A Touch of the Beast
Linda Winstead Jones

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As she walked through the front door, a chill ran down her spine. She felt as if someone was watching her. Sheryl turned around slowly, and her eyes swept the empty sidewalk. Debbie was busy working in her flower bed again, and no one else was in sight.

She brushed off the odd feeling, attributing it to unpleasant memories of her ex, and closed the door behind her.

“It’s such a long shot,” Cassie said as Hawk threw sloppily folded clothes into his suitcase. “And North Carolina is so far away. I can’t believe you’d listen to a crazy woman who accosts you in the pharmacy.”

“What makes you think she’s crazy?” Hawk glanced up as he closed the suitcase. His sister was pacing near the door, her hands clasped tightly. She wasn’t usually so tense, but with everything that had happened lately, she had just cause.

“Everything you told me about her,” Cassie snapped. “The way she dressed, the way she sneaked up on you, the completely insufficient note. An address, that’s it. How do you know that address even exists? She might’ve made it up or it might be the address of a dry cleaner or a bakery or some poor person’s house. What she said about you looking like our mother, that’s definitely crazy. What do you think you’ll find at that address, anyway? Another weird woman offering riddles about the past?”

Compared to Hawk, his sister was tiny. But the vast difference in their body mass had never stopped Cassie from standing up to him and speaking her mind.

“I don’t know what I’ll find.”

Cassie ran a nervous hand through her hair, brushing the black strands away from her face. “I know you, Hawk. You think you’re going to drive up to a house with a white picket fence, knock on the door, and our biological mother and father will come to the door with open arms, wondering where we’ve been all these years.”

He’d quit expecting anything like that years ago, though there had been a time when he’d been absolutely obsessed with finding his birth parents. “You’ll be okay while I’m gone.”

“I know I’ll be okay,” she said, a little bit calmer than she’d been a few minutes ago. “It’s just…I can’t talk to anyone else about what’s going on. They’ll think I’m nuts! And I am worried about you, you know. I don’t want you to go all that way and be disappointed when you don’t find what you expect to find.”

“I don’t expect to find anything.”

“Yes, you do,” Cassie said softly. “Hire someone to check out the address for you. You can find a private detective in North Carolina and have him check it out. That way you can stay home and no one gets hurt.”

“And what exactly would I tell this private detective?”

Cassie just pursed her lips. She knew too well that they couldn’t bring anyone else into this mix.

“I’m not a kid anymore,” Hawk said. “I don’t expect to find anything but answers about your condition.”

“My condition,” Cassie scoffed. “I hate having a ‘condition’!”

“Call me anytime you need to talk. I’ll have my cell phone on twenty-four/seven.”

His sister almost pouted. “It’s not the same.”

Cassie Donovan wasn’t one to pout, not for any reason. But the episodes were tough on her. She’d always had dreams that seemed more real than dreams, but something unexpected was happening with these seizures.

She was seeing a few minutes into the future immediately after each convulsion. It was hard to swallow, impossible to explain. But over the years they’d learned to accept that some things were just that way.


Cassie sighed, apparently resigned to the fact that he was going to North Carolina. “If you insist on making this trip, you could fly instead of driving,” she said as she followed him down the long hallway. “It would be much quicker. Fly over, visit this address, fly home.”

“I don’t know how long I’ll need to be there, and besides, flying would only save a day or two.” He glanced down at the dog who walked beside him. “Baby hates to fly, and I can’t leave her here. Last time I went on a two-day trip, she didn’t eat the whole time I was gone.”

“You love that dog more than you love me,” Cassie said, sounding very much the way she had at the age of twelve.

Hawk hid a smile. “You know that’s not true.”

“What if I tell you that I won’t eat until you get home?”

He laughed. “The way you’ve been eating lately, I know that’s a hollow threat.”

Cassie hit him lightly on the arm as she danced around him. “That’s not very nice.”

“But it is true.”

Again she seemed to pout.

Hawk dropped the suitcase and took his sister’s face in his hands. His tough, tanned hands only emphasized her paleness. There were dark circles under her eyes, and while she’d been eating plenty lately she wasn’t gaining weight. The thinness of her face told him that she’d lost a few pounds. She might not like it, but he had to do something.

He couldn’t possibly sit around here and twiddle his thumbs and just wait for something to happen. If he could find an explanation for what was happening to Cassie, maybe even a cure, then he could rest easy. Maybe.

Protests about unrealistic expectations aside, he had to admit that the woman’s final comment had been haunting him for the past two days. You look so very much like your mother.

“What if our biological mother gave us up because she knew we were different?”

“We were infants,” Cassie argued. “How could she possibly have known?”

Hawk brushed one thumb over his sister’s ashen cheek. “That’s what I’m going to find out.”

Chapter 2

“Hey, there’s someone here to see you.”

Sheryl looked up from her chore as Cory stuck his head into the room. She never knew what color her young part-time helper’s hair would be. This week it was black. And spiked. Odd appearance aside, the teenager was wonderful with animals. Sheryl’s patients didn’t seem to mind what his hairstyle was like. They also didn’t mind that his pants usually hung so loose on his narrow hips they looked like they were about to fall to the floor.

“A drop-in?” she asked.

“Not exactly. He’s an inspector or something. He has a clipboard and a business card. I told him he could wait in your office.”

Sheryl’s heart sank. Just what she needed! There was bound to be something in this old building that wasn’t up to code. “I’ll be right there.”

“He’s kinda nice lookin’, for an old guy,” Cory added with a grin. “Maybe you shouldn’t leave him waiting too long.” He wagged his eyebrows suggestively.

“Not you, too!”

“Not me, too, what?” Cory asked, almost pulling off the innocent expression. “I’m just trying to, you know, fix you up. You’re hot, for an older woman. If you weren’t too old for me, I’d definitely ask you out.”

She’d never imagined that she’d be “too old” at twenty-six. “Cory, do you like your job?”


“Then I suggest you shut up.”

Cory locked his lips with nimble fingers and watched her work. Silently.

Sheryl finished with the small dog on the table, then handed it over to Cory for grooming.
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