It had once been an excellent example of an updated Victorian, but now it was only a smoking ruin swarming with fire department personnel. As Tucker Mackenzie got out of his car, he heard the hissing and crackling of embers as they were soaked by the fire hoses, and the pounding of axes as smoldering wood was broken up, and he heard the brisk voices of the men working to make certain the fire would not flare up again. He also heard the whispers of the neighbors who were standing around in clumps, watching her while pretending their attention was focused on what was left of the house.
She stood alone. She looked alone. Her pretty dress was a bit too thin for the hint of cold that was creeping into late September, and she stood almost hugging herself, arms crossed beneath her breasts, hands rubbing up and down above her elbows as though to warm chilled flesh. Her dark, reddish hair was blowing in the fitful breeze that also snatched at the long skirt of her dress, and she appeared to notice that no more than she noticed she was standing in a muddy puddle left by the fire hoses.
Tucker hesitated, then walked over to her side. Before he could speak, she did.
“Are you the one who’s been watching me?” she asked in a curiously remote voice.
“What?” He had no idea what she meant.
“Never mind,” she said, as if it didn’t really matter. She turned her head to look at him, scanning him upward from his black western boots to his windblown blond hair. Her pale brown eyes rested on his face, wide and startled. More than startled. She looked briefly shocked, even afraid, Tucker thought. But it was a fleeting expression, vanishing completely and leaving behind nothing except her earlier numb detachment. She returned her gaze to what had been her home.
“Someone’s been watching you?” When she didn’t reply or react in any way, he said, “I’m sorry about your home, Miss Gallagher. What started the fire?”
She glanced at the fire marshal, who was standing some distance away scowling at the ruin. “He thinks it’s arson,” she said.
“Is that what he told you?”
“No. He didn’t have to tell me.” She sent Tucker another brief look, this one mildly curious. “Haven’t you heard about the local witch? That’s me.”
“I had heard that you were reputed to have psychic abilities,” he confessed. “I wanted to talk to you—”
“Let me guess.” Her voice went flat, something ground beneath a ruthless heel. “Someone you love has died, recently or a long time ago, and you want to communicate with them. Or you’ve lost something you need to find. You’re suffering unrequited love and want a magic potion to solve that problem. You or someone you know has a horrible disease and you’re searching for a cure. Your life has gone off track, and you don’t know how to right it. Or you want to make a million bucks and need me to pick your lottery numbers . . .”
When her voice trailed into silence, Tucker said evenly, “No, it’s nothing like that.”
“You’re searching for something. They’re always searching for something.”
Her shoulders lifted and fell in a tired shrug. “The ones who come and knock on my door. The ones who call and write and stop me on the streets.” Again, she turned her head to look at him, but this time it was a direct stare. “There are only two kinds of people, you know. Those who run toward a psychic, hands outstretched and pleading—and those who run away as fast as they can, frightened.”
“I’m neither,” he told her. “I’m just a man who wants to talk to you.”
The breeze picked up, blowing a curtain of reddish hair across her cheek and veiling her mouth briefly. “Who are you?” she asked, again mildly curious.
“My name’s Tucker Mackenzie. I’m a writer.”
Her gaze was unblinking. “I’ve heard of you. What are you doing here?”
“As I said, I wanted to talk to you. I’ve been trying to call you for more than a week but couldn’t get an answer. So I decided to take a chance and just come over here. Obviously, I—didn’t know about the fire.”
“You’re a novelist. Is it research you’re after?”
“Not . . . specifically.”
“Then what? Specifically.”
From The First Prophet by Kay Hooper. Published by arrangement with Berkley, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) Kay Hooper, 2012.
In the first few minutes of Catherine Talbert’s escape, she did her very best to be as quiet as possible. She thought he was gone, but she wasn’t at all certain of that, and in her terror she just wanted to run.
But she crept instead, out into the darkness, not daring to take the time even to look for something to cover her naked body. If there was a moon, it was hidden behind a heavy cloud cover; either way, Catherine had no idea where she was. Strain her eyes though she did, she couldn’t see any sort of artificial light anywhere that might have meant a house nearby.
Stupid. Of course there’s no house nearby. Someone would have heard you screaming.
Surely someone would have.
She was dizzy, faint with hunger and exhaustion, and sore to the bone with bruises and internal injuries from the beatings, but all she felt was the desperate drive to escape. She chose a direction at random and struck out from her prison, moving as quickly as she could manage and still remain quiet. With no road to be seen—or, more accurately, felt—beneath her bare feet, she just made her way toward the deeper darkness of the looming woods, instinctively seeking the closest cover in which to hide herself from him.
There was a shallow stream she splashed through as quietly as she could, beyond worrying about snakes or mud or anything else the girly girl she used to be would have concerned herself with.
She wanted to live. That was all.
She just wanted to live.
Past the stream, the terrain changed, and she realized she was working her way up into the mountains. Mountains that had seemed so pretty to her when she had come to admire them. But now . . . Her bare feet were bruised and scraped by the granite jutting up unexpectedly here and there, and rough roots exposed by the heavy spring rains weeks before caused her to trip and stagger. Sometimes she fell.
But she kept getting back up.
Branches tugged at her as the undergrowth resisted her efforts to move through it, and she was vaguely aware that fresh wounds were being added to the cuts and bruises her body already bore.
The night was almost unbearably still and quiet, with not the slightest breeze to relieve the oppressive heat, and all Catherine could hear for what seemed a long time was her panting breaths. Then a brittle fallen branch cracked loudly beneath her foot, panic rushed through her in a surge of adrenaline, and she threw caution to the wind.
He might not have left. He might be right behind me. And this is his place, his home; he knows it, I’m sure . . . Oh, God . . . HAVEN
Faster. She had to move faster.
As fast as she could.
As far as she could.
Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness just enough that she was able to keep from running headlong into a tree, but otherwise all she really saw were varying shades of black.
Still, she climbed as fast as she possibly could, grabbing rough, knobby branches and leafy bushes and stinging brambles to help herself along, at first not even feeling the slashes of thorns or the raw friction of bark and spiky leaves sliding through her fingers. Her breathing came in sobbing gasps now and her legs burned as she climbed and climbed and climbed. There was no path; there was just an unyielding steep incline studded with granite boulders and towering trees whose roots snaked out far and wide to anchor them to the mountain, and when she wasn’t tripping over the roots, she was fighting her way through the thick underbrush.
She reached the top of a ridge, clung dizzily to a sapling for a few moments, then pushed herself onward. Downhill should have been easier but wasn’t, because now she could feel the pain of her bruised and scraped feet, the hot pain all over that told her just how much the thorns and branches had torn at her naked flesh, and still she had to push on, through even more of the treacherous undergrowth.
The card security code is an added safeguard for your credit/debit card purchases. Depending on the type of card you use, it is either a three- or four-digit number printed on the back or front of your credit/debit card, separate from your credit/debit card number. To make shopping at Doubleday Book Club® even more secure, we require that you enter this number each time you make a credit/debit card purchase. Please note that your security code will not be stored with us even if you have saved your credit/debit card information.