Date Published: Oct 2022
She would never admit it. And if asked, Mystic Twilight Malone would flat out deny that the first Wednesday was her favorite day of the month.
It was just a day like any other day.
She got up at exactly six fifteen. She did yoga for thirty minutes. She meditated for ten minutes more. Then she showered and got dressed. If she took a little extra time picking out her clothes or fixing her hair or applying her makeup, she didn’t give it a thought. It was part of her job to look nice for her clients. A hairstylist needed to have style.
Once she was satisfied with the reflection in her mirror, she’d go into the kitchen and make hot tea for her grandmother. There was a specific routine her grandmother had taught her to make the perfect cup of tea. Always use filtered water and loose tea leaves. And always let the tea steep for five minutes.
After pouring water over the infuser filled with leaves, Mystic would set the timer on her smart watch. While waiting, she’d toast an English muffin lightly brown and spread butter into every nook and cranny. By that time, her alarm would go off and she would remove the tea infuser and then carry the cup and the muffin to the small two-person table in the breakfast nook where she would leave it for her grandmother.
Mystic didn’t like tea. Or English muffins. She usually just made herself a cup of black coffee. Except on the first Wednesday of every month. On those days, she just sat at the table and stared out the window, waiting for the clock to tick off time.
For some reason, the first Wednesday always turned out to be gorgeous weather. The sun seemed to shine brighter. The rain fell lovelier. The hailstones danced in the grass higher.
Nothing that happened that day could ruin her good mood. It didn’t matter if her beauty supply shipment didn’t come in. Or a client didn’t show up for their appointment. Or her grandmother had caused another problem with the townsfolk of Cursed. Regardless of what happened, the first Wednesday of every month always turned out to be a great day.
Even if her grandmother woke up spouting predictions.
Mystic continued watching the hummingbirds sipping from the feeder that hung outside the window. Was it her imagination or were the two birds kissing after every drink? She smiled at the thought of kissing hummingbirds.
“Humph. It must be the first Wednesday.”
Mystic turned to her grandmother. “What?”
“Nothing.” Hester sat down at the table. She was a tall, attractive woman with long silver hair that she refused to let Mystic cut—no matter how much Mystic pleaded. She also refused to wear any color but black—no matter how many brightly colored clothes Mystic gave her for her birthdays and Christmases. The silver hair and black, flowing dresses and skirts only added to the townsfolk’s belief that Hester Malone was a witch. And her grandmother’s career choice didn’t help. Mystic cringed every time she saw the neon sign hanging in the front window of their house.
Fortune-telling and Palm Reading.
Like her ancestors before her, Hester was the town psychic. She read palms and tarot cards and crystal balls and the amethyst hanging from the chain around her neck. If her predictions of doom and gloom weren’t accurate 80 percent of the time, people might not believe she was a witch. But Hester was rarely wrong.
“Did you hear me?” Her grandmother picked up her favorite tea mug with the picture of Baby Yoda and the words Yoda Best Psychic beneath. “A tornado is coming.”
“I heard you.” Mystic glanced out the window at the beautiful September day. “But not only is it a gorgeous day, tornado season for Texas is usually May and early June.”
Hester added four cubes of sugar to her tea and stirred it six times one way and four times the other before setting the spoon on the right of her cup. “The tornadoes in my dream don’t always represent actual tornadoes. You should know that by now, granddaughter.”
Mystic more than knew it. Hester hadn’t just taught her how to make tea. She’d taught her everything about the psychic world. More than Mystic wanted to know. Her grandmother’s dreams, visions, and other psychic abilities had caused Mystic nothing but trouble and alienation from the townsfolk. What Hester viewed as a gift, Mystic viewed as a curse. She wasn’t about to give her grandmother validation by entering into a conversation about some dream she had.
“I don’t want to talk about dreams, Hessy. That’s something you should know by now.”
Hester slammed her fist on the table, making her tea mug jump. “This isn’t a joke, Mystic Twilight! Something bad is going to happen to you. I know it.”
“How do you know it? You told me yourself that Malones can’t read each other’s fortunes or see the future of any blood relative.”
“The dream didn’t go into detail. It was just a warning. A serious warning.” Tears entered her violet eyes. Eyes that Mystic had inherited. “I can’t lose you like I lost your mama.”
The tears and the mention of Aurora made Mystic realize how upset her grandmother was by the dream. Hester rarely cried and even more rarely talked about her only daughter who had disappeared from both their lives when Mystic was only two years old.
Mystic reached across the table and took Hester’s hand. “Okay. I’m listening. What kind of tornado is coming?”
Hester stroked the amethyst crystal around her neck. “That’s just it. I don’t know if it’s literal or metaphorical. All I saw in my dream was a tornado headed straight for you. Your hair was whipping around your face and you were scared. More scared than I’ve ever seen you.”
She squeezed her grandmother’s hand. “If it’s an actual tornado, I couldn’t work anywhere better than my basement salon. If it’s a sign of something that’s going to happen in my life, I’ll just have to deal with it when it hits.”
Hester’s eyes grew even more concerned. “That’s the problem. You never deal with issues. You just hide from them. Just like your mama did.”
“My mama didn’t hide. She ran. I’m not a runner, Hessy.” If she had been, she would have left a long time ago. Leaving would have made her life so much easier. But she couldn’t bring herself to leave Hester. As much as her grandmother annoyed her, Mystic loved her and owed her for being there when her mother hadn’t been. “I promise I’ll keep my eyes open and take all the precautions I need to if a tornado—real or otherwise—shows up in my life.”
“And you’ll keep me posted on anything unusual that happens?” Hester asked. “I mean it, Mystic. I can’t help you if you continue to keep secrets from me.”
She took note of the “continue,” but refused to acknowledge it. She had kept a secret from her grandmother. And everyone else in town.
“I’ll keep you posted.” She added a silent amendment. If it’s something I think you need to know. She got up. “Now stop worrying. I’m going to be fine.”
“I don’t want you to be fine. I want you to be happy.”
“I am happy.”
Hester shook her head. “You can fool the townsfolk, but you can’t fool me. You haven’t been truly happy since high school. Something happened back then. Something that took your sparkle away. If there wasn’t a psychic block with my own family members, I would’ve known what it was and I could’ve helped you.” She hesitated. “I still can if you’d tell me.”
Mystic thanked God every day for the family psychic block. Hester didn’t need to know what had happened. She would be thrilled and spread the news around town. Which would only cause more problems for Mystic.
“There’s nothing to tell.” She brushed a kiss on Hester’s cheek before she grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter and headed out the front door. As she was coming down the porch steps, her cat, Wish, popped out from beneath the azaleas and greeted her with a loud meow. “There you are,” she said as she leaned down to stroke the cat’s sleek black fur. “Out carousing again last night, were you?”
Mystic had sworn she would never get another cat after Magic, the black cat her grandmother had given her on her tenth birthday, had died. Not only did she not want to feel the sharp pain of loss again, but she also didn’t want to add to the townsfolk’s belief that the Malone women were witches. But then Wish had shown up on her doorstep a few months back and she’d been unable to turn the cute little solid black kitten away.
“Come on, ” she said. “I’ll get you some breakfast.”
The cat daintily followed behind her as Mystic headed down the steps to the basement door.
Stepping into the salon always filled Mystic with pride. She had designed every aspect of the salon herself. She’d picked out the striped lavender wallpaper and cushioned purple salon chairs and retro black-and-white checkered tile and the gleaming black shampoo bowls and the shiny chrome fixtures and the lush white lobby couch and each fuzzy throw pillow.
She loved everything about the salon. This was her haven. The place where she wasn’t the granddaughter of the town fortune-teller and palm reader. Or the poor parentless Malone girl whose daddy hadn’t acknowledged her and whose mama had run off and left her. Here, she was just a prominent businesswoman who had worked hard to get the town’s respect. She was damn proud of her accomplishments.
After feeding Wish, she started getting the salon open for business. She set up the appointment software on the computer and arranged the magazines on the coffee table in front of the lobby couch. She pulled the clean towels out of the dryer and folded them before stacking them back in the cupboards over the shampoo bowls. And she swept the floor for any hair she might have missed the night before.
Once everything was ready, she put away the broom and dustpan and glanced at the clock on the wall.
Her first appointment on the first Wednesday of every month was always late. She walked to the mirror at her station and reapplied her favorite brand of red lipstick before she fluffed her short black hair and brushed a fleck of mascara from beneath her eye. She wasn’t the fairest one of all, but she would do.
When the bell over the door jingled, her heart rate accelerated. She ignored her heart. Just like she would continue to ignore it for the next hour.
She turned from the mirror as her morning appointment strode in. He wore the light blue T-shirt with the Austin brewpub logo on the front and his favorite pair of faded Wranglers with the worn spot on the right back pocket. His straw cowboy hat was new. His sister Delaney’s goat Karl had munched on the last one . . . and the one before that . . . and the one before that. Beneath the curved brim, his familiar blue eyes—a deeper shade of the robin’s eggs they’d found together one summer when they had been seven—twinkled back at her.
She placed a hand on her hip in faked exasperation. “You’re late again, Buck Kingman.”
“Sorry. Big brother called me into his office and got after me for being forgetful.” He hooked his cowboy hat on the coatrack before he walked over and handed her a takeout cup. “But I didn’t forget your coffee.”
She took a sip and sighed. “Then you’re forgiven.”
“You are so easy, Miss.” He laughed as he folded his tall frame into the salon chair at her station. “I wish my brother was so easy to appease.”
Paying absolutely no attention to the way his muscled body filled the chair, Mystic set down her coffee at her station and took a purple plastic cape from a drawer. She shook it out before placing it around Buck’s broad shoulders. The sight of the rough and tough cowboy in a purple cape always made her smile.
“So what did you forget this time?” she asked. Buck had always been disorganized and forgetful. He was lucky he had four older siblings to keep him on track. And Mystic. “I told you to start using your cellphone calendar to give you reminder alerts.”
“I know. I know. But I never had to remember to schedule the hay crew. One of my siblings always did that. Now, suddenly, it’s my job.“
She snapped the cape around his neck, ignoring the feel of the warm skin on the back of his neck. “Your sisters and brothers have other responsibilities now. Like their new spouses.”
Buck scowled. “Exactly.”
“It sounds a little like you’re jealous.”
“Hell yeah, I’m jealous. I’m the one in the family who always wanted to get married, and now everyone is married but me. It doesn’t seem fair.”
Since they’d been in high school, the only thing Buck had ever dreamed about was getting married and having a bunch of kids. At one time, Mystic had wanted the same thing. Now she was quite happy being a single, prosperous businesswoman.
“Poor Buck,” she said as she picked up a comb from her station. “You live in a castle on a hill and can have any woman in town you want, but it’s still not enough.”
He shot her an annoyed look. “I should’ve known I wouldn’t get any sympathy from you.”
“Not a drop.” Mystic ran the comb through his hair.
It was the color of moonlight. And in bright sunlight, it almost looked like he wore a glowing halo. But she knew for a fact Buck was no angel. At eight, he’d almost burned the barn down due to his infatuation with matches and fire. At thirteen, he’d stolen Wolfe’s girlie magazines and barricaded himself in the tree house for hours. At fifteen, he’d written the answers to his history final on the inside of his arm. At seventeen, he’d had sex with Ginny Myers in her bedroom while her parents were downstairs watching The Big Bang Theory. As an adult, he drank, gambled, cussed, and fought when provoked . . . and continued to entertain women in their bedrooms.
No, Buck wasn’t an angel. But he was a kind, loyal man who would make some woman a great husband.
Just not her.
She stopped combing his hair and stepped back. “So you want the same cut as always or would you like to try something daring?” She cocked her head and sent him a sassy look in the mirror. “Maybe a mullet? Or I could shave the words ‘Marry Me’ in the back.”
Buck laughed. He had the best laugh. A chortle mixed with a loud guffaw. “If you think it would help, shave away.”
“That desperate, are you?”
His laughter quickly died and a sadness entered his blue eyes. “Why can’t I find love, Miss? All my siblings have found it and they weren’t even looking. I’ve been looking for years and it’s completely avoided me.” His gaze held her in its grip. “Am I that ugly?”
Ugly? Buck Kingman was about as far from ugly as a man could get. It wasn’t just his blond hair that sprouted from his head like a field of moonlit wheat. Or his straight nose without one bump or freckle to mar it. Or his wide mouth with two even twin peaks on top and a plump full lip on the bottom he chewed on when he got worried. Or his robin’s-egg-blue eyes with their long golden lashes. Or the cute little dimple in his left cheek that came out when he smiled his lopsided grin. It was the combination of all those features wrapped in a muscled cowboy’s body that made all the women in town breathless. Including her. She had just learned to regulate her breathing when he was around.
She, playfully, tapped him on the head with the comb. “You’re not so ugly, Buckaroo. I’m sure some woman somewhere will find you cute enough to fall head over boots in love with you. Now let’s get your hair washed. I’ve got other clients today.”
“Gee, thanks for the pep talk, Miss,” he said sarcastically as he got up from the chair and followed her to the shampoo bowl.
Once he had reclined in the chair with his head positioned in the curve of the sink, she picked up the sprayer and wet his hair before applying a liberal amount of conditioning shampoo. As soon as she slid her fingers into his hair and started to massage his scalp, his eyes slid closed like they always did.
She glanced at the clock.
This was her moment. The one moment once a month that she let down her guard. The one moment when she stepped across the line drawn in the sand of her heart and let herself feel.
As her fingers stroked through Buck’s sudsy strands, her heart quickened and her breath grew uneven and she pretended for a second they were different people. Two strangers with no past and no history. Two strangers who could start all over and, maybe this time, find love.
She only gave herself the minute. No more. And no less. She felt like a minute wasn’t too much to ask for. Once it was up, she removed her fingers and rinsed the shampoo.
By the time Buck opened his eyes, all he saw was his smiling best friend. (Charming a Texas Prince Excerpt by Katie Lane)