Impossible dreams, p.36

Impossible Dreams, page 36

 part  #1 of  Carolina Series Prequel Series


Impossible Dreams

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  Jared McCloud came eyeball to eye socket with a six-foot bag of bones baring a smirk through a cigar clamped between its teeth. He’d been given enough warning to expect it, but he couldn’t help grinning in appreciation of the coup de grace. At night, with the shrieking siren and strobes, it would have any potential thief shitting his pants.

  “Pleased to meecha, Burt,” he murmured, inspecting the wires which must have held the freak to the porch roof. He didn’t know anything about mechanics, but he knew an overactive imagination when he saw one. “Guess this means the old witch isn’t at home.”

  “Guess it means the old witch is on her way out.”

  Jared blinked at the apparition in the doorway. He hadn’t heard the door open. Shouldn’t the hinges of a place like this creak eerily?

  He smiled in satisfaction at the full impact of the skeleton’s creator as she emerged from shadows. Far from being an old witch, she was his newest dream of perfection. Not too tall or too short but sturdy, she packed a lot of punch into a compact, sexy bundle. Her knee length man’s checked flannel shirt effectively disguised the best of her curves, but he loved exploration and discovery even more than having it all laid out for him.

  Generally, women didn’t appreciate being ogled, so he respectfully raised his gaze to absorb the rest of the glorious sight. Rumpled short hair revealed roots of auburn beneath a mousy brown dye job. Tinted half glasses attempted to hide eyes of a spectacular green—not contacts, either. He could see specks of brown in them.

  He thought he was in love.

  Of course, he’d been in love last week and the week before, and mostly it was a major distraction he didn’t need right now. If he didn’t finish the piece of idiocy they called a screenplay by December first, he’d be in breach of contract. Another failure and his name would be mud, even if the last failure was more the fault of death-by-committee than anything he’d done.

  His agent was already antsy over the cancellation of the comic strip by some backwoods string of newsrags claiming his teenage nerds had become “tiresome.” It had been quite a few years since he’d been a teenager, but from his current outlook, that’s what teenagers were—tiresome.

  None of that seemed relevant to the moment. “Name’s Jared McCloud.” He smiled with as much charm as he could summon. Maybe this was a young relative of the old witch the kids had warned him about. “I’m looking for Cleo Alyssum.”

  “She’s not here.”

  She said that so promptly, Jared figured this had to be her. Well, well. Curiouser and curiouser.

  He produced a business card from his pocket with his hotel phone number scratched on the back. “I’ve been told Miss Alyssum is owner of the beach property back of here, and I’m interested in leasing it. I’m prepared to make a generous offer.” From the look of this rundown sprawling plantation-era farmhouse, she could use the cash.

  She took the card and dropped it into her shirt pocket. “She doesn’t like neighbors.” Turning around, she shut and locked the peeling white door, and did something that reeled the skeleton upward like a collapsing party favor.

  “Your car’s blocking my drive,” she said curtly as he moved aside to let her pass. “And you’re trespassing, in case you didn’t notice.”

  Not a smile, not a dimple, not a look of interest crossed her stoic features. Jared shrugged and ambled back toward his Jag. Women usually liked him, and he couldn’t see that he’d done anything to tick this one off. No Trespassing signs applied to salesmen, not legitimate visitors, as far as he could see. Surely she hadn’t really thought to scare him off?

  “Do you have some idea when Miss Alyssum might return?” He played along with her gag and cast her a sideways look to see if anything registered in her expression. She had a short, finely honed aquiline nose with a sprinkle of freckles across it, and a mouth drawn too tight to reveal any trace of humor. He wouldn’t call it a friendly face by any means. He could cut timbers with the sharp edge of her voice.

  “She won’t be interested. As I said, you’re trespassing. I’d advise you to turn around before the police arrive.” She headed for a beat-up black Chevy pickup, opened the door, then waited for him to move his car.

  She didn’t even show an interest in his antique Jag. Damn. That car drew more comments than honeysuckle drew bees. Was she blind?

  There had to be some way around her. He’d never accepted no as an answer in his life. Not that many people told him no in the first place. He wasn’t an unreasonable man. She had a rundown beach shack going to waste. He wanted to put it to good use. He couldn’t see the problem.

  “I can afford whatever price Miss Alyssum thinks the property is worth. I’ll buy it if she’d rather not lease it. Just pass the message along, will you?” He leaned against his car door and watched her climb into her truck without replying. Well, damn.

  Maybe she was a witch, but she had all his incorrigible pheromones humming. He sighed as she cranked the truck to life without looking back. He’d better move the Jag or she’d drive over it.

  Spinning his tires in the soft sand, he edged out of her way and let her fly off down the lane. He wondered if signs would pop out of the road and witches fly from the trees as she left, or if they were rigged only to greet incoming visitors.

  He sure did like the way her mind worked. Wonder if she could rig up some of those spooks for him once he figured out how to obtain the beach house?

  Bumping the Jag over a timber barrier, he drove down toward the beach to inspect the house he’d only seen from a distance. The real-estate agents had said there was nothing available out here in the middle of nowhere, but a friend of a friend in L.A. had told him about this island. The film business was a small world.

  This place should be ideal. He could feel it in his bones. None of his friends or family would go out of their way to reach this remote spot. Surely, once he cleared his head, he would be able to think again. Surrounded by all this peace and quiet, he’d cruise right past the roadblock in his mind that had prevented his coming up with any fresh ideas lately.

  A witchy landlady would be a distraction, but one distraction against the many his places in New York and Miami offered seemed a fair trade. His fingers itched for the computer keys already, just thinking about the sand and the waves and the peace.

  Driving with one hand, he idly swatted at something tickling his ankle. He’d have to remember insect repellant. Beaches were notorious for bugs.

  The house ought to be just beyond that curve in the road ahead, if he’d calculated correctly. He didn’t know the name of the scrub brush blocking his view, but it grew in heavy thickets neither man nor beast would dare enter. He’d have plenty of privacy.

  Especially with the witch’s mechanical guardians blocking the way.

  Before he could grin at the thought, an eerie high-pitched shriek shattered his eardrums, and an object the size of his mother’s frozen Thanksgiving turkeys smashed into his windshield, scattering brilliant blue-green plumage across the glass, obstructing his view with an iridescent psychedelic hallucination.

  Frantically swiping at the irritating tickle crawling up his leg, cursing the Technicolor windshield, he slammed the brakes. The car’s rear end resisted stopping and the tires swerved wildly in the soft sand.

  Crawling. Up his leg.

  Clinging desperately to the wheel for control, Jared glanced downward.

  A shiny black snake’s tail whipped his leather moccasins. The head had disappeared up the leg of his khakis.

  Clutching the spinning steering wheel while cursing frantically, Jared lost control as the car veered sideways on the soft shoulder.

  The low-slung chassis hit the ditch at the side of the road, sailed upward, and landed, roof down, in the wax myrtle thicket.



  Patricia Rice, Impossible Dreams



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