Excerpts from Angel Cafe

Kat waited until steaming mugs of coffee had been served before looking up to meet his questioning stare. “My impression is that you went to the ‘make-it-all-up’ school of psychic reading,” she said.

The heat of a deep blush crossed Stephen’s face. “I thought we’d already established that. No hard feelings, okay? I apologize. It was a business move, pure and simple. As you can see, I don’t do it anymore.”

“Because getting caught would be a lousy business move.”

“Damn straight. I don’t believe in this psychic garbage. I run my restaurant according to the bottom line.”

“I want to know, then, how you knew about Peter.”

As quickly as the color had come to Stephen’s face, it now drained away. He’d spent the past weeks trying to forget the feeling or urgency that had forced him to deliver that last message. Such moments were better left unexplored.

“Oh,” he said, licking dry lips. “That.”

“Yes. That.” Kat’s liquid gaze, nearly as compelling as the force which had produced the message, held him.

“Honest,” he said, “I don’t know where that came from. Let’s just forget about it, okay? It was no big deal.”

But her eyes refused to let him off the hook.

“It was an extremely big deal,” she contradicted. “Because Peter’s death was very real, and your words made perfect sense to me.”

Stephen finally tore his gaze away. “Don’t tell me that.”

Her hand rested atop his. The fingers, small and delicate, gave his clenched fist an urgent squeeze. “So you see, I’ve got to know why you said what you said.”

There was no way out. He leaned back in his chair, resigned. “There’s not much I can tell you. Nothing like that ever happened to me before. There was just an overwhelming push to tell you that you were right about Peter’s death. I can’t explain it any further than that.”

“Did you hear a voice?”

“Other than my own? No. But the words weren’t mine.”

“Whose were they?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’ve got to think!”

“Ms. Piretti, I’m not some witness on the stand. You’re not going to wear me down. I don’t know where the words came from. Furthermore, I hope that never happens to me again.”

“It will,” Kat said quietly.

The assurance in her voice made Stephen shudder. He rushed to change the subject. “So, who was he?” he asked, trying hard to keep his voice casual.

“Who?” The troubled pucker in Kat’s brow deepened.

“Peter.”

An expression of raw pain flashed across her face. She mastered it quickly.

“He was a reporter,” she said. “For the Sunpapers.”

“And?”

“And he was found dead in his apartment nearly two years ago.”

“What happened?”

Kat stared down at the table and swallowed hard, but when she looked up, her eyes were clear and her jaw set. “I don’t know. There was a gun in his hand and a bullet through his head. The place reeked of alcohol. His death was ruled a suicide.”

“But you don’t think it was.”

“More than that. I know it wasn’t.”

Stephen nodded slowly. Whoever Peter had been, he’d been more important to Kat than she cared to share. Boyfriend? Brother? Colleague? Hard to say. She sat across the table with the cool detachment of the professional she was. Only that previous break in her facial expression, the smallest slip, had given away the depth of her need to know the truth about this one man’s death.

And Stephen, with a fledgling restaurant and employee troubles, knew without a doubt that he had absolutely no intention of getting sucked into what promised to become a dandy little obsession.

“Hey,” he said uneasily, raising his hand to catch the waitress’s attention, “I’m concentrating right now and I’m not getting any information. No messages. Must have been a fluke. Sorry.” The waitress appeared with a pot of coffee. “Just the check, please,” Stephen told her gratefully.

“You don’t want to get involved.”

He reached for his wallet. “Let’s just say that I find it a little too weird for my tastes, okay? Look, I don’t even believe in this stuff.”

“Me, either. But that doesn’t seem to prevent it from happening.”

“Sorry, Kat.”

“Try. One more time. Just try to hear something!”

She looked so desperate that he actually paused for a moment, head cocked in anticipation of celestial whispers he hoped would never come.

“Nope,” he reported, relieved. “The only thing I hear is a reminder that I left a lot of people in my restaurant.”

“Okay. Here.” Kat fished through a pocket and pulled up a business card. “I can’t push you. But, please, Stephen. Promise you’ll call if you hear anything. Will you do that?”

“Absolutely,” he assured smoothly, taking the card. He’d promise her anything, then run like hell.

“And, Stephen…” Once again, the insistent little hand was on his. “Please be careful. I don’t know who’s playing games here, but I’m not as convinced as you are that they aren’t tangible.”

He’d never in his life been so glad to see a waitress deliver the check.

“My treat.” Kat abruptly tossed a five-dollar bill onto the table.

Stephen watched as she left the coffee shop.

“Do you ever get the feeling,” he asked the waitress, “that you’re the only sane person left on the planet?”

“Sure,” the waitress said. “All the time. Which means I lump you in with all the other weirdoes of the world. Thank your girlfriend for the tip, okay?”

He gazed at the business card in his hand, noting that Kat had carefully written her home phone number on the back of it, just in case.