He's going to be the love of her life...if they survive the night.
Karmic Consultants, Book 5
With a single touch, Ronna Mitchell can catch stolen glimpses of the future and separate truth from lies. But life as a human polygraph machine can be lonely. Craving human contact, she moonlights as a palm reader whenever a carnival comes to town.
Officer Matt Holloway is intent on trailing a hit man when he ducks into a palm reader's booth to avoid being spotted by his quarry. The beguiling Jamaican fortune teller is definitely intriguing, but she'll have to wait. He's close on the assassin's tail.
When Ronna takes his hand, a startling vision of the future flashes in her mind's eye. Matt isn't a typical client, he's The One. Before she has the chance to introduce herself as the mother of his unborn children, he's gone, leaving her with a terrifying vision of her soul mate covered in blood. And dead certain she's the only one who can save her happily ever after.
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July 11, 2011
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Excerpt from A Cop and a Feel by Vivi Andrews
Chapter One--Look into My Crystal Ball
When the tall, dark stranger burst into her booth, bells chimed dizzily in Ronna's ears.
Admittedly, chimes hung from the cloth that draped her doorway, so most of the bells she heard were of the physical variety, but a deeper awareness tolled a harmony in her soul. Bells galore. The tarot deck Ronna'd been fiddling with fell from her fingers as her heart jangled like a tambourine.
Hello, Tall, Dark and Mysterious. How's about you take me on a long journey?
Her mystery man wasn't dark in the expected sense--sandy brown hair didn't really call to mind Nubian princes--but a sense of black menace haloed him. He'd dressed casually, obviously an attempt to blend with the carnival crowd, but the tight black T-shirt, worn leather jacket and jeans couldn't conceal his true nature--or the holsters at his shoulder and ankle. This one was a predator, but she sensed it was honor that straightened his spine, an inborn heroism that kept his lethality in check.
Ronna's toes curled a little in her sequined strappy sandals as she imagined volunteering for prey duty, "I Need a Hero" playing as the soundtrack to her fantasy.
He didn't turn to face her, just stared through the gap in the curtain over her door, his attention fixed on something, or someone, outside her booth.
He wasn't here to see her, that much was obvious. She was just a convenient hiding place.
Ronna was used to being the spectator on everyone else's adventures. There was a natural voyeurism to her abilities that created a sense of distance between her and the people around her living their deliciously normal lives, even before they freaked out when they learned the truth about what she could do.
If life was a movie, she'd be the quirky best-friend character with a too-smart mouth, but something about Mr. Not-So-Dark/Dark and Mysterious skulking by her door made her want to be the plucky heroine rather than the comic-relief sidekick.
And a heroine didn't just sit back and let herself be ignored, no matter how sweet a view of James Bond's ass she might have.
"He'll be able to see your shadow against the curtain," Ronna commented, casually straightening her business cards and tip jar on the Middle-Eastern patterned silk that draped the small table.
Her stranger snapped around at the sound of her voice. "I was just..." His voice trailed off, eyes widening slightly.
Ronna pressed her lips together to keep from grinning at his reaction to her Madame Ramona getup. Giant gold hoop earrings, bright purple eye shadow, clattering bangle bracelets and a multicolored scarf tied loosely around the controlled chaos of her curls. She hadn't skimped on her fortune-teller costume.
"Spying on someone?" She tilted her head under his inspection, cranking up the charisma that put all her clients at ease--if her eyes were twinkling and she was working to con them, then they didn't worry that she really was psychic. It was amazing how many people would rather believe the ruse.
Tall, Blond and Sexy frowned, eyes narrowing suspiciously. "Waiting. For a friend."
"A friend." She couldn't help the grin that split her face. He wasn't even trying to lie convincingly.
His frown deepened as he scanned the colorful, fabric-draped interior of her booth and the small, hand-painted sign that offered Palm Readings: $5.
"You're a fortune teller." Scorn tightened his voice, a fist around his vocal cords.
"Palm reader, technically." Ronna extended her hand palm up across the table. "You want a look inside your future?" she asked, lacing the words with the hammy Jamaican accent she put on for her carnival act.
Her boss, Karma, founder and head honcho of Karmic Consultants, would be livid if she knew her best touch-reader dressed up like a gypsy and moonlighted for five bucks a pop, but Ronna loved the lively carnival atmosphere, the life and energy.
A foolproof human lie detector was valuable--as evidenced by the massive price tag Karma slapped on her services--but there were days when her day job felt soulless. No one ever asked the polygraph machine if she was happy. Touch the client's hand, truth, lies, thank you, next.
It was beyond boring. Palm reading, on the other hand, was never dull.
Ronna loved the contact with the masses, the laughing teenage girls who dragged their not-as-reluctant-as-they-wanted-to-seem teenage boyfriends to see the "psychic", the middle-aged women who needed an excuse for a change or a flash of hope in their lives, the parents pulled through her curtain by their eager children, indulgent of such youthful belief. Ronna loved them all.
Whenever a carnival sent ripples of excitement through the otherwise quiet town, Ronna put on her most theatrical silk scarves, dragged out a cheesy Jamaican accent and became Madame Ramona for a night, touching real people and giving them what they needed, sending them off happier and guiding them in the right direction for the sheer pleasure of using her gift on people who weren't even sure they believed and would certainly never be able to pay her exorbitant consultancy fee even if they did.
The man in her doorway glowered darkly at the trappings of her trade. Not a believer, this one. Luckily, that was her favorite kind. He was going to be fun.
"Come sit down," she urged, rising smoothly from her stool and gliding toward the doorway. "We'll leave the curtain open a bit and you'll be able to see him when he comes back this way. There is no exit at the end of this aisle. He'll have to loop back." The carnival was ingeniously designed to keep people in, much like Vegas casinos. Getting in was easy. Out took practice.
Her mystery man frowned at her with narrowed eyes--rather pretty green eyes, actually. Heavily shrouded in thick black lashes half of the female population would kill for. Those eyes were lovely, and suspicious as all hell.
"What makes you think my friend is a guy?"
Ronna smiled her I know all smile and gently took his arm, her fingers flexing appreciatively against his biceps through the jacket sleeve. She did love men with strong arms. "Come sit," she urged gently. "I'll give you a free reading, while you wait for your...friend."
He wasn't waiting for a friend. Everything about his demeanor spoke of a wolf on the prowl, a hunter sensing a threat--and she didn't think this man was threatened by women. He was stalking someone, and every instinct she had said it was a man.
He resisted her tugging, his attention still locked on the aisle outside her booth.
"You're being conspicuous standing here next to the curtain. He'll know you're waiting for him."
That got him moving.
Her mystery man allowed her to lead him the few feet to her table, but before she could take her usual spot, he slipped around the table to perch on her stool.
Ronna settled down opposite him, fluffing her skirts around her to conceal her discomfort over being the one with her back to the door. She'd never liked feeling like the world could sneak up on her without her knowledge, but something told her the menacing man across from her wouldn't allow anyone to take her by surprise. His eyes didn't rest on her, but constantly scanned the aisle behind her through the gap in the curtain.
Dealing with lies and liars on a daily basis, she wasn't the sort to trust easily--especially not without getting skin-to-skin confirmation of trustworthiness. But this guy... She didn't even know his name, but for some reason she trusted him to watch her back.
Ronna stretched out her hands palm up, waiting for him to supply one of his own. He didn't, not even glancing in her direction, eyes on the curtain. She cleared her throat to get his attention and tossed him a teasing smile and another twinkle. "Your hand? This goes faster if I don't have to wrestle you to the ground to get a look at your palm."
His eyes stayed locked on the curtain. Her attempt at humor didn't crack his stony concentration at all, but he thrust one hand at her, the action so quick his skin brushed against her fingers before she was braced for it.
This is not the hand he fires his gun with.
Whoa. Ronna flinched and pulled her hands away from the contact, startled by the clarity of the thought and the images that spilled into her brain with it.
She'd barely touched him for a second, but already visions swam in her mind. Flashes of the dark man in front of her at a firing range, both hands braced around the butt of a handgun, of him leaning against a wall next to a door, the nose of his gun pointed toward the ceiling as he waited, of him running down an alleyway, his hand pressed against the holster at his hip.
She cleared her throat and her thoughts, then reached again for his hand, braced for the impact of the touch this time.
Cop. Not yet a detective. Wants a promotion. To be an investigator on an elite task force. Get off the street. Ronna swallowed thickly against the push of information into her brain. It usually wasn't so sudden, so forceful. Her readings often felt like swimming through fog, but her impressions of this man slapped against the backs of her eyes in a battering rush.
She cradled his hand between her palms, trying to focus her eyes on the lines there--everyday people tended to be freaked out by the fact that she could learn so much from a touch. If she managed to glean it from a crease in their palm, then it was magical. If she just knew, it was terrifying.
"What's your name?" she asked, using her hypnotic Madame Ramona voice, adding her grandmother's Jamaican lilt by habit.
Her subject snorted, his hand jerking in hers. "Aren't you supposed to tell me, Miss Psychic?"
She looked up from his palm and shrugged, much more amused by his scorn than offended. "Sorry, I don't read minds. Just read palms."
Which wasn't technically true. She read truth--which, inside the human mind, tended to be emotional rather than logical. Feelings more than thoughts. Though if someone was thinking of something hard enough, it would come through. Memories sometimes floated to the surface, and once in a blue moon she'd get a flash of the future, but she wasn't a mind reader in the strictest sense of the word.
He grimaced in the face of her unflappable calm. "Holloway. Matt Holloway."
"Off--all right, Matt," she said, catching herself before she accidentally called him Officer Holloway. "Let's see what your future holds, shall we?"
He snorted again. "Do your worst, lady."
Ronna smiled mystically and decided to start simply. She'd save her worst for the encore. "You want a promotion."
He gave a rough bark of laughter, and Ronna shivered at the warm masculinity of the sound. "Doesn't everyone?" he scoffed.
"You're very good at your job," she told him. "Suited to it. Better than you would be if you got the promotion." The work would make him unhappy if he got the promotion. He was an active man. A doer. He would hate the unsolved cases. The fruitless investigations and the weight of bureaucracy. Where he was, he did good. His unique talents...
She traced a finger across a line that ran parallel to the fate line, connecting the head and heart lines. "You can tell things are going to happen before they do."
He laughed again. Dang, she loved that sound, even if it did carry the challenge of his skepticism inside it. "Do you get bigger tips if you tell people they're psychic?"
She ignored his derision. "Hunches. You have hunches. Small premonitions."
"Sure I do."
Ronna flicked a look away from his palm and up at his face. He still stared past her shoulder to the aisle beyond her booth, but she had part of his attention now. In spite of his skepticism, she had intrigued him. Officer Holloway was listening.
She felt a thrill at the small victory--for some unknown reason it was important to her to make a believer out of him.
"You put all of your energy into your work, leaving none for yourself."
He laughed again. She began to wonder if he laughed when he knew she was right. "You sound like my ex-wife."
She smiled secretively, knowing he wouldn't spare a glance from his surveillance to see it. "You've never been married."
His hand stiffened between hers, the fingers clenching. She held on, afraid for a moment that he was going to pull away and end the reading. She never forced her customers to listen longer than they wanted, but she wasn't ready for this man to walk out of her booth, and her life, just yet.
"You can tell that from my palm, can you?"
She cradled his hand, the left, and rubbed the skin at the base of his ring finger, unmarked by the long-term wear of a wedding band. "Madame Ramona can see all sorts of things," she replied in her most lilting, mystic tone.
He snorted, his fingers relaxing again, put at ease by her feigned charlatanism.
Ronna sifted through the images that pressed against the backs of her eyes. He was being used. Strung along and manipulated by the promised promotion. Someone had a dangerous agenda, and Matthew Holloway was caught up in it. "Dark forces circle around you."
Matt laughed, and Ronna looked up at the sound, smiling in reaction. He flicked his gaze away from the doorway and met her eyes, his green ones sparkling between thick lashes. "Aren't you supposed to tell me I'm going to meet a beautiful stranger?"
You already have.
Ronna jerked, feeling like she'd been jolted with a cattle prod. Images tripped over one another, a dizzying kaleidoscope sequence inside her mind.
Those green eyes, twinkling into hers across a checkered plastic tablecloth at the best hole-in-the-wall pizza joint in town. Matt leaning across the same table to kiss her, his mouth warm and firm against her lips. "Mmm, you taste of tomato sauce." "I'm saucy." "You're my tomato." Matt pinning Ronna against the front door of her apartment, too desperate to make it back to the bedroom, her legs wrapped around his waist, their mouths welded together. Matt standing behind her in a furniture store, his hands linked over her stomach and chin propped on her shoulder as he grumbled halfheartedly over the price of a big four-poster bed. "You don't sleep on the frame. You sleep on the mattress." "Real men have real furniture, Matthew." The pair of them curled together in that big four-poster, lazing away a sunny Sunday beneath the sheets she'd bought to match his eyes, his mouth tracing her collarbone. Matt yanking at his collar, looking nervous and sick until he lifted his head and saw her coming down the aisle and the whole world fell away. "I now pronounce you..." Those green eyes, staring at the ultrasound monitor like he'd just been hit upside the head with a bag of bricks. "Jesus. Twins?" More green eyes, these surrounded by chubby caramel-skinned toddler faces and squeals of laughter. "Again, Daddy! Again!" Matt warm against her side as they sprawled together in that big four-poster, wallowing in a few more minutes of silence before the kids woke up. "Love you, Tomato."
Ronna saw a lifetime in that moment, spread out before her in a banquet of sex and laughter and love. It shocked the breath out of her. She wanted that life. It hadn't existed until a few seconds ago, but now she needed it.
She was the spectator, the lie detector. What man would want to build a life with a woman who could sense every tiny deception? She'd long since accepted there would be a hole in her life and resigned herself to keeping only the most casual of friendships--careful not to touch too much, not to see too much, afraid of accidentally sensing a lie she didn't want to know.
She'd learned to ignore the void. She was happy as a spectator, brushing against the vibrant lives of those who came into her booth each night of the carnival, filling the emptiness with little pieces, flickering emotions borrowed from each of them.
New emotion swelled inside her in a rush at the vision she'd just seen, the life she'd witnessed. This feeling wasn't love--not yet, though she felt the echoes of it so strongly in Matt's touch. No, it was hope. A hope she'd long since given up. That could be her future.
But the future was always conditional.
Those images were only a possibility. And they weren't all she'd seen.
Splashed in amongst the everyday utopia that could be their future were images bright with blood and thick with death. The red and black-hued scenes threatened their happily ever after.
Ronna tried to piece through the seemingly random flashes of blood and gore to find a pattern, a way of preventing that darker future, but through it all, the only commonality appeared to be Matt's green eyes, wide with shock and horror. Macabre carnival images haunted her. The Ferris wheel splattered with blood, people running screaming from a brightly colored booth like her own, blood soaking into ground coated with a sticky mass of popcorn and candy apples.
"Are you all right?"
Her face must have gone gray, which made sense since every drop of blood felt like it was rushing toward her pounding heart.
He was in danger. Officer Matthew Holloway was going to get himself killed. Tonight.