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Hidden Moon (Chapter 24)

Beneath the canvas I found a prime candidate for the cliche of the month award.

Two chairs flanked a table covered with a purple cloth, which reached to the floor. On top lay a deck of cards and a lump covered by black silk. The lump had the distinct outline of a crystal ball.

"What is it you wish?"

The fortune-teller had appeared in front of a set of multicolored draperies that separated the front of the tent from the back; I hadn't even heard them swish.

She'd removed the scarf with the coins – revealing dark brown hair with only a few threads of gray. She'd removed her bracelets as well, but her fingers still sparkled with rings, and the hoops in her ears flashed despite the dim light.

I pulled five dollars from my pocket and set it on the table.

She glanced behind me. "Tie the flap."

I did as she asked. When I turned, the money had disappeared and she sat behind the table. "I am Edana." She waved impatiently. "Sit."

I settled in a rickety card table chair, and she laid her palm faceup atop the purple cloth. I stared at it, unsure of what she wanted. "Give me your hand."

Hers was thin, sinewy, dark, very similar to the dreaded monkey's paw. I didn't want to touch her any more than I'd wanted to touch that.

"Why?" I stalled.

She made an impatient sound. "I am filidh, a seer. I read the palms, the tarot; then we will look into the ball."

She yanked the black cloth from the lump in the center of the table. The light that hung above us – an oil lantern, talk about a fire hazard – reflected off the surface, and the rainbow colors of the draperies swirled at its center.

"Why do you need all three?" I'd planned to be here five minutes, but this appeared to be a major undertaking.

"Everyone is different. I may see something in your hand, the cards or the ball – perhaps a bit in each. I do what I must to give those who visit me what they pay for."

She flexed her fingers, asking without words for my hand. I clenched my teeth and gave it to her.

Her skin was hot, dry, or maybe it just felt that way because mine had gone cool and damp. She stroked a long, sharp nail down the center of my palm and I jumped.

"Hold still," she snapped.

She was awfully cranky for someone whose livelihood depended on the whim of strangers. But I guess she didn't have to worry about repeat customers, since the caravan moved to a new town every week. I wondered if this meant she actually told people what she saw rather than what they wanted to hear.

I did a mental rolling of the eyes. I didn't believe she was going to see anything. I'd come in for fun. A curiosity.

She traced the line that ran from just above my thumb and curved around the pad toward my wrist. "A long life," she murmured. "With the possibility of death, here." She pointed to a place where the line faded, right next to the base of my thumb.

"What does that mean?"

"You may die or you may not."

I refrained from pointing out the wishy-washiness of this statement.

Her dark eyes lifted to mine. "Soon."

A chill went over me. "Soon" wasn't wishy-washy at all.

"When?"

She shrugged and returned her gaze to my hand, rubbing her nail over a tiny couplet of curved lines beneath my ring and middle fingers. "The girdle of Venus is strong. You like sex."

I jerked back, but she didn't let go.

"Although" – she pointed to a break in the lines – "you did not until recently. Trauma," she murmured. "But that is over now."

My eyes narrowed. How did she know? Could Malachi have… ?

No. He wouldn't.

Would he?

I'd read about fortune-tellers having accomplices who went into whatever town they were near to learn all that they could about the people. Then the supposed clairvoyants used the information to appear psychic when they were merely masters at planning ahead.

I was torn between wanting to run and wanting to hear more so I could figure out where she'd gotten her information. Curiosity won out.

"What else?"

Edana bent closer, squinting, then shrugged and let go. "There is nothing."

"I many die soon and I like sex. That's it?"

"We are not done." She picked up the cards, mixed the deck a few times, then handed them to me. "You shuffle."

"How much?"

"Until you feel you are done."

While I did that, she spread a piece of navy blue velvet in front of her, smoothing the fabric until it was straight and flat and reminded me of the endless night sky above the mountains.

"I'm done." I attempted to hand her the cards, but she shook her head.

"Cut them into three piles; use your left hand only." I did. "Now stack them into one pile." I did that, too.

Finally she picked up the cards and laid them, faceup, in a pattern – three in a row for three rows, making nine cards altogether.

"This is the past," she said, pointing to the top three. "The wheel of fortune." She went silent, pursing her lips.

"Do I need to buy a vowel?"

Edana didn't laugh. Maybe she'd never seen the show. Maybe she didn't like Vanna. Maybe I wasn't as funny as I thought I was.

"The wheel brings change. You were at a crossroad."

I had been, but so were a lot of people.

"This card" – she pointed to the center of three – "is the six of cups. You returned to your childhood home."

No kidding. Anyone would hear that if they meandered into Lake Bluff for more than a minute.

Edana flicked her gaze to my face, frowned as if she'd heard my thoughts, then returned to studying the cards.

"This is the knight of cups. You were longing for love."

I coughed. Not. I'd been longing for –

I wasn't sure. Safety? A home? Certainly not love. I needed love like I needed Balthazar on my back.

I'd never really considered a home or a family because I'd been running so fast toward my goal. Sure, I no longer wanted to be Barbara Walters Jr., but I still hadn't given any thought to

the home or the family most women craved because I'd been stuck in my past, focused on what had happened instead of dreaming of what might.

In truth, I'd been deliberately avoiding the thought of settling down, remembering the tales of my mother's unhappiness, her need to be forever somewhere else.

I'd felt the same wanderlust in Atlanta and feared I was more like her than I wanted to be, that I'd never be happy anywhere, doing anything.

But now that I'd come home and begun to feel that this was home, I saw that what I'd really wanted was to be out of Atlanta. Despite my belief that the big city was the place for me, it never had been and never could be.

A home and family sounded nice. I was sick of being alone.

"We move on to the present." Edana's hand slid to the three cards that lay in the center. "The fool."

"Terrific," I muttered, wondering if she was going to give me a lecture on the mistake I'd made by trusting Mal, by letting him touch me – if not for my own sake, then his.

"This is a good card," Edana continued. "New beginnings. Hope. Throw caution to the winds and enjoy your journey."

That didn't sound like me.

"Eight of wands," she continued. "Everything is about to change. Surprises, good and bad, await you around every corner. Expect the unexpected."

I'd never been very good at that. I liked my life orderly; I did better with a plan. Which might be why I was so on edge lately. Every plan I'd ever had was gone.

"The moon," Edana continued.

I glanced at the card, which showed the moon in various stages – full, crescent, gibbous, and one I couldn't figure out. The moon was round and flame red, as if something had exploded on impact.

"What's that?" I pointed.

"Hidden moon," she said, "a very special time."

I wanted to ask what the hidden moon was, but she didn't give me the chance. "The moon changes nightly. It is full of mystery and power. When you look at it, you long for what you can never have."

"Me personally or just a general 'you'?" I couldn't remember looking at the moon very much at all. Even during the festival there'd always been so many other things to do.

"This card indicates…" She closed her eyes, then allowed her palm to hover above the surface of the card, not touching it at all. "Dishonesty, infamy." Her eyes opened and for an instant the lantern reflected in their depths, a fiery dot of flame. "Madness," she whispered.

"Great."

Edana shook herself as if coming out of the water. "The future," she continued, moving her finger to the third row. "Death."

"Again?"

"Not necessarily literal death." She tilted her head as if listening. "Though it can be. The death card indicates an end, cutting ties, moving on. Something familiar will go out of your life."

"Like my life?"

"One never knows when the end may come. And the end as we know it is not the end. Nothing dies without being reborn. Death is a doorway."

I suppose that was meant to be comforting, but it wasn't.

"Page of swords." Edana pointed to the final card with a frown. "Someone is watching you."

Balthazar and his minions most likely. They never went away.

She muttered something in Romani that sounded suspiciously curselike, and I glanced up. She stared, transfixed, at her crystal ball. Within the glass, smoke swirled, gray, like fog or mist.

"Here we go again," I muttered. What was it lately with mist?

"Beware the devil" – Edana's eyes and her voice had gone flat, as if she was in a trance – "who is a shape-shifter."

A shape-shifter?

I lowered my gaze, just as the mist parted inside the crystal ball. At the edges, shadows of different shapes and various sizes milled, none distinct enough to be classified as man or beast.

Until the lean, black wolf appeared in the center of the crystal ball, paw lifted as if it had heard the scuttle of something small and tasty. As the animal tilted back its magnificent head, its eyes met mine.

They were human.

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