Authors: Patricia Rice
Tags: #MOBI, #ebook, #Carolina Series, #Nook, #Romance, #Patricia Rice, #Book View Cafe, #Kindle, #Prequel, #EPUB
A Prequel to The Carolina Series
Book View Café Edition
Copyright © 2000 Patricia Rice
This book is dedicated to the true teachers of the world—had I the power, I would nominate you for sainthood. Someday, the world will recognize that people like you should be idolized and emulated and rewarded for your talents.
Someday, there will be dragons, too.
And to Elisa Wares, my editor, who let me dream and helped me fight dragons.
Meddle not with dragons for thou are crunchy and good with catsup.
i souport publik edekasion.
“If you’re a bill collector, all the money we
have is in the cash box under the counter. If you take it all, you’ll be
taking food from the mouths of babes,” a musically feminine voice called
from behind the long glass counter.
Startled, Axell waited for his eyes to adjust to the murky
interior of the New Age gift shop. The chiming bells of the door behind him
silenced, and in their place the haunting aria from
Man of La Mancha
“To dream, the impossible dream...To fight the unbeatable foe...”
swelled to a crescendo.
Intrigued despite himself, he wondered if he’d entered
some netherworld far from the ordinariness of the Carolina sunshine outside.
“Shall I leave the change?” he inquired dryly, searching the narrow
shop for the source of the voice. A display case counter stretched along one
long wall. Crammed with items too intricate and numerous to identify, it
claimed his interest first. The layer of dust and fingerprints on the glass
could be the reason most of the objects were unidentifiable. Fastidiously, he
dusted a corner over a bumper sticker reading:
Very funny, Scotty, now beam
down my clothes.
“You can have the Canadian pennies and
McDonald’s tokens,” the voice called cheerfully.
“Miss Alyssum?” he inquired, bending to look
over the glass for the shop proprietor but captured instead by what appeared to
be a crystal ball beneath the spot he’d wiped clean. He ignored the
overflowing shelves of commonplace gnomes, dragons, crystals, cards, and
dangling beads on the other wall, but the shimmering rainbows of color beneath
the glass deserved further examination.
“Still there? Be with you in a minute. Once I’m
down here, it’s a struggle to get back up.”
Intrigued by a telescope on a tripod, Axell used his
handkerchief to dust it off, adjusted it to face the dirty shop window, and
peeked through the eyeglass. A kaleidoscopic whirl of colors materialized
before his eyes, sparkling like jewels through the sunshine, gliding and
transforming from the fires of the sun to the tides of the sea in vivid blues
“Haven’t seen one of these in years.
They’ve improved.” He’d come in here with a definite purpose,
but it slipped his mind as he looked up and fell into eyes the same shade of
sea blue and green he’d just admired in the kaleidoscope.
Startled by the unexpected intimacy of her gaze, Axell
stepped back. He’d thought that silly nonsense about a man drowning in a
woman’s eyes a lot of sentimental claptrap. Maybe the air of the shop
contained hallucinogenic smoke.
Wryly noting the dusty handkerchief in his hand, she brought
him back from his cloud. “Let me guess, Virgo, right? I don’t
suppose you’ve come to make order of my universe, by any chance?”
She threw her own dusty rag onto the counter. “It’s murder cleaning
all this junk. Cleo’s ideas were always bigger than her ability to carry
Grounded again, Axell blinked and tried to sort out the
various impressions conveyed by the extraordinary apparition behind the
counter. Once he disentangled himself from the crystal turquoise of long-lashed
eyes, he encountered a fiery explosion of dark red wiry curls streaked
with — purple? He’d had some interesting clientele in his bar before, but
none could equal this eccentricity.
This wouldn’t do. He’d come here for a reason.
He couldn’t allow himself to be distracted — his gaze drifted back to that
purple streak. It almost made sense against the blue-green of those eyes.
Taking a deep breath, he gathered his wits again.
She nodded, and the curls bobbed vigorously. “Right
the first time. And you are...?”
“Axell Holm.” Unconsciously, he rearranged the
disorderly stack of loose cards on the counter. One fell over, revealing a
grinning jokester figure. “Tarot?” he inquired.
“Don’t do this to me. I definitely do not need
this.” She removed the cards from his hands, tapped the deck together,
and stacked them with the unopened boxes. “Not only Virgo, but probably
Aquarius ascendant. I can’t imagine a worse combination. You must have
driven your mother crazy.”
Unperturbed, Axell opened the cover of a book titled
“I’ve examined the precepts of astrology and
while it has a curiously reassuring effect on certain personalities, it has no
scientific basis whatsoever. When looked at as a whole, it is not only
improbable, but laughably naive. If this is the kind of thing you teach in your
school, then perhaps the mayor is right in wanting it closed. I’m certain
the children would benefit from more scientific direction.”
A benevolent smile lit her face, creating the illusion of
shimmering mother-of-pearl luminescence in the dusky shop interior, drawing his
attention to moist, pink, bow-shaped lips. For a brief — very brief — moment, Axell
imagined kissing those lips. Appalled by the kind of lusty image he
hadn’t experienced since adolescence, he immediately drew back and focused
on the details of his surroundings. “The Impossible Dream” changed
to a Gaelic pipe, and the angle of the sun shifted to shoot a beam of rainbows
through the crystal prisms hanging above the proprietor’s head.
“Would you like some tea, Mr. Holm? Whatever my
sister’s failings, she knows her teas. I have a particularly lovely
Chinese green that might soothe your muddy aura sufficiently for us to
“No, thank you, Miss Alyssum. I have come to discuss
the school. The mayor has every intention of closing it.”
Panic pierced her, but Maya smiled unblinkingly at the
attractive lion of a man in front of the counter. She’d guess him to be
in his mid-thirties, a decade older than she and definitely of a dangerous
social status, judging by his excellently tailored dark blue suit and expensive
silk tie. She seldom responded physically to men with his cool Nordic looks,
especially ones with the arrogant authority of Axell Holm. She preferred her
men dark, passionate, and artistic. Good thing, too, because she didn’t
need those dreamy Aquarian gray eyes messing with her already crazed mind. The
way they narrowed as they followed her incited definite palpitations.
“The Impossible Dream is not a public school,”
she reminded him, removing the carafe of near-boiling water from the hot plate
and pouring it over the crinkled green leaves in her sister’s prized
Yixing teapot. “It’s a private school and not within the
mayor’s realm of power.” A brand new private school with a
temporary permit, the germ of all her dreams. She pried her nervous fingers
loose from the carafe handle.
“Obviously, you have little experience with
government, Miss Alyssum.”
“Maya, call me Maya,” she replied absently,
setting out her own precious porcelain cups and saucers with their intricately
painted landscapes of a different world. They didn’t match Cleo’s
brown teapot with its single lotus blossom, but they had the same significance
to both of them, so in Maya’s mind, they matched perfectly. “And
I’ve had entirely too much experience with government authority, I assure
The phone rang, and she ignored it as she carried the
delicate porcelain to an old-fashioned ice cream table in the back corner. The
Gaelic music changed to a monk’s chant, the phone shrieked, and in the
back, the steady drip-drip of the bathroom faucet intruded. She really needed
to get that fixed, or wait until the utility company turned off the water for
non-payment. That would solve the problem. She’d write it down right
after “fix broken lock on back door.”
“Your phone is ringing, Miss...Maya.”
“True Virgo,” she muttered as she set down the
saucers. “Let the machine get it,” she responded airily as he
glared at the offending instrument. He vibrated with an acute Virgo intensity
that he hid behind catlike wariness, but she’d detected a spasm of some
sort as she emerged from behind the counter.
She smoothed the crinkly crepe of her long skirt over her
protuberant belly and smiled fetchingly at him. Whoever was on the phone
slammed down the receiver as the answering machine kicked on. Bill collector,
she concluded. She watched her visitor struggle with his curiosity. Mr. Axell
Holm looked like an absentminded professor lost in a particularly disturbing
problem instead of the wealthy proprietor of the town’s most popular — and
only — watering hole. She’d finally placed his face, if not his name.
She’d seen it in the local paper several times since she’d returned
to Wadeville to take care of her nephew.
Holm was on the city council, she remembered with
“I didn’t realize you were married, Mrs.
Alyssum. I apologize. The way Constance speaks of you, I assumed...” He
backtracked and asked pointedly, “Is your husband available? Perhaps
together we could discuss some arrangement...”
Constance! Of course. The name finally clicked. Holm — Constance’s
father. Maybe this wasn’t entirely about the city council. Maya patted
his arm and indicated one of the delicate wrought-iron chairs. “Have a
seat, Mr. Holm, and let me pour you some tea. Do you take honey?” She
retrieved the pot from the counter, a little too aware of his fascination with
her bulging belly. That was the problem with Aquarians, they were too darned
nosy. Thank goodness his Virgo sun sign dominated or she might have to dump the
tea over his head.
He waited expectantly — not for the tea, she observed. The
jasmine fragrance wafted soothingly around them as she poured. “Constance
is quite correct; I’m not married. She’s an exceptionally
intelligent, talented child, and a delight to work with. You should be proud of
She took the seat opposite him and sipped the elegant tea
with quiet pleasure. Maybe if she concentrated, this would all go away. She
really didn’t want to hear what new disaster loomed on her horizon. She
merely wanted to enjoy her tea and the china and the rainbow of colors through
the prisms and the lovely man trying not to frown across from her. And he
a lovely man: true golden-blond Nordic hair bleached by the Carolina sun,
intelligent gray eyes with thick brown lashes, and a jutting cleft chin that would
make Sean Connery proud. His soft Southern drawl seemed somehow out of place in
a man like this, but it brought back sweet memories from long ago.
Of course, there were those thin lips and the flaring of his
aristocratic nose to warn her of a lion-king’s arrogance behind the
“Umm,” he hesitated, looking for a nice way of
asking his next question, “Perhaps your significant other...”
Axell watched her features light with the pure joy of her
laughter. No weak trill or artificial tinkle for this gypsy. Joy rang out as
melodically and soulfully as the musical metal chimes overhead. Definitely high
quality chimes, he observed in wonder, each one perfectly attuned to a note on
the scale. He wanted to enjoy it, but the chaos of light, color, sound, and
emotion swirling around him proved too distracting.
His gaze followed the prisms of color in her already
rainbow-hued hair. The jasmine-scented tea combined with a potpourri of rose
petals on the counter, the bouquet of flowers on the table, the pot of golden
honey, and the herbal fragrance of the woman herself. The sensual atmosphere
was radically different from the sterile environment of his own home.