Deb Stover Novels by Deb Stover

"Citizen Daisy"
by
Deb Stover

A novella for the Some Enchanted Evening anthology,
September 2002 - Zebra Books - ISBN: 0-8217-7264-3
Copyright 2002 by Deb Stover.   All Rights Reserved.


" Deb Stover, the queen of time travel romance, invents yet another unique form of transportation to travel the road of love. This story was enchanting."   ~PNR Reviews

" A time traveling congressman, a meddling ghost, and an accident-prone witch SOME ENCHANTED EVENING is a veritable feast for fans of the paranormal and supernatural and I highly recommend it. This delightful anthology is certainly deserving of RRT's highest recommendation, A Perfect 10." ~Terrie Figueroa,  Romance Reviews Today

CHAPTER ONE

Crooked Creek Country Club--Present Day

"Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"

United States Congressman Jack McCullough adjusted his Robin Hood tunic and cursed his aide for her lack of taste in Halloween costumes. Why couldn't she have found him a pirate, or Zorro, or any costume that didn't include tights? He definitely was not a Merry Man at the moment.

"Of course I'm happy to see you, Roxanne," he lied. Pity she was the daughter of his biggest campaign contributor. Twin mountains of milky flesh curved above the almost non-existent neckline of her costume. Any man unfortunate enough to let her get on top would probably suffocate before actually achieving orgasm. He could see the Washington Post now:

CONGRESSMAN ASPHYXIATED BY MUTANT MAMMARIES

Suppressing a shudder, he popped an antacid to give his teeth something to gnash besides each other, and to douse the fire in his gut.

Roxanne looped her arm through his. "Do you have a tummy ache, sugar?" She pressed her breast against his arm and patted his " tummy" ...a lot lower than any anatomy book would've indicated.

Jack held his breath to prevent the sigh that threatened to escape. " Heartburn." And the headache from hell. " Nothing to worry about."

In fact, Jack's head had ached since this afternoon when Roxanne's jet landed at a private air strip near the country club. Of course, Jack's head always ached when he came home.

The Rocky Mountain town he'd grown up in had been little more than a ghost town before the legalization of limited stakes gambling. Now it was a bustling gambling town, complete with fancy hotels and fancier people.

Why should he care? He was the golden boy of his party--being groomed for the White House. Yeah, right.

He squeezed his eyes closed as a particularly brutal pain stabbed through his skull. " I'm sorry, Roxanne." He squinted enough to blot out most of the light. " I need some aspirin."

" Poor baby," she cooed. " I'll get you some."

She kept his arm and escorted him past vampires, werewolves, Julius Caesar, Marie Antoinette, and at least four other men in tights. Poor bastards. He never should've put in an appearance at this gig, but his re-election was only a few days away. He couldn't afford not to socialize--especially on home turf.

A lightning bolt flashed behind his eyes. He grabbed his head with both hands as the room became a frigging carousel. Even with his eyes closed, the kaleidoscope persisted. Clutching his skull, he surrendered to the pain and vertigo. Nausea...

If he died now, he'd go to hell for sure.

But he didn't die--at least not yet. He remained semi-conscious and in excruciating pain as the paramedics loaded him onto a helicopter and transported him to Crooked Creek Hospital--built from gambling money, no doubt.

Gambling money had made Congressman McCullough, too.

Cut the crap. Thinking like that was what had his gut burning and his head pounding already. He didn't want to die--not yet. There were too many marks against him. Too many things he needed to fix.

And one thing he couldn't. Bryan.

He kept his eyes closed, trying to blot out the noise of the chopper. He concentrated on sensations that reminded him he was still alive. The excruciating pain, the blood pressure cuff, the cold stethoscope pressed to his chest, the peeling away of his frigging tights. Well, at least something good had come from this mess.

A storm had kicked the wind into a howl by the time the chopper landed and they wheeled him into the bright emergency room. When he tried to open his eyes, the pain stopped him. A familiar voice made his heart skip a beat.

" Jack, it's Doc Randall. Can you hear me, son?"

Oh, God--don't call me that. Something burned behind Jack's eyes--the tears he'd never shed at his best friend's funeral.

" I...I hear you," he croaked. " Bryan...my fault."

" Bull." Dr. Randall asked the nurse to dim the lights. He checked Jack's pupils with his penlight. " Equal and reactive. Looks okay here, but your BP is elevated. I ordered some blood work."

" Why?" Jack drew a shaky breath. The pain had eased, and he forced his eyes open, shading them with his hand. " Headache's better."

Why did Bryan Randall's father have to be on call tonight? Why? To compound Jack's guilt? To torture him a little more? Hadn't he done that enough all by himself?

" As soon as we get some lab results, I'll order a cocktail to take the rest of the edge off that headache." He smiled and patted Jack's shoulder. " Humor me. I want the MRI."

Suspicion slithered through Jack. His heart surged ahead, launching the pounding in his head into renewed frenzy. " Why?"

" Healthy men don't keel over at Halloween parties unless drugs or alcohol are involved." Dr. Randall cleared his throat. " And your lady friend assured us you hadn't even had a drink yet."

" No. Nothing."

" Good. Let's make sure there's nothing serious going on inside that hard head of yours."

Jack eased his eyes open again to face his best friend's father. Though older now, Doc Randall still had the same twinkling gray eyes and smile he'd worn thirty years ago when Jack's baseball had found his office window. " How serious? What are you looking for?"

The older man didn't smile this time. His expression turned solemn. " Though my exam doesn't indicate this, I want to make sure there are no masses or--"

" Tumors?" Jack let his eyes close again, and chased away the sudden fear cloying from all sides. " I guess we'd better do it then."

" Good. The storm stranded our technician here. None of us are going anywhere." Doc Randall gave Jack's shoulder a squeeze. " Want me to call your folks?"

" No." Jack tried to smile, but that made his head hurt worse. " Don't worry them."

" I'll wait." Doc Randall gave Jack's shoulder another squeeze. " They're ready for you now."

Someone released the brake on the gurney and Jack reached for Dr. Randall's arm. " Wait."

" What is it, son?"

There it is again--son. " I...I need to talk to you after this is over." Through the pain and fog, he kept his gaze pinned on the doctor. " About Bryan."

"It's not neces--"

"Yes. Yes, it is."

"All right, then." Doc Randall's expression was solemn. "After the test."

Jack had been a shitty excuse for a congressman. Though he hadn't taken any direct bribes, he'd definitely allowed himself to be influenced. That was just as bad. Worse. He'd turned away from Bryan when he'd asked for help over a simple zoning issue.

And now Bryan was dead. All Jack's fault.

He kept his eyes closed as the pain increased again. The room where they wheeled him felt like a deep freeze, and the backless hospital gown sure as hell didn't help. The orderly heaved him onto a cold, metal table and left him there.

"I'm going to give you some medication through your IV, Congressman," a woman said. " And we have nice, quiet music for you to listen to during the test."

She put headphones over his ears and slid him into the tube. Jack felt the closeness and opened his eyes. The top of the tube was mere inches from the end of his nose, so he closed his eyes again.

He had to get through this. His dad claimed the phrase " crooked politician" was redundant, but Jack would prove him wrong. He'd make Dad proud of him. He'd beg Dr. Randall's forgiveness, though he would never forgive himself.

"I'm sorry, Bryan," he whispered as the hammering started.

Now he knew the purpose of the headphones. No one had told him that having an MRI was like being inside a metal coffin while someone shot at it with a semi-automatic. Even with "nice soft music" playing through the headphones, the racket persisted.

Weightlessness came over him so suddenly he pressed his hands against the sides of the tube. The spinning resumed and the pain in his head escalated from unbearable to nuclear before he drew his next breath.

He heard a scream as the blackness swallowed him.

His.

cauldron

Daisy Mae Peabody came into this world on a moonless night--the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, with an owl hooting outside the cabin window, just as a star streaked across the sky. Being born feet first could've labeled her an oddity all by itself, but with all this evidence plus the star-shaped birthmark on her shoulder, the citizens of Crooked Creek, Colorado declared her a witch. At the spinsterish age of twenty-three, she'd given up expecting the good citizens of Crooked Creek to treat her any differently.

After serving Papa a plate of ham and eggs, Daisy refilled both their coffee cups and sat across from him. He was talking nonsense. "I don't love Mr. Randall," she said for at least the hundredth time as she spooned molasses into her coffee.

"Set your mind to it." Hank gazed at her through faded blue eyes. "I promised your ma 'fore she died I'd see you was raised proper, and that means findin' you a good husband before I'm gone."

"You've never been sick a day in your life." Daisy squeezed her eyes closed and said a quick prayer that he remained healthy. Without Papa, she'd be completely alone. "You'll outlive me."

He shook his head and took a sip of coffee. "Nope."

He'd never seemed to notice that the townsfolk believed his only child was a witch, or that no other children had been allowed to play with her. Only the old Ute woman known as Sarie, who'd lived down Crooked Creek Pass, had ever paid Daisy any mind. She'd taught Daisy about herbs and potions before she died. As a result, Daisy Mae became the local healer--called upon to deliver babies, tend sickness, and mend wounds.

Even so, heaven forbid a young man should court Daisy Mae Peabody.

Now, because Adam Randall had come calling out of the blue, Papa had decided Daisy needed a husband. "Papa, I can't marry a man I don't love."

"Ain't seen any others come courtin'." Hank drained his cup and pushed away from the table. "Gotta get to the mine."

Papa was a fair man, but she knew arguing with him once he'd set his mind was futile. She would find another way to discourage Mr. Randall from calling. "Be careful." She rose and kissed Papa's cheek.

Hank slipped his arm around her shoulder. "Don't fret now, daughter."

Daisy nodded, but remained silent.

Hank kissed the top of her head and opened the door. "God give us a gorgeous mornin'."

Daisy stood behind him, wondering how she could convince him that Mr. Randall wasn't for her. If she was meant to marry, the right man would come along. She believed in fate, and would wait for a sign.

Sometimes she wished she were a witch. Then she would cast a powerful spell to bring her true love. Oh, it was nonsense, surely, but...what harm could there be? She closed her eyes and wished with all her heart and soul.

Oh, please bring my true love to me, for I will wed none other.

After a moment, she allowed herself to breathe again and opened her eyes. Well, it might help if she actually had powers capable of casting a spell.

"What in tarnation...?" Hank shaded his eyes and ducked back from the door.

Daisy peered over her papa's shoulder as a blinding flash of light exploded from the edge of the woods. It looked like lightning and sounded like thunder. The earth beneath the cabin shuddered and Daisy gripped her father's arm.

She blinked to clear the bright spots from her vision. The light vanished as quickly as it had appeared. "What is it?" she asked, her voice tremulous.

"Beats hell outta me." Hank pulled his hat more firmly in place. "Reckon there's only one way to find out."

Daisy nodded, staying close behind her papa as he hurried toward the edge of the forest. The spring trickled by on its way to the creek here, and she raised the hem of her skirt enough to keep it dry.

Once across the spring, Hank froze. Daisy stood at his side, staring at the object. "What is it?"

"I dunno." He removed his hat and raked his fingers through his thinning gray hair. "Nuttin' I've ever seen before."

Daisy took a step toward the long silver tube, but Hank barred her passage with one strong arm. No birds sang. No squirrels chattered. "Eerie," Daisy whispered, but her father held up his hand to silence her again.

"There." He cupped his hand behind his ear.

Daisy heard it, too--a low but steady hum. Papa took a step back. She took a step forward, but he grabbed her arm and pulled her back beside him.

The sound of shouting reached them before the townsfolk poured over the hill and into the clearing around the Peabody cabin. Men, women, and children in all shapes and sizes gathered in a semi-circle behind Hank and Daisy.

"What is it?" ten-year-old Justus Brown asked, tugging on Daisy's apron.

"We don't know," she whispered.

"It's a spaceship," someone announced.

Gasps and excited murmurs rippled through the crowd as Simon Hofsteader, president of the First National Bank, stepped forward. He raised his arm and pointed toward the tube. "I read From The Earth To The Moon." His expression grew solemn. "I believe even Mr. Verne would agree that we got ourselves a gen-u-ine spaceship."

"Them moon men is here to kidnap our womenfolk," someone shouted.

"They'll suck out our brains!" someone else suggested.

"If'n you had any brains." Hank Peabody scratched his head and replaced his hat. Finally, he faced the crowd with a huge sigh. "Nuttin' but hogwash."

"Then what is it, Hank?" Lemuel Tucker stepped from the crowd, still wearing his newspaperman's apron. "I got to put something in the Herald."

"Ain't no spaceship." Hank stared them all down, and Daisy stood straight and tall at her papa's side.

"Then what is it?" Reverend Miller said, removing his hat. "Nothing heavenly."

"Is it Revelations?" Mrs. Miller asked her husband, who patted her arm and shook his head.

"How do you know it isn't from outer space, Hank?" Mr. Hofsteader folded his arms over his belly.

"We saw it land." Daisy lifted her chin a notch as she spoke.

More gasps and whispers surrounded them.

"Well, maybe you're one of 'em," someone shouted. " And they've come to fetch you home."

"That's right." A woman's voice called out this time. "I remember when she was born. Maybe she really come from one of them things herself."

"Lord, save us all," another woman prayed, and most of the crowd backed away.

Daisy's eyes burned with unshed tears, and she blinked to keep them to herself. She had too much pride to let any of the townsfolk see her cry, and dear Papa didn't understand that their words hurt her. They always had.

Drawing a shaky breath, she faced the crowd. "None of you ever minded when you come calling on me in the middle of the night to tend your ill or deliver your babies."

"She said it landed," Mrs. Hofsteader said, her eyes round and glazed. "That has to mean it come from the sky."

"Daisy Mae ain't from outer space." Hank heaved an exasperated sigh. "Delivered her myself."

"That don't matter," Mr. Hofsteader insisted. "We got us a real spaceship right here. What are we going to do about that?"

"Whooee, Moses," Justus said from behind them.

Daisy whirled around and saw the child snooping around the tube. The boy's mother broke from the crowd and grabbed him by the hand. Before Mrs. Brown could drag the boy away from the object, a bloodcurdling scream erupted from her.

" There's a man in there!" The trembling woman dragged poor Justus through the spring and wrapped both arms around the squirming child. "I seen his feet pokin' out the other side."

" 'Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy--'"

" Hush, Reverend," Hank said. " With all due respect, that is."

Daisy started toward the tube.

" Don't do it, Daisy Mae," Mrs. Miller said. " He could be dangerous."

" Probably green." Mr. Hofsteader narrowed his gaze. " 'Course, maybe he's the girl's pa."

Hank shook his fist at the local banker. " You know damn well that I'm her pa, you horse's ass."

The banker stepped across the spring. " Why don't we have ourselves a look, and--"

" Why don't you all stop your nonsense and help me get him out of here?" Daisy said. The crowd fell silent as she circled the tube and found the man's bare feet hanging out the far end.

" He alive?" the local mortician asked. " Ain't never buried no moon man before."

Daisy Mae grabbed the man's feet and tugged. A moan echoed from inside the cylinder. He was definitely alive, and far too large for her to move without help.

" He's gonna kill us all!" Mrs. Miller shouted, dropping to her knees.

" If'n you ain't gonna help us," Hank said, walking toward Daisy, " then get the hell off my property."

Adam Randall stepped from the crowd, his gaze resting on Daisy. Was that accusation she saw in his eyes? She certainly hoped so. Maybe this would finally put an end to his unwanted courtship.

He didn't utter a word, or make a move to help them. Daisy turned her attention to the stranger again. He was alive, but could be badly hurt.

Her father grabbed the man by both ankles and hauled him out of the tube. Oh, my Lord! His ears were the strangest things Daisy had ever seen--bigger then her best dollar flapjacks, and black as tarpaper. She gasped, but recovered herself before anyone noticed.

This man is not from outer space. As far as she could tell... She drew a deep breath and leaned over to listen to his chest. The steady thud of his heart sounded decidedly human. She straightened and found him staring right at her.

His eyes were the bluest of blues, his hair dark and gleaming. Warmth stole through her as her gaze drifted lower. He wore a short robe of some type that barely covered his...his...man parts. Liquid fire suffused her cheeks and she cleared her throat.

" Are you hurt?" she asked.

He blinked, appearing confused. Slowly, he eased himself into a sitting position and reached for his ears.

The crowd went wild, and most of them ran screaming down the mountain. " Yella bellies," Hank said. " Ain't no moon man."

Whoever he was, Daisy knew one thing for certain. He was the most beautiful man she'd ever seen.

Now rid of the ear covers, he stood slowly. Daisy reached out to steady him.

The mortician shook his head in disgust and meandered away. He'd find no business here today. The banker and Adam Randall followed. Only Reverend Miller and his trembling wife remained.

" Shall I pray, Hank?" the minister asked.

" Nope. Don't reckon he's hurt that bad."

" Papa," she whispered, almost smiling. Sometimes her father amazed her.

Mrs. Miller struggled to her feet, staring at the man in horror. Something seemed to snap inside her, and she bolted. It sounded as if she screamed all the way back to town.

" Well," Reverend Miller said. " Reckon I'd best see to Gertrude."

" Reckon so." Hank chuckled as he stared at the stranger. He aimed a thumb over his shoulder. " You sure caused a ruckus, boy. They're all gone now. Moon man."

The man dropped the ear covers and swayed. Daisy and Papa reached out to steady him. Suddenly, Daisy remembered her ridiculous spell right before...

No. She wasn't a witch. Surely she hadn't conjured or wished this man out of thin air.

Oh, please bring my true love to me, for I will wed none other.

It had been nothing but silliness. Not a spell. She had no power. Did she? Not from a simple wish.

What if she had accidentally brought this man here? She was responsible for him. He could be hurt or dying or lost, and it would be her fault for bringing him here against his will.

Maybe.

" We'd best take him inside so I can tend him." She wondered if it would be better if he really had come from outer space.

" Birds, stray dogs, cats, hurt squirrels, deer..." Hank sighed. " All them hurt critters was one thing, Daisy Mae, but this here's a stranger."

A stranger I might have brought here with my foolishness. Daisy bit her lower lip and met her father's worried expression. " He's hurt, Papa. He needs help."

Hank shook his head and half-dragged the man toward the cabin. " Reckon we can feed him and send him on his way."

Daisy followed them, determined to help the man. Surely some of her herbs would do the trick. He appeared healthy and strong. Mercy. If she had conjured up a man for herself, he would look like this one.

The back of his short robe gaped open, revealing the muscles rippling in his buttocks. She drew a deep breath and tried to ignore the sight, but she couldn't prevent a powerful dollop of female appreciation from oozing through her. He was one mighty fine-looking man, conjured up or real. She tilted her head at an angle as the men stepped through the back door ahead of her.

Yes, mighty fine. From both ends.

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