The Spring Equinox falls in the month that nearly all Native Traditions recognize as being one of Big Windsóbig changes. And big changes have certainly come to Oberon this spring, along with an ancient evil that must finally be laid to rest.
Cara Matthews is always looking for love in all the worst places. And, it doesnít get much worse than the Church of Truth Light and Vision.
Former cop Liam McKnight could have told her that, but heís infiltrated the cult in hopes of discovering some clue to the whereabouts of his missing family members, and he canít jeopardize his missionónot even for love.
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Welcome to Historic Oberon, California
The Third Saturday in March
It was a beautiful day for a wedding, Chenoa Johnson reflected as she put the finishing touches on the cake she was decorating. The sky was blue and cloudless, the weather surprisingly warm for the third week of March. True, it was a little bit windy, but she didnít think that sort of thing would bother the bride.
Siobhan Quinn lived within a stoneís throw of the Bay; surely she would not object to a little weather on her big day.
Chenoa took a step back and studied her handiwork.
"Very nice," a male voice said from the bakeryís open back door. "Seems a shame to let anyone eat it."
"Thanks," Chenoa murmured, smiling as she gave the turntable a spin, so she could examine the cake from every angle. It was nice, she thought; in fact, it was more than nice. Since sheíd taken over the bakery last October, following her grandfatherís death, sheíd tried very hard to uphold the bakeryís reputation for creating desserts that appealed to all the senses. She might not be the equal to Pacoís artistic mastery, but, now that sheíd taken a really good look at it, she did believe that Siobhanís cake might just be her masterpiece.
To honor the brideís Marine Biology background, Chenoa had covered the cake with pearlescent sheets of rolled fondant, tinted in a variety of pastel shades; peach, rose and lavender, ivory and blue and pale sea green, all swirled together, running into one another; in an attempt to create the impression of a beach at sunrise; of white sand glimmering under dawn washed water.
And, just in case anyone missed the marine motif, sheíd crafted a variety of white chocolate confections--shells and snails and starfish, crabs and a variety of other crustaceans--and set them spiraling up the sides of the cake, climbing from layer to layer to layer.
"We like to think of it as edible art, Liam," she explained, turning to smile at her friend. "So it would defeat the purpose if it didnít get eaten sometime. I just hope itíll taste as good as it looks."
"Iím sure it will," Liam McKnight replied, as he left the doorway and sauntered closer. "But, you know, if youíd like to be sure, Iím more than willing to act as taste-tester."
"And, how do you propose to do that, at this point?" she asked raising an eyebrow at him. She had a pretty good idea what he had in mind, and if he laid one hand on her cake she was going to slap him with a spatula.
"Iím sure you could cut me a small piece--from along the edge, or something," Liam answered, gesturing at the cake. "Cover it up with more icing, and no one will ever know the difference."
Chenoa rolled her eyes. "Oh, yeah, great idea. Thanks, but I think Iíll just have to hope for the best."
"Thatís not very nice of you, is it?" Liam answered in mock sorrow. "You flaunt a delicious looking cake at a man and then tell him he canít have any?"
"Listen, you. I didnít flaunt anything," Chenoa replied, severely, barely hiding her smile. "Itís your own fault for invading my kitchen uninvited. Thereís plenty of pastries for you to sample in the front of the store, you know. Thatís where all my other customers go when theyíre looking for handouts."
Liam looked affronted. "Iím truly hurt. Are you saying Iím just another customer?"
I donít know what you are, Chenoa thought, ignoring his question to add a couple more starfish to the cake. Sheíd first met Liam some six or seven months earlier, when heíd come to her grandfather for help in balancing the energy in his chakrasósomething heíd very much needed. Since Pacoís death, Liam had been coming to her for energy work on a fairly regular basis. With his piercing blue eyes and unkempt good looks, he was undeniably attractive; but as Chenoa was slowly coming to realize, Liam was an empath. His extreme sensitivity to the feelings of others might have been something of a bennie, in his police career, but it also left him vulnerable to frequent emotional upsets and impulsive behavior. That, coupled with his occasionally rigid views of right and wrong, made him a little too high maintenance for Chenoaís tastes.
She hadnít thought either of them were interested in taking their relationship beyond the professional level, but lately...sheíd begun to wonder if Liam wasnít interested in something more.
"Well, if youíre not going to give me a taste now, I guess IĎll just have to crash the wedding to get a sample." Liam said, apparently still focused on the cake. "Whatís inside, anyway?"
"Devilís food," Chenoa replied a little absently, as she moved a tiny chocolate crab that seemed in danger of sliding right off the cake. "Apparently, itís the groomís favorite."
"Yeah, that figures," Liam responded.
Chenoa looks at him questioningly, struck by the note of something akin to bitterness in his voce. "You donít like him?"
Liam shrugged. "Ah, itís not that. Hendersonís okay, I guess. Better than some. Itís just--" He shrugged again. "I donít know, maybe itís a cop thing; you know, the lure of the dark? I mean, when you consider all the time we spend exploring the darker side of human nature-- We must all like it a little bit, donít you think?"
Interesting theory. Iím not sure it extends to cake, though, Chenoa thought. But, she just smiled and said, "Maybe thatís true for all of us?"
Liam clapped a hand to his heart. "Oh, no, donít tell me that. Ya gotta leave me with a few illusions about the rest of humanity."
But, Chenoa had been struck by one word--we. "So, what are you planning on doing, now that youíve quit the police?" she asked. Now that youíre no longer a cop.
A look of surprised dismay, crossed Liamís face.
Just as I thought, Chenoa sighed to herself. Deep down, he still thinks of himself that way. She imagined sheíd be doing a lot of energy work correcting Liamís self image, once reality sunk in.
"I donít know," Liam said quietly. "Maybe go back to school, or something? Iíve got some money saved, so Iíve got time to think about it."
For a moment, they both lapsed into a thoughtful silence, then Liam roused himself. "Well, Iíd better get out of your way, let you finish up. I guess Iíll see you later, huh?"
She looked at him in surprise. "Later? When later?"
A mischievous grin curved his lips. ĎWhy, later this afternoon, of course. When I crash the wedding."
Chenoa watched him go. For the life of her, she couldnít tell if he was serious, or not. But one thing was certain. She was going to keep a very close eye on her cake, until after it was cutóby the bride and groom.
Outside, Liam paused and looked around. The sleepy town of Oberon looked beautiful today, bright as a dream in the clear, Spring sunlight. In fact, he thought, the town was a lot like Chenoaís cake; so shiny and smooth on the surface, unspeakably dark beneath.
Sometimes, it was hard to say which was sweeter.