Beech Chapel cemetery had live guests on this muggy morning. One black crow sat atop each tombstone. Other crows blanketed the graves. Feathers ruffled and heads turned, but no caw sounded in the sea of black.
The land around the graveyard stood just as it always did—a barren, silent gash in the world. No birds or other animals ever gathered here. Always ominous, these surroundings now emanated evil. What wicked portent was this?
She waited for the rotten egg scent of sulfur or a geyser of fire from the ground—the calling cards of the demon who plagued her family coven. Nothing happened.
No spirits spoke to her, either, a great relief. Despite popular notions, ghosts don’t hang around graveyards often, preferring to haunt the places where they had lived or died. This cemetery was an oasis on her daily three-mile run, a dead zone that was a rare place of peace from the spirits that continuously looked to her for help.
A disturbance overhead drew her attention. The graveyard’s one tall, gnarled tree, its branches spread like the hands of time, was also filled with crows.
A murder of crows.
All of them staring at her with eyes black as evil.
“Holy Alfred Hitchcock.”
Fiona jumped and turned. An unfamiliar man stood a few yards away. She hadn’t heard him or his black, late-model Mustang. Not even the birds had signaled his approach. The crows still stood at attention upon the graves and the tree limbs, though their movements increased.
The man lifted his cell phone. “I wish I had a better camera, but this will have to do. Wow.”
Fiona knew his camera would be useless. Her coven’s blanketing Remember-Not spell zapped the memories and destroyed the recordings of outsiders who witnessed supernatural events in New Mourne. The protective wards should take care of anything this handsome young man’s phone captured, but just in case, she silently chanted a blocking spell.
He frowned, his fingers working the buttons on his phone. “What’s wrong with this thing?”
“It’s the mountains,” she lied, looking back at the birds that had suddenly gone still.
“The mountains tend to interfere with technology.”
“Maybe that’s why my car died, too.”
She suppressed a grin. The coven’s spells were working well. No outsiders were allowed farther along Devil’s Creek Road.
He stepped forward, ocean-blue eyes studying the birds. Fiona noted his even features and close-cropped, tawny hair. Crisp khaki shorts and a white shirt clung on his tall, muscular build in a way that only expensive clothes fit. His broad gold wristwatch and leather. sandals would probably pay her rent for a year. Only the jagged edge of a tattoo peeking out from under his sleeve seemed out of place.
And that imperfection intrigued her most of all.
“This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.” His voice was low as he nodded again to the birds. “Are you controlling them?”
Why would he think she had that kind of power?
“You are Fiona Burns, aren’t you?” Her wariness intensified.
When the demon came to town a few weeks ago, he had knocked on her cousin Maggie’s door and presented himself as a handsome, articulate man. Was he in a new guise this time, complete with designer shades on top of his head?
“How do you know my name?”
“You do a webcast.”
Fiona made her living as a medium and supplemented that income with an internet show about her discussions with the dead called “Spirit Talks.”
“I’ve been trying to find you for more than a week,” he continued.
Fiona had a vague memory of some messages from someone she didn’t know. But she and her sister witches had been busy dealing with a demon and the family curse that could soon claim one of their lives. She hadn’t bothered to return the calls.
A crow squawked. Fiona and the stranger turned as chaos erupted and the crows took off in a whirl of wings and caws that echoed through the valley.
The black-feathered bodies shot through the gray morning air. They flew toward the mist at the top of the mountains, a place that Cherokee legend claimed was guarded by a dragon.
Were the birds sending a message? A shiver chased down Fiona’s spine.
“That was impressive,” her visitor said. “If we’d caught that with cameras, it would make an amazing opening for your show.”
Now Fiona felt very uncomfortable. Maybe he wasn’t the demon, but this was not just some fan of her webcast who had tracked her down.
He held out his hand. “I’m Bailey Powers, from Powers That Be, a TV production company. We’d like to make you a star.”
The flashing white smile made no apology for the trite line. She ignored his hand, aware she was being rude but not really caring. He reminded Fiona of the snakeoil salesmen she’d seen in the classic movies she loved.
“How about I take you out to breakfast at the diner and we discuss some business?” He flashed his megawatt smile at her again.
“How did you find me?” “A very nice waitress at the diner named Misty told me you run out here every morning.”
Fiona knew Misty, and she probably also gave him an invitation to get better acquainted.
“I have other things I need to do right now.” Fiona turned back down the road. She didn’t want any part of this man.
“What could be more important than making you one of the top mediums in the country?”
“I don’t need—or want—that, either.” She didn’t, did she?
“You’re kidding,” he said as he followed her. “Everybody wants to be famous.”
Fiona stopped and studied him, surprised at what she saw now. Her dead zone had been breached. He stopped, smile dimming.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to be famous, and I’m not interested in your offer, but I’ll talk to you because I’m interested in your ghost.”
“Your ghost. She’s right behind you.”
Neely Powell is the pseudonym for co-writers Leigh Neely and Jan Hamilton Powell. The best friends met when both worked at a radio station in Chattanooga. They tried writing fiction together for several years, but life and other adventures got in the way. Their friendship endured as they focused on individual careers. Writing as Celeste Hamilton, Jan published 24 romance novels for Silhouette and Avon Books, which appeared on the B. Dalton, Waldenbooks Romance, and USA Today bestseller lists before she left fiction for a career in corporate communications. Leigh was a successful nonfiction writer and editor of newspapers and magazines, though she still wrote fiction. Around that time, Leigh started a novel about a shape-shifting attorney. Jan provided editorial support when Leigh suggested they write together again. The result was a sale of True Nature by Neely Powell along with The Connelly Witches miniseries from Harlequin E. Witch’s Awakening is part of the Urban Fantasy/Paranormal box set. Neely Powell writes about shifters, witches, werewolves, faeries and ghosts, mixing in shades of romance, mystery and thrillers—the kind of books they enjoy reading.
Categories: Non Fiction