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The kitchen charmer, p.1
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       The Kitchen Charmer, p.1

           Deborah Smith
 
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The Kitchen Charmer


  The Kitchen Charmer

  These old mountains are smart, Lucy. They’re alive. They can be gentle like mamas; oh, sure, they’ll croon and they’ll kiss you and they’ll whisper while you sleep, and you’ll learn what all the old rocks are saying, all these ancient ghosts, all their starshine wisdom. But these old mountains, sometimes they know you can’t hear them any other way but to get smacked up along the head. You watch out, Lucy P, for you got the Charm, like us Netties do. You’re a guardian of these mountains, and they’re a guardian of you. They will warn you any how they have to.

  They will slap the near life out of a Charmer.

  They’re doing it to make you and Gus listen. To make you ready.

  —Delta

  Praise for Deborah Smith’s

  The Crossroads Café

  Wall Street Journal Bestseller

  Number One Bestseller, Amazon Kindle

  The first novel in The Crossroads Café Series

  “Unforgettably poignant.”

  —Booklist

  “A top five romance of 2006.”

  —Library Journal, starred review

  “A perfect 10.”

  —Romance Reviews Today

  “The best romance of 2006.”

  —The Romance Reader

  “A true treasure.”

  —Romantic Times BookClub

  “A book that readers will open again and again.”

  —Romance Designs

  Winner of a HOLT Medallion and a

  Reviewer’s International Award (RIO)

  The Novels of Deborah Smith

  from Bell Bridge Books

  The Crossroads Café

  The Crossroads Café Novels:

  The Biscuit Witch, Book One of The MacBrides

  The Pickle Queen, Book Two of The MacBrides

  The Kitchen Charmer, Book Three of The MacBrides

  The Moonshine King, Book Four of The MacBrides

  The Crossroads Café Novellas:

  The Yarnspinner

  The Apple Pie Knights

  ———

  A Gentle Rain

  Sweet Hush

  On Bear Mountain

  Charming Grace

  The Stone Flower Garden

  A Place to Call Home (Audio)

  Silk and Stone

  When Venus Fell

  Blue Willow (Audio)

  Miracle

  The Mossy Creek Hometown Series (Contributor)

  Sweet Tea Series (Contributor)

  Alice at Heart

  Diary of a Radical Mermaid

  Hot Touch

  The Silver Fox

  The Kitchen Charmer

  by

  Deborah Smith

  Bell Bridge Books

  Copyright

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events or locations is entirely coincidental.

  Bell Bridge Books

  PO BOX 300921

  Memphis, TN 38130

  Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61194-820-2

  Print ISBN: 978-1-61194-835-6

  Bell Bridge Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc.

  Copyright © 2017 by Deborah Smith

  Published in the United States of America.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

  We at BelleBooks enjoy hearing from readers.

  Visit our websites

  BelleBooks.com

  BellBridgeBooks.com

  ImaJinnBooks.com

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  Cover design: Deborah Smith

  Interior design: Hank Smith

  Photo/Art credits:

  Sunburst/compass textures © Sofka_QWE | Fotolia.com

  Textures: © Yobro10 | Dreamstime.com

  Title lettering: © Jaguarwoman Designs

  Closeup portrait of an elegant blond woman © Konradbak | Dreamstime.com

  Conceptual portait of the sand man © Konradbak | Dreamstime.com

  :Eckl:01:

  Prologue

  Afghanistan, February

  “HE TOOK THE explosion on the left side. Left leg looks bad. Internal injuries, too. And his left ear’s hemorrhaging.”

  “Captain, can you hear me? What did you say, Captain?”

  “I think he said, ‘Lucid,’ Sir.”

  “Yes, you’re lucid. We can understand you.”

  Not lucid. Luce.

  I searched for my voices. The essences. Mama, Dad. My sisters. Luce.

  Find the hunger, and you find the pain.

  Feed the body, and you feed the spirit.

  Share the table, and you share the love.

  Love. Luce.

  I tried to ease into the psychic hammock where Luce always joined me. The essence of her could cross thousands of miles between Afghanistan and North Carolina. A taste of honey and crushed fruit, blueberries too sweet to make a dark beer . . . Luce came from tender starters, that’s how her brew always tasted in my mind, but there was something fragile, too . . . something easy to break.

  I felt needles in my arms. Oxygen hissed into my nose. Darkness rose and then opened like a curtain.

  I faced a stranger with an unknown face. Covered in blood and war, like me.

  “She’s mine,” he said. “I earned her. Women are always the collateral damage in a man’s world. You know that.”

  Behind a curtain of see-through lace, Luce stood with her naked back to me and him, her head turned just enough to let us know she was listening.

  He stepped closer to the curtain. In the darkness I saw just his hand reach through a streak of overhead light. He anchored it in the delicate knitting. “I’m taking her, and you can’t stop me.”

  “I’ll kill you.” But when I tried to move, my torn leg had rooted to the floor.

  He laughed. “A real man will kill to get what he wants.” He lunged at her. Lucy turned, but all I saw was her face, filled with terror, a hazy blur that came into focus as a terrible feeling surged in my chest.

  I am him, now.

  1

  Two months earlier

  December

  Rainbow Goddess Farm

  North Carolina

  A LOT OF PEOPLE believed our highlands were a fortress against some future apocalypse. A breakdown of law and order? Invasion of a foreign army? Pandemic? The Rapture?

  We could survive as long as we stayed put.

  I wasn’t like them. I could take my fears with me everywhere. I was the kid who got excited when the teacher said to read silently. I liked going to the library. Museums and concerts took me to fantasy worlds I could sense—I reached out to the veils that separated ordinary life from miracles.

  I believed in joy and the Holy Spirit and the purity of chaste minds and untouched bodies and now I realize it was all some sort of defense, some kind of bargain with God, like promising to clock in on time every day at a job. Of course I knew God didn’t hand out credits for good behavior, and yet . . . shouldn’t He?

  No. He didn’t care.

  It had been three years since the attack, but I relived the memory every day.

  What’s that th
umping noise?

  It must be Mr. Nguyen binge-watching CSI episodes with the TV turned up too loud again. Or Anita Suarez’s kids turning over furniture while they played Wii tennis. I loved the mix of people and cultures in my in-town neighborhood. My little hatchback had an easy commute to grad school classes at UNC Charlotte, and on nice days like today I walked the few blocks to a small private prep school where I tripled as the art, civics, and Spanish teacher.

  I had grown up in the city; my sixty-ish father was pastor of one of Charlotte’s oldest Methodist churches. His aging congregation adored him and pish-toshed rumors that he was gay—while discreetly accepting that the rumors were true.

  I had a number of beloved uncles, who were kind and fatherly and fun. Most were pastors.

  My mother had been older than Dad by a decade. They married, birthed me, and a year later she died of uterine cancer. “You were born with demons on your heels,” one of the church ladies told me. “God put a rocket engine on your angels.”

  I had never felt that angels were hovering over me until after the . . . attack. It wasn’t that I felt tainted as a child, or a convenient beard for a gay man. Dad doted on me, and me on him. I was good at being a minister’s daughter. A believer but not a fanatic. Neither was he. We all live with our curtains around us, our charades.

  Now 24 years old, with a happy job and close friends, I lived in a world of safety and goodwill.

  That noise again. Somebody’s moving furniture around.

  Under the light of a lamp above the apartment stairwell, with the scent of spring flowers rising from below, I brushed away moths and unlocked my door, fumbling with my iPad. I stepped inside, reading an article titled, ‘A Cracked Door Lets In the Light. An alternative Christian perspective on the misfits, outcasts, free thinkers, soothsayers, and oddballs who may be chatting with His authentic messengers.’

  Dad had emailed it to me with his excited note in all caps.

  INSPIRATION FOR MY EASTER SERMON. DO YOU DARE ME TO FOLLOW THROUGH?

  Smiling, I was about to drop my shoulder bag and a tote full of my students’ paperwork on my contemporary Scandinavian something-wood Ikea table by the entrance. I looked forward to exchanging my sweaty yoga pants and long tee for a shower and a UNC nightshirt.

  My workout shoes toed a large, shaky object in the floor.

  Still reading, I glanced down and halted. The Ikea lay there. In pieces.

  “Get her,” a voice said.

  “Let’s party, bitch.”

  A hand, stinking of sweat and dirt, slammed into my face.

  And the nice, pretty life of Lucy Parmenter ended.

  BEEP. ON THE plank wall above my head, a yellow metal box with a guard dog logo uttered the beep again. The farm’s new security system was Alberta’s idea; not only connected to the internet, the sheriff’s office, the county’s 411 emergency response system, but it also included a loud intercom function. Tensions were high in Jefferson County, just like elsewhere in the country. Divisions. Radicals. Threats of violence against the gov’ment. Any gov’ment.

  I’d tried to detox the alarm system’s Orwellian effect by surrounding it with my photos of mountain wildflowers and the mystical beauty of the old buildings at Free Wheeler.

  “Heads up, Parmenter.” Alberta’s twangy voice. “Just giving you a follow-through on the situation. Monzell’s chicken kickers are spamming us again.”

  “Oh?” My voice was reed-thin and high.

  “I’m taking our website down so they can’t hack it. And let’s postpone that test-run on the crisis hotline. Unless you want your volunteers to get their ears burned in the flame war.”

  “I’ll double-check all of our virus protection.”

  “We’re on alert.”

  After she clicked off, I opened a drawer and fetched the adorable little handgun she’d purchased for me. I shucked my skirt and fitted the gun’s holster around my waist, over my leggings. The belt part was elastic with Velcro fasteners. The holster part was made to look like denim—cozy—but also waterproof. No sweat and no female juices would seduce my pretty little weapon. I had named her Louise, after my long-dead great aunt in Charlotte. Great Aunt Louise had shot a burglar with her vintage forty-five caliber pistol. He lost a thumb.

  Soft and snuggly, Louise fit in the fake denim along my lower belly, with her muzzle imprinting atop my mound.

  Now, I had a penis, and I could hurt people with it.

  IN THE DISTANCE, the main farm house glowed with light, fragrant smoke rose from chimneys, and the small communal lodge hummed with music. Alberta and Macy organized events, speakers and classes for the women and kids. Tonight their Log Splitters’ band was playing. Heavy on the steel guitar (Alberta) and electric fiddle (Macy).

  They were crushing a Bonnie Raitt song like dragons stepping on petunias. It didn’t matter. They changed lives here, simply and sincerely, and against the odds. The average stay for women was two months, and during that time, Alberta and Macy hoped to impart more than give them a temporary refuge from a stalking husband or boyfriend.

  Thanks to Cathy’s patronage, the success rate at the farm had increased even more in recent years. There was money for referrals to specialists, for follow-ups after the women graduated, and a foundation Cathy and Tom had set up funded scholarships for their kids.

  Some said I was one of the farm’s success stories. Technically, I was no longer a patient. But I’d never been a domestic abuse case to begin with. I was a survivor of a violent sexual assault by semi-strangers. I was now an employee—management, actually, “Head of Fiber Arts and Wool Production,” which was a fancy way of saying I taught spinning, knitting, crocheting, shepherded the woolies, and oversaw how their wool was sold as fleeces or turned into commercially spun yarn. I was proud that my three years at Rainbow Goddess Farm coincided with the herd paying for itself and making a small profit.

  But I was fooling everyone but myself if they thought I could hold down a job in the outside world, leave this sanctuary, and live as anything other than a recluse in a sheep barn.

  The farm’s dairy cows watched me from the low light of the milk barn’s doorway, chewing their cuds like baseball players nursing gum and tobacco.

  More trouble’s coming, Miss Lucy. Watch and listen. You’re one of the voices people need to hear.

  Skeins of black and blood-red stitched dark patterns in the winter sky above the Ten Sisters Mountains. I had begun seeing visions and hearing Opal’s voice in my head not long after my doctors sent me to Rainbow Goddess. Opal had a country drawl. Her voice was young, and she enjoyed sassing me. She’d never told me her name—I just knew it, the way I knew certain things now. Predictions. Prophecies. Warnings. Like Cathy Deen Mitternich being pregnant with twins she wouldn’t miscarry this time.

  I predicted that. A movie star’s successful motherhood.

  The ability had terrified me at first. Hearing voices, seeing bright splashes of light and color and patterns. My Sunday school teachers hadn’t covered psychic powers.

  Tasting and smelling. Clairgustance—psychic tasting and clairessence—psychic smelling. Sub-sets of general clairvoyance. For a minister’s daughter like me, all of that clair-this and that had always been secular nonsense. Carnival fortune-telling talk.

  But then the . . . incident . . . that sent me here to the farm had wiped out any certainty that God cared about me or that the universe revolved around us in spiritual ways I truly understood. When the broken part of me reached out for a way to pray again, God answered in the only way my heart could receive—through an angel who spoke via the soft, safe wool. So now I was . . . clair-wooly?

  FOCUS.

  But Now wasn’t going so well for the world. I was just a fleck of shrinking soul hood in the midst of a storm.

  Some of the shop owners in Turtleville had stopped doing business
with the farm. Said they couldn’t sanction our lifestyle. They were afraid of blowback.

  Some of the churches had become emboldened to preach that Macy and Alberta and I were demons. Lesbian demons, converting disobedient women to witchcraft and sexual perversion. They didn’t want to risk losing the donations they got from Howard Monzell, owner and president of Monzell Poultry. The processed-chicken-selling king of the Appalachians had made it clear he was on the side of Alt-Right Makes Might.

  And that he would wipe our infamy from his pure American community.

  That he would get rid of me, in particular.

  “Lucy, they arrested Mr. Khangura last week. Came right here into the library and hauled him away from his gardening books. He’s lived in these mountains for fifty years. He let my kids try on that funny turban of his. Our sons grew up in his barber shop. But the new Native Born American Act says he doesn’t have the right papers. That he’s been put on a terrorist watch list. That’s just butt-damn stupid. Can you help? Please? Use your witch spells. Something. Please.”

  “Miss Parmenter, I tracked them with my own two eyes. They had North Carolina gov’ment license plates. They went up yonder outside Turtleville to that property that was the German prisoner camp back in World War I. They did some surveying. They had big design papers spread out on a table. You know what they’re gonna do. They’re gonna build a new camp. But this time it’ll be for Americans. For the Muslims and the gays. And for the rest of us, too, if we spit in the wrong face. Please talk to your yarn angel and ask her what to do.”

  “Lucy, can the farm take in even one more woman? I know y’all got too many in your shelters already, but Evelyeen’s hiding in the storage room at my shop. Her husband caught her using birth control pills and beat the shit out of her. Said God and the Klan needs more white babies. Please work some magic on him. A hex or something. Please.”

  I felt helpless. I’d been elevated from patient to counselor at Rainbow Goddess, helping to provide food, shelter and counseling for nearly two hundred women and children. Every cabin and communal bunk house overflowed.

 
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