I looked hard at Delilah but it was impossible tell whether or not she was making fun of me. She just gazed back at me steadily, her expression unreadable. I recalled how violated I felt during Delilah’s aggressive probing. My anemic attempts at reading her didn’t even come close.
“Don’t feel bad. Very few people could penetrate my defenses,” she said.
“How did you? Are you reading my mind?”
“I could but it’s not necessary with you. Your thoughts broadcast all over your face.”
“Am I that…”
“Obvious? Most definitely, I don’t need to use my abilities to know what you’re thinking. It’s not just written all over your face. It’s in your body language. You act like you’re afraid of your own shadow.”
“I’m not afraid. You…caught me off guard with your assault on my senses that’s all.”
“Oh yeah? Then why was your first instinct to go running out of here with your tail between your legs? And don’t try to argue me down. I’ve been inside your head remember? Besides, I didn’t say you were afraid of me. You’re afraid of yourself. It’s like you’re holding back for some reason. I think it has something to do with…with what I sensed when we were connected. There’s a deep well of pain in you.”
“I don’t want to talk about that.”
“I’m not asking you to discuss it with me. All I’m saying is, you need to face whatever nightmare is at the bottom of the well. Until you do, most of your energy and strength will continue to be tied up in keeping those painful memories sunk at the bottom of the well.”
Delilah’s words had the ring of truth but they angered me all the same. She had forced her way inside my mind, ransacked my private thoughts and now she had the nerve to sit there in a sequined bra and G-string psychoanalyzing me! Because of her, I was being tormented by memories with which I thought I had made peace. I leapt to my feet.
“Are you analyzing me? We just met and now you’re somehow an expert on me and my feelings? You’ve got some damn nerve! Is this one of the services you offer your Johns?”
“You’re emotions are still raw, so I’m going to let that one pass.”
“Don’t do me any favors. I came to help you out, not the other way around, as a favor to your mother.”
“My mother…how do you know my mother?”
“You mean you didn’t see that when you were boring your way through my brain? Well, I guess you’re not as good as you though you were. I came to bring you a letter from her. She wanted you to know that she never stopped looking for you all these years. There are things she wanted you to know before she died. Unfortunately, she passed away recently. You don’t look surprised. Don’t tell me you knew about her passing.”
“No, but I’m not surprised. She lived a pretty reckless life. It’s one reason why I left home and never looked back.”
“Well, here’s the letter. Now, I’m getting the hell out of here.”
“I don’t think you want to do that.”
“Looks like you finally got something wrong about me. There’s nothing I would rather do right now.”
“That’s not what I meant, unless you knew that someone followed you here.”
“What? I didn’t see anybody following me.”
“Did you check? No, I didn’t think so. Go backstage and peek through the curtains at the table in the back.”
I almost refused, certain that she was either mistaken or trying to scare me. My emotions were still too unsettled to get a clear read on her. I stood up and walked backstage, assuming that she was counting on some innocuous stranger to spook me.
No doubt, it would just be some creepy looking loser who wandered in off of the street to see some skin. I found the opening in the curtains and peered through without touching them. What I saw made my knees suddenly feel weak. Flame was sitting at a booth near the back! I turned away and had to look again, hoping that my eyes had deceived me. It was definitely her.
I walked unsteadily back to the dressing room and dropped into the nearest chair. How the hell could she have found me? No one saw me leave…or had they? I assumed that I’d left the occult shop unseen. What if Flame was Raven’s unidentified guest?
She could have parked somewhere along the street and sat watching the place. I had been so relieved after escaping that chair that I didn’t pay attention to who was around me as I walked back to the apartment.
So much for starting over in New York. I hadn’t even been in town for one full night and Plum had already dispatched someone to nip at my heels. The walls suddenly seemed to be closing in on me. I felt like a rat in a trap. Just as I began to have heart palpitations, Delilah came over and laid a hand on my shoulder.
“I can see that you’re stunned. It’s no big deal really. Probably just some weirdo that followed you in off of the street.”
“You don’t understand. I have a witch after me.”
I hadn’t meant to tell her. Desperation has a way of loosening my lips. I watched and waited for her to laugh. Being pursued by a witch sounded farfetched, even to me. To my surprise, her only reaction was to give me an appraising look. I felt her gently reading my emotional state. Then, it was her turn to drop into her seat.
“It appears that we have a lot more in common than I thought we did.”
“You mean, you’ve been stalked by witches too?”
“Among other beings.”
“So, what did you do about it?”
“I stood my ground and fought.”
“You mean you can do magic?”
“You don’t need magic to deal with a witch.”
“How else would you protect yourself from their spells?”
“If you get inside their heads, then you can prevent most attacks. Others, you can see coming and prepare yourself.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
“The tricky part is remaining calm. You can’t let them rattle you. Otherwise, you’ll be reading thoughts that you unconsciously projected onto them. In a fight, a lot of the power of magic comes from the user’s ability to psych out the target. If you believe that a spell can harm you then it will.”
“Well, then I’m royally screwed because I know that Plum will hurt me.”
“I heard that name strongly while we were connected. So, Plum is the witch you’re referring to? Is that her out in the audience?”
“Yes, Plum is the witch I was talking about but that’s not her out there. That’s just one of her lap dogs. I’m pretty sure she’s a witch too though.”
“What makes you think they’re witches?”
I described Plum’s displays of power to Delilah, watching her expression grow grave. For once, I found her lack of emotional expression comforting. I was freaked out enough without her intensifying it.