Unraveling James, page 1part #5 of The Curse of Clan Ross Series
The Curse of Clan Ross Series (Book 5)
By L.L. Muir
Lesli Muir Lytle
Unraveling James © 2017 L.Lytle
All rights reserved
Amazon KDP Edition License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please purchase your own copy. The ebook contained herein constitutes a copyrighted work and may not be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, or stored in or introduced into an information storage and retrieval system in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the copyright owner, except in the case of brief quotation embodied in critical articles and reviews. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This ebook is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
To Kelli Ann Morgan
my cover designer
for all the inspiration
that has come
from your creations alone.
This one is no exception.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
MORE BOOKS by L.L. Muir
About the Author
Edinburgh, present day
Phoebe crossed North Bridge behind a pack of plaid-loving tourists. She bumped into a short stout woman three times in the span of a block, each time the brunette stopped abruptly to take a picture with her phone. Phoebe would have walked around her, but the footpath was bursting that day—Edinburgh mid-tourist season.
The brunette stopped again, enraptured with the façade of the Carlton Hotel. Phoebe took a quick glance over her shoulder and stepped to the right, into the street, to keep from bowling the oblivious tourist over. Then she dodged cars until she was safely on the opposite side of the road.
Deep breath. Not far now.
The foot traffic was allowed to spread onto High Street and she had no problem clipping along to Cockburn. First turn to the right. The street curved left. Her heart raced with every stride. Today, her life would head in a different direction. She just had to find the bloody tea shop.
Her toe caught on a metal grill in the sidewalk, but she caught herself. Usually, when she tripped, she kept her head down out of embarrassment, but this time her eyes darted around, anxious that no one noticed her misstep. The street bustled with morning delivery trucks and lost tourists consulting their phones and paper maps. Across the way, an incredibly tall Scot stood against a pole watching her side of the street, but his attention was on something further on. He hadn’t noticed her.
She noticed him of course. How could anyone not notice him? Tall as a light post, long red curls, black leather coat. Smartly dressed—expensively dressed, he had a solid jaw like a statue of William Wallace with bone where the beard would be. His attention was so focused, he might have been a statue as well, but she’d seen him blink a few times to prove that it wasn’t so.
Her foot caught and held to the side of a heavy crate and she gasped as she felt herself flying forward. Wanting no broken arms, she wrapped them around herself and ducked her face into her fluffy scarf. She just had time to tuck a shoulder.
Phoebe rolled back onto her feet, just as she’d learned to do in a self-defense class. No harm done.
She turned to see if her acrobatics might have caught the handsome lad’s attention, but the large white box of the lorry was blocking the way. She turned in a circle, but none had witnessed her dramatic self-rescue.
Pity. It usually didn’t end so well for her.
She walked on. Just inside the window of a little shop the painting of a fairy caught her eye. Miss Katie Cupcake it read on the sign. She would have to remember to stop on her way back. After all, she was going to place her trust in a wee bit of magic. The little painting would be a fine way to remember the day. She had that much faith it would all go well.
She paused to appreciate the fact that her life had already taken a positive turn if she was forming optimistic thoughts. And she had yet to find the shop.
Can’t be far now. One of these…
Teacups filled a window farther on. Suspended by a wire or something so fine it didn’t show in the bright morning sunshine, a dozen or so teacups and saucers alternated in columns against the glass. A foot deep, the interior windowsill was covered with tea services of various china patterns. Along the top of the window hung a garland made of white lace triangles. Mingled with the cups and saucers, suspended pendants and crystals made the window sparkle in the direct light.
A woman popped out the door sideways and smiled at Phoebe. Her hair was faded orange with white roots, piled on her head like so much cotton candy. She wore a blue hippy outfit from the 70’s, complete with wide, pointed collars.
“Never too early for tea, dear,” she said. Her voice was sweet and a bit shaky, like it belonged to someone eighty years old and not fifty, and Phoebe wondered if she was putting her on.
The woman suddenly laughed and cleared her throat. “Come away in, then. Kettle’s on.”
Phoebe took a deep breath and followed. She’d been headed to The Enchanted Tea Cup anyway, but it was nice to be invited in just the same. The lettering on the left panel of the green wood door read, Rent a cup. The tea is free. On the right panel, Fortunes & Forecasts on offer.
She stepped inside and a small bell tinkled when the door closed on its own. The front of the store was cozy and full of charming things you’d find in an old attic. But charm wasn’t why Phoebe had come. And she wasn’t interested in renting a tea cup. She wanted what was offered on the right half of the door.
Wide, heavy and pale green, two curtains hung at the entrance to the back of the store. They’d been pulled to either side and draped over hooks. A woman hurried out from between them—a woman who looked identical to the one who’d invited her inside. Twins, obviously.
“Is he still there?” she asked, her eyes sparkling as brightly as the pendants in the window.
“He’s there,” the first sister whispered. “And this is Phoebe. Phoe
Loretta had to lift Phoebe’s hand to shake it because Phoebe was too stunned to move.
“How did you know my name?” she asked.
The sisters laughed. Lorraine pointed to Phoebe’s neck. “Your necklace, dear. Now come in and choose a teacup. I know you’re not here for tea, but we won’t want to waste a hot kettle.”
And how did she know that?
The sisters led her into the back, then unhooked the drapes and closed them. The room was much larger than the entry, but much darker. The walls were lined with cups and saucers—hundreds of them, all unique, all sitting in their own little alcoves with light shining down the wall behind them. Other than that, the only light in the room came from a few lamps. Unlit candles sat at the center of each of five tables.
Phoebe pointed to the teacups. “Like little paintings,” she said.
“Which they are, of course. All hand-painted, from various points all over the world. And which cup you choose will be significant of course. We’ll be back in a minute with a teapot. I assume you’d like your fortune told?”
The sisters ducked behind a single brown curtain and left Phoebe nodding alone in the strange room. The deep red tablecloths only made the place darker, as did the multi-colored plaid carpet, but the addition of lace table-toppers helped.
She glanced at the wall of delicate teacups and saucers once again and her stomach tightened. The bull was left alone in the china shop.
Not good not good not good.
She pushed through her sudden nerves and groped for the optimism she’d known on the street. Already, she’d avoided a string of possible disasters that morning. There was no reason to believe anything in the room would break, just because she was in it.
She took a deep breath and faced the widest of the lit walls. “All I have to do is pick one. They never said I have to touch it.”
Standing a good three feet away from the closest cups, she scanned her options and tried to quell her excitement. In a few minutes, she was going to have her fortune told. A first for her. It was all inspired by a suggestion from her last boyfriend as they parted ways at the entrance to the emergency room.
“Seek help,” he’d said, then refused to let her accompany him inside.
While Arty had been suggesting therapy—like therapy could help coordination—she’d gotten a better idea and searched the internet for fortune tellers. What she needed was a new direction in her life. Something to focus on. Something to act upon instead of just reacting all the time. She always seemed to be catching herself—stopping a job or dumping a boyfriend just in time. Tucking in her arms. Tucking in her elbows. Hoping to land on her feet.
But no more. She was ready for change again. But this time, she wanted to make the right change—a permanent change. She just needed help figuring out what that would be.
In an instance of pure serendipity, two women at work had mentioned a tea shop run by a pair of real live witches, swearing their fortune-telling was always dead to rights. The only problem was the sisters were picky about whose fortune they would tell.
Two women. Two separate conversations. Same day. If that wasn’t a sign, Phoebe Jones didn’t know signs. And now the sisters had agreed to tell her fortune without her even asking. How incredible was that?
A gaudy, bright blue cup with thick gold edges caught her eye. There was a small framed white space on the front of it, but she couldn’t make out the picture painted there. People? Flowers? It didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to step closer to see.
That was it—a crazy little cup she was determined not to break. And when the sisters returned, she would just point to it.
Cockburn Street smelled of…enterprise.
Charming shops opened their eyes and stretched in the morning sunlight in happy anticipation of another day of charming plastic cards out of the pockets of charming tourists and Scots alike. Some folks nowadays thought survival meant clawing to the top of the food chain instead of merely putting food on the table, and it sickened him. The smell of greed teased his belly, then climbed up to breathe hotly in his ear and beg the question—was he, or was he not, wearing an Armani jacket of fine black leather?
Yes, he hissed back. Yes, damn you. But at least I’m looking for a way out.
Understandably, he’d come to understand the depravities found on the other side of the fence only after he was on that other side. When he’d been a poor lad tossing quarters for lunch money, money was the answer to all his woes, money filled a stomach that could be neither topped off nor remain full for long. And the other side of the fence—the place where grass is greener and rich food lingered in one’s gullet far longer than the cheap stuff—that was where he wanted to be.
No. It was where he’d needed to be.
As it turned out, climbing the ladder for a tall, well-muscled lad was as easy as…climbing a ladder. The world in general held strong assumptions about men over six foot five. And it didn’t take him long to realize that there were few things people enjoyed more than being right about someone.
“I’ll wager a big laddie like ye can do pert near anythin’.”
“Aye, sir. I can that.”
One more assumption meant one more rung on the ladder. One more pay-raise. One more bonus. Then one day, he looked up and found an MI6 agent staring back at him in the mirror…wearing Armani made of fine black leather.
But now, the leather made him sweat more than he cared to. The rich cream in his coffee stuck to his tongue like a slick sheet of oil, and the fine food was no better at topping off his stomach than the simple stuff.
Though he’d left the Secret Intelligence Service a couple of years before, enough money for ten lifetimes sat in an off-shore account waiting to buy him anything he might desire. It was an obscene amount to match some of the obscene things he’d done to earn it, and he suspected that the only way to relieve his guilt would be to give it away. It sounded nobler than it was because, where he was headed, he wouldn’t need it.
Ultimately, he wasn’t looking to relieve his guilt. Years of training both his mind and body had silenced those voices in his head. He was looking for something quite different, something his money couldn’t buy, something that couldn’t be found anywhere on earth…
And he couldn’t get an inch closer to what he sought without the help of the Muir sisters…
The green door of The Enchanted Tea Cup opened and one of the twins came outside. She greeted another female on the sidewalk and lured her inside, even though she hadn’t turned her welcome sign around. With no hours designated on the building, he was surprised the sisters showed up as regularly as they did. What they got up to at night, however, was anything but predictable.
Right, then. Door’s open. No need to sneak in the back way.
He forced himself to be patient, hoping the younger woman would emerge quickly, for the conversation he planned to have with the sisters wasn’t something he wanted anyone overhearing.
No—they are witches. It is best not to think of them as being something as innocent as sisters.
A chill wind blew over his collar and around his neck. He took it as a sign it was time to go in. Maybe an intense stare from him might encourage the younger woman to gulp her tea and go. But either way, he was done with waiting. If those Rosses in East Burnshire wouldn’t give him what he wanted, by hell, the witches would.
He just wished the leverage in his pocket held a bit more weight.
~ ~ ~
Phoebe was beginning to think that Loretta and Lorraine had completely forgotten she was there, so she was glad to hear the little bell on the shop door jingle, then jingle again. Someone had stepped inside, and if the sisters weren’t hard of hearing, they would at least be reminded they had company.
When she heard no sound, no movement, she got nervous for the customer and walked to the green curtains and peeked out. T
Phoebe backed away, took a few deep breaths, and reminded herself that the kind of man standing out there was nowhere near her type. In fact, he’d never been in the neighborhood of her type, even if he’d gotten completely plastered and been lost in the dark.
And that jacket?
She could never afford a hamburger from the animal that supplied that sleek piece of leather.
She laughed at her own lame humor and it came out like a snort. Thankfully, her luck was still running strong and no one was around to hear it. But just in case Mr. Scottish Universe came snooping through the curtains to see if a pig had gotten loose or something, she wanted to be on the opposite side of the room looking incredibly innocent. So she hurried around the outside of the tables and slid into her seat before curtain number one or curtain number two could twitch.
Unfortunately, she slid with enough momentum to slide right back out again, and her chair toppled over with her and knocked a second chair over. She tried to catch that one, but ended up banging it into a third. When she finally held still and the chair knocking ceased, it looked like someone had used the room as a bowling alley and she was the ball.
She would have liked to crawl under a table, but she didn’t want to start the tables falling like dominoes. Obviously, it might have gone much worse; she might have sent furniture flying into the cup displays and ended up in jail for the damages she would never be able to pay.
Carefully, she placed her hands on the floor and stood up, then started righting the furniture and straightening the tablecloths and lace toppers. In her periphery, she noticed the big curtains close.
That’s just great.
The small brown one never moved. Had the sisters dozed off? Or were they hiding out until they could stop laughing?
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