Thursday, October 26, 2006

by Sylvie Kurtz (Harlequin Intrigue, Pull of the Moon)


Pull of the Moon
by Sylvie Kurtz
Harlequin Intrigue
December 2006


October brought out the ghosts. Not that they weren’t always there for Rita Meadows, but in October, they crowded her, pressured her, demanded she set them free.
Alone in her big bed, she couldn’t sleep. Returning home to Moongate tended to do that to her, especially now that the anniversary was fast approaching. She had to readjust to the mansion, to the eerie weight of the leaden memories its wooden façade held prisoner. This was her first night home since her secret trip to Chicago—one Nicolas wouldn’t approve of—and already she wished she could leave again, if only for a little while longer.
Maybe she should just skip October this year, come back in November when the ghosts’ grip lost its fierceness. After all these years of vigil, her aging bones deserved a rest. She could spend October bobbing on a yacht in the
Caribbean or tasting her way through Napa Valley.
Oblivion. That would be nice.
She bolted up at the renegade thought. “No, baby, I didn’t mean that.”
Her fault. Her cross to bear. She hadn’t given up hope; she never would. But sometimes, she just wanted the pain to end.
Outside a storm boiled over
Mount Monadnock and down into the valley, spilling into Moonhill. Like a brew bubbling over from a witch’s pot, rain flooded against the roof and deluged the windowpanes with waterfalls. Wind pounded against the walls, and thunder reverberated through the empty halls. A tomb would feel much like this: cold, dark and empty.
The plague of insomnia had her staring at the ceiling, finding the face of evil in the plaster as a necromancer might in a scrying bowl. One answer to one question. That’s all she wanted. Why was it so hard to find?
The storm’s fury ebbed, and the faint whimpers of a baby’s cries imprinted themselves on the air. She slid under the covers as the frightened pitch increased. Closing her eyes, fisting her hands against her ears, did nothing to vanquish the child’s terror.
Only one thing would.
Tears coursing down her cheeks, she rose from her bed. As she’d done on countless other nights, she crept into the hallway and wound her way toward the third-floor tower room. There she pressed the plunger of the antique iron latch. The door creaked open and the cries instantly ceased.
The cries weren’t real. They were just a trick of her mind, giving form to her guilt. There were no babies here, dead or otherwise—only her misguided hope.
Wrapping one arm around her stomach, she stepped into the yellow pool of artificial light burning from the night-light that had made Valentina feel safe. An expectant hush weighted the room as if the walls were listening for the missing four-year-old’s return.
Nothing had changed in this room. For twenty-five years the tic-tac-toe play rug, the child’s bed with its princess-pink canopy, the pile of stuffed animals on the butterfly-stenciled storage chest had remained as they were on the day Valentina had disappeared.
The static landscape her daughter had left behind stared back, ripe with accusation, and a lightning jag of pain, raw and deep, clawed at Rita’s heart. “I’m so sorry, baby, so sorry.”
If she could do it all over again…. But no, there was no rewinding time.
As Rita turned to leave, a gray shape formed along her peripheral vision.
A sigh, no more than an exhale, seemed to sough against her ear. Mama.
Breath held, Rita stopped and pressed a hand to her thundering heart. “Valentina?”
The hope, so sharp in her voice, cut through the thick fog of memories. Of course not. What had the doctor called it? Projection? The disappointment of reality resettled heavily on her shoulders.
“No, Rita. It’s me, Holly.”
Rita swiveled toward the doorway where her faithful friend and housekeeper stood, her long gray braid a beacon in the night.
“I thought I heard—“ Rita’s hand fluttered like a surrender flag toward the window. “I thought Valentina was … home.”
Holly’s solid arm wrapped around Rita’s waist, supporting her, and gently led her away from the center of her agony.
“You must think me a fool.”
“No, of course not, Rita. It was just the storm. Let me walk you back to your room.”
“I’m okay.” Shoulders stooped, Rita shook off Holly’s helping hands and made her way back into her bedroom alone, fading into the shadows of the house … just another ghost.



DETOUR--Aug. 2006
Beneath the surface lies a deeper truth...


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