Acts of Love
Click on image to enlarge.
by Cassandra Barnes
Description: Drugs, murder, and kidnapping rip open the shameful pasts kept carefully concealed by Amanda Reed and Santiago Yazzi, forcing them to forgive old and new betrayals before they discover the secret love hidden deep in their hearts.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2008 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: December 2008
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [375 KB]
Reading time: 226-317 min.
The baby reached out to Amanda, his tiny arms stretching toward her, a toothless grin tugging at her heart. The grin turned to a grimace as his body convulsed in pain. Amanda struggled to get to the crying child, but couldn't break free of the invisible web holding her. She had to reach the babe! She had within her power the ability to stop his pain, to turn the encroaching darkness to light. The wails increased. "Let me go!" she screamed, flailing wildly.
And awoke, drenched in perspiration, the sound of an ambulance siren fading in the distance. She threw off the covers and glanced at the clock. 5:00 a.m. She might as well get up. There'd be no more sleep. But she lay there, trying to recapture the face of the baby. It wasn't Michael, yet somehow it was him. But Michael wouldn't need help from her. Her son was a grown man now. Yet the dream haunted her. Somewhere a child needed her help. If she could only touch him, she could save him.
Amanda rarely had prophetic dreams, but she knew beyond any doubt what she'd just experienced was more than a dream. It had been a plea for help, one she couldn't ignore.
An image of her friend Yazz floated through her senses. She'd dreamed about him too, and flushed at the recollection of her seduction of the stoic cop. Or had he seduced her? Didn't matter. She stretched and yawned before sitting up. She cared about Yazz, sure, and he cared about her. But lovers? Never. She pulled off the camisole top she slept in and headed for the shower.
Amanda assessed her body as the warm water coursed over her. A little flabby here and there, but generally she was in pretty good shape for a forty-two-year-old woman. She gently touched the stretch marks on her abdomen. It'd been more than twenty years since she'd grown huge with Michael, but the pearly marks remained, a continual reminder of her loss.
Why dream of Yazz? Amanda turned off the water, grabbing a thick terry towel as she stepped out of the shower. It couldn't have anything to do with the dream about the baby. Puzzled hazel eyes gazed from the mirror to her. The baby. What baby needed her help, and needed it desperately? That was more important than some silly fantasy about Yazz. She'd only dreamed of making love with him because it'd been so long since anyone held her.
And it would be a lot longer, she silently scolded herself. That part of her life was over. Men and sex had brought nothing but trouble in the past, and she wouldn't permit either to disturb the peaceful life she'd created for herself.
Returning to the bedroom, Amanda dressed quickly in an ankle-length skirt covered with a riotous array of flowers, a teal blouse edged with lace, and sandals. She completed the costume with a faux turquoise necklace, then finger-fluffed the hair curling around her face.
"Yes, I know it's breakfast time," she said to her two long-haired, golden-brown tabby cats pacing between the bedroom and kitchen. "Neither of you look like you're on the verge of starvation, so just relax."
After filling the cat dishes, and starting her own breakfast, Amanda opened her back door just in time to see the sun turn the sky luminous pink. She paused to absorb the beauty displayed for her, then descended the stairs to pick up the morning papers.
She put aside the paper serving Dos Rios, Arizona, her hometown, in favor the San Diego news. San Diego. Michael's town. Forbidden to her.
Amanda sighed and put the paper aside as a slice of homemade raisin bread popped up in the toaster. She couldn't expect news articles about him now that he had outgrown his days as a top athlete in high school. Spreading almond butter on her toast, she paused to address her feline breakfast companions. "Quit looking at me like that. You know you don't get fed from the table."
Cinnamon answered with her usual petulant meow, while Nutmeg stretched. Both returned to hopeful waiting.
"I wonder if we'll ever know which career he chose." Amanda sipped jasmine tea, savoring its delicate fragrance. "He had lots of choices, you know." The Spice Cats yawned and sauntered away, obviously uninterested. For a moment she wished she could tell someone about Michael. Wouldn't it be fun to brag about his accomplishments? Not that she had a right to. Others had raised her son and were responsible for his successes.
She got up and removed an orange from the refrigerator. Michael had to remain a secret, she thought, as narrow strips of orange peel fell into the sink. She couldn't break the promises she'd made so many years ago. Only harm would result from revealing the truth. "Get down!" Amanda swatted the curious cat that had jumped up onto the counter top. "Go play with your sister."
Amanda finished her breakfast, rinsed the dishes, and stacked them in the sink. She'd wash up everything later. After she brushed her teeth and ran a comb quickly through her hair, she and the Spice Cats descended the old stairway to her shop. She left the stairwell door open, as the cats usually retreated upstairs if they got bored or wanted something to eat. At first, Amanda had tried to keep them out of the shop, but neither she nor the cats were happy with that arrangement. Now almost three years old, the feline twins freely roamed downstairs, and had endeared themselves to most of her customers.
Amanda lingered, cherishing all that was hers. Earth Scents specialized in natural, pure fragrances. She'd begun work here nearly seventeen years ago, as a clerk. As time passed, she attended workshops and took on more responsibilities. Ten years ago, when old Mrs. Walsh died, Amanda purchased the inventory and made the shop hers.
Well, almost hers, she thought ruefully, as she turned on the overhead lights. There was always Hardnose Harley to deal with. Harley Martin owned her building, as he did all the other buildings in the Jacaranda Village Mall. Like Earth Scents, most of the tenants had leased from Harley for years, and all struggled with his refusal to maintain the old Victorian homes he'd converted into retail shops.
She looked around with satisfaction at the brown glass bottles with colorful labels sitting neatly on display cases and shelves artfully arranged on the polished wood floor. Despite the past, she'd made a wonderful life here. Hardnose Harley couldn't spoil that. Nor could anyone take away 'Amanda's Aromas,' the line of natural perfumes and lotions she created. The little porcelain jars and cut glass bottles containing her special blends occupied one whole section of the shop.
Sunlight spilling in the front bay windows drew her gaze to the crystals hanging there. She loved the way they caught the light and created a myriad of sparkling rainbows for the Spice Cats to chase.
"Which shall it be today, kids?" Amanda asked the cats, as she added distilled water to the aromatherapy diffuser. "Eucalyptus or bergamot?" She picked up a small brown bottle. "Or maybe lemon grass?" Receiving no answering meows, she squeezed a dropper full of orange oil into the diffuser. Not only did it smell familiar to customers, its properties made it both soothing and uplifting.
As the delicate sweet fragrance wafted into the room, Amanda unlocked the front door. She picked up the open/closed sign and regarded it affectionately for a moment. The open side pictured a smiling sun looking down on a verdant Earth. On the reverse, a slivered moon swung in an indigo sky above the sleeping planet. It had been a gift from Yazz, on the fifth anniversary of Earth Scents ownership.
Amanda turned her attention to watering the potted scheffleras, dieffenbachias, and philodendrons gracing Earth Scents. Each plant received compliments on how much it had grown, how shiny its leaves were, and how lovely it looked.
She dampened a clean washcloth and had begun wiping dust from the broad leaves of a four-foot tall philodendron when the pewter wind chime hanging on the front door rippled softly.
"Good morning, everyone." Naomi Nelson breezed in. A drop-dead gorgeous blonde in her youth, Naomi was still a beautiful woman, despite her sixty-five years. Pale hair framed high cheekbones and sky-blue eyes in a face that matched its owner's youthful personality.
As she often did, Amanda marveled at how kind the years had been to Naomi, and wondered if they would be as gentle with her. She thought not. Despite her assessment earlier in the shower, she feared she looked her age, with tiny crow's feet becoming visible and silver hairs too numerous to pluck out of what had once been fiery red. Not that it really mattered, she thought. The days of worrying about her looks were long since past.
Cinnamon and Nutmeg alternated winding themselves around Naomi's feet and arching their backs in front of her, waiting to be stroked, which Naomi immediately knelt to do. "Just came by to see if you need me today."
Amanda smiled at her friend and part-time employee. "No, I don't think so. The order from Starburst Specialties won't be in until tomorrow." She swabbed the last speck of dust from the philodendron, then picked up an angel water fountain and carried it and the damp cloth to a sink in the back of the shop. "All I have to do today is to make up a couple of blends for Drisana's massage clients." She rinsed out the fountain. "I brush the twins every day, but cat hair still drifts into this." She refilled the fountain from a pitcher of distilled water and carefully placed it on an antique rosewood telephone stand.
"Did you order white birch? I left you a note that we were getting low." Naomi stroked the cats one last time and stood. "That's it for now, girls."
"Ordered it, and extra clary sage. We had lots of requests for it last week." Amanda started the CD player and very soft New Age music drifted into the shop.
"That's because of the article in Holistic Review."
The Spice Cats abandoned the women and their shoptalk to investigate an intriguing shadow near the magazine display.
Jacaranda Village Mall, located in the old town heart of the city of Dos Rios, contained about twenty vintage Victorian buildings, former residences of the railroad barons that had built a town situated at the confluence of two now-dry rivers. The Merchant's Association, led by Amanda, had installed park benches flanked by planters filled with a colorful selection of local flora outside their shops. Most of the buildings were two stories and about half of the shop owners lived above their businesses, as did Amanda. An ornate spiral staircase, enclosed only for the upper third, distinguished her floor plan.
Amanda had placed a white wrought-iron table and matching chairs with needlepoint covers between the staircase and back wall. A floor-to-ceiling bookcase along the wall held her private collection of old books on healing. Her customers spent many hours relaxing in what they had dubbed "the reading room."
To the left of it was "the lab." In it, Amanda made up all her special blends. Glass-fronted cabinets, filled with neatly labeled vials and ceramic pots, lined one wall. A stove, refrigerator, and industrial sink hunkered along the back wall. A worn swivel chair sat behind the worktable where Amanda willingly spent most of her time.
To the right of the reading room, a beaded curtain separated a private office from the shop. Amanda spent as little time as possible in its cluttered confines.
"I've been experimenting with a new recipe." Amanda removed several stoppered vials from the cabinet and placed them on her worktable. "It's based on a massage oil I found in one of the old books yesterday, but I thought if I replaced the cedar wood with lemon, and made some other changes, I could come up with a new skin lotion."
"I thought you were working on something for migraines." Naomi poured water into a ceramic teapot and turned on the burner beneath it.
"I was, but I had to back-order the Roman chamomile for it." Amanda used an eyedropper to measure several drops from a bottle to a clear glass container, then stopped to make notes on an index card.
Naomi dropped a tea bag in porcelain teacup and added hot water. Jiggling the bag in the water as she walked, she made her way to the reading room. "This Peppermint Potpourri is a good wake-up blend. Which reminds me. There was this..." and Naomi was off on one of her inexhaustible supply of stories.
Amanda rose from her chair and opened one of the cabinet doors, only half listening to Naomi. What could she add to her formula to make it unique? Patchouli? No, something lighter. She opened bottles and sniffed. Nothing seemed right.
She moved to a book-laden shelf behind where Naomi sat and selected a thick volume. Amanda then joined Naomi at the table, idly leafing through the book, hoping for inspiration. But instead of drawings of leaves and berries and descriptions of the oils extracted from each, she saw the trusting face of Michael. She longed to tell Naomi about him. Stop thinking about him, she told herself silently. He needed to stay buried in the past.
A loud thump followed by the sound of clattering glass interrupted Naomi's story and Amanda's thoughts. "Those two!" Amanda said, as she hurried over to her worktable. "That's the second time this week they've done that." Both cats sat on the floor, innocently grooming themselves. Nutmeg looked up and blinked her yellow-green eyes as Amanda scolded them for jumping on the table. Cinnamon twitched her plumed tail, then sauntered toward the stairs.
"Nothing's broken this time. I'll straighten up the mess later," Amanda said as she returned to the reading room. "What's happening is that one of them gets in the seat of the swivel chair. Then the other leaps from the counter to the back of the chair. That makes it spin around. I can almost hear them saying 'whee' as it spins." She laughed. "Then one usually manages to jump on the table and upset everything on it."
"They get that from their mother," Naomi confided. Twinkles had replaced Naomi's last boyfriend. Naomi regarded the cat as an improvement, because she was "a lot more affectionate and a lot less demanding." A stranger in the night had impregnated Twinkles, and Naomi had helped deliver the Spice Cats two months later. "Twinkles won't stay off any counter or tabletop. And my other three follow her wherever she climbs."
"All cats like to climb on high things, but the twins love to jump." Amanda replaced the reference book on the shelf. "I hope Starburst includes geranium oil in the shipment tomorrow. It's been on back-order now for more than a month. Yazz needs it for one of his remedies. He also had me add myrrh yesterday."
"He's really getting into the healing, isn't he? Must be the Navajo blood in him." Naomi rose from the table and carried her cup to the sink, where she rinsed it out.
"With Yazz, who knows? Don't forget he's also part Chinese. They have a long history of traditional healing arts also. But Yazz is gifted. He hasn't studied long. Most of his knowledge is intuitive."
"I really get a kick out of calling him a true Son of the Southwest. What all is he, anyway?"
"Navajo, Spanish, Apache, lonely lieutenant from the Army of the West." Amanda shrugged. "Italian from the first missionaries and Chinese from the early railroad workers. I think his ancestry includes about every cultural heritage that spent time here in southwestern Arizona." She resumed her seat at the worktable, and continued studying her notes.
Naomi pulled a chair from the reading room and positioned it in front of Amanda's worktable. She sat, leaning forward, elbows on the table. "I wonder how he turned out to be a police officer and a healer. That's a pretty unusual combination."
"Yazz is a very unusual person." Amanda put aside her index cards on the skin care lotion. She'd have to wait. Naomi's chatter made it impossible to concentrate. "I've begun ordering herbs occasionally, mostly for him. I might start stocking a few of the basics. I've had customers wanting to make medicinal teas. I'd like to start carrying some flower essences also, but..."
"So when are you two 'consummating your relationship,' as they say?" Naomi grinned. "You've certainly known each other long enough."
"Forget it." Naomi couldn't know she'd just dreamed about Yazz. "We're friends. You know I'm not interested in more than that. I don't want a romantic involvement with anyone."
"Quit being so coy. It's more than obvious..."
"Amanda!" Both women arose, startled, as a teenaged boy flung open the front door, sending the pewter chimes clanging and scattering the Spice Cats. "You'll never guess what happened this morning!"