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Honey House (KC Carmichael) by Laura Harner - Romance>Contemporary...don't try to change the name, the House won't like it.
Former con artist Katherine "KC" Carmichael inherits the Honey House, a Bed and Breakfast located in the tiny town of Juniper Springs, AZ, a hotbed of the paranormal tourism industry. It doesn't take her long to discover that both the town and the House are keeping secrets.
The town plays up it's over-the-top paranormal reputation with fake werewolf photo safaris and psychic vortexes. It's all in good fun until an investigative journalist is found murdered in KC's backyard. As the only ex-con in town, KC becomes Sheriff Quinn's favorite—in more ways than one—but something doesn't add up when he throws her in jail for breaking the full moon curfew. Could the werewolves and witches be real?
With multiple murders and men to distract her, KC needs to discover her own hidden magick in order to survive.
Reader Rating: 4.7 (17 Ratings)
My name is Katherine Carmichael and I don’t do breakfast. Fact was, I might just have rolled in for the night by the time most people are up and heading to work. The idea of owning a bed and breakfast was ridiculous. Of course, since I didn’t own anything, the whole idea was even more absurd. There had to be a catch. I looked at the note once more, as if I hadn’t already memorized it.
My attorney has taken care of the legalities, and I have taken care of the rest. The Honey House is waiting for you. It’s time you know what you really are.
Good luck, dear.
There was a hastily added postscript: P.S. Don’t try to change the name. The House won’t like it.
I folded the note and slipped it into the side pocket of my purse, then climbed out of the limousine. The door of the long stretch barely closed before the machine glided smoothly away leaving me standing outside the Honey House Bed and Breakfast. I took the keys and slowly walked up the pathway, through a sandstone and wood beam archway, and across a wide porch. I looked over my shoulder as I slipped the key into the lock, half-expecting to be arrested for breaking and entering. The knob turned easily, and I walked through the doorway into a stunning foyer worthy of Southwest Showplaces magazine. Maybe the circumstances were leaving me feeling a little fanciful, but I could swear I felt the house settle around me. That was disturbing.
I appreciated the effect. Setting atmosphere is the first step in running a successful con. I should know… I’ve been running cons for years. Apparently, the old lady who wrote the note was running a doozy of a scam, because she’d gone to a lot of trouble to set this whole thing up. Whatever this whole thing was.
“Hello,” I called out to the empty house.
“Over here,” whispered a voice from deep in the shadows.
I grinned. Yep, a most excellent con. Joanne, the woman behind this particular show, was a former client. I’d thought she’d been one of the happy ones. I’d met her a few months ago in the middle of my most recent gig, working on a cruise ship as a fortuneteller. Okay, I suppose it’s technically not a con, because officially, I’m part of the onboard entertainment. I receive a salary, meals, and a miniscule cabin as compensation for my work. My customers are free to tip me, and that turns a low paying job into a very good living. I travel back and forth to Mexico on the three to five day cruises that depart from Long Beach.
When I’d stepped off the ship this morning, Joanne’s ‘lawyer’ had been waiting for me. He’d told me I’d inherited a bed and breakfast in Juniper Springs, a small community outside Sedona, Arizona. That had nearly sent me into a fit of giggles. Everyone knew Juniper Springs was as genuine as professional wrestling.
“The New Age Mecca?” I’d choked out, my voice full of sarcasm.
The painfully thin young lawyer had stiffened. “Many people claim to have experienced spiritual or metaphysical events, however, I assure you I have never personally witnessed anything unusual.”
He was good. I could almost believe he was straight out of law school, instead of a fellow con artist. Of course, he wasn’t as good as I was, but I’d played along.
“Okay, lawyer-boy, what’s the plan?”
“The limousine is waiting to take us to the airport,” he’d said.
I’d looped my arm through his. “Let’s go. I’m up for an adventure.”
That had been hours, one private plane, and two limo rides ago. Now I was about to discover what this was all about. I suspected Joanne wanted me to work for her at the B and B. The Honey House was perfectly located in the heart of the paranormal tourism country; it would be a boon to have a pet psychic on staff. She must have just recently bought the place, because although it was architecturally stunning, it looked and felt unused. Based on the size of the show she was putting on to lure me here, the job must be worth a lot of money. I was impressed.
“In here,” the voice whispered again, apparently impatient at my hesitation.
This was really cool and more than a little creepy. I passed through the entryway and down two steps into an open seating area, with cream-colored plastered walls and a high, open beam ceiling. Large terra cotta tiles lined the floor, interspersed every few feet with small, brightly colored ceramic tiles that brought the flavor of Mexico into the spacious room. I scanned the area looking for Joanne.
I found her in front of the massive stone fireplace, lying face down in a pool of blood.
“Joanne!” Completely forgetting this was all part of the act, I raced to the crumpled body on the floor. Despite my thudding heart and nearly overwhelming instinct to run, I felt for a pulse and my fingers came away from her neck sticky with congealed blood.
Certain details were like a stake to my heart. Body, bloody knife, ex-convict. Then I remembered this was all supposed to be a con.
Suddenly, this wasn’t very funny. I spun around, looking for the source of the voice that had lured me in here. The room appeared empty. The front door opened then closed with sharp click of the latch. Heavy footfalls came slowly toward me. I only had seconds before I would be discovered alone with a dead body and blood on my hands. Shit!
“Miss Carmichael?” a man’s voice boomed out.
Looking down at the body, I felt uncertain as hell. This was too real to be a con. I could smell the coppery odor of the blood. I was way out of my league.
A tall figure in a uniform stepped from the shadows of the entryway. A cop. Double shit.
“There you are. I promised Malcolm I would walk through the building when you got here to make sure everything was okay, but I was delayed. Sorry ‘bout that. Name’s MacQuinnlan.” His deep, gravelly voice spoke of whisky or smoke, or both.
I trailed off, not wanting to admit to anything in front of a cop, not even my innocence.
He took off his cowboy hat and looked at me strangely. His hair was sun-streaked brown and his eyes were some kind of weird light color. His crisp khaki uniform shirt topped comfortably faded blue jeans, and he wore the obligatory cowboy boots of the area. Boy, did he take up a lot of space in the room. More space than even his six-foot, plus-something frame demanded. He wasn’t that much older than my twenty-four years, but something in those weird eyes felt ancient. They were cop eyes.
Which brought me back to Joanna’s dead body. I looked down, nauseated at the sight and smell of all the blood. Would he believe I didn’t have anything to do with the body if I threw up on the evidence? Nah, probably not. On the other hand, he must not be the brightest bulb in the box if he was stuck out here in the sticks. He hadn’t even noticed the dead body between us on the floor.
Yeah, not too bright.
“It’s Sheriff,” he interrupted.
“Okay, Sheriff. I know what this might look like,” I swept my hand out, gesturing to Joanne without looking at her, “but I swear I didn’t do anything.”
He reached me in two giant strides and took my outstretched arm. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, but let’s go. I don’t have all night. I’ll walk through each room, make sure none of the local kids or anyone else snuck in here while the place’s been vacant.”
I looked down in horror to see if he’d actually stepped on Joanne’s body or just in the blood. There was nothing there.
We ended the tour of the facility in the owner’s unit on the southeast corner of the building. I stayed quiet, completely freaked out by the disappearing dead body in the great room. MacQuinnlan paid no attention to me other than to tell me to lift the dust cloths and look under the beds. He raced us through every room, quickly examining each door, window, and closet.
I tried to take it all in, really I did. The entire place was fantastic, with authentic eighteen-inch thick adobe walls, stone fireplaces, and either peeled-log or open beam ceilings. There were thirteen guest suites, a giant kitchen, a dining room, great room, plus a library. The owner’s apartment consisted of two floors, four rooms, and was as beautifully appointed as any of the luxurious suites I’d just visited.
It was all too much. Something very strange was happening, and I didn’t trust the sheriff to tell me anything. Something about him was off. When he’d turned his back to me the first time, I’d been surprised to see his hair wasn’t short, as I’d originally thought. Masses of golden brown waves spilled from an elastic ponytail holder to end several inches below his massive shoulders.
I narrowed my eyes, thinking. What was real? What wasn’t? I’d never seen a longhaired cop before. He was dressed unconventionally for a cop, too. Seriously…jeans and cowboy boots? It occurred to me that I’d been very stupid to take his word that he was the sheriff.
When had I turned into such a chump? I’d followed the man through an empty house without even a momentary consideration of the possible consequences of being alone in a strange place with a likely criminal. Even if he was posing as a sheriff.
No doubt about it…I was off my game. I turned slowly to look at him, wondering for the umpteenth time what in the hell was going on. It was time to bring things to a head.
“Okay, look. I know this is some kind of scam. You and lawyer-boy…you’re both in on this. Just actors, right? Joanne’s not really dead, she wants me to come work for her, doesn’t she? That’s what this is all about, isn’t it?” I asked.
MacQuinnlan looked at me long and hard. Up this close and personal, I could see the unusual color of his eyes. They were a rich golden-honey with flecks of brown and green. And they were looking at me from a mask of tightly-controlled anger.
“Lawyer-boy? You mean Malcolm? You’re some smart ass, aren’t you?” Without waiting for an answer to what I figured was probably a rhetorical question, the sheriff continued. “Joanne is gone and she was a friend of mine,” MacQuinnlan gritted out through a tightly clenched jaw.
“I checked you out when Joanne left you this place. I know about your parents and I know you went to juvenile detention when they went to prison. I know you like to run little scams, and you don’t have the balls to run the big ones. I know about your little psychic fortune-telling act.
“Near as I can tell, Joanne only met you once, when she was on that cruise to Mexico, so I don’t understand how she knew enough about you to decide. However, if Joanne says you belong in the House, then she had her reasons. I don’t have to understand it, and I don’t have to like it. Good evening, Miss Carmichael,” MacQuinnlan said, jamming his hat on his head as he turned on his heel and left. I jumped when I heard the front door slam.
With a little bit of an ‘I don’t give a shit’ flourish, I grabbed an afghan from the back of a chair and wrapped it tightly around my shoulders. I was still dressed in my casual end-of-cruise capris and tee and starting to get damn cold. Wasn’t it always supposed to be hot in Arizona?
I thought about everything that had happened since law— Malcolm talked me into a plane ride earlier. Nothing had changed. I still believed this was some kind of scam. The body and blood were gruesome, but they hadn’t been real. They couldn’t have been. The crew had pulled out all the stops, and the whole B and B angle was interesting. Weighing the options of staying to hear the pitch or heading back to Long Beach, I decided enough was enough. As con games went, this one was spectacular, but I wasn’t into that scene anymore.
Once I decided not to stick around for the next act of this bizarre little play, I began to plan. A cab to take me to Sedona and then a shuttle from there to the Phoenix airport. It would be a long night of travel, but at least I would be home by morning. Home. What a laugh.
A sense of urgency to escape washed over me. I faked looking cool as I race-walked through the empty house toward the front door. Not because I was scared, just because it made me feel better.
I turned the corner from the great room to the entryway and slammed to a stop, staring at the woman blocking the door.
“Joanne?” I stammered, confused by her appearance. I looked around for the projector. The figure in front of me was the image of Joanne, only set to a seventy percent transparency.
Apparently, I was going to get to see the next act of the play. Like it or not.
I reminded myself she wasn’t real, then pushed my hand through the illusion and reached for the doorknob.
It all happened rapid fire: the smell of sulfur, a crack of electricity, me flying through the air. I landed against the wall, and my head hit hard enough to make me see stars.
Honey HouseBy: Laura Harner