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The Spirit of the Place [Oberon Book 6] [MultiFormat]
eBook by PG Forte

eBook Category: Romance/Mainstream
eBook Description: 'Tis the season to be jolly, but Jasmine Quinn is far from happy about her mother's latest folly: her upcoming wedding to former Wall Street financier, Sam Sterling. Sam's assistant, Brandon Ablemarle, is also finding it hard to get into the holiday spirit, thanks in part to the fiery redhead with some of the goofiest ideas he's ever heard of. What else can you expect from the daughter of a self-proclaimed psychic? Marsha Quinn has a lot to answer for. Not only has she encouraged her daughter's esoteric craziness, she's also turned one of the most brilliant stock analysts Wall Street had ever seen into a nutcase as well.

eBook Publisher: SynergEbooks, Published: SynergEbooks, 2005
Fictionwise Release Date: April 2006

8 Reader Ratings:
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"This story is set in December, modern day. It is book six of a series, but you do not need to read the previous books to fully understand what is going on in THIS one. Each novel is a story in and by itself. Even though Marsha is psychic, do not go assuming (like I did) that this is a supernatural romance. No, this story is more than that. In fact, Marsha's psychic ability is a very minor part of the story. Ana/Celeste comes forth to let Marsha know that she will be visited by three spirits, sort of like the old tale of 'A Christmas Carol'. These visits not only help Marsha understand the people she loves, but also gives the reader a few things to think about. (You may find a moral or two as well.) All-in-all, I found this to be a delightful story, perfect for the Christmas season. Recommended reading!"--Detra Fitch, Huntress Reviews

Chapter One

It was the week before Christmas, Friday night, to be exact, and the flow of foot traffic along Main Street had slowed to a trickle as the stores began to close and shoppers headed for home. Alone in her teashop, The Crone's Nest, Marsha Quinn breathed a sigh of relief as she wiped off the last table. It had been a busy day in a busy month, at the end of a very busy year.

Not that busy was necessarily a bad thing, she reminded herself, smiling as she thought about the year that was just passing.

Hey, some parts of it were excellent, her friend Scout might have chided if she'd been there. The birth of Scout's son the previous March certainly counted as one of the year's highlights.

Yeah, and some parts sucked, their friend Lucy would no doubt rejoin. But Lucy had been born to play devil's advocate, and she'd be fooling neither of them with that attitude. True, the past year had brought heartaches to each of them, but they'd all had their share of happiness, as well--Lucy included.

And, speaking of her two best friends, Marsha wished they'd hurry up and get here. They'd talked her into joining them for a drink after work, and she was anxious to leave.

As she turned her wrist to glance at her watch, the light from the overhead fixtures caught in the big, pink stone on her third finger, left hand. The bright sparkle called to mind one of the chief causes of her own happiness. It also startled up an all too familiar flight of butterflies in her stomach.

In the five months since she'd agreed to marry Sam, the nervousness she thought she'd conquered had come creeping slowly back to claim her. It wasn't that she didn't love Sam, or that she didn't want to spend the rest of her life with him. It was just that marriage still seemed like such an unnecessarily big step to take.

What do we have to prove? Can't we just go on as we have been? We have a good life together now. Why rock the boat?

Marsha pulled out a chair and sat down, putting her head in her hands as she thought about it. She'd been on her own for too long, that's all this was. Nothing more than pre-wedding jitters, made worse by the fact that both she and Sam were used to being the one in charge.

They were both used to making their own decisions. And the thought of having to cede some of that control to another person, especially someone as accustomed to seizing command as Sam ... well, that was enough to make anyone nervous, wasn't it? Even someone without a disastrous first marriage to look back on and hope to live down.

"It will be different this time," she told herself, fisting her hand on the table top. It had to be, didn't it?

She and Sam had been living together for several months. They were already settled into a harmonious routine. Common sense said there was no reason to expect things to change all that much once they were married. But in her heart, she didn't quite believe it.

Marriage was different. It was an adjustment. There were certain expectations that accompanied it. And, obviously, Sam must think so, too. Otherwise, why had he pushed so hard for this?

Sure, he claimed to be happy with the way things were between them. He insisted that he was motivated simply by the desire to formalize what they already had, to solidify things. And to acquire the legal right to care for her and her children. But that did nothing to assuage her fears. So, he had a lot of money--so what? She didn't need a lot of money. She did all right on her own. She didn't need a caretaker, either. And marrying for the sake of her children was the same stupid mistake she'd made last time around.

Well, marrying for the sake of her child, that is. She'd only had Jasmine when she married Alex, and she wouldn't deny that the thought of giving her daughter a father had been topmost in her mind when she'd accepted his proposal. But she only had to look at her daughter now to see how foolish and vain such hopes could be. When her marriage to Alex had ended, it had been Jasmine who had suffered the most.

In fact, as far as Marsha could tell, her daughter wasn't through with the grieving process yet. It could be Jasmine was fated to always carry the psychological scars she'd acquired during her childhood.

Marsha sighed as she thought about it. Memories and expectations. Hopes, dreams and aspirations. Sometimes it seemed they were all just different names for heartache. Probably everyone's life would run a lot more smoothly if they could trust to fate and let the rest of it go. But, no matter how hard she tried, and no matter how much lip service she paid the idea, she'd yet to achieve the necessary detachment that might make that possible.

Even being psychic didn't help, since she couldn't make predictions for herself with any kind of accuracy. Although that never seemed to stop her from trying, now did it? Especially in the last year and a half, ever since Celeste, her close friend and business partner had been killed.

She had no one she trusted to give her readings now. No one she could really turn to for advice or guidance. She missed that. Almost as much as she missed her friend.

Maybe she'd come to rely too much on Celeste's wisdom, over the years. Her own inner compass seemed useless now. She had no way of knowing whether this marriage had the slightest chance of lasting. She thought it could, but maybe she was fooling herself.

But, she did love Sam. That much she was sure of. And he loved her. And, so, with nothing else to guide her, she would ignore the doubts that continued to assail her. She would ignore her daughter's resistance to her re-marriage, as well as the fact that, with her track record, she really ought to know better than to marry anyone. And, in a little over two weeks time, she would walk up the aisle to meet him.

She was doing it because, for reasons which continued to elude her, it was important to Sam. So important, in fact, that she wasn't entirely certain it was negotiable. She'd managed to postpone the inevitable for almost six months, but his determination to marry her had never once wavered. Not even a little. And she had a sneaking suspicion that if she tried to back out now, it would spell the end of their relationship.

In fact, thinking back on it, she considered it a miracle that she'd held him off as long as she had.

All through the spring and on into the summer, she'd sensed the impatience growing within him. But it wasn't until after she agreed to marry him that the full impact of his feelings on the subject had crashed over her. Like an emotional tsunami.

Overnight, he'd turned all of that energy, all of that suppressed desire into another channel, diving headfirst into Wedding Planner mode, swinging into action with a vengeance. He'd taken over, like a man possessed by demons. He'd dealt with almost every aspect, made practically all the decisions--at least partially in an effort to spare her the trouble of having to think about it.

Just about the only details she'd been allowed to concern herself with were purchasing a dress to wear and choosing her attendants. And she was pretty sure that had she hesitated overlong with either of those, he'd have co-opted them as well.

It had been amusing, all through the Fall, to watch as Sam, accompanied by her thirteen year old twin sons, Frank and Jesse, pored obsessively over wedding catalogs. The three discussed music and menus, bouquets and boutonni�res, favors and fancies and sundry other details over dinner each night with apparently boundless enthusiasm, enjoying themselves so much that she'd almost begun to feel left out of the process.

In fact, if she'd been the one who was anxious for the wedding to take place, if it were she who'd wanted it and dreamed about it, she was sure it would have bothered her no end to have had all the decisions, all the planning, and most of the fun, taken out of her hands.

If she didn't have implicit trust in Sam's taste and judgment, if she didn't understand that he was doing this as much for her sake as for his own, it might even have begun to annoy her.

Might? Oh, please. She got up from the table and crossed to the display cases that lined the long wall that ran perpendicular to the street. She spent several minutes dusting and preening, fussing and fidgeting. Rearranging objects in the cases and blocking the shelves. Attempting to distract herself. But it was no use, and in a moment she returned to the table.

Who was she trying to kid? It did bother her. And, although she wouldn't ever admit to it, she'd passed annoyed the day the bakery called to double check on the filling for her cake, and she couldn't tell them a damn thing about what might have been ordered.

The only upside was this: it would all be over soon. For better or for worse, and definitely forever. She and Sam were both determined to make this marriage work. So, once this wedding was behind them, she knew she'd never have to think about gowns or cakes or photographs or place cards or pastry fillings or appetizer trays, or tiny, little plastic bottles filled with soap bubbles, ever, ever again.

Of course, she'd gone into her first marriage with similarly high hopes for the future, and look where that had gotten her.

She blew out a deep breath. She couldn't keep thinking like this. Focusing on the things which disturbed you only gave them more power. And made it all the more likely that the things you feared the most would come to pass.

Where the heck are Scout and Lucy? They should be here by now. She glared again at her watch, cast around in her mind for something else to think about, and came up with another great topic. Her daughter Jasmine, who was due home from college in a couple of days. Perfect.

"I can't believe you're actually going through with this," Jasmine had groaned when she'd called to tell her about the wedding. "Mother, please tell me you're joking?"

"Would it be a good joke, at least?" Marsha had asked hopefully.

But Jasmine's unhappiness had come through the phone lines loud and clear. "No. It's a disaster. But ... you are gonna think about this a little more, right? I mean, it's not like you've already set a date or anything, have you?"

"Well, actually," Marsha had screwed up her eyes, bit her lip and let the other shoe drop. "We have. We're getting married on Twelfth Night. And I'd like you to be my Maid of Honor."

Shocked silence hummed along the line for almost a minute. Marsha opened her eyes to find Sam regarding her steadily, with a look that managed to convey both his sympathy for her unhappiness and his annoyance with her daughter for having been its cause. It was a look that only added to Marsha's dismay.

At almost twenty years of age, Jasmine wore her heart on her sleeve. She spoke her mind. And she'd never made any secret of her suspicions, her disapproval and her dislike of Sam.

Sam, on the other hand, was older, subtler and generally a lot more diplomatic. Up until that moment, Marsha hadn't ever realized that he was not real fond of her daughter, either.

Finally, Jasmine answered in a voice that was tiny and tight and hinted at tears, "Sure, Mom. If that's really what you want."

What I want? Marsha sighed as she thought about that. What she really wanted was for Jasmine and Sam to learn to get along with one another. For Jasmine to give Sam a chance. One chance to prove how much better a stepfather he could be than Alex, that's all he'd need. And for Sam to see Jasmine as she could be--bright and witty and a joy to have around.

She wanted Jasmine's childhood wounds to heal. She wanted her daughter to find closure for her relationship with Alex.

Glancing upward, Marsha's eyes fell upon the star-studded holly garland with which the store had been decorated. Make a wish, a little voice in her head seemed to whisper. She smiled sadly. If she could have just one wish this holiday season; if she could only choose one present, one gift in honor of her wedding, one blessing, it would be this: to have all these issues resolved before the wedding ever took place.

It could happen, couldn't it? Please?

But she knew it was a hopeless cause. Three weeks was far too short a time to craft the kinds of changes she envisioned. But--oh, please let it be that way. Please! She so wanted to go into this marriage without the doubts and reservations she was feeling right now. She wanted to enter into it with a joyful, radiant heart. At peace with her past and full of hope for the future. She wanted to begin her new life with Sam feeling blessed. Feeling prayerful and peaceful.

Not so much for her own sake, or even for her kids, but for Sam. More than anything, she wanted it for his sake. Because she knew without a doubt that it was the way he was approaching their wedding. His soul was so clearly infused with a spirit of joy, of thankfulness and of love for her that it left her feeling humbled, honored, and awash with guilt. Because, surely, he deserved to receive nothing less from her.

The bell over the front door jingled softly. She raised her head and saw ... no one. The shop was empty. The door remained closed.

Probably just a stray gust of wind, she thought as she got up once more from the table. What was she doing sitting around moping? Sheesh. Lucy and Scout would be here any moment, it wouldn't do for them to walk in and find her all forlorn. They'd spend the rest of the night lecturing her on her blessings. And who needed that? She knew she was blessed. She was aware of all the good in her life. She was endlessly thankful for it, in fact. It was just ... one wish, that's all she was asking. One small, tiny, completely inconsequential--

The bell rang again. She jumped at the sound of the door slamming shut. She looked around sharply. A flurry of nerves scuttered through her. She was still alone in the shop. There was no one there.

"This is ridiculous," she muttered as she crossed to the door. She pulled it open and stepped outside. The street was quiet. There was a crisp hint of cedar scented coolness in the evening air, but certainly not enough of a breeze to rattle the door that hard. Lights winked at her from the lamp posts that lined the sidewalk, and across all the storefronts up and down the street.

A single star twinkled in the sky overhead. Just vaguely pink, it called to mind the bright pink sapphire in the ring she wore. Venus. The Evening Star. The Star of Love. And, even though she knew it to be a planet, not a star, still she'd never seen anything more perfect for wishing upon. Marsha closed her eyes, but nothing happened, her mind remained blank. She'd already made her wish, after all. She had nothing else to ask for.

Turning around again, she re-entered the shop. She shut the door behind her and froze, her heart lodging in her throat as she realized she was no longer alone. Tears swam in her eyes and it was a long moment before she had the presence of mind to blink them away.

A familiar figure sat at the table Marsha had recently vacated, methodically shuffling a deck of Tarot cards. A hauntingly familiar figure. One whose bright, violet-shaded eyes gleamed with mischief as she said, "Hey, there, sweetie, long time no see. Why don't you fix us some tea, and I'll give you a reading?"

* * * *

Brandon Ablemarle sat on a barstool in the cantina section of the Totawka Brewery & Restaurant, nursing his beer and brooding about the wreckage of a once promising financial career.

His own.

His future, which only four months ago had been running smoothly on the inside track, headed straight for success, now seemed in imminent danger of being derailed. And the worst part was: it looked like his father had been right. Once again.

When Brandon arrived in Oberon the previous August he'd been filled with optimism. Sure, UC Abraxas might not seem like the likeliest or most logical place to pursue an MBA, as his father had been all too quick to point out. But the opportunity to assist the legendary Sam Sterling--who'd inexplicably re-located to the little town a year earlier--was too good to pass up.

Except ... how was he supposed to have known that the man was a total flake?

Sure, Sterling's track record was impressive, and he could definitely talk the talk. He could converse knowledgeably about trends and price points, resistance and support, he had technical analysis down to a fine art. But all too often, without warning and for no good reason that Brandon could discover, the man would digress into more esoteric subjects.

Astrology. Numerology. Arcane mystery schools. Sacred geometry. Lunar eclipses. Star charts. Cuniform tablets from ancient Babylon. Shit, if tomorrow Sam claimed that all the buildings on Wall Street had been built using bricks recovered from the lost continent of Atlantis, Brandon wouldn't even blink.

Had he always been crazy? Was Sam's phenomenal trading record nothing more than a fluke? Or had he been corrupted by the self-proclaimed witch with whom he was living?

Brandon knocked back the rest of his beer, signaled for another and thought about his Nemesis. The woman who had destroyed one of the greatest technical analysts alive today.

At first glance, there didn't appear to be anything obviously or especially evil about Marsha Quinn. In fact, there wasn't anything special about her at all, at least not that he could see. She certainly wasn't his idea of an enchantress. In fact, she looked just like anyone else--like someone's mom. She wasn't young or thin or particularly beautiful. She wasn't wealthy or talented or otherwise interesting. She dressed like a hippie, she talked like a New Age nutcase and, in Brandon's opinion, she pretty much personified everything that was wrong with the State of California.

But enchantress or not, she'd sure done a number on Sam.

A small commotion at one of the booths across from the bar caught Brandon's attention. Wow. Talk about your enchantresses, the young woman seated alone in the second booth in from the door made a much better candidate for the title than the woman Brandon had been contemplating.

The two women couldn't be more different. Although their hair color was eerily similar, that, and their gender, were about the only things they seemed to have in common.

Marsha, for example, would no doubt fit right in here--in fact, it was from her that Brandon had learned of the brewery's existence. While the stranger, on the other hand, with her dark skin and long auburn hair, carefully arranged in dozens of tiny braids, appeared as out of her element in the dim, dusty, countrified atmosphere of the tavern as a rare, exotic orchid would be in a field full of dandelions.

He watched her for several minutes--covertly, because he wasn't a jackass like the other guys in the bar, most of whom were openly staring--and, man, she was definitely something worth staring at. She looked as regal as a princess, composed and elegant, yet with all the poised-to-flee hesitancy of a young gazelle, and she aroused a whole range of conflicting instincts within him. He wasn't sure if he wanted to protect her, admire her beauty from a respectable distance, or chase her down and devour her.

Not that the eventual outcome posed much of a question. Base appetites were a lot more compelling than abstract constructs, after all. He hadn't even needed the psychology elective he'd taken in his junior year to know that.

As he watched, she was approached by no less than seven different men in about twice as many minutes. Obviously, he was not the only orchid aficionado in the vicinity. She smiled at each one, and time and again Brandon felt the same peculiar wrenching in his gut. It seemed all wrong that she should hook up with any of the men here tonight, and he hated the idea that he might have to actually sit by and watch as it happened. It was a relief every time she turned one away, and Brandon's appreciation for the unknown beauty grew stronger.

Clearly the woman had taste.

But, despite her lack of encouragement, he doubted the barrage would let up any time soon, she was just too tempting. Unless someone did something to stop it, he was sure she'd continue to be prey to unwanted advances all night long.

An odd collection of impulses brought him to his feet. It was part chivalry; his mother had been determined that her son grow up to be a proper southern gentleman, and a true gentleman must always come to the aid of a lady in distress.

And it was in part an innate belief in his own superiority--as well as in hers. A lady like this deserved someone a damned sight better than the kind of hick who made it a habit to hang around in dusty old bars. She deserved him, in fact. And he was not at all adverse to showing the local losers just how the game was played back home.

But mostly, he was driven by an overriding desire to get close enough to determine the exact color of her almond shaped eyes. To find out if all those bead-studded braids were real. To learn her name, her scent, the sound of her voice.

He asked the bartender for a second beer and a basket of peanuts and then, when they'd been delivered, he headed across the room; like Sir Galahad off to save a princess.

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