Whispers

Lydia’s in peril… Is Jaleel her savior or danger in disguise?

Lydia Comier’s life could never be called simple. From her family history to her chosen profession she is always giving the neighbors something to talk about. Now facing the supernatural danger that has hurt or killed so many in her family, she finds herself tempted by Jaleel Tomas. A man with a profession and background much like her own.

Unfortunately, Lydia can’t be sure if he is part of the danger she is trying to avoid or a new type of danger all on his own. Now Lydia has to make a choice. Does she follow her instincts and steer clear of the paranormal danger until she can finally defeat it or does she follow her heart and run headfirst into Jaleel’s waiting arms?

Jaleel has hired Lydia to showcase some historical items he’s purchased. She’s a gorgeous woman and there is something about her that calls to him. When he notices she doesn’t take care of herself, the need to protect her becomes paramount. Can he keep her safe from a supernatural disturbance that seems to follow her?

Publisher’s Note: This dark fantasy paranormal romance is intended for adults only. It contains elements of mystery, suspense, paranormal themes, mild power exchange, and sensual scenes.

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Sample Chapter

Lydia Comier reached over and checked the time, 3:17 a.m. as usual. Every morning like clockwork her eyes popped open at 3:17 a.m., it started when she was ten years old, hours before she had heard the singing in the woods for the first time. It was also the first day she noticed excitedly that the mark on her wrist pulsed and glowed like her great grandmother Cloella’s and cousin Mila’s did. It was also the first time her mother, Tilli Comier, called her evil and slapped her for being disobedient.

In the beginning she would lie in bed staring at the ceiling for hours trying to force herself back to sleep. When it kept happening, no matter what she did, she decided to use the time wisely and began to secretly study and practice ancestral magic with her cousin, something her mother and Aunt Belle would never allow.

After she graduated from college and moved to Mississippi, to be closer to Mila, she felt as if all of her dreams were coming true. Almost like she received a clean slate by leaving all of the stares and whispers from her family and about her family in Forsyth County Georgia where they belonged.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the whispers to follow her and surface in Jackson and trouble soon followed.

As if their ‘gift’ wasn’t strange enough, one thing the cousins found out early on was the more of ‘them’ from the family there were, the stronger the power and ignoring it just wasn’t something the cousins had been able to do, even if they had wanted to.

Even without their mothers and grandmother’s disapproving mutters and stares and occasional tosses of holy water, they had been careful and practiced in private but not one of them was surprised when they were found out and all hell broke loose.

It all started because their nosy, overly religious landlord took it upon herself to save their souls when she found out they didn’t attend church. Even going so far as to start poking around in their apartment claiming to have heard water running. She saw their office with the altar lined with crystals and colored candles, the small tabletop greenhouse of herbs and their book of ancestors and panicked.

By the time they got home that evening she had the entire block in an uproar calling them Satan worshipers and witches. One deranged old man had demanded to know where they were holding his dead wife’s soul. The crazy part was, she had passed a year before they even moved there!

So much for her dreams of a normal life and love someday. In a matter of hours she found herself right back in the middle of the crazy life she was born into and never asked to be a part of.

After that, every strange and inexplainable, seemingly supernatural thing was blamed on her and Mila. Mila eventually lost her job as a first-grade teacher because of it. While they were busy fighting their new neighbors’ attacks neither one of them realized that real danger had come to Jackson to find them until it was too late and Mila gave her life to stop it.

***

Lydia stopped typing and looked over her shoulder suddenly as a feeling of dread and sadness began to swirl around her, sucking the cool air-conditioned air from her office. The smell of red clay dirt, wet from torrential rain filled the room, along with the sound of whistling wind.

“No, no, no! Please not here!” Lydia sat back in her chair, gripping the sides tightly and began to chant, her eyes shut tight, while the room around her rocked and swayed.

She felt the surge of both the unknown and familiar begin to wrap around her like strangling vines, turning her office chair into her prison.

She could hear her cousin Mila’s voice whispering in her ear, “Don’t fear it, Lydia, you know what to do! Control it! Control it before it begins to control you!”

Taking a deep cleansing breath she chanted louder and her thoughts cleared, first came a spell of calm, then one for sight and understanding.

Slowly her breathing began to return to normal, she felt herself becoming still while the feeling of chaos ripped through her office.

She opened her eyes and was staring into the face of her beautiful cousin, Mila.

Her eyes were the color of honey and amber, her face was round, expressive and kind. Her hair was cut in a stylish short bob, she was dressed in a stylish pantsuit in her favorite shade of violet, the pantsuit they had buried her in.

“Why are you here, Mila?” Lydia asked, sounding calmer than she actually felt, immediately remembering her cousin’s promise the day she died.

Her office sounded like the eye of a hurricane hovered over it, she stared out and saw with no surprise that her other colleagues on the floor were unaffected by it.

“Silly question considering the last time we talked, I told you I would always be with you but only come to you for one reason and one reason only.” Mila touched the mark on the inside of her wrist which was pulsating with dim light.

“You can’t be serious, Mila! There is just no way!” Lydia stood up covering her own wrist by pulling her shirt sleeve down over it, her heart pounding in fear.

Mila sighed and reached out taking Lydia’s hand exposing her wrist. “How long has it been doing this, Lyd?” An orange light swirled and pulsated under her skin in time with her heartbeat, she noticed it a month ago but chose to ignore what it could possibly mean.

Lydia snatched her hand away, shaking her head, refusing to believe what her cousin was trying to tell her was true.

“But you died, Mila. You died to protect us, so how? How can–” Lydia stopped before she said it out loud.

“I don’t know, Lyd, but now is not the time to hash all of that out. All I do know is you need to pull your head out of your ass and stop acting like this isn’t happening because it is!”

“Mila, obviously you were wrong! It didn’t work! Now you want me to risk my life, like you did, for nothing? Momma and Aunt Belle were right, we should have left this shit alone! It’s nothing but evil, Mila!” Lydia snapped, pacing back and forth, all she wanted was a normal life, was that too much to ask for? Shit! Obviously, it was because here she was at work trying her damndest not to freak out at the fact she was having a conversation with her dead best friend and cousin.

Mila’s eyes flashed angrily. “ Our mothers leaving ‘this shit’ alone is how we ended up here in the first damn place! They told us to ignore and turn our back on it, called it evil, said it was from the devil, that we were inviting the bad spirits in when, in reality, practicing and understanding it is what was keeping them out! Grandma Lynn instilled fear in our mothers by dragging them to that crazy cult of a church to stomp it out just like they tried to do to us but it didn’t work. This doesn’t just go away Lydia and if you ignore it, it will grow wild and take over, just like it did with Grandma Lynn and Aunt Tilli.”

“My mom died because she overdosed on muscle relaxers, Mila not because of this!”

Lydia began to shake all over, trying to push the memory of her mother screaming, pacing back and forth, pulling at her hair, begging for ‘them’ to forgive her the night before she died.

“Lyd stop! You and I know why she took all those pills, because she was running from it and it wouldn’t let her! Now I need you to stop running! I warned you this might happen, I told you if it happened it would be the only reason I would come to you and look at me. I am here, your cousin who has been dead for over five years is standing in your office talking to you like I just breezed in for a friendly visit. What does that tell you?” Mila asked her loudly, pointing at the swirl on her wrist.

“Oh my God!” Lydia stopped pacing and began using her breathing technique to calm down. This could not be happening, this was not supposed to happen!

Mila joined hands with her and together they formed a shield of golden light around Lydia.

“He’s not coming, Lyd, he’s here. He’s here and he’s after you, if you die, the power our ancestors cultivated, grew and died for, dies too. We can’t let that happen, if it does then it was all for nothing, I died for nothing.”

Lydia felt calmer and stronger in the shield but still panicked and unsettled at the same time.

“Mila, I’m not as disciplined as you or as strong as you, I never was, I can’t do this by myself, you’re not here with me every day,” Lydia admitted fearfully as she watched Mila step out of the shield and begin to fade away.

“You are, Lyd, stronger even, you just have to open yourself up to it and embrace it. And I never left you, Cuzzo and I never will, none of us have.” Mila turned her back to Lydia and joined the group of people who were now standing in Lydia’s office.

All of her ancestors smiled at her encouragingly giving her a surge of newfound strength, the mark on her wrist pulsed harder and glowed brighter than she ever thought it could.

“But I don’t even know where to begin, what do I do first?” Lydia asked, trying her best to quiet her troubled mind, the voices of self-doubt screamed telling her she couldn’t do this.

“Study, so you’re ready and stay alert, he’s out there looking and he will find you sooner rather than later,” Mila answered, sounding farther away.

“And when he gets here?” Lydia asked, tears rolling down her face as they faded away, she needed Mila to stay, she needed them all to stay, she was so tired of being all alone!

“You fight and you win. You will win, Lydia, we are here with you always,” Mila whispered in her ear as the winds in her office died down and completely disappeared.

Chapter One

 

Three months later

 

Lydia struck a match to light a white candle and begin her meditation, when an overcoming wave of panic and fear washed over her. The feeling had her scrambling to her room and reaching for her phone before it even began to ring.

“Aunt Belle? What’s wrong?” she asked immediately into her handset. She could feel her heart pounding in her ears because whatever was going on had her aunt spooked.

Her aunt’s panicked breathing seemed to fill the room through the phone.

“I was having my morning tea, looking at a magazine and I saw someone in the woods, the dogs saw them too but they ran away in the other direction, and the singing, the singing is back, Lydia. What is happening? You haven’t been up there conjuring that mess up again, have you?” her aunt whispered, her fear palpable.

“Auntie, calm down. It was probably just a coyote or something and it spooked Bammer and Bear. Just finish your tea and let the light in, you’ll be fine.” Lydia walked back into her office where her altar was and lit her white candle and sat in the center of the room, she put her aunt on speaker phone and turned on her stereo. Native American flutes and sounds of rain filled the room.

“Dammit, Lydia I ain’t in the mood for this, now answer me! What are you up there doing that is causing unrest down here?” her aunt snapped, Lydia heard her slam her teacup down on a saucer.

Lydia closed her eyes and listened to the sound of her aunt’s voice, visualizing herself sitting across from her at the small table in the kitchen of the family house, she could smell her aunt’s cinnamon tea, feel the heavy stickiness of the humidity kissing her skin as she opened her eyes and stood up from the table.

Of all of her powers astral projection was by far her strongest; she normally avoided projecting to the house but she had to make sure her aunt was safe.

She saw both of the dogs huddled together and peeking out from under the dining room table fearfully, their tails began to thump happily when they saw it was her.

“Watch Aunt Belle, guys,” she ordered and moved past them to the back door stepping out on the porch.

She heard the singing immediately, the voices of her ancestors sang their song of protection as they always did when danger was near. They all grew up hearing it and while the singing always gave her and Mila peace, it always scared the hell out of her mother and Aunt Belle.

The voices grew louder and the singing swelled, Lydia stepped off the porch and walked towards the woods.

She saw the shadow of a man move, pacing impatiently behind the trees as she moved closer. “Why are you here? I know you know where I am,” she spat, goose bumps formed on her bare arms but she held her ground.

She knew her entire family was there standing with her.

The shadow slowed down and stood directly in front of her reaching through the trees. Lydia’s heart leapt in fear for a brief moment before she felt warm all over like she was glowing. The shadow immediately retracted back into the trees.

“My birthright!” A hiss rose from the trees, which suddenly shook and dozens of birds took flight from them.

Lydia glared angrily into the trees, he had projected here just like she had, while hers was out of necessity, his was out of cowardice, to instill fear into her aunt. “The lies you tell! That’s why you’re here in Georgia scaring helpless old ladies and dogs! You know where I am, you think I have something that belongs to you? Then come and get it!” Lydia turned back towards the house as screams of outrage rose from the trees.

With the help of her ancestors she cast another spell over their property and another layer of protection over her aunt Belle and her dogs. Her aunt didn’t have to believe in order for Lydia to protect her, she did.

Lydia opened her eyes and looked around her office, the flutes and rain played on as her aunt fussed into the phone.

“Lydia! Lydia! Are you still there?”

“I’m here, Aunt Belle.” Lydia reached down and dusted the red clay off of her feet.

“Did you hear what I said? Whoever it was must have left, the dogs just came from under the table and the singing stopped. Child, I can’t tell you how scary it gets out here by myself. I hear and see all sorts of things but nothing like it was when you and Mila were messing around with them spirits,” her aunt stated. Lydia could hear her stirring her tea and then taking a sip.

Lydia sighed and shook her head, wishing she understood why their grandmother Lynn warped her aunt and mother’s mind to be so fearful of what they didn’t understand. Her cat Wisdom dropped down from the top of the bookshelf silently and curled up in her lap.

“Well, I’m glad whoever it was is gone now, Auntie. I will call Tyrell and have him walk out in the woods and make sure no one is trying to set up camp or something out there again.”

“I’m fine, Lydia. No need to make a fuss, but tell him to call ahead when he comes, so I can fix him a plate, you know how he loves my butter beans.”

Lydia’s mind instantly remembered the big pot on the stove in the kitchen she saw when she was there and could almost smell the garlic, onion and red pepper again.

“Yes, ma’am, I’ll tell him. You sure you’re all right, Auntie?” Lydia asked, moving to stand on her feet, Wisdom quickly jumping out of her lap.

“I’m fine, Child, just fine. I guess I needed to hear your voice, it’s almost like you are still here with me when I talk to you. It’s funny how the mind works; when that singing was the loudest, I could have sworn I smelled that rain oil you like to wear.”

A small, knowing smile crept across Lydia’s face. “Hmm, interesting, if you need anything or feel like that again call me okay?”

“I will, and be careful out there, I love you,” her aunt said and hung up the phone.

“I love you too, Aunt Belle,” Lydia said out loud to the quiet void on her phone.

***

“Lydia, remember the family from the Hammond Estate is coming by at 1 p.m. to show you some of the items they wanted to donate to the exhibit,” her assistant Helena, reminded her the following morning.

Lydia was a curator at a small history museum in Hattiesburg. She prided herself on shining light on the mistreatment of black people in the south throughout history by way of exhibits and lectures, not everyone was a fan of her work but the more they boycotted and protested her exhibits the more people came out to see them.

“Girl, thanks for reminding me! I have been watching this bidding war for a cloak and dress buried near the Jarrell Plantation,” Lydia said, dragging her eyes from the computer screen smiling like she was watching trash TV.

“Oh? So what about it has you so excited?” Helena asked leaning over her shoulder to see the screen.

Even with her love affair with southern history, the good and the bad, her true love was historical fashion. Garments and pieces that told a story, had a history. Bejeweled ball gowns with hoop skirts were boring, it was the threadbare, ripped and stained items that always piqued her interest.

“Well, where it was found was a known route that runaway slaves used to take to get passage into the north, the skeletons of a woman and child were found near there too.”

Helena reached over and clicked the mouse on Lydia’s desk to zoom in closer. “That dark circle right there kind of looks like blood, can’t tell if that hole is from old age or a bullet,” She mumbled as she examined the garment on the screen.

“Exactly! Imagine, if we could secure this piece and the pieces from the Hammond estate, what kind of exhibit we could come up with. Lydia smiled over her shoulder at Helena and checked the time left in the auction.

“Yeah, it would be amazing but look at that price, we received our funding for the year, and that one piece would eat up a huge chunk of our budget,” Helena reasoned watching the price of the piece continue to climb.

“I know that’s why I have an email ready to go out to the winner.” Lydia winked at Helena and hit ‘send’ on her email to Mr. Jaleel Tomas in Jackson even before the buzzer indicating he had won the auction had stopped ringing.

***

“I am not sure if I’m comfortable with the way you intend to display my family artifacts, Miss Comier,” Reginald Hammond snapped two weeks later shifting angrily in the chair he was sitting in across Lydia’s desk.

“Reggie, I have seen several of her exhibits and while each one has been, let’s say, eye opening, they are all tastefully done. If we simply want yet another narrative with the Hammond family pictured as some kind of shining saviors of the south, then perhaps we should just donate money for a wing in the Hammond family name to this museum instead!” his cousin Camille snapped while rolling her eyes in her cousin’s direction, before Lydia could even speak.

Lydia could tell that Camille was considered the black sheep of the family and had no problem with the title, she could also tell that Camille was a white witch, a practitioner of light magic. Her touches of declaration were very subtle but noticeable to someone who embraced their spiritual gifts as well as Lydia did.

Each piece of her jewelry had a reason or purpose also, earrings of obsidian and citrine for protection and success, the small caged pendant around her neck contained a beautiful raw piece of crystal quartz to ward off evil intentions, and an antique ring with an amethyst rested on the ring finger of right hand, amethyst had always been Lydia’s favorite crystal.

Reginald on the other hand was a true son of the south, he oozed with the privilege given to him as a birthright wrapped up in the pretty bow of ‘tradition’, Lydia was sure his less than traditional cousin was a constant thorn in his side.

“Camille, why are you always so combative and difficult? I didn’t say we weren’t going to allow Miss Comier to use the artifacts, I simply said, I and the rest of the family, are a mite uncomfortable in the way the Hammonds will possibly be portrayed in the exhibit. I’m sure she can understand that.” Reginald reached out and lightly patted his cousin’s hand as his hard-blue eyes landed on Lydia.

“I understand perfectly, Mr. Hammond and while I sympathize with you and your family, I make no guarantees that the light shined on this exhibit will be a positive one. As uncomfortable as you might be with what is revealed, just imagine how uncomfortable I would be suppressing it,” Lydia replied.

Lydia shot Reginald a heated glare of her own, unlike the dress she was interested in from Jaleel Tomas, she hadn’t reached out to the Hammonds, they had reached out to her. So if they didn’t like her plans for the artifacts they could take them and store them back in the attic or footlocker where they found them.

“Now, Miss Comier, you and I both know that some of the branches in the Hammond family tree and their history are not the examples we want to shine light on. Perhaps this is just another way for you to drag another good southern Christian family through the mud.” Reginald puffed up indignantly, the vein in his forehead stood out bulging in his anger.

“Then perhaps those ‘branches’ should have rethought their part in that history before becoming a part of it, Mr. Hammond. As I said in our initial meeting, my job is to educate, plain and simple, I will neither add nor omit what is already there in your family’s history. Now we can either move forward or you and your family can move on and find another avenue for your artifacts.”

Lydia had been in this position before with other families who wanted their family treasures displayed for clout but didn’t want their dirty slips to show.

Helena knocked and poked her head in just as Lydia saw Camille dip her head to cover her smile, it was obvious no one had ever spoken to Reginald the way Lydia just had and it amused her.

“I’ll let you ponder things over for a moment. If you’ll excuse me.” Lydia stood and stepped outside her office to speak with Helena.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but you told me you wanted to be notified if and when we heard from Jaleel Tomas, he’s on line two.”

Lydia almost started to dance and clap her hands like a four-year-old at a birthday party.

“Wonderful! Do me a favor please? Offer the Hammonds’ refreshments and let them know I will be back with them in a few minutes.” Lydia rushed towards Helena’s desk and hopefully access to one of the most interesting finds in a long time.

“Mr. Tomas, thank you holding, my name is Lydia Comier and as I said in my email, I am interested in using the dress and cloak you just purchased in an upcoming exhibit.” Not feeling the need to waste time, Lydia got right to the point. She wanted those items to be the centerpiece of the exhibit she had been planning for a very long time.

“Ms. Comier, I’ve done some research on you and your exhibits at the museum. While I have found them profound and thought provoking, before I can agree to let you use the pieces you’re after, I’d like to set up a meeting and see what kind of display you had in mind for them,” Jaleel Tomas’ deep voice suggested on the other end of the line. Lydia took notice of the slight echo on his end of the call.

“A meeting is just what I was going to suggest as well, just let me know when and where and I will make myself available. Do you reside in Mississippi, Mr. Tomas?” Lydia asked already knowing the answer. According to her research he was born in Alabama, raised in Georgia and split his time between Mississippi and Georgia where he still had family.

“I do and how does tomorrow at 3 p.m. sound? I can drive down from Jackson after my morning meeting.”

Lydia was surprised he wanted to meet so soon but readily agreed. “Tomorrow at three is perfect, I look forward to discussing this with you then.”

***

“These are very impressive, Miss Comier,” Jaleel commented the next afternoon, examining her sketches of the exhibit she had in mind for his pieces.

Lydia was still trying to regain her bearings, she had been off kilter since the moment he walked into her office looking like every single idea of her perfect man come to life.

He walked into her office with his 5’11” frame wrapped in a blue-green button-down shirt and black slacks. From the cut of the pants and the unbuttoned top two buttons of his shirt, she assumed he had taken off his suit jacket and tie and left them in the car.

His smooth, dark ebony skin gave a perfect contrast to his flawless, kind, inviting smile and his soulful brown eyes. He wore a well-trimmed beard and mustache that was cut close and hugged his angular face perfectly.

He was more just well put together and solid than he was muscular and his full lips made her want to swoon. Every time he set one of her sketches aside, or moved in general, the scent of satin and sandalwood played with her nose.

“Thank you, I wanted to give you a clear idea of what I had in mind, and you can call me Lydia,” she invited, sitting across from him and picking up one of her sketches he had put to the side.

If he would allow her to use the pieces they would be a perfect conversation starter. Especially with the pieces the Hammonds had agreed to let her use.

“I will say this, Lydia, from looking at some of your prior exhibits and your ideas for this one you most definitely like to stir the pot.” Jaleel smiled, looking over at her while passing back her sketches.

Lydia had to check herself to stop looking at his perfect and full lips as she took her sketches from him. Growing up in such a small town, Lydia wasn’t really around men who were not her relatives until she moved to Mississippi. Even then she had only been on a handful of dates so having this strong of an attraction to someone was new to her.

“Well it’s a pot that needs to be stirred, if one of my exhibits can open up a dialogue then good, I succeeded.”

“Trust me, I understand  and applaud your efforts, it would be an honor to have you use the pieces in your latest exhibit.”

He pulled his ringing phone out of his pocket and sighed impatiently at the caller ID. “I am so sorry, Lydia but I have to take this call,” he explained while standing up to step out of the room as he hit ‘answer’.

Lydia sat up straight and quickly slapped her hand on the now pulsating mark on her wrist. Wind whipped around her immediately as he stepped out of the office and into the hall, the hairs on her neck stood on end and the singing of her ancestors rang loudly in her ears.

She wasted no time throwing up a shield and protection spell, she chanted quietly with her eyes closed as she sat in the middle of her own personal whirlwind, her mark pulsed and burned causing her to jump in surprise.

She gasped, opening her eyes when she felt the wet red clay dirt squish over her sandals and between her toes, rain splashed down all around her, making puddles and pools where the water collected.

Lydia looked up at the moon peeking through the opening of trees, she was at the meeting place in the woods behind her family home.

Mila walked out of the woods dressed in a comfortable maxi sundress, she looked like she did the last time she saw her, peaceful and beautiful.

“See, Lyd, I told you you’d be okay, you projected here without even trying.” Mila smiled looking proud and impressed.

“But I don’t understand what’s going on, Mila what happened back there? Why did I feel the need to protect myself and project here?” Lydia asked, noticing for the first time that while the rain raged on around them, both she and Mila were completely dry.

“You felt threatened and came back to where you feel the safest. What about Jaleel Tomas made you feel that way?” Mila asked moving closer to her.

“Honestly, Mila, everything was fine, he just agreed to let me use some pieces he just bought in my new exhibit and was stepping out of the room to take a phone call.” Lydia paused, remembering he stood up to step out and take a call but pushed it out of her mind.

“Lyd, the last time we talked I told you, he’s not just coming, he’s arrived and he will come at you from every direction until he can find a way in, through people you know and trust to people you just met, you have to be on guard every minute of the day.”

“Mila, I am or at least I thought I was, I can read people almost as good as you and it wasn’t Jaleel that directly triggered this,” Lydia reasoned, still replaying the last few seconds before she came here in her mind.

“Well, something about him or near him caused this so be careful and tread lightly, keep your shield on, and wear the black tourmaline I gave you the night I died. Until you are completely sure it’s not him that triggered this, don’t let him get too close to you.”

Mila turned around and started walking back into the thickest part of the woods.

“Okay, Mila. Anything else?” Lydia called out sadly watching her cousin fade away.

“I love you, Lydia and just like today, you will know what you need to do. Tell my mom I love her, I miss you both so much.”

“I love you!”

“Lydia! Lydia! Are you okay? How long has she been out?” Helena screamed, shaking her, Jaleel was standing on the other side of the desk behind Helena looking concerned, his phone pressed to his ear.

“No, I’m fine, Helena. The room just got too warm, I guess I need to hydrate more. I’m sorry I scared you,” Lydia lied quickly, grabbing her water bottle from her desk and taking a long drink.

“Oh thank God, you’re okay. Mr. Tomas came rushing to my desk telling me you were unconscious, he was just calling 911 when you came to,” Helena kept explaining and kneeled down next to her.

“Do we still need the paramedics to come?” Jaleel asked, pulling the phone away from his ear, a look of relief slowly washing over his face.

“No, like I said I was just overheated. I’m already so embarrassed something like this happened, having to be taken away in an ambulance would make things even worse.” Lydia slowly stood to her feet to convince them both that she was okay.

Jaleel ended his call and pushed his phone in his front pocket,

“May I suggest we finish up and discuss the details of our arrangement another time? May I also suggest you take better care of yourself in future? Letting yourself get overheated isn’t acceptable to me.

“You’re right and again, I’m sorry for scaring you. It sounds like a good idea, please look at your schedule and tell me what day will work best for you.” Lydia stayed just behind her desk putting enough distance between her and Jaleel to feel safe, Helena was now standing by the door to her office.

“No worries, I’m just glad you’re okay. How about a week from today? Same time? I just remembered the forecast calls for rain for the next few days so the roads will be a mess,” he suggested, grabbing the paperwork with her research on the history she would be using for the exhibit and walking to the door to stand next to Helena.

“I forgot about the rain, not that it bothers me, in fact I love rainy days but better to be safe than sorry so I will see you next week at three. If you have any questions before then, don’t hesitate to ask.” Lydia smiled over at him, locking her hands behind her back.

He nodded at her, his eyes scanned her face as he smiled. She noticed his eyes drifted downward and he cocked his head curiously to one side.

“I’m just curious, Lydia, how in the world are you standing in the middle of a museum in Mississippi and covered in Georgia red clay up to your ankles?” he mused before casting a spooked look her way and walking out of her office.

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