Below is the first scene of Chapter 1 from Moonlight Serenade, available first in the set Once Upon A Midnight. All proceeds from Once Upon A Midnight go to the Epilepsy Foundation. (And we mean every penny is going to them! The authors are not even recouping their expenses.) Pre-order it now for only 99¢.
Moonlight Serenade is a standalone companion novel to Voices Carry, both part of the Rock and Roll Fantasy Collection.
One Year Ago
A clandestine desire is a creature whose attack is often stealth. When it slinks in, people can find themselves feeling desperate and in uncharacteristic situations.
Twisting people into revealing their clandestine desires is one of the secrets to my success in sales. But the deal I am making now isn’t exactly in my area of expertise. In fact, being so far out of my element has caused the table to turn.
“You don’t have to trust me,” Jennifer says with a relaxed tone. It reminds me of when I am on the verge of pulling in a client—hook, line, and sinker. “Intuition tells me this visit is a tad out of character for a businessman such as yourself. You said you are in custom software sales?”
Out of character is right. The reason for my visit still floors me, possibly more than the act of visiting a psychic. Just how deep does my desperation run? “Right. West Coast Head of Sales, selling to large financial institutions, such as—”
“So it is important to remember you came here for a reason. One thousand dollars, and I guarantee my work.”
Boom. Just like that she cut my small talk, making deliberations difficult. In this situation, are negotiations appropriate or are they an insult implying this woman’s services are not worth the price tag? My due diligence showed she is not a bottom-of-the-barrel charlatan, so I should expect to pay fairly. But what is a fair wage for a psychic?
When it comes down to it, this is just a business deal, and those nearly require negotiations. Being in a suit should remind me to stay in the game.
Hell, when am I not in a suit? Is this truly my attire of choice, or does it mean I am always ready to play Let’s Make A Deal? My head is so out of sorts I am questioning everything.
My squeezing gut tells me Jennifer’s eyes are on my hand as I sip my second glass of wine. Really, what the hell am I doing with a psychic? The thought causes pressure to build at the base of my neck, but the idea of never getting out of my predicament makes my forehead hurt to the point where I rub it.
It slicks across sweat.
I fight the urge to wipe my hand on my pants and possibly call Jennifer’s attention to how I am anything but the cool cat I want her to think I am. Instead, I drop my hand onto the table and toy with the bottom of my glass. My prolonged swallow further distances me from the game.
Dammit, did I really do that? It was yet another dead giveaway I am more embarrassed about consulting a psychic than I am concerned over a few dollars. I need to take myself out of the moment so I can play ball. How off my head is continues to show when I almost don’t notice my hand as it blends with the Golden Pecan table. Maybe she put something in the wine. How odd was it she asked me to drink some, then toss the rest onto a piece of paper? I played along, then started drinking a second glass. That may have been stupid.
Come on head, get yourself back.
Yet again, my eyes scan the maroon dining room. Objects of art surround me—serene landscape paintings, a pedestal in the corner with a statue of an angel on it, a cabinet loaded with china reeking of antiquity. Where is the crystal ball? Shouldn’t the air be weighed down with incense? Why isn’t Jennifer consulting Tarot cards? Is that a hint of a drawl I’ve been catching in her voice? What is a Texan doing in Los Angeles?
For some crazy reason I expected her to be in a turban. Instead, her blond hair flows in kinked waves, framing her middle-aged face. Does the contrast between what I expected and what I found deepen or shallow my apprehensions? She looks familiar. Is that why I am thrown off?
My attention locks on the dried wine I was asked to splatter on the notepad in front of me. What do three entangled swirls mean? How Jennifer nodded without the slightest blink as the spirals took shape reminded me of a robot receiving a message it had been waiting for. Still, of all that has happened, it’s her words that mess with me. “Guaranteed?” I ask. “How can a psychic guarantee—”
“You made your goals clear.” Jennifer motions for me to hand her the note pad, and then writes a date nearly two years in the future. “By this date, your wish will be fulfilled. Pay me half now and half when all comes to fruition. Do we have a deal?”
Two years is like an eternity. Then again, two years ago I was in the same boat, stranded in the middle of the same ocean. How much longer am I willing to wait to achieve my dreams?
Jennifer’s casual body language further disturbs me. Her features are soft. One arm rests at her side while the other hand has yet to leave her wine glass. I stretch out my legs and bump into hers, finding they are where they would be if she were relaxed into a slight slouch. All of this drives home my decision makes no difference to her, sending a wave of tension through my body. She is using one of the same tactics I pull on clients. I’m a master at her end of the game, so why am I being roped in instead of playing?
Because desperation makes people do uncharacteristic things, and I am damn tired of happiness evading me.
Discomfort drives me to rub my finger over the brim of my glass. The resulting squeak sounds like a youthful voice cheering, “Live!” It brings forth a grin, reminding me of hitting my first home run. I pulled that baby off by loosening my focus on the technical stuff and allowing my confidence to reign. Watching that ball sail was exhilarating.
My finger slips over the rim again. It repeats the command, “Live!”
“Yes,” I say to Jennifer. “We definitely have a deal.”
“Great. You can either pay me by check now, and I’ll be in touch once it clears, or you can return later with cash. All choices are yours. However, if you fail to act as instructed, I get to keep the down payment. Agreed?”
Straight to the pocketbook, eh lady? I suck in my lips and taste my own medicine, but I also see the trick she slipped in, thus making how she lines her pockets foolproof, even if she implies she is taking a risk. There is no way she can know if I follow her words to the letter. Also, I’ve become skeptical over how legit she is, as she has yet to comment on something a person with her alleged powers should find obvious. Is she a fraud, or am I insane for thinking I often get impromptu visits from a ghost?
Without prompting, Jennifer adds, “If you screw up, your remorse will be obvious.” It’s so nonchalant she might as well shrug.
I try to fight back the widening of my eyes. How did I let her beat me to the zinger? Being able to foresee the other player’s actions is part of what makes me top of my game. In fact, I’m so methodical when it comes to closing deals I question if it is even possible for me to screw up.
Hey, Dale. Reality check: it is definitely possible, because if you weren’t screwing up already, you wouldn’t be here now.
Maybe that is my problem. Maybe I keep forgetting love is not a business. There is no dotted line to sign in matters of the heart.
I knock back the rest of my wine and set the glass down with resolve. “I’ll be back in an hour.”
“I won’t be here, but you can leave the money with that gentleman there.” Jennifer points to the living room where a man with long, frizzy brown hair, ratty jeans, and no shirt or shoes reclines in a maroon easy chair while reading the latest issue of Rolling Stone. His hippie-like attire makes me see Jennifer’s flowing, long dress and lace scarves in less of a Victorian look and more like that of a rock star.
Suddenly my brain screeches to a stop. That’s how I know this woman. She looks like a seventies rock star. Stevie something—from some old band.
Yeah, from Fleetwood Mac!
Now that I see it, I can’t imagine how I missed it. The resemblance is uncanny—so much her tone now sounds melodic. “Rob will give you a receipt.”
The words hardly register, and I need to force myself out of seventies flashback land and into the present. As I head for the door, Jennifer follows behind with her wine in hand, still as casual as ever. Maybe that is because she has never let that glass run dry.
Suddenly her footsteps stop. “Do a teal feather and a grey fedora mean anything to you?” she asks.
Boy, do they.
“Balding, dark hair, dark eyes, a gentle tan, a grey suit, smells of lime and musk …”
Jennifer’s gaze is set on the half-transparent man leaning into the corner behind me. It’s about time that guy showed. Thank God I’m not the only one who sees him. He used to freak the crap out of me. Now I am so used to Fedora Guy I don’t know what is crazier, thinking I am being visited or being used to that notion.
My yes is firm. “Just who is he? And why is he following me?”
She gives him a slow nod and then a subtle wink, like she knows who he is. She then sprouts a smile and jerks her head to me so fast I question if her acknowledging Fedora Guy was a figment of my imagination. “What kind of music do you enjoy?”
Nice question dodge, lady. I look to the corner, but Fedora Guy is already gone.
Jennifer cuts me off before I can voice my suspicion she knows something she doesn’t want to share. “It’s relevant,” she says with the insistence of a SWAT team telling me to step aside.
This time, my eyes are the ones that turn into slits. Such a curious question. “I listen to—”
She raises a finger. “I didn’t ask what you listen to; I asked what you enjoy.”
Again Jennifer throws me off of my game. That question is more perplexing than it seems. Truthfully, the difference never occurred to me. She’s right though; it does exist. There is a type of music I love, but I’ve never made time to learn much about it, let alone find out its true label. “I’ve always loved swanky, old school jazz but—”
“Do yourself a favor, and buy some—tomorrow, after work. You may uncover a good luck charm.” She points a stern finger at me. “That is my only instruction. After you do, all will fall into place.” The statement may seem odd, but her parting words as she shoves me out the door cause my brow to rise. “Don’t forget to tell your friends. I give referral discounts.”
Referral discounts? Seriously? What a fitting end to a freak show.
The door lock clicks, leaving me to face the path-lit landscape of Jennifer’s front yard on my own. Halfway down the cobblestone trail, the lights click off, and the moon’s vibrancy spares me from being plunged into darkness. The enchanting glow nearly forces my eyes upward, much like the UFO abductees you see on TV.
A low hum builds in my ears. The growing sound reminds me of the clarinet-led saxophone section—The Glenn Miller Orchestra’s signature sound—in “Moonlight Serenade”. I scan the yard with my heart rate increasing over what may lurk in the shadows. Where the heck is that coming from?
Suddenly the noise cuts with a click from the neighbor’s yard. My nervous chuckle snorts out in realization that was just an electronic buzz. I go on my way while sort of wishing it would return. Music truly is magic for the soul, and if there is anything I need right now, it’s a dose of magic.