Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters

Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters – Chapter Seven

Well now my lovely people, it’s time for another installment of Jen Winter’s short story, Dragonswan Sisters. I’m sad to say that currently this is the last one available. I think Jen needs to write a little bit more, don’t you think? 🙂 Her website can be found here.

The atmosphere of the mansion pressed in on Gretchen, suffocating her in her own home. The staff were heavy-hearted. The girl who had been murdered was a favorite among them, popular for her kindness and generosity. She had only been with the family for a few months, but in that time she had taken her place in their hearts.

Gretchen had decided to keep the mansion open to tours, rerouting them to circumvent the main hall. It was imperative for the Dragonswans that the tours continued. The yearly sacrifice had to be made, regardless of the crime that had taken place, but she wished that they all could take the time to grieve.

In her study, she was able to find some solace from the heaviness in the halls. She sat on her little loveseat next to a warm, crackling fire, and wrote in her journal. She’d kept a personal journal since her father had died, always addressing each entry to him. She had been closer to her father than her sisters had been. She had taken after him in her business savvy and they had worked together to train her to lead their company from the first time she asked to work with him when she was eleven. She missed him every day and the journal was her way of communicating with him in her heart.

A wisp of smoke from the fireplace escaped the flue and drifted into the study. When it began to gain mass, she knew who was coming. The man formed directly in front of her, taking a seat on the sofa beside her and grasping her hand. “I am so sorry, Getchen,” Long whispered sympathetically. “I should have taken care of that Rugner man instead of passing him off to you.”

Gretchen let him hold her hand, comforted by its almost fiery warmth. “Not at all. I told you we would take care of it, and we will. Is Peggy still alive?”

Long sighed. “She is, but I am forbidden from telling you more. You must, as always, decipher your own messages. I wish to help you, if you will allow me.”

Gretchen looked into his deep brown eyes. Behind the darkness, a fire raged, visible only to those who got close enough to see the god behind the human form. His face was both rugged and beautiful, with three long strands of black hair forming the lines of his mustache and beard. He kept his long hair braided, decorated with silk to keep it in place. His muscles tensed as Gretchen examined him, rippling beneath the red coat he wore instead of a shirt. She could almost image what he looked like without that coat on, but she had been resisting that urge since puberty, and old habits would not be replaced by one moment of compassion from him.

She looked away from him, breaking whatever spell had passed between them. “Thank you, but not yet. If we need you, may I call?”

Long suffered a sigh and nodded. “Of course, Getchen.”

Her hand was suddenly emptied and she was alone again.

***

Hey. You online? Maggie sat in her mother’s room with her laptop while her mother napped. This was a ritual for her. Everyday while her mother napped, she would get online and chat with Seraph228.

Always. How are you?

We had a break-in last night. One of my friends was killed.

Oh hell! Are you ok? Are your sisters ok? What about your mom? Tell me what happened, exactly.

Maggie fought back her tears as she explained everything she knew. It was the most difficult paragraph she had ever written in her life. She kept the details of the house and her identity secret. She and Seraph288 never exchanged identifying personal information.

Are the police doing their jobs?

Of course. As best they can. There was very little evidence left in the wake of the intruders. I think it might be a while before the police have enough leads or evidence to arrest anyone. We don’t exactly have a list of enemies in this tiny little town.

There was a long pause before her friend answered. So long, she thought he had lost his internet connection. She almost gave up when her laptop pinged his next message.

Do you want to meet? IRL?

Maggie stared at her screen until he pinged her again with a lone question mark.

I don’t know if that is a good idea.

I know it sounds scary, but we know each other. You need a real, live friend right now. This online crap isn’t good enough when you’ve lost someone.

Maggie couldn’t handle his proposal at that moment. She signed off and turned her laptop off. Rising from her seat, she left her mother’s room and went to the attic. She did not need another incident in her life and meeting a virtual stranger was the right way to go for that.

In the attic she sat at the altar, furiously grabbing herbs from the table and mixing them together with the pestle. She didn’t know what she was concocting, but she knew that mixing potions helped her refocus and calm herself. When she added a match to the mixture of herbs, it blazed with a green fire for a moment and then puffed out in a short plume of green smoke.

She looked down at her creation. It smelled of the unpleasant mixture of burned flesh and lotus flower. She knew from the scents what the potion would do. It was a new-life potion. It would magically save a person from death. It wouldn’t help her mother—no, the death would have to be inflicted, not natural. She put the potion into a vial and pocketed it; if she made it, she would need it for later.

With that grim thought in mind she turned to their scrying board, a three layered table with specific maps on each side of each layer. There was a map of the earth, without the distractions of country borders. Instead, it only had the latitude and longitude lines on it. There was also a map of North America, again with only the latitude and longitude lines. And then there was a map of just the United States, one of just Washington State, and one of Littleton. The last map was unrecognizable as such; it was a map of the heavens from the gods’ perspective. No Dragonswan had ever found use for it, but as a gift from their deity, Long, they never questioned its usefulness or accuracy.

Gretchen was the one with the affinity for scrying, but if the signal was strong enough, even Maggie could find what they were looking for. She sat in front of the table and turned up the map of Littleton, using a rose quartz crystal on a sterling silver chain to seek Peggy’s whereabouts. Closing her eyes she allowed the pendulum to hand freely, concentrating on the picture of Peggy in her head.

“What are you doing?” Margaret’s voice interrupted her concentration as the pendulum hung limply the map unwilling or unable to give Maggie a reading.

She sighed and slouched in her chair. “I was looking for Peggy.”

“Any luck?” Margaret asked, sitting next to her sister and putting an arm around her shoulders.

“No,” she sighed, leaning into her sister’s embrace. “We need to find her, Margaret. She’s too close to giving birth; this kind of stress might force her into labor.”

“Maybe we should call Gretchen up?” Margaret offered, pulling out her cell phone.

“No need.” Gretchen entered their attic sanctuary. “I’m here. I want to scry for Peggy first, if that’s ok. I think she is the most important here.”

Margaret and Maggie scooted over to give her room on the settee they sat on. “Of course,” they answered in unison.

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Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters

Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters – Chapter Six

It’s Monday, and though I dislike Monday because I can’t sleep in, I do enjoy it simply because I can share another chapter of Jen Winters story.  Last chapter was a tense one! Don’t forget to check out Jen’s website here.

It was almost 9 a.m. before the police left the Dragonswan manor. After interviewing everyone in the house, the police reported to Margaret their findings. Most importantly, Peggy was gone. Her room had been ransacked, there were bloodstains from the now shattered glass-top table and every indication she was dragged from the house through the kitchen and into the orchard. Secondly, their head of security for the night shift had been shot, and though still alive, was in critical condition.

Aside from those two casualties, the only other thing missing was the golden image of the dragon god, inlaid with rare and precious stones. It would have been impossible for a lone intruder to take a solid gold two foot statue. While it was priceless to the Dragonswans, the value of it was over forty-two million dollars and it weighed nearly 2500 pounds. The thieves would have had to have a mobile crane to move it, but why they would take a pregnant woman was beyond comprehension.

Margaret’s temper flared like a magnesium fire when the officer finished his initial report. Her normally calm exterior blazed with rage the likes of which she had never felt in her life. She stormed away from the flurry of activity, seeking refuge in the orchard, the only place in her life where she could always find peace.

Instead of peace, she found Ann, the reporter, staring at the first tree and the pedestal where the athame was placed during the tourist season.

“Miss Dragonswan!” Ann exclaimed as soon as she caught sight of her. “What’s happened in the manor? There were reports of a murder and I saw an ambulance.”

Margaret normally had endless patience for the press—one of the many reasons she was the face of the family’s apple empire—but today, of all days, Ann was the most unwelcome sight.

“Get out of here!” she screamed in her fury. “Get out! Get off my property! Stay the hell away from us!” She raised her hand toward the athame when Ann stood there instead of running, but two strong arms wrapped around her and pinned her against a hard chest.

“Leave now!” a deep voice commanded. His undeniable tone of authority spurred Ann into a quick jog back to the gates.

Margaret struggled to free herself, screaming for release, but the deep voice behind her only whispered, “Stop, Margaret, stop,” until she finally lost her energy and began to wilt into tears.

The arms turned her and she immediately buried her face into Detective VanCamp’s chest, wracked with pain and sobbing. VanCamp held her silently for as long as she needed him, stroking her long hair and holding her tightly. He knew exactly what was happening in her heart and he knew that there were no words that would comfort her.

When she had spent her last tear, and heaved her last sob, Margaret pulled away from VanCamp. She took the handkerchief he offered and wiped her blotchy, red face and her swollen eyes. She did not apologize nor look apologetic and neither did he. Instead, he took her hand in his and held it there, staring into her bright green eyes. The wordless conversation that passed between them told Margaret all she needed to know about Detective Don VanCamp: he was good to the core, troubled by death, and willing to do what it would take to find Peggy and bring her intruders to justice. She squeezed his hand tightly and kissed his cheek.

“Thank you,” she whispered, dropping his hand and turning away. She hadn’t slept since just after midnight and it was time for her to take care of her needs.

Detective VanCamp watched her go back into her home and then returned to his job. He hadn’t been called to the scene initially, but when he got in to work for his shift, his captain had sent him directly to the mansion. He’d only arrived in time to see Margaret disappear toward the orchard. His instincts had him follow her. When she went for the knife, he knew. He had grabbed her to stop her from doing anything to harm herself or the reporter. He knew that she must’ve been exhausted and overwhelmed. When he turned her toward him, he saw a look in her eye that told him everything he needed to know from her. No, she had not killed that woman—she wasn’t even on the suspect list as far as he was concerned. She was too raw, too heavy, too depleted to be a suspect. He knew that look, he’d seen it on the face of too many wives and mothers; he’d seen it in the mirror. That look and the years of grief counseling that went with it were the reason he had left Phoenix and moved to Littleton. This was supposed to be his new start. He’d picked a town with virtually zero violent crime on purpose.

And now he was in the thick of it again.

His tense strides took him quickly back to his car, but upon seeing several of the house staff leaving the manor, he decided to take a quick look inside. Unfortunately, no one was able to clean up the mess and until the detectives cleared the scene, there would be a bloody mess in the middle of their hall. Fortunately, he was the lead detective and he knew with a glance that there was nothing more they could get from going over it again. The CSI unit that had gone over it had come in from the city and had much more experience with this type of scene than the little, two-person unit that the Littleton police force employed on occasion.

He pulled his cell from his front shirt pocket and dialed his brother-in-law.

“Markson cleaning.” The crisp answer from his brother indicated the man was busy.

“It’s Don,” he greeted. “I need a referral.”

“Hey Don. How’s the quiet life?” his brother-in-law asked.

“Conspicuously unquiet,” Don sighed.

“I see. I guess you need a crime scene clean-up crew there?”

“You got it,” he answered.

“Give me a few minutes. I’ll call you back.”

“Thanks, man.”

VanCamp headed back to his car, stopping at the security gate on his way out. He’d familiarized himself with the man in the guard shack on his way in. “Hey, I need a copy of the personnel list for the house and grounds and I put in a call for a crime scene clean-up unit to come take care of the mess. I’ll give you a ring when I have a time.”

James nodded. “I have a list prepared now.” He handed a thick packet to the detective. “And I appreciate the call you made. Tell them we will take care of the bill here. No need to bother the sisters about it.”

Detective VanCamp perused the list. “You don’t have the Dragonswan family in here,” he noted.

James frowned at him. “They aren’t personnel. Would you also like a list of family?”

“Family and friends, if you can manage.”

James nodded. “It will take me a couple of hours, but I will have it on your desk before lunch.”

“Thank you, sir.” VanCamp started to put his car in gear again and stopped. He leaned back toward his passenger window and looked James in the eye. “Do you have anyone at the top of your suspect list?”

James’ jaw ticked, but he didn’t make any other indication of his thoughts. “I’ll make sure you get your list, Detective.” James flicked his eyes to the security camera.

Detective VanCamp understood his reluctance. The man did not want to be sued for slander. With a grunt of acknowledgement, VanCamp left the manor to go study the evidence and statements gathered by the night shift officers.

Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters

Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters – Chapter Five

Last week I was bad and I didn’t post the next part of Jen’s story. In my defense, I had just come back from a wonderful weekend of camping, and my brain was still in the powered off state. As per usual, if you’d like to visit Jen’s website, you can here.

And now on to the story!

Margaret awoke from a fleeting dream with a gasp. The bright night filtered into her bedroom like wisps of ominous fog through the gossamer curtains that hung in her bay windows. The green numbers on her digital clock told her that the night had only just begin. She should have been asleep still and for many hours yet.

Never one to ignore her instincts, Margaret slipped from her sheets and jogged quickly until she reached the attic at the top of her home. Yellow candlelight greeted her when she opened the door, revealing her sister, Gretchen, kneeling at the altar in deep meditation. The altar was atypical for what one would expect from pagan altars. A red brocade fabric with golden dragons woven in with silk thread draped a short table adorned with the athame of their people on a golden stand, a bowl and pestle, herbs of different varieties in small earthenware containers, an old, used book with ink and quill, and neatly folded, cotton kerchiefs stained yellow with time and tears. Stepping close, Margaret knelt and joined her sister. Within a minute, Maggie had come as well and knelt with them.

Joining hands and closing their eyes, the three sisters watched a scene play out before them. A wounded doe limped through a dense thicket followed by a terrified fawn, fleeing a savage lynx hunting her. The lynx wasted no time in catching the doe, but instead of killing her, the wild creature dragged the screaming animal out of the forest. The doe’s fawn trailed her, terrified of the dangers, but unable to stop itself from following. In moments, the lynx had the doe trapped; playing with her, torturing her; then the doe kicked out and caught the cat in the jaw. It wasn’t injured, but in a rabid rage, the lynx slaughtered the doe, slowing tearing her to shreds with long claws and sharp teeth, wringing out every ounce of pain the doe could withstand before she expired, cursing the fawn to its own slow death away from its mother.

The sisters returned from the vision simultaneously, dropping each other’s hands and wiping tears away with the sacred cloths that held every tear from Dragonswan eyes since the beginning of their family. Visions like this one pocked the family history. The youngest of the sisters, the hardest of them, gathered an old book and began writing the vision into it. It was a journal of every vision, every prophecy, every spell cast since the covenant the Matriarch of the Dragonswans cut with the Dragon.

Margaret gathered Maggie into her arms. She was the most sensitive and intuitive of the three and visions of death affected her more than the other two. Gretchen wrote in detail everything the sisters had shared. She left out nothing; not the scent of the thicket, nor the warmth of the blood. Margaret sat and held her sister until the shudders subsided and then let her go.

“We will need to discover the doe and the lynx,” she said aloud, but she knew from the beginning of the vision who the characters in it were. Peggy and the abusive Junior Rugner were the only two that fit into it.

Her sisters read her like a book. “You already know,” Gretchen stated, stopping her writing and looking up.

Margaret smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “I fear it is Peggy and Mr. Rugner,” she admitted to their inquiring eyes.

Maggie sniffled, wiping her nose and blotting her tears again. “If that is so, she is in more danger now than she was before she accepted our hospitality. Perhaps we should put a guard on her?”

Gretchen nodded. “Agreed. I’ll call Max and have him come over first thing tomorrow.”

Margaret sighed. “I think I am going to go sleep on the poor girl’s couch tonight. I have an ominous feeling, my dears.”

Maggie stood. “I will join you. We can sleep in shifts,” she said, tenderly placing the sacred cloths back on the altar for the next time Dragonswan tears were shed in this room.

Gretchen held out her hands to her sisters. “Shall I scry anyway? It seems a waste to not try, just in case.”

Margaret squeezed Gretchen’s hand. “Yes, of course. If you should come upon a different outcome than we expect—”

“You will know first,” Gretchen assured her.

Margaret kissed her sister’s cheek and led Maggie down to the guest suite, arm-in-arm. “How is mother?” she asked dutifully. Though she had spent the evening with her mother, the nights were sometimes bad for her.

“She is sleeping tonight. I insisted she take a dose of sleeping medication and she agreed without much trouble. I think your visit helped her spirit this evening.”

Margaret sighed happily. “I am glad. Are you better now? I know only a few hours isn’t enough, but I hope you took the time to refresh yourself as much as possible.”

Maggie laughed quietly. “It was nice to relax for a little while. I took a bubble bath and read a book I wouldn’t want mother seeing me read.”

“That smut you love would get you into trouble with her!” Margaret laughed loudly, her voice echoing through the halls.

Something crashed, startling both women.

“Shit!” the whispered expletive raced through the house as if it were abandoned. The male voice it came from was not familiar to either woman.

As one, they darted toward the intruder, Margaret banging on every door they passed to awaken anyone in the house. They had servants quarters on the second floor along with the guest suite. It helped to keep a few household staff on site. As they ran toward Peggy’s room, a window broke, and shattered glass tinkled through the halls to them. Suddenly a scream resounded causing both women to redouble their pace. Within a few seconds, the scream stopped and moments after that, Maggie and Margaret stopped short at the top of the stairs that led to the first floor hall.

In a pile of awkward limbs, blood pooling all around, a maid in her nightdress looked blankly through dead eyes, her neck twisted around and broken.

Margaret immediately turned Maggie away—doctor or not, she did not need to see the nightmare of death at the bottom of their stairs. As soon as the other servants were in sight, Margaret put her hands in the air. “Stop! None of you move!”

Frozen in place by more than just her words, the staff looked at her with fear and dread filling their eyes. When she addressed them again, she gave them orders to pair up, to call the police and detective Van Camp and to get the rest of the household to gather in the Margaret’s suite. She sent Maggie with the oldest of the women to care for her and then stood guard over the body of the dead girl until the police arrived.

Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters

Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters – Chapter Four

Well hello Monday. To what do I owe the pleasure of you visit? Oh, another chapter in Jen’s story? Why yes please! And as always, you can visit Jen’s site here.

Under the billowing white tents, Margaret sat listening to the interviews Detective Van Camp conducted with the guests. She found it intriguing how the same event could be related in so many ways with so many variations. Fifteen different people could remember the same event with little details changing from person to person. One man even confused the gender of the pregnant woman saying she was a beer-bellied man. Margaret tried not to laugh at that interview, but she couldn’t stop the amusement smile on her pinkish lips.

“Miss Dragonswan.” The voice of a child drew her attention away from the interviews.

She turned to the little girl dressed in her princess Halloween costume. “Yes, young lady?”

“My brother says you’re a witch with magical powers,” the girl stated, matter-of-factly sitting in the adjoining chair as she pointed to a pre-teen boy enjoying the bounty of the tables.

Margaret smiled and leaned close. “Can you keep a secret?” she asked with a mischievous smile.

The girl leaned in to meet her with wide brown eyes. “Yes,” she whispered.

“I am a witch with magical powers,” Margaret whispered back, holding out her hand to the girl.

The girl watched as Margaret’s empty hand suddenly filled with the prettiest apple the girl had ever seen. “This is a magical apple. If you eat it, you will never get sick ever again.”

“Really?” the girl whispered in awe.

“Yes. Do you know that old rhyme: an apple a day keeps the doctor away?”

“But not the dentist!”

Margaret laughed. “True. This apple is the reason that little rhyme exists. This apple will keep the doctors away because you won’t ever get sick if you eat it.”

“I’ve been sick a lot. My mom said it’s because I have a weak immune system. I think it’s because I ate dirt when I was a baby. I don’t eat dirt anymore, but I still get sick.”

“Would you like this apple?” Margaret asked, offering the girl her gift.

She slowly took the apple from Margaret’s hand. “Can I eat it?”

“Eat it right now before the magic disappears in it,” Margaret encouraged her, feeling free and happy, just like the little girl.

The girl immediately took a huge bite, happily chewing away at the flesh of the beautiful fruit.

“Anna!” her mother called.

Anna jumped up, hugged Margaret and ran off to her mother.

Margaret smiled after the girl, waving at her mother before resuming her listening to the detective and his interviews. He was a smart looking man with his pressed clothes and bolo tie. She’d only ever seen bolos in the movies, he was the first man she’d ever seen wearing one. She was surprised to discover she liked them, especially on him. He made it work and it fit his straight-laced personality well. She could imagine painting him as he stood there with notepad in hand and a slightly pained expression in his eyes. He obviously didn’t want to be here, but he was the type of man who thoroughly completed his job.

Margaret wondered if she could get him to stand in the orchard for a few hours on a day off. He would make a wonderful model and she thought him in the sunlight with a hat and his bolo tie would be beautiful. Imagining him in a contraposto pose brought up the image of him as the Duke: tall, broad, hips adroit, shoulders at ease. He would make a magnificent model.

She was still imaging him in a cowboy hat and boots when he walked back to her after the interview. She was staring as she made mental notes about his gait, so when her eyes made their way back to him face, he was blazing red in the cheeks.

“Miss Dragon-swan, I believe I am finished here,” he said, stuttering on her name.

She gracefully rose. “Are you satisfied with the interviews?” she asked. “Any surprises I should know about?”

“None at all. I might require your witness statement if the DA decides to pursue Mr. Rugner for filing a false police report,” he regained his composure when the subject of conversation was his job.

“I will be happy to oblige, of course. Is there anything else you need from us?” she asked as they made their way back to the main house.

“No, ma’am. I am set. Thank you for your time and hospitality.”

“If your business with us is concluded, may I ask you something more personal?” She only paused long enough for him to not be able to answer. “Would you like to come back when you are off the clock? I want to paint you in my orchard. You would make a lovely model for a period piece. I think an old western motif would suit you so well.”

Don Van Camp’s cheeks heated again. “No, thank you. I don’t think—” he stumbled on his words and cleared his throat. “I can see myself to my car. Thank you Miss Dragonswan. You’ll hear from me if there is anything else.”

He made tracks for the car in the driveway, barely taking the time to glance back at her, standing there with her tulle skirt wafting back and forth in the cool autumn breeze.

Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters

Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters – Chapter Three

It’s Monday and you know what that means… another installment of Jen Winters’ story. Whoo-hoo! And, of course, you can always visit her blog here.

Margaret had just made it to the kitchen when her phone rang. “What is going on?” she asked the security guard who had taken James’ place.

“The police are here,” he informed her. “The officer is driving to the front now.”

Margaret gave her sister a wrinkled nose. “Did you invite the police?” she asked curiously.

“No. Do you want me to handle it?” Gretchen asked as she got the canning jars ready for the apple jelly she had made.

“No, darling, I’m the face of this operation. I will deal with it. I suppose it’s about Peggy anyway.” She sighed and left the wondrous smells of the kitchen to attend to the guest they were about to have.

The doorbell rang throughout the house, a chiming mantra of health and vitality, before Margaret had time to walk to the foyer. One of the house staff invited the officer in, giving Margaret a chance to see him before he saw her. He was dressed in creased jeans, black hiking boots, a pressed blue button-up and a bolo tie. He had kind brown eyes and gave the servant a charming smile.

“Hello, officer,” Margaret called, approaching him in her always ethereal manner. “What can I help you with?”

“Detective Don VanCamp, and you are?” The officer asked, holding out a firm hand to her.

She shook his strong, calloused palm. “Margaret Dragonswan. Are you new to the department?”

Don nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I just moved here from Arizona. We had a domestic disturbance call at the station. A man claimed you kidnapped his wife right in front of him about half an hour ago.”

Margaret laughed. “You must mean Peggy. We did not kidnap her, she cut herself and I offered to have our house doctor have a look. She’s pregnant and I didn’t want to take any chances with her. So, she and I left the kitchen. Apparently her husband created quite a row when we left and we had to escort him off the property. Peggy is still here. Would you like to see her?”

“Yes, ma’am, I think that would be for the best right now.” Don’s straight-laced demeanor didn’t change with Margaret’s laughter or explanation.

“Follow me,” she invited, momentarily pulling on his shirt-sleeve as she turned to the stairs that led to the second-floor guest suite.

He walked silently behind her, the only accompaniment to their walk the brisk echo of their footfalls. She knocked on the door to the guest rooms and waited, giving the detective an airy smile. “I imagine the doctor is still with her. She may need a moment to compose herself if something was amiss.”

Don acknowledged her with a nod and knocked again. “Forgive me if I don’t take your word for it.”

Margaret shrugged her small shoulders. “I am suspect, of course.”

The door opened and Peggy appeared, tying the strings of a robe around her belly. “Sorry. I was just redressing. Come in,” she said, stepping back for them.

Margaret followed Don in, noticing that Maggie was gone already. There was very little evidence of her visit, in fact.

“Are you Peggy Rugner?” Don inquired, pulling out a notebook and pen.

“Yes?” Peggy looked confused, but Margaret gave her hand a little squeeze.

“This is detective VanCamp. Your husband reported you kidnapped by me,” Margaret explained.

“Do you have an ID to confirm your identity?” Don continued undeterred by Peggy’s confusion or Margaret’s introduction.

“Um, yes, in my purse over there.” Peggy started to move for it but Margaret stopped her.

“Sit down, love. Let me get it for you.” She turned on the detective and gave him a hard look. “You too, Mr. VanCamp. Sit.”

Without waiting for his compliance or reply, she walked across the room to get her guest’s purse.

“Are you here of your own volition, ma’am?”

“Well, I don’t know what that means detective.”

“Are you here willingly? Did this woman take you without your consent?”

“Of course I’m here willingly. My husband over-reacted. They were just looking out for me.”

“So you were not, in fact, kidnapped. Did your husband know you went willingly?”

Margaret handed Peggy her purse and sat next to her as she answered. “He was there. I walked away from him—I wasn’t dragged.”

“Are there any witnesses to this that would confirm your story here?”

“Well, sure. We were with a whole tour group. I bet they are still here. The tour wasn’t supposed to end until three and then we were supposed to get a late lunch in the courtyard.”

The detective turned to Margaret. “Is the tour group still here?”

Margaret nodded. “Yes, as she said, they will be in the courtyard at three. Would you like to wait?”

Don stood. “Yes, ma’am, I think need to. Thank you for your time, Mrs. Rugner. If I have any more questions is there a phone I can reach you at or will you be here?”

Margaret squeezed Peggy’s shoulders. “Peggy is under our doctor’s care at the moment. I believe that she will be staying with us for the foreseeable future. I will give you the direct number to the phone in this room and also my cell should you need us.”

“Oh! You don’t have to do that!” Peggy exclaimed surprised.

Margaret shushed her. “Now, now, Peggy. Your health and safety are our number one concern right now. I don’t think I could live with myself if something happened to you because I turned you out. Please stay here with us. We will keep you and the baby safe for as long as you let us.”

Peggy’s eyes brimmed with tears and she crumpled into Margaret’s embrace. “Thank you, so much!”

Margaret stroked her back and held her until the tears subsided. Detective VanCamp stood stoically looking out the window, steadfastly ignoring the female mess in front of him. When it finally ended, Margaret pecked Peggy on the temple and stood with the detective. “Rest my dear. I will be back after Mr. VanCamp is satisfied with his investigation. If you need anything, just pick up the phone and dial zero. It will connect you to the house manager and she will help you with anything you require.”

Peggy nodded, wiping her freckled, red face with her shirtsleeve. “Thank you.”

Margaret pshawed her and led the detective out of the room again. Once the door was closed and Margaret felt reasonably certain that they would not be overheard, she addressed Don again. “Are you satisfied that she has not been kidnapped or otherwise detained against her will?”

“Yes, ma’am. I will still need to interview the witnesses, but mainly I see myself filing charges against Mr. Rugner for filing a false police report.”

“Will he go to jail for that?” she asked hopefully.

Detective VanCamp shook his head. “Not likely. Community service and probation.”

Margaret sighed. “I see. Let me show you to the courtyard.”

Detective VanCamp grabbed her elbow. “Wait. What’s bothering you?”

Margaret gave him her airy smile again. “Detective, surely you were cognizant of the bruising around her neck? Who do you think is responsible for that meaty, ham-handed imprint on her? Is it a wonder that we invited her to stay here? She needs a safe place to be away from that terrible man.”

“If you can document the abuse and convince her to press charges, we might be able to put him behind bars,” Don said, absently pulling her arm through the crook of his.

Margaret smirked at his innocent gesture and guided him to the courtyard.

Upon seeing a veritable feast being prepared for the tourists and the staff preparing it, Detective Don VanCamp dropped Margaret’s arm, slightly embarrassed by his professional faux pas. He rubbed his chin. “My mother always insisted I act like a gentleman. Sometimes, her training overrides my professionalism. I apologize.”

Margaret slipped her arm through his again. “I prefer a gentleman to a professional,” she insisted, pushing him toward the tables awaiting the visitors.

Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters

Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters – Chapter Two

Continuing from last week’s post, I have chapter two from Jen’s short story. You can visit her blog here. PS, Jen has titled this Long for Freedom, but I’ll keep calling it the Dragonswan Sisters just to mess with people. 😉

The fifth floor of the Dragonswan Mansion had been remodeled when the girls had turned seventeen. Their mother’s special needs required the change. A stairway from the ground floor led directly to the fifth and opened into a wide space filled with arts, crafts, books, and many collections of things her mother valued from dolls and stamps to comic books and coins. She had her own kitchenette, a bath tub, toilet, and sink, and a bunk bed, because, as their mother once told them, sometimes it’s nice to have a fort, and sometimes it’s nice to sleep in a tree.

Margaret entered the room without knocking to find her mother sitting at a card table playing go fish with her sister, Maggie. Maggie was the middle child between her and Gretchen and cared for their mother during the day. She was also a physician, the genius child who finished medical school and her residencies before she was legal to buy beer.

“Maggie, dear, we have a guest in need of your attention,” Margaret announced leaning over her mother and kissing her cheek.

“Margaret. How are you?” her mother asked loudly.

“I am very well, Mother. The tours started today and we are making apple butter and apple preserves in the kitchen. How are you?”

“I am well, too, thank you for asking. Did you know that I got a new doll today?”

“I did! I gave the package to Maggie, remember?”

“No. Sorry. I do not have a very good memory.  Do you want to play with us? We are playing gold fish.”

Margaret smiled gently at her mother and petted her straight light brown hair. “Maybe I can later. Right now, Maggie has to go look at a woman who hurt herself earlier. Do you mind if I steal her away for a little while?”

“No, I do not mind, thank you for asking. Do you want to play when you bring her back?”

“I’m not sure, Mother. How about if I promise to come play with you at seven this evening?”

“That is an hour before I go to bed.”

“Yes it is. We can play until bed time, okay?”

“Okay. See you then.”

Margaret gave her mother another kiss and smiled at Maggie, nodding toward the door. Her sister stood, another exact copy of Margaret and together they left their mother’s room. Once they were out, Margaret sighed. “How is she really?” she asked.

Maggie shrugged. “She’s the same. The medication wears her out, but she has been a real trooper about it anyway. Her oncologist says she has another good year if all goes well. If not, it could be less than three months. Her hair is falling out now, but she doesn’t seem to mind.”

“How are you?” Margaret stopped Maggie on the stairs and took her hand.

Maggie’s small smile didn’t reach her eyes, and she held tightly to her sisters palms. “I’m sad and I’m angry, and I’m tired. I want to be with her, but it’s difficult. I love her so much, but she wears me out.”

Margaret squeezed her sister’s fingers. “Maybe Gretchen and I should each take a day too. You need a break if you are feeling like this. Let us help you.”

“Ha! As if Mother would let you. You know she only wants me to help her like she needs. Besides, you and Gretchen do so much for this household; I could never replace you, even for a day. It’s fine. I will be fine.” Maggie wiped unshed tears from her eyes and squared her shoulders. “Take me to your guest.”

Margaret sighed and led her on. When they reached the first floor, the tour had made it all the way to the art gallery so they were able to make it back to the guest suit without any interruptions. At the door, Margaret knocked, waited a second and then opened the door when Peggy called to them.

The poor pregnant girl was sitting at the table where she had managed to make quite a dent in the offerings. She had a guilty smile on her face, but for the first time since Margaret had laid eyes on her, she wasn’t carrying a burgeoning weight on her shoulders. Instead of hunched as she had been, she was sitting up straight. “Thank you for this, it was so delicious!” she waved at the table as she cumbersomely stood to greet them. “I’m Peggy,” she offered to Maggie, who took her hand and squeezed it.

“Look at you!” she said with a happy smile. “You look about thirty-six weeks on. How are you feeling?”

Margaret surreptitiously stepped out of the room to give Peggy some privacy and went in search of her other sister. On the way, she was accosted by a tourist who’d managed to break away from the group.

“Hi, I’m Ann Hitch, reporter for the Bay, mind if I ask you a few questions?” the woman abruptly said, getting between Margaret and the kitchen.

Margaret gave her a whimsical smile. “Absolutely, Ann. Please walk with me.”

Margaret turned toward the kitchen again as Ann began questioning her. “Rumors in town say that your house and grounds are haunted, any truth to those rumors?”

“Personally, I have never seen a ghost in my life, but they could be true. Who knows what lies on the other side of death?”

“Rumors also say that you and your sisters are practitioners of dark magic, any truth to that?”

“Have you seen any evidence of magic on these premises?”

“The legend of the athame certainly implies magical capabilities.”

Margaret laughed as she entered the kitchen and winked at her sister. “Did you not see the pregnant woman who cut herself on the athame?”

“True. What about the apples? Your apples are famous and have made Littleton famous, is there something special about them that the world doesn’t know about?”

“Darling Ann, our apples are absolutely special—that’s why they are famous! If we had run-of-the-mill apples, do you think you would be interviewing me?”

“True again. What makes your apples so special?”

Margaret grabbed a fresh apple from a barrel and rinsed it in the sink. Taking it over to the cutting board she sliced it in to eight spectacular, mouth-watering pieces. “Eat,” she said, handing Ann a slice and taking one for herself.

Ann smiled and ate the piece she was given. “They are probably the most flavorful apples I’ve ever had, but I’m from the city so that’s not saying much. We get our apples from the cheapest possible places.”

“Well, Ann, give me your address and I will personally see to it that you stay stocked with fresh apples all year—on the house.”

“Really?” Ann said surprised. “I—I can’t. I still have more questions and you might not like the rest.”

Margaret smiled and handed her a pen and paper. “I don’t mind your questions, Ann, and even if I don’t like them, I still like you and I want to give you apples for your home.”

Ann gave Margaret an awkward smile and wrote her address down. “Why do you all have the same name?”

Margaret tucked the paper away and turned, leaving through the back door with Ann on her heels. “Our mother loved the name Margaret, and planned to name her daughter—me—Margaret, so when I came and then Maggie came, and then Gretchen came, she didn’t have any other names picked out. So she just stayed true to her plan to use Margaret and named the three of use variations of the same name.”

“She didn’t know she was having triplets?”

“Dearest Ann, don’t you know? Our mother is autistic. She refused to let the doctors anywhere near her. She had us in the bathroom tub in her room. She didn’t even tell our father that she was in labor. She called him after we were born.”

“Your father? If she’s developmentally disabled doesn’t that constitute abuse? Shouldn’t she have been protected from him?”

Margaret had made it to the security gate and waved to James, the man on duty. “My father loved my mother and she loved him, in her own way. She was the only Dragonswan descendent and with permission from her parents before there was such a diagnosis as autism she married him when she was sixteen and he was thirty-two. They tried for eighteen years to get pregnant and then finally, after years of failure, they had us. My father loved our mother with all his heart until the day he died. She has been a wreck since then, deteriorating in both her body and mind. It’s not really a matter of abuse or not now. Now it’s a matter of two souls who were desperate for each other in this life, being separated and there is nothing anyone can do for them.”

“Is your mother dying?” Ann asked quietly for the first time.

Margaret smiled sadly. “We all are, aren’t we?” She turned to James again. “Darling, will you please see to it that this lovely woman makes it back to her hotel room?” Before Ann could protest Margaret tisked her. “Tut, tut, Ann. You came here under false pretenses. We have a form for reporters to fill out and get passes to the grounds. Please take the time to submit it on our website and I promise, tomorrow when you get here there will be a pass waiting for you.”

Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters

Dragonswan Sisters by Jen Winters – Chapter One

Don’t worry, I haven’t stolen Jen’s work! We are doing a short story swap each Monday for the next month or so. I’ll post Jen’s tale of the Dragonswan Sisters and she will post Elijah the Bloody.

You can visit Jen’s website here. And now, on with the story!

Chapter One

Margaret’s focus was interrupted by the entrance of the touring group into the large kitchen. While the tour’s route was corded off by red velvet rope from the rest of the kitchen, the voice of the tour guide, Janean, retrained Margaret’s attention from the cook pot of what would be apple butter onto the new arrivals.

Without thinking, she counted the number of band aids in the group of fifteen. 1, 2, 3, 4…7. Seven. Not too bad for the first tour of the day. She looked at the recipients of the cuts, noting sadly that one of them was a woman who looked about ready to give birth. Glancing to her sister, Gretchen, they caught each other’s bright green eyes at the same time, exchanging pitying frowns in regard to the pregnant woman.

“Hey! Are you the Dragonswans?” The voice that interrupted their moment was loud, raucous, and male.

Margaret turned to him. “Yes we are,” she signaled to one of the sous chefs to take over her pot. The kitchen was buzzing with activity getting the harvested apples preserved in one form of another. She walked toward the man who possessively held the pregnant woman’s arm in his meaty fist.

He jerked the woman roughly once Margaret was only a few feet away. “Look at this! She cut herself on your stupid knife in the orchard. You’re going to have to pay for this.”

The woman gave the man a shocked look. “It’s fine, Junior. It’s just a—”

“Shut up, Lee!” Junior growled, jerking the woman’s arm again.

Cowed, the woman hung limply from his fist and stared at the floor at Margaret’s feet, while the man gave Margaret a creepy once over. Today was the first day of the October festival and Margaret had dressed for the occasion in a bright green peasant blouse matched to pumpkin themed leggings under a bright orange tulle skirt.

Margaret was about to protest when her peripheral vision clouded with a dark mist and the tell-tale signs of a visitor popping into their kitchen. She flicked her wrist and suddenly the room became silent and still except for her sister and their visitor.

“Hey!” Gretchen protested the freezing of the room and its occupants, but quickly stopped short when she realized they had company.

Margaret looked at the new arrival and smile at him. He appeared to them as a small red-winged, fire-breathing, Chinese dragon. His claws clicked the tiles beneath him as he slid along the floor to the feet of the pregnant woman. Margaret watched him carefully when his tongue flicked out like a snakes, tasting the woman’s essence. While she had learned from a young age that this creature was indescribably unique, his behavior at that moment was completely new to her.

“What is it, Long?” she asked, examining the stilled woman more thoroughly.

The dragon lifted his head to her and winked before transforming into the archetype of Asian masculinity. “She made the sacrifice and called to me,” he explained, embracing Margaret with a chaste kiss before pulling Gretchen into a not-so-chaste embrace. “What should we do?” he asked her when she pulled away from his puckered lips, deftly avoiding a kiss she had been spurning for years, much to Margaret’s chagrin.

Unfazed by Gretchen’s snub, Long’s gaze slid toward the man with the meaty fists bruising the poor woman’s arm. Margaret followed his gaze and then looked at her sister.

Only ten minutes separated them in the age department, and while Margaret was older, Gretchen always acted as if she was. “You are absolutely not going to do anything. You are going to tell us what she requested and then you are going to let us handle this.”

The dragon gave her a whimpering frown that even Gretchen couldn’t deny was sexy as hell. “Aww, come on, darling. This could be fun. She only wants to be free of this man. Don’t you think I could free her without you?”

Gretchen’s eyes narrowed at him in the way Margaret always referred to as steel-green-death. “Your idea of freeing her will more than likely cause physical harm to this man, and while I may entertain the idea of an abuser getting his just deserves, I would much rather do this the right way and put him behind bars for assault. So, you will let us handle this.”

Long sighed and gave her a cocky half grin. “One of these days, Gretchen, you will find yourself in need of my kind of help. I look forward to that day like a virgin to her first orgasm.” He winked when she blushed and disappeared from the kitchen.

Margaret gave her sister a sly smirk. “I wonder what kind of need he’s talking about,” she teased, unashamedly taking Long’s side in this back and forth between them.

Gretchen smacked her arm and huffed. “Don’t start on that again, Margaret. What are we going to do about this woman and him?” She waved a disgusted hand in the man’s general direction.

Margaret shrugged. “I’ll get her away from him and you can get security to escort him off the premises.”

Gretchen nodded. “That will work for now, but we’ll have to come up with something better soon.” Taking her place back where she was before Margaret stilled the room, Gretchen felt the slow crawl of dread climbing up her spine.

As soon as her sister was in place, Margaret flicked her wrist again, and the room was again buzzing with activity as if time had never stopped for them. Margaret immediately caught the woman when she stumbled, and pulled her away from her abuser. “Well, now, we can’t have anything bad happen to a woman with child. I’ll just take her to my physician and see what he can do for her,” she said, leading the woman out of the kitchen and leaving the abuser flabbergasted in her wake.

Before they were out of hearing range, the man started a ruckus in the kitchen, which Margaret felt sure Gretchen would use to have him escorted away.

“My husband—” the woman began, trepidation stalling her in her steps.

Margaret hushed her, rubbing her bruised arm. “Don’t you worry, sunshine. He won’t be on the property for long. What’s your name?”

“Peggy,” she answered, glancing behind them.

Margaret chuckled softly. “What a perfect name. Let’s get you settled in the guest suite and the physician will be in soon.”

“I really don’t need a physician, Ms. Dragonswan,” Peggy protested, but Margaret noted her steps as she followed did not falter for a second.

“Oh, sweetie, call me Margaret. I am certain that a little check-up from our doctor won’t do you any harm.”

Margaret gave Peggy a kind, almost ethereal smile and brought her to an over-sized door on the second floor of the mansion. Behind the door, Peggy audibly gasped when she saw where Margaret had taken her. The guest suite began with a comfortable sitting room filled with bookshelves, comfortable furniture and a small table with a lovely tea service. Apple butter sandwiches cut in perfect squares, apple tarts, and even a small tub of apple ice cream called to Peggy from the table.

“Darling, the table has been set for you, go ahead and serve yourself, I will be back shortly with the doctor.” Before Peggy could protest, Margaret held up her hand. “Don’t. You and the baby need proper care and since you cut yourself on our athame, you are now our responsibility.”

Peggy gave Margaret a weak smile. “Thank you,” she admitted at last.

Margaret gave her a quick hug and left her to fulfill her promise.