“Thanks for the ride.” Laina entered her apartment and turned to face Rory. “Goodnight.”
“You sure you don’t want me to stay a while?” The starched collar of his indigo shirt gave a faint rustle as he leaned against the inner frame of the doorway. The scent of his musky-pine cologne enveloped her.
She gripped the knob but, whether it was his blocking position or the look in his eyes, she couldn’t quite close the door. “I hardly know you. And, as a rule, I don’t let guys in.”
“So, here’s a chance to get to know each other.” His voice crooned like melted chocolate. “And I promise to behave. I just can’t imagine you staying alone after all you’ve been through today.”
Tingling spread through her chest. Laina bit her lip. She laid a hand across the flushing warmth near her breastbone. Her palm hit the scintillating metal setting of the amulet. She scanned his enchanting mocha-rich gaze. Too charming. Just like the ones she’d fallen for before. She gripped the medallion until its edges dug into her fingers, cursing herself for not knowing better than this.
“I’m not the company you’re looking for tonight.” She took a step back and waved.
She pressed the door to shut it, but Rory jutted the toe of his Italian wingtip in to wedge it ajar. “Oh, come on, Laina. I can see it in your eyes. You want me to stay.”
“Really?” Laina tilted her head and feigned a brief smile. She opened the door a few inches and thrust him into the hall with a one-handed shove. Bolting the door as quick as her trembling fingers could move, she bellowed through the crack at him. “Not tonight, Rory.”
Laina’s breath shuddered as she pressed her back against the door. She lifted the amulet to examine the mysterious glow within its verdant gems. Was she cursed to draw a maelstrom of demonic activity around her? If so, what could she do to stop it?
Her cell jingled from the middle of the purse she tossed on the floor. Snatching it up, she headed toward the living area. “Hey, Jayme. I’m at my apartment now.”
“Are you okay? What happened?”
“I’m fine. I didn’t really get much info, since the police were gone when I got home. Sorry I didn’t call back right away.” She settled gingerly into the second-hand papasan chair, careful not to put her weight on the broken side.
“Please tell me you were out for a happy reason, like a date.”
“Yeah, well, not such a happy date. You know me. I’m always charmed by the well dressed wolf.” She finger-combed the tangles of her spiral curls. “Hope you’re not staying up late on my account.”
“Thought I might talk you into coming here again.”
She stifled a yawn. “No, I’m not leaving this room tonight. Besides, I can’t keep imposing on you.”
“You know it’s not a problem. I just want to do anything I can. There’s gotta be a way to get you out of this cosmic black hole.” Jayme’s bracelets jangled against her phone case.
“Hey, you tried to give me a good-luck charm and I didn’t take it when I had the chance. Not your fault.” Laina fingered the chain of her necklace. “Didn’t you get it from that mystic guy’s shop you used to go to all the time? He still open for business?”
“Probably. I haven’t been there for about a year. Dave isn’t a fan of that sort of thing, you know. I’ll text you the address if you want to check it out.”
“I’d appreciate it. I need to do research for an editorial I’m working on. Besides, it can’t possibly make things worse, right?”
“Well, I don’t see how it could. My better half wouldn’t agree, I’m sure.” She paused. “Oh, his ears must’ve been burning. He’s texting me. I gotta go.”
“Me too. I’m wiped. Thanks for checking on me. And for the lead. I’ll check it out tomorrow.”
“Make sure you go in the daytime, though. It’s in kind of a shady neighborhood. Bye.”
Laina heaved herself from the chair and trudged to the back corner of her flat. The weight of sleepless weeks ached on her limbs. She peeled off her jacket and collapsed onto the mattress. Just a moment’s rest mired her in the blankets. She could not pry herself from the bed to change or wash her face. Her lashes fluttered. With a final jerk of her leg, her mind succumbed to the overwhelming tide of dreams.
Fitful slumber tossed her through a storm of nightmares. She woke to the red-eyed glare of her clock. One fifty-eight. Three o’clock. Four forty-six. By seven thirty, the morning bustle permeated the building’s crepe-thin walls.
Laina fought unnatural gravity as she struggled to rise from her mattress on the floor. She pressed against her pounding temples and staggered to the bathroom. She grimaced at a reflection she barely recognized. Purple shadows ringed the hollow eyes staring back at her from the mirror. She couldn’t keep on like this. Jayme’s mystic must have a solution. Who better to break a curse than an expert in the occult, after all?
Yet something niggled at her. A faint alert signaling from the depths of her heart. Arden’s smile flashed into her mind. Nope. Not another guy. She splashed water onto her face. If nothing else worked, maybe she’d call him.
She strode past the papasan as her phone buzzed. She squinted at Jayme’s text. Definitely a part of town she hadn’t seen before. She loped into the kitchen and grabbed a travel mug. Two scoops of instant espresso clung inside the container. Laina scraped it out, wondering if four would even have been enough. Today’s adventure would surely require more than an average morning’s dose of caffeine.
“Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness” (Isaiah 8:22).