Justice for the dead and solace for the living is Baxley Powell’s creed, but she faces uncharted territory in this sixth book of the Dreamwalker Mystery Series. The Suitcase Killer has struck again, only this big city menace is now a problem for Baxley’s hometown. As that investigation heats up, a local woman is reported missing. The sheriff orders Baxley to work the missing person’s case.
Listening to the dead is familiar ground for Baxley but finding a missing young lady isn’t in her skill set. Besides, her dreams rarely follow a timeline. With the clock ticking, can this crime consultant discover a way to reach the living?
Her main source of help in the afterlife, a mentor named Rose, is unavailable. Instead, Baxley must rely on her wits and her Native American boyfriend, Deputy Sam Mayes, to find leads. Each shared dreamwalk and energy transfer binds them closer together, creating another issue. Mayes wants to marry Baxley but it isn’t that easy. They’re hampered by their community roles in opposite ends of the state.
Baxley juggles the pressure of two high-profile cases, a determined suitor, and expanding her limits. One thing is certain. Without her extrasensory sleuthing, the missing woman will die.
Excerpt:A sudden jolt propelled me to consciousness. I gazed upon a vast darkness and wheezed air into my lungs. Time passed as I steadied my breathing and slowed my racing heart. Flat on my back, I took stock of my situation.
Numb limbs indicated an extended dreamwalk, but I had no memory of any such excursion. I’d spent a quiet Sunday evening at home with my daughter and Sam Mayes, my Native American boyfriend, who was down from North Georgia for the weekend. I’d gone to sleep in my own bed and awakened here, wherever here was. Was I alone? I called upon my flagging energy to do a life signs scan. Using my extra senses, I virtually ranged out from my prone position. Mayes was to my immediate left, and from his low energy levels, as wiped out as I was. He was a dreamwalker, same as me. And from the cold energy pressing against my leg, my ghost dog watched over us. He’d bark on the spirit plane if someone or something approached, though my scan assured me we were alone. The void in my memory worried me. My debilitated condition pointed to an extrasensory event, but danged if I remembered contacting a spirit on the Other Side. Strange, because I remembered every other dreamwalk I’d ever made. Why not this one?
So much for me being an expert on the paranormal. Just when I thought I had the hang of my unusual profession of communicating with the dead, it socked me in the teeth. Crossing over to the spirit realm was something I did often, but the veil between the living and the dead nearly won this time. This had been no ordinary dreamwalk.
Instead of it being a spirit-only event, somehow our bodies had also undergone the shift. That defied the laws of physics, but here we were, body and spirit. Impossible and yet my reality. Tears misted my eyes, and I blinked to sharpen my vision. A woodsy aroma filled my nose, so we were outdoors. The darkness suggested it was night. My thoughts drifted into a self-healing meditative trance focusing on the breath. Gradually, clarity returned. As numbness yielded to tingling nerves, sensation seeped into my rigid body. Fatigue rolled in next, and with it, the riptide of bone-deep exhaustion. Despite my weariness, I took heart. This reaction was normal after an extended dreamwalk. Oliver lapped happily at my face, his whip-thin tail wagging his entire ghostly form. Good dog, Oliver, I managed as I joined him on the spirit plane. While here in spirit only, I still maintained awareness of my physical surroundings. My ghost dog materialized as a misty image of a jet black Great Dane, his body aquiver with happiness. Earlier this summer I rescued Oliver from virtual chains and too-tight collar at a haunted house. No amount of urging had prompted him to the afterlife, and his essence attached to mine. At this bereft moment, I was delighted by his presence. Oliver showed us the way home through the drift, I realized. It wasn’t the first time he’d rescued me, and I owed him so much already.
Despite my dry-as-cotton mouth, I cooed over him while I tried to pinpoint my location. Stars twinkled overhead, framed by tall oaks and pines. Not my treetops, not my yard. I heard a moan to my left. Felt the urgency as Mayes whispered my name.
With a final rub of the ears for Oliver, I integrated fully into the physical plane.
Mayes whispered again, his tone deeper and freighted with authority. “Bax. You okay?”
“Yeah.” I managed. “What happened to us?”
“Got no clue.” Sam Mayes had become a fixture in my life, though I’d only known him for three months. I wished I was in his protective arms right this very second.
“I feel like I got run over by a truck,” I said. “Last thing I remember is getting ready for bed.”
“That’s right.” His voice roughened. “I shared your toothpaste before we crawled under the covers.”
My face heated as memories surfaced. “I remember the before-sleep part fine, but between there and here is a big, fat zero. Except for Oliver. He guided us home through the drift.” I tried to sit, but my limbs weren’t fully responsive yet. I remained prone.
“I have the same mental gap. I believe we were taken, body and spirit, from your house.” Hearing the words made it real. The impossible had happened. Nothing else explained our physical displacement, the prolonged recovery time, and the shared memory gaps.
My teeth ground together as I made another connection. “Unless some other entity kidnapped us, my money’s on Rose. Her abilities go beyond the possible. I’ve never met another spirit entity as powerful.”
Allegedly, my otherworld mentor, Rose, worked undercover in the spirit realm, but she claimed to be an angel. Seeing her dark, powerful wings had made a believer out of me. That physical manifestation, her ability to do impossible feats, and her total hold on me proved she was more than a powerful spirit. She’d banished demons, fetched folks from beyond the point of no return, wrestled with selkies, quelled spirit rebellions, and more. Trouble was, Rose kept changing the rules of our association.
By sheer willpower, I managed to draw one hand close enough to study in the starlight. From the faint glow of my watch, it was three a.m. The rose tattoo on my hand was still there. Rose put three tattoos on my body to indicate the hours of my indenture to her. Rats. If she’d gone to the trouble of kidnapping us and erasing our memories, her prominent brand indicated I still owed her the hours of my life I’d willingly exchanged during life-or-death situations of loved ones.
That’s right. Rose charged for her supernatural favors, and I’d begged for her help three times. Each time the terms had been the same. A favor in exchange for an hour of my life. I’d agreed due to the dire nature of the situations, but darn-it-all if I wanted Rose to collect. With her rule-bending nature, I could turn into a mass murderer or worse on either side of the veil.
“I keep reminding you, Rose is not your friend,” Mayes said.
“Maggie Toussaint’s ability to craft growing, exquisite tension couched in interpersonal relationships, revelations, and the fine line between the Other Side and waking events enhances another story that is hard to put down: one which will attract and please both mystery readers and those seeking a walk on the wild side of paranormal abilities. Dreamed It crafts a tense, outstanding whodunit that will keep readers involved on both an emotional and an investigative level, right up to the story’s riveting conclusion.” –Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review
“Dreamed It is a carefully crafted tale of murder and the paranormal with a unique protagonist in the person of dream-walker and amateur sleuth Baxley Powell.” Diane A.S. Stuckart, NYT bestselling author (as Ali Brandon) of the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series “Dreamed It is a suspenseful page-turner that you won’t be able to put down.” –Nancy J Cohen, Author of the Bad Hair Day mysteries
“The very first paragraph flings you into the paranormal subplot of Dreamed It. Baxley and her boyfriend, Mayes, wake up after an extended dreamwalk that neither remembers taking. Who did this to them and why? Baxley’s powerful otherworld contact, Rose, is not answering and cannot be found. Mayes is preparing to return home from his visit when Baxley is called into work. A suitcase with a body in it has been found. Mayes knows of the Georgia cases relating to a serial killer known as the Suitcase Killer and requests permission from his sheriff to stay and assist. The impetus to solve the case ratchets up when a local woman goes missing. Dreamed It continues Baxley’s story as she learns her dreamwalking powers and her heart. This is a well written series that has continued to surprise and engage from the very first book. I can’t wait for more stories.” –Pat Dupuy as seen on Goodreads
“This is a wonderful series. The paranormal aspect is written well and captivates you from the get-go. The characters are interesting and engaging. This latest offering is one you won’t be able to put down! I voluntarily reviewed an advance reader copy of this book.”—Karen Kenyon on Goodreads
“This is one of my favorite series. The author has created dimensional characters that I have come to care deeply about. I find myself thinking about Baxley, Sam, Baxley’s daughter Larissa, and all the secondary characters when I’m not reading the books. Another thing I like about this is, the paranormal aspects are plausible. It requires very little suspension of disbelief to get caught up in Bax and Sam’s dreamwalks, or in Bax’s conversations with the dead people she delivers messages to, or the crime victims she helps. There is a good balance of mystery, interpersonal relationships, day-to-day living, and romance. Wherever Baxley is, is a place I want to be. I am always pleased to see a new Dreamwalker mystery, and this one did not disappoint. I am enjoying watching Bax’s and Sam’s relationship progress, and seeing Bax settle into her powers I’m envious of her support team, and her relationship with 10-year-old Larissa. I appreciate how she treats Larissa like a person, giving her a safe place to grow up, but not sugarcoating the realities of life. Baxley is someone I wish I could hang out with. I hope this is a long-running series.” – Denise Zendel on Goodreads
“I very much enjoy this series. It is just enough “out there” while still being grounded in a familiar reality. The characters are developing nicely (believably) with each story. This one was particularly creepy with so many women being the victims and the manner of their deaths. The final countdown was hair raising.” –Elizabeth Dodd on Goodreads
Series: Dreamwalker Mystery Book 5
Publisher: Camel Press
Release Date: June 1, 2018
Genre: Paranormal Mystery
Available Formats: eBook and Print
A meth cook is dead, and when Baxley visits her beyond the Veil of Life, she determines that the woman was murdered. Baxley pities Mandy Patterson, a single mother with aspirations for her teenage son Doodle. Unconcerned about the death of a criminal, the authorities pursue the drug-supply chain angle. Baxley worries about Doodle and vows to find out who killed his mother.
As the case grows more baffling, Baxley struggles against her attraction to Sam. Although her husband is missing and declared dead, she does not feel free to love again until she is sure of his fate.
Two suspects have the strongest motive, but Baxley has reason to believe they are pawns in a deeper game. And unless she can stop them, the world will never be the same.
“Hold up,” Ronnie said. “I already know. The Pig Woman.”
Wayne shook his head. “What?”
“The Pig Woman. Jerk next door must’ve filed half a dozen complaints about her blasted pigs.”
“The woman with the pot bellied pigs?”
“That’s the one.”
“What’s her name?”
Wayne studied the ground a moment. “It’s coming back to me now. Mandy’s pigs turned up their noses at their pig-chow dinners, escaped under the fence, and got into the dog-food bag on the neighbor’s back porch. The guy nearly had an aneurism telling you about it, right?”
“Yep. Good ole Ricky Dixon. He’s wound tight, that’s for sure. If his wife wasn’t bedridden, he’d be a permanent bachelor because no woman would put up with his sh—, uh, stuff.”
“Head over there anyway. I want a statement from him about what he may have heard or seen. I want to know where those pigs are. Take Powell with you so I know if he’s lying.”
He was sending me away from the scene? I didn’t want him to think I couldn’t do my job. I pushed away from Mayes’ protective arm. “I can do it,” I said. “I needed a moment to prepare for seeing the body.”
Wayne snorted. “Sometimes I forget you’re a chick, Powell, but I can read you like a fast-food menu. This is the best use of your time. Dixon is important. He’s either a witness or a suspect, and I need your take on what he says.”
His words didn’t ring quite true. My spine stiffened. “I said I can do it.”
“Sure you can, but Mayes is a cop. He’s seen burn victims before. He’ll assist me because he wants in on the case. With the fire department’s approval, I’ll collect one or two personal items belonging to the victim, and you can go inside the place once we remove the corpse. Right now, I need you next door with my guys.”
Crap. I was being sent away on the “B” team. Simultaneously, Mayes had been promoted from spectator to “A” team. Good ole boy networks never died.
Though my pride smarted, I couldn’t deny I was glad to be granted a respite on the viewing. Wayne was doing me a favor, so I should hush and be gracious about it.
“Virg, let’s get that statement stat,” the sheriff said.
“Roger that, boss man.” Virg cocked his head at me. “You ready?”
I nodded and gathered my thoughts. I might not like being sent away, but I would do my assignment. As a police consultant, I needed to let my abilities be tasked however the sheriff deemed fit. Didn’t matter about the temporary demotion, I’d do my job. I would get justice for this victim.
“If this guy doesn’t cooperate, I’ll light him up with my Taser,” Virg announced as we trudged down the dirt road to the neighbor’s home.
Ronnie laughed, an affable giggle with a sinister twist. “Go git ’em, Virg.”
Having been on the wrong end of Virg’s Taser before, I didn’t wish that experience on anyone. “You will not. The object is to gather information, not have this man sue the sheriff’s office. If he won’t talk to you, I want a crack at him.”
“No way he’s gonna talk to you. I’m telling you. This man’s crazier than a sprayed roach.”
Series: Dreamwalker Series, Book #4
Publisher: Camel Press
Release Date: Aug 1, 2017
Genre: Paranormal Mystery
Available Formats: eBook and Print
Her psychic sleuthing leads the police to a halfway house. There they encounter eight comatose victims and an odd man named Jonas, who also has supernatural abilities. Baxley senses Jonas cruelly drained their life force energy. Jonas escapes, taking the sheriff as a hostage. Deputy Sam Mayes, a Native American, leads the manhunt, and he keeps Baxley close, knowing she’s the key to capturing this powerful criminal.
Baxley’s paranormal talent of dreamwalking, which she uses to traverse the veil of life, draws the unwanted attention of beings believed to be Cherokee folklore. Jonas stole a treasured artifact from them, and they want it back. They hold Baxley’s best friend and two others because they know Baxley can help them. As the clock ticks, Jonas taunts this crime-fighting duo and proves to be a wily adversary.
With the body count rising, Baxley and Mayes realize they are up against an entity who appears to be invincible. Do they have the power to subdue an energy vampire, turn the tide of evil, and save the day?
All three dogs howled at the siren, and Larissa, bless her, tried to quiet them.
Loggins scowled and stepped off the boat toward Charlotte, tablet tucked under his arm. He was taller than me and looked former-professional-athlete solid.
I felt a tug on my elbow and jumped.
Deputy Duncan gestured toward the path leading back to our camp. “Come with me, ma’am. We have cruisers meeting us at your campsite for transport.”
My feet grew roots. The fishing rod bobbled in my hands. “I’m not leaving my daughter or my friend. We’re traveling together. If you need someone to vouch for my character, call Sheriff Wayne Thompson down in Marion.”
“You’re in our database as his consultant, and we’ve already got a call in to him. This is a routine precaution. For your safety as well as ours—”
“Gun,” Deputy Loggins yelled from behind me. “She’s got a handgun in her waistband.”
“Hands in the air,” Duncan said, weapon drawn. “Now.”
“But I can explain.”
A millisecond later, my Beretta was gone, my pockets emptied, and my arms were tightly clenched behind me. In the second before I totally locked down my extra senses, I got an inkling of the cop’s mental state. Neutralize the threat. Protect my partner. Assess the danger level. Contain the situation.
Fear threaded through his laser-focused thoughts, along with excitement. I needed to do some fast talking before the situation escalated further. “I can explain the gun,” I began again, twisting around to search Deputy Duncan’s face. “Sayer’s visit last night spooked me. I didn’t want to be unarmed if he strolled by today. I have a carry permit.”
Maddy charged the deputy, barking like she’d cornered an armadillo in the yard. In slow motion, flecks of dog spittle flew everywhere—on me, on the deputy. The man behind me shifted his weight onto the balls of his feet. Was he reaching for his gun again?
“Mom!” Larissa shouted.
“No!” I yelled at the deputy, who had drawn his weapon. “Don’t shoot!”
Series: Dreamwalker Series, Book #3
Publisher: Five Star / Cengage
Release Date: October 19, 2016
Genre: Paranormal Mystery
Available Formats: eBook and Print
With no access to the spirit world, Baxley bluffs her way through the crime scene where a movie star’s assistant and a charter boat captain were strung up and bled dry. In a haunted house, no less. Figuring out who killed these people will be a real challenge without her ability to speak to the dead.
Just when Baxley thinks her powers are returning, her dreamwalks malfunction. With the sheriff pushing her to solve the case quickly, Baxley teams up with a dognapping medium to boost her powers.
Suspects include the captain’s good-for-nothing brother, the assistant’s replacement, and, of course, his stalker. All of Sinclair County is on edge, and the media circus isn’t helping. At stake are the movie’s funding, the sheriff’s job, and Baxley’s senses.
Can Baxley safeguard her abilities and solve the case before the killer strikes again? Haunted houses, lost pirate treasure, conniving in-laws, supernatural baddies, and a determined ghost dog test amateur sleuth Baxley Powell’s mettle in Book Three of Toussaint’s Dreamwalker Series.
Charlotte shone her light on the weathered façade of June’s Folly. “No breaking required, Baxley. The front door is open.”
I added my beam to hers. Sure enough, the paneled door with the centrally located doorknob gaped on its hinges. “Dang. You’re right. Still, this place belongs to someone. We don’t have the right to stroll inside. We’ll be trespassing.”
“Just a peek inside. If the ghost is here, it should repel us at the door, or so goes the legend. Speaking of ghosts, is anyone talking to you? Maybe shaking some chains or speaking in French?”
“All I’m hearing is a desperate reporter.” Cautiously, I touched the banister to see if it was secure. It was. I used the railing for support as I carefully trod the rotten, squeaking steps. Drifts of thickened air stirred my hair and sighed through the pines.
Charlotte halted. “You hear that?”
Her voice sounded too high. “The wind?” “Chains clanking. And a sad, mournful song in another language.”
“Truly?” I heard nothing of the sort. Was Charlotte’s imagination getting away from her? Was there a ghost?
Charlotte sank to the porch decking, her gear clunking as she landed heavily on her rear. “I, uh, need a minute.”
“Okay.” I sat on the top step beside her. Other than feeling dread and a shiver against the elements, I seemed normal with no sign of sensory overload. I marveled that I was still functioning. A little maturity and a little extrasensory training and I had a whole new perspective on this place.
“Don’t you feel it?” My friend’s teeth chattered. “I’m freezing.”
I estimated it was nearly eighty degrees and humid enough for spiders to dance on the air. Puzzled, I touched Charlotte’s arm. Her skin felt cold to the touch. Ordinarily, Charlotte would be griping about the heat and the humidity. Something was crossing her wires. “Look at you! Working those earlier ghost sites must have unleashed a latent talent.” I gazed at her with frank admiration. “You’re the ghost detector tonight, Char. I’m not picking up anything.”
“Are you looking?”
She had me there. “Nope. I don’t want to have to call my father to come get me again. That would be embarrassing.”
“I thought you were doing this to prove yourself as a full-fledged dreamwalker.”
“My main thought is that you have your answer to the ghost question. Chains and mournful singing support the drowned slave legend. Time to go home.” “There’s more to this, I know it,” she insisted. “Help me prove it. You can handle whatever it is I’m feeling. I haven’t passed out or anything.”
Charlotte had called me out. Worse, she was right. Just because I never heard ghosts before was no reason not to listen for this one. My talents and my shielding abilities were much more finely tuned now. I’d been talking to the dead for months. I didn’t have to let childhood fears dictate my actions. And, the sooner I gave Charlotte what she wanted, the sooner we could go home. With that, I closed my eyes and opened my senses to the night. Immediately, I plunged into a freezing fog bank.
Series: Dreamwalker Mystery Series
Publisher: Diversion Books
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2015
Genre: Mystery Anthology
Available Formats: eBook and Print
Digital: ASIN B014RY2W00
Bestselling authors Jeffery Deaver and Anne Perry join rising stars like Dana Chamblee Carpenter and Paul Gail Benson in a collection that proves Music City is a deadly place to be when your song gets called.
Featuring stories by: Donald Bain, Robert Dugoni, Jefferson Bass, Mary Burton, Jonathan Stone, Steven James, Maggie Toussaint, Clay Stafford, Heywood Gould, Jaden Terrell, and more…
Every year, some of the biggest names in the thriller world converge in Tennessee for the Killer Nashville conference, an event where stars of the genre rub elbows with their most devoted fans, where the bestsellers of tomorrow pick up tricks of the trade, and where some of the best writers of today swap dark tales of good deals gone bad, rights made wrong, and murder in all shades…
This collection of new stories features some of the biggest names in suspense, from bestsellers to ferociously talented newcomers. Grouped around the classic theme of murder, KILLER NASHVILLE NOIR: COLD-BLOODED is a first-class collection and a must-have for fans of the genre.
Which Bubba killed the banker?
Amateur sleuth and dreamwalker Baxley Powell is called in on a stabbing case. She arrives in time to hear the dying man whisper, “Bubba done it.”
Four men named Bubba in Sinclair County, Ga., have close ties to the victim, including her goofball brother-in-law, Bubba Powell.
She dreamwalks for answers, but the dead guy can’t talk to her. Baxley sleuths among the living. The suspects include a down-on-his-luck fisherman, a crackhead evangelist, a politically-connected investor, and her brother-in-law, the former sweetheart of the new widow.
The more Baxley digs, the more the Bubbas start to unravel. Worse, her brother-in-law’s definitely more than friendly with the new widow.
Between pet-sitting, landscaping, and dreamwalking, Baxley’s got her hands full solving this case.
© Copyright 2012 – Maggie Toussaint
Gradually my surroundings took on corporeal form. The solid seat beneath me. The mechanical whir of the Jeep’s engine. The zebra-striped slices of sunlight across the lawn of Sparrow’s Point.
I was at Morgan Gilroy’s house. The banker had called for help, said he’d been stabbed. Urgency filled me, burning like acid indigestion, and propelled me out of the Jeep.
I had to see Morgan.
It couldn’t wait another minute.
I gained the porch, then the front door, which the sheriff had left open. My eyes strained to see in the dark corridor. The hallway spun. I gasped in a breath, and gravity reasserted itself.
So did reason.
Was the intruder still here?
I needed to find the sheriff fast.
I squinted into the gloomy corridor and took stock. Plastered walls. Wide planked wooden floors. An antique marble-topped buffet with a seashell display was to my left. A large conch shell caught my eye. I palmed it, liking the pointy edges and the smooth texture. If I stumbled upon a bad guy, I could whomp him with the seashell.
Every fine hair on my body stood on end. Energy arced from one raw ending to the next, urging me to fight or run far away. Dread mounted with each step.
I heard the sheriff’s voice down the hall. He murmured something in a reassuring tone. I followed the sound, my eyes darting from the blue and gold carpet runner to the shadowed rooms I passed. My fingers tightened around the shell.
I gained the doorway to what appeared to be a library. My gaze swept the paneled bookshelves lining two plaster walls, the carved desk and empty chair across the room, and the dark stain on the Oriental carpet. Morgan lay face up in the center of the stain. A gasp slipped from my lips.
“I told you to stay outside.” Wayne kneeled beside the banker. “I haven’t cleared the house.”
I lifted my eyes to the sheriff’s familiar rough-hewn features. Below his receding hairline were a handsome face and a trim, athletic body. If I kept looking at Wayne, I wouldn’t see the knife planted in Morgan’s chest or the bloody shirt. I edged toward a bookshelf, putting distance between me and the threshold. “I had to come.”
“This is a crime scene. You can’t be in here.” His dark gaze narrowed. “What’s that in your hand?”
“A conch shell.”
He swore. “Put it down. Don’t touch anything.”
I clung to the shell and nodded toward the banker. “Is he dead?”
No wonder I couldn’t find him in the spirit world. He was still here.
The banker wasn’t a close friend, but he had a teenaged daughter. She’d be devastated at losing him, just as my daughter had been when her father was officially declared dead.
What else did I know about Morgan? Twenty years ago he’d swooped into town, flashing cash and buying property. Last year he’d sniffed after my fixer-upper. I needed money something fierce, but I wouldn’t part with my inheritance for pennies on the dollar. I’d told him where to shove his lowball offer.
Stop that, I told myself.
You’re in Morgan’s home.
Morgan made a gurgling noise in his throat, rasping in a breath. This was the moment of death I hated most, the liminal moment when spirits slipped through the veil. I steeled myself for Morgan’s passing, not wanting to watch, yet unable to tear my gaze away.
The breath wheezed out of him. Impossibly, his dulled eyes sought mine. I edged closer, my hand fisting over the pointy edges of the seashell. Slashes in his white shirt oozed thick crimson.
I shuddered and breathed around the metallic smell.
Another inhalation from the dying man. Morgan’s chin wobbled. A raspy whisper slipped out on his final exhale. “Bubba done it.”
Series: Dreamwalker Series, Book 1
Publisher: Muddle House Publishing
Release Date: October 2017
Genre: Paranormal Mystery
Available Formats: eBook and Print
A widow and single mom, Baxley needs this consulting gig. Her in-laws want custody of her daughter, so she has to be self-sufficient.
Complications arise when a fresh body is found on Baxley’s jobsite, planting her in the suspect pool. Concurrently, her father steps down as county dreamwalker, passing the honor to her. Some honor. People need help, and she barely knows what to do.
With a killer dogging her heels and spirits nipping at her mind, Baxley follows her dreams.
My shovel bounced off a monster root. Tremors vibrated up my aching arms, jolting my knotted shoulders. I swore under my breath. Just my luck. The last installation for this landscaping job, and now I’d hit the mother lode of obstructions.
I leaned on the shovel and wiped my brow on my sleeve. Planting this weeping cherry should have been an easy installation. Should. What a crock. Should implied a promise, but it was an outright lie.
God, I was so tired of pretending everything was fine. Between bureaucratic red tape, enhanced sensory perceptions, and the odd jobs I worked, I felt decades older than my twenty-eight years.
Mosquitoes swarmed my neck and hands, feasting on the unexpected banquet named Baxley Powell. Sweat trickled down from the brim of my ball cap. Not a hint of a sea breeze reached this forested clearing off Misery Road. Instead, the air smelled of pine and decaying leaves, of dancing sunshine and brooding shadows.
At the rumble of an approaching diesel, the birds overhead quieted. Carolina Byrd’s builder and realtor had been troubleshooting the faulty exterior lighting at her new mansion, Mallow, which graced the other end of this winding driveway. Automatically, I checked that my mental shields were in place.
I didn’t want any psychic readings off these bozos.
“Hey, pretty lady.” Realtor Buster Glassman leaned out of the driver’s window, right overtop the blood-red Glassman Realty logo. “Whatcha up to?” Behind him, builder Duke Quigley bobbed his shiny head in greeting.
I groaned under my breath. Buster could talk the ears off a toadfish if he wanted something. I didn’t have time to waste on idle gossip.
“Digging a hole.” I jerked a thumb toward the shallow hole. “I’m all done once this weeping cherry is in.”
“Beats me why the boss would want anything that cried.” Buster grinned, laying on the charm.
Annoyed, I explained, using small words. “It doesn’t actually weep. The leaves spill down instead of reaching up. Carolina loves the pink blossoms.”
“You know that, dummy.” Duke joined the conversation and punched his pal’s shoulder. “Your mama has a weeping willow in her yard.”
Buster bolted from the truck, rubbing his bicep. “Yeouch. I was gonna dig the hole for the little lady, but you’ll do it now that you smashed my arm.”
Duke followed Buster. The men tromped up to the hole, their waffle-tread soles leaving deep impressions in the sandy soil. “Got some trouble there, don’tcha?” Buster said.
The idea of help with the root extraction gleamed like a shiny Christmas package. But there’d be a catch. There always was a catch. “Nothing I can’t handle.”
Buster studied me. “That why you leaning so heavy on that shovel?”
“You got a chainsaw in there?” Duke nodded toward my vintage truck.
I wish. “Forgot it this morning.”
His sigh was worthy of Scarlett O’Hara. “Bummer. What else you got?”
“My axe.” That should send the slackers running for leather seats, surround sound, and air conditioning.
Duke tsked. “Man, that’s old school. Too bad we don’t have a generator out here still. I could use my power tools.”
Trust a man to think that a power tool solved all problems. “Nope. It’s just me and the bugs out here. No electricity. No generator.”
“I’ll get the axe.” Duke’s chest puffed out, and he strode toward the truck.
Man, I did not want to owe Duke a favor. I stepped forward. “Really, I can do it.”
Buster tapped my arm. “Let Dairy Queen fix your problem. Besides, I wanna talk to you about something. I heard you figured out Maisie Ryals held up the liquor store. I bet you got your daddy’s woo-woo stuff going on in that pretty head of yours.”
My simmering irritation amped to a rolling boil. Buster’s good old boy nickname for Duke Quigley reinforced that I was an outsider here. Was it any wonder I was protective about the very thing that set me apart from others?
“Um.” My lips compressed, sealing in further words. I didn’t talk about my extrasensory talent with near strangers.
The thud of metal on wood filled the air. Buster steered me away from the manual labor. “I would consider it a personal favor if you could help me out with some picks.”
The hair on the nape of my neck snapped to attention. “Picks?”
He lifted one shoulder with a negligent ease. “I do a little online betting. I figure you could help me up my winning percentage.”
Even though I was shielded, there was a violent rumble in my senses. I knew trouble when I heard it. My ability to predict a person’s truthfulness was darned near one-hundred percent, except when the person believed his lie.
Buster’s voice changed timbre when he spoke about gambling. It became thinner, less resonant. He had a whiff of desperation about him, too.
Why was he lying to me?
My ponytail waggled from side to side as I shook my head. “I don’t do that.”
His fake smile ramped up a bit. “What could it hurt? I’ll show you the ropes, teach you how to place the bets, and the next time you can keep the winnings for yourself.”
I frowned. “Even if I could see the future, I wouldn’t gamble.”
His dimples faded. “Tell you what. You get back to me on this.” He pulled out a golden case from his shirt pocket and extracted a crisp business card. “Call me after you think it over. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve got the system down pat. You’ve got the woo-woo vision. It’s a match made in heaven.”
It was easier to take the card than to argue with him. I peeled off my leather work gloves to pocket the card. The thudding stopped. I glanced over my shoulder at Duke. He dropped the axe and hefted his battered trophy skyward. The root chunk was fatter than my thigh. I’d’ve been here for hours chopping that out. “Thanks.” I meant it.
When the men left, I sighed in relief and lowered my mental shields. The sky seemed bluer, the breeze fresher, the greenery more vibrant. Birds called to one another from the forested canopy, filling the air with lovely trills and chirps. What a beautiful January afternoon.
My energy surged.
There was no one else at Mallow, no inhabited property for a couple of miles. I could relax. I rolled my tight shoulders in large circles, easing the tension.
The landscaped beds I’d installed this past week near Mallow had been darned near effortless because Duke had bulldozed the soil near Tara South, as I’d dubbed the fake tabby mansion. A century ago, tabby buildings were layered with a lime, sand, shell, and water mixture inches at a time and were thick walled. Solid, too. Today’s tabby was a concrete block wall with a veneer of shell-spattered concrete. Nothing says classy and grand in my book like concrete block. Might as well roll in a whole fleet of rusty mobile homes, too.
I snorted at the thought.
Carolina Byrd would have a conniption if trashy trailers were located near her highbrow Mallow Plantation. She’d pointed out the place name in a local history book. A worthy name for her fancy estate with a grand entrance. She’d selected this weeping cherry for the entry because the pink blossoms complemented her sign’s blue background and fancy gold lettering.
I thought the gilded sign was tacky, ostentatious, and a dangerous lure for thieves. She might as well have put up a flashing neon sign that said “Rob me.” I hoped the crackheads and ne’er-do-wells left her and her special-needs child alone.
Not my problem.
Last month a former client had referred Carolina Byrd, of Macon, to Pets and Plants, and I’d been grateful for the work. I’d suggested native plants to Carolina and then I’d agreed to install the high-maintenance stock she wanted. The client was always right.
Dropping to my knees, I widened the bottom of the hole with a smaller spade. When the hole was large enough for the cherry tree’s root base, I’d lime the soil to neutralize the acidity to suit the cherry. Another reason I wouldn’t have chosen this plant to go in next to pine trees.
I was making good progress, opening the hole and deepening it when my shovel glanced off a hard object.
In coastal Georgia, we had few rocks. Granted, an early settler might have placed a rock here, but what were the odds of me digging it up? No rocks had been unearthed near the big house, and they’d pushed mounds of dirt around, evening up the land, filling a natural swale where Carolina wanted the house sited.
I could pry the rock out of there. But there was something about the distinctive gray color that riveted me. Something barely detectable on a sensory level. Unease rolled through my gut, weighing me down, making it hard to breathe.
Should I touch the object?
Whatever it was, the energy coming from it was minimal. Was it plant matter from the roots I’d exhumed? Possibly. But I doubted that explanation.
More likely, it was a gray rock I’d found. Rocks had found their way to the Georgia coast as ship ballast during Colonial times. This could be a ballast rock.
Despite my logic, my unease mounted. After learning the hard way to trust my instincts, I respected them. Something about this hidden object tripped all my senses.
I could call someone. But who? And what would I say? I dug up a rock and it might be important? Who would believe that I was scared to touch a rock?
Get a grip, Baxley. It’s probably just a rock. I fetched my new trowel and knelt beside the hole. I held my gloved hands about a foot over the object and concentrated, hoping that the closer proximity would give a stronger signal.
Only a faint wisp of energy.
Self-preservation wouldn’t let me dig unshielded. I fortified my senses with sturdy imagery and moved sandy soil away from the object, bit by bit. With each pass of the trowel, my nerves pinged.
The exposed shape was rounded like a summer melon. It didn’t resemble a polished rock. The smooth texture seemed bony.
I shivered. Was this the remains of something or someone? A lump formed in my throat. Let it be an animal, I wished silently. Let it be something other than human remains.
I lowered down on my belly and brushed away the remaining dirt with my gloved fingers. Stroke by stroke until the empty orbs of twin eye sockets stared back up at me.
There was no mistaking the species.
I’d found a human skull.