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First pages

Prologue

January 1975 ~ Lynchburg, VA

 

Jack pressed his nose against the car window. The chilled sensation made shivers race down his spine or maybe it was anticipation. He enjoyed the way the pale yellow sunlight streamed through the morning fog. The light shimmered across the damp street of Rivermont. How he loved the smell of wet pavement. He didn’t understand his excitement. He only knew it stirred him, this small feeling like the flutter of butterfly wings in his stomach.

To his eight-year-old mind, the Victorian homes emerged from the mist and stood like ageless soldiers along the avenue. His house was coming into view—it wasn’t his house, he corrected himself, not yet, but someday.

 Here, time stood still. He closed his eyes and pictured the horse-drawn carriages, imagined the clip-clop of their hooves against the street. But if he shut his eyes, he might miss something, and he loved to look at the grand houses. 

He knew every stone, every window. His heart beat faster at the grandeur. His eyes locked on each feature, the steps, the porch, down to the black numbers nailed with precision to the side of the door. He loved each detail, including the massive oak whose branches stretched out a welcome.

In autumn, the yellow-orange leaves lit the street with a peaceful glow. They fell by the hundreds, surrounding the base of the tree like a fancy dress worn long ago. Sometimes when he squinted just so, it appeared to be a grand lady calling to him. Someday he’d answer, some day .

Chapter 1 

 

Present Day

 

JACK VINES sat at the kitchen table, stroking the dark stubble on his chin. His Bible lay open, but his attention remained absorbed in the changing landscape outside the window. He noted pewter-colored skies and the way they embraced the earth with a sulky heaviness, their moisture permeating the air. Colors and shapes gradually materialized from the murkiness, revealing a stark, frigid morning.

Despite its monotone simplicity, there was a particular beauty in the bleakness of January. Winter branches stretched upward into the marbled dawn. The snow forecast for tonight would add to that splendor, but more likely their precipitation would fall in the form of freezing rain.

He enjoyed a cup of coffee while the soft hues filtered in to define the shelves and cabinets in the Victorian kitchen. The room smelled of damp plaster and ancient wood. He took pleasure in the rustic feel of the room, thankful any attempts to renovate the kitchen over the years had at least left the original brickwork intact. The dim light accentuated the crumbling brick.

All stood quiet save the tick-tock of the kitchen clock, which read 6:40 am. Jack loved this time of the morning. Such a shame the stillness had to fade. Soon the world outside his window and beyond the high garden walls would awaken.

A faint sound from outside caught his attention, but he dismissed it. Probably that crazy cat who’d shown up a few weeks ago. Several seconds later, he heard it again. His brows knotted in concern. It sounded like someone crying.

The garden walls stood six feet high and were made of stone. It wasn’t likely anyone would be trespassing, but he was sure it wasn’t a cat.

Definitely crying—no mistake. His chair scraped the tile floor in his haste to move to the window. What he saw caused him to jerk back. Dear Lord . . .

A young woman sat on the bench in the center of the garden, her head bowed, her shoulders racked with emotion. Only a thin gown provided protection from the harsh cold.

“What on earth—” He stopped, too stunned to finish the thought. How had she gotten in, and what sane person would be outside in freezing weather wearing only a nightgown? Curiosity set his feet in motion.

Jack left the window and opened the door leading into the garden. Bitter air blew through his thin t-shirt. “Ma’am?” His voice sounded harsh in the early morning.

She scrambled to her feet. Her hair tumbled around her shoulders and clung to her tear-streaked cheeks. Wide eyes darted between him and the kitchen door. Even her disheveled state did not detract from her beauty. He noted the modest way she clutched her gown. He felt surprised and ashamed for startling her.

“Stay away from me!” She took several steps backward. “Culpeper.” She looked confused, calling out to some unknown person. Dark eyes flashed at him with accusation. “How did you get in my garden?”

Her garden? She must be delusional. Taking note of her bare feet and white gown, he thought of the hospital a few miles down the road. Could she have escaped from the mental ward? He dismissed the idea. On closer inspection, she appeared merely scared and doe-like.

He spoke, this time, in a soothing tone to calm her. “Ma’am, this is my garden. You're obviously upset . . . confused. Why don’t you come inside where it’s warm. I’ll call someone for you?”

She shook her head, her expressive eyes wide. “Sir, I’m not sure how you got in, but Culpeper will be here any second—Culpeper!” She yelled again. “You’d better step away from the door or else.” A spar in her eyes warned she wouldn’t hesitate to bring the entire neighborhood running.

“O-o-k, lady. I don’t mean you any harm; I’m just trying to help you. You seem . . . upset. Let me—”

“I said get away from the door!”

“S-sure.” He took a few cautious steps back to placate her, watching her luminous eyes waver between him and the kitchen’s entrance. Every muscle looked poised for flight. She was a tiny thing, not much bigger than a child, with thick hair that tumbled past her waist. He longed to say something to put her at ease, but he feared the slightest movement could send her sprinting away. He stepped backward, losing his footing against a stone.

*****

JEWEL WILTSHIRE studied the medium-built man, taking in his wild, chestnut hair, unshaven face, and powerful brown eyes. He wore the most outlandish outfit: pants covered with yellow smiling faces.

His eyes held a look of reproof as if he’d caught her trespassing. How had this vagrant wandered into the neighborhood and scaled the wall? He appeared harmless enough, but you could never be too sure. Besides, in her present state of dress, it was quite embarrassing and highly improper. What if Hunsdon should . . . No, the thought was too frightening.

She observed him closely, so that when he stumbled and lost his footing she took the opportunity. Making a mad dash for the house, she sailed passed him, and through the door, slamming it behind her.

Inside, Jewel spotted Addie as she retrieved a hot pan from the oven. Light flooded the kitchen along with the warm, heady scent of freshly baked bread. Steam rose from several pots on the stove. Her stomach grumbled at the aroma of bacon and fresh-ground coffee. 

“Land sake, miss!” Addie spun in fright, clapping a hand to her breast. “You give a body a scare. I just about dropped my pan.”

The housekeeper’s sharp, blue eyes swept her tousled appearance, but Jewel cut her off before she could voice her disapproval. “Have you seen Culpeper—there’s a strange man outside.” She hurried on, anticipating Addie’s next question. “I don’t know how he got in the garden. He must be a drifter.”

“A man, you say?” Addie looked alarmed, wiping her hands on her apron. Her ample figure hindered her as she rushed to peer out the window. Craning her neck, she stood searching on tiptoes. “There’s no one out there, miss.”

“What? But I just—” Jewel blinked in confusion. “That can’t be, I just saw him.”

“And you outside . . .” She shook her head. “You’ll catch your death.” Addie dismissed her young mistress and waddled back to the stove to continue stirring. If Addie noticed her tear-stained face, wisdom caused her to hold her tongue.

“Where’s Dr. Wiltshire?”

Something in the slight curl of Addie’s lip left no doubt concerning the housekeeper’s opinion of her husband. “He’s in the dining room, taking Culpeper to task, miss. The silverware did not meet with the master’s expectations.”

Jewel opened her mouth to respond but caught her bottom lip between her teeth. “The stranger must still be out there. Fix him a plate, would you, Addie?” Jewel laid a delicate hand on Addie’s plump arm. Remembering the kindness in his voice, she regretted her flighty disappearance. Now safely on the other side of the door, she realized she might have overreacted. “I’m sure a hot meal would do him good.”

Addie raised a wrinkled brow. “Indeed, miss. If you don’t mind me saying so, you’d do well to attend to your own appearance. What would Dr. Wiltshire say if he saw you running about in your bedclothes? I’d be taking the back stairs if I were you.”

Jewel adjusted her gown and fidgeted. Heat colored her cheeks as she shuffled to hide her feet beneath the long material. “Yes, yes, I suppose you’re right. Thank you, Addie. You’re a love.”

The housekeeper returned to her work, shaking her head and clucking to herself.

*****

Momentarily stunned, Jack watched the retreating figure fly past him and into his house. In her haste, he saw something flutter to the ground. He stopped to retrieve the fallen object—seconds later, his brain kicked into action and prompted him to give chase. He flew after her but careened to a halt when he realized there were no signs of her anywhere in the kitchen.

“Hello?” His voice reverberated off the high ceiling and back again.

He strained his ears, listening for the sound of footsteps in the house. Silence. How could she have disappeared? Uneasiness rippled down his spine. He didn't believe in ghosts. Obviously, there had to be another explanation.

His search of each room produced nothing. Had she gone out the front? An eerie chill coursed through him, however, as his eyes caught sight of the still-bolted door. Just to prove to himself, he removed the chain, opened it, and searched one way and then another. Several cars drove by as he stooped for the newspaper. He shoved the News Advance under his arm and shut the door.

Stunned and weak, he dropped into the crescent-shaped window seat in the foyer. The morning light fell through the stained-glass window, dappling the floor with ethereal shadows. He suddenly remembered the recovered object. Looking down to study the dainty handkerchief still in his hand, he noticed two initials neatly embroidered on the corner: JW. He brought it close to his face, inhaling the sweet fragrance of jasmine. To his surprise, the fabric felt damp. He frowned as he struggled to make sense of conflicting realities. He knew what he’d seen. In his hand, he held proof that he hadn’t been hallucinating, but women didn’t simply disappear either. His senses tingled. Whatever it was that happened, he felt as if he’d just been sucker-punched in the gut.

Chapter 2

Jewel dashed up the back steps, rationalizing the need as self-preservation, yet loathing the weakness that made her feel like a naughty child. She reached her bedroom door and slipped inside.

A cheery warmth welcomed her. The blaze from the fireplace glowed with a yellow-orange hue, its tranquil beauty reflected on the mahogany floor. A log settled, sending a spray of sparks flying to the hearth. She rested her back against the door, gazing at the exquisitely adorned room. Her eyes avoided the lace-draped canopy, not wanting to remember the incident that had caused her early morning flight. Hadn't she always dreamed of sleeping in such a bed? Dreams were too often quenched in the reality of life, she thought with bitterness.

The once eager to please bride now ached with hopelessness. There was no pleasing her husband. While her friends giggled and swooned over silly schoolboys, she had been proud to catch the eye of a real man—the irony choked her.

She blinked back tears, pushing the robe off her shoulder to examine her throbbing bruises. Gingerly, she fingered the large, bluish fingerprints that Hunsdon left that morning. His savage attack had taken her by surprise, and she ran from him to the safety of the garden. Her stomach contracted in fear when she thought of how she would pay for that moment of weakness. It was out of character. She couldn’t explain the urge to flee.

Jewel caught her reflection in the mirror. Heavens. Who was this wild woman staring back at her? Untamed curls snaked around her face. Her arms and chest were a mass of discolorations. She raked her fingers through the tangles, trying to restore a sense of order, before giving up.

Jewel sat before her dressing table, picked up her brush, and worked the bristles through her long chestnut curls. The brush made a soothing sound as she pulled it through her mane, but thoughts of Hunsdon pushed away any sense of peace.

Hunsdon stood tall, thin, and unyielding. His sharply notched face resembled that of a stamped coin, with eyes so ice blue, Jewel felt sure the temperature dropped a degree when he walked into the room. Always immaculate in his dress, he presented the air of correctness, right down to his hair—the same hair that took on a life of its own, betraying Hunsdon Wiltshire’s moods when he was about to go on a rampage. One defiant piece, refused to stay with the rest, having the audacity to defy his otherwise flawless appearance. She dreaded that fallen lock with every fiber of her being.

Her hand paused mid-stroke when she heard the door click behind her. Her eyes remained downcast. Fear kept her gaze bolted to the table. Footsteps landed precise and quiet across the floor and stopped behind her. Please don’t be loose, she pleaded. Please don’t be loose. Despite herself, her eyes were drawn to the mirror. A sob caught in her throat at the sight of his reflection. His hair sprawled dangerously across his brow. 

Before she had time to cry out, he grabbed her by the throat and slung her to the bed. He snagged the tie-back from the canopy and bound her hands, shoving her face-first into the mattress. She tried to struggle, but his knee remained wedged in her back. She had no leverage. Her lungs burned for air. He seized her hair, jerking her head backwards.

His hot breath hissed in her ears. “Why must you make me punish you?” 

He released her long enough to fumble with his pants. She felt the tearing of her gown, the air cool on her exposed skin. She tensed as she heard the jingle of his belt and braced herself. Yet never fully prepared for the burning fire that spread across her back as leather cut into her soft flesh. She bit hard on her lip to keep from crying out. The acrid taste of blood filled her mouth. She refused to give him that satisfaction. Time after time, his belt rained upon her until she could no longer distinguish the blows. 

Finally, he rolled off her, panting from his efforts. He lay there spent, his chest heaving. Without a word, he rose to return the belt to its proper place. She couldn’t see him from her position, but she’d watched him enough times to know he would be combing the hair off his brow and restoring order to his appearance. He needed to present a controlled façade to the world.

The door closed behind him with a soft thud. Now she could release the breath she’d been holding. Now she could let the hot, scalding tears wash away her shame. Her wrists remained bound, yet she instinctively reached for the Bible and drew it to her, cradling it.

Forgive me . . . I know it is wrong to hate—but I do, Father. I do! I don’t want to feel this way . . . Please, help me. As she lay there, another all-too-familiar ache arose: stiffness in her neck punctuated by a shooting pain over one eye. One of her headaches.

*****

Jack stared at the handkerchief in his hand, feeling nauseated. He held tangible proof that he wasn’t losing his mind, but it still didn’t explain how the woman had vanished. He ignored the tingle of sweat beneath his arms despite the icy foyer. The experience had left him shaken. Get it together, Jack. You don’t have time to be chasing phantoms.

The economy had delivered his cabinetry business a hearty blow—money was tight. He couldn’t afford to get distracted. The last thing he needed was to be late or make a bad impression this morning. Once, he had been particular about the jobs he accepted, but now he had to be grateful for what came his way. He missed the passion that came from restoring the genteel giants of long ago, but those jobs were rare. Today, he was scheduled to meet a couple in the historic district of Diamond Hill. With any luck, it would lead to a bigger project. He’d have to do his best to forget the bizarre incident, he thought as he tucked the puzzling item in his pocket and dashed off to take a shower. 

Although pressed for time, Jack couldn’t resist the temptation to admire the stunning work in the newly finished downstairs bathroom. His eyes traveled over the wainscoting trim and blue-gray Venetian plaster, a technique popular during the Victorian period. It worked beautifully in the room. The bathroom featured both a roomy pedestal tub and a more convenient period-style shower. He enjoyed the best of both worlds. But no time for a relaxing soak today, a quick hop in the shower would have to do.

His cell rang as he emerged from the glass stall. He scooped it off the bathroom counter, hoping it wasn’t the client canceling. “Hello?”

“Hi, honey,” came the soft voice of his mother. 

“Oh, hi, Mom.” He stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist. “How are you?”

“We’re fine, Son. How are you?”

He pictured her tucking the short strands behind her ear, as was her habit when she was nervous. 

“I’m a little worried about you.”

“Me?” He shifted the phone from one ear to the other as he applied deodorant. “I’m fine. What’s wrong, Mom–”

“Don’t laugh, Jack, but I had this crazy dream.” She hesitated. “Honestly, I feel so silly now . . .”

Jack lowered the deodorant and looked at himself in the mirror. “What is it?”

“I-I can’t explain it—I dreamed you were running through a mist, chasing something. I couldn’t tell.” Her voice cracked. “It isn’t so much what happened. It seemed so . . . so . . . vivid. I wanted to be sure you were all right.”

The scene from earlier that morning flashed in his mind. “Yeah, I’m fine, Mom, but I have to run. I have an appointment with a new client.”

“Oh? Well, okay, dear. I’ll say a prayer for you.” 

That was mom. “Thanks. Call you later, ‘kay?” 

Jack shaved, dressed, all the while wondering about the timing of her dream. He checked his watch—fifteen minutes until his appointment. He would just make it.

Chapter 3

Jewel’s lashes fluttered open, vaguely aware of something cool pressed against her back. She tried to move, but gentle hands pushed her back, keeping her from rising.

“Lie still. I’ll get you cleaned up . . . don’t worry. It’s all going to be okay.”

Tears pooled in her eyes brought on by kind words. She lay there feeling as if she was in a dream, the pain in her head so intense she felt nauseated. “Please,” she moaned. “I’m going to be sick.” She struggled to move, aware of the basin held beneath her chin.

“Ah, love, another one of your headaches?”

Before she could answer, her stomach lurched. The muscles repeatedly convulsed as the contents of her stomach emptied into the bowl. When the heaving subsided, she realized, Hunsdon was holding the hair back from her face and pressing the cool cloth to her lips.

“Look at you. What a beautiful mess you are.” His voice broke with emotion.

The pain of a headache made it hard to focus, but she didn’t need to see his face to know the contrite expression. Hunsdon smoothed her hair.

“My beautiful, beautiful Jewel.” He rose and moved to her dresser, rummaging through the various bottles until he found the one he was looking for. He uncorked the flask, poured some into a glass of water, and handed her the reddish-brown liquid.

She shook her head, the action causing the room to swim. “N-no, I can’t.”

“Hush, of course you can.” The bed dipped beneath his weight as he sat beside her. “Here, you must. It will help you rest.” He eased the glass to her mouth and helped her drink.

She shuddered as the bitterness touched the back of her throat, yet she knew she must obey. The liquid spilled down her chin and dribbled onto the sheet. When the last drop was gone, he eased her back and to her side, careful of her injuries. As he looked down at her, his gray eyes clouded with tears. He opened his mouth to speak, but he only mouthed the word, “Why?”

Their eyes locked. A lump formed in her throat, making it hard to swallow.

“I found your Bible—it pleases me that you turn to it for comfort. I know you don’t mean to be wicked.” He fondled a lock of her hair. “Beauty such as yours has been a curse to women since the days of Abraham.” The strand curled submissively under his touch. “Never fear, my darling, I will never let your soul be lost.” He eased closer and laid his head on her bare shoulder before continuing. “I struggled once, much as you do.”

Hunsdon’s gaze traveled past her, staring at her, but not really seeing her. “Father said I was a wayward boy. Many times I thought he’d kill me before he taught me to master this sinful nature.”

Tears coursed down his cheek, wet and cool against her skin. In some sad, strange way, she felt sorry for him. He was as much a victim as she, but she couldn’t bring herself to comfort him.

“Mother was much like you. Beautiful, stubborn, defiant . . . but Father never gave up on her. Eventually, he broke her. In time, you’ll learn as well.” He continued to stroke her hair.

Her heart twisted. Images filled her mind of abuse he had confided regarding his upbringing. She shuddered at atrocities his father had inflicted upon Hunsdon, his mother, and younger sister. In the beginning, she had tried to explain the violence his family had been exposed to was not love—indeed, not of God. But he turned on her, teaching her the first of many lessons. From that point on, she studied Hunsdon much as one studied a book. She learned each nuance, each twitch that might reflect disapproval.

If Father could see her now, his heart would break. He’d be sadder still to see a soul so twisted by man’s interpretation of a loving God. Her father was the gentlest man, a faithful minister of the gospel. That was why she knew she could never leave Hunsdon.

Father would welcome her back home, she knew. But the stigma of her divorce would tarnish his reputation—she couldn’t allow that. His congregation would be appalled; a woman did not leave her husband for any reason. She set her lips in a grim line and resolved to trust God. He promised to make a way when there seemed to be none. She would trust Him.

The effects of the laudanum began to dull her senses. Her head leaned against the pillow, and her eyes grew heavy. Of all her aches and pains, none troubled her more than her heart. Soon, that pain too started to fade as she drifted off in a cloud of warmth . . . sweet sleep welcomed her weary body.

 

*****

Beep. Beep. Beep.

The microwave signaled Jack’s turkey dinner was ready. Reaching in, he grabbed it by the corner and tossed it to the counter before it could burn his fingers. He could never find the oven mitt when he needed it. He cracked open a Coke and slurped it as he rummaged through the drawer for a clean fork.

Jack carried his dinner into the small downstairs area off the dining room that served as his office. Perhaps once, it may have been a servant’s quarters, but now it made a perfect place to store sketches, papers and such. While renovating, he lived on the bottom floor to keep down on the cost of heating. He made use of the formal dining room, converting it into a makeshift bedroom while the upstairs remained unused.

Renovations were costly, even doing the work himself. It was a slow process, but well worth the effort. If this morning’s meeting was an indication, he might expect to begin work in the spring. The middle-age couple loved the pictures he’d shown from previous jobs.

Jack did not often find clients enthusiastic when it came to restoration costs. They wanted to cut corners, take shortcuts. Most people did not want to pay for the high quality of his work. His quotes were often followed by the familiar eye-rolling and sharp whistles, as potential clients scratched their heads and wrangled over the price.

There had been no haggling over price today. Bill Wingfield had given free rein to his wife and her sincere desire to restore the historic home to its original glory. His new clients were the kind of people that it was a pleasure to work with. They knew exactly what they wanted. This made his job easier.

Jack smiled when he thought of how the conversation had turned to the church. His mother would be happy to know they were Christians. They’d spent a great deal of time talking about church, especially the wife Brenda, who was rather chatty.

In fact, they invited him to church this Sunday, First Baptist, on Court Street, where they were both members. He knew the magnificent church well, although he had never been there. It was built in 1886. He rode past it countless times with his mother when he was younger.

The church was a great contrast from the small Baptist church he attended as a boy. His Sunday school class contained a total of four, including himself and the teacher—a sweet gray-haired lady with a penchant for memory work. Jack smiled, wondering how many verses he’d memorized in Mrs. Schwartz’s class.

The small, whitewashed church with its black wrought-iron railing suddenly came to mind. It was far from fancy, and yet a calmness washed over him when he thought of the colorful stained windows. It held more appeal than many larger, more elaborate churches he had attended in the years since. His family was present whenever those double doors opened, be it a covered dish, youth socials, or choir practice; it was all a part of his life and not a bit out of the ordinary.

Jack peeled the lid back on the frozen entrée and tossed it into the trashcan beside his desk. He studied the unappealing glob of brown gravy and processed turkey. What kind of man still eats frozen dinners at your age? He thought of his best friend across town. Jeff was probably sitting down to a home-cooked dinner with his pretty wife, Cindy and the kids.

He shoved the green and white container back. Maybe he’d just run out and grab something. He glanced at his watch. It was never too late for takeout at the Tea Room— maybe a Cheesy Western and a bowl of their famous chili.

Now where did I lay those keys? He patted himself down and slid several things around on his desk. He was deep in thought when suddenly, the cat startled him by pouncing onto the desk. She rubbed her head along his arm and meowed in a raspy voice.

“How’d you get in here?” He rubbed her ear. “Off my papers. You’re getting cat hair on everything.” He gently shooed the cat away as her attention turned from him to his dinner. “I see what you want—well, you’re welcome to it.” He laughed.

He glanced out the window, noting the darkness of early winter night. Long shadows stretched across the room while he hunted for his keys. He reached for the lamp. The bulb washed the darkened corners of the room with a fluorescent light. He stopped short when he heard a shuffling noise overhead. He looked up, noticing a hairline crack in the ceiling that needed repair.

There . . . there it was again. Footsteps! His heart pounded. Was it her?

The chair creaked as he rose and closed his fingers tightly around the baseball bat that rested against his office desk. He abandoned the now-cold dinner and the cat and started up the staircase.

Despite his efforts to remain quiet, the steps protested loudly, groaning with age and added weight. The sound seemed magnified in the otherwise still house. He stopped on the landing to listen, straining his ears so long that he was sure they had grown an inch. Then he heard the sound again. It was coming from one of the bedrooms—the one that overlooked the garden. With care, he eased up the remaining stairs and waited outside the closed door.

The blood pounded in his temples as he opened the door. It was cool, cooler than the downstairs, and had that stale, musty smell of a room that had been shut-up for ages. Pale-peach streetlight spilled through the naked windows illuminating the scarred floor. Something else caught in the moonlight, something that made his heart thud painfully against his chest.

Chapter 4

Jewel felt woozy. She had awoken an hour or so earlier and found the sky ablaze with a stunning display of color. The clouds glowed in a swirl of gold and reds before diminishing into a deep indigo. Her arms and legs felt as if they were made of stone. Why couldn’t she think? She blinked, trying to clear her mind. Had she been asleep all day? How much laudanum had Hunsdon given her? She could see the fire burning in the grate, and a covered tray sat on the table. Hunsdon must have been back several times. The scent of roast beef made her mouth water.

A light gown, something that wouldn’t irritate her wounds, had been thoughtfully draped across the back of her dressing table. She ignored it for the moment and tried to stand. The room swayed. She gave herself a second before taking a few awkward steps toward the tray. Perhaps, if she could eat something, it would clear her head.

She pulled a small piece of cold beef off the platter, tasted it, then pinched off a larger piece, surprised by her appetite. The morsels were tender. She took several more, folding them into her mouth as she walked to the window. Outside, the moon rose and peeked from behind the trees, full and beautiful.

Her movements were stiff and careful. She favored her back as she eased onto the cushioned window seat. This is where she spent countless hours overlooking the garden. The light from the window poured in during the day. It often cheered her, simply to watch the daylight stream through the sheer yellow curtains. The sun’s warmth upon her cheek gave her courage, strength.

She frowned as her leg brushed up against something. A book—her class annual? What on earth could that be doing here!

She retrieved it from the cushion. The leather-bound book felt cool and smooth on the backside, rough with ridged lettering on the front. She traced the year with her fingertips: 1915— brooding over the two years since graduation. Her trembling fingers flipped through the pages, stopping when she reached her own picture. The face that gazed back at her appeared young—naive. She closed her eyes. “If only . . .”

A movement at the door startled her. She looked up, expecting to find Hunsdon, but was shocked to see the strange man from the garden standing just inside the door. He looked equally startled. The comical expression of surprise might have made her laugh, had he not been a total stranger standing in her bedroom door.

He held out a hand, his eyes pleading with her. “Please, don’t scream.” He even dared to smile at her, revealing a slight dimple in his cheek. He was older than she first thought, tall, muscular, and dressed in much simpler clothes—denim pants, and a shirt with a buttoned-down collar. She’d never seen its like.

“Don’t come any closer.” She pressed herself against the wall. The movement irritated the welts on her back, causing her to wince.

His curious brown eyes regarded her openly, taking in her appearance. She found it unnerving. How dare he stare at her with such boldness! What made this man so presumptuous . . . forward?

“I’m not going to hurt you, okay? You look like you’re in pain. Are you hurt?” he asked.

Surprised and embarrassed by his uncanny perception, she noted the way his brows dipped. Was that concern? She wasn’t exactly sure why, but she sensed he wasn’t a danger. Still, it would never do to have Hunsdon find him here in her bedroom—worse, she had encouraged the staff to give him food.

“Sir, I don’t know how you got in, but you need to leave at once. If my husband finds you, make no mistake, he will kill you.” Her chin tilted upward.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Born and raised in the heart of Virginia, Michelle Kidd is an author, quilter, and avid reader. Michelle lives with her husband of 25 years, two sons, the world’s craziest cat, and dorky dog. When not writing, she enjoys homeschooling and time with family. A lifelong writer, her earlier efforts so impressed her third-grade teacher, her story was adapted into a play and performed for the entire school. Since then, short stories and writing competitions have led to her first full-length novel.

Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
A.
From the moment I opened the pages of Charlotte’s Web, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Those first words gripped me and pulled me right into the Arable’s kitchen. To my young mind, it was magic. Words have the power to connect us like nothing else. E. B. White had me at Fern’s sopping sneakers
Q. Why do you write?
A.
The ordinary inspires me. When observing rain as it soaks into a sun-bleached deck, the reaction might vary depending on the individual watching. A mother who has lost a child will respond differently from a farmer who has suffered drought. Writing is a means to share the stories each reveals to me.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I have a fascination with old photos. When I came across a 1915 yearbook, one young lady’s picture intrigued me. I wondered what would happen if I could travel back in time and ask her questions about her life. Her image and my imagination are what prompted me to write this story.

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Literature & Fiction
Chainsaw Honeymoon
What would you do to save your family?
A Knight in Tin Foil Armour
DIY knights are the new prince charming
A Dark Night on Oak Lane
In the blink of an eye life changes