Twisted Fate (Romance in Moonspell 3)
Jessica Coulter Smith
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Copyright ©2013 Jessica Coulter Smith
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Lacey walked the last two miles into Moonspell, Alabama, a rural town in the southern part of the state. The car she'd "borrowed" two states ago had broken down about two miles back and she'd been on foot ever since, with nary a car in sight. The bag slung over her shoulder was starting to weigh her down. Her entire body ached, especially her feet. But no matter how far she had to walk, she was determined she wouldn't be found.
She couldn't help but wonder how she was going to take care of herself now that she was out, completely on her own. She'd never held down a job before, hadn't had the opportunity to get one. For that matter, she'd only driven a handful of times before her mad escape. This was all so new to her, and rather terrifying. Here she was, twenty-four, with no one to rely on but herself, no one to care whether or not she was hurt or lost, or just plain scared out of her wits. Even worse, she was without her medication and had no way to obtain any. Things were only going to go from bad to worse, but the important thing was that she was finally free. If she hadn't run away, she might not have ever left that horrid place.
It felt like she'd been walking forever. Her feet were aching and a cramp was building in her side, but finally lights began to emerge up ahead. The small town came into view, and with it, she hoped, her salvation. She had very little money, but hopefully she could find a job and a place to stay for the night. Her stomach rumbled and she amended that to food first, shelter second, and job third.
By the time she'd passed the grocery store, bank, feed store, and handful of other shops, she was ready to drop. Thankfully, the diner was right in front of her. Thanks to the previous owner of the vehicle she'd been driving, she had about fifty dollars. In the scheme of things, it wasn't a lot of money, but she should have enough to get her through tomorrow, she hoped. Big Bear Diner was in bold print across the front window. It seemed pretty busy, but she hoped she could find a table.
When she stepped inside, it felt as if everyone stopped and stared, and perhaps they did, at least a little. In such a small town, visitors were probably few and far between, especially ones looking as bedraggled as she felt. Even though it was early September, it was still hotter than hell outside during the day, and she'd been roasting for more than an hour. As if that wasn't bad enough, her appearance was unusual to say the least. Her hair was so blonde it was nearly white, her eyes such a pale blue that more than one person had called her "creepy."
Ducking her head, she hurried to a table in the corner and sat, placing her bag at her feet. She met the gazes of the curious locals, and most looked away almost immediately. A few continued to stare, clearly wondering where she'd come from and what she was doing in their small town. She looked around, thinking that now would be a good time to have a menu to peruse. Anything to occupy her hands and give her something to hide behind.
As if reading her thoughts, a waitress appeared with a laminated sheet in hand. If she'd hoped for one of those nice foldout menus, she was out of luck. It seemed everything fit on one sheet, front and back. A large grizzly with a fish in its mouth graced the top of the page with Big Bear Diner printed just under it. She didn't have a lot of money, so she looked for the cheapest thing, aside from a salad. She needed some real food after living off junk food for the past forty-eight hours.
The waitress returned with a glass of water and her order pad in hand.
"Do you know what you want or would you like a little more time?"
Lacey read the young girl's nametag. Josie. "I think I'm ready to order, Josie. I'll just have the special and some sweet tea."
Josie jotted down the order and gave her a smile when she took the menu away.
"I haven't seen you around here before. Are you new in town?"
Lacey squeezed her hands together in her lap. "I'm just passing through. Thought I might stay the night though."
"I'm sure the Starlight Motel just down Main Street will have a vacancy."
"Thanks, Josie. I appreciate that."
The young girl nodded and moved away.
Well, her immediate needs were met. A meal and a place to stay, assuming the motel had a vacancy. In the morning, she'd look for a job. Maybe the diner was hiring. She'd never waited tables before, or done anything else, but it couldn't be all that difficult. She could write down someone's order just as easily as Josie could, right?
The bell over the door jingled and a man in uniform walked in, the light blue of his shirt stretched tight over a broad chest and arms that looked big enough to crush her.
She hunched down in her seat, wanting to make herself invisible. Lacey had no doubt that the Dekatur Hospital, a place for the mentally ill, had already notified the authorities that she was missing. It was doubtful they had a current photo of her, but it would be recent enough that she needed to worry. And then there was the car. She'd lifted it from a long-term parking lot near the hospital two days ago. It was only a matter of time before someone reported it as stolen. True, someone had been stupid enough to leave the keys in it, but it was stolen just the same.
She watched as the officer took a seat on a stool at the bar and glanced around the diner. His gaze settled on her and he smiled. She gave him a hesitant one in response, hoping he'd forget all about her once he looked away. If she'd had more money, she would've purchased a wig after escaping, anything to hide her unusual hair.
The officer turned back toward the counter and she breathed a sigh of relief, perhaps a bit prematurely. He picked up his cup of coffee and headed her way. Stopping by her table, he nodded at the empty chair in front of her.
"Mind if I sit?" he asked.
If she said yes, he'd either think she was just being rude or hiding something, and she couldn't afford for him to think either thing. She had no recourse but to let him sit and hope that nothing bad came of it.
"No, please join me."
"I'm Chief Hale. Just thought I'd welcome you to our small town."
"Thank you, Chief. I only just arrived, but Moonspell seems like a nice place."
He nodded. "It is. We have a close-knit community here. Were you thinking of relocating?"
"Oh, no. I'm just stopping over for a day or two. Maybe a week, tops. I was thinking about getting a job just long enough to earn some bus money."
"Aren't too many jobs open around here. You say you only need it for a week?"
"Well, I bet we could talk Mavis into hiring you for such a short time. Breakfast and lunch are always busy in the diner."
"That would be really nice."
Josie stopped by with what Lacey assumed was the special for both of them. After setting down the hot plates, she hurried away, stopping at another table along the way to take someone's order. The chief wasn't kidding about the diner being busy. Every table in the place had filled since she'd entered about fifteen minutes ago.
"You don't have a problem working for a witch, do you?" he asked, his gaze steady on hers.
She choked on the bite of food she'd just chewed and attempted to swallow. "Pardon?"
"Mavis. She's a witch. You won't have a problem with that, right?"
Lacey shook her head. "No, sir."
She'd heard of paranormals before, of course, but she'd never met one. Working for one certainly didn't bother her any. But if there was a witch in Moonspell, she wondered what else resided in the small town. She'd heard of werewolves, vampires, witches, even fairies, but something told her there was much more out there than that. If she hadn't been on the run, it might've been the kind of place she'd like to stay for a while, simply to appease her curiosity and lay low. She couldn't remember the last time she didn't have a set agenda. There was no one to order her around. No one to force her out of bed at the ungodly hour of 5:30 and into a tepid shower, no one to shove pills down her throat twice a day, and she was starting to like that a bit more with every minute that passed.
As they ate, he studied her. His eyes raked her hair, her face and then further down. What was he doing? She steeled herself from fidgeting under his gaze, but she still became uncomfortable under his scrutiny. It took a great deal of effort on her part not to squirm in her seat, but she managed, just. The chief was a good-looking man, for someone older. Well, compared to her, anyway. If she had to guess, she'd put him in his late thirties to early forties.
"You have a place to stay for the night?" he asked.
"I was told the motel might have a vacancy."
"That it might. It's gonna get expensive though if you stay for more than a night or two. I would imagine most of your tip money would go right back into lodging."
"I don't really have any other option."
"Well, I hope everything works out for you. Where are you headed from here?"
The man sure was nosy. Should she lie, throw him off her trail in case her picture crossed his desk in the near future? What if it was already there, just waiting to be discovered? She knew she was on borrowed time, but her hands were tied. Without money or transportation, there was little she could do but stay in Moonspell for a time...