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Jacquie D’Alessandro, Jill Shalvis, Crystal Green

Jinxed!

© 2007

BLAME IT ON KARMA by Jacquie D’Alessandro

This book is dedicated to Jill Shalvis and Crystal Green for making this such a fun project, and to my fabulous editor Brenda Chin for bringing us all together. And, as always, to my wonderful husband, Joe-Karma was smiling on me the day I met you; and our terrific son, Chris, aka Karma-was-smiling Junior.

Prologue

ISABELLE GIRARD, AKA The Legendary Madame Karma, sat at her fortune-telling table and observed the crowds wandering through the spacious courtyard. It was a perfect sun-drenched southern California day for the outdoor Valentine’s Day party, thrown to celebrate the recently completed renovations to the upscale Fairfax building complex. The event was in full swing and clearly a huge success. People of all ages, families with children, couples, singles, groups of teens meandered along the flower-lined walkways or on the meticulously manicured grass, sampling food from the cafes in the complex as well as from the numerous booths featuring foods from local restaurants. Many party goers carried shopping bags bearing the logo of a Fairfax shop while others toted artsy items ranging from paintings to ceramics purchased at one of the craft booths set up for the occasion. Entertainment in the form of face painters, jugglers, wandering magicians and Madame Karma herself added to the festive atmosphere. There was even a band, complete with a small dance floor, set up in a corner of the courtyard, a popular attraction based on the number of couples currently dancing.

Isabelle drew in a contented breath. She enjoyed participating in events like this. Not only did they provide extra income and allow her to increase the customer base for her fortune-telling business, but she loved being outdoors. The fresh air and sunshine rejuvenated her, recharged her “psychic batteries.” And after telling fortunes for more than six decades, Madame Karma welcomed the occasional change of scenery.

Her gaze shifted to the huge fountain marking the U-shaped courtyard’s center, where a rainbow of sunshine- gilded droplets cascaded from the shooting streams of water. A profusion of colorful flowers and neatly trimmed dark green hedges encircled the area. Numerous inviting wrought-iron benches dotted the courtyard, some situated in the sunshine, others resting in the shade provided by soaring elms. It was the perfect place for shoppers visiting the complex’s stores to rest and enjoy a snack, or for the workers in the offices above the retail spaces to enjoy a casual, outdoor lunch.

Or, based on the number of couples currently seated close together on the benches, it was also the perfect place for a bit of romance. Especially with today being Valentine’s Day.

Isabelle’s gaze settled on one of the couples, a pair she judged to be in their early forties, and her psychic instincts tingled. She clearly sensed the couple’s deep love for one another. Isabelle focused her energies-or as she called them, her “cosmic feelings”-on the couple, and then a smile tugged at her lips as the reason for their obvious happiness became clear to her. A much-wanted, long-awaited-for baby was on the way. She hoped they would visit her table so she could confirm her feeling.

She resumed her perusal of the numerous other party goers, a number of whom possessed bright auras and evoked a strong psychic reaction in her, again filling her with the hope that those individuals would take the time to visit her table. Whether it was because of Valentine’s Day or due to the planets’ current alignment, or a combination of both, she strongly sensed love and romance in the air. In her experience, however, many people fought the forces of fate. Didn’t believe in destiny. Or karma. Walked right by or completely ignored their perfect match because of preconceived notions. Focused their attentions on people who, in the long run, wouldn’t make them happy, when the person who would make their lives complete often stood right beneath their noses.

Foolish people. If only they would accept their karma, their path. In her experience, those who did always fared well in matters of the heart. Those who didn’t…well, as she knew, fighting fate was like trying to push back the ocean with a broom-you were doomed to fail.

Well, perhaps today, with all these romantic currents all but snapping in the air, she could set some of these party goers on the right path. Help them find their soul mates. Or at least keep them from choosing the wrong person.

She straightened in her chair as a smiling young woman approached her-a young woman whose aura was particularly bright. Isabelle’s instincts tingled with anticipation.

Karma and Fate were about to be predicted.

1

HOLDING A STEAMING container of freshly brewed tea in one hand and an oversized frosted cookie in the other, Lacey Perkins walked toward the fortune-telling table.

Bright afternoon sunshine warmed Lacey’s skin and, unable to resist its alluring heat, she paused for several seconds to savor the sensation. Closing her eyes, she tipped back her head and drew in several deep, appreciative breaths of fresh air redolent with the delicious scents wafting from the various food tents set up around the courtyard. She’d been cooped up in Constant Cravings since early this morning, and as much as she loved her coffee shop, she welcomed this momentary respite.

She opened her eyes, then blinked against the sun’s glare. Based on the crowded courtyard and the nonstop stream of customers who had filed into Constant Cravings from the moment she’d opened the doors this morning, the Valentine’s Day party celebrating Fairfax’s renovations was a huge success. Certainly her sales thus far today had exceeded her expectations. Throughout the course of the hectic day she’d recognized the faces of many of her regular customers-Baxter Hills locals and workers whose offices were located in the complex. Everyone from executives to the landscapers who kept the courtyard in pristine condition had dropped into her shop.

But she was even more encouraged by the number of newcomers, many of whom reached for one of the business cards she kept stacked by the cash register. Hopefully those first-timers would come back for more of her specialty coffees, teas and fresh-baked goods. Check out her Web site. Hire her to bake custom items for their next special occasion or party.

She’d worked long and hard to make her dream of running her own store a reality, and all she’d accomplished with Constant Cravings-the personal touches she’d put into the decor and the menu items-filled her with pride. While you couldn’t swing a stick and fail to hit one of the coffee-house franchises that occupied space in nearly every block in the Los Angeles area, she’d worked to make Constant Cravings different in every way, from setting up her store in Baxter Hills-an up-and-coming area on the outskirts of the city-to the decorations, to the desserts she served, to the colorful napkins she used. She hoped the exposure from today’s party would lead not only to those new faces becoming regular customers but to them telling their friends about her shop. Which would lead to even better sales.

Which might finally get Evan Sawyer off her back.

As if the mere thought of Fairfax’s building manager-who, by virtue of that title was unfortunately her landlord- could make him materialize, her gaze happened upon him standing across the courtyard. His features were set in their usual scowl, and she wasn’t in the least bit surprised to note that despite the warm weather and the fact that

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