somewhere. Where was his watch?
“Good morning.” An over-cheerful, over-zealous, pudgy, black woman zipped in with his breakfast tray, placed it on his tray table and turned to zip out.
“Wait. What time is it?” he asked.
“A bright and sunny five forty-five a.m.,” she chirped. She disappeared like she had floated in on a treadmill and was merely a robot used to deliver meals.
Langdon strained to reach for the phone on the nightstand. He had to call the chief. Someone else would have to watch Heather until he got his walking cast on. Heather. Had the storm done anything to her or her bookstore? She was certainly in the storm’s path. Why hadn’t there been any warning about the severity of the storm? Or had he missed it?
He dialed the Chief’s cell phone number; he knew Chief Grueder would be on his way to police headquarters if he wasn’t already there.
“You what? You’re where? Oh, that’s right they called earlier—How long?” Chief Grueder nearly shouted into his ear.
Langdon explained his predicament to the chief as best he could, promising he would let him know how long before he could resume investigating the purple feather murders. “I can do desk work once I get the cast on, I would imagine,” he said, feeling guilty about being laid up when they were already so short-handed.
“It’s not like you planned this, it’s not like you tried to get yourself half killed on purpose,” Chief Grueder said. “We’ll have to pull some doubles until you come back on board, that’s all.”
“What does this do to the tail for Heather and her brother?” Langdon asked, knowing full well they didn’t have enough manpower before—nothing had changed that, they still didn’t.
There was a long nervous silence. Chief Grueder cleared his throat twice and excused himself while someone had him sign papers and another person argued over an assignment. The man said he had already put in fifty-six hours this week—“how could all this be happening nearly before my day started?” Langdon heard him say to someone else in the room. “I really didn’t need to hear Langdon would be out of commission for any length of time.” The background chatter carried as well as the Chief’s voice over the phone.
Langdon felt even worse now that the chief assured him they would somehow manage without him until he healed some. They would not, however, be tailing the Highmark’s or anyone else from the recreation league. “There simply is no man power,” Grueder said. Langdon promised to call him as soon as the doctor told him what, when, where, how long before he’d be back.
”Hey good buddy, I’m afraid I’m out of commission for a while. Busted leg, couple ribs, won’t know exactly how extensive until I see the doc,”
“You sure do it up good when you do it,” Roy teased.
“I have a favor to ask you,” Langdon paused wondering how much he needed or dared confide to Roy.
“Shoot, if I can I will, you know that.” Roy’s response was without hesitation or qualification.
“It’s Heather. Well Heather and you. What we’ve been able to figure out so far is, this serial killer is targeting rec league players, specifically—your or our, team. This means that Heather, by association, and because she’s helping the police, is also in danger.”
“Holy smokes. I see where you’re coming from.”
“I was assigned to tail her, but of course, now that’s impossible.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep a close eye on her.”
Langdon breathed a little easier. Now if he enlisted Heather to keep an eye on her brother… He called Heather and asked her to watch Roy’s back.
“I’ve been thinking the same things and talked Sandy into keeping a close eye on Roy,” Heather said. “You can bet I will, too. This may not be anything, but what about you?”
“What do you mean? I’m going to be out of commission until I get my ribs healed some. Can’t use crutches right now and it’s too soon to put this leg in a walking cast.”
“No, I meant, who’s going to watch your back? You’re part of the Rec. League too, you know.”
Langdon had thought about that, but given his job, he already had a partner and other cops watching his back. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”
“You’re even more vulnerable right now, though,” she said and then added, “Be careful,” before she hung up.
She cared—she actually cared. Maybe there was hope for him yet. He had to get out of the hospital. He had to get back on his feet. Heather needed to be guarded and he was just the guy to do it. He cursed the pain in his ribs as he stretched to replace the phone. A new determination stiffened his spine. He would protect Heather one way or another.