AWAKENING MACBETH, part 60 #paranormal

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serial novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Two episodes of AWAKENING MACBETH are released every week. The story so far: Brodie has searched for a clue to her father’s legacy of conversations with evil but all she has found is a passage from a classic novel about King Arthur. She passes out, only to find herself in her father’s dreams of Camelot. Just as she expects to see Lancelot with Pedder’s evil white eyes, she is struck down by searing pain.

***

The smell of dry, dusty urine replaced the stink of mold.

Brodie forced open her eyes to see that she was huddled in a narrow alley sided by faded gray cement structures.  The walls were pockmarked by age and disrepair.  Overhead, the sky was blue and mercilessly bright.  The height of the buildings on either side shaded the alley but the heat beat against her like surf.  There were no trees, no grass.  Everything around her was still and dead except the heat.

Brodie slowly got to her feet, surprised to find that she was dressed like a biblical shepherd in a shapeless beige robe and leather sandals.  There was fabric on her head secured by a twist of cording.  The fabric trailed over her shoulders, protecting her neck from the sun.

Voices murmured above her, making her start.  Seconds later she heard the faint hum of an engine.  Brodie looked up to see two swarthy men on the second story roof of a building bordering the alley.

The engine noise grew louder and the men chattered excitedly in a language she didn’t understand.  Suddenly, Brodie knew whose dream this was and where it had taken her.  Terror surged into the very core of her soul.

She started running down the alley toward the sound of the engines.  The air tasted like sand and the heat made it hard to breathe.  The long robe got in her way and something dragged against her right side but she ignored it.

The alley emptied into a large dirt area that in better times had probably been a village square.  It was bordered on three sides by a motley collection of empty houses and shuttered shops.  The fourth side was bordered by a single lane road that stretched into flat nothingness in either direction.  On the other side of the road, dun-colored hills hunched against the merciless sun, offering up a few scrubby bushes to whatever gods had forgotten this rocky emptiness.

Brodie could see a convoy of military vehicles approaching the far side of the nearly deserted village.  The sound of the engines was like the angry buzzing of bees.

The bloated body of a dead goat was lying half on the road near the first village structure.  The lead Hummer swerved slightly to avoid it.

As the driver’s door drew parallel with the corpse, the goat’s body erupted in a ball of fury and fire.  The left side of the Hummer lifted and then the entire vehicle rose into the sky, spewing fire and flesh and metal.

The world roared and the concussion wave blew Brodie back into the alley.  She fell to the ground like a rag doll, the wind knocked out of her.

Agonizing moments went by as she fought for breath, her mouth and nose clogged with grit.  Her ears rang from the blast.  When Brodie was finally able to crawl to the mouth of the alley the scene made her retch with fear.

The road by the far side of the village square was engulfed in flames pumping oily black smoke three stories into the sky.  Resting on its side, the Hummer was the center of the inferno.  Numerous small fires burned all around the wrecked vehicle.  The hard-packed ground was stained with blood and littered with the detritus of war–bits of camouflage fabric, twists of metal, a blood-soaked boot.  The heat of the blazing fires, trapped between the cement houses and the hills, cooked the village square with a stink of charred flesh and burning oil.  The air was littered with ash.

The roar of the flames competed with the shouts of the Marines and the crack of gunfire.  A firefight raged between insurgents on the rooftops and the Marines who’d used their vehicles to create a defensive position.

Brodie could see a small, bloody knot of Marines huddled against a low wall on the far side of the square.  They were out of the firefight but perilously close to the burning Hummer.

Joe’s helmet was off and his hair was as short as in the picture in Old Forge.  His eyes were a wild blue in his smoke-smudged face.  The stump of his left leg was a bloody pulp and smoke was rising from his body.  Blood stained the sand around him.  As he shouted the color drained rapidly from his face.

Another Marine bent over Joe and swiftly searched Joe’s flak vest pocket for something.  The Marine had to be Joe’s corporal, Carson.

A third Marine stepped up.  Brodie could see the medic’s insignia on his bag.  Joe’s best friend in Iraq, Trey Morales.

He’s telling me, I’ve got you, man, I’ve got you.  He’s doing two things at once; getting a tourniquet on what’s left of my leg and putting out the fire. 

As Brodie nearly buckled with relief, the corporal moved aside to let the medic squat down in front of Joe.  Carson thrust at Morales the package from Joe’s vest.

Morales didn’t take it.  His movements seemed unrushed as he took off his helmet, revealing the glossy black hair Brodie remembered from the picture.  He rocked slowly on his heels for what seemed like forever, the helmet strap dangling from his fingers, ignoring Carson.  Joe and Morales appeared to be talking.  Smoke still rose in tendrils from Joe’s body.

“Do something,” Brodie said, her voice small and lost in the bark of the guns and the snap of the flames.

Carson elbowed Morales aside, sending the medic sprawling, and pressed some sort of cloth over Joe’s lap.  Joe reacted by turning his head to one side, and Brodie could see how the veins in his neck were taut with pain.  The smoke was smothered but the rusty stain around him continued to grow, the sand absorbing the blood like water.

Morales came back at the corporal and flung the younger man away from Joe and toward the burning Hummer.  Carson rolled and scrambled back to the protection of the wall as the firefight raged behind them.

Something was very wrong, Brodie knew.  She wasn’t watching the story unfold the way Joe had told it to her, the way Trey had saved his life.  Propelled by a courage she never knew she had, she left the safety of the mouth of the alley and started moving along the inside wall of the square toward the blazing inferno and the three men on the far side.

There was a loud crack.  The burning Hummer wobbled and crashed down on its tires.  Brodie cringed as the heat wave buffeted her.

Morales squatted by Joe and tipped back his head and laughed.

Brodie saw his eyes and stopped.

Morales’s tawny skin threw the diseased white webbing into sharp relief.  Pedder’s eyes glinted like dirty snow in the handsome medic’s face.

***

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Carmen Amato_actionbox2 copyThanks for reading all the way to the end of this episode of AWAKENING MACBETH, a romantic suspense serial with a paranormal twist! I’m the author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries set in Acapulco including CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS, all available on Amazon and recently optioned for film. Please stay connected by joining the Mystery Monthly team. You’ll get exclusive excerpts, sales alerts, and reader news for mystery lovers like you and me.

AWAKENING MACBETH, part 59 #paranormal

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serial novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Two episodes of AWAKENING MACBETH are released every week. The story so far: Although Brodie stayed awake for days searching for a clue from her late father, rather than risk encountering Pedder in a dream again, all she found was a passage from a classic book about King Arthur. Brodie pushes Joe away to keep him safe but it was more than she could handle without a stiff drink. Drunk with grief and Scotch, Brodie trips, falls, and blacks out.

***

The smell was cloying and earthy and it took Brodie a moment before she recognized it as mold.

She blinked hard and a dim room came into focus.  It was a spacious chamber with stone walls and a high ceiling.  There were several smoke-darkened tapestries on the walls.  One small window was fitted with closed wooden shutters.  The furnishing were sparse for such a large chamber.  There was a bed with blue and gold woven curtains and a bearskin blanket, a round oak table flanked by two leather covered chairs, and several wooden trunks inlaid with a gold royal crest.  There was a metal plate and goblet on the table; the slices of cheese and mutton on the plate looked moist and fresh.

Several thick candles guttered on the table and on a side table by the bed.  Crossed swords hung from crude iron fixtures above an open hearth.  There was a fire in the hearth but it did little to chase away the chilly dampness that rose up from the floor.

She walked to the window and opened the shutters.  There was no glass behind them, just a windowless opening that revealed a drizzly twilight.  She was high above a wide emerald meadow that undulated away from thick stone walls.  There was a lush forest beyond.  The land was damp with rain.

“Camelot,” Brodie breathed.  Her father’s dream had become her own.

Opening the window did little to dispel the moldy smell and Brodie realized it was coming from herself.  She was wearing a maroon velvet gown that puddled on the floor.  The bodice was stiff with embroidery and the sleeves trailed well beyond her fingertips.  The skirt hung heavily around her waist, making her hips ache from the weight.  She pulled up the velvet hem to discover two layers of armor-like linen underneath.  The bottoms of both layers were slimy with mold.  She was wearing short leather boots and could feel the damp floor through the thin soles.

Brodie dropped the skirt with a grimace of disgust and looked around the room once more.  Maybe going to his dream was what her father had intended for her to do.  Maybe his secret could only be revealed to her in Camelot.

But whatever happened, she needed to be ready.  She hauled a chair across the floor to the fireplace.  Standing on the springy leather, she wrestled one of the heavy swords out of its holder.  It was too heavy to handle easily from her awkward position and slid out of her grasp.  The sword clattered to the floor as Brodie splayed herself against the chimney to avoid being sliced apart.

“My lady?”

A young woman in a simple linen dress came into the room from a curtained doorway and looked shocked at the sight of Brodie standing on the chair.

Brodie jumped off the chair and picked up the sword with both hands.  It was as long as her legs and weighed a ton but she could lift and thrust it.

“My lady?” the girl quavered again.

“Am I the queen?” Brodie asked sharply.  She pointed the tip of the sword at the girl but the teen’s eyes were dark blue.  She lowered the sword.  “Guinevere?”

“Of course, my lady,” the girl answered breathlessly.  She darted at the chair, looked at Brodie for approval.

Brodie nodded and the girl put the chair back where it belonged.  “King Arthur and Lancelot?” Brodie said.  “Where are they?”

“The King has gone to hunt in the New Forest, my lady,” the girl said nervously, still eyeing the sword.  “He will return tomorrow.  Sir Lancelot is in his chambers.”

Brodie absorbed this information without speaking.  She was clearly in the scenario at the end of The Once and Future King.  Arthur departs to prove to Mordred that Guinevere is faithful, Lancelot goes to the Queen’s chambers and their affair is found out, ultimately destroying Camelot.

“Do you need anything, my lady?” the girl asked.

“No,” Brodie said.  “You can go.”

The girl disappeared behind the curtain and Brodie stood the sword on its tip, her hands sweaty on the ornate hilt.  The thick blade glinted in the firelight as Brodie anticipated how the dream would play out.  Perhaps Lancelot would have Pedder’s white eyes.

Pain hit her head like the blow from a wrecking ball.

Brodie let go of the sword to grab her head with both hands before it split open.  The blade clanged to the stone floor and the sharp metallic sounds reverberated inside her skull.  The pain intensified and crushed Brodie to her knees.

The screaming blackness inside her head made her close her eyes.  The pain was like a crucifying fire.

***

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mystery author Carmen AmatoThanks for reading all the way to the end of this episode of AWAKENING MACBETH, a romantic suspense serial with a paranormal twist! I’m the author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries set in Acapulco including CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS, all available on Amazon and recently optioned for film. Please stay connected by joining the Mystery Monthly team. You’ll get exclusive excerpts, sales alerts, and reader news for mystery lovers like you and me.

AWAKENING MACBETH, part 58 #paranormal

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serial novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Two episodes of AWAKENING MACBETH are released every week. The story so far: Desperate to find the clue to her late father’s interactions with evil that will save Joe’s life, Brodie has stayed awake for 4 days looking through her father’s belongings. The license plates her father left her have revealed a clue in the form of a classic book about king Arthur.

***

. . . He unharnessed the horse and spancelled him.  Then he took off his own armour and hung it neatly on a nearby tree with the shield on top.  After this he ate some bread which the girl had given him, drinking water from a stream which ran beside the pavilion, stretched his arms out until the elbows went click, yawned, hit his teeth with his fist three times, and went to bed.  The bed was a sumptuous one with a coverlet of red sandal, to match the tent.  Lancelot rolled himself in it, pressed his nose into the silk pillow, kissed it for Guenever, and was fast asleep.

There was a faint pencil mark on the side of the page but the  passage had no relevance and Brodie kept on reading.  A man woke Lancelot who grabbed his sword and confronted the intruder.

“Now,” cried the man, and he aimed a furious swipe at Lancelot’s legs.  The next minute he had dropped his sword and was holding his stomach with both hands, doubled up and whistling.  The cut which Lancelot had given welled over with blood which looked black in the moonlight, and you could see some of the insides of the stomach with their secret life laid open.

Brodie continued reading to the end of the scene on the next page, then put down the book and blinked hard.  The page was a clue, she was convinced of it.  The pencil mark confirmed it.  But there was no discernable connection to dreams or Pedder or her father or anything else.  Lancelot had gotten lost and taken refugee in the sumptuous pavilion.  He’d taken care of his horse, ate, yawned, and went to sleep.  The man who’d come upon him owned the pavilion and had mistaken Lancelot for a common thief.  The altercation ended amicably, with no real damage done despite the ominous description of the man’s cut.  The man who had surprised Lancelot was named Belleus and became one of Arthur’s knights of the Round Table.

Brodie shook the book violently.  Nothing fell out.  “Dammit, Dad.”

She re-read the passage again and again, trying to make some connection between page 362 and her father’s diaries.  She went through the notebooks again, comparing them to the book, trying to match words and phrases or find some code.  The afternoon passed without a clue.

Brodie finally threw the useless book onto the coffee table, agitated beyond endurance, and poured herself a double Famous Grouse from the bottle on the butler’s table.  She’d been so sure that The Once and Future King would tell her how her father had cheated the game with Pedder.  How he’d moved in and out of the quest dreams.  Now she was adrift, worse off than before.  Some of the Scotch slopped on her chin as she slammed it down.

The alcohol burned her throat and exploded like a bomb in her empty stomach.  Brodie clanged her glass on the silver tray, making the bottles and glasses jump.

Dad!” Brodie shouted.  “Why didn’t you just tell me?”  Anger and exhaustion coursed through her and she lurched to the bookshelves and began flinging her father’s books off the shelves.  They hit the floor with sharp thuds.  First the B’s, Fighter Boys and its neighbors, then on to the C’s.

Churchill’s smug I-won-the-war tomes splattered off the shelf and the phone rang.

I will kill you,” Brodie screamed, lunging across the desk to snatch up the phone, sure it was Pedder.

“Brodie?” Joe said at the other end of the connection.

Brodie froze with the cordless phone in her hand.  “Joe,” she said.

“We need to talk.”

“No.”

“What the hell is going on, Sassy?” Joe demanded.  “We’re talking marriage one day and the next you say we’re over?  I don’t think so.”

Brodie found herself back at the butler’s table.  She took a swig of Famous Grouse directly from the bottle.  “I told you not to call me anymore,” she said into the phone and broke the connection.

The phone rang two minutes later.  Brodie let the answering machine get it.  “I’m going to keep calling until you pick up,” Joe warned.  When it timed out he called again.  Brodie stood in front of the window.  It had gotten dark and she hadn’t noticed.  She took another gulp of Famous Grouse as the phone rang again.

The fifth time he called Brodie answered it.  “Stop it, Joe,” she said.

“You owe me an explanation,” Joe said.  “Let’s hear it.”

“Where are you?” Brodie asked.  He was obviously on a cell phone and she cringed at the thought that he was on his way toward Charlottesville.  Toward Pedder.

“I’m on the waterfront,” Joe said.  “Watching the boats.  I’m coming to Charlottesville tomorrow.  For some answers.”

“You can’t come here,” Brodie nearly shouted.  “No.”

“What’s going on?  You can’t just drop this bombshell and expect I won’t have questions.  Talk to me, honey.”

“I’m sorry.”  Brodie closed her eyes, tipped up the bottle of Famous Grouse, and drank.  “We’re just over, okay?”

“Are you drunk?” Joe asked.

“Not yet,” Brodie said grimly and belted down another one.

“Just what the fuck is going on, Brodie,” Joe snapped.

The Scotch was starting to insulate her and suddenly Brodie knew what to say to keep Joe safe.  “Okay,” she said thickly.  “Here’s the scoop.  I’ve been seeing Stanton all this time.  We never really broke up.  Me and Stanton.  Sorry.”

“You’re lying,” Joe exploded.

Brodie stared at the reflection of a liar in the window and drank some more Scotch.  “Nope.”

“I don’t believe you.”

Brodie swayed and watched herself.  She was nicely framed in Macbeth clan tartan.  A design from the days when the Macbeths had guts.  “You have to.”

You have to?” Joe echoed incredulously.  “What kind of shit is this?

Shit, nothing,” Brodie shouted.  “I told you not to call and you didn’t listen.”

There was a long silence.  Brodie imagined Joe rumpling his big hand through his hair, the blue eyes cold with anger.

“All right, let’s just calm down here,” he said.  His tone had gone from furious to controlled.  “Something’s very wrong.  You’re scared.  What’s the matter?  Are you having second thoughts about getting married?”

“I told you.  I’ve been seeing Stanton all this time.”

“You really think I’m going to believe this garbage?” Joe asked.  “That our whole relationship was a fake?”

Brodie didn’t reply.

“Did you fake last weekend?” Joe pressed.

No.  I love you.  I have to protect you.  “We never had anything,” Brodie mumbled.  She pressed the cool glass bottle of Scotch against her forehead.  “You . . . you were just some fun.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Too bad.”

Too bad?”

“Yeah.  Stay away from me, cowboy.”

Fuck this,” Joe roared.

There was a whistling sound in Brodie’s ear, then a splash and a gurgle.  The connection buzzed nosily and then went dead.

Goddammit,” Brodie shouted.  She turned awkwardly, unstable with hard liquor and bottomless despair, and threw the phone and the Famous Grouse bottle across the room.  The phone cracked into the doorframe but the bottle banged into the bookcase nearest the door, bounced off a leather-bound spine and dropped to the floor.  Amber fluid gurgled out and the room filled with a sharp, yeasty scent.  Mouse appeared in the doorway, nose twitching as she sniffed the puddle of Scotch.

“Get away from there,” Brodie shrieked and staggered towards the startled dog.

She tripped drunkenly on the crazy patchwork of books strewn across the floor, overbalanced, and went down hard.  Her head smacked into the corner of the coffee table.  Pain dazzled her eyes for a moment and churned through her brain.  Then blackness closed in.

***

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Thanks for reading all the way to the end of this episode of AWAKENING MACBETH, a romantic suspense serial with a paranormal twist! I’m the author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries set in Acapulco including CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS, all available on Amazon and recently optioned for film. Please stay connected by joining the Mystery Monthly team. You’ll get exclusive excerpts, sales alerts, and reader news for mystery lovers like you and me.

AWAKENING MACBETH, part 57 #paranormal

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serial novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Two episodes of AWAKENING MACBETH are released every week. The story so far: Brodie is desperate to discover her father’s secret to surviving encounters with evil for so many years. She doesn’t dare fall asleep and believes the only way to keep Joe safe is to do what her father did to her years ago: remove the element of love from the relationship. She’s broken her engagement with Joe over the phone.

***

Brodie woke with a start.  She’d slept for two hours without dreaming.  It was pitch black outside.  Her face was seamed from the napkin and spoon she’d put on the kitchen table when she’d started to heat up the soup.  The frozen vegetables used to treat her burn had thawed.  The answering machine blinked insistently and she hit the delete button.  Mouse whined and scratched at the back door.  Brodie let the dog outside for a few minutes, then dragged herself upstairs.

She turned off her cell phone and left it on her dresser, unplugged the extension on her bedside table, then pushed open the door to her father’s bedroom.  The room was just as Wallace Macbeth had left it before going to Boston all those months ago:  tarnished brass bed, worn ivory chenille coverlet, old ornate Victorian dresser and nightstand, antique oriental carpet.  The windows were covered by both slatted wooden blinds and dark blue draperies.  The air felt heavy and dank.

Brodie snapped on the lights and got to work.  She spent all Wednesday night methodically rifling through everything in her father’s bedroom.  She slit open the linings of his suit coats, emptied every drawer, ran her hand inside every shoe.

At dawn she staggered out of the room empty-handed, leaving clothing heaped on the floor and the mattress slashed.  The burn on her hand had blistered and looked red and angry.

“Hey, sweetie.  I’m at the gym.  Where are you?  I tried calling your cell.  It’s out of service.  Call me on my cell, okay?”

In the kitchen, huddled over yet another pot of coffee, Brodie listened to Diana’s voice and endured a wave of hopelessness.  It was noon on Thursday and she’d been awake nearly 50 hours.  A cold shower and clean shorts and tee shirt had helped but she was at the end of her tether.

Joe had left four messages on the answering machine that morning, each one progressively more angry.  Linda Zhou and Sarah Gibbard had left messages as well.

“Uh, sweetie,” Diana’s voice went on.  “Look, I ran into Linda Zhou in the locker room.  She said you didn’t make it to your interview yesterday and you never called her.  You’re interviewing somebody else this afternoon and she’s wondering if you’re going to be there.  Can you call her?”  There was a pause.  “Okay, well, talk to you later.”  The connection ended.

Mouse pushed her nose into Brodie’s lap and shoved agitatedly.  When Brodie absently patted the dog’s head, Mouse stropped her forepaws on the kitchen floor and jumped around.

“Okay,” Brodie said tiredly.  “I know.  You need a change of scenery.  Me, too.”  She walked through the living room and unlocked the front door.  Mouse charged out into the front yard.

Brodie slumped onto the green wire settee on the porch and watched Mouse run around like a lunatic, sniffing all the familiar places the dog hadn’t investigated in days; a particular upright of the split rail fence, the chipmunk hole under a magnolia tree, the flower pot full of impatiens wilting waterless in the southern noon heat.

The Volvo was parked on the gravel drive.  OFK 362 mocked her.

Brodie’s thoughts barged around aimlessly, a cacophony of exhaustion.  What had the lawyer said?  I remember distinctly when your father came in and made these arrangements . . . He said it was something you’d appreciate in time . . . Given the nature of his death, you may be successful in arguing that your father was not of sound mind.

Brodie stretched out her legs and let her head tip forward to stretch her neck.  Her whole body was sore and aching.  Despite everything she’d been through and learned, she didn’t believe her father had been driven insane by either his obsession with his late wife or by his games with Pedder.

Her head came up slowly.  Pedder hadn’t thought her father was warped.  He’d been afraid of Wallace Macbeth and the knowledge Wallace had possessed, the knowledge that Brodie didn’t share.  Pedder had ridiculed her father.

He thought he was Arthur and Lancelot and Galahad, all rolled into one . . . But he was Pellinore, nothing more than Pellinore.  Pellinore and the damned Questing Beast . . .

Brodie sat bolt upright.  Her father had been able to send himself into a quest dream and it was always to a place with stone walls and tapestries.  “Camelot,” she choked out.  No wonder Pedder was determined to find her father’s research about King Arthur.  Mouse stopped sniffing and stood alert, ears and tail pricked up high.

Your thread started unraveling a long time ago when Macbeth killed Duncan to become king of Scotland.  That’s when the Macbeths had guts.  Now they just read and imagine themselves to be knights and kings.

“Mouse,” Brodie screamed, rocketing off the settee.  The dog bounded up the porch steps.  Brodie wrenched open the door and nearly tripped over the dog in her haste to get inside.

She tore through the house to the den, fatigue forgotten, and breathlessly searched the bookcases for books about King Arthur.  There had to be something in the second half of the alphabet–she’d already read through the authors with names starting with M and there’d been nothing about Arthur so far.

At the bottom of the last bookcase she found a thick dog-eared edition of The Once and Future King by T.H. White.

It was the only work of fiction on the shelves.

Once and Future King

O . . . F . . . K . . .

OFK 362.

“Oh, God,” Brodie rasped.  She found herself gulping for air as she dropped onto the sofa with the thick book.  Her hands shook and it took her a few moments to find page 362.

***

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mystery author Carmen AmatoThanks for reading all the way to the end of this episode of AWAKENING MACBETH, a romantic suspense serial with a paranormal twist! I’m the author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries set in Acapulco including CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS, all available on Amazon and recently optioned for film. Please stay connected by joining the Mystery Monthly team. You’ll get exclusive excerpts, sales alerts, and reader news for mystery lovers like you and me.

AWAKENING MACBETH, part 56 #paranormal

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serial novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Two episodes of AWAKENING MACBETH are released every week. The story so far: Brodie knows she cannot sleep again until she finds a way to save Joe’s soul from Pedder. Her father’s diary is her only hope to find out how her father managed to survive his encounters with evil for so many years. What she has learned, however, is that her father believed that love makes us vulerable.

***

Brodie finished the last notebook shortly after seven in the evening.  She closed the cover and put all the notebooks back into their box with mixed feelings of grief and incredulity.

Despite what her father had learned the summer that she was twelve, he hadn’t ended the game with Pedder.  Six months after packing Brodie off to boarding school he’d written of sending himself back into the quest and facing down “the keeper” as if they were two boxers in a ring.  He’d done it again and again.

Over the years the dreams became more menacing and violent.  Six years ago he’d met Pedder at an academic conference and realized the professor from Stanford was “the keeper.”  The knowledge prompted him to make out a new will and store his diaries at Munk’s but he hadn’t stopped pushing his way into the increasingly dangerous dreams.

Instead, Wallace Macbeth had relished these death-defying conflicts as welcome diversions from the slow pace and snarky politics of academia.  He’d lived a second secret life, full of risk and drama, carried out in countless naps on the den sofa or at night in his bedroom.

Brodie looked around the den.  The house felt tainted, dirty.

She stumbled into the kitchen.  She’d gone more than thirty-six hours without sleep.  Fatigue was gaining on her fear, making her numb with apprehension.

“How did you survive thirty-five years of it?” she muttered as she opened a can of soup and dumped it into a pan.  “Of course you figured out how to cheat.  Or you would have died in your sleep, too.”

Her brain felt wrapped in cotton wool, but something resonated through the fluff.  I pushed my way in again.

“You got in, Dad,” Brodie thought out loud.

Mouse clicked across the floor and sat down on Brodie’s foot.  Brodie absently leaned against the dog as she swirled the chicken and noodles around with a teaspoon.  “He went in by choice,” she said to Mouse.  “So it stands to reason he figured a way out.”

The thought was staggering and she dropped the spoon into the soup.

That’s it, Mouse!”  She swept down and hugged the dog.  “That was the cheat.  Dad figured out how to wake up.  He could come and go and somehow Pedder never knew he was doing it on purpose.”

The phone rang and Brodie froze.

After four rings the answering machine took the call.  At the tone, Joe’s deep voice started speaking.  “Hey, Sassy, it’s me.  Just checking to see how the interview went this morning.  Call me when you get home.  I love you.”  He disconnected.  The dialtone sounded then the machine went silent.

Brodie slowly stood up.  She might know what her father had done but until she found out how he’d done it, the knowledge was useless.  Hours of exhaustion and she still had no weapon with which to defeat Pedder and keep Joe safe.  The thought made her nearly hyperventilate as the soup boiled up and spilled over the pan.  Brodie managed to turn off the heat and shove the pan off the stove.  It overturned onto the counter.  Boiling liquid splashed her hand and the spoon clattered to the floor.

Cold water against the burn helped her stay in control.  As she stood by the sink with her hand under the faucet, Brodie realized that her father had given her a weapon of sorts, after all.

It was the same one he’d used to keep her safe for a very long time.  Maybe it would keep Joe safe for a while, too.

She threw some paper towels onto the spill and put a bag of frozen corn on her burned hand.  Then she sat at the table, took a deep breath, and autodialed Joe’s number.

“Hello,” Joe answered on the second ring.

“Hi.”

“Hey, honey.  How was the interview?”

“Interview?”  Brodie had a hard time talking around the lump in her throat.

“Weren’t you interviewing for the Asian Studies opening today?” Joe asked.  “You said today and tomorrow.”

“I didn’t go.”

“What’s the matter?” Joe asked, his voice suddenly full of concern.

“I can’t come on Friday,” Brodie said.  Her chest clenched and she wondered if she was going to have a heart attack before she did what she had to do.

“The interview time get switched?  Damn.  Well, come on Saturday.”

“I can’t come at all,” Brodie ground out.

“What?  What’s going on?”

“I don’t think we should see each other any more.”  Someone else had to be saying these words.  Brodie felt disembodied, as if she was watching herself destroy something priceless.

There was a long silence on the other end of the phone.  “I don’t understand.” Joe said finally.

“We can’t see each other any more,” Brodie said.

“What’s going on, honey?”

“Don’t call me again,” Brodie whispered and hung up.

He called a minute later.  Four rings, her canned message, and then Joe’s voice demanded that she pick up.  He waited until the machine timed out.  He called a second time and again it timed out.  Two minutes later, Brodie dimly heard her cell phone ring again and again, all the way from her bedroom upstairs.  Then silence.

Outside, the sun dipped and darkness lengthened across the yard.  Inside, Brodie sat at the kitchen table and sobbed.  Mouse sat and watched her.

***

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mystery author Carmen AmatoThanks for reading all the way to the end of this episode of AWAKENING MACBETH, a romantic suspense serial with a paranormal twist! I’m the author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries set in Acapulco including CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS, all available on Amazon and recently optioned for film. Please stay connected by joining the Mystery Monthly team. You’ll get exclusive excerpts, sales alerts, and reader news for mystery lovers like you and me.

AWAKENING MACBETH, part 55 #paranormal

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serial novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Two episodes of AWAKENING MACBETH are released every week. The story so far: Terrified by Pedder’s threat to steal Joe’s soul, Brodie is desperate to find out what her father knew that allowed him to confront evil for so many years. She turns to the notebooks he’d hidden away and which she found months ago by accident. They are a diary of her father’s dreams in which he is searching for his dead wife, Elizabeth.

***

March 1:  I pushed my way in again.  There were tapestries on the wall.  The floor was stone.  Through an archway I could see rolling hills and I wondered to whom they belonged.  Elizabeth was close but of course I did not see her.

March 21:  The walls were adorned with crossed swords, most so heavy I could not even hope to lift them.  Armor was on mannequins.  The leather of the armor’s inner pieces was soft and well-used.

April 8:  The dreams are too vivid sometimes.  I woke shouting this morning when the alarm went off.  The child came to my room, her eyes huge with concern.  I explained I’d had a nightmare and she went to make the morning coffee.  It is hard to believe she is so grown up.  Sixth grade.  Middle school and teenage boys loom ahead.

May 16:  The child won the essay prize for the best historical discourse on colonial Virginia.  The prize is $200 and she is elated.  We bought a new dress for the award ceremony.  She wanted to wear stockings but Mrs. Weir has said stockings are inappropriate for age 12.

“Old bitch,” Brodie said out loud.  “No wonder I was such a fashion disaster.”  She dug her fingers into her eyes, took several deep breaths, and kept on reading.

July 8:  My love for Elizabeth is unabated.  I love her as much now as I did the day we married.  I must consciously put thoughts of her aside, like today as the child and I head for Edinburgh.  She and Kay will go to Paris while I research the archives in Berlin. 

July 20:  The archive are immense.  My research is at once both monotonous and enthralling.  I pore over microfiche every day.  I shall not write much, my eyes are tired at the end of the day.

August 9:  I’m tired of Berlin, tired of this country’s reluctance to admit the past and its obsession with cleanliness, as if that could cleanse the country’s soul.  And I am tired of being alone with stacks of books.  I dreamed last night of the place where I go to see Elizabeth.  The keeper was there and we talked of the Holocaust.  He played devil’s advocate again.  Why do I force myself to dream such things?

August 20:  It is nice to be back in the UK, although London is still too big and noisy for my taste.  I called Edinburgh.  Paris was wonderful and the child seemed happy.

August 22:  I hardly know what to write.  My breathing is still erratic.  I fear stroke.

I ran into Ian Fergusson by accident in the museum’s reading room.  I had not seen him since Elizabeth’s funeral.  He is unchanged, still a fine looking man.  We exchanged greetings and then he begged my forgiveness for his relationship with Elizabeth the year she died.  I was speechless as he talked on and on, seemingly unaware that I had not known of their affair.  As he talked I realized that the keeper was right–Elizabeth had planed to leave me for Ian, that she had not wanted to come to America with me and the child.  Ian talked on, a man who’d been holding too much inside for too long.  I left stumbling with shock, without bestowing the forgiveness he craved.

I can think of nothing now but that the keeper’s words were true.  Elizabeth was unfaithful to me and went looking for answers and he murdered her soul with his bare hands as she dreamed in her sleep lying next to me.  I went looking for answers when she died and have ended up in the dreams as well.  The keeper could haven taken me, too, but all these years I have unknowingly distracted evil from its pursuits with dialogue.

It sickens me but I am intrigued.  I have been in the presence of another dimension of the psyche.  I have transcended my own mortality for eleven years.  I have seen a dark soul incarnate.

August 23:  I wandered the streets of the city last night, afraid to sleep, having revelations that at once frighten and calm me.  I have realized that the only way to protect my daughter, to keep her out of the dreams, is to never have her love deeply.  After all, love is what drove both Elizabeth and myself to seek answers.  Elizabeth loved another and I loved her.  Both loved too deeply.

The only solution is to teach the child not to love in this way.  She must be brought up to live safely without the sort of passion, that if thwarted, leads to a quest for answers.

“Oh, God,” Brodie murmured.  She sat back in the desk chair as tears rolled down her face.  The memory of that terrible day in Kay’s living room rushed back, the images fast-forwarding in a blur of caffeine and despair.  Wallace had come back to Edinburgh from London determined to create a new daughter who could live without love.  Boarding school was just the first step in his campaign to keep her safe.  No wonder her father had liked Stanton; he’d known the relationship was passionless.

Safe with Stanton.

The telephone rang and Brodie started so hard she nearly bit her tongue.  She stayed on the sofa, panicked that it was Pedder.

After four rings the answering machine picked up.

“Brodie?  This is Linda Zhou.  The interview with Dr. Ho started half an hour ago.  I hope you’ll be joining us soon.”

The connection was broken with a sharp click.  The dialtone hummed and then there was silence.

“Oh,” Brodie said dully and looked at her watch.  “Sorry, Linda.”

She dried her cheeks with the back of her hand, rubbed her eyes and kept reading in search of the clue that would save Joe’s life.

***

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mystery author Carmen AmatoThanks for reading all the way to the end of this episode of AWAKENING MACBETH, a romantic suspense serial with a paranormal twist! I’m the author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries set in Acapulco including CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS, all available on Amazon and recently optioned for film. Please stay connected by joining the Mystery Monthly team. You’ll get exclusive excerpts, sales alerts, and reader news for mystery lovers like you and me.

AWAKENING MACBETH, part 54 #paranormal

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serial novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Two episodes of AWAKENING MACBETH are released every week. The story so far: Her father’s replacement as head of the University history department, Donald Pedder, has the same white eyes which terrified Brodie in her nightmares. As they talked, Brodie realizes she is in the presence of pure evil. Pedder threatens to take Joe’s soul unless Brodie can tell her father’s secret.

***

Brodie vomited into the toilet bowl until there was nothing left to bring up.  The bathroom spun and Pedder’s laughter echoed in her ears.  She clung to the cool porcelain and tried to breathe past the dizziness and nausea.  Slowly, slowly, the bathroom stopped spinning.

She let go of the toilet seat and slumped against the wall, the tile floor cold against her bare legs.  Every light in the house seemed to be on.  Across the hall from the bathroom, her skirt, top, and sandals were in a heap on her bedroom floor.  Her purse and car keys were there, too.  Mouse was standing uncertainly in the doorway to the bathroom.

Brodie had no memory of leaving campus, driving home, letting in the dog, or taking off her clothes.

Mouse walked cautiously into the bathroom, her nails clicking, and nuzzled Brodie’s shoulder.  Brodie put her arms around the dog and buried her face in the thick, comforting fur.  “I’m scared, sweet dog,” she whispered.  She felt utterly defenseless in the face of a thing that was too big, too evil to truly comprehend.

Mouse suffered the hug for a few minutes then pulled away.  Brodie blinked hard and forced herself to stand up, using the wall for support.  When she felt strong enough she climbed into the shower and let the hot water pelt her.  Joe had left some shower gel on the tub rim and Brodie lathered herself thoroughly with it, as if his spicy scent could somehow wash away the stain of the horrible conversation with Pedder.

As she stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around herself, Brodie realized two things.  First, the situation was no product of her imagination or of some leftover upset over Stanton.  It was real and horrifying and true.

Second, she knew she couldn’t risk sleeping again until she’d found out what her father knew.  He wouldn’t have gone without leaving her something that would let her save Joe.

Like the notebooks from the storage unit.

June 28:  I was so close to Elizabeth I swear I could smell her perfume.  We were in a large chamber decorated with hanging tapestries.  He told me she would come, but she did not appear.

September 3:  Elizabeth had always loved Malory.  Such a diversion from economics.  This time I waited for her in a meadow.  There was a jousting target and bales of hay.  The sun was warm on my back and made me yearn for her all the more.  He was on a horse but did not approach.  He stayed at a distance and we stared at each other . . . Sometimes I think he is the keeper of these vivid dreams.  Like a custodian.

January 9:  I’m beginning to realize that if he is there, no matter in which guise he appears to me, then Elizabeth will not come into the quest.  His presence prevents her from coming to me but I do not understand why.

January 29:  The child is brilliant.  I combed her hair last night as she read to me.  Johnny Tremain.  She says it is her favorite book.  We talked about the Revolution, hopefully I did not bore her with the British point of view.  Fourth grade is passing quickly. 

February 2:  Mrs. Weir insisted on cleaning the tartan today and I had to refuse.  She burned dinner in retaliation but the curtains are not to be taken down.  I need the darkness.

Brodie put down the notebook and drank more tepid coffee.  It was nearly dawn on Wednesday and she’d read through the first ten years or so of her father’s notebooks.  They’d confirmed what Pedder had said.  Wallace Macbeth’s obsession with his dead wife had led him into dreams he called a quest.  Just like Brodie’s dreams where she was sure she’d find him, Wallace felt he would see Elizabeth but never did.

Instead, Wallace became fascinated by his interaction with Pedder–identified by the white eyes and referred to as “the keeper.”  There was none of the deadly intent and urgency that had pervaded Brodie’s dreams.  Wallace and Pedder had conversations full of philosophical musings about right and wrong and love and hate.  If Wallace knew he was talking to pure evil he did not acknowledge it.

“How could you have done this, Dad,” Brodie said out loud to the den.  Mouse, lying in front of the sofa, pricked up her ears and looked questioningly at Brodie.

The rest of the notebooks beckoned but Brodie felt lightheaded from too much caffeine and not enough food.  She took her empty cup into the kitchen and let Mouse out to do her business.  The backyard was green and inviting, the sky was an imperial blue, and it was hard to believe that the whole grisly nightmare of Pedder and stolen souls and murdered parents was true.

But it was and she couldn’t stay awake forever.  Brodie shouted for Mouse to hurry up and finish.  The dog bounded across the grass to her, ears up in alarm, and Brodie locked the back door behind them.  She dumped dry food into Mouse’s bowl and made herself a sloppy ham sandwich, her movements jerky with stress and fatigue.  Her stomach was tight but she managed to down a few mouthfuls.

***

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mystery author Carmen AmatoThanks for reading all the way to the end of this episode of AWAKENING MACBETH, a romantic suspense serial with a paranormal twist! I’m the author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries set in Acapulco including CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS, all available on Amazon and recently optioned for film. Please stay connected by joining the Mystery Monthly team. You’ll get exclusive excerpts, sales alerts, and reader news for mystery lovers like you and me.

AWAKENING MACBETH, part 53 #paranormal

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serial novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Two episodes of AWAKENING MACBETH are released every week. The story so far: Brodie spent the day shopping for her wedding. All thoughts of her father’s suicide, and the nightmares it provoked in which she is pressed to reveal a secret, are long forgotten. But when she stops by her office at the University, Brodie gets the shock of her life.

***

Pedder vaulted the desk, yanked Brodie into the office, slammed the door shut, and turned to confront her.

His eyes were white and diseased.  They were the same eyes Brodie had seen so many times in her dreams.  Corroded with white scales but not blind.  But this was not a dream.  It was real.  The air went out of her lungs, the world spun, and Brodie gaped at him uncomprehendingly.

“Well, well.”  Pedder pulled the tinted glasses off his forehead and tossed them across the room to the desk.  The white eyes stayed locked on Brodie.

She opened her mouth but fear and confusion blocked words or action.  He had the exact same eyes as all the people in her strange dreams.

They’d all had his eyes, she realized, her thoughts tumbling wildly.  As if his eyes and his consciousness had inhabited each different person in each different dream.

“You were good at the game,” Pedder said, one hand on the doorknob.  “Pretending he never told you so I wouldn’t take your soul.  Quite convincing but I know you were lying.”

Brodie managed to find her voice.  “Who are you?”

“My patience is not unlimited,” Pedder said.  “It’s time to tell me what your father knew.”

Brodie shook her head, somehow not surprised by his words, but still not understanding and too frightened to move.

Pedder licked his lips, a slow languorous taste with his tongue.  “He called the game a quest, you know.  A quest to find out why his precious Elizabeth had died.  I told him but he kept pretending he didn’t believe me.  We played for more than thirty years.”

“In every dream I had,” Brodie breathed.  “It was you, wasn’t it?  Being who you needed to be to fit into each dream.”

Pedder’s broad face twisted with impatience and he suddenly slammed his hand against the heavy wooden door.  The sound was the like the crack of a whip.  “Tell me what you know,” he shouted.

“Oh God.”  Terrifying and unreal connections were coming together in Brodie’s head.  “My father had dreams, too.  That’s what you mean by playing the game.  He played a game with you in his dreams.”

“Hide and seek,” Pedder snickered.  “Cat and mouse.”

“The dreams are the game.”  Brodie started to shake and broke into a sweat as she realized where the connections were leading.  “Get killed in the dream and you’re dead in real life.  Because your soul’s been stolen.”

“How clever.”  Pedder’s voice was laced with sarcasm.  “As if you didn’t know.”

“That’s what happened to my mother.  You said so.”  Brodie involuntarily crossed her arms as if to protect herself.  “You killed her in a dream and you took her soul and she was dead.”

“And then Wallace had questions and he played the game and he cheated.”

“You killed him in Boston, didn’t you?”  Brodie’s voice rose uncontrollably.  “Just like you said in the dream.  You threw him out of a window.”

Pedder laughed.  “Donald Pedder was distraught to hear that his dear friend and colleague Wallace Macbeth had jumped to his death in Boston.”

“Why?”  Brodie’s entire body was telling her to get out, to get away but Pedder was in the way and her legs weren’t working and the shaking was in charge as her voice pressed for answers.  “Why didn’t you just take him . . . in his dreams . . . the game . . . like you took my mother.”

Pedder’s face twisted in fury and Brodie had a flash of insight.  “In all those years,” she gasped.  “You couldn’t.  Dad was too good, too smart.  He was too good at your own game.

Shut up,” Pedder screeched.

“He was better than you,” Brodie said, suddenly sure of what she was saying.  “That’s really what you want to know. His secret. Why was he better than you at your own game?

He thought he was Arthur and Lancelot and Galahad, all rolled into one,” Pedder roared, his face suddenly beet red.  Brodie shrank back as spittle flew from his lips.  “But he was Pellinore, nothing more than Pellinore.  Pellinore and the damned Questing Beast.

He was a good man,” Brodie cried as anger surged ahead of fear.  “And you killed him because you couldn’t steal his soul.”

I didn’t want it!”  Pedder’s voice was full of fury.  His eyes were like white hot coals in a circle of blood.  “I had your mother’s.”

“And Raymond Kensington.”  Brodie’s mind spun like a water wheel, terror sloshing off and getting scooped up again by the next revolution.  “You killed Raymond Kensington just the same way you killed my mother.  You told me he was your editor and then you . . . took him in his sleep.”

“His son was killed in a drunk driving accident,” Pedder said, suddenly flippant.  “He went on a quest to find answers, as dear old Wallace would have said.  People shouldn’t have so many questions, you know, if they don’t want me to find them.”

“I’ll have you arrested,” Brodie said shakily.  “Charged with murder.”

“On what evidence?  That you had nightmares?”  Pedder folded his arms, now eerily calm.  “Certainly not in your father’s case.  The Boston police found no evidence of foul play.  A cut and dried case of suicide.”

“Are you really Donald Pedder?”  Brodie realized her teeth were chattering.

“Still so slow to catch on.”  Pedder looked at his hands as if they were new.  “Donald Pedder.  I forget what his quest was but I took his body, too.  The one before was getting old.  It’s tricky to go from one to another and only the strongest bodies work, you know.  The weak ones just fall apart and there you are, with a mess.  Of course it’s funny but not if it happens to you.”

“You’re evil,” Brodie breathed around the terror in her heart.  “You’re Satan.”

To her surprise Pedder laughed gaily.  “What a wonderful coping device the word Satan is.  It lets simple souls believe there’s only one bogeyman out there.”

He licked his lips at her again and Brodie was reminded of an animal stalking its prey.  He was toying with her, breaking her, making her soft enough to swallow in one bite.  “You came here to find out what my father knew,” she parried weakly.  “But there isn’t anything to find out.  If he knew how to cheat at your game he didn’t tell me.  So you can go back to hell or wherever you came from.”

Pedder casually walked to his desk chair and sat down, pulled an antistatic cloth out of a drawer, and made a show of polishing his glasses with it.  “We have a deal to discuss,” he announced.  “You tell me how your father cheated the game and Joe Birnam can keep his soul.”

Horror washed over Brodie in a cold wave.

“It’s quite a fair trade,” Pedder said.  His eyes glittered speculatively.  “After all, the soul of a warrior is the biggest prize in the game.  Warriors’ souls get insulated by pride and patriotism and discipline.  Dedication to duty.  They’re hard to come by.”

“He didn’t tell me,” Brodie cried.  “I can’t trade Joe for something I don’t know.

Pedder shrugged indifferently.  “Then the Marine’s soul is mine.  Maybe you’ll get to watch.”

No!” Brodie shouted.  “I’ll kill you before I let you touch him.”  She lunged for the desk, grabbed Pedder by the shirt front, and hauled him forward, her own screams resonating in her ears.  He dropped his glasses and grabbed her wrists.  They grappled awkwardly, the desk between them, and Brodie realized he was more than strong enough to have pitched her father out of that Boston window.

“Excellent,” Pedder hissed, the white eyes victorious.  “You’ll be in jail for killing Donald Pedder and every night in your dreams you’ll see me toy with Joe Birnam’s soul.  I’ll drag it out, take him bit by bit until he’s a shambling fool who can’t even remember his own name.”

No!”  Brodie tore herself away, forcing Pedder to let go or be dragged over the desk.  “You leave us alone.”

“You should have more respect for who I am,” Pedder spat.  “I pull on the threads of weakness that run through families.  Generations upon generations.  I pull the string and uncover madness and infidelity and unrequited love and heartbreak and all the things that make souls try to find answers to questions they never should have asked in the first place.”

“I don’t care,” Brodie breathed.  “Just leave Joe alone.”

Pedder pointed at her.  “Your thread started unraveling a long time ago when Macbeth killed Duncan to become king of Scotland.  That’s when the Macbeths had guts.  Now they just read and imagine themselves to be knights and kings.”

Brodie fumbled blindly for the doorknob, adrenaline surging through her body like an overdose of heroin.

“You think about my offer,” Pedder snarled.  “I’ll be in touch.”

“Take mine instead,” Brodie heard herself say.  She leaned her forehead against the door, frightened and desperate.  “Leave Joe alone.  You can have my soul instead.”

“That’s not the way the game works.”  Pedder sounded like he was talking to a two-year-old.  “Besides, your soul is worth nothing compared to his.”

Brodie turned around to face Pedder again.  “Touch him and I’ll kill you.  I don’t know how, but I will.”

“My, my.”  Pedder laughed and licked his lips, the predatory look oddly at variance with his clothing.  “Saber-rattling from a woman without a sword.”

Brodie wrenched open the door and stumbled out of the office, her legs numb with panic.  The air was suddenly sharper and colder in the hall.  She took the stairs two at a time, hugging the banister to keep from falling.

“You forgot your bridal magazines, Dr. Macbeth.”  Pedder’s laughter followed her all the way down.

***

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mystery author Carmen AmatoThanks for reading all the way to the end of this episode of AWAKENING MACBETH, a romantic suspense serial with a paranormal twist! I’m the author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries set in Acapulco including CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS, all available on Amazon and recently optioned for film. Please stay connected by joining the Mystery Monthly team. You’ll get exclusive excerpts, sales alerts, and reader news for mystery lovers like you and me.

AWAKENING MACBETH, part 52 #paranormal

AWAKENING MACBETH is a serial novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Two episodes of AWAKENING MACBETH are released every week. The story so far: Brodie has accepted Joe’s proposal; her father’s suicide and the awful nightmares it prompted are far behind her. She will spend the next week wrapping up things at the University before spending the final weeks of summer with Joe.

***

“We went out to White Lion on Sunday,” Brodie said, keeping her voice casual.  She dumped her sports bag on the floor next to the bench.  She and Diana were alone in the field house locker room.  “The restaurant is really nice.”

“Oh yeah?” Diana asked.  She started working her locker combination.  “What did you have?”

“Chicken salad with pecans,” Brodie said airily.  “Joe had the steak sandwich.  We had apple pie for dessert and that’s when he asked me to marry him.”

Diana jerked around, the beaded ends of her braids clacking.  “What?”

Brodie shrugged, trying to be nonchalant when everything inside her was screaming and dancing.  “He asked me to marry him.  You know, proposed.”

Proposed!” Diana shrieked.  “What did you say!?”

“What do you think I said?”  Brodie felt her face wreath into a huge smile.  “I said yes.”

Diana grabbed her by the shoulders.  “You said yes on Sunday!  And you’re just telling me now?”

“I was going to call,” Brodie confessed.  She’d spent Monday morning giggling to herself and then had fallen asleep on the sofa.  Joe had called in the evening and they’d talked on the phone for two hours.  “But I think I was in a daze yesterday.”

Diana tossed back her head, let out a scream of delight, and Brodie found herself yelling back in utter joy.  They did a crazy jig around the empty locker room until they were both breathless.

“So when?” Diana asked.  “When are you going to get married?”

“We were thinking of a fall wedding,” Brodie said.

“Where?  In the university chapel?”

“No,” Brodie said.  She plopped down on the bench in front of the lockers.  “I want to get married at Hazy Harbor.”

“Where?”

“Joe’s parents’ house,” Brodie explained.  “A fall wedding on the dock, with the leaves turning colors.  The lake behind us.  God, it would be beautiful.”

“It sounds gorgeous,” Diana said, sitting down, too.

“But the bad news is, I’m probably going to be moving to Warrenton,” Brodie said.  “We want to find a house that’s halfway for both of us.”

“We’ll still hang out.”  Diana hugged her again.  “I’m so happy for you I can’t even say how much.”

“Be my maid of honor?”

“I’d love to.”

“You’re going to have to help me plan everything.”

“You know what?” Diana asked.  “Let’s bag this workout and go downtown instead.  Buy you a bride’s magazine and check out that new stationery store.  I hear they do fabulous invitations.  You’ve got a lot to do if you’re going to get married in a couple of months.  Damn, I planned my wedding for a year.”

Brodie stood up.  “I feel a little drunk.”

The feeling lasted all day.  Brodie and Diana cruised through several dress, floral, and stationery stores to get wedding ideas.  Late in the day Diana dropped off Brodie at Randall Hall laden with her sportsbag, a book on ultimate receptions, three bridal magazines, and a collection of catalogues and pamphlets from floral shops.  The old building wasn’t air conditioned and as Brodie hauled her stash up the stairs the load got heavier in direct proportion to the increasing warmth of the upper floors.

“Hello, Dr. Macbeth.”  Sarah Gibbard held out a sheaf of telephone message forms.

“Hi, Sarah.”  Brodie juggled her load to take the message slips.  “Place feels kind of quiet.”

“Not too many people here,” Sarah said.  “Almost everyone is gone until the start of the fall semester.”

“Are you recovered from the reception?” Brodie asked.  Sarah had helped Dr. Pedder put it together and had enjoyed herself thoroughly at it.  Brodie made a mental note to send Sarah flowers or something as a thank-you.

“Your boyfriend’s really handsome,” Sarah said, coming around the side of her desk.  “Somebody said he’s a country music star.”

“He’s not but I’ll tell him you said that.”  Brodie grinned.  She’d introduced Sarah to Joe shortly after the check unveiling and the secretary had actually gaped at him.  No doubt the campus gossip mill was grinding merrily, comparing Joe to Stanton.

“Can I talk to you privately, Dr. Macbeth?” Sarah asked.

“Sure.”

Sarah gestured for Brodie to go into her own office.  The secretary shut the door behind them.

Mildly curious, Brodie put her sportsbag on the floor and the shopping bag full of books and magazines on the desk.  “What’s up, Sarah?”

“It’s Dr. Hull,” Sarah said.  “He made me type up a letter of complaint to the Ethics Committee.  He says Dr. Pedder was behaving in an inappropriate manner at the Mousetrap Sunday night.”

“Dr. Pedder was at the Mousetrap?”  The popular local nightclub was generally regarded as a graduate student hangout during the school year.  Younger faculty kept it alive during the summer when there were few students in town.

“With Dr. Seagull from the Economics Department,” Sarah said.

“Okay.”  Brodie swallowed laughter.  The randy old coot.  Sabine Seagull had to be thirty years younger than he was.

“I guess she and Dr. Sloane aren’t dating anymore.”  Sarah looked at Brodie expectantly.

“Sarah, let’s not repeat rumors,” Brodie cautioned.  Sarah obviously was looking for Brodie to say something juicy and repeatable about Stanton.  “Dr. Pedder is an adult> As long as she is the age of consent, he can go out with whomever he likes.”

“Dr. Hull is concerned that he’s not setting the right example,” Sarah sniffed.  “California morals, he called it.”

Brodie shrugged, the effort not to laugh nearly killing her.

“Well.”  Sarah smoothed the collar of her blouse, obviously disappointed in Brodie’s mild reaction.  She opened Brodie’s office door.  “I was just about to leave for the day.  Do you need anything?”

“No, not a thing,” Brodie said, moving around the side of the desk.  “You have a good evening, Sarah.”

“Good night, Dr. Macbeth.”

Brodie sat at the desk, finally letting herself chuckle as Sarah’s footsteps clicked down the stairs.  It was going to be fun to watch from the sidelines as Pedder and Hull battled over the coming year.  But if she had to choose sides, her money was on surfer dude.

There wasn’t much in the way of email.  Linda Zhao had sent a note giving the place and time of the first Asian Studies interview.  Tomorrow, at eleven.  Brodie called Linda to confirm, then read through the applicant’s file.  He was impressive on paper, Brodie wondered if he’d be the same in person.

She left the office at seven o’clock.  The hallway was dark and stuffy.  The early evening had done little to cool the sticky Virginia heat.  All the doors to faculty offices were closed and the building felt empty and somber.  But Brodie was glad to see a thin rime of light showing around Pedder’s not-quite-closed door.  She needed to say thanks.  Not only had Pedder thrown a very elegant reception but he’d worked hard to make Joe feel welcome.

Brodie juggled her load to tap on the partially open door.  “Don?”

The door swung inward and Brodie put her head around the opening.  Pedder’s desk was in the middle of the long narrow room.  He was leaning back in his chair with his sandaled feet up on the desktop.  His brown-tinted glasses were pushed up on his forehead and he was asleep, his mouth open a little and his hands folded comfortably on his stomach.  The window shades were down and the desk light was on, illuminating his clothing and throwing shadows across the large framed photographs on the walls.  Pedder was wearing another wild combination of printed board shorts and striped shirt.

Brodie grinned and started to back out of the office, easing the door shut as she went.

The hinges squeaked.

Pedder’s eyes flew open and he sat up.

Brodie gasped and dropped the shopping bag.  The book and magazines spilled out onto the floor.

***

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mystery author Carmen AmatoThanks for reading all the way to the end of this episode of AWAKENING MACBETH, a romantic suspense serial with a paranormal twist! I’m the author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries set in Acapulco including CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS, all available on Amazon and recently optioned for film. Please stay connected by joining the Mystery Monthly team. You’ll get exclusive excerpts, sales alerts, and reader news for mystery lovers like you and me.

AWAKENING MACBETH, Part 51

 AWAKENING MACBETH is a serial novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Two episodes of AWAKENING MACBETH are released every week. The story so far: her relationship with Joe Birnam has helped Brodie get past her father’s suicide. Dr. Donald Pedder, her father’s replacement as head of the University’s history department, has become a friend. The rest of the summer is full of promise.

***

Brodie and Joe were lazy on Saturday but summoned enough energy on Sunday to take the tour at the White Lion winery near Monticello.  The tour was relaxed and friendly as they strolled with the guide through the rows of vines stretched across the foothills of central Virginia.  They saw the copper vats ready for the grape harvest, the bottling machine, the corking machine, and the bins of stamped corks waiting to be pressed into bottles.  They finally ended up in the vaulted tasting room.  They sampled several varietals, swishing and spitting and eating cheese between samples to cleanse the palate.  Joe was very knowledgeable and made Brodie laugh with descriptions of wine he didn’t like.  Pine sap, possibly, with a hint of dung beetle.

They had a late lunch on the restaurant terrace overlooking the vines. The green vines of the winery stretched away from the restaurant in rows that undulated over the hills and blurred in the distance.

“I have to leave really early tomorrow morning, Sassy,” Joe said as he finished his steak sandwich.  “You wouldn’t believe this house we’re going to be working on.  The kitchen alone is going to be as big as my entire apartment.  We’ve got the first meeting with the client at ten o’clock.”

“God,” Brodie sighed.  “I’m beginning to hate Mondays.”

“Me, too.”  Joe leaned back in his chair.  “You still coming on Friday?”

“Yes,” Brodie said.  “I’m on the interview panel to replace Dr. Hong and we’re interviewing on Wednesday and Thursday.  Mouse and I will be at your place on Friday.”  She picked a nut out of her pecan chicken salad and ate it.  “Are you sure you can stand us for a whole two weeks?”

“You bet,” Joe said and gave her that sideways grin.  “I’ll expect supper on the table at six, my slippers and pipe by my chair, and Mouse sitting quietly with the newspaper in her mouth when I get home every night.”

“How about if I meet you at the door in just an apron while Mouse digs up the plants on your patio?”

“Even better.”

Brodie grinned and crunched a forkful of salad.  She would stay at Joe’s until the beginning of the fall semester.  She’d work on her research while Joe was at work and when he came home they’d just relax.  The thought of so many days together was like a forbidden luxury.

The waitress took away their plates, swept crumbs off the long white linen tablecloth, and went to get dessert and coffee.  They angled their chairs away from the table so they could take in the magnificent view of vines and rolling hills.  There were only a few people on the terrace; other couples who had come for a late romantic lunch at the elegantly skirted round tables and were taking their time over dessert and the spectacular vista.

“This is lovely,” Brodie said.  She tugged down the hem of her short red skirt and put her sandaled feet up on the low stone balustrade that edged the terrace.  Her toes were red, too, and her white linen blouse had a bow at the waist and Joe was with her and the world loved lovers.  The peaceful landscape gave her a feeling of freedom, of space, of never being hemmed in.

“You get the feeling that the vines just stretch on into heaven,” Joe said, echoing her thoughts.  He eased out his right leg and put his foot up on the balustrade next to hers.  The breeze rippled the stone-colored cotton of his pant leg and the tiny gold cross below the sapphire earring twinkled in the shaded sunlight.  He was wearing a black polo shirt.  The banded sleeves hugged his biceps and Brodie’s heart gave a lurch just looking at him.

The waiter brought coffee and apple pie and tiny glasses of the winery’s signature dessert wine.

“Almost as nice as Blue Mountain Lake,” Brodie said, stirring her coffee.  “That place was so incredibly peaceful.”

“You think Blue Mountain Lake is nicer than this?”

“Absolutely,” Brodie said.  She cut into her pie.  “Speaking of, any news on the land?”

“Well, yeah,” Joe said.  “I haven’t told Brian yet, but the deal’s off.”

“Why?  What happened?” Brodie asked, oddly disappointed.  She took a sip of coffee with her eyebrows raised.

“New York,” Joe said.  He fiddled with his spoon.  “I won’t be that far away from you for that long.”

Brodie put down her coffee cup.  “I’m not going anywhere.  I’ll wait.”

“But I won’t.”  Joe pushed aside his untasted coffee, then stretched his arm across the table.  “Hold my hand, honey.”

Brodie slid her hand into his.  Joe’s grip was warm and strong.

“Being with you,” he said.  “The way we are.  It’s more than I thought I’d ever have.”

“Me, too,” Brodie said softly.

“After Iraq,” Joe went on.  “I kept reminding myself that I was one of the lucky ones.  I’d survived and could pay tribute to those who hadn’t.  I had a family who cared.  I had friends so there was always something to do.  You know, background chatter to keep myself from thinking too much.”  Joe rubbed his thumb over hers.  “But I always knew a big part of me would be dead.”

He was staring straight at her and Brodie knew he needed to say these things.  Over the summer, since the night she’d chastised him in the Italian restaurant, he’d occasionally said things like this and when he did it was as if a weight rolled off his shoulders.  It hadn’t happened often but Brodie knew sometimes he just needed her to listen.

“And then I met you and we stood outside in the rain at the Dingerhoy and something changed,” Joe said.  “You had that silky hair and that body and so much to say and no way to get it out.  I knew I should walk away, that you had the power to hurt me like no one else on earth.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about you.  I wanted to be the one who found out everything that was inside you.”

“That’s just what you did.”  Brodie squeezed his fingers.

“You made me see that there was someone out there who could accept me for who I am now.”  Joe shook his head.  “That healed me.  I’ll always love you for that.  And for about a million other things, too.”

Brodie felt her throat tighten and the vines shimmered in the distance.

“So I guess you know where I’m going with this,” Joe said.  “I’m not getting down on one knee and I don’t have a ring in my pocket but I’m offering you everything I’ve got.  My heart, my soul.  Whatever you want.  We can get a ring later.”

“Are you proposing?” Brodie quavered, her heart suddenly banging in her chest.

“Yes, I’m proposing.”  Joe tugged her hand across the table and kissed her palm.  “I love you, Sassy.  I want to marry you.  We’ll have a good life together, I promise.”

Brodie’s mouth dropped open.

“But if that’s too much too soon we could just live together,” Joe said, evidently amused at her reaction.  “Hell, I’ll even settle for being next door neighbors who sleep together every night if you need your independence.”

Brodie hitched up her jaw with difficulty.

“I’ve been thinking we could find a house that’s somewhere in the middle of the commute for both of us,” Joe went on.  “Maybe Warrenton.  With a big yard for Mouse.”

Brodie pulled her hand out of his and stood up.  The fine china and silver flatware blurred against the white linen tablecloth.  Her body felt alive with sensation but she couldn’t breathe.  She gripped the edge of the table to steady herself because she was shaking as if she was caught in a storm and her heart was banging away but there was no air.

Joe stood up, too.  “Where are you going, honey?”

“I don’t know,” Brodie said blankly and then she moved around the side of the table, unwittingly dragging the tablecloth with her.  As the plates and coffee cups and tiny glasses and silver spoons and forks clattered together and spilled onto the terrace floor, she walked into Joe’s arms and kissed him with all the meaning she could put into it.

“Is this a yes?” Joe asked when they finally broke the kiss.

“Yes,” Brodie whispered.  “Yes.  I love you.”

“Damn,” Joe said wonderingly.  “I never thought I’d hear you say that.”

“I know,” Brodie said around the lump in her throat.  “But I love you.  So much.”  She sucked in air.  “In broad daylight and everything.”

Joe laughed then, and Brodie laughed too, feeling lightheaded and giddy and incredibly happy.

Behind her the waiter coughed discreetly.  “Is everything all right, sir?”

“We’ll take a bottle of your finest champagne,” Joe said, still holding Brodie close.  “To go.”

“Yes, sir!”

The other diners on the terrace started to applaud and say congratulations and Brodie felt her face get pink and Joe laughed again and it was the sound of freedom.

***

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mystery author Carmen AmatoThanks for reading all the way to the end of this episode of AWAKENING MACBETH, a romantic suspense serial with a paranormal twist! I’m the author of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Detective Emilia Cruz mysteries set in Acapulco including CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS, all available on Amazon and recently optioned for film. Please stay connected by joining the Mystery Monthly team. You’ll get exclusive excerpts, sales alerts, and reader news for mystery lovers like you and me.