I’m delighted to share with you today a snippet from Luanne Bennett’s latest work: Crossroad of Bones. I love crossroads—since they’re usually where supernatural forces converge—and I love bones and creepy things so I figured I’d like this novel! And I wasn’t disappointed when I finally got some time to sit down for a read. It’s a slow burning, satisfying experience with a burning finish, kind of like drinking a well-aged scotch. You can find out more about the novel and its creator at the links below. But first, the excerpt!
Crossroads of Bones
A Katie Bishop Novel, Book One
L’Elite was located in a part of town you’d expect for a shop with a name like that. I waited on a bench a few doors down for my shopping date to show up. At five minutes till nine, Sugar came flouncing down the sidewalk wearing an orange and pink paisley dress with a skirt that barely made it halfway down her long thighs, and sleeves that flared from her elbows down to her wrists. The dress was coordinated with a pair of mid-calf stiletto boots in a shade of orange that matched the dress perfectly.
“I like your hair,” I complimented when she stopped in front of me. She was a blonde today—lavender blonde. Had the whole Nancy Sinatra thing down cold. “You’re going to give the ladies at L’Elite a heart attack when you walk through that door.”
“Shit, baby, them bitches know who Lady Sugar is.”
She led the way and pushed open the front door of the exclusive boutique. A man came out of the back room and smiled pleasantly at me. His eyes swung around to Sugar and seemed to take a minute to reconcile the creature standing in front of him. When he did, his skin paled.
“Well, what do you know?” Sugar planted her hand on her hip and grinned at the stunned man. “How’s your mama and them, Javier?”
His mouth opened but he seemed lost for words. A moment later a woman came through the same doorway and did a damn good job of ignoring the giant orange Creamsicle in the room. “Miss Bishop?” she asked.
“That would be me.”
“I’m Sarah Winfield. I’ll be assisting you today.” She shook my hand and studied my form discreetly. Most people wouldn’t have noticed her wandering eyes assessing me like some charitable project, but I caught every glance. She turned to Sugar with a forced smile. “And you are?”
“I’m Miss Bishop’s personal stylist,” Sugar announced, extending her hand with a large mood ring on her middle finger. “Sugar, but you can call me Miss Mobley.”
The woman hesitated but eventually took Sugar’s long outstretched fingers, barely shaking it before pulling away, resisting the urge to excuse herself to wash it. Her distaste was palpable.
“Finley Cooper sent me,” I said, providing a reprieve from all the bigotry monopolizing the room. “I need something to wear to the Crossroads Society ball this weekend.”
She eyed the tattoo peeking over my shoulder and continuing down my arm. “Were you thinking strapless? Or perhaps something a little less revealing?”
My bigot radar was through the roof. Smug, insufferable bit—
“Miss Bishop would prefer strapless,” Sugar interjected before I could. “With a body like that, wouldn’t you?”
Sarah Winfield ignored Sugar and marched over to a rack against the far wall. “It’ll be a stretch to have it fitted in time for Saturday but I think we can manage, seeing how you’re a friend of Mr. Cooper’s.”
“We’re not friends,” I added, not knowing why I bothered.
She smirked knowingly, as if I’d just stated the obvious. “But he is paying for the dress, yes?”
“He better be,” Sugar muttered, diving into the dresses and shuffling through them like it was the clearance rack at Walmart.
Sarah’s eyes went wide. “Please don’t touch the dresses.” She stepped between Sugar and the rack, then pointed to a seating area near the front door. “If you wouldn’t mind waiting over there.”
“Sugar would mind.” Her head bobbed from side to side as she shot Sarah Winfield a warning look.
“It’s okay, Sugar,” I said, defusing the ticking bomb before it went off. “I’m not deciding on anything without your approval, but let’s give Miss Winfield a little room to do her job.”
Sugar brushed the bangs from her eyes and reluctantly headed for one of the upholstered chairs. “You got any coffee up in here? Any cap-o-chino or express-o?” she mocked. She glanced at Javier, who still seemed to be in a bit of shock at seeing her in his place of business. My gut told me Javier led a pretty colorful life outside the walls of L’Elite, and at the moment he was terrified that Sugar might say something that would sully his employer’s opinion of him.
“Would you get Miss Mobley a refreshment, Javier?” Winfield said.
The man disappeared to the back to get the coffee. He reemerged a minute later carrying a tray with a carafe and a small pitcher of cream. As he set it down on the table next to Sugar, he gave her a pleading look for mercy. Sugar just grinned, holding the poor man’s balls hostage.
Sarah carefully sorted through the dresses, stopping on a blue gown that simmered like a million sapphires being tossed into the sky as she swung it around for dramatic effect. It was a floor-length, strapless gown of sequins with a thigh-high cut on one side. “This one would go beautifully with your eyes,” she said. “I must say, Miss Bishop, they’re quite extraordinary. Are they real?”
I’d been told more than once that my eyes were a reflection of Elizabeth Taylor’s, and my jet-black hair only enhanced that comparison. “They’re all mine,” I answered. “The hair is mine too, just in case you were wondering if I used Black #1.”
“Touché,” Sugar proclaimed quietly over the rim of her cup.
“That was a compliment, Miss Bishop.” She continued searching the rack and pulled out a red dress with a plunging neckline and long sleeves. “This one would complement your hair nicely.” She grabbed a third option that was somewhere in the middle. Pink with shoulder straps, a sweetheart neckline, and a wide tulle skirt. “The dressing room is this way.”
I figured I’d get the non-contender out of the way first. There was no way I was wearing the pink contraption out in public, and I was surprised Sugar even allowed it in the dressing room. The tulle shirt had matching tulle sleeves that partially concealed the tattoos running down my arm, and the only ink in full view was the dragon peeking out around my neck. If I wore my hair down it would hide most of it.
Sarah Winfield brightened up when I stepped out from the dressing room, I suspected because she’d done a fair job of hiding my marks. “Now that is lovely, Miss Bishop.”
“Oh, hell no!” Sugar spat. “This ain’t no damn prom.” She got up from her chair and marched over to me, spinning me around to get a closer look at the hot mess of pink I was wearing. “And this ain’t no damn silk anyway. What is this?” she asked, feeling the tulle skirt. “Nylon or polyester?”
I thought Sarah Winfield was going to combust before our very eyes. “That is silk, Miss Mobley. Where do you think you are? Dressbarn?”
Sugar ignored the reference. “You got two real nice dresses in that room, Katie. Go on in there and show this imposter what a real woman looks like.”
Winfield held her tongue, but I could see her trembling from the outrage of having to swallow it and abide by the mantra of the customer is always right. Pissing off a customer referred by a top client was tantamount to professional suicide.
Being my favorite, I decided to try the blue dress on next. As I was unzipping the back, I noticed a tag pinned to the inside. I assumed Miss Winfield had forgotten to remove it before leaving the dressing room, because a place like this usually didn’t bother letting the customer know the price of a gown until after they’d fallen in love with it. The tag contained details about the fabric and the designer—and the price of thirty-six hundred dollars. I nearly choked. Maybe it was a rental that I’d be expected to dry clean and return after the ball.
“Do you need help with the zipper?” Winfield offered.
“I’m fine.” I struggled with it but preferred to slip into the dress without the judgmental saleswoman eyeing the full tattoo on my back. It was fitted but offered some relief where the split began on the upper part of my thigh. When I stepped outside the dressing room everyone gasped. Sugar slowly nodded her head and release her breath like a proud mama, while Miss Winfield eyed my exposed tattoos in horror.
Sugar picked up on it and set the record straight. “This woman is showing you exactly who she is and doing it proudly.”
A garble of gibberish slipped from Winfield’s mouth as she clearly tried to respond intelligently. “Well, there are ways to express yourself without offending anyone.”
“Offending anyone,” Sugar repeated, flabbergasted by the ignorance—and stupidity—of Sara Winfield. “What the hell do you think she should wear? A potato sack?” She waved her hand around me. “Because that’s the only thing that’s gonna cover up all this art. And art ain’t meant to be censored.”
“Let me remind both of you that the Crossroads Society is paying for this dress. They patronize this shop for more than just the designs and quality—they also expect a certain level of discretion.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Sugar said, eyeing Winfield like she wanted to boot the woman in the ass. “Let me explain something to you, lady. Miss Bishop will be back on Friday afternoon to pick up that little blue dress she’ll be wearing to the ball, after you’ve taken the time to alter it, of course. You may not agree with her style, but I don’t think she much cares for yours either.” Sugar glance at me standing like a statue in front of the octagon of mirrors. “Do you, Katie?”
She turned back to Sarah Winfield. “Now show me the damn shoes.”
I picked out a pair of matching blue satin Manolo Blahniks. Sugar had argued for the Louboutin pumps covered with hematite stones encased in silver, but I couldn’t stomach the idea of drawing any more attention to myself than the dress—and tattoos—already would.
We left L’Elite with my shoes and headed for the cars parked a few blocks away. Sarah Winfield—with her hefty commission—escorted us to the door and assured me the dress would be ready by six p.m. Friday evening. Under normal circumstances alterations usually took weeks, but it was clear that the Crossroads Society pulled some heavy strings in Savannah and didn’t wait for anyone. The question was—why? If Sugar knew she sure wasn’t talking, but I also knew she wouldn’t let me walk straight into danger without a warning. She made it clear I needed to direct all questions about the Society to Finely Cooper himself.
We reached the lot where we’d parked. Sugar climbed into her ancient Cadillac Eldorado—that by the grace of God was still running—and rolled down her window as I walked away. “You need some help with your makeup Saturday night?”
“Makeup I can handle. But I can use some help with my hair,” I quickly added when I saw the disappointment on her face. “Come by my place around five o’clock. We can get drunk before I leave.”
She laughed and accepted my invitation. “You know, Katie, you just walked out of that shop with about four thousand dollars’ worth of freebies.”
“Five thousand,” I corrected, still wondering if it all needed to be returned Monday morning.
She grinned but quickly sobered up as she cranked the sleepy engine a couple of times. It moaned a bit but eventually turned over. “That’s a hell of a gift from a stranger,” she said as she shifted into drive and started to pull away. “You might want to think on that.”
Luanne Bennett is an author of contemporary fantasy with a touch of romance and humor thrown in. Her stories are set in places that could very well be your own backyard, with supernatural characters that look a lot like your friends and neighbors. After years of working in the technology world, she walked away from her former life to write novels full time. No regrets yet. Her current project, The Katie Bishop Series, is set in Savannah, with a colorful cast that includes a dragon, a coven of witches, a conjure woman, and a drag queen that redefines the meaning of badassery and loyalty.