Making Magic

Third Book of the Kindling

Excerpt #3

Making Magic A red BMW M3 with a flat right front tire glided up to where he stood on the curb. The street was quiet this early in the morning and he was pretty much the only thing moving downtown at the moment, so it made sense. Hadn’t seen this model of hardtop convertible in Patton Springs before. He leaned over and peered in. A woman was driving, if the hairstyle and huge sunglasses were any indication.

The window slid down and the smell that came out almost made Jake step back, but he crouched beside the car to look in, setting his mug on the curb, his aching muscles forgotten.

“Looks like you’ve got a problem, ma’am,” he said politely. “Can I help?”

Something that looked like a dirty pile of rags was lying on her lap. He squinted at the thing and saw it breathing. Something alive then. And the distinct odor in the car was getting stronger. Dog. Definitely a dog.

The woman pulled off the glasses and he nearly fell over.

“Thea?”

She blinked at him. Her eyes widened.

“Jake?”

He thought he saw tears well into her eyes as she laid her head back on the headrest.

“Perfect. Just perfect,” she mumbled.

From the sound of it she had a really bad cold. There were high spots of color on her cheeks, which had been pale anyway, but seemed even paler by comparison. And all that great auburn hair of hers, well most of it, had been chopped off since he last saw her. Still, it was damn good to see her again.

“You’re here for the wedding, then,” he said.

She moved her head affirmatively against the headrest.

“Drove all the way from Philadelphia?”

She nodded her head again.

“Got a cold?” He couldn’t hide his grin, but she wasn’t looking at him anyway.

Another nod.

“And you brought your dog along?”

She shook her head.

He took a longer look as the creature stirred and lifted its head.

“Rescued it?”

She nodded.

“Uh-huh. Does it…uh, need to pee or something?”

“Already did,” she croaked.

He tried not to laugh, but it was hard.

“If you are grinning about this dog peeing in my lap, I am going to pull out your shiny white teeth one by one with a pair of pliers, Jake Jake Cupcake.” She didn’t even open her eyes.

It was so classically Thea that he snorted and watched her lip curve upward.

“That’s good then,” he said. “It can stay right there in your lap while I change this tire for you.”

She still kept her eyes closed. “Not an ‘it’. Her name’s Bailey. And there’s no spare. Stupid hunk-magnet car doesn’t even have a spare.”

Hunk-magnet car. Jake avoided laughing this time. “Oh, yeah. Probably has a sealant kit in the trunk instead. When did the indicator come on?”

“Just as I drove into town,” she said. “Of course.”

She sounded exhausted. Must’ve driven all night.

He went up to give the tire a closer look. There didn’t seem to be any damage, no puncture or anything.

“Can you pop the trunk?” he asked, going back to the window.

Without even looking, she picked up a small purse from the console. “Remote’s in here.”

He found the remote and popped the trunk, then stared in disbelief. If Thea had just come down for the wedding, she had brought a hell of a lot of stuff. There were suitcases, certainly. But there were also boxes and plastic bags and what looked like winter coats tossed across the top of it all. Every corner was crammed with something. It was packed in so tightly there was no chance of digging it all out to get at the tire repair kit buried at the bottom.

Curious, he pulled back a flap on one of the boxes to find it full of books. Maybe she had planned to donate the stuff and forgot. He popped open another box. Framed photos—one of Daniel and Grace and Thea when they were teenagers and one of the Woodsman, her grandfather, with his arm thrown around Thea. He paused, surprised to find one of himself at his dulcimer, hammering away and grinning at the camera and one of Becca with her fiddle.

Damn. He shut the box.

Whatever she was doing, she wasn’t giving this stuff away. He shut the trunk, walked up to the driver’s side and crouched down.

“I can’t get to the kit. I’ll go get the one out of my truck, but you’ll have to get to a dealer
to repair it permanently.”

“Hmmm.”

“You awake?”

“Hmmm.”

“Okay, I’ll be back in a sec.” He ran across the street and dug the tire inflator kit out of
his toolbox.

Thea Woodruff with all her worldly goods packed into a BMW. Last he had heard she was an attorney at Hartford Pharmaceuticals, where her father was CEO. And the last time any of them had seen her was at her grandfather’s funeral last year. She had tried to remain inconspicuous, showing up at the last minute with all that hair of hers shoved under a black hat and those huge sunglasses on.

Eddie Miner, who’d been the Woodruff’s handyman forever, had told him that “Miss Thea” had snuck back for some holidays over the years, but she wanted to keep it quiet because of an ongoing feud between her father and the Woodsman, so no one ever saw her in town. She hadn’t been back since the funeral, not even for Grace’s wedding.

Being intimately familiar with family dysfunction, Jake hadn’t been too surprised when the Woodsman’s son, Marshall, failed to show up for his funeral. But Jake had been real glad to see Thea there. Real glad.

With all the people crowding up to extend their condolences, he had barely gotten close when he saw Thea head for her car, her high heels dangling from her hand as she ran through the grass. Grace and Daniel had stood apart from the crowd and watched her go. It seemed to him that Thea kept running away, again and again. He thought about that packed trunk and wondered if she was running again. And if so, where to?

The funeral might have been when he had made the decision to quit. Standing there in his uniform beside the casket of a man who had repeatedly told him to follow his own dreams, he knew that he was going to have to be the one out of all of them who kept the music going. A year later, almost to the day, a bullet had galvanized his choice.

The tire was as good as it was going to get, so he finished up and took the kit back to
his truck.

He crouched next to the driver’s door. “You can—”

But Thea was asleep. Both of them were, judging from the soft sounds coming from the pile of dirty fur. He leaned back to give the car another admiring look. Driving this beauty up Woodruff Mountain was going to be fun, even limited by the questionable tire and unable to put the top down because of all that stuff in the trunk. But Thea was going to be unhappy with him when she woke up, especially since he would have to move her out of the way to do it. The thought of annoying her a little made him smile.

“Thea, I’m gonna drive you on home, if that’s okay with you,” he said in what he hoped was a disinterested tone.

She mumbled something.

“What?”

“No room. Let me sleep a minute,” she repeated in a muzzy voice.

He looked over at the passenger side and the floorboard. It would take some shifting around. The back seat was even more stuffed than the trunk. From what he could see, there was a flat-panel monitor, more boxes and bags, and a computer tower. Was that cookware in the floor?

“I’ll make room on the passenger side for you and Bailey.”

“No, no,” she mumbled. “Packed the precious stuff over there.”

He frowned at the passenger seat, then circled around to open the door and see what was so precious that she was worried about him moving it around.

The bag nearly fell into his hands and he knew from the size and shape of the case what it was. Her flute. He slid the case out part way and only had to look at the logo on the case cover to agree with her—it was precious for sure.

Back when they were teenagers, Thea had talked about buying a Lillian Burkart flute the way guys would talk about buying a sports car. She must’ve gotten one while she was at Curtis. But the Woodsman had said she dropped out of the prestigious conservatory two years later, right after Becca died.

Thea probably thought of it as precious because of how much it cost. They were handmade and customized for the player and damned expensive, like his dulcimers. He smiled and hefted the bag strap carefully over his shoulder, then reached in to see what else Thea considered precious.

A laptop, two bags full of more books, a briefcase and a pair of high heels. The rest of the stuff in the floorboard was mostly travel detritus—coffee cups, used tissues, a bottle of aspirin, crumpled takeout bags and a dirty white towel—probably the dog’s.

He carefully moved the laptop, book bags, briefcase and shoes into a niche in the backseat between a stock pot crammed with towels and a wooden block full of knives, then he cleaned out all the trash and sat the flute case on the console. Walking back around, he opened the driver’s door, reached in and unbuckled Thea from her seat.

The dog growled at him and Thea protested with a slur of words he couldn’t understand. He frowned, reached for the dirty towel and tossed it over the dog. It seemed to help. Then he steeled himself for the complaint of his injured muscles, leaned in and scooped Thea up, dog and all.

The Woodsman’s granddaughter. That was the way he had always thought of her back then. Even at nineteen, his deep respect for the man had kept him from any lascivious thoughts about her. That and her temperament. He hadn’t nicknamed her “Matchstick” just because of her auburn hair. Now, here he was with his arms around her. Of course, she was practically unconscious and her stinky dog was along for the ride.

And from the feel of it, both of them were a bit too skinny. He looked around as he carried her to the other side of the car, but no one was really up this early on a Saturday to remark on him manhandling an unconscious woman. The dog only growled once from beneath the towel as Jake settled Thea gently into the passenger side.

Some of Ouida’s cooking and Grace’s remedies would get her back into fine shape. Not that her shape wasn’t real fine right now. He squeezed his arm between her and the growling dog to get the buckle on the seat belt to engage. She needed a tad bit more padding though, so she didn’t blow away in a stiff breeze.

He picked up the flute case and started to slip it in at her feet, but her hands reached out and grasped it, pulling it to rest across her and the dog. “Thanks,” she said.

Watching her curl one arm around the case and the other around the filthy stray in her lap, he wondered about Thea and her precious things.

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