Deeper Than Perfect - NICE Excerpt
Copyright © Afton Locke, 2015
Sweat broke out across her chest. “I believe I resemble one of his girlfriends a little.”
“More than a little,” he argued. “And Desi wasn’t any old girlfriend. She was the love of his life. His soul mate.”
“Really?” The ground seemed to shift under her feet. She felt more haunted the longer she stayed here. Part of her longed to hear the complete story of Bernie’s love affair and the other part was too terrified to listen.
Calvin wiped his forehead. “They were only together a month, but they were joined tighter than Siamese twins. They even died together. Can’t get more romantic than that.”
She’d read about the deadly car crash—another odd coincidence to add to the mounting list. Hers hadn’t been deadly, but sometimes she wished it had.
“You look as pretty as she did.” He tweaked the edge of her scarf. “You shouldn’t hide your face. No wonder you’re overheated.”
She gripped his fingers, but she was too late. His pleasant features recoiled in the usual horror, which hit her harder than a slap to the face.
“My God.” He clapped his hand over his mouth. “Oh, I’m sorry. I mean—”
She yanked the scarf back into place. “It’s all right.”
He stared at his feet. “W-well, the bus leaves in fifteen minutes.”
Desiree’s eyes stung with tears. She’d been a total idiot to travel here, believing she could escape her nightmare. For some reason, the burden weighed especially heavy in this place, and wearing a scarf in the heat was the least of it.
Most of the tour group had already boarded the bus. She stared at the left corner post of the porch, realizing this was her last opportunity to touch it.
Might as well get it over with.
Would her clothes travel with her through time? What about her purse? Roxanne should have given her an instruction manual. Just in case, she shoved her driver’s license, money, and smart phone into her pockets. They’d probably be useless in Bernie’s era, but because she was so used to having them, they gave her a strange sense of security.
Drawing a shaky breath, she pressed her left hand against the wrought iron, so warm from the sun it almost burned her. Her fingers gravitated toward the openings in the metal.
It was a good thing she held onto something because the green, tropical surroundings spun around her, faster and faster. Bands of nausea tightened, squeezing her forehead and her belly. What was going on?
“Help me,” she whispered, too weak to talk.
Was the metal poisonous? What had that crazy psychic gotten her into? Finally, her hand slipped free of the post and she crumpled to the ground.
“Are you okay, miss?”
She recognized that voice. Desiree rubbed her forehead and rose with the man’s assistance.
Returning to help her was nice of him, but when had he changed into a bright-orange shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest? And why did he appear so young? His hair was all black and his face was wrinkle-free.
She brushed the loose grass off her white shorts and flowered, sleeveless blouse. Her purse must have been flung off during her fall because it was nowhere in sight. Her shorts pockets, however, rustled with everything she’d shoved into them.
Had she passed out for a while after her fall? She’d touched the post in mid-afternoon. Now, it was evening. Funky soul music pulsed through the air. Some kind of party was in progress, but she didn’t recognize anyone from the tour group.
Each guest wore clothes from the seventies. Not to mention the hair. She’d never seen so many Afros except on classic TV shows. Was this a reenactment? If the party was part of the tour, why had everyone headed back to the bus earlier?
“Did Bernie invite you?” Calvin asked her.
How could he when he was dead? “I-I don’t know.”
“If not, I’m sure he’ll want to meet you.” He looked her up and down with an appreciative smile.
Wait a minute. Why didn’t he recoil in horror as he had before?
He pointed to a table under a palm tree. “Help yourself to the punch and refreshments over there.”
Desiree took a huge breath, relieved when the man left. She needed some time alone to figure out the situation. By habit, her left hand drifted to her cheek to smooth her scarf and ensure it lay in place. With so many people around, she wanted to make sure her scars stayed completely hidden.
The scarf was gone! She searched the ground around her but found no trace of it. How could she lose something so important? She slapped her palm over her cheek. Why did her skin feel so smooth?
Needing to see her face, she walked to the refreshment table and stared into the punchbowl. The candles didn’t provide much light, but from what she saw reflected in the ruby-red liquid, those wretched scars were gone.
She was healed! The psychic knew her stuff after all. In the mood to celebrate, she poured herself a cup of punch. Now, she could return home and resuscitate her modeling career.
A male laugh distracted her from her celebratory mood. The sound resonated with the enticing rasp she’d heard in so many songs. In slow motion, she turned her head.
Bernie Benson stood with a group of other men, laughing and joking. Plenty of attractive women buzzed around him, too. Desiree stared in disbelief at the lithe, athletic frame and kissable caramel-colored skin of her dreams. He wore bell bottom jeans, and the matching vest with no shirt showed off the muscular definition in his arms.
Wow! This tour was worth a lot more than she’d paid. Where in the world had they found someone who looked and sounded like the late singer?
“That concert was far out,” one guy told him.
“The ladies sure dug it,” Calvin added. “You were the best ever, brother.”
After some jovial high fives, Bernie’s dark eyes glanced in her direction and locked onto her. She ducked her head, piled some chips on a plate to busy herself, and took a big swallow of the strongly spiked punch.
This was too bizarre. The good-looking man couldn’t be him. Maybe he was one of his relatives. She sensed his approach, and the cells in her body went on full alert. When a firm grip encircled her arm, she couldn’t suppress a gasp.
“You’re crashing my party.”
Turning, she faced the man who’d spoken to her. His hair, a bushy lion’s mane of indistinct spikes, cast exotic shadows on the candlelit table. Heat raced through her, melting everything in its path.
Seeing him so close dissolved all her doubts. He was Bernie. Time slowed to a crawl as she explored the planes of his lean face with her eyes. The tiny scar through his eyebrow.... His expression.... His voice.... Nobody could possibly duplicate all those things.
One of the stories she’d read on the Internet leaped to mind. Bernie had met Desi at a party after one of his concerts in May of 1974. Apparently, he’d jokingly accused her of crashing it. According to rumor, their passionate love affair began that night.
Or tonight? My God. Am I Desi?
“What year is this?” she blurted out.
“It’s 1974.” He eyed her cup of punch with suspicion. “Maybe you should go easy on that. It’s strong.”
So are my emotions. Not to mention my hormones.
“Is it really you, Bernie?” she whispered.
“In the flesh.”
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