Aurora Affair

Badge-2015-Paranormal-GP-HaleyGrand Prize Winner
Chanticleer Book Reviews
2015 Paranormal Awards
Supernatural Powers and Paranormal Fiction

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Confronted by supernatural powers, a skeptical heroine discovers that her love affairs
are the key to harnessing her own power to influence the world—
for better if she does it right,
or for worse if she fails.

Supermodel-turned-artist Madeline LaRue has been suppressing her psychic gifts all her life. Now she’s stranded in a remote musicians’ enclave, called in by her twin sister to explain away some spooky goings-on that are more than merely spooky. Devout skeptic or not, Madeline has walked into a cosmic storm where, along with her sister, an ex-lover, and a charismatic New Age musician, she is targeted by forces she has always denied, and that only her artist’s eye can discern.

But the power to fight back lies dormant within her. Knowing that only true love can fuel that power and only passion can unleash it, Madeline must choose a mate from the four men besieging her heart and mind.

Love is bewildering at the best of times, but never with stakes like these. For the right choice will launch humanity into a new golden age, while any other will trigger a millennium of darkness. All depends on whether Madeline can face her fears—no matter what cost.

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Available through online print and e-book retailers (Amazon, B&N, etc.), your local independent bookseller via Ingram and Baker & Taylor, and autographed copies directly from the author. Contact at dcmahaley [at sign] gmail.com.

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The first edition of The Aurora Affair was published as an e-novel by Club Lighthouse Publishing in 2009 and is no longer available in this form. The books are identical save for occasional single-word or phrase edits, and the English style changed from Canadian to American conventions.

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E X C E R P T

CHAPTER 1: Damsel In Distress

The universe punished me for doubting its powers by arranging a special demonstration.

It dropped me, blindfolded and hamstrung, into a room with locked doors, and gave me four weapons: my paints, my doubts, my figure, and a library.

Then it said: “If you can find the right door and open it with the right key, then you can have your heart’s desire. Oh, by the way—There’s a psychic lunatic running around out there. If you can free yourself before the sands in the hourglass run out, then you can prevent him from corrupting a critical mass of humanity and plunging the world into a new dark age. Have a nice day!”

Okay, the universe didn’t actually say this to me. If it had, I would have answered, “Forget it! I’ll live without my heart’s desire.” After all, I’d been doing so for 27 years.

I expected more of same as I backed out my driveway one August evening, heading for New Atlantis. A cryptic call from my identical twin sister had changed my weekend plans. Unaware I was launching on a preordained journey to entrapment and a psychic battle, I zoomed northward in altruism. Two hours later found me steaming along a fire road through the Green Mountain National Forest.

Literally steaming: me in a perspiration cloud from heat and humidity abnormal for the Vermont mountains; my convertible steaming from the hit it had taken a few miles back. It had begun the drive as a pristine vintage roadster—a ’66 Sunbeam Tiger, my pride and joy and special toy that had taken me from novice driver to winner in autocross. Now it bled coolant and oil as it limped and thumped on a shredded tire, two bent rims, and damaged suspension. Its V8 motor shook the dense woods around us, as half my custom sport exhaust lay behind in the pucker brush while the other half dragged beneath the car, carving a trail in the dirt.

Please, please! I chanted internally. Hang in there another mile!

No way would I walk alone through the wilderness in a sundress after dark. Even if the Tiger kept going, at 10 mph I’d still be out here when the looming thunderstorm broke and twilight fell. Already, beneath the foliage canopy, I needed headlights. But one was broken and the other gouged out. I could probably hold my flashlight in one hand and steer with the other. Then again, the increasing flares of lightning could guide my way.

Please, please—c’mon, baby, hold it together—

Aha!

The forest pulled back to reveal a stone wall blocking my travel. Front and center loomed an iron gate backed by chain link and bracketed by cameras, set into masonry taller than I could reach. Along the top, barbed wire coiled like a lethal hairdo. Inside the gate, a guard shack squatted in the murk.

“Trespassers Will Be Teleported to a Hostile Planet!” said signs in four languages. And welcome to New Atlantis to you, too! I thought back. I couldn’t blame the owner, Dru Montclair, for needing to live in a fortress. That happens when you’re a mega-superstar, as was Blanche now that she shared his stage and his bed.

Approaching the gate, I didn’t bother braking—the car wouldn’t have stopped, anyway—sure that the guard could hear me coming and would be ready on the release switch. Indeed, the gate scraped open when my passage tripped a motion sensor and switched on floodlights within and without.

Once safe inside, the Tiger ground to a halt and expired. I dropped my forehead against my knuckles atop the steering wheel as the gate scraped shut behind.

“Hell of an entrance, Miz LaRue!” came a voice from beside me. I jerked my head up and around to find a guy standing halfway between me and the guard shack, backlit by the floods. My brain, still sludgy from adrenaline overload and dehydration, couldn’t manage a snappy comeback. I must have taken too long to respond, for he strode forward and changed his tone to an authoritative calm.

“Ignition off?”

He stood at the driver’s door, hand on the latch, ready to pull if I didn’t answer.

“Um, no, it stalled.”

“Don’t try to restart it. Just click off and give me the key.”

I obeyed, at loss for words, at loss for thought. When he said, “How many fingers?” I counted three. That seemed to satisfy him. He pulled open the Tiger’s door and asked, “You ready?”

“Um, a little gummy in the knees, but I think I’m okay.”

I pivoted in the cockpit and stuck out the legs that had earned me a six-figure income. The rest of the package emerged disjointedly, making me glad that Blanche the Dancer wasn’t around for comparison. The gate guard noticed everything without reaction, just offered a hand to help me stand.

At that, my synapses resumed firing. Those hands! Oil-stained fingers with nicked knuckles, curved around palms callused and thickened from years of turning wrenches. A mechanic! At New Atlantis! Oh joy, the day’s bad luck had just reversed!

I leaned against his solidity, vaguely noticing that we stood the same height, as he walked me across packed dirt to a log bench outside his guard shack. I flopped my weary derriere atop it while he nipped in and came right back out with a water bottle. I took, gulped, then poured the rest over my head, neck, and chest.

“Ahh. Thank you. I had a gallon in the car, but it went into the radiator.”

“And right back out, from the look of things.”

“Oh god, I hope the engine hasn’t seized!”

“Mm. We’ll see.”

He stood before me and finally asked, “What happened?”

I wiped my wrist across my mouth. “Deer. Two. Right in the middle of the road.”

He returned to the Tiger and walked around it, scowling. “Doesn’t look like you hit them.”

“No. I missed them, that’s the problem. Landed in one of those rock-lined drainage ditches along the road. Took out half everything underneath, and punched out the lights on a boulder and a sapling on the other side.”

He nodded. “How’d you get in that deep, then get out?”

“In? Overconfidence, and being mad at my sister. Out? A winch.”

His brows jumped and he stopped circling the car to stare at me. “A come-along,” I amended, pleased to demolish his expectations. “Between that and jacking the nose I got the rear tires on the ground and was able to back out of there. That messed up anything left that hadn’t been crunched.”

He continued to stare, reminding me of a hawk with his expressionless intensity. Then he returned to the bench and sat at my side. The lights caught his eyes, revealing a clear, sky blue often found in pilots and sailors. They regarded me so frankly, so honestly, that I did a double take and looked straight in.

Instantly, a familiar and dreaded rippling began in the atmosphere around us, until his visage was overlapped by a face I knew but had never seen before, with a voice I’d never heard before yet recognized and which warmed my heart. My vision heightened and blurred at the same time, with a golden shimmer around the edges, forming into white and silver curtains like an albino aurora. An ache resonated through my body, swelling until I was paralyzed. I recognized him. I loved him. He belonged to me.

Then the scene snapped back to the wooded gate yard of New Atlantis.

The guard stood and stepped away. Panting, I shook off the vision and wondered how many seconds had passed while I’d been overcome. The flashes I normally experienced were as quick as the lightning still blinking above us. A big vision like this one, which had occurred only once and not for a decade, warped time enough to alert other people that something was awry.

He had noticed, judging by his stiff stance at arm’s distance and that stare through his hawk mask. Now he stood lit so I could see that he was not only my size but my age. He wore scruffy cut-off jeans and a holey T-shirt. His hair, unevenly trimmed, brushed his neck and jaw. It gleamed a tawny bronze, as did his skin over lean muscle. He was a perfect specimen for the Men At Work series I was painting for a gallery feature. However, this was not the moment to invite him to my studio!

After regarding me in turn, his eyes veiled and he pulled us back into the moment. “I’m supposed to tell them when you get here.”
He escaped into the guard shack, almost long enough for me to recompose myself, swatting at mosquitoes. Upon return he declared, “Dru said—this morning—that if you weren’t here by eight-thirty I had to go find you.”

He waited for me to gush, “Oh, Dru must have had a premonition!” When I didn’t, he added with a twitch that could have been a suppressed smile, “You missed by two minutes.”

“Damn. You mean I could have just sat there and the cavalry would have come?”

“Well, just me on an ATV. If you weren’t anywhere on the fire road, we’d’ve sent somebody out your route with a truck and trailer. No cell reception ’til a coupla towns down.”

He paused for a beat then spoke the question that was bugging him. “What the—heck—were you doing out there in the race car?”
I stifled a knee-jerk anger. Of course he knew the Tiger was a competition car. Who didn’t, when the tabloids tracked your sister’s every move, including her estrangement from an eccentric twin?

So I answered, “Trying to avoid the groupies at the front gate.”

“Nobody told you about the road conditions out back?”

“Blanche said it was ‘rough’ when she gave me the bar-gate code a couple years ago, but only the first mile to discourage sightseers.” I snorted a laugh. “It looked more like a landmine field after everything had exploded!”

“She’s never been out there herself. Neither has Dru.”

“I doubt she’s even driven since she moved here. And she sure doesn’t know anything about suspensions!”
“And you don’t know much about tires if you went off like that on dirt!”

Throughout this exchange, we played peek-a-boo with our gazes, trying to catch the other out around our facades. I welcomed the earthbound topic, though, and rewarded him with the embarrassing truth. “I was practicing four-wheel drifts.”

Again he stopped and stared. I explained. “That nice smooth stretch after the landmine holes but before the two-track? The ess-turns? They’re perfect.”

He kept staring until I finished, “There’s an autocross tomorrow I was hoping to win, which would have given me my first championship. I was planning to get up early and drive there from here.”

Awareness of lost achievement and huge expenses settled like a cement cloak around my shoulders. He concluded, “So you tried your nice, wide tarmac tires on nice, slick dirt then came around a corner sideways and met Bambi.”

“Yep.” I sighed. “Giving me the fun choice of a bucking bronco ride off the shoulder, a bloody hood ornament, or a cockpit full of guts and hooves.”

He dropped his gaze and shook his head, then grinned and barked out in laughter. It changed his face so dramatically that my breath stuck in my throat. I almost blurted, “I’ve got to paint you!” but he pressed onward with reality so I swallowed back my words.

“I’ll check it out tomorrow—” He gestured at the car. “—but for now we gotta get you to the show. It’s already started.”

“I figured.” I glanced at my wristwatch, surprised to find a shattered face. I hadn’t felt my arm hit anything during the bronco ride, though surely bruises would emerge by tomorrow. Already my sternum ached from slamming against the belts. And my dress was sweat-soaked, with oil smears augmenting its floral pattern. Thankfully, I had packed two changes of clothes along with tools and driving gear for the event-not-to-be.

When I looked morosely at the Tiger, the gate guard said, “It will be safe here.”

“I know. Better put up the top, though.” I glanced at the sky, still grumbling and flaring above the treetops. While I might make it to the amphitheatre after all before the storm broke, I doubted the show would run its course. No point changing if I was going to get wet again.

Stiffly I rose while he stepped inside the shack to set gadgets on automatic. Movement chased away the hollow feeling in my limbs, and the simple tasks of unfolding and securing the top, extracting and organizing my baggage, freed me to replay the vision he had stunned me with minutes before.

My mind still reverberated like a bell that had been walloped by a sledge hammer. The visuals had already melted away, but the lingering . . . certainty . . . struck as hard as it had the first time, with Buck. Back then, the vision had convinced me I’d found my soul mate after millennia of reincarnation. Subsequent years of emotional torture had proven me wrong.

I was cured now, though sometimes I saw past people’s skin to their true colours in a snapshot moment that seemed supernatural. But after Buck had left I’d figured it out. The artist’s eye I’d been born with simply interpreted my five senses in textbook intuition. Blanche, however, considered it a sixth sense, which she called “soul-seeing” to avoid annoying me with the term “ESP.” Nevertheless, my gift was why she had called me here tonight.

Nothing strange or sparkly happened when the gate guard approached me again. I wanted to ask him, Why you? Why now? What for?—but he kept us firmly on task.

“We figured you’d drive yourself in, so all I’ve got is an ATV. If you want, I can call a car down to take you to the amphitheatre. Or the house.”

A polite way of asking if I would I turn into New Atlantis royalty and refuse to ride a spine-jarring open vehicle up a rough road in a dress.

I chirped, “I’m fine,” and followed him to the ATV, mounting it behind him. I just had time to wedge my tote bag between us before he took off so fast I almost tumbled off the back.

What remained of my French twist unravelled as we churned uphill, spitting dirt behind us, the machine making prolonged flatulent noise in the process. Too soon my driver slowed, when our road merged into another that linked the compound’s main driveway to its residential lodges, The Glen and Valhalla. These I recognized from my previous visit.

Tonight the dirt loop served as a parking lot, with one-way passage between cars jammed along the mowed shoulder. We rode through sounds that shaped into music, then stopped at the loop’s reverse point where sawhorses and traffic cones marked an opening into the woods.

“Here ya go!” he announced with a heartiness that rang hollow.

I swung off the ATV then paused for a long look at him, which he returned without blinking. Who are you? I wondered at him. He didn’t answer. Of course he wouldn’t. Couldn’t. But a new thought blossomed: Might this be the person Blanche wanted me to scope?

In her call, she had said only, “If you know why, Madeline, it won’t work. Just come to the finale and tell us what you see and feel. We need to know if it’s real or I’m hallucinating. The finale is our last chance.”

Click.

I couldn’t call back because she had timed her lure for the last moment before stepping on stage in New York City. That show ran until midnight, followed by parties, interviews, then hours of travel to New Atlantis for rest, rehearsal, and the finale underway right now.

Her only other words, disrupted by people dragging her away from the telephone, had been, “I need—tomorrow—back gate—please—”

—leaving me to think she’d offered “back gate” privilege in delayed remembrance of my vow to never run the front-gate gantlet again. Now I wondered if she’d directed me here in order to “see” this guy. If he were hired security for the tour, then this would be his final night on duty. If he lived at New Atlantis, then tonight’s show would be the last chance—for what?—forever.

I could already tell her, thanks to the vision, that he had a lion’s heart, a warrior’s courage, an artist’s passion, an artisan’s skill, and a teenager’s hormones. If I were in the market, he would be an intriguing replacement for Buck. Blanche probably thought I was still looking, since we had stopped confiding after Dru entered the picture. So was her drawing me to New Atlantis a matchmaking mission in disguise?

Pah! As Buck had taught me, cosmic visions did not identify a soul mate. I was still waiting to find out what did. Blanche had spotted hers on TV when she was 12 and redirected her song-and-dance interests into music videos until she was in the right place when Dru was producing. They had mated instantly. No such luck for me.

I had been celibate, other than a few smooches and gropes with select auto sport buddies, since Buck had dumped me three years ago. Yet my appearance and former career led people to assume I slept with a different guy—or three—each night. In truth, I had abandoned hope that anyone would make my loins quiver again. So why had this gate guard triggered a vision just like the one I had with Buck?

For now I could only translate his face and physique into blocks and planes to sketch later. Then I waved him away and applied myself to the next ordeal.

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