Sisters of Prophecy, Ursula
What’s a girl to do? Katherine Shipton has a painting that talks, an ancestor who won’t stay in her own century, and a former boyfriend with a serious ax to grind against her new fiancé. She already has a full plate, but when said ancestor sends her tripping back and forth between the 15th and 21st century without benefit of psychedelic drugs, the poor girl begins to doubt her own sanity. Then her best friend, a high fashion model with more than her own share of psychic energy, and her troubleshooting aunt show up on her doorstep in response to a psychic SOS Katherine swears she didn’t send. Life couldn’t get more complicated. At least, that’s what she thinks until her oilman fiancé disappears in the Gulf of Mexico and a DEA agent knocks on her door.
Where to begin? This book has it all! Intrigue, love, scheming, plots, crossing, double-crossing. Loved it!
Katherine has always had pretty good instincts and her instincts drove her from an unsavory courtship and into the arms of the man that she knew without a doubt was her soul-mate. Quentin Ashland will not let her go that easily and poor Katherine doesn’t realize that his clients are still his clients even after his lawyer duties are done. He’s determined to get her back or at least make it so that she will come back.
All Katherine wants to do is paint and marry her love, Parker Drayton. The night before he leaves on a big business trip, she starts having dreams again. A dream drove her from Quentin and Tallahassee, but this one is different. This involves the past. Katherine is going to find out very soon about her past and that instinct that she has counted on all her life. Her past and that of her ancestors is just as important as her future. She will learn that without a past you have no future. Her past and her future will collide and she has to make sure the right path is taken.
There are really two stories happening in this book. One has a modern setting and involves Katherine, Parker, and the people close to them. The other is about Katherine’s mysterious ancestor, Ursula, and takes place during the reign of England’s Henry VIII. Guided by a talking portrait and assisted by her best friend, Katherine needs to alter history’s natural course – or Ursula faces tragedy and Katherine will never have been born. Even though she definitely feels like she’s been thrown into the deep end without knowing how to swim, it is imperative for Katherine to find a way to help Ursula and then return to solve the problems that face her in her own time.
For such a short book, there is a lot going on. There’s drama with Katherine’s newfound psychic abilities, drama with Katherine’s ex-fiancee who makes a sudden reappearance in her life, drama with the danger that Parker must face, and drama surrounding Katherine’s friend Sylvia, who has her own secrets. While this keeps the book very exciting, some readers may find it to be too scattered and lacking the more subtle development that can really separate the good from the great.
I think it is also worth noting that this book is clearly meant to be part of a larger series. I don’t know if readers should expect the same cast of characters to appear, but I wouldn’t eliminate the possibility, and that may help further develop characters that were introduced in this book. For readers with strong opinions, rest assured that there is a real ending to the book (not a cliffhanger), but you’ll need to read the book to find out if it’s happy or not.
I am rating this book 3 out of 4 stars. It was quick, but it was also exciting and interesting. I think many readers will find it enjoyable and a good read for a sunny afternoon or an evening indoors. It’s definitely a fast read, and it will entertain without eating away your entire day.
Sisters of Prophecy, Ursula
Semi-tropical breezes and swaying palms danced with the moonbeams bouncing off white-caps. Katherine Shipton tilted her head and the scent of salt water tickled her nostrils.
“I could stay out here forever.” She shook her head and a mass of dark brown hair tumbled over her shoulders.
A pair of tanned arms tightened around her waist.
“I hope I’m invited.”
“This place is like an ad copy for Paradise.”
“Paradise is anywhere as long as you’re there.”
“Hey, that’s my line!”
He pulled her closer.
Funny how life could change in the space of a heartbeat. Six months ago she’d been in Tallahassee, engaged to another man. Now here she was on the balcony of a Tampa Bay beach house in the arms of her dream lover—jet black hair, smoky blue eyes and a smile that would melt ice.
“Care to share the thoughts that are giving you that glow?”
Her eyes sparkled. “Let me show you.”
* * *
“If this is a dream, please let me sleep forever.” Parker wrapped his arms around Katherine’s back and rolled her on top of him. Her dark hair fell forward, framing her face and flowing across his white pillowcase. Her breasts heaved from their exertions and her brown eyes glinted golden.
“Mmmm!” She licked her lips.
Parker laughed. “I’ve got to leave early in the morning and we both need some sleep.”
“You can’t be cold.”
“No. Just—I hate you being gone for two weeks.”
“You could come with me, you know.”
“You’re going on a business trip. You and your dad are cramming meetings on top of meetings. You don’t need me along to worry about. Besides, I’ve got work to do myself.”
Katherine’s reputation as an up-and-coming artist had skyrocketed since her move to Tampa Bay, another sign she’d made the right decision. As if running straight into Parker Drayton’s arms wasn’t enough. Because that’s what she’d done, literally. They’d collided in the sliding glass doorway of Macy’s a month after her move, shopping bags flying everywhere. And the rest, as they say, was history and just went to prove the ironies of life. One of Katherine’s niggling concerns during her engagement to Tallahassee attorney Quentin Ashland was the horror of being thought a gold-digger—a starving artist marrying a successful lawyer from an old southern family for money. Maybe because in the back of her mind, she’d been afraid it was true.
So what did she do? Without caring a damn what anyone thought, she’d tumbled head-over-heels in love with Parker Drayton, heir to Drayton International, a three generation Texas oil family.
“It’s not like you’d be in a hotel room or anything. It’s the family home in Houston. You could come out with me and set up a studio just the way you wanted it, God knows that house has plenty of unused rooms. So you’d have one here and one there.”
Parker ran the Tampa Bay operations for Drayton International, specializing in the company’s Gulf oil projects. Justin Drayton, Parker’s father and patriarch of the family, stayed in Houston and ran central operations from there. A lot of their deals were the complicated kind, ones that required both of them to put it through. Parker traveled a great deal, Katherine knew that. It was a small price to pay for the gift of her perfect man. She’d go with him when she could, stay in place without complaint when she couldn’t.
“I’ll do that. But later. Right now I’ve got a couple of canvases already in progress, one with a really tight deadline I’ll never meet if I let you whisk me off to Houston.”
“Maybe you could surprise me when I got back. Like maybe finish that painting you’ve kept under wraps ever since you set up your studio here and show it to me.”
“Or not. Artistic temperament and all that, yeah, I get it. Let’s go to sleep.”
* * *
Katherine flew through darkness. Dream darkness. Toward something. Sound barely audible coalesced and rose in volume, forming words. Beneath these gray stone walls I stand, an ancient gypsy king… The darkness lightened into shades of gray and a tower loomed.
A boat approached the tower. Inside, a woman, in Katherine’s likeness. Not her, but near enough to be of her lineage. Floating over the woman, Katherine watched. A man, dressed as an ancient workman, fixed the boat against the steps leading up to the looming tower. Reaching down, he helped the woman from the boat, and pulled her toward a dark stairwell.
Another, in uniform, nodded to the oarsman, and took the woman’s hand. His flickering torch gave barely enough light for the woman to make her way up the stone steps as she groped along behind him. The steps crumbled, and twice the woman almost fell when her feet slipped on the damp stone.
A fierce roar sounded in the night and Katherine knew it as a lion. The guard stopped in front of a scarred wooden door, and pushed it inward. The flicker from his torch revealed a small barren chamber, with scant furnishing and a stone floor. Against the wall stood a crude bed with a single bed covering. The guard motioned the woman inside. She stumbled across the room and sank onto the bed. The guard used his torch to light a single candle. Then without a word, turned and left the cell.
The woman curled into herself. Great sobs shook her body.
Katherine floated back out into the courtyard. Standing in the corner an old man, dressed in the garb of a medieval gypsy, chanted.
“With heavy heart I bear the words of cruelest Mary Queen…”
Mary Queen? Tower? The scene changed in an instant, dream-fashion. Now she floated back to the cell. The same rough cot and threadbare blanket covered a still figure.
“These words I take in sorrow drear unto a lady fair…”
On cue, the woman rose from the cot and entered her dreams. Nobility for certain, possibly even royalty. Her time in the cell had dulled her eyes and matted her hair but yes, the chant was right. She’d been a lady fair. She would be so again, given fresh air and sunshine.
A lady who from birth was blest with visions strange but rare…
The door of the cell opened and the old gypsy entered the cell.
“Tarot! My dear, dear friend! How good it is to see you!” The lady ran into his arms, and he held her to his breast.
“My grandmother. My husband and son. Is there news?”
“Your grandmother is well and fights ceaselessly for your release. Your husband—there’s been no news from Russia. Except that he pleads for intercession from the Russian Court.”
She smiled sadly. “I can just imagine how much he pleads. He is afeard he’ll be tainted with the same brush that’s painted me.”
“No, Milady! He is doing all he can.”
“Tarot, dear friend, ’tis a very bad liar you are, but I love you for it. Prince Frederick makes no effort on my behalf. He has abandoned me. As have all, in the face of the Queen’s disfavor. All but you and Grandmother. And I bear them no ill for such. ’Tis asking too much to expect them to stand with me and risk a charge of witchcraft.” She shrugged. “And for the prince, a chance to rid himself of a disappointing wife who only bore him one son.”
“Oh, Milady! It hurts me so to hear you speak as though resigned to fate.”
“Dear friend. Do not despair. My heart has always belonged to another, that fate sealed from childhood. If only I’d been stronger, surer! If only I’d followed my heart and run away with my Toby when—”
She broke off, her face losing all expression.
“Milady? What—a vision! ’Tis a vision you’re seeing. Cease fighting them! Use them! Use the power!”
“I—Tarot, someone’s watching us.”
“Watching? I bribed the guards well. They have no cause to—”
“No, not the guards! Someone from—someone not here. Someone who sees us, who knows me. Knows me in her soul. Someone who can—dare I say it? Someone who can help me! Help me change the start of this disastrous path!”
In her dream, Katherine tried to leave, to get away. Enough of this misery that wasn’t hers. Except it was. Somehow it was hers.
“Oh, please! Please don’t leave! Help me! Help us!”
“How?” The dream Katherine spoke. “How do I help you?”
“I cannot tell you!”
“Then what am I supposed to do?”
“The portrait! Yes, I see it. There’s a painting, a painting yet unfinished! ’Twill show you the way! It must show you the way, or you will never be.”
“Milady? Your vision speaks to you?”
“The portrait! The portrait will know!”
The portrait will know…the portrait will know…the portrait will know…
The words followed Katherine back through the depths of the dream and echoed in her ears when she woke, gasping into wakefulness.
* * *
“I’m okay. Just give me a minute.”
“You’re shaking.” Parker wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. “Bad dream?”
“I don’t know. A lady in a tower. That painting I’ve never shown you. An old gypsy and a chant.” She shuddered.
“It’s just a dream. Try to relax, let yourself fall back to sleep. I’m sorry I ever mentioned that damn painting. Must have been what triggered this.”
Parker adjusted the cover over them and slept again within minutes. She didn’t. This dream…. She’d never had one like it. Except once. Not the same dream, but the same sense of urgency, of hidden messages of great import. The dream that sent her flying from Tallahassee and Quentin Ashland. Well, not the dream itself; that wasn’t quite right. The dream coupled with the painting under the canvas Parker had never seen. The painting that seemed to—move. The painting that spoke.
* * *
Katherine stared at the wrapped canvas on the easel. She’d been staring at it for two hours, ever since Parker had left for the airport and Houston. It hadn’t moved, it hadn’t spoken. It was an abandoned work in progress and nothing to be scared of, just the painting she’d started as a gift to her grandmother. An artist’s recreation of a family legend her grandmother loved and repeated at every opportunity.
Katherine had cut her teeth on that legend. Probably literally. She didn’t even remember the first time she’d heard it; that’s how long ago it had been.
Kitty-Kat, there’s a very special lady back in your family tree. A lady with the gift of prophecy. Her name was Ursula but people called her Mother Shipton. She helped sick people and sad people. Legend says she foretold great wonders, lots of things that’ve come true.
Was she your grandmamma, Grandma?
Lord, no, child, she lived many, many, many years ago. Four hundred years ago, in a time when kings and queens ruled. And that gift of prophecy… it’s passed down through the years to the women in our family, our gift from her, our legacy. Our connection.
Katherine smiled at the memory. She’d never believed the stories, but she’d loved them, just like she loved her grandmother. What better present for a milestone eightieth birthday than a portrait of Mother Shipton? Katherine had researched her infamous ancestor just as soon as she’d been old enough to work her way around the internet, and it had been easy to confirm that though it might be debatable whether Mother Shipton and her prophecies had ever existed or not, the legend sure did.
She’d gotten the rough outline charcoaled in, Mother Shipton by her famous well, in front of her famous cave. Then she’d picked up the paintbrush. And Quentin had chosen that exact moment to come up behind and put his arms around her.
“Damn, honey, what the hell made you think of that for a painting? Who’s going to want an ugly, wrinkled, old crone?”
First faint tingle of dislike.
“Excuse me? Some of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known are old and wrinkled. There’s great beauty in age. Wisdom. Life well lived.”
“Well, you’re an artist, after all. Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder and all that.”
“You won’t want me when I’m old and wrinkled?”
“Hell, no. Goin’ to trade you in for a newer model.” He laughed. “Just jokin’. Of course I’ll want you when you’re old and wrinkled.”
In that instant, she’d known. Known the truth. Liar. No, you’re not joking and yes, you’d trade me in. In a heartbeat. His touch suddenly felt slimy. Unclean. She’d shrugged off his arms.
“Don’t you have a trial to go get ready for?”
“I don’t get ready for trials, sugar, I just make deals. It’s not how much law you know, it’s who you know. And what you know about the jury pool.”
“Well, I have a painting to work on. As a present. For my grandmother.”
“And that’s called ‘go away and leave me alone for awhile’, huh?”
“Yeah. It is.”
“Okay, okay, no need to get bitchy about it.”
“And close the door, please.”
She stood for a moment after the click of the closing door, trying to re-center herself, to get rid of the sudden, intense dislike she felt for the man she was planning to marry, the man she’d lived with for the past year. And how? How had she been living with him for a year if his chance comment could trigger such a feeling of revulsion?
She squared her shoulders. Nobody liked everybody all the time. Of course he hadn’t meant those cruel comments; he just hadn’t been thinking. And of course he was a good lawyer who knew the law, he didn’t just rely on who he knew. Or what he knew about the prospective jurors. Did he?
She turned her attention back to the portrait. Mother Shipton’s hand moved and she wagged her finger at Katherine.
Well, my lassie, it’s a fine churl ye’ve taken into your bed this time, it is! Don’t you have even a wee bit of the sight in those eyes of yours? Ye’ve got not a drop from me at all?
Katherine dropped the brush and backed away from the canvas. Slowly. Very slowly. She walked over to her canvas coverings and grabbed one, never taking her eyes off the portrait. She approached the painting once again. Then she ducked around behind the easel and threw the draping over the portrait, pulled it tight, grabbed the butcher’s string she kept handy, and tied it up.
That night images from a Tarot deck flashed through her dreams. A rider on horseback who was Death. A woman on a throne, The High Priestess. An upside down man suspended from a tree branch, The Hanged Man. And with every other card the same symbol appeared and re‑appeared. The horned goat man. The Devil.
Memories of Quentin’s touch filled her with revulsion. She’d awakened the next morning and knew she had to get out of there. She’d boxed up all her paintings and supplies, packed her suitcases and borrowed a friend’s van. She rented a storage unit and made trip after trip to the unit until all her belongings and all her work was out of Quentin’s house. Then she’d made a visit to Quentin’s office. She couldn’t tell him by phone or note that she was leaving him. It had to be face to face. It hadn’t been pleasant, but she’d never regretted what she’d done those last two days in Tallahassee.
That had been six months ago. She’d accepted an offer she’d been mulling over from a well‑respected Tampa Bay Gallery and fled Tallahassee and everything Quentin represented the minute she’d tied up details with her former Gallery.
She’d packed the portrait of Mother Shipton away in a closet of the Tampa Bay beach house. It was her home now. Any house was home with Parker.
She hadn’t thought about the portrait since she’d moved in, not until last night—that dream. So real, the lady in the tower. The portrait knows…the portrait knows….. Right after Parker mentioned it, she’d changed the subject, but it must have stuck in her subconscious.
What was it about these dreams? The same theme. Danger. She knew that, somewhere deep in her soul. Mother Shipton’s blood? Oh, please. Of course not. Just primal instinct. But the first time the warning had been specific. Danger. From Quentin? She didn’t understand it, but she knew. What else would have made her bolt and run? This time, though—help us! You must or you will never be… What the hell was that all about? Would Mother Shipton tell her? She sure as hell hadn’t been shy about telling her last time. Even though it hadn’t really been Mother Shipton at all, of course, just her subconscious beginning to knit together bits and pieces of this and that, weaving a pattern of reality into the pretty fantasies of Quentin and the man she pretended he was, when in fact, he wasn’t.
Well, only one way to find out.
She approached the portrait and reached for the scissors to cut the string. Her phone rang. And her heart clenched. Quentin’s ringtone. The one for his office number. She’d changed her number when she left Tallahassee, but she hadn’t taken him off her contact list, not his cell, not his office. Not because she hoped he’d call—no, that good-bye scene hadn’t been pretty at all—but because she wanted to know if he did call. If, in fact, he’d actually go to the trouble to find her new number. Which wouldn’t take a lot, of course. She was an artist, she had business cards and she had to distribute her contact number. Still, Tampa Bay was a good ways from Tallahassee.
Answer it? Don’t answer it? Hell, this was Quentin. Might as well get it over with. Because if he wanted to talk to her, he wouldn’t stop calling until he did.
“Well, well, she lives and breathes. Even if she hates the thought of talkin’ to me so bad she changed her number.”
“Didn’t take much for you to find it, though.”
“No, it didn’t, did it? The new little darlin’ of the avant art-fart circle.”
“You phoned to call me names?”
“No, I called to congratulate you. Nice move. A Drayton. You must’ve had him waiting in the wings. Why settle for a lawyer’s lifestyle when you can jet-set? Great pictures of you, by the way. The elegant artist and the rugged good-looking cowboy. The paparazzi have been busy. You two’ve been keeping them real happy.”
Damn. Of course he knew. The Draytons were movers and shakers, no way news of her engagement hadn’t hit the social circles all over Florida and Texas and probably quite a few other places, too.
“I didn’t even know him when I left Tallahassee, Quentin, I’d never met him.”
“You are such a good liar. Always were.”
“Actually, I’m a very bad liar. Which is why I broke it off as soon as I realized we were making a mistake. So if there’s nothing else, let’s say good-bye, okay?”
“Oh, darlin’. We’ll say good-bye for now. But I’m sure we’ll be running into each other. Frequently. I might not be in Drayton’s league but I ain’t bush league. I’m sure we’ll end up at some of the same parties. And don’t worry. I won’t tell anybody you’ve got a radar for money. Won’t tell Parker what a hot little whore you can be in bed either.’ Cause I’m sure you don’t cut loose with him the way you did with me. Be too afraid of ruinin’ that image I’m sure you’re trying to maintain.”
“How very considerate of you. And don’t worry. I won’t tell any of your clients your secrets of practicing law. As in it doesn’t matter if a lawyer knows the law, just as long as he knows the right people. And some dirt on the jurors, of course. Good-bye, Quentin. Don’t call me again.”
Her finger was moving to the end button when his laughter chilled her bones. “That wouldn’t bother my clients much, darlin’. Not at all. Because a good lawyer also knows where the bodies are buried. You take care now, you hear?”
Katherine pocketed her phone and cut the string on the portrait. She yanked off the coverings.
“Okay, Mother Shipton. If you really talked to me before—now’s the time to talk again.”