Sophie Turner runs Talismans, a Boston tarot parlor, where she reads tarot and keeps her family’s psychic legacy alive. However, in spite of her tragic family history and Tarot Alley’s reputation for being a mystical hotspot, Sophie has no psychic powers of her own – or so she thinks. Engaged to straight-as-an-arrow Boston PD Detective Roger Paris, and finishing her college degree in Computer Science, she’s ready to start a brand new life that has nothing to do with her paranormal past.
When the murder of her friend and client Patrice Bledsoe leaves Sophie traumatized, she can’t trust her own memory about what happened. She remembers a ghostly encounter moments before Patrice was killed, but she can’t remember anything about the murder, making her a prime suspect. Sophie doesn’t understand why the ghost appeared or why she was compelled to read his cards, revealing a story of violence and betrayal, but she is determined to find the truth about her friend’s murder.
It’s not the last time Sophie sees the tragic ghost figure, and she begins to believe her ghost is real when she’s plagued with visions she can’t ignore. When her skeptical fiancé won’t listen, she asks ghost hunter Dr. Gabe Mason for his help, leading her down a path of no return in more ways than one.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Sophie took the stairs, one hand always on the rail, stepping with care as she made her way down to her shop, Talismans, where her client waited patiently by a display of books. She’d completely lost track of time and Margaret had called her down before leaving to let her know Patrice was waiting.
“Patrice, I’m so sorry. I got involved in class work and lost track of time,” Sophie explained, greeting her good friend and taking the older woman’s hand in hers.
Patrice Bledsoe wasn’t the kind of woman most people would expect to find in a funky occult shop. Everything from her elegant chignon to the Italian leather boots screamed wealth and sophistication. She was also one of the nicest people Sophie knew and a friend of her late aunt’s. That alone made her special. Patrice was a fragile link to the family Sophie had lost years ago, but they had developed their own relationship over the years. Patrice was more like an aunt than a client.
“It’s no problem at all, dear. I appreciate you for meeting me so late in the day. I know it was a little last minute.”
“I’d always make time for you, Patrice, you know that,” Sophie said with a smile, ignoring her aching back and the headache that came from sitting through two computer science classes and reading text books for the past three hours.
“Margaret said to tell you she’ll bring back dinner,” Patrice offered. “I guess she’ll be taking over soon, yes?”
“Yes. She’s been working inventory, and we both missed dinner, I guess.”
“You girls work too hard,” Patrice said.
“Well, things will settle down soon. I’m in my last semester at school, and the soon the store will be Margaret’s.”
“Margaret is lovely, and I’m sure she’ll do a wonderful job here, but it’s still a big change for you. When does the turnover take place?”
“In a few weeks – the lawyers and real estate people are doing their thing. Margaret will make some changes, but I think she’ll keep the place more or less as it’s always been. I couldn’t have let it go otherwise.”
“That’s good to hear. I understand you wanting to get on with your life. So many exciting things, getting married, a new career. . . .”
“I know. I can hardly keep up with it all. But you also know I will always read for you, no matter what,” Sophie offered.
“That would be lovely,” Patrice glowed, looking relieved. “You’re so like Doris, Sophie.”
“She’d be proud of you, how you’ve grown up,” Patrice said sincerely. “You don’t remember much of what she did, do you?”
Sophie’s throat constricted slightly. “I assume she did pretty much what I do, reading cards for people. Aside of helping Dad with the store a little, you know I don’t remember much of what she did, though, no. Of course, I don’t remember anything of the attacks.”
Lacunar amnesia, the doctors had called it, or the loss of memory of a specific event or set of events. It was very much like what had happened in the movie she’d watched years later, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where people purposely had memories of any particular person and all associated events connected to that person erased, except that Sophie’s memory loss wasn’t purposeful. It had just happened.
Would she remember if she could? At this point, she wasn’t sure. It was so long ago and had been painful enough. Still, if she had any memory of who had killed her family, she would willingly invite that pain in order to bring the killer to justice. Police, however, speculated that she hadn’t seen anything, as they had found her on the closed side of the door with her father, who’d died immediately from a gunshot wound to the head.
They also figured she’d fallen down the stairs trying to get to her father and her aunt, but the amnesia was psychological trauma. She’d received a concussion from the fall, as well as a broken arm and a Grade 3 PCL tear on her left knee, but those had healed. Her memories, however, had never returned. Sophie had forgotten anything regarding her aunt’s work, as well as what happened that day in the shop.
Ironically, the fall had saved her life, police speculated. If Sophie had been near the door or had entered the shop, it was likely that she would have been shot, too. For a while afterward, she’d sometimes wished she had been.
After her initial stay in the hospital and her first knee surgery, they’d released her to live with Patrice, who had insisted on taking her in. Patrice had paid the medical bills, though Sophie had insisted on paying every cent back over the years. Sophie had lost everything, but in a way, Patrice had, too. Alan was gone most of the time, and her daughter Angela was gone, killed years before. Patrice had a hole to fill, and taking care of Sophie was something that helped them both.
Sophie’s life had been inevitably altered. She’d tried to keep up with school while recovering at Patrice’s house, but being in and out of surgeries made it impossible. She hadn’t always been grateful for Patrice’s help, as what she wanted most was her family back and her normal life. Patrice, having dealt with her own grief, understood. Once Sophie had gotten through the worst of it, she knew what a good friend she’d found in Patrice. She owed her so much.
After six months with Patrice, Sophie had insisted she go back home. Patrice had been reluctant, but offer to come by and help, and also arranged for others to come in and help, but eventually, Sophie just wanted to get on with life. School, and anything resembling the normal high school life she’d almost had evaporated – she quit and got her GED instead. To be an emancipated minor in the state of Massachusetts, she’d had to prove she could make a living on her own, and that meant reopening the store. So she did. She simply could not let Patrice continue to support her.
Unable to climb the stairs without help, she’d kept a cot in the back room, and as much as she’d wanted to be independent, she’d relied heavily on Patrice and then Roger to get her up and down the stairs, and to do her errands, to help with lifting, and myriad other things while she focused on re-building the business, which became her obsession. Eventually her doctors admitted that the surgical fixes weren’t effective, and a full-joint replacement finally rendered her mobile again. Still, every time she climbed those stairs from the store to the apartment, she wondered about that day.
Patrice smiled as they made their way down to the reading room, taking their seats. “I know she wanted you to have a normal life, to protect your innocence, I think. I was never sure if she’d want me to share what she did for me. But you’re an adult now, and if you have questions, I’d be happy to tell you what I can. I think she’d want you to know. I know she’d love be here for your wedding, and your father, too.”
“I know. I wish they were here, too,” Sophie said with a sigh, feeling tired and a little sad, and needing to refocus. “So, let’s get started,” Sophie said as she shuffled.
Sophie was always flattered to be compared to her aunt, of course, but Aunt Doris had been. . .Aunt Doris. To her, Doris had been comfort, happiness and home-baked cookies. As special as Patrice was, nothing really ever took the place of her real family.
Sophie had always known there was something special about them, her father and her aunt, but that hadn’t mattered as much as the fact that they’d loved her. Love was never in short supply until they were gone. Sophie had felt its absence sharply every day since, even though Patrice, Roger and now Margaret had all helped fill in some of the gaps.
Sophie on the other hand, lacked any psychic talent. She was a tarot reader from necessity and practice, and she found most people who came in for readings appreciated insight, but mostly they needed someone to talk to. The cards were often more of a medium for conversation than anything else, and Sophie enjoyed the work.
“What are we reading for tonight?” she asked, shaking off her thoughts and moving things along.
Patrice perked up. “Okay, well, you know I’ve been working with Stewart?”
“Margaret mentioned it, yes,” Sophie nodded, knowing Stewart Whitman, a life coach and a friend, had found quite a few clients through his referrals from the shop.
“We’re working on letting go of bad energy from my past and getting rid of items which had negative ‘vibes’ for me. I need some feedback on that.”
“Sounds good. Maybe we should use the Death card as a signifier for tonight’s reading?”
Patrice looked surprised. “Death?”
“As a signifier of change and letting go of what holds you back in order to move forward, it seems appropriate. It sounds very much like what you’re doing,” Sophie said, finding the card in the deck and placing it on the table between them.
“I guess that makes sense.” Patrice paused. “You look a little pale, dear.”
“It’s just been a long day, and I’m on the tail end of the flu—don’t worry, though I’m not contagious.”
“You should be resting,” Patrice said solicitously.
“I’m past the worst of it, really. So, what items are you getting rid of?”
“Oh, some odd ends that might be worth more sold or donated than kept around. There’s a painting that has collected dust in the attic for years, but it was a family heirloom, and a few necklaces left to me by my mother. I never wear them, anyway. Never have. She and I never got along, though she was still my mother, so I kept them. But really, why continue to do that when every time I see them they only dredge up bad memories?”
In spite of her considerable wealth, Patrice wore no jewelry except for her diamond-encrusted wedding band. Not even an engagement ring intruded on the expensive manicure that made sixty-year-old hands look half their age.
“An antique chair up in the guest room that’s always irritated me. There’s something about it. It came with the house, and I never liked it. It has to go, though Alan doesn’t agree. I suppose he could take it in the divorce.”
Sophie looked up in surprise. “You’re getting a divorce?”
As close as she’d been to Patrice over the years, her husband remained a stranger to Sophie. Rarely around, she’d had only the shortest of conversations with him in all the time she had spent at their home. As Patrice was the one with the money, though, he’d never argued, that Sophie knew of, anyway. A Harvard administrator and professor, Sophie had the general impression he wasn’t the most endearing guy on the planet but she was still surprised to hear they might be splitting up.
“Oh dear, I thought I’d mentioned that. I’m all muddled lately, but yes. I haven’t done anything official yet, though I did tell Alan that I’ve had enough. Ever since we lost Angela, it’s been more of a business partnership than a marriage. A charade. It’s time for both of us to move on.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Patrice.” Sophie had spoken and read often for Patrice concerning the death of her daughter fifteen years ago in a freak-car accident while away at school. Patrice had been devastated, and Sophie knew it was shortly after that when she’d started coming to Talismans.
“Alan didn’t take the news well, I’m afraid. It makes me wonder if I do have my head on straight, at my age, to be on my own.”
“You have to do what’s right for you, Patrice,” Sophie commented, thinking age had little to do with it. Why be unhappy at any age? It sounded like Patrice had wasted enough years.
“Anyway, so I brought the necklaces to Noble’s to have them appraised and cleaned—oh, which reminds me,” Patrice said suddenly, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a slip of paper that she stuffed into her purse. “I almost forgot I put this here. I’m awful about putting things in my coat pockets and then forgetting. Anyway, anything you can tell me to help me think this all through would be most helpful.”
Sophie focused, absently rubbing her knee. A full-replacement had solved the pain she’d once suffered, but not the habit of rubbing it.
“Okay, the Two of Pentacles . . . well, that’s apt. You’re weighing the pros and cons. It signifies reflection on your decisions, thinking through why these items and not others? Maybe also the thought you put into whether you want to end your marriage or not. The sun rising in the background shows change is on the horizon.”
Patrice nodded, leaning in. The images on the cards blurred as Sophie wondered where Margaret was. The long afternoon without nourishment was catching up with her. Without preamble, Sophie laid out another card.
“Another Pentacle, the realm of money, worldly goods. This time, the Six—charity, giving and receiving. Being generous, but generosity has another side, as you have the power to pick and choose who should benefit.”
“I would donate the proceeds, so that makes sense. I also want to give away portions of my money, as well, to worthy causes. Alan wasn’t happy about that, either. He’ll have to fund the scholarships he likes to brag about with his own income now,” Patrice added somewhat caustically.
Sophie stepped delicately around commenting on Patrice’s marital discord. “Nothing too surprising so far. That’s a good thing, indicating support for your decisions.”
Patrice nodded again, watching as Sophie flipped the Seven of Swords, frowning.
“The Six directs the energy of the Two, but the Seven of Swords suggests some deception or selfishness. The contrasting elements, pentacles and swords, they represent air and earth, active and passive, and also suggest conflict or lack of compatibility. These two weaken each other. What astrological sign is Alan, by the way?”
“Taurus, Earth—oh, and I am Aquarius, air—my divorce, then,” Patrice added, making her own connections, which Sophie always encouraged people to do. “It’s true, we’re not very compatible. We never were. I guess even people who don’t get along all that well settle into familiarity after a while.”
“Possibly, yes. Alternately, if we focus on your question and the other cards, the seven suggests that could be deception around you. It’s something to consider when making big financial decisions.”
“I keep close account of my finances myself—my father taught me that—women should never trust anyone else to watch their money.”
“Well, there is clearly some conflict associated with your situation, but in the end, you have to follow your heart. Do what you believe is right, what will make you happy.”
“That’s the hard part.”
“It always is. The cards can offer some direction, but they can’t tell you what to do. You have to trust yourself for that.”
Patrice smiled. “You are wise for your age, dear.”
Sophie smiled, never thinking of herself as wise, certainly, and peeled off another card. She was happy to see The Star.
“Ah, see? This is your astrological card, and I think indicates universal support for your plans. The right decisions feel right, even when they’re difficult. If you have doubts, then take some time before acting. Trust your instincts,” Sophie said.
She stopped, losing her track of thought, the room seeming to spin a little. She heard the bell on the front door, and hoped it was Margaret, who had said she’d be coming back with some food.
“Sophie?” Patrice’s voice was faint, as if in the distance.
Sophie looked up as a man walked through the drapes, interrupting them. Tall and well-dressed, his suit was old-fashioned, vintage, as was his haircut. His face was thin, his frame somewhat bony, the most prominent feature his intense, dark eyes. He was handsome, though Sophie couldn’t tell his age. She thought he was maybe in his twenties, but there was an air of weariness in his eyes that made him seem much older.
She wrapped her arms around herself, feeling a chill as his eyes met hers. “Sir, I’ll be able to help you in a moment, if you would wait out in the main area of the store.”
He didn’t respond, but stood at Patrice’s side, putting his free hand on the back of her chair. He looked down at the cards and then at Sophie.
“Sir,” Sophie said again, her voice sounding far away.
“Sophie, what’s going on? What man? There’s no one here,” Patrice said, apprehension thinning her voice, making it high, like a violin string drawn too tight.
Sophie tried to grab back on to reality, but failed.
“Who are you?” she finally gave in and asked him, oblivious to Patrice’s discomfort. Her hands moved more of their own accord than not, laying another card out. The mood in the room changed, turning to something heavier, darker. Colder.
“The Knight of Wands,” she said. “Impulsive and reckless. A bringer of messages.”
“Why are you here?” Sophie asked the man.
“Oh, Sophie. You’re. . .” Patrice said in a hushed whisper spent on a sucked-in breath, but Sophie closed out the rest of what she was saying, focusing only on the man in front of her. She drew another card.
“Five of Swords. Someone is being dishonest, dishonorable. There’s discord and danger.”
“Danger?” Patrice echoed vaguely.
Sophie put the Lovers and the Three of Hearts on the table, one crossing the other.
“Heartbreak, betrayal, pain. Terrible pain,” she said, and his expression became etched with wrenching sadness. He pulled his coat open, exposing the wound, the bloodstain on his shirt. Sophie gasped as the room rocked hard to the side.
“Who did that?” she asked as everything closed in around her. The picture was incomplete, and she laid out one more card.
“The Queen of Swords?” She stared at the card, confused.
When she looked up he was gone, as if he had never been there at all. Blackness filled in the void, and the next thing she knew she was being jerked awake by a scream.
Her eyes traveled to Patrice, across the table and she pushed back in her chair, hard, nearly toppling over in shock.
The older woman slumped down over the table, unmoving. Sophie quaked from head-to-toe as Margaret Dalton, her assistant manager, stepped into the room, clearly shocked.
“Ohmigod, ohmigod,” Sophie repeated until words left her all together. She rushed forward, shaking Patrice and then drawing back, her knees turning to water as she saw the prints left on Patrice’s blouse by her own hands, bloodied from where they’d rested on the table. The tarot cards laid out there floated in blood. Patrice’s blood.
“No, no, no. . .”
The slump of Patrice’s body told a story horrid and unthinkable. Sophie had to be dreaming, there was no way this was real.
“Patrice!” she shouted, sure she was trapped in a nightmare and hoping they would both wake up. This couldn’t be happening. Not Patrice, too.
Someone was shaking her hard, and Sophie became aware of Margaret’s voice, her friend’s firm hands shaking her, trying to pull her attention away from where Patrice refused to wake up.
“Sophie, what happened? Who did this?”
Margaret grabbed her face, making Sophie focus away from the body. A memory of a man’s face swam in her mind, and she could only shake her head as she stared at Margaret, her mind and body slipping back under the waves of icy shock.