Full Bloom

By: Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich & Charlotte Hughes


CHAPTER ONE


Destiny Moultrie’s long black hair hung like a silk curtain on either side of her face as she gazed down at the dainty palm she held, studying each line and crease carefully. “You’re going to meet a tall, dark, and handsome man—”

Annie Fortenberry snatched her hand away. “Oh no, you don’t. You’re not saddling me with a . . . a man!”

Destiny arched one brow. “You don’t like men? They come in handy on cold winter mornings.”

The petite woman sitting across the antique Pennsylvania farm table, which seated twelve, nodded, and a thick strand of copper hair fell across her forehead. She raked it back, and it disappeared into the tousled mop that barely grazed her shoulders and gave her a girlish look, even at thirty. “You’re right,” she said. “On cold winter mornings when you don’t want to leave your warm bed and haul the trash to the street. That’s the only thing a man is good for.”

“Then I probably shouldn’t tell you the rest. The really good stuff.”

“Good stuff?” Annie’s green eyes registered interest. She could use some really good stuff in her life. She offered her hand once again.

“It says the sex will be dy-nuh-mite!”

Annie reclaimed her palm and looked at it. “Where does it say that? You made that up.”

“The Divine Love Goddess never makes up stuff.”

Annie glanced up and noted the serious expression on Destiny’s face. Despite the early hour, the woman’s makeup had been artfully applied, emphasizing deep-set indigo eyes and high cheekbones. Annie wondered how long it took Destiny to achieve that look. Her own makeup regimen took all of three minutes, beginning with a light foundation to tone down her freckles and ending with a quick swipe of her mascara wand. “Hmm,” she said, taking care to hide the doubt in her voice, even though her friend Jamie Swift had claimed Destiny was the real thing. “Very interesting.”

Destiny suddenly sneezed. “Uh-oh. I can tell I’m close. I always start sneezing when I’m on to something.”

“Good sex, huh?” Annie said. “Jeez, I might have to reconsider. As long as I’m not stuck with him for the rest of my life,” she added, wishing she were really more sophisticated and open to casual sex. Instead she followed Dear Abby’s advice that couples should be in love before crawling between the sheets together. Abby obviously didn’t have this hormonal thing going on that made Annie think about sex a lot.

Destiny sneezed again. “Wow, that was a big one. Either I’m right on-target or I’ve got a cold. There was a draft in my bedroom last night.”

Annie stood and hurried to the kitchen counter, where she kept a box of tissues. She plucked several and handed them to Destiny, who dabbed her nose. “I’m sorry you became chilled last night,” Annie said. “It has been so warm this winter that I haven’t bothered to turn on the heat.”

Which was true. Beaumont was experiencing record-high temperatures for February, and it wouldn’t be long before everything was in full bloom. New shoots had already begun pushing their way up through the dirt, and Annie had spied teeny buds on the large peach tree out front. But the old antebellum mansion–turned–bed and breakfast nestled between massive, centuries-old live oaks permitted little sunlight. That, combined with the West Indian coral stones from which the house had been built, kept it a good ten degrees cooler inside than out.

Destiny propped her elbows on the table. In the next chair, an aging overweight tabby cat named Peaches uncurled and stretched before dropping to the floor with a thud. She walked over to her empty food dish, stared for a moment, and then turned to Annie as if to say, What’s with it?

“The, um, draft in my room last night had nothing to do with the temperature,” Destiny said. “There’s a spirit in this house.”

“Oh yeah?” Annie cocked one eyebrow.

“A ghost,” Destiny said. “A dead person, in this case a woman, who for some reason is still hanging around.”

Annie didn’t know how to respond, so she said nothing.

Destiny shrugged. “It happens to me all the time. Dead people latch on to me like flies to molasses.”

Peaches made a guttural sound deep in her throat and gave Annie what she referred to as the evil eye. The cat raised her paw and whacked the plastic dish hard. It skidded across the floor and hit the wall.

“Your cat is hungry,” Destiny said.

“She has already eaten,” Annie replied. “Just ignore her.”

“You’ve never seen the spirit?” Destiny asked.

“I don’t believe in ghosts.”

“I’ll bet you’ve felt her presence. A sudden drop in temperature or a feeling of being watched?”

Annie’s look was noncommittal, but she remembered instances, a brush of cool air against her arms or the back of her neck, guests complaining of missing items that usually showed up in unexpected places at a later date, plus sounds in the night. “I think you have to be open to that sort of thing,” she said. “I’m not.”