Touched by Lightning
Written Musings (December 13, 2019)
A Love & Light Romantic Suspense with a touch of Magical Realism
Since his death three years earlier, his life hasn’t been the same…
In the West Palm Beach homeless scene lives a young woman in tattered clothes. Every night she is haunted by the frightening secret that drove her to a furtive and anonymous life.
New York City fashion photographer Adrian Wilde is a man with everything—except love. When he is struck by lightning, it’s not his life that flashes before his eyes; his soul connects with a beautiful woman in a fiery explosion. In the three years since, the one person who touches his heart is only a specter in his dreams. Even if she was real, she must be dead. So, why can’t he move past her?
Then, as he’s going over the photographs for a recent Florida shoot, he spots his dream girl in the background. Adrian is determined to find her, and rescue her from what looks like a tenuous life. And when he learns why she’s hiding, he must gain her trust to put a murderer behind bars…and free them both.
Read an Excerpt
Three years earlier:
The sky blackened, making the wind gust wickedly through the palm trees. Not exactly the Hawaii one pictured, but Adrian Wilde was on a roll, quite literally. Supermodel Ellie Marlow held her long hair out of her face, frowning at the camera.
Adrian tilted his head. “Come on, Ellie. Just a few more shots.” He lifted his hands to the rolling clouds above. “Can’t you feel the excitement in the air, the danger? It’s perfect.”
“It’s insane! We’re going to be electrocuted.”
As if the sorceress had summoned it, lightning cracked across the clouds, puncturing the blackness with wicked fingers. A second later thunder shattered the air.
“Two more shots and we’re out of here,” he called over the wind. “And let go of the hair. Please,” he added with a smile.
After a pause, she let her brown hair whip across her face, walking toward him with a jaunty cant.
“This is going to be the shot of a lifetime.”
For a second, the hairs on his body shot to attention. The air tingled. In a single flash of light and a loud crash, he was knocked backward. Vibrations charged through his body. He could hear Ellie scream, but he couldn’t move or speak. Darkness swirled around him, as if those spikes of light had pulled him right up into that black mass.
“Help me!” Ellie’s voice, he thought.
“He’s not breathing!” he heard someone scream.
The twisting mass formed a tunnel, and at the end a brilliant light pulsed. He moved toward that light as a roller coaster screams across the tracks. Images flashed past him, vivid and full of life.
Only it wasn’t his life.
A young girl made a sandcastle on the beach, patting the sides with infinite care until a boy with dark hair stalked over and kicked it in. That same girl, now a lovely teenager, standing on a seawall, her golden blond curls dancing in the breeze as she looked out to a cerulean ocean. Her arms were crossed in front of her, slender hands on her throat. Then the same girl, now a woman, driving through town in a white Mercedes convertible on a summer day.
He kept rushing through space without time or thought. The woman’s image flashed in front of him again. She was walking out of a mansion. Storm clouds darkened the sky there, too, but he hardly had time to notice. If he kept going, he was going to crash into her. She didn’t see him coming right at her, right…
He was expelled into a thicker darkness, a liquid warmth that flowed all around him. Blood pumping through his veins, a muffled thunder that pulsed through the thickness. A heartbeat. Her heartbeat. He was inside her.
Then everything exploded, worse than the thunder, more painful than the lightning. Fire, the smell of smoke, heat on his skin, searing pain, so much fear and panic. All he could see was the venomous orange burst that surrounded the woman. Her thoughts were louder than the roar of flames.
What’s happening? Mother! I’ve got to get out and find her.
“He’s got a heartbeat,” a voice said from some far away place.
Adrian rolled on the sand in a desperate attempt to smother the flames. Hands were everywhere on him, holding him down as he struggled. He opened his eyes. The crew. The people he’d left behind what seemed like hours ago. They stood around him, confusion and concern in their eyes.
“He’s alive,” Ellie breathed, squeezing his arm.
He looked around. No fire. Only the rain, gushing from the sky. Rain that had felt like flames.
Two of the men helped him to his feet. His shoes had been knocked off, and his feet felt like two balls of fire. They looked like he’d been standing in a frying pan.
“Let’s get you out of the rain. Geez, are you all right? You gave us a helluva scare.”
Adrian’s breath came in heavy gasps. His body felt like liquid. When he reached the nearest palm, he held onto it.
“Get away from that tree, Wilde,” Bob said. “You want to get hit by lightning again?”
“Is that what happened?” He saw his camera lying on the sand, scorched and now wet. “Where was the fire? I felt flames, smelled smoke.”
Ellie pulled him to the van, where he dropped down onto the floor. “There was no fire, love,” she said, wiping his shoulder-length dark hair out of his eyes. “It must have been the lightning you felt. You were dead, you know. Margot performed CPR and got your heart beating again.”
“I was dead.” His voice trailed off as he looked at the place where he’d been thrown. He closed his eyes, settling his forehead in his hand. Flashes of the tunnel ripped through the blackness behind his eyes. Dead. He had heard of the tunnel, of people seeing their life flash before them. But who was the woman? Why had her life exploded?
Cold water engulfed Adrian, pulling him down to some hellish oblivion beneath the sea. He heard the wild beating of his heart and the sound of air as it escaped his mouth in the last bubbles of hope. Blackness surrounded him. His lungs threatened to burst. Breathe, he had to breathe.
He inhaled cool water into his lungs. Panic froze him. He took two short gasps. More water rushed in, crushing his chest. Long, blond tendrils of hair floated out on either side of him.
“No!” He heard his own voice tear the word from his mouth in one long wail of agony. Fear raged through his veins as he caught his breath in gasps. He looked desperately around for a way to escape, his survival instinct strong and fierce.
The water and fury disappeared, leaving only the cool darkness of a November New York night. The sounds of the city assured him of reality—taxi drivers honked their horns, music drifted from somewhere. He wasn’t dying. Yet.
“My God, Adrian, what were you dreaming about?” Rita’s voice whispered from the dark.
He’d forgotten she had wormed an overnight invitation. She turned on the soft light over the bed. He brought himself back by rubbing his fingers over his face, trying to erase his expression of fear.
Rita touched the tensed muscle of his arm, then wiped the perspiration that covered him onto the silk sheets. “You’re soaked. Are you all right?”
He finally felt composed enough to turn at the concern in her voice. Her black mane of curls tumbled around her face, wildly framing dark eyes and olive skin.
He smoothed back his damp hair, dark as hers. “It was a nightmare. Go back to sleep.” His voice betrayed him, cracking softly.
How long would he keep having this dream? It was worse than the fire he’d experienced through BlueFire’s eyes, and no less vivid. Since his death three years earlier, his life hadn’t been the same.
He rolled out of bed and walked over to the black dresser. In the mirror he could see the green light spilling from beneath the pedestal of the black bed like a mystical fog, and Rita sitting there watching him. The air chilled his damp skin. He lit a cigarette, took two drags, and crushed it in the blue glass astray. Last month he took five drags before putting it out. Last week, three.
Rita’s voice softened. “Adrian, talk to me. It’ll help.”
“Nothing to talk about. Go back to sleep. I’m going to get some work done.”
He had shared his after death experience with one other person, the only person who wouldn’t think he was crazy.
It wasn’t the strange journey death had taken him on, but what that journey had started: visions. That lightning strike had connected his soul with a mysterious woman’s soul. During brief flashes, like those images in the tunnel, he felt her emotions, saw what she saw. Sometimes it was the ocean, other times an art gallery. He’d dubbed her BlueFire, blue for her sad, lonely moods.
The drowning nightmares were far different from any ordinary dream. She was drowning. At least he guessed it was her, because of the hair and the way he could feel her. Had she survived the fire only to drown? He would never know because he had no clues about her, not even her name. If she really existed beyond his soul.
After taking a cold shower, he threw on some baggy cotton pants, pulled his hair into a ponytail, and walked into his studio. The bright lights and faint vinegar smell of darkroom chemicals brought the comfort he wanted. He loved the art of the old-fashioned process as much as he did the photo-taking itself.
Throwing a Moody Blues CD into the stereo system, he took the negatives still hanging in the drying cabinet and closed himself in the darkroom. Years ago he’d come across the group doing a reunion tour and jived with their music. Maybe it was their name that snagged him, reminding him of BlueFire.
He laid the strips on the contact easel and shot the contact sheets for the black and whites he’d taken last week in Palm Beach for Guess. Although he’d never been to the area before, it had felt eerily familiar to him. He still couldn’t shake the feeling.
Adrian worked for hours, hoping that when he emerged the long night would be far behind him. It wasn’t the first time he’d spent half the night printing photographs after a nightmare. The contact sheets came alive in the developer, and as always, he was pleased with the results. Mari Flannegan looked fresh and innocent in the foamy waves, like a modern-day Norma Jean. Behind her, the Atlantic Ocean shimmered like a blanket of diamonds in the sun.
The shot of Mari holding a wad of seaweed with a grimace on her face wasn’t planned, but he would recommend it be the first one in the series. He pulled the sheet out of the wash, squeegeed it, and hung it up to dry.
He never kidded himself that he didn’t have miles to go before becoming the best. When he reached that pinnacle, then what? For now, he had everything he wanted, mostly the security that he would never worry again about losing his home or not having food for dinner. All that was in a faraway past before he had any control over his life. A penthouse in New York City, travel to exotic places, working with gorgeous women…what more could he want?
He started the last contact sheet, feeling lack of sleep creeping up on his features. So far most of the shots looked perfect, except for the blurry one when a bedraggled Spanish girl tugged at his sleeve just as he was making the exposure. Adrian told her to leave, then felt so bad at her obvious disappointment he played sucker and bought one of the shell necklaces dangling over her arm.
When he had put the last contact sheet in the fix, he snapped on the light and surveyed the shots. His gaze rested on the last one. Mari gave the camera a sensational smile, probably glad she was almost done and could get out of the nippy sea air that reddened her nose. The beach curved away behind her. The mist that enveloped the background made it seem surreal—a perfect shot.
Wait a minute. Something was in the background that he’d clearly missed when taking the shot. He squinted, making out a lone figure of a woman standing on the beach. Judging by the drab attire and general appearance, she appeared to be a homeless person. He would have to airbrush the figure so it would blend in with the mist.
“Damn,” he muttered, leaving the darkroom to let the pictures dry and grab a bite. He hated missing details like that.
Rita chewed on a bagel, sitting at the slate gray counter that separated the kitchen from the dining area. She wrinkled up the note she’d been writing when he walked out of his studio.
“Hi, darling. Wasn’t sure if I’d see you before I left.”
“Aren’t those bagels stale?” He wanted to avoid “morning after” conversation. Sometimes that could be stale, too.
“It’s fine.” She wrenched another bite free. “You’ve been working since that nightmare?”
“Got a lot done. The shots for Guess came out great.”
He poured a cup of the almond coffee Rita had brewed, He didn’t care for fancy coffees, but as long as it was fresh and potent, he could live with nuts in his java.
Rita smiled over her cup, letting her gaze linger on his bare chest. “You should do some modeling, Adrian. With those eyes, that mouth…”
“I have no desire to be on the other side of the camera, thank you.” In fact, he went out of his way to keep a low profile. He wanted his photography to speak for itself.
With a loud meow, Oscar, his white cat, made a grand entrance. He walked over to the super-size cat food bowl and sniffed at its emptiness.
Rita opened the cabinet door and filled the bowl. “Do you think Giovanni will ever come back from Australia and get Oscar?” she asked, stroking his white fur.
Adrian smiled, remembering Giovanni’s plea to watch his cat while he ‘found himself’ in the Outback. He found himself all right, along with a lucrative contract for National Geographic. Adrian didn’t keep pets or plants, since he was gone a lot, but he’d agreed to his good friend’s request. A year later, Oscar was still in his residence, and Rita took care of him whenever Adrian was away.
“Probably not. The last letter I got from him detailed his new life with some Aborigine tribe, with a three-hundred-dollar check for Oscar’s upkeep. And of course, lots of buttering up for not sticking him in the pound.”
“Ah, you wouldn’t do that, would you?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Nah. Fuzzy bugger’s grown on me.”
Oscar, as if sensing his existence being discussed, wandered over to Adrian and rubbed against his leg. Adrian leaned down and scratched his head.
Rita leaned on her elbows, looking up at him under thick, dark lashes. “Is there a chance I’ll grow on you, too?”
Adrian made it a point never to lead a woman on, just as he never lied to them. “Rita…”
“I know, I know. You’re too busy to have a relationship. Lucky Oscar, the only reason he gets to stay is because he was foisted on you.”
He lit a cigarette, taking two drags before crushing it out. “A cat is a lot easier to deal with than a woman.” Then he walked into the bedroom to get dressed.
By the time Adrian returned to the darkroom, he’d forgotten about both Rita and the ragamuffin. He aimed the remote at the central music system, and piano sounds boomed throughout the apartment.
He sat at his white table, the contact sheets spread out before him. A yellow pencil marked the ones he would recommend to Guess. He picked up the last contact sheet and stared at the figure in the background. Holding it under the bright studio light, he automatically reached for the loupe. Something about the woman’s posture sent a funny feeling curling through his insides.
He decided to blow up that shot to see if he could make her out. Even with the negative in the enlarger and the head extended all the way to the top, he still couldn’t get the magnification he was after, so he reached for the 130-millimeter lens. The negative’s image projected onto the easel, and he shifted it to capture only the woman in the background. After testing, he set the exposure for ten seconds and dropped the print in the developer, watching the figure appear as he pushed it around with the tongs. Magic, that’s what photography was.
Fingers of déjà vu gripped his heart as he examined the print in its bath of fix. What he could see of the woman’s features beneath the scarf was delicate, her lips sensual and full. She seemed oblivious to the activity down the beach as she looked out at the ocean. His fingers trembled as he transferred the print to the wash, then held it beneath the blow dryer. He knew this woman with her arms crossed protectively in front of her, fingers up by her throat. She had haunted his life for three years.
Praise & Reviews
“Paranormal and suspense elements blend nicely in popular New Age romance novelist Wainscott’s latest … an emotional, tender tale…”
— Publishers Weekly
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“Author Tina Wainscott continues to make a name for herself by bringing a new and refreshing twist to all her engrossing tales.”
— RT Book Reviews
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“A delightful and compelling romance with two memorable protagonists and an assortment of true-to-life street people. A tenderly beautiful fairy tale. Readers will be enthralled!”
— Affaire de Coeur
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“A fast-paced contemporary, hot and spicy with a hero to die for. Enjoy!”
— Kat Martin, New York Times bestselling author