Mandy Ruhe receives a sacred amulet and is swept back in time to Texas 1845, where romance goes hand in hand with gunrunning! Mandy finds herself inside the body of Carmena Luebber, owner of the Holiday Ranch. Trapped in the past, she assumes Carmena’s role and is caught up in the lives of the people who work for Carmena—their struggles and dreams. Torn between two men in love with the woman she portrays, Mandy hopes that true love can triumph over time. But she must find a way back to her own life—before she messes up the future for everyone!
A line of Yellow Cabs was parked in an orderly fashion outside the LAX baggage terminal. With a practiced smile, the first driver loaded my bags into the trunk. He tore away from the curb, and at the risk of committing vehicular manslaughter, he dodged through freeway traffic as if he was playing paintball, veering in and out of lanes to avoid a hit.
Two years in rural Arkansas and I forgot how they drove in the big city.
The stress of the drive reignited the pain at the back of my head and the pounding above my brow, almost as annoying as the recurring western dream that plagued my sleep.
Every night, deep into the alpha state, I saw myself riding a big horse. Cowboys fought soldiers, but not a single Indian was in sight. A young soldier apologized but I don’t know what for.
There was a muscular guy in a dark blue shirt who appeared at random intervals like a gourmet truffle when I didn’t even know I was craving one. His role was hard to figure out until he lifted me into his muscle-beach arms, his soft lips nuzzled my ear, and he whispered enticing endearments. It was a tragedy when the alarm went off and I stared up at the ceiling, wishing it had been a real embrace and nibble on my lobe.
The taxi swerved into the next lane and jolted me from my thoughts. A horn blared as if it were in the back seat with me. Unfazed, the cab driver cut off a big-rig. He rocketed into the diamond lane and for the next hour zoomed past miles of cement, the local preference over anything green. Once we were out of L.A., trees gradually became part of the landscape and breathing seemed easier.
My cousin, Nicole, met me at the curb and compressed my fragile nerves with a crushing bear hug.
“Mandy! It’s so great to see you!”
She easily hefted my two largest bags from the cab’s trunk. Years of martial art classes paid off for her, demonstrated in her quick and confident steps. Weighted down by a small carry-on and an oversized purse on my shoulder, I staggered away from the taxi and followed my cousin like a drunkard, each arm stretching to its fullest.
I grunted occasionally in response to Nicole’s cheerful account of the weather as we crossed through a narrow walkway and up a flight of stairs attached to the side of the garage. Marco, Nicole’s boyfriend, was a professional drummer and converted the garage below my new living quarters into a music studio. For that reason alone, my stay would be short.
Nicole led the way into the room just as I dropped my bags. My efforts were rewarded. Any upscale property owner would have appreciated the inlaid hardwood floors and carved crown molding skirting the ceiling. Four sets of French windows were covered in sheer fabric panels of maroon opalescence. Nicole opened a set of windows facing north to the Angeles Crest Forest, reminding me of the winter-bared woods I left behind in Arkansas. She opened two more windows overlooking the brick driveway, laid out like a red carpet for the sunrise.
A series of colored reprints of Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and London Bridge crowned the massive headboard. Other walls held a few professionally framed prints of Nicole in basic karate poses, along with two posters announcing martial art competitions.
Nicole might as well forget about competing. Despite her physical strength, my cousin was an emotional weakling and placed the wants of her boyfriend over most of her own desires. Marco wasn’t keen on his girlfriend leaving the house for any reason. He barely gave her permission to work part-time at a boutique in the nearby shopping district. If she hadn’t already had black belts in Karate and Krav Maga when Marco first met her, I doubt he would have let her enroll in Tae Kwon Do classes.
She had been obedient and compliant all her life. She was raised by my patrician aunt and whereas I secretly got a lion tattoo near my hip to rebel against my mother, Nicole always remained but she tired of being a “good girl,” accommodating the desires of others., and She finally managed to find a way to rebel against someone. Living with Marco in the fiery pit of sin was her personal insurrection against her ultra-conservative judgmental mother. Now if only she’d stand up to Marco.
Nicole helped me unpack the garment bags and a box of sentimental knickknacks I had shipped a few days prior. Everything else was left behind for packaging and delivery to an Arkansas storage facility until I decided if I wanted to sell or rent the house.
Nicole arranged a photo of us and pieces of art purchased in Eureka Springs on top of a sturdy round end table. She zipped up and buttoned a pair of my jeans and draped them carefully over a wooden hanger.
“Why did you say you moved to Arkansas in the first place?” she asked.
“You know. I got that weird inheritance.”
“And you still haven’t found out who it came from?”
I shook my head. “I called the lawyer’s office, but no one’s even heard of the attorney’s name or the person who filed the will. They said at the courthouse that it might’ve been an old document, which is why it wasn’t in their computers. And I’d have to pay some expensive processing fee if I wanted to find out who left me the money. I guess once I bought the house, it just didn’t seem important.”
Nicole said, “I wish you hadn’t let Janet convince you to move back east.”
“She caught me in a weak-willed moment. Besides, Arkansas is beautiful country. It wasn’t so bad.”
“Yeah, until Janet met that guy online and moved to Oregon a month after you got there.”
“No kidding. It was hard not knowing a single person, but it didn’t really get bad until I got a speeding ticket a few months ago. I lost it in all my paperwork clutter and it must have slipped through the cracks at the courthouse because it didn’t turn into a warrant until recently.”
“What? How fast were you going? Who cleared the warrant?” She interrogated me as if I’d confessed to a bank robbery.
“Relax, Nicole. It wasn’t a major event. I went to court a couple of days ago and it was dismissed. And get this, the judge flirted with me. He even winked at me when I left the courtroom.”
“Big deal.” She waved off my remark. “A wink is like an empty promise. It’s not a phone call or a date.”
“But he did call me, later that afternoon on his lunch break. He left a voicemail, asking me to take a ride on his property in his new Jeep and have a picnic by a creek and―” I sighed. “He didn’t know I’d be moving back to California in the next two days. I erased his message.”
After a moment, I said, “Thanks for doing this.”
She smiled. “Not a problem. I’m really glad you came.”
“I’m glad to be here. I guess it’s time to concentrate on my future in California.”
Nicole pressed out a crease in my jeans. “The job market’s pretty bleak these days. The state is at maximum capacity in population and affordable housing. We’ve got one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.”
So why did I bother returning?
Just as the depressing thought started to have its way with me, Nicole said, “Wait ‘til I tell you about Maizy.”
“The lady who used to live here?”
Nicole bobbed her head and her eyes gleamed as she described her former tenant, as if Maizy had been the First Lady. “I wish you could’ve seen her, Mandy. It’s like she didn’t care what anyone thought about what she looked like or what she said.” Nicole slipped a shirt on a hanger and buttoned it up to the neck. “She dressed in flowing skirts and billowy blouses and wore the most beautiful gemstone jewelry. She was amazing!” My cousin went quiet and scanned the room as though it was littered with listening devices. She whispered, “I think Maizy was a witch.”
“You mean with a pointed black hat and bubbling caldron?” I asked, skepticism saturating my voice.
“Be serious,” she scolded. “I mean the herbs and crystals and incense kind.”
“A lot of people use those things and it doesn’t mean they’re witches. Buddhists and Indians meditate all the time with that stuff.”
“It wasn’t just that,” Nicole said. “One day when I was going to the gym, she stopped me in the driveway. She said, ‘Marco doesn’t want you to go to work, but he’ll change his mind.’ I’d put in some applications at local shops but I never told anyone that. Then the next day, Barbara called to say I got the job at Sweet Young Things and Marco actually said it was okay!”
I plopped on the bed, tired of the moving process, and I refused to admit I was getting slightly spooked by the Maizy conversation.
“You probably forgot you told Maizy that you wanted to work, and she convinced Marco to let you take on a part-time job.”
“No!” she insisted. “I never talked to her about it.”
“Maybe Maizy could tell me if moving back to California was a lame idea,” I half joked. “Where is she now?”
“I don’t know.” Nicole slumped onto the bed. She stared out a window, focused on nothing in particular. “She just said it was time to move on and left. You wouldn’t believe what she told me. Maizy said I’d get a raise in a week, and I did!” The framed prints of the martial arts events drew her attention and her voice softened. “She said I had great dreams that I was too cowardly to pursue.”
My cousin looked as if she’d lost her black belt degrees, her expression almost as heartbreaking as my failure to find meaning in life. Not that my move back to California could change any of that.
“I’m sure it was just a coincidence.” I stood and nervously fussed with the window dressings. “Do you mind if I change the curtains? These sheers are really cute, but someone could probably see in at night with the lights on.”
Nicole ignored my remark. “Her predictions were more than coincidence. And they weren’t all good. She said Marco was going to get hurt when he fell off a horse.”
“Stop right there.” I held up my hands. “Now I know she’s a fake. We all know Marco won’t go near a horse, let alone ride one.”
“Not everything she told me has had a chance to happen yet. She said we’d be getting a new blue car this month, but I can’t see how when we’re financially strapped after the remodel and paying off a few bills. But she did say we can control or change most everything that’s going to happen to us by trusting the power of our own mind, and through prayer or meditation.”
“In that case,” I said, “anybody could tell you the future and never lose sleep over facing fraud charges. They’d simply argue that your prayers either were or weren’t answered.”
“She told me you were coming, but you wouldn’t be able to leave until you cleared up a warrant in Arkansas.” When I laughed, she said, “I’m serious. She told me you got a speeding ticket for going thirteen miles over the speed limit, and it would go into warrant, but the charges for failure to pay and to appear would be dropped by a man named Vincent.”
I plunked down next to her on the bed, my mouth slacked open.
“What was the name of the judge who winked at you, Mandy?”
“Parker. The Honorable Vincent S. Parker.”
“And?” she prompted. “What was the ticket for?”
I gaped at her. “For going thirteen miles over the speed limit. The judge dismissed the warrant.” Now I understood Nicole’s wild interest over my ticket. “You don’t look as surprised as I am,” I said.
“Because some of the things Maizy told me have already come true. I believe all the things that she said.”
A breeze lifted the curtains over the sink in the kitchenette, and a heavy shadow drifted across the room. Nicole glanced at it but gave more attention to the digital numbers on the microwave. She picked up my alarm clock and reset the correct time.
In a split second, the gloomy mist faded. It was probably the shadow of a cloud floating in front of the sun or a bird gliding out of sight.
“Huh.” I kept my eye on the open window. “I think the smog is getting thicker out here.”