Author Ann McConnell doesn’t know she’s reincarnated—or that she carries angelic DNA. She only knows she’s alone and off the rails since Mike left her sitting in a fertility clinic. Now, her career is in a nosedive and Mike’s all over Facebook with his girlfriend and new baby.
Battling despair, Ann focuses on renovating her ancestors’ cabin. When she finds a gold torc hidden there, it amplifies her sense of smell and sends her into a tailspin. Curious about her ancestors and their powerful relic, she embarks on a journey to explore her heritage. Her quest steers her toward Somerled of Argyll, whose descendants she can now identify by scent. She travels to Scotland in search of his grave, unaware he’s her 12th century soul mate. He’s reborn, nearby, and trying to find her. So is her demonic stalker.
If Ann can’t escape the foul clutch of a madman, it will spell disaster for reuniting souls, and—unthinkably—for humanity itself.
THE SCENT OF FOREVER, available now.
Chapter 1, The Scent of Forever:
As birds chattered in the canopy above her, Ann McConnell surveyed the sunken footprint of her ancestor’s cabin. Time erased that frontiersman’s identity, along with his roof and the walls built to keep his enemies at bay. Only his chimney survived, though age and weather reduced it to a sagging hearth and one intact wall. The rest of its stones lay in a heap, just like the pieces of Ann’s life.
She would restore the chimney—beginning today—but her dismantled world? That would take a different kind of mortar.
Pressing an empty ice cream pail against her belly, she headed for the wheelbarrow. “Okay, Maggie, let’s do this.” She kicked down weeds, scattering butterflies and grasshoppers. “What’s the ratio again?”
Her best friend sat on the apex of a stepladder with a Stanley level in one hand and an open book wilting over the other. “Says here three scoops of sand, one scoop of cement, and half a scoop of lime.” She squealed and swatted at a wasp, nearly upsetting the ladder. “Stupid bee.”
“Be careful, would you?” The last thing they needed was a trip to the hospital.”
Ann tossed the pail into the wheelbarrow, along with a hoe she would need for mixing the cement. She lifted the barrow’s smooth handles and pushed her tools to a sand mound, where a sculpted penis there stopped her dead in her tracks and sent Maggie into hysterics.
“What are we, Mags, twelve?” She threw a handful of sand at her friend.
Maggie brushed the grit off her thighs. “I thought you could use one.”
Ann giggled. “You do know you’re penis-obsessed, don’t you?”
“It serves me well.”
So it did. Maggie made a tidy living writing erotica.
“I hear a car.” The mischief faded from Maggie’s amber eyes. “Someone’s coming.” She started down the ladder, her auburn ponytail swinging.
A burgundy Escalade barreled out of the hemlock forest buffering Ann’s property from a desolate township road. It hummed across an iron bridge spanning the creek, then slid to a halt at the cabin ruins, sending dust clouds billowing up from the tires. Its driver doffed expensive-looking sunglasses and opened the door.
“Shit.” Maggie started up the hill. “I’ll be up at the house if you need me.”
“Stay right where you are,” Ann said.
Gucci pumps hit the dirt below the driver’s door.
A shrill voice scattered a flock of chickadees. “You ever return phone calls?” Janet Morelli slammed the door of her SUV, then picked her way across the driveway with a Louis Vuitton bag slung over her shoulder.
Ann wiped her hands on her jeans. “Janet, you remember Margaret Mason, don’t you?”
“Of course.” Janet’s Crimson Rhapsody lips twisted into a grimace-like smile. “I enjoyed your latest release. You have another coming out shortly, no?”
Maggie nodded, looking terrified.
Janet had that effect on most people.
“In November,” Maggie replied.
“An author with work ethic.” Janet cocked a brow at Ann. “Refreshing.”
“Here we go.” Ann scooped up the sand penis, then tossed it into the wheelbarrow.
Janet stormed across the weedy ground, sinking her heels up to their necks. “Yes, here we go. I call you, I email you. I even send you letters. Who sends letters anymore?” She patted her chest. “This idiot right here. And do you respond? No, of course you don’t. You make me get in my car and drive two hundred fuh-rickin’ miles into the wilderness to find out what the problem is. And what’s the problem? Apparently, the problem is a pile of rocks. A crumbling goddamn pile of rocks is more important than your career. Than my career, for that matter.”
“You have other clients.”
“Yes, I do, I surely do, but not one of them is Ann McConnell.” Janet stepped closer, adding the scent of Chanel No. 5 to the honeysuckle wafting on the breeze. “Let’s be honest. If you don’t make money, I don’t make money. I have bills, too, babe. When I took you on as a client, nobody knew who Ann McConnell was. You promised me you’d work hard, remember?”
“Look, get off my back. I just need some time.”
“How much time do you need? It’s been a year. He’s not coming back. Let that sink in a minute, sweetheart. Mike. Is. Not. Coming. Back.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Don’t I?” Janet popped open her bag, then pulled out her phone. “Here.” She tapped its screen and turned it around. “Maybe this will help.”
A kick in the teeth would have hurt less than the photograph she displayed.
Relax, they said, you’re trying too hard. You should adopt. Women always get pregnant after they adopt.
Ann feigned indifference. “Well, look at that. She has Mike’s eyes.”
“Yes, and his girlfriend’s pouty lips. And you know what else she has? Him. And she always will. Pull it together, McConnell, I’m running out of excuses.”
“Worthington will wait.”
“Worthington is getting impatient. So are your readers. Have you looked at your Facebook or Twitter accounts lately? You might be surprised at the number of cranky people you’ll find there. You promised them another book ten months ago.”
“I’m tossing around a few ideas.”
“You told me that in March.” Her voice softened. “Listen, I didn’t want to have to resort to this, but it’s like this: I have partners. They’re watching the numbers. You’re my numbers. Get your shit together, or I’m out.”
Ann ignited the last of the tiki torches bordering the cabin’s flagstone footprint. In the twilight, an open laptop turned Maggie’s ivory skin sky blue. She lifted a bottle from the floor next to her lawn chair. “Want a glass?”
Ann shook her head.
“I’m fine.” Ann sank onto a bench near the ancient hearth, a feature she always intended to convert into an outdoor pizza oven. Mike hated the idea. Like her parents, he considered the cabin an eyesore, useful only to snakes and rodents. He wanted to level it—even hired a bulldozer on the sly shortly before their breakup—but Ann threatened to chain herself to the chimney. By God, she’d have done it, too.
“You knew about the baby already, didn’t you?” Maggie asked.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Maggie closed her laptop and set it on the slabs. “I’m your best friend. We should have talked about this.”
“What’s to talk about? My husband—”
“—left me for a younger woman and made a baby with her.”
“Don’t call her that. She’s a brainless tramp.”
“She’s a brainless tramp with a functioning reproductive system.”
“And that makes her amazing, right?” Maggie rolled her eyes. “Wow, Chelsea squirted a baby out of her ass. Nobody’s ever done that before.”
“Is that her name?”
Maggie nodded. “Been stalking her on Facebook. Listen, so she had a baby. Big deal. You’re gorgeous. You’re rich. You’re an award-winning, bestselling novelist with a huge following.” She slapped a hand over her heart. “And you have me for a best friend. What more could you possibly want?”
“I love you, Mags, but you really don’t get it,” Ann replied.
“So, explain it to me.”
“Look around you. Where are you?”
“Um, in Pennsylvania, dumb ass?”
“In some old cabin ruins.”
“A cabin built by my ancestors. This was frontier when they came here, a land fraught with hardship and danger.” She spread her arms wide. “They traded abject poverty for unforgiving wilderness.”
Ann dropped her arms. “Why would they do that?”
“They were probably desperate.”
“Exactly, because they wanted more for their children, and for their children’s children.”
Maggie brushed a rich auburn strand of hair off her forehead. “Not following.”
“Did you know I’m the last of their line?”
Maggie’s expression softened as understanding hit home. “And you feel like you’re letting them down by not procreating.”
“They must have struggled to get here, and for what? So their line could eventually die out?”
“It’s not your responsibility to ensure their DNA makes it to the next generation.”
“But if it ends with me, it makes their sacrifices pointless.”
“So don’t let it end with you. You can honor your ancestors without adding to the population, you know.” Maggie stood, casting a long shadow. “For God’s sake, Ann, you have two problems, infertility and a nosediving career. There’s a single solution to both, and it’s as plain as a bowl of yogurt. Write about them. Tell their story. Memorialize them in a bestseller. A novel will live long after Mike and Chelsea’s dumb baby has even dumber babies of her own.”
Ann stared, momentarily lost for words. “I can’t believe I never thought of that.”
Maggie waved at a lightning bug. “Remember me in your acknowledgements.”
“I don’t deserve you.”
“Probably not. Now, here.” Maggie carried the bottle over. “Have a glass of wine or three, and let’s talk about plots.”
The bottle dropped and shattered.
Maggie screamed and leapt onto the bench behind her.
“What the hell, Mags? Your nails are like daggers!” They would leave dents in her arm.
Ann scanned the darkness, hoping a bear hadn’t wandered in.
“There,” Maggie squealed, pointing. “Something scampered under there. It was a mouse, wasn’t it? Aw, man, I hate mice. You know I hate mice. Do you think it was a mouse? I think it was a mouse.”
“It was probably just a cricket.”
“I’m serious. Go look, or I’m going back to the house.”
“You’re such a dang scaredy-cat.” Ann carried one of the torches closer to the hearth. She kicked away a tangle of honeysuckle vines, exposing a worn hole at the edge of the cracked hearthstone.
“It was probably just a mole.” Curious, she slipped her fingers under the broken stone. It was loose.
“Oh my God, Ann, don’t,” Maggie shrieked from her perch. “Something might bite you!”
Ann ignored her and hauled harder, quivering with effort. So what if it bit her? She’d survived far worse. Her parents . . . Mike.
“Seriously, Ann, what if there’s a whole colony of something down there? I’m going in the house. I mean it, I am.” But Maggie’s paralyzing fear of rodents held her fast. “I can’t look.” She spread her hands across her face.
The stone gave way. Ann flipped it aside, exposing an intricate network of tiny tunnels. In one of them, something shimmered in the torchlight. She brushed away the dirt.
“What? What is it?” Maggie screeched through her hands. “A snake?”
“Holy shit,” Ann repeated. She hooked a finger under one end of something gold, then lifted it from the ground. It looked like a wide, flat necklace, greasy and caked with mud, but completely intact. A green stone gleamed at its lowest point, and as she wiped the jewel on her shirt, she saw that it was sandwiched between the jaws of two doglike creatures.
Wolves? No, wolfhounds.
Maggie peeked through her fingers. “Holy crap.” She forgot her terror and jumped off the bench. “If your ancestors were so poor, where the hell did they get that?”
“I have no idea,” Ann replied, “but we’re going to find out.”
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