AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Episodes are released on Tuesdays and Fridays. 

Begin Part 39

“You don’t have a little neck,” a male voice said.  “But she did.”

Brodie opened her eyes and knew it was another one of those dreams.  She was in a dank place, with damp seeping down cool stone walls.  It was a round room, and a gloomy one, with a single stained glass window set high above her head.  She was kneeling at an altar.  There was a plain white cloth on the altar and a large wooden cross on the wall.  At either end of the altar tall candles guttered in pewter plates.

Her dress was long, with a full velvet skirt.  The waist was tight and it was hard to take a deep breath of the thick air.

She turned awkwardly on the kneeler, wrestling with the dress, knowing that her father wasn’t there.

It was Henry VIII, wearing an elaborately embroidered maroon doublet and cape.  His flat velvet hat was jauntily endowed with a feather.  He was jowly and stout, with thick legs and heavy hands and diseased white eyes.

Brodie shrank back against the altar, as an all-too-familiar fear swept over her.

“You tell me what he told you,” Henry said.  He licked his lips as if looking at something good to eat.  “And I’ll make them stop.”

“Stop the dreams?” Brodie asked as she looked around the room.  He was standing in the only doorway.

“Stop your execution, Anne,” Henry said.

It came together again, just like it always did when she dreamed like this.  She was Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife who’d been beheaded.  Brodie tried to push through, to will herself awake, to open her eyes and see a different place.  But her eyes were already open and she didn’t wake up and the fear was punishing.

“I’m not Anne,” Brodie said.

“Of course you’re not.  But your questions chose the place, not me.  All those books you read.”  Henry’s white eyes glittered.  “Come on.  Tell me what your father knew.  He told you how he cheated the game and I want to know how.  It’s a very simple request, don’t you think?  You’ve stalled very well so far.  But it’s time to either tell me or have your game end right now.”

Long-forgotten words from a strange Gypsy woman came back in a rush.  “Are you Death?” Brodie choked out.

Henry laughed.  “You know who I am,” he said.  “Tell me.  We haven’t much time to play the game today.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  Brodie stood up, searching through the gloom for a weapon, anything that would let her get by him.

“Of course you do, you’re not a stupid woman,” Henry observed.  “Your mother might have been a silly girl, but you’re his daughter and you know what he did.  You were the only one he cared about enough  to tell.”  He folded his arms.  “He was a worthy competitor and it’s too bad that I had to take him out of the game.  But he cheated.”

Brodie grabbed one of the candles and pointed the lit end at him.  It was a thick beeswax stick as long as her forearm.  The flame guttered as the candle moved, throwing odd shadows across the stone walls.  “Get away from the door,” she said.

A slow, predatory smile spread over Henry’s face and he licked his lips again.  He moved aside to reveal two medieval executioners; big, muscular men in leather smocks and black cloth hoods.  Two women wearing long period dresses sniffled in back of them.  One of the women carried a small fluffy dog.  As Brodie watched in shock, remembering the story of how Anne Boleyn’s dog had accompanied her to her execution, the dog wriggled out of the woman’s arms and scurried across the floor to her.

One of the executioners grabbed the candle out of her hand.  Brodie tried to hang on but he wrenched it away and tossed the candle to the floor, cracking it into two pieces still joined by the wick buried inside the wax.  The other executioner took Brodie by the elbow and shoved her out of the room.  Henry stayed by her other side as they mounted a steep stone stairway.  “Tell me what he told you,” he said softly.  “I’ll make them stop.  You’ll keep your soul tonight.”

“I don’t know what you want.”  With every step, Brodie knew she was coming closer to her own death.  She couldn’t wake up, she couldn’t think of how to make this nightmare end, she couldn’t get away from the faceless, menacing executioner and his iron grip on her arm.  He was propelling her up the stairs, her skirts dragging on the ground, the small dog yipping at her feet, the ladies-in-waiting crying, the other executioner keeping her from turning around and running away.  And when they got to the top they would kill her.  She’d never wake up and Henry’s white eyes would glint in a victory she’d never understand.

Henry opened a door at the top of the stairway and they were on a parapet.  It was twilight.  Other people were already up there; a priest, gaudily dressed people of the royal court, a somberly dressed man with a sheaf of papers.  The executioner shoved Brodie to a thick wooden block and forced her to her knees in front of it.  One of the ladies-in-waiting unfastened the ruff around her neck.  Brodie struggled to stand again and the two executioners joined forces to keep her kneeling and tie her hands behind her back.  Brodie felt her heart beating so fast she was almost blind from the blood rush.

“Tell me,” Henry whispered.  “Save yourself.  Tell me what your father knew.”

One of the executioners hefted a long handled, two-headed axe.  He flicked his thumb across the edge of the blade and nodded with satisfaction.  The second executioner forced Brodie to bend until her head was on the block.  He pulled her chin forward to expose her neck and Brodie gasped in pain and terror.

A basket was placed on the ground in front of the block to catch her head. End Part 39

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Carmen’s other novels are available on Amazon. For book release news and sales alerts, you want the monthly newsletter.


AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Episodes are released on Tuesdays and Fridays. 

Begin Part 38

She stayed at the Green Park Hotel on Half Moon Street, near Piccadilly.  The Royal Society was predictably stuffy but the members touched her with kind and gentle words about her father.  The medal was accompanied by two days’ worth of speeches, a medal in a velvet-lined wooden box, and a testimony signed by all the members.  Brodie gave a thirty minute talk on the role of the modern historian that was very well received.

The last evening she went to Hatchard’s and bought Joe a set of Inspector Rebus mysteries by Edinburgh author Ian Rankin.  Walking back to the hotel along the iron fence enclosing Green Park her emotions ran the gamut from thrilled to terrified as she thought about Saturday.

Back in her room she put the glossy green bag with its old fashioned lettering into her suitcase.  She stared at the floral wallpaper most of the night, trying to figure out what to say to Joe when she saw him on Saturday.

It was time to grow up but she wasn’t sure she had the nerve.

*          *          *

Heathrow Airport in London was its usual organized chaos.  Brodie got through security without mishap and found her gate.  There was an hour before her flight.

She went into the restroom.  When she came out of the cubicle she washed her hands and dried them on the big roller towel.  The towel machine was right next to a wall mounted vending machine.  It sold perfume, tampons, tissue packets . . . and condoms.

One British pound each.

The thoughts that had been running round and round in Brodie’s head fused into a solid tangle as she found some pound coins.  The machine dispensed three small foil packets and she shoved them into the bottom of her purse.  She walked out of the restroom with her face scarlet, not sure why she’d just done that.

The flight was both too long and too short.  Brodie shifted restlessly in her seat for most of it, unable to sleep.  She picked at the elegant first class meal, tried to watch a movie, and ignored the woman sitting next to her.

Brodie was the first passenger to baggage claim, and the first to pull her suitcase off the conveyor.  Her stomach was tight as she passed through the Nothing To Declare doors.

The crowd waiting for disembarking passengers was relatively light.  Her eyes immediately picked out Joe; taller and broader and more alive than anyone else.  He was wearing jeans and a navy tee shirt, with his sunglasses tucked into the neckline.  His arms were folded as he watched the doors, the muscles of his forearms veined and massive.

She gave a tiny wave and he noticed her immediately.  The squint lines creased as his face broke into a smile.  Brodie crossed the open area, pulling her wheeled suitcase behind her.  As she approached, Joe held out his arms and suddenly she was pulled hard against him.  Brodie dropped the suitcase handle in confusion and Joe kissed her.

It was a lover’s kiss, deep and insistent.

Brodie closed her eyes and clutched at Joe’s shirt.  In response to her touch, Joe slid a hand to the back of Brodie’s head, burying his fingers in her hair.

His mouth tasted of cinnamon.  His lips were soft even as the trim beard rubbed against her chin.  His skin smelled tangy and clean and Brodie could feel his heart beating against her own as if they were joined and sharing just one.  The airport concourse receded and faded into nothingness because in the entire world there was only her and Joe.

Then someone knocked into Joe and he staggered, stepping back and breaking the kiss.  For a moment Joe held on to Brodie’s upper arms to steady himself.  Then he let go as if he’d been burned.

Suddenly the kiss had never happened, except for the spicy taste in Brodie’s mouth and the confusion and regret in Joe’s eyes.  The hum of the airport rushed to fill the space between them.

“Hi,” Joe said briskly.  He found the handle of her suitcase.  “Is this all you have?”

“Yes.”  Brodie felt like the floor was shifting under her feet.  “Just the one.”

He led the way out of the airport to the big white truck in the parking lot.  They made small talk as Joe drove, the truck cab full of careful tension.

When they got to his apartment he brought her suitcase into the guest room.  Brodie followed with her purse, anxiety roiling her stomach.

“Are you hungry, thirsty, or tired?” Joe asked.  He put the suitcase just inside the door, as if reluctant to walk further into the room.

“Yes,” Brodie said.  She moved past him to put her purse on the dresser.  The three condoms inside made it feel like lead.  “All of the above.”

“Well, how about I open a bottle of wine and get some dinner started?” Joe asked.  “You can lounge around for a while.”

“Sounds good,” Brodie said.  “Give me a couple of minutes.”

“Take your time,” Joe said breezily and walked out.  Brodie stepped into the bathroom, splashed water on her face, then hung over the sink, remembering the kiss.  It had been wonderful.  Joe had kissed her like he meant it; seriously, intently, skillfully.

But now evidently wanted to forget it.

Brodie took out the Hatchard’s bag, her head full of questions.  She went into the living room.  The big screen television was on, the sound low, NASCAR cars whipping around a track.

Joe was in the kitchen, twisting a corkscrew into the neck of a bottle of red wine.  He smiled tightly at her as he drew out the cork.  Brodie smiled back.  The atmosphere in the apartment was like the uneasy calm before a storm.

To distract herself, Brodie drifted over to the bookcases.  She hadn’t really looked at his books when she’d been there for the Cherry Blossom Festival.

He had the full set of Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell, the Horatio Hornblower series by E.M. Forster, and about thirty books by P.G. Wodehouse.  The rest of Joe’s library was a tribute to detectives and testosterone with books by Tom Clancy, Dick Francis, W.E.B Griffin, Robert B. Parker, and Dale Brown.  He had several Anne Perry mysteries as well.  Ian Rankin would fit right in.

Several military histories that her father would have approved of made a nice counterpoint, however, including everything by Stephen Ambrose, a number of books by military historian John Keegan, and Liddell Hart’s history of World War II.  There were books, too, about the Marine Corps, woodworking, and the many places he’d lived.  As well as George and Martha and Tom and Sally.  Brodie ran her hand over the spines; most were well worn.

She felt a presence behind her and whirled around.  Joe raised an eyebrow.  “You look like you could use some of this,” he said, handing her a glass of wine.

“Thank you.”  Brodie took the glass.  She handed him the Hatchard’s bag in exchange.

“Thanks,” he said, evidently surprised.  He took out the books.  “Fleshmarket Alley.  The Naming of the Dead.  Resurrection Men.  These look great.  You really didn’t have to get them.”

“Ian Rankin’s from Edinburgh,” Brodie said.  “Shows a different side of the city than you probably saw.  His main character is this police inspector named John Rebus.  Complicated plots.  And you said you read a lot of mysteries . . .”  Brodie felt herself trail off.

“I’m going to really enjoy these,” Joe said.  “Thank you.”  He put the books on the coffee table then stepped around her and opened the French doors leading to the patio.  “Would you like to relax out here while I get dinner ready?  There’s some chips and salsa out there if you want.”


Unsaid words hung in the air like heavy humidity.

Brodie went outside.

The flagstone patio was brightened by glazed pots full of geraniums and ivy.  Two chaise lounges with thick beige cushions flanked a square side table laden with snacks.  Brodie eased herself onto one of the chaises and stretched, feeling her legs relax from the flight.  She sipped her wine and munched chips and homemade salsa as she watched Joe through the French doors.  He was moving around the small galley kitchen.  Shadows from the television across the room played on the floor in front of the counter.  Joe opened the refrigerator door and disappeared from sight for a moment, then came back into view holding a red pepper.  As he found a chopping board Brodie realized the kitchen was set up for the fewest amount of steps.  The thought made her sad for some reason and she closed her eyes. Brodie was asleep in an instant. End Part 38

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Carmen’s other novels are available on Amazon. For book release news and sales alerts, sign up for Carmen’s monthly newsletter.


AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense by Carmen Amato. Episodes are released on Tuesdays and Fridays. Find all previous episodes here.

Begin Part 37

“Open it,” Diana said.

Brodie fingered the padded mailing envelope with the BIRNAM WOOD return address.  “It can wait until we’ve had dinner,” she said.

“Huh,” Diana said.

Brodie made a face, put the envelope on the kitchen counter, and opened the bag from the restaurant.  Mouse settled down by the table as the tantalizing aroma of marinara sauce and chicken marsala wafted out.  Ray was on a recruiting trip so the two women had ended their day by getting takeout and a movie to watch at the farmhouse.  When Brodie had stopped in the driveway to collect the mail she’d found the big envelope wedged in the box.

Diana brought plates to the table and started serving out the chicken and linguine.  “Would it kill you to open it now before I die of curiosity?”

“This food looks great,” Brodie said.  Mouse settled onto the floor next to her chair.

Diana rolled her eyes and sat down.

Brodie twirled her fork in the linguine.  She and Joe hadn’t spoken since the music symposium three weeks ago.  But he’d been constantly on her mind as she’d read through the D-E section of her father’s bookshelves, given final exams, posted grades, marched in the graduation ceremony, and hugged her seniors goodbye.  And woken terrified in a cold sweat more than once after a hideous dream in which she was running desperately from white-eyed people who would kill her to learn her father’s secret.  Now she had to get ready for her trip to London and the mandatory meeting with Dr. Donald Pedder, scheduled for the Monday after her return.

A blob of pasta hit her chin and fell into her lap.

“What the hell,” Brodie exclaimed, and grabbed her napkin.  She wiped her chin.  “Did you just flick food at me?”

“Yes.”  Diana loaded her fork again and held it like a catapult.  “Open that envelope and then call Joe Birnam.  You have to talk to him before you go to London.”

“Oh, yeah.”  Brodie scrubbed at the sauce stain on her new beige linen jeans.  Mouse stood and sniffed her.  “Advice from somebody who throws spaghetti.  How old are you?”

“Old enough to know that men like Joe Birnam only come around once in a lifetime,” Diana said.  “What happened between you two, anyway?  Start talking, sweetie.”

“Nothing,” Brodie said.

“It can’t be Stanton,” Diana said.  “It’s still all over campus that you trashed his house.”

The university gossip mill had been relentless.  Brodie gave up on the stain and doggedly cut into her chicken.  “Never mind about Joe.  I told you.  We argued, we sort of made up.  Bottom line is that we just didn’t click.”

“Liar,” Diana said.  She waved her fork menacingly.

“So what are you going to do, throw pasta at me like a five-year-old?” Brodie demanded.

“I might, if you don’t do something.  You’ve been miserable.”

“I’m not anything,” Brodie growled and busied herself with the chicken again.  Another blob of pasta hit her in the ear.  She dropped her knife and fork in surprise and they clattered against the china plate.  “Hey!  Stop it!”

“Open that envelope,” Diana said and flicked more pasta.  This time it hit Brodie in the shoulder, the red marinara oozing over her pale green shirt like Christmas slime.  Mouse started licking drops of sauce off the floor.

“That’s it,” Brodie exclaimed.  “This is war.”  She grabbed a fistful of linguine and hurled it across the table.

Diana averted her face just in time.  The noodle grenade sprayed across the side of her head and down the front of her starched white University of Virginia polo shirt with Coaching Staff written on it.  Diana’s mouth fell open in astonishment as marinara sauce dripped down her braids, then she snatched up a piece of chicken and shot it Frisbee-style.

No,” Brodie said, laughing and twisting aside at the same time.  The cutlet sailed past her head and smacked onto the floor.  Mouse galloped over and started wolfing it.  Diana loaded her fork with more linguine.

Brodie held up her hands in mock surrender.  “All right, I’ll open it.”

She scrubbed her hands with her napkin and opened the envelope.  She pulled out a colorful book.

Fruit Garnishes Made Easy.

Brodie gave a short, incredulous laugh.

“A fruit book?” Diana said, picking strands of pasta off her shirt and dropping them on the floor for Mouse.

“It’s sort of a joke,” Brodie said, not sure if she wanted to laugh or cry.  “You had to have been there.”

She leafed slowly through the how-to book.  Fruit Garnishes Made Easy gave instructions for making apple swans, orange peel umbrellas, and frozen grape pyramids, but there was nothing written in it from Joe.  It didn’t really matter; Brodie knew exactly what he was telling her.


Brodie jerked her head up to see Diana on the cordless phone, calmly toweling her braids with her free hand.  “Yes, that’s it,” Diana said.  “Thank you.”  She pushed a button on the phone, then put it to her ear again.

“What are you doing?” Brodie squawked, knowing full well that Diana had just used directory assistance to call Joe.  She lunged over the table.  “Give me that phone.”

Diana immediately surrendered it.  “Here you go.  It’s ringing.  I’ll bet he’s got caller ID so he’ll know it was you.”

Brodie went to disconnect but froze when she heard a tinny “Hello?”

“Oh, God,” she whispered.  “He’s home.”

“Say something,” Diana hissed.

Damn.  Brodie put the phone to her ear.  “Uh, hello.”

“Sassy,” Joe said, sounding surprised.  “How are you doing?”

“Okay.”  Brodie swallowed hard.  Joe’s deep, gravelly voice made her want to put her head down and howl.

“That’s good,” Joe said.

Brodie couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Diana held up Fruit Garnishes Made Easy.

“Thank you for the book,” Brodie blurted.  “It’s a classic.”

“I thought you’d like it,” Joe said.

There was an awkward silence.

Diana flapped her hand in a come on gesture.

“I, uh,” Brodie floundered.  She could hear Joe breathing heavily on the other end and wondered what he’d been doing, what he was wearing, if anyone else was with him.  Maybe he had a date over.  He was breathless from kissing some woman.  Kissing her instead of Brodie because there was no thinking involved.  “Is this a good time?” she asked.

“Sure,” Joe said.  “Just working out.  I can take a break.”  He paused.  “You okay, Sassy?”

Brodie glanced around the kitchen, desperately seeking inspiration.  It came in the form of the book she’d been reading over coffee that morning; The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser.  She’d finally made it to the second bookcase.

“I’m going to London on Monday,” she said.  “I was wondering if there was anything you’d like me to pick up for you at Hatchard’s.”

“I’ll have to think about that,” Joe asked.  “Why are you going to London?”

“I’m accepting a posthumous achievement award from the Royal Society for my father,” Brodie said.

“Very impressive,” Joe said.

“I’ve been doing that thinking we talked about.”  Brodie shut her eyes and screwed her courage to the sticking place.  “Maybe if you’ve been thinking too, we could talk about it some when I get back.”

“Okay,” Joe said slowly.  “When are you traveling?”

She told him her flight arrangements.  She would drive to Dulles Airport and leave her car in the long-term parking.

“Why don’t you leave your car in the garage here instead?” Joe asked.  “I can get a taxi to take you out to the airport.  Then I’ll pick you up on Saturday.”

“At the airport?” Brodie said.

“Yes,” Joe said and Brodie knew he was smiling.  “Right at the place where people get off the plane and other people find them.  Do you remember how to get here and the garage code?”

“Yes.”  Brodie felt lightheaded.

They talked for a few more minutes as Diana stared.  Brodie gave Joe her flight and hotel information and they agreed when the taxi should pick her up at his apartment building Monday afternoon for the flight to London.  They said goodbye and Brodie broke the connection.

“Oh my God,” Diana said.  “I knew it!”

Brodie started to laugh.  They were both covered in marinara sauce.  Linguini was dripping off her blouse, Diana’s braids were gummy, the floor was a mess, Mouse was burping garlic, and the remnants of dinner were ice cold.  And it was all wonderful because she was going to see Joe Birnam again. End Part 37

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Carmen’s other novels are available on Amazon. For book release news and sales alerts, sign up for Carmen’s monthly newsletter.


AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense by Carmen Amato. Episodes are released on Tuesdays and Fridays. Find all previous episodes here.

Begin Part 36

“Brodie,” Stanton said uncertainly.  “And the dog.”

“Hi, Stanton,” Brodie said.  “Can we come in?”

“Well.”  Stanton glanced backwards at the ornate colonial interior of the house.  He had on his usual Sunday afternoon outfit; khaki pants, apricot polo shirt, and teal paisley ascot.  “This really isn’t a very good time–.”

“Do you have company?” Brodie interrupted, pushing past him.  “Don’t worry, this won’t take long.  Come on, Mouse.”

Mouse obediently followed Brodie into the house, the dog’s nails clicking on the slate foyer floor.

“Look, Brodie,” Stanton said nervously.  “You can’t bring that smelly animal in here.  I really have to ask you to leave.”

“First things first.”  Brodie deliberately walked into the living room and watched Stanton blanch as Mouse trotted across the antique Persian rug to sniff a delicate Lladro figurine on a mahogany end table.

Stanton snatched up the porcelain sculpture.  Mouse lost interest, stuck her nose into a Chinese cachepot holding a miniature orange tree, and sneezed potting soil over the carpet.

“I really must insist, Brodie,” Stanton said.  “We can talk some other time.”

“But now’s good for me,” Brodie said brightly.  “Just tell me what you thought you were doing by going to the dean’s party and acting like we were still together.  You were the one who wanted to talk again but you’ve been the invisible man.  Yet suddenly you’re calling me darling in front of the dean?  You never called me darling.  Ever.”

Mouse rolled on her back on the dirt, four white paws bicycling the air.

“Dear God,” Stanton murmured as Mouse got to her feet and shook herself, puffs of white fur flying off the dog and settling onto the rug like miniature clouds.  He looked back at Brodie.  “I was doing you a favor.”

“Doing me a favor?” Brodie echoed incredulously.  Mouse’s tail sideswiped a delicate piecrust table, making it teeter, as the dog went to investigate the silk damask seat cushions of a Duncan Phyfe sofa.

“Shoo,” Stanton said, stilling the table and rescuing a delicate bouquet of jade flowers.  “Yes, I was doing you a favor.  Showing my support.  People would have thought it odd if I was in Charlottesville and hadn’t shown up.  There are reputations to consider.”  He reached past Brodie to scoop up an elaborately embroidered toss pillow before Mouse could press her muzzle into it.

“You are so full of it, Stanton,” Brodie said furiously as Mouse lolled on the rug again, leaving a coating of spiky hair in the nap.  “You came to the party to strike while the iron was hot.  The symposium was successful, the dean was Dad’s friend, and you knew he’d be happy for me.  The symposium is always his big donor day and he’d be feeling generous.  It was a good time to hit him up for your stupid television studio so you can broadcast from campus and get more air time.”

“That’s a very unfair thing to say,” Stanton said, kneeing aside a taffeta hassock that had come in contact with Mouse’s tail.

“It’s the truth, though, isn’t it,” Brodie snapped.  Mouse trotted into the dining room.  Brodie followed.  Stanton brought up the rear clutching his decor.

“Well, just so it doesn’t ever happen again,” Brodie rattled on.  “This is your official notice that we are over.  So there’s no confusion, here’s why.”  She started counting off the reasons on her fingers.  “I do not like you.  I do not like your snooty family in Houston.  We do not like the same music, movies, or television shows.  We don’t have the same sense of humor.  You don’t turn me on physically.  Kissing you is like kissing a brother.  Bland and a little weird.”  Stanton’s face reddened as Brodie crossed her arms.  “So we are no longer dating and never will again and if anybody asks we have broken up.  I may take out an ad in the Cavalier.  No more power couple–.”

A movement on the other side of the sheer-covered dining room window caught Brodie’s eye.  She yanked the curtain aside.  Out on the deck, a young dark-haired woman in a splashy Lily Pulitzer sundress was sitting at the umbrella table.  On the table there was a pitcher of pina coladas, two glasses, and a tray of crab puffs.

“Is that Sabine Seagull?” Brodie asked, staring at the scene.  “From the Economics Department?”

“Um, yes,” Stanton’s voice betrayed his nervousness.

Brodie swung around to confront him, as Mouse scurried out of the room.  “You’re on a date with her,” she accused.

Stanton’s angular face tensed.

“You’re dating her,” Brodie said in amazement.  “How long has this been going on?”

“Her book is outselling yours,” Stanton replied as if that explained everything.  He put the sculpture and pillow on the dining table.  “Really, Brodie, you’ve said what you came to–.”

You came to the dean’s party yesterday and wrecked my life,” Brodie shouted.  “And all the time you’ve been dating someone else?”

“Like you never used me,” Stanton said nastily.  “Now that your father’s gone, you’ll be nothing on this campus without me towing you along.  Now see if you get the project funding you want.  Jack Hull’s not going to help you.  Someday he’ll be head of the history department while you’re still chumming with your coaching friends and listening to that yodeling music.”

From the kitchen came the sound of a door opening and then Sabine Seagull came into the dining room holding a pina colada glass.  Up close she was a fatally attractive woman, with big green eyes, artfully tousled long dark hair, and luminescent skin.  “Are you coming back out, Stanton?” she asked, then blinked as she recognized Brodie and sensed the hostility in the room.  “Dr. Macbeth.  Hello.”

“Dr. Macbeth was just leaving,” Stanton spat.

“Are you sure you won’t stay and have a pina colada with us?” Sabine asked.  She had a soft, little-girl voice.

“Dear God,” Stanton said, as Mouse curveted into the room, a tennis ball in her mouth.

“Is this your dog, Dr. Macbeth?” Sabine exclaimed.  “How beautiful.”  She put her glass on the table and crouched down to pet Mouse, ignoring Stanton as he leaped to the buffet to get a coaster.

“Thank you,” Brodie said.  The situation was getting very surreal.  “Her name is Mouse.”

“Hello, Mouse,” Sabine crooned, rubbing Mouse’s ears and getting a damp tennis ball deposited in her lap in return.

“Don’t touch that dog, Sabine,” Stanton said waspishly.  “You don’t know where it’s been.”

Sabine looked up in surprise as Mouse backed away from her and pressed against Brodie’s legs.  “Stanton, you don’t like dogs?”

“He doesn’t like sex, either,” Brodie said.

Stanton’s face turned vermillion.

Brodie clicked her tongue.  “Let’s go, Mouse.”

The pie crust table fell over with a satisfying crash as they passed through the living room on the way to the front door. End Part 36

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Joe vs Standon . . . Let me know in the comments!


AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Episodes are released on Tuesdays and Fridays. 

Begin Part 35

Puck bayed in response to the doorbell.

Diana opened the door.  She ran her eye over Brodie and Joe waiting on the doorstep.

“We’re here,” Brodie said unnecessarily.

“Ray,” Diana called over her shoulder.  “Come look at this.  The Vikings have come to brunch.”

Brodie glowered but Joe laughed.  “No raping and pillaging until after we eat,” he said.

“I’ll bet you’re starved,” Diana said sympathetically.  “Did Brodie cook breakfast?”

Joe grinned, shifted the watermelon ship to his left hand, and extended his right.  “Hi.  I’m Joe Birnam.  We come bearing fruit salad.”

“Diana Johnson.  Really glad to meet you,” Diana said.  She shook his hand then relieved him of the watermelon ship and lifted her eyebrows in admiration.  “This is too fabulous to eat.  Are you some kind of food designer in your spare time?”

“Brodie made it,” Joe said.

Diana’s mouth dropped open.  “Wow,” she said.  “This is a first.”  She gave Brodie an is this for real? look, then flashed Joe another dazzling smile.  “Come on in.”

As they stepped over the threshold Ray appeared and Diana introduced him.  “Do you know anything about grilling?” Ray asked Joe.  “I’ve got some chicken going on with my own special sauce.  Not sure how long it should be cooking.”

“Molasses or brown sugar?” Joe asked.

“Both,” Ray said.  “And balsamic vinegar.”

“Nice,” Joe said admiringly, one master chef to another.

“Not too early for a beer for you?” Ray asked hopefully.

“It’s five o’clock somewhere,” Joe said.

“Right this way.”  Ray gestured for Joe to proceed him, then turned and gave Brodie a thumbs-up before following Joe down the hall.  Puck trotted after them.

“He’s gorgeous,” Diana whispered, watching the two men disappear into the kitchen.  “You were right about that ass.  Last night must have been fantastic.  Did the earth move?  Stars collide?”

“Yesterday was hideous,” Brodie hissed.  “Stanton showed up.”

“At the house?” Diana asked, shocked.

The screen door rattled and they both automatically looked down the hallway again.  Puck had been left in the kitchen and was bumping the door with his nose and whining.

Brodie shook her head.  “At the dean’s cocktail party after the symposium.  And acted like we were still together.”

“Oh, no,” Diana said.

The back door opened, Puck shot outside, and the door closed again.  “Dogs love him,” Brodie observed sourly.  “Joe’s a magnet for interesting people and dogs.”

“So what happened?”  Diana rested the watermelon boat on her hip.

“We left the cocktail party and then had this weird argument at home.  He slept in Mrs. Weir’s room.”  Brodie left her purse on the hall table and smoothed the front of her sleeveless black and white print dress.

“Did you make up?” Diana asked.  “He seems to be in a good mood.”

“Sort of.”

“So now what?” Diana led the way into the kitchen, her silk top and capri pants matching the decor.

“I have no idea,” Brodie said morosely.  She headed for the refrigerator.  “What do you have to drink?  Anything stronger than beer?”

To Brodie’s surprise it ended up being a fun, relaxing afternoon.  Joe and Ray talked animatedly, their conversation ranging from football to politics to entertainment to football.  Brunch was served on the patio where they all talked and laughed and listened to jazz.  They moved inside for coffee and the Sunday afternoon NASCAR race, Joe and Ray still arguing good-naturedly over football.

At four o’clock Joe said he had to be thinking about heading back to Alexandria.  Back at the farmhouse he disappeared into Mrs. Weir’s room to pack.  Brodie changed into denim shorts and a plain white tee shirt.

She came downstairs in time to see Joe carry his suitcase outside.  Brodie followed, Mouse squeezing by her, and watched from the porch as he tossed the bag into the back seat of the truck.  As Mouse trotted over to the truck Joe turned around.

Brodie stuck her hands in her pockets.  “I’m sorry this was such a weird weekend,” she said awkwardly.  She stepped onto the top step.

Joe walked to the porch, moving over the gravel drive with only the slightest hint of a limp.  By now Brodie knew that it was only evident when he was very tired or walking on an uneven surface.  He stopped at the base of the porch, the same Oakley wraparound sunglasses he’d had at the Cherry Blossom Festival in his hand.  Mouse pressed against his right leg.  Crickets started an early concert.

“It was weird, wasn’t it?” he said.  His hair was pale gold in the late afternoon light.  “But your friends were nice.  Diana and Ray are good people.”

“So what’s next?” Brodie asked hesitantly, coming down another step.

Joe sighed and squinted toward the old dogwood trees.  The crickets quieted.  “Maybe old Stanton did us a favor, Sassy.”

“How’s that?”  Brodie stepped down again so that she was standing on the last step.  Her face was level with Joe’s.

“Without him showing up, we might have jumped into something we weren’t ready for.”  Joe touched her cheek, surprising her.

“Joe,” Brodie said.  She slid her hand over his.  “How ready do we need to be?”

“I don’t know, Sassy.”  Joe traced the line of her jaw, her hand riding on his.  The big blue eyes were sad.  “I only want you to be happy.  Get past this thing with your dad.  Be able to get the hell out of that box if that’s what you want.”

Brodie’s heart twisted in her chest.  That wasn’t enough.  She wanted to know if they’d ever really be together, skin-to-skin, the way she’d imagined.  And he was so close, his hand gentle on her cheek.  “Joe, please.”

“If I kiss you right now,” he said, his hand motionless.  “I might never stop.”

“Would that be so bad?” Brodie asked, her voice a tight whisper.

Joe shook his head and reluctantly took his hand away.  “We’ve both got a lot of thinking to do.”

He got into the truck.  Brodie felt utterly miserable as it backed out of the driveway and turned down the road.

The crickets started up again, their chatter from the dogwood trees loud and insistent.  Brodie stalked into the house and got her purse and car keys. End Part 35

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AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Episodes are released on Tuesdays and Fridays. 

Begin Part 34:

Her parents hadn’t been murdered.  There was no great secret.  Common sense told her what these nightmares were all about.  They were about her inability to love and be loved.  Brodie sniffed and went back to the window.

Down in the yard, Joe dropped to the ground and started doing push-ups, his artificial left foot hovering above the ground, his weight borne by his hands and right foot.  Brodie counted 120 push-ups with the excellent butt going up and down like a machine before Mouse started licking his face and Joe collapsed in laughter.

When he started doing crunches on the grass Brodie put on yoga pants and a tee shirt and went downstairs.  The roses Joe had brought were on the kitchen counter.  They’d opened into a froth of pink petals and she inhaled their scent guiltily.  Joe had come to the weekend with the same expectations she’d had.  Between one thing and another it had all turned into a mess.

Coffee was made and still hot.  As she poured herself a cup Joe came through the back door, tracked lovingly by Mouse.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” Brodie replied, her knees suddenly wobbly.  He smelled like grass and sunshine and testosterone.  “Good workout?”

“We were just playing around.”  Joe topped up Mouse’s water bowl then filled a glass for himself and drank it down.

“Great,” Brodie said and buried her nose in her mug.

Joe turned on the faucet again and splashed water on his face.  There was a sweat stain at the neck of his tee shirt but he wasn’t even breathing hard.

He turned off the water, dried his face with a paper towel, and leaned against the counter.  “So.  How’re you doing this morning?”

Books, depression, and regret.  Brodie put down her mug and took a big breath.  “I owe you an apology,” she said.  “I was rude and I’m sorry.”

Joe pulled off the bandana and stuck it in his pocket but didn’t speak.

That was as much as she could manage.  Acutely aware of Joe’s eyes on her, Brodie opened the refrigerator and hauled out a big box she’d gotten from DeLuca’s Friday afternoon when she’d picked up dinner.  The Party’s On Us the box proclaimed.  Deluxe Fruit Fixings.

“Brunch at eleven,” Brodie said lightly.

She opened the box and stared at the contents in dismay.  There was a pineapple, a container of strawberries, some kiwis, half a cantaloupe, a grapefruit, and a couple of apples and pears wrapped in tissue paper.  Damn.

“What’s the matter?” Joe asked.

“It was supposed to be cut up,” Brodie said.  “I told Diana I’d bring fruit salad and it was supposed to be already cut up.  You know, in pieces.  To eat.”

It felt like the last straw.  The weekend with Joe had been ruined, nothing had gone the way she’d hoped.  He’d found out that she was some emotionally stunted wretch, they hadn’t done anything more than hold hands, she’d had another hideous nightmare, and now she wasn’t going to have any fruit salad for Diana and Ray’s brunch.  Brodie grabbed the pineapple, threw it back into the refrigerator, and found a big glass bowl.

“What was wrong with the pineapple?” Joe asked.  He found a mug and poured himself some coffee.

“Everything else I can just bring over as is,” Brodie grouched as she tossed a kiwi into the glass bowl.  “But what’s Diana going to do with a pineapple?”

Joe put down his mug and opened the refrigerator door.  “You promised fruit salad, right?” he asked, bending to look inside.

The butt was very, very excellent in those thin nylon pants.

“Yes,” Brodie said faintly.  Life is so unfair.

Joe came back to the counter holding the pineapple and a small watermelon Brodie had bought for the week ahead.  “We keep promises,” he said and the blue eyes went right through Brodie.  “We say what we mean.”

“I really don’t cook,” she said lamely.

“You don’t cook fruit salad.”  Joe took the kiwi out of the glass bowl and lined up all the fruit on the counter.  He found the ancient chopping board Mrs. Weir had used to knead bread and handed Brodie a clean dishtowel and a sharp knife.  “Hold the pineapple like this.  Cut off the top and then slide the knife down the sides.”  He demonstrated slicing away the prickly skin, exposing the juicy yellow interior.  “And then cut it into rings and then make the rings into rectangles.”

“Rectangles,” Brodie said doubtfully.

“You’ll see.”

He left the kitchen and came back a minute later with a pen.  He traced a line on the outside of the watermelon, inserted a knife along the line and started cutting.

Brodie sawed at the pineapple and got the top off.  She and Joe worked side by side for a few minutes, Brodie feeling self-conscious and sticky-handed as she hacked at the pineapple until there was a tidy row of yellow rectangles on the chopping board.

Joe cut away a long section of watermelon rind, leaving a green tureen with the ends higher than the sides to reveal the juicy pink interior.  He showed her a round tool, jammed it into the melon, made a twisting motion, and produced a perfect pink melon ball.  Joe dropped it into the empty glass bowl and handed Brodie the tool.  “Your turn,” he said.

“Uh,” said Brodie.

“What time is brunch?” Joe asked pointedly.

Jerk.  Brodie took the tool and stuck it into the watermelon.  It took her a couple of tries but she figured out the trick.  When she was done and the glass bowl was full of melon balls she looked at Joe in triumph.

But Joe merely glanced at the bowl then handed her a grapefruit.  “Small pieces,” he said and gestured at the glass bowl.  “No pits or skin.  Same for the pears and apples.  Then wash and halve the strawberries.  Peel the kiwis and cut them up.  Cantaloupe, too.”

There was no way she was going to do any more chopping or cutting or melon ball making.  “No,” Brodie said.  “That’s it for me.  I need to go get ready.”

“You’re not done here,” Joe said shortly.

“You could help, you know,” Brodie said, irritated.  He was the one who was the great cook and he’d just stood there and watched her make melon balls.

“It was your promise,” Joe said.  He went and sat at the table with his coffee.  Mouse put her chin on his right knee.

Jerk.  I so don’t want to sleep with you.  Brodie bit her lip and jammed her thumb into the grapefruit skin.

When she was nearly done cubing the cantaloupe Joe got two carrots out of the refrigerator.  He peeled and sliced them into thin reeds.

“Put some paper towels in the empty watermelon,” Joe said.  “You need to dry it out and then–.”

“Put everything in,” Brodie finished.  “I’m not an idiot.”

“Not the pineapple,” Joe said.

He leaned against the counter, all muscle and blue eyes, and Brodie seesawed between lust and annoyance.  A lecture last night, now he’s telling her what to do in her own kitchen.  She grabbed a paper towel.

But when everything was done the fruit mixture made a wonderfully delicious kaleidoscope of color in the bright green watermelon tureen.  Brodie couldn’t help smiling in satisfaction.  I did that.

Joe handed her a carrot straw and a rectangle of pineapple..  “Here,” he said and worked the pineapple onto the carrot.  He stuck it in the middle of the cut fruit.

“It’s a sail,” Brodie exclaimed.

“Very good,” Joe said.  “You do the rest.”

In a few minutes the watermelon was transformed into a Spanish galleon under full sail.

“Look at that,” Brodie marveled.

“See,” Joe said.  “You got your hands dirty and you didn’t like it.  But you’re tough.  You did one thing at a time.  You hung in there, figured it out, and made something pretty good.”

Brodie went to the sink and washed her hands so he wouldn’t see her face flush.  “Is this some new-fangled fruit salad therapy?” she asked.

“Just using what was available,” Joe said.  “I’m a resourceful kind of guy.”

Brodie dried her hands and turned around and their eyes met.  “Thanks,” she said.

“Hey,” Joe said.  He stepped toward her.  “We’re all learning.  Taking it one day at a time.”

For a moment Brodie thought he might put his arms around her and hold her tight and she desperately wanted to be that close to him.  To hide inside his embrace, to be protected by his strength, to feel his heart beat against hers.

“Don’t ever turn out a light on me again, Sassy,” Joe said.

End Part 34

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AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Episodes are released on Tuesdays and Fridays. 

Begin Part 33

Brodie was frightened, more frightened than she’d ever been in her life.  The fear was like a greasy hand in her bowels.

“Tighten up that square, you lazy buggers!  Monsewer’s dainty horsemen are coming fer another kiss.”

As the vivid dream took shape around her, Brodie realized she was in the heavy red and white wool uniform of a British redcoat.  There was a clumsy musket in her hand and she was in a hollow square formation with hundreds of other soldiers.  The square was four men deep and a hundred wide.  She was toward the back but she could see over the shoulders of the soldiers in front of her.  A muddy field stretched away from the military formation.  In the center of the enormous hollow square officers rode nervous horses and bellowed orders, telling the men to look sharp, to stay close, to spit at the French.

Other British squares were staggered across a field like the red squares of a chessboard.  Dead and wounded horses and soldiers littered the mud all around the British formations.  There was a farm in the distance, built with the solid stone walls of rural Europe.  The air was cloyingly dense with the acrid smell of gunsmoke and the sweet gumminess of spilled blood and sweaty bodies.  Gunners in the far distance belched death from behind a smokescreen created by their cannons.

The smoke lifted in a slight breeze and Brodie suddenly realized where she was:  Waterloo, 1815.  Napoleon, Emperor of France, had been defeated in Russia and exiled to the tiny island of Elba, only to escape, regain his throne in Paris, rebuild his army, and convulse Europe in one, final cathartic battle.  Britain’s Lord Wellington would defeat Napoleon at Waterloo, a tiny farm village in Belgium sited near a crossroads, but would pay a terrible price to do so.

A cannon ball screamed out of the sky and savagely struck the opposite side of the square.  Several men fell, creating a groaning, bloody hole that was instantly filled as the redcoats shuffled together again.

Brodie knew she was vulnerable in this dream in a way she’d never been before.  Wellington’s infantry had been torn to shreds by Napoleon’s guns and cavalry at Waterloo; the British and their Prussian allies had very nearly lost the field.  The square formation was Britain’s answer to French cavalry but pitting infantrymen against horses was a horrific, bloody business.  A wounded horse could slide into the side of a square and breach the line of soldiers, opening it to the slashing swords of the cavalry.

“Dad,” Brodie shouted.  She had to find her father and get them both out of there.  “Dad!”

“Shet yer gob!” the soldier next to her cried and jabbed his elbow hard into her ribs.

“Close up, close up,” an officer in the hollow center bellowed.

Brodie looked around desperately, knowing she wasn’t going to be able to wake up.  The wounded were dragged to the center.  Their groans competed with the boom of the French guns.

“Here they come,” someone yelled.

Brodie’s heart stopped beating.

The French cavalry was a breathtaking sight.  From far across the huge field the Cuirassiers in their heavy armor walked their huge horses forward.  Behind them were the Red Lancers in bizarre square headgear and the Horse Grenadiers in tall black bearskin helmets.  Brodie could see past them to the Carabiniers in white uniforms, Dragoons in green, and troops of Hussars with plumes in their hats.  There were thousands of them, thousands and thousands of horsemen, all coming to kill her and her father, too.

“Dad!” Brodie shouted, determined to find him before the assault.  He was another soldier in the square.  Or maybe a soldier in another square.  “Dad!”

“He’ll be calling for his mam, next,” someone jeered.

“Oh, this is good.  Very good.”  A new voice came from behind the ranks of redcoats.

Brodie twisted around.  A young blonde officer on horseback loomed above the redcoats, the horse and his ornate uniform giving him power and stature.  He reined in the animal, making the rearmost soldiers flinch as the nervous beast pawed the ground near them.  His eyes were white and corroded and totally familiar.

“Your choices of venue are always so extravagant,” the officer said.  His horse pranced nervously.  “Quite exciting compared to your father.  He was always so predictable.  But it looks as if this time you’ve landed yourself in quite a mess.  Tell me what you know and I’ll help you get out of here,”

“I don’t know anything,” Brodie said, her voice shaky with fear.

The rasp of metal on metal rang above the noise of the gathering battle as the officer drew his sword.  He whipped it down, catching Brodie under the chin, forcing her head upwards.  Brodie caught her breath in a ragged gulp as the redcoats on either side of her shrank back.

“Your father’s not here,” the officer said calmly.  “He’s left you holding the bag, so to speak.  So you might as well tell me how he cheated the game.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Brodie said.  The metal was cold on her skin and she was shaking so hard her teeth chattered.

“He told you something important,” the officer said.  “Stop trying to hide it.  You can’t possibly have succeeded this long unless he told you the secret.  I’ll get it out of you one way or the other.”

“The toff’s mad,” a redcoat beside her murmured.  “Tell him.”

“Steady lads,” another officer called from the safety of the hollow center of the square.  “Wait for my word!”

A cannon boomed and the men in the square moved restlessly.  The officer’s horse neighed and skittered a step and the sword bounced against the underside of Brodie’s chin.  The ground vibrated, as if an earthquake rolled in waves deep inside the earth, and Brodie felt the upheaval deep in the muscles of her legs.

“In case you haven’t noticed,” the officer said, inching up the sword tip so that it pressed into Brodie’s throat.  His face was round and smooth but the eyes were old and diseased.  “We haven’t got all day.”

The French cavalry had begun its charge in earnest.  The ground shook beneath Brodie’s feet, the sword point was choking her, fear was tearing apart her stomach and she couldn’t wake up.

“Please,” Brodie breathed.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

A thousand hooves drummed along the ground and ten thousand men roared defiance and the sound of a sharp bark was like suction against Brodie’s skin, pulling her away from the battlefield and the officer with the white eyes.

Dad!  Help me! she wanted to scream but her heart was pounding and her hands were shaking and the musket was heavy and the sword against her throat was killing her.

*          *          *

Brodie woke up with a small scream, totally disoriented and enraged.  It took her a long, excruciating moment to realize that sunshine was streaming in through the curtains and that Mouse was barking.

She sat up abruptly and gulped air, her heart still hammering in her ears.  For several long moments she fought for breath.  The room wavered dizzily and she blinked hard to clear the dream from her vision.

“Dammit, Stanton,” she croaked.  She found Napoleon and the Hundred Days by Stephen Coote on the floor by the bed and threw it across the room.

Mouse barked again, a short, staccato play with me yip that came from outside the house.  Brodie wound her way out of the tangled bed sheets and went to the open window.

Joe and the dog were in the back yard.  They were playing fetch with the old plastic hedgehog, Joe lobbing it across the grass and Mouse racing madly after it.  The dog brought it back to him each time, dropping it neatly at his feet and barking to remind him to throw it again.

“Traitor,” Brodie murmured.

Joe’s shoulders were so much wider than his waist that his tee shirt flapped loosely around his midsection like a flag at half mast.  As he moved across the grass with the dog, the narrow shin pole of his prosthetic was evident through the thin nylon of his warmup pants .  He had a bandana wrapped around his head to keep the hair out of his eyes and the sun caught the fine blonde hairs on his forearms.  He looked big and powerful and fundamentally masculine and nothing like the other men who’d ever been in Brodie’s life.

As she stared at him longingly, Brodie knew that he’d been right last night.

She slumped into the upholstered rocking chair, hugged her knees, and confronted some ugly truths about herself.  Maybe there was insanity in her family.  Maybe she was a defective human being without the capacity to love.  Maybe all she’d ever have in life would be books.  Depression and regret.  And hideous nightmares.

The Macbeth family just didn’t handle emotion well.  Now she was too old to learn how to handle loaded situations so she avoided them instead.  Stanton knew it; he’d manipulated her for the better part of three years and yesterday in the garden had been no different.

Joe knew it too.

Brodie pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes.  She hadn’t been able to see what was upsetting her father, she hadn’t had the courage to stand up to Stanton, and she’d let her chance with Joe go by.  It wasn’t just Stanton that was giving her these nightmares, it was everything. End Part 33

My late, great German Shepherd, who was the inspiration for Mouse.

My late great German Shepherd, who was the inspiration for Mouse.

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AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Episodes are released on Tuesdays and Fridays. 

Begin Part 32

“. . . Thank you all very much for making the university’s tenth annual symposium on music and politics such an enjoyable and informative day,” Brodie said into the microphone.  “Please join us for the cocktail hour Dean Slocum is hosting in the garden.  And on that note–pun intended–we are adjourned.”

There was a ripple of laughter.  From his seat in the audience, Joe winked at her.  His bright blonde hair and starched white shirt stood out amid the sea of seersucker and khaki suits, the summer uniforms of the successful southern academic.

They’d carried on a virtual conversation for most of the day, the communication flowing silently between Brodie on the stage and Joe in the audience.  Unexpected humor at a speaker’s witticism, appreciation for certain musical spots, support for Brodie’s students, disdain for a particularly pompous academic–they’d shared it all.

Brodie smiled and raised her hand in a farewell gesture and stepped away from the podium.  Applause swelled inside the auditorium.

As the audience trickled out of the big auditorium Brodie went backstage and hugged her waiting grad students.  They’d all made short but well-received presentations.  She picked up the purse she’d left in the backstage office, crossed the empty stage, and went up the aisle to the lobby.

Joe was waiting for her, tall and broad against the wall with a shaft of sunlight from the window playing across his body.  Brodie’s mouth went dry at the sight of him.

“You did very well, Sassy,” he said and gave her that sideways smile.

“Thank you, sir.”  Brodie started to shrug out of her jacket and Joe’s big hands were suddenly on her shoulders, helping ease it away.  Their movements brought them close and Brodie couldn’t help smiling back at him, loving the way the corners of the blue eyes crinkled and how his teeth shone white inside the trim beard.  “But be honest,” she said.  “How bored were you?”

“Not at all,” Joe said.  “The opening and closing remarks were riveting.”

“Of course.”  Brodie gave a laugh.

Joe flipped her jacket over his arm like a waiter with a towel.  “The rest is a little blurry,” he admitted.  “Especially when that hefty lady was talking about Hitler and Wagner.  But that was your fault.”

“Me?”  Brodie slipped the handle of her purse over her shoulder.  “What did I do?”

“You had your legs crossed.”  Joe looked down at her in mock seriousness.  “I got so distracted when you started bobbing your foot, I never heard how the story ended.”

“Glenn Miller joined up and we won,” said Brodie.  She touched his arm and turned him toward the exit, sure that tonight would be the night she’d really get to know Joe Birnam.  He’d obviously put last night behind him.  “Can you stand a couple of minutes at the cocktail party?”

“Only if I get to take you out to dinner afterwards.”  Joe’s fingers trailed down the inside of her wrist.  “I think I’m looking at a woman who needs a drink, a solid meal, and the chance to put her feet up.”

“That would be so great,” Brodie said fervently as their fingers met.  “How about a quiet place with fantastic steaks and a beer list as long as your arm?”

“I’d like that.”  Joe kept smiling and for a moment Brodie thought he was going to kiss her but then a noisy bunch of students came out of the auditorium and the moment slid away.

“Ten minutes, I promise,” Brodie said softly.

They held hands as they crossed to the garden.  A steel drum band was playing next to the skirted bar, giving the reception a Caribbean feel.  Howard Slocum was standing with his wife just inside the gate.

“Brodie,” he boomed as Brodie and Joe walked up.  “A wonderful day.”

“Thank-you, Dean,” Brodie said.  “May I introduce Joe Birnam.”

Slocum shook Joe’s hand, introduced his wife Grace, then focused on Brodie again.  “What a golden touch you have.  I said to Gracie, whatever Brodie does turns to success.”

“What a kind thing to say, Dean,” Brodie said.  “But I have to say that it really was my students who–.”


Out of nowhere, Stanton swept down on them, resplendent in a pale blue seersucker suit, lemon yellow shirt, polka-dot bow tie, and white suede bucks.

Brodie froze in utter astonishment as Stanton ignored Joe, edged by Dean Slocum, and put his hand on the small of her back as he kissed her cheek.

“Darling, the symposium was wonderful,” he said effusively.  “Dean, didn’t you think the agenda this year was the best we’ve ever had?”

“Uh, Stanton,” Brodie started but her brain was screaming no, no, this can’t be happening.

“I’m so proud of you, darling.”  Stanton took his hand off Brodie’s back in order to shake hands vigorously with Dean Slocum.  “Howard, it was so good for you to host this little gathering.”

“Yes, very kind for you to do this for the department.”  Jackson Hull had followed in Stanton’s wake and was now part of the group.  He was wearing a rumpled khaki suit and the smell of old cigarettes hung in the air around him like cheap cologne.

“My favorite event of the year,” Dean Slocum enthused.

Joe’s face had registered a brief twist of surprise when Stanton first appeared, but now the captain of the football team could have been a professional poker player.  Brodie saw his expressionless face and her brain came to a grinding halt.  She felt like an idiot, not knowing what to do, what to say, how to avoid a scene.

“Our Dr. Macbeth is really making a name for the university, isn’t she?”  Stanton cocked his head, radiating that insincere sincerity she knew so well.  He turned his high beams onto Dean Slocum.  “I wouldn’t be surprised if the symposium resulted in some significant new alumni donations.”

“Confidentially.”  Dean Slocum leaned forward conspiratorially.  “That’s already happened.  Why do you think this is my favorite event of the year?”

Stanton and Hull laughed dutifully.  “Maybe this is a good time to reconsider my proposal for a journalism studio for the department,” Stanton said.

Brodie felt the air rush out of her as she realized why Stanton had shown up.  Why he was calling her darling in front of the dean.

“Inter-departmental activities are always popular with alumni,” Hull pointed out, fumbling a cigarette package out of the pocket of his khaki suit.  His eyes were small and brown behind the horn-rimmed glasses.

“How much do you think it would cost?” Dean Slocum asked.

Joe eased away from the group, his face still expressionless.

“Dean, we have to be going,” Brodie said but Slocum wasn’t paying attention.

Stanton had turned on his television commentator’s voice and his audience was hooked.  He started spewing figures to a rapt Dean Slocum.

“Where’d you get Paul Bunyan, Macbeth?” Hull asked, obviously amused at her discomfiture.  His eyes darted between Brodie, Joe, and Stanton as he sucked on his cigarette.

“Dean, I have to go,” Brodie tried again as Joe disappeared into the crowd.

“Darling, mea culpa,” Stanton said, with a sly grin that dared her to discredit him.  “I won’t be able to make dinner tonight.  You go on without me.  I have a million phone calls to make.”

His audacity was unbelievable.  Brodie’s brain was inert with embarrassment.  “Yes, well,” she said lamely.  “Good night.”

She walked across the grass, her heels digging in at every step.  Joe was at the bar but didn’t have a drink in hand.  “Ready to go?” he said.

They were quiet in the Volvo on the way to the Hardware Store, a downtown Charlottesville landmark.  The two-storey restaurant had once been a real hardware store.  The antique tool bins and signs had survived a careful restoration and the reminiscent décor was part of the restaurant’s considerable charm.  Brodie and Joe were shown to a table on the mezzanine overlooking the first floor.

They ordered beer and steaks and made stilted small talk, mostly about what Joe had seen during a stroll around the campus during one of the breaks.  Brodie didn’t know she knew so much trivia about Jeffersonian architecture.  She picked at her salad and ate a few mouthfuls of ribeye, her stomach tight with nerves.

When they got back to the house they went into the kitchen and let Mouse in.  The dog went straight to Joe and flopped on her back to get her stomach rubbed.  Joe bent awkwardly and stroked the dog’s fur.  “I think we need to talk, Brodie,” he said.

“Yes, of course, yes,” Brodie heard herself gabble.  She needed some liquid courage.  “Let’s go in the den.”

“Sure,” Joe said.  Mouse followed them out of the kitchen.

Brodie flicked on the overhead light and the dark green den walls glowed.  She put in a Brad Paisley CD, then poured them each a stiff Famous Grouse.

Joe sat on the sofa with his glass and looked at the ornate chess set on the coffee table.  Brodie settled into the maple rocking chair and flicked on the desk lamp.  It brightened the room considerably.  Mouse yawned and collapsed into a heap on the floor by Joe.

“Napoleon or Wellington?” Joe asked.

“Napoleon,” Brodie said.  The set was a reminder of the latest book from her father’s shelves, a retelling of the battle of Waterloo.

They played silently for a few minutes.  Brodie tried to block out the tension in the room by focusing on Joe’s strategy but she couldn’t do it.  Everything had gone horribly awry between them, thanks to Stanton, and she didn’t know how to fix it.

Joe took one of her bishops and Brodie stared at the board.  Joe could checkmate her in two moves.  She moved her queen to defend the king, trying to set up a gambit.  It wasn’t much.  Joe was a very good chess player and would probably figure it out in a move or two.

But instead of taking his turn, Joe got up and turned off Brad in mid-guitar solo.  He came back to the sofa and the old leather creaked under his weight.  As he sat facing her, it was obvious that one knee was intact and that the other was a metal joint.

“Did I ever tell you about my marriage?” Joe asked.

“Not really,” Brodie said, surprised at the subject.

Joe sipped some Scotch then studied the glass with its half inch of amber fluid.  It was a heavy Waterford tumbler but looked small in his big dexterous hand.  “I was stationed in San Diego,” he said.  “She was the hostess in a restaurant.  We lasted all of a year.  I shipped out to the Gulf and she ran off with another guy.  I signed the divorce papers in Kuwait.”

“I’m sorry,” Brodie said.  Somehow it felt like her fault.

“I won’t ever be that other guy, Brodie,” Joe said.

“What?” Brodie asked blankly.  Then his meaning caught and she straightened up in the chair.  “Is that what you think?  That I’m still seeing Stanton?”

“Are you?”


“You sure about that?”

“Of course.”

“Then why didn’t he seem to know?”  Joe moved a pawn.

“He only showed up to pitch his idea about some television studio he wants the university to build,” Brodie said dismissively.  She used her knight to jump the pawn in an attempt to threaten Joe’s bishop.  “He knew the dean was going to be there.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”  Joe took her knight with his rook.

“There’s nothing to discuss.”  Brodie moved her last remaining bishop and made a show of studying the board.

“But if you say it’s over, why didn’t he know?” Joe asked, making a visible effort to keep his voice even.  “And come to think of it, why didn’t anybody else know, either?”

“Stanton and I are just professional colleagues at this point,” Brodie insisted.  She looked up from the chessboard.  “We haven’t talked since before I went to Edinburgh.”

“You haven’t spoken to him since you got back,” Joe said.

“No,” Brodie said.  “Nothing.  No contact.”  Surely that would show she wasn’t a two-timer.

“Then how does he know you’re not at that crossroads anymore?”

Brodie blinked, trapped by Joe’s logic.  God, she’d been an idiot.  She should have called Stanton, made things final, not left herself so vulnerable.

“So tell me if I’m wrong here,” Joe said.  He leaned back.  “I don’t think you’re lying to me but I do think that you avoided telling this jerk how you felt.  Maybe you thought it would be messy.  Didn’t introduce me to him because it would have been embarrassing.  Sat for an uncomfortable hour in that restaurant looking at your plate hoping I wouldn’t bring it up and it would all go away.”

He looked so smug Brodie wanted to throw the chessboard at him.  Joe had seen right through her and the feeling was intensely uncomfortable.  She pursed her lips and stared at the chess pieces.

Joe reached across the table and the tips of his fingers caught Brodie under the chin so she had to look at him.  “Fidelity and honesty are big issues for me,” he said softly.  “I won’t be jerked around.”

Mouse lifted her head and looked at them.

Brodie pulled back, torn between acute embarrassment and the thrill of Joe’s touch.  “What do you want me to say?” she huffed.  “That I’m sorry I didn’t introduce you?  Well, I am.  I’m sorry.  And I’m sorry he was insufferably rude to you and I didn’t say anything.”

“Okay.  Thank you.”  Joe nodded.

Mouse laid her chin on her front paws again and watched Joe.  Brodie folded her arms.  Out of the corner of her eye she saw him use his queen to take her bishop and put her king into check.

“Checkmate,” Joe said.

“Fine,” Brodie said.

Mouse made a grumpy sound and rolled onto her back.  She wriggled against the carpet, leaving dog hair everywhere.

“You know,” Joe said.  “This isn’t about whether or not you introduced me to your asshole ex-boyfriend.  It’s that if you live your life never telling people how you feel, how is anyone ever going to know where they stand with you?”

“Are you accusing me of being dishonest?” Brodie exclaimed.

“Do you think it’s honest not to tell people how you feel?” Joe shot back.

“I was brought up to be discreet,” Brodie countered.

“I noticed that last night,” Joe said.  “I told you how I felt and you were nicely discreet.”

Brodie drank the last of her Famous Grouse and felt her nerves fray.  The tension in the room swelled, magnified by the dark walls and heavy tartan draperies.

“Look, Sassy.”  Joe began lining up the chess pieces as if for a new game.  “You’ve got a lot of stuff bottled up in there.  Every time you clam up you add more until the bottle’s got more than it can hold.”  His eyes were intense and immediate.  “Get in there, get it out.  Get mad now and then.  I know you’re tough, but avoiding real life is eating you alive.”  He paused.  “And isn’t that what happened to your dad?”

Brodie put her empty glass on the table and clenched her fists.  What right did Joe Birnam have to lecture her like this?  It wasn’t like she was some kid.

Joe got up to refill their glasses.  His limp was very pronounced as Mouse followed him to the table by the window and suddenly Brodie was twelve again and it was the worst day ever.  Her father had come to pick her up at Kay’s house in Edinburgh at the end of the summer and announced coldly that Brodie would not be going to middle school in Charlottesville with her friends but would instead be going to boarding school.  It had felt as if he was banishing her, cutting her out of his life.  Brodie had protested tearfully and Kay had tried to ask why but it had been like talking to a wall.  “Macbeths don’t cry,” Wallace Macbeth had said tersely and a week later Brodie had watched her father and Mrs. Weir drive away from the Madeira School.  And didn’t cry.

Joe put the refilled glass in front of her.  “You need to learn how to speak from the heart, Sassy,” he said as he settled once more onto the sofa with Mouse at his feet.  “If you don’t you’re going to miss out on a lot.”

Brodie raised her glass to her lips and sipped, stung by the truth in what he was saying but also seething inside.  Who the hell did Joe Birnam think he was?

“If I didn’t care I wouldn’t say anything,” Joe said as if he’d read her mind.  “Maybe everyone else in your life has let you get away with it.  Maybe everything was all right until your dad died.  But you’re hurting now and I can’t just watch you do this to yourself.”

He put the last pawn in place on the board.  The two miniature armies faced each other again, ready for battle.

Brodie kept her eyes on the glass in her hand.  “Last night you said I gave you space,” she said tightly.  “Maybe you should learn to do the same thing.”

The room got very quiet.

“Well.”  Joe tossed down some scotch.  “So she can get mad.”

Brodie reached out and turned off the desk lamp.  The room shifted into gray night, spared total darkness by the dim overhead light.

Joe put his empty glass on the table and stood up.  “As the song goes, the whiskey ain’t working any more.”

Brodie tightened her jaw as he walked away.

Joe stopped in the doorway, his back to Brodie.  “For the record,” he said without turning around.  “If I ever see that asshole again I’m going to pull his head off and beat the shit out of him with it.  And if I make a scene, so much the better.”

He left, Mouse at his heels.

When she heard the door to Mrs. Weir’s room close, Brodie swept her hand across the chessboard, furiously knocking the carefully placed pieces to the floor. End Part 32

The Hardware Store restaurant in Charlottesville, VA

The Hardware Store restaurant in Charlottesville, VA

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AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Episodes are released on Tuesdays and Fridays. 

Begin Part 31

Brodie glanced at her watch.  It was still only 7:00 pm.  Joe would be there in an hour.  She gave herself a once-over in the hall mirror on her way to the kitchen.  Subtle makeup.  Skinny jeans, brown sandals, and a body-hugging pink tee shirt.  White lace underwear beneath.

Playful and ready, Brodie decided and grinned shakily at her reflection.  Joe would say something about the pink tee shirt.  And hopefully take it off her later.  She couldn’t decide if she was nervous or excited.  Probably both.

Mouse followed her into the kitchen, ears pricked up, the dog alert to Brodie’s jittery mood.  Brodie set the table with her nicest china and cloth napkins then opened the refrigerator door and hauled out a heavy disposable aluminum pan from DeLuca’s Gourmet.  It held two stuffed Cornish game hens, a wild rice pilaf, and maple glazed baby carrots, all artfully arranged on a potato gratin.  All she had to do was heat the whole thing for a hour on low heat.  Dessert was strawberries in Cointreau over orange sorbet in Mrs. Weir’s cranberry glass bowls.

Brodie turned on the oven and slid in the pan.  She poured herself a glass of mineral water and tried to think what else she should do.  But the kitchen was sparkling, there was beer in the refrigerator and red wine on the counter, and the table looked lovely.  The bathroom in Mrs. Weir’s room off the kitchen was clean and she’d put out fresh towels.

“The other bathroom!” she exclaimed and ran upstairs.  Mouse galloped up the stairs with her, nearly knocking Brodie off her feet as they went.  Brodie put clean towels on the racks then gave her bedroom a final once over.

She stopped in front of the mirror over the dresser.  “Maybe you’re overdoing the pink thing,” Brodie said to her reflection.  She peeled off the tee shirt and traded it for a sleeveless black top.  And then found new black slingbacks to replace the brown sandals.

The playful look was gone.  This outfit said you’re in for a hot night, Joe Birnam.  Brodie put on some more mascara, fluttered her lashes at herself in the mirror and went back downstairs, her high heels making a sexy and confident click on the hardwood floors.

At 8:15 she was vibrating nervously between the front door and the kitchen, Mouse following at her side, when the phone rang.


“Joe?”  There was a tunnel effect to his voice and Brodie knew he was on a cell phone.

“Look, I’m going to be late.  I’m still on Route 66.”


“You might want to turn on the news,” Joe said.  He sounded tired and strained.  There was a lot of noise in the background; sirens and people talking and someone crying.  “There was a pretty big accident right in front of me and the whole road is blocked.  Couple of people dead.”

“Oh my God,” Brodie breathed.  She shot into the living room and found the television remote, the cordless phone still pressed to her ear.  She started flicking through the channels.  “Are you all right?”

“I’m okay,” Joe said.  “They should have it cleared up pretty soon but I won’t get to Charlottesville until pretty late.”

“God, Joe,” Brodie said.  The local news channel was reporting the accident and scenes of wreckage filled the television screen.  “Are you sure you still want to come?”

“I’ll be there,” Joe said.  “Just keep the light on.”

“You be careful,” Brodie said.  “There’s no need to rush.  Dinner will keep.”

“I’ll call you again when I get out of this mess,” Joe said.

Brodie sank onto the loveseat.  The accident on Route 66 had made the national news.  A semi truck had fallen off an overpass and onto the westbound lanes of traffic, crushing cars and snarling traffic.  At least four people were known to be dead, with a dozen injured.  The road, full of travelers getting out of Washington for the weekend, was solid gridlock all the way back to the capital.  Brodie thought she could see Joe’s white truck as the television view panned over the accident scene from above, shot no doubt from a helicopter.   The scene looked gruesome, a huge tangle of metal and tragedy.

An hour passed.  Brodie started pacing between the front door and the television.  The click of the high heels soon drove her nuts and she looked down at herself.  “You look like a hooker,” she said aloud and went upstairs.

A simple white blouse and flat slides said no pressure, I’m ready whenever you are.  Brodie had just gone back into the living room when the phone rang.

“It looks like one lane is getting by,” Joe said.  The deep voice was even more tired.  “With any luck I’ll be out of this mess in a half hour.  What are my chances of getting a beer when I get there?”

“Excellent,” Brodie said.

After they hung up she went into the kitchen.  The food from the gourmet shop was starting to look a little dry.  Brodie decided to baste the roasted hens in butter like the instructions said.  It was an unfamiliar and complicated process to melt butter in the microwave and spoon it over the meat but she managed and slid the pan back into the oven.

She watched the news some more, yawning every five minutes but determined not to fall asleep.  The day had been a killer; there had been so many last minute details to attend to for the symposium–the sound system checks, jittery graduate students to soothe, a mix-up in a speaker’s hotel reservation, a dozen calls from the university catering service.  She looked at her notes for the opening and closing remarks she had to make.  Her intro was simple; thank people for coming, tell them where the bathrooms and exits were, which rooms to go to for the small workshop sessions, what time lunch was served, and a few fun facts about the presentations they were going to hear.  When it was over she had to do a quick recap, again say thanks for attending, and direct them to the dean’s cocktail party.  She made a few edits, then turned back to the television.

At 11:30 she basted the hens a second time, her movements clumsy with fatigue.  She got melted butter on the white blouse; a greasy streak that didn’t come off despite repeated scrubbing.  “It was inevitable,” Brodie said to Mouse as she plodded up the stairs.  She changed into a comfortable university sweatshirt and sneakers.

She settled on the front porch at 12:30, phone in hand and Mouse at her feet, resisting the urge to gnaw her fingernails.  It was a cool, starry night and she was glad for the sweatshirt.  A fat crescent moon hovered above the trees.

Bright headlights swept into view and the big white truck turned into the driveway.  Mouse stood up.  The big dog’s ears swiveled forward as the vehicle came to a halt.

Shaky with relief, Brodie started down the porch steps as the truck’s headlights switched off and the door opened.  Joe got out slowly, turning on the seat so that his right foot touched the ground first.  Mouse gave a short, sharp bark.

“Hi,” Brodie called and then Mouse charged Joe, ninety-five pounds of churning muscle and fur, barking furiously.

“Mouse!” Brodie shouted, totally startled.

“Whoa,” Joe said and braced himself against the side of the truck as Mouse reached him and reared up on hind legs, still barking madly.  The dog’s jaws were inches from his face.

As Brodie watched in astonishment, Joe caught Mouse’s front paws.  Man and dog stood together, looking like an incongruous dance team backed against the truck.

Mouse gave two more short, sharp barks, and then licked Joe’s face with every evidence of great joy.  The dog’s fluffy tail wagged furiously.

“Hey, hey there.”  Joe turned his face away from Mouse’s exuberant tongue and staggered a little, still supporting the dog’s weight by her front paws.

Brodie reached them, got a hand under Mouse’s collar, and dragged the dog down to all fours.

“I’m so sorry,” Brodie said breathlessly.  “It was just because it’s dark and you’re a stranger.  I’m so sorry.”  Mouse squirmed and bucked, determined to get to Joe.  Brodie had to let go of the dog’s collar before her hand was shoved into Joe’s crotch.  Mouse pressed her nose into Joe’s pants legs, drinking in his scent and keeping him pressed against the truck.

“This has to be Mouse,” Joe said.  He bent and ran his hands over the dog’s head and back. Mouse quivered with pleasure, even as she sniffed his prosthetic leg.  “She’s gorgeous.”

“Sit, Mouse,” Brodie said sharply.  Mouse lowered her hindquarters and gazed at Joe adoringly.

Joe straightened up and smiled tired at Brodie.  The big shoulders slumped with fatigue and Brodie’s heart gave a concerned lurch.  “I’m just about beat,” he said.  “You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

For a moment Brodie thought he was going to hug her but he didn’t.

“Come on inside,” Brodie said hurriedly.  “Dinner’s in the oven.”

Joe pulled a duffel suitcase and a bouquet of pink roses wrapped in florist paper out of the back seat of the truck.  He handed her the bouquet.  “I hope they’re not dead.”

“You really didn’t have to bring me flowers,” Brodie said, touched.

She led him across the dark yard and into the house, Mouse tight against Joe’s side.  His limp was very pronounced and Brodie wondered if he was in pain.

“Hungry?” Brodie asked.

“Starved,” Joe said.  “But there was talk of beer, I seem to recall.  A hundred miles or so ago.”

They went into the kitchen, Mouse following as if connected to Joe by an invisible string.  Brodie opened two beers and handed one to Joe.

“Cheers,” he said and lightly touched the neck of his bottle against hers before drinking.

Brodie sipped her beer, knowing that if she drank it too quickly she’d fall asleep in her dinner.  Joe had no similar compunction, apparently, and drained his bottle in one long, exhausted swallow.

“Dinner’s ready whenever you are,” Brodie said.

“Let me wash up and change my shirt first,” Joe said.  He was wearing a white BIRNAM WOOD tee shirt and jeans.  The tee shirt had flecks of what looked like rust stains across the front.  “In fact, I think I’ll just throw this shirt away.  Do you have a trash bag?”

Brodie blinked, realizing what the stains were.  “Of course,” she said.  She found a trash bag in the cupboard then opened the door to Mrs. Weir’s room.  It didn’t seem like the right time to show Joe to her own bedroom.  And he looked too tired for all those stairs.  Not to mention anything else.

Joe disappeared into Mrs. Weir’s room with his suitcase and there was the sound of running water.  Brodie put the roses in a vase and checked on dinner.

After hours in the oven, the Cornish game hens looked like wire sculptures.  The rice pilaf had acquired a hard crust and the glazed baby carrots had shriveled into short leather strips.  Brodie lifted out the pan and plated the food, hoping it wouldn’t taste as overdone as it looked.

A few minutes later Joe came out of the bedroom in clean jeans and a navy blue tee shirt, his damp hair curling over the neckline.  Brodie handed him a fresh beer.

They ate quietly, Joe accepting a third beer halfway through.  Mouse sat by Joe’s chair, ears back and looking hopefully at his plate.  But Joe seemed to be a thousand miles away.  He complimented Brodie on the food and she wondered if he even knew what he was eating.  The chicken tasted like wood, the rice was like eating nails, and the carrots were fibrous and chewy.  Neither ate much and Brodie was relieved when she could replace the plates with the strawberries and sorbet.

Joe flinched when she set the dessert dish in front of him as if her motion had been too sudden.

Brodie slid into her chair, picked up her spoon, then set it down again.  “Are you all right?” she asked.

“Yes, sure,” Joe said.

Brodie reached out and touched Joe’s left hand.  It was resting on the table next to his dessert dish.  And shaking.

“Shit,” Joe said, his gaze following Brodie’s touch.  He shook his head.  “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Brodie said.

Joe’s hand turned and closed around Brodie’s.  His grip was strong and warm despite the trembling.  “It happened right in front of me,” he said.  “I was in the middle lane and watched that rig tumble right out of the sky.  The semi fell on two cars and the rest slammed into each other.  Somehow I got the truck onto the shoulder and started running toward the accident.”

“Oh my God,” Brodie murmured.  She rubbed her thumb over his, feeling the shaking subside.

“I hadn’t seen a dead body since Iraq,” Joe said.  His eyes were dark and troubled.  “It brought back a lot of bad memories.”

Brodie’s stomach clenched.  “How long until the police came?”

“There was actually one in traffic behind me.  A county guy.  We teamed up.  Found two bodies and got a bunch of banged-up people out of cars and onto the grass by the shoulder.”  Joe blinked and rubbed his eyes with his free hand.  “Look, Sassy, I’m not good company right now.  I need some sleep.  Can we start the weekend over tomorrow morning?”

“Of course,” Brodie said.

“Thanks,” Joe said.  He made no move to let go of her hand.

“I have to be at the symposium no later than nine in the morning,” Brodie said apologetically.  “It means leaving here at eight forty-five.  Do you want to come with me?  If you want to sleep in I can leave you directions.”

“No,” Joe said.  “I’ll come with you.  I don’t want to miss a minute of you doing your thing.”

Brodie’s heart gave a lurch.  “You sure?”

“The weekend starts tomorrow morning,” Joe said firmly.

“Tomorrow morning,” Brodie echoed.

“I really appreciate this,” Joe said.  “You know how to give a man space.”

“Take as much as you need,” Brodie said.

“I like you, Sassy,” Joe said.  “Very much.”  He squeezed her hand and looked at her expectantly.

Brodie’s emotions churned but no words came out.

Joe raised Brodie’s hand to his lips, kissed her knuckles, then pressed her palm to his cheek.

Brodie closed her eyes and felt the air quiver around them.

Joe exhaled and gently let go of her hand.  His chair scraped over the tile floor as he stood up and then the door to Mrs. Weir’s room closed.

Brodie made herself clean up the kitchen, painfully conscious of Joe on the other side of the wall.  When she passed the door to Mrs. Weir’s room on her way upstairs she heard him snoring softly and wondered if he was dreaming. End Part 31

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Carmen’s other novels are available on Amazon. For book release news and sales alerts, sign up for Carmen’s monthly newsletter.


AWAKENING MACBETH is a serialized novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Episodes are released on Tuesdays and Fridays. 

Begin Part 30:

Joe called Tuesday night and they talked for an hour, Brodie curled up on the living room sofa with the phone pressed to her ear.  He called again on Thursday.  Both conversations were full of shared laughter and the anticipation of seeing each other again.

Brodie e-mailed him directions to the farmhouse on Friday, wishing the next week would flash by in an instant.  She was sure that what hadn’t happened in Edinburgh at the Dingerhoy would happen in Charlottesville in her bedroom.  And she hadn’t had a weird dream since the weekend he’d called to invite her to the festival.

Saturday afternoon she was cleaning up the den, replacing on the bookshelves the books she’d finished reading–Churchill’s memoirs of World War II–when the phone rang.

Sassy, she expected to hear.  ‘Left onto my street at the oak tree?’  Directions or a good country lyric?

It wasn’t Joe.  It was a young woman with a down home southern accent, asking if this was the Macbeth residence.

“This is Dr. Macbeth,” Brodie replied, wondering if the caller was a student.

“This is Wanda from Munk’s.  Ya’ll owe three months for ya’ll’s storage unit.  Ya’ll gonna pay that this week?”

“I beg your pardon?” Brodie asked in confusion.

“Ya’ll gotta year contract and it’s behind three months rent for ya’ll’s storage unit.”

“I don’t have a storage unit.”

“Wally Macbeth?”

“I’m his daughter.”  Although to Brodie’s knowledge no one had ever called her father “Wally.”

“Well, if he don’t pay, his stuff’s gonna be con . . . con . . . confistaken.”

“Confiscated,” Brodie corrected automatically.  She sat on the edge of the desk and pressed a hand to her forehead.  “Are you sure you have the right person?”

“Wally Macbeth,” the woman said stoutly.  “His stuff’s gonna get took.”

“Okay, okay,” Brodie said.  She had no idea what her father would have placed in storage.  “I’ll come and pay.  Where are you?”

“Munk’s Storage on Chart Street,” the woman said.  “Ya’ll gonna come before six?  Office closes at six.  Look for the big yellow sign with the brown M on it.”

“Yellow sign with the brown M,” Brodie repeated and hung up.

She opened the desk drawer full of loose keys and took out the envelope Sarah had given her the day she’d gotten the letter from Donald Pedder.  The yellow envelope was discolored where it had been taped to the underside of her father’s office desk but the big brown M was clearly visible.

*          *          *

Brodie picked up Diana on her way out to Chart Street.  “Moral support required,” she said as Diana got into the Volvo.  “Something doesn’t feel right.”

“For a storage unit?” Diana said skeptically.  “It’s probably full of old books.”

Ten minutes later, as the Volvo juddered over railroad tracks and kept going through a run-down neighborhood in the southern part of the city, a worried look spread over Diana’s face.  “We might have to fight our way out of here,” she said.  “We should have brought Ray.”

“And the dogs,” Brodie said, hoping she wouldn’t have to stop at any red lights.

Chart Street was a million miles away from the refined gentility of the university or the new commercialism of Charlottesville’s rehabilitated downtown.  They passed an asphalt factory; a shaky barn-like structure with railroad cars full of glinting black coal sitting idle in front of it.  Across the way, an adult bookstore’s neon sign advertised XXX Hard Core.  A couple of women in tight shorts, tube tops, and stiletto heels lounged in front of the pawnshop next door, waiting for business and getting old before their time.  The windows of both shops were covered by metal grilles.  A collection of beat-up trucks cluttered the parking lot of a no-name fast food place.  A dumpster by the entrance overflowed with sandwich wrappers and paper cups.  Profane graffiti covered the dumpster and the base of the building.  A dozen teens with low-riding jeans and beer bottles slouched in front of the combination launderette and massage parlor and eyed the Volvo with malevolence.  The air smelled like sulfur.

“This is like a war zone,” Brodie said.

“Why would your dad come down here?” Diana asked.  “I mean, there are storage places in a lot nicer parts of town.”

Munk’s Storage was a series of low corrugated metal buildings fronted by rollup garage doors and surrounded by a rusted chain link fence.  The entrance was a gravel drive rutted through to the dirt.  Brodie drove through the opening in the fence, the Volvo bouncing hard in the ruts.  Gravel pinged against OFK 362 and the car’s undercarriage.  Brodie parked by a hand-painted sign that said “offise.”

They didn’t accept checks or credit cards.  Brodie had to pay cash for three month’s rent before being allowed through an inner fence to find the right garage unit.  The key from the envelope fit into the lock at the base of the door.

“Here goes,” Brodie said.  She wiped a sweaty hand on her jeans and hauled on the handle.  The metal slats rolled up with a squealing protest of rust and heat.

The storage space was empty except for a battered cardboard file box pushed into a corner.

“That’s it?” Diana said as they walked into the space.

Brodie found a light switch and a single bulb in the ceiling came to life.  “Apparently.”

She squatted down and opened the box.  It was full of spiral-bound school notebooks.  She picked up the one on top and rifled the pages.  They were all covered with her father’s distinctive copperplate handwriting.

“Notes, I guess,” Brodie said in bewilderment.

They escaped Chart Street, went back to Diana and Ray’s place, and dumped the box of notebooks out onto the kitchen table.  As Brodie and Diana began sorting through them, Ray handed around beers then went outside to grill burgers.

Most of the notebooks were yellow with age, the metal spirals bent.  There were twenty in all, and most contained two years’ worth of brief diary entries.  They started with the year the widower Wallace Macbeth had come to the United States with his infant daughter and ended about six months before he died.  The last entry was about George and Martha being published.

Diana picked up a notebook at random and Brodie did the same.  It was a European A4 size notebook with a stiff cover and thick spirals.  She flipped through the pages, skimming her father’s words.  Wallace Macbeth had written of the move to Charlottesville, of the difficulty in getting Mrs. Weir to fly.  Brodie was referred to several times as “the child.”

Thank God the child looks like a Macbeth.  If she was dark and small like the Brodies it would be too painful a reminder of what I have lost.  She is a part of Elizabeth and for that I am grateful but she is a true Macbeth as well.

“Your mother was Elizabeth?” Diana asked.


“This is sort of mushy . . .”

Brodie looked over Diana’s shoulder.

June 22:  My thoughts constantly turn to Elizabeth.  My life is hollow now, nothing fills my thoughts as she does and always will.  Our life together was fate and fate has been ripped from me.  I am deformed, voracious, restless.

In my dreams I long for her, to find answers, and then place my mouth on hers.  I would close my eyes and breathe life back into her as she wrapped herself around me . . .

“Ohhhh-kay,” Brodie said.  “Yuck.”

She flipped through a third faded notebook, reading entries at random.

2 November:  Once again I am filled with longing.  This emptiness is a torment.  The nights tease me and I don’t understand what is happening.

30 November:  I will not sleep again tonight.  My dreams are too intense.  Elizabeth was so close I could feel her presence.  I long for her, to touch her, to pull her body against mine, to stroke her breast.  She could answer my questions and then I would push deep inside her, rock both of us–.

“Eeeuu,” Brodie said and closed her eyes.

“He actually used the word loins in this entry,” Diana said faintly.

“Do you know what this means?” Brodie asked, shoving the notebook away in disgust.

“You dad could have had a second career writing bodice-rippers,” Diana said.

“No.”  Brodie drank some beer, realizing that her hand was shaking.  “Kay was right.  Dad was obsessed with my mother.  It’s like there was a side to him I didn’t know at all.”

Diana gathered up the notebooks and loaded them back in the box.  Brodie slumped in her chair at the kitchen table and picked at the label of her beer bottle as Diana hauled the box to the front hallway.

“So Kay was right,” Diana said as she came back into the kitchen.  She took plates and flatware out of a cabinet and brought them to the table.  “Maybe not what you wanted to hear but you finally got some answers, right?”

“How could Dad have been this strange, obsessed man and I didn’t know?” Brodie asked, jamming a fingernail into the label.

“He was very good at hiding his problems,” Diana said.  “Just look at where he kept his diary.  In a storage unit in gangland.”  She drank some beer still standing up.  “And it kind of dovetails with the license plate, doesn’t it, sweetie?  Erratic behavior he kept well hidden.”

“Remember what the lawyer said?  Maybe Dad wasn’t of sound mind.”  Brodie managed to shred a piece of the beer bottle label.  “I wonder how hereditary insanity is.”

“I know what you’re thinking,” Diana said.  “When was the last time you had one of those Stanton dreams?”

“Awhile ago,” Brodie said.  “Before I went to Joe’s.”

“See?”  Diana waved her finger at Brodie.  “Your subconscious knows it’s truly over with Stanton.  You probably won’t have any more.”

“What were you all reading?” Ray asked as he came in the back door with a plate full of burgers.  He was wearing an Atlanta Falcons apron and his shaved head gleamed from the heat of the grill.  Puck was at his heels, looking hopefully at the plate.  Ray would like Joe, Brodie thought distractedly.

“Brodie’s dad’s diary,” Diana said.  She opened the refrigerator and got out cole slaw and potato salad.

Brodie pointed down the hall at the box sitting near the front door.  “Thirty-five years of sexual obsession.”

“Whoa,” said Ray, putting the plate of burgers on the table and sitting down.  “Can I read it?”

“No,” Diana said firmly.  She kissed the top of Ray’s head.  “Don’t joke.  Brodie’s really upset.”  She went to the sink, washed some lettuce, then brought a plate of it to the table.  “I guess that explains why he never remarried,” she said to Brodie.  “He was still in love with your mom.”

Brodie tried to push her father’s strange diaries out of her thoughts as they ate.  Diana and Ray’s kitchen was clean and inviting; sparkling white cabinets, granite countertops, dark green walls, a splashy valance over the big bay window.  The tablecloth was a coordinating stripe.  All the rooms in the townhouse were decorated in bold combinations of green and gold and rusty red.  A reflection of their personalities and relationship, Brodie thought.  Vibrant, happy, complete.  In comparison, she felt like a dour work-in-progress who’d had to hire a decorator.  A work-in-progress with a thick streak of insanity in her family.

“So next weekend,” Diana said leadingly.

“What?”  Brodie pulled her thoughts back to the present.

“Joe’s coming next weekend,” Diana said.  “Why don’t you bring him over here for brunch on Sunday?”

“Yeah,” Ray said.  He slipped Puck a bite of burger.  The dog swallowed it whole.  “I ought to check him out for you.”

“You don’t have to check him out,” Brodie protested.

“The guy picked you up on an airplane,” Ray pointed out.

“In first class,” Brodie riposted.

Ray threw up his hands in mock protest.  “Just trying to do a friend a favor.”

“Actually we thought we’d better feed him at least one meal while he’s in town,” Diana said.  “Don’t want the guy to starve.”

“I can cook when I have to,” Brodie said indignantly as both Diana and Ray hooted.

When she got home Brodie lugged the box of diaries upstairs and dumped it in the storeroom with the rest of her father’s papers.  She didn’t know what she’d ever do with the notebooks.  They were too personal and intimate to read but she couldn’t just throw them away, either.

But at least she knew what had happened.  Kay had been right.  It was a strange, awkward closure but it would do.

Of sound mind.  The lawyer’s words had a little more substance behind them now, but Brodie went to bed determined to think only positive thoughts.  About blonde men.  Sapphire earrings.  One day at a time. End Part 30

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