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Enlightened End (Lotus House Book 7) by AUDREY CARLAN (1)

Chapter One

The crown chakra is found at the very top of the head and/or hovering just above it. This energy source represents enlightenment. It is the seventh chakra.

LUNA

Fear.

Concern.

Anger.

These are the primary emotions battling in my mind as I read the letter I’ve received from the Winters Group for the second time.

My temperature goes from tepid to boiling as I jump up and pace across my new apartment.

Thank God Dara let me take over her loft above the bakery when she moved into her home with Silas down the street. It has saved me heaps in rent. Being a full-time yoga teacher is never going to make me rich, but it’s my legacy. My mother and her best friend, the previous co-owner, Crystal Nightingale, signed over the business to me. Flat out. The two yogis have served the Berkeley community for the better part of twenty years, and they are moving on in life as two travel-destined hippies in their sixties.

It’s my job, my birthright, to make Lotus House current and successful and to continue providing for the community’s physical and spiritual needs. For some, the classes we offer are therapeutic. Others seek exercise and better health, both on the outside as well as the inside. We have beginning yoga, vinyasa flow, aerial, meditation, and even tantric couples yoga. My mother and her best friend prided themselves on offering the most well-rounded schedule and most diverse list of all the greater Bay Area yoga centers. Heck, we even have naked yoga once a week for those who want to think outside of societal norms, challenge their inner demons, and fight off body insecurities.

Now I hold an eviction notice from some big conglomerate business tycoon who is going to come in here and wipe the floor with us. Destroy our building and the community’s access to a healthy alternative to a gym membership, along with my legacy.

Oh, and they are generously giving us six months to vacate the premises. Like that’s enough time for a business that has been around twenty years!

Then it hits me, and I come to a screeching halt at my wicker love seat. What about the bakery and my home above it? Oh, my God! If Lotus House received a notice that Winters Group is flattening our building, it’s possible Sunflower Bakery, Tattered Pages Used Bookstore, and Rainy Day Café did too! Maybe even the buildings across the street? New to You Thrift Store, the Smoke Shop, Reel Antiques…

Sweet Shiva.

Our entire street is likely at risk. The beautiful hidden gem we’ve created outside of San Francisco, Oakland, even the main area of Berkeley, will be a haven no more.

“This…this man… What the heck is his name anyway?” I glance down at the notice I’m clutching in a tight fist and scan the bottom. A bold slanted signature stares back at me: Grant Winters, Chief Executive Officer of Winters Group.

At the top of the letter is the company’s logo and address.

If this Grant Winters thinks he can just send a piece of paper kicking us out after twenty years, he’s got another think coming!

I stomp over to the table, grab my cellphone, and tap the name Dara McKnight in my recent calls list.

“Oh, hell no! Who do these people think they are? Silas is fuming mad and on the phone with his attorney right now!” my best friend states before I can say a word. I’m not shocked to see her badass side coming to the surface.

“I’m assuming you got the eviction notice too?”

“Mmm-hmm. They’re going after the entire street on both sides. My mama is fired up too. Says this was the only building we couldn’t buy. The Winters Group has owned the land for near on three decades. Guess they bought up a bunch of the land back in the day when it was ripe and cheap. Now it’s worth hundreds of millions.”

Hundreds of millions.

That number is higher than anything I’ll ever see in my lifetime. Unless the media is talking about the cost of war, I have no frame of reference for that kind of money. It seems so fantastical and out of any realm of possibility that one person or family company could own something that valuable.

“Do you have any idea what they plan on putting here?”

“Nope. But the warehouse across from Lotus has been empty for eons. And that’s prime real estate in Berkeley. I’ve always wondered why nothing was ever put there. Looks like maybe they’ve been holding off because they already have a plan for it.”

I grumble under my breath. “They’ll probably put a Starbucks and a McDonald’s there. Destroy the private little organic-loving community we’ve built.”

Dara sighs, and I hear a baby coo in the background.

“Is that my godson I hear?” I ask, thinking about their six-month-old son, Jackson.

Dara coos back to her child before answering. “Yes, he’s fussy. Needs a nap, but he’s trying to stay awake. Never wants to miss a moment.” She yawns in my ear.

“Sounds like you could use a nap too. Nursing a six-month-old and taking care of a two-year-old is not an easy task, honey.” I don’t know from firsthand experience, but I do teach the pre- and postnatal yoga classes at Lotus House. I had to learn a lot of information about pregnancy and the woman’s body, before and after birth, in order to teach those classes safely for mommy and baby, which I figure gives me a bit of an edge.

She lets out another tired-sounding grunt. “He’s nursing now. When he goes down, I’ll catch a nap. Have Silas take Destiny swimming or get her to watch a movie. My little is busy. Always bouncing around with nonstop energy. Just like her father. The solar plexus chakra is fired up at all times. Thank God Jackson is like me. His energy is almost always calm.”

“Do you think he’s driven by the same chakra as you?”

“Yeah. Even when I was pregnant, I could see the halo of royal blue around my stomach. With Destiny, it was always a bright yellow. I guess I should be thankful the four of us balance each other out.” She chuckles.

I giggle too, knowing just how much Silas balances out Dara and little Jackson to his sister, Destiny. A pang of jealousy hits my heart. I wish I had my own man and family to turn to, especially when everything around me seems to be falling apart. My mother is in India with Crystal, meditating and working at some ashram while they study with the monks. She calls on Fridays strictly at six thirty in the evenings because it’s bright and early Saturday morning there. This apparently is the least disruptive time in her spiritual journey to check in with me.

My mother and I have a strange relationship. We’re best friends in one way but complete strangers in many others. Jewel Marigold likes things to be organic, gluten-free, alcohol-free, and focused on living clean physically, spiritually, and mentally. She does not toss back beers with her friends, whereas that’s a pretty regular occurrence for me since half of my friends are guys. Married guys, but guys nonetheless. I find I’m far more open-minded about what wellness means to me, spiritually or otherwise. I don’t believe having a sandwich with gluten to be harmful as long as the quantity is not excessive. Excess is often the root of things considered problems. People constantly want more, more, more. I’m of the mind that less is often truly more.

“What’s your plan?” Dara asks, breaking me out of my thoughts.

I run my hand through my fiery red waves, letting the silken strands slip through my fingers over and over again until there are no tangles. “Well, I think I need to go down to the Winters Group corporate office and give this Grant fellow a piece of my mind.”

“A piece of your mind?” Her voice rises, humor coating her tone.

“Yeah!”

“Alone? Meaning you’re not going to bring someone huge, like Nick or Clayton? Oh! I know. Call up Viv. Get her husband, Trent, to go with you. The dude is massive, a pro ball player. Then again, Clay is even bigger than Trent. So maybe you should call Moe.”

“I’m not calling Monet or Genevieve. I need to deal with this myself. I’m perfectly capable of letting this Grant know exactly what I think of what he’s doing.”

She groans. “I know, honey, but you look like a fairy princess with skin as white as snow, big blue eyes, and red hair. Plus, your voice is melodic, sweet. You could be a voice actor for kids’ animated movies. You’re not exactly going to scare some rich, stodgy corporate dude by demanding he listen to you. Ohhh! I know. Take my mama with you. She’ll scare the pants right off the suit!” She laughs herself silly.

I wait until she gets her laughter under control.

“Seriously, though, babe, you’re definitely not going to scare a rich-as-Oprah-type businessman into allowing us to keep our street.”

I grind my teeth. For as long as I can remember, I have been put into the sweet-as-apple-pie box. Well, no more! I’m going to put on my fiercest outfit—jeans and a leather jacket. Yeah, that’s what I’ll wear. My badass look. And then I’ll march into those offices and force some reason into the man. He can’t tear down our street. We’re iconic. The perfect haven where city slickers come to get a reprieve from the day-to-day rush.

“He’s a businessman, but he must have a heart. If he simply sees our street, our businesses, and how we better the area, the town—heck, the entire Bay—he’s got to back off.”

Dara offers a snort-laugh. “If you say so. In the meantime, I’ll be praying but also meeting with our attorney. Be careful, honey. Call me when you get back and let me know how it goes.”

“Okay. Will do. Bye.”

“Catch you on the flip, Luna.”

* * *

The Winters Group offices are located inside the Transamerica Building, the second-tallest skyscraper in the heart of the San Francisco financial district. What’s most interesting about the building is that it’s shaped like a pyramid. A friend told me there is a conference room at the top that they use to impress a big client or seal an important business deal. I’m certain I never want to set foot in it.

Interestingly enough, there’s a security screening station in place. I move right over to it, my canvas wedges squeaking on the marble floor. I set my purse on the conveyer belt and head toward the officer. Without a word, probably because I didn’t set off any buzzers or alarms, I’m allowed to continue through. The security guard hasn’t taken his eyes off my chest or body since I walked up. Ignoring him, I make my way over to the table to await my bag.

I notice out of the corner of my eye the guard is still checking me out, only this time, it’s my ass as I wait for my purse. When my purse pops out and I toss it over my shoulder, I hear him address the person who was standing behind me.

“Yeah, sir, you’re going to need to give me your building ID.” His voice is stern and authoritative.

Funny, he didn’t ask me for my access pass. I think about telling him this fact but realize if I do, he’s going to prevent me from gaining access to Grant Winters, and I need to see the man face-to-face. He has to look me in the eye and tell me he’s destroying my life’s work…my family legacy. I’ll have it no other way.

Hustling to grab my purse, I spin on my wedge and head toward the directory. Apparently, five full floors are occupied by the Winters Group. I jet to the bank of elevators and pick the last floor because it has a little placard that says Winters Group Executives next to it. I want to whoop with glee at my good fortune. Then again, the people who come here are usually preapproved, and somehow my bubble-butt got me through. I’ll just thank my lucky stars and hope my luck sticks.

When I exit the elevator, a woman in a tailored gray suit glances up at me from the receptionist’s desk. Her dark hair is pinned back into a severe bun, her lips stained a cherry red. Her eyes are almond shaped. Interesting. Kind of like a cat’s.

“May I help you?”

“Um, yeah, sure. I need to see Mr. Grant Winters, please.” I smile my most genuine, cheery smile.

As the woman frowns and clicks on her keyboard, staring at a computer monitor, I’m not so sure my charming smile is going to work.

“Your name?”

“Luna Marigold. I’m the owner of Lotus House Yoga in Berkeley.”

The woman’s eyes narrow briefly. “And do you have an appointment with Mr. Grant?”

I shake my head and cross my arms over the high bar of the reception desk, getting comfortable. “No. He, uh, sent me this letter, and instead of calling or emailing, I figured it would be best to chat face-to-face. You know, look the man in the eyes while we do business.” I pull out the letter they sent. It’s crumpled and creased, definitely not flat, white, and pristine like it was when I received it.

I hand her the letter and she scans it. Her eyes widen momentarily. “I’m certain Mr. Grant would rather you email your concerns or any questions you have regarding the eviction of Lotus House Yoga. According to this document, your building is being demolished in six months. There’s nothing further to discuss.”

I clear my throat and inhale and exhale smoothly, calming myself down. “Excuse me, Miss. I don’t mean to be rude, but this is my business. My family, my life. My studio. And your boss is going to demolish it in five months and twenty-eight days. I think I deserve the right to discuss this situation with him directly. This is not for you to decide. Now, if you would be so kind as to contact Mr. Grant, tell him I am here, and I’ll be waiting in reception over there.” I point to a grouping of white office chairs. “I’ll wait as long as it takes for him to see me. I’d appreciate it.” I offer my cheery smile, even though this woman does not deserve it.

Her lips pinch together, and she cocks her head. She reaches for the phone and presses a button. “Yes, Mr. Grant. I’m sorry to bother you, but a Luna Marigold of Lotus House Yoga is here without an appointment.”

I narrow my eyes, but she doesn’t falter. Apparently being bitchy is her norm.

“Yes, I know it’s most unusual for a person to show up without an appointment… I can tell her to leave if…”

“I’m not leaving until you speak to me!” I say loud enough for the person she’s talking to on the phone to hear me.

The receptionist swallows. “Yes, you heard that. She’ll be sitting in the reception area when you’re finished with your meeting. I understand. Thank you, Mr. Grant.”

Her gaze narrows to slits. “Mr. Grant has a meeting now but will call for you when he’s done. You’re lucky he’s being so kind. It’s not his usual style.” She practically sneers.

“Have you ever taken yoga?” I ask, throwing off her bitchy vibe.

“What?”

“Meditation?” I continue unfettered.

“Excuse me?”

“Had your chakras realigned?”

“I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Yoga and meditation. Charkas. Pfft.” She waves a dismissive hand like I just spoke another language.

“You’d be a lot nicer, much happier, and your face would have fewer wrinkles if you practiced yoga and spiritual wellness.”

Her eyes widen to the size of saucers.

I dig through my purse and pull out a card. “Here’s a free yoga class card. It’s good for yoga, vinyasa flow, aerial, naked yoga, meditation—any class we offer, really.” I shrug. “You should give it a shot. You’d feel and look so much better.” This time I do offer my cheery smile again.

“Naked yoga?” she whispers.

I grin. “Totally. And it’s taught by this hunk named Atlas Powers.”

“A man teaches it?” She lifts a hand to her chest as if she’s shocked.

“Yep, it’s co-ed too. It’s all about freeing your societal restrictions. Challenging yourself to let go, release everything negative you are holding on to. Even the clothing you wear. Basically, it’s designed to set you free.”

“Wrinkles?” She presses her fingertips to a tiny line forming between her brows, probably from being so crabby all day at her job. “Yoga gets rid of wrinkles?”

“It can. If you are doing the right facial poses, as well as letting go of stress, getting good sleep, and drinking lots of water.”

The woman shakes her head and lifts her hand to take the card from the top of her desk. “Thank you,” she mumbles and looks down and away.

“No problem. Namaste, friend.”

“Friend.” She half laughs, as if me calling her friend is funny. I’m not sure why she would think it was so humorous. I’m a firm believer that anyone can turn into a friend, even if they are at first rude. Sometimes people do not realize how their actions hurt others. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone deserves second chances. This is something I was taught by my mother and father, and I continue to live by that motto. It’s served me well over the years.

“Anyway, thank you. Go ahead and take a seat until Mr. Winters calls for you.”

“Sounds like a plan. I’ll just be over here reading.” I pull out my tattered and worn-out favorite book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra. Every time I lose my sense of self or my path in the business world or otherwise, I start reading about each law. The lessons he teaches in this self-help book guide a person through finding their own path to enlightenment and success in all things. It’s helped me a hundred times over, and I hope it does again.

Right as I finish thumbing through the section on the Laws of Least Effort, which refers to acceptance of a situation, taking responsibility, expending energy given through love, and keeping myself open to all points of view, the receptionist calls out to me.

“Mr. Winters will see you now.” She smiles softly, stands, and heads my direction. “Through these doors.”

Hey, I got the icy woman to smile, a good sign. Maybe my karma is turning around and is about to move in my favor. Though again, like Deepak teaches in his books, I have to be detached from what I want but still hopeful. If it happens, it happens. Be okay with the outcome you receive as it comes.

Right now, however, I’m not okay with any outcome other than this Mr. Winters person agreeing not to bulldoze my dream and my apartment, not to mention the bakery where I have breakfast every morning, the café where I eat my lunch or dinner every day, and the bookstore where I score all my favorites titles.

The receptionist leads me down a long hallway. We pass by a bunch of glass windows where I can see people on their phones or busily typing away on their computers. It’s weird, though, because the windows are glass, but they aren’t windows to see outside. They are windows to see the people inside.

A shiver ripples down my spine, and my hair stands up. It’s not a good feeling. I wouldn’t be able to work in a fishbowl. As it is, Lotus House is painted with murals depicting a forest, waterfall, and the ocean. I’m greeted by people who want to see me. They come just to see me and take my class and listen to my words and teachings. The thought of sitting behind a desk and being watched from the outside gives me a frightened feeling.

Silently, I send out a bit of soothing energy to the folks who work here, pushing love, light, and serenity their way.

The receptionist stops at a set of double doors at the very end of the hall. She knocks and then, without waiting, opens the door for me. “Mr. Grant. Luna Marigold,” she announces but doesn’t exactly introduce us. I can’t even see the man until I walk past her and through the door.

The office is huge, with a seating area, a bar, and a glass desk with chrome piping. The windows are not exactly floor to ceiling, but they are slanted, so he must have an amazing view of the city. The windows are frosted over, and I don’t know if this is a type of glaze or if it’s like one of those super-secret type blinds like in the movies. It reminds me of the way light filters through a shoji screen. It actually gives off a very calming effect, even though the rest of the room is black, white, and chrome, lacking any personality.

The big glass desk has a chair behind it, and I can see a head of dark hair peeking over the top, but he’s facing the other way.

“Okay, Father, thank you. I’ll handle it.” He turns fast, slams the phone into the cradle, and his eyes shoot to mine. They are the most piercing shade of sapphire blue. His hair is a dark mess of waves. His chin is slightly squared, with high cheekbones and a beautiful, strong, straight nose. His lips are what steal my attention. They are perfectly shaped with a dip on the top lip I’d like nothing more than to rest my finger against. The bottom lip is full, an elegant crescent shape, which suits his face.

In a word: Remarkable.

His eyes fill with something I can’t quite name before he stands, buttons his blazer, and comes over to me. I haven’t moved.

He holds out his hand. My goodness he’s tall. Well over six feet. Maybe six two or three.

“Grant Winters.”

I blink before extending my hand. The second our hands touch, a sizzle of energy so hot hits my palm. I jolt back a few steps and pull my hand away from his hold.

“I must have zapped you. I’m sorry.” He smiles.

Sweet Shiva. His smile. Even. White. Brilliant.

“Are you going to speak?”

I open my mouth, close it, and open it again until I manage to mutter, “Um…I’m Luna.”

“Luna.” His voice is a clear, crisp, masculine tone. Confident. Straightforward.

“Yes. Luna Marigold from Lotus House Yoga.”

He folds one arm over the other, and I watch the move as if he’s just performed a special dance. Every inch of him is mesmerizing, from the tip of his shiny black shoes, up his long legs, to his broad frame and tanned neck. He’s wearing a tailored navy suit, which fits him to perfection. His hair is the only thing a bit wild about him. Everything else is dialed in to the most minute detail.

“Wow,” I whisper, not realizing I let it out.

He grins. “I could say the same about you. Redheads are quite unique…special, even. Did you know that fewer than two percent of people are redheads?”

The question hits my sluggish brain and rolls around until something clicks. “Um, yeah. I did know that. Same with green eyes.”

Grant walks over to his desk and leans his bum against the surface. He crosses his ankles over one another while placing his hands on the top, fingers curling around the edge. Cool as a cucumber. Casual, almost approachable, definitely cocky.

“How can I help you today, Luna?”

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