Authors: L. A. Fiore
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 L.A. Fiore
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
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Cover design by Laura Klynstra
To the men and women who put their lives on the line in the service and protection of others
Blue Hill, Maine: 1997
My knees shook, and my stomach ached with fear. The silent car contained only me and the woman driving—social services, she’d said to the priest when she’d picked me up that afternoon to drive me to my new home.
I had taken care to wear something really nice that day—my best black dress that Mom and I had purchased for a birthday party I’d wanted to go to. I had even combed my hair until it shined like copper. That’s how my dad described my hair: copper. But I wasn’t wearing it for a party; instead, I’d stood in a graveyard as the rain misted around us and watched as my parents were lowered into the ground, two holes right next to each other. At least they would be together. I didn’t want to go into a box in the ground, didn’t want the darkness or the cold. I hated that when I thought of them now, that was how I’d see them. The tears in my eyes burned almost as painfully as the throbbing in my head.
Christmas lights lit the houses we passed, but I didn’t look; the sight of them would forever be a reminder of this awful day. My parents had been out Christmas shopping, the roads had been slick from the rain, and their car had lost control on a turn only a mile from our house. I had heard the sirens from my room, but didn’t know whom they were for. As I sat watching
, my parents were dying.
The car turned down a long drive, but it was so dark I couldn’t see the house that would now be my home. Grammy and Gramps’s best friend, Mrs. Marks, was the only family I had left. Grammy had died two years before from cancer, and then Gramps a year later from a broken heart. And now my parents were gone. Chills spread goose bumps over my skin. I had never met these people, didn’t know anything about them, and now I had to leave my home near Boston and go live with them in Maine.
Lightening crackled against the pitch-black sky, and I caught my first glimpse of Raven’s Peak, but it wasn’t a house; it was like a gothic castle, and it scared me. Big and ugly, and, considering how much of the trip we were going uphill, I could only assume the house looked down on the town that surrounded it. A small cottage with a picket fence in Newton, Massachusetts, had been my home. Mom had loved flowers, had grown them everywhere, including in window boxes. Dad had sworn something fierce—that was how Mom put it—hanging them, but, in the end, he’d loved them as much as she had.
The car came to a stop, but I didn’t get out immediately—I took a moment or two to breathe deeply, because my heart hurt it was beating so fast. The house looked even bigger when I was sitting just in front of it. The almost-full moon cast a creepy glow, making the mansion seem almost haunted, like something you’d see on
Stepping up to the biggest front door I’d ever seen, thick wood and iron, I’d barely knocked before it opened. An old man stood there, dressed in black, and, though he gave the appearance of sternness, a kind light shone in his eyes. He held the door for us and we entered a space so large I think my old house could have fit right there next to the stairs. It had high ceilings, paneled walls, and the dark space was illuminated by only a few lights on the wall. A coldness crept into my bones, probably from my fear as well as the temperature. The inside felt almost as cold as the outside.
“This is Teagan Harper.” That was how the social services lady introduced me in what was the most frightening moment of my life. An elderly woman, who had to be Mrs. Marks, approached, taking my hands into her wrinkled ones. She wasn’t as old as I was expecting, despite the gray hair, which was pulled up into a bun. Her black dress looked like something women wore in the old days, like in those black-and-white films my mom had loved to watch. Her eyes, a dark blue, were kind but really sad too.
“I’m very sorry for your loss, Teagan.”
I wanted to cry, but I knew that if I started, I might never stop. My lower lip trembled and, despite my best efforts, tears started leaking from the corners of my eyes. “Thank you.”
“Are you hungry?”
My stomach answered for me. Mrs. Marks smiled. “This is Mr. Clancy, and he makes a mean sandwich. Let’s get something in that belly.” Her gaze then moved to the woman who had brought me, the kindness fading to anger.
“Thank you for bringing her” were her only words before she touched my shoulder and led me away. Even I understood that had been a dismissal. Was she angry because the woman had been kind of abrupt? Mrs. Marks said to me, “I will be making a call. Her manner was completely unacceptable.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I remained silent. We entered the kitchen. There were two stoves, three refrigerators, and so much counter space my mom would have been tickled, since our kitchen had been very small. The memory caused a stabbing pain in my heart.
“Do you have a preference for what’s on your sandwich?” Mrs. Marks asked as she started toward the refrigerator; Mr. Clancy entered the kitchen and walked to one of the cabinets for a plate.
“Ham and cheese is my favorite.”
“Well, you’re in luck, because that’s one of my favorites too.” She poured me a glass of milk as Mr. Clancy prepared the sandwich.
While I watched Mr. Clancy, Mrs. Marks settled on the chair next to me.
“This is all very difficult, and I can’t imagine what you’re feeling right now, but please, if you need anything, I’m here.”
My eyes were leaking again, and my throat got so tight I didn’t think I’d get any words past it, but I did manage to say, “Okay.”
“If you need to talk, I’ve been told I’m a great listener.”
I could only nod, because speaking past the painful lump in my throat was now impossible. Mr. Clancy placed the plate in front of me, and I understood no words were expected as I dug into my sandwich. I couldn’t eat the whole thing, even though my stomach was empty, so he wrapped the rest in case I got hungry later. Mrs. Marks led me to my room, a pink room fit for a princess. A canopy bed sat against the far wall; in my room, it would have taken up the entire space and then some, but in this room it looked almost lost. The furniture was all old, not like from a dingy flea-market, but beautiful pieces that surely belonged in a museum. A fire was burning in a big fireplace.
“Your clothes have been put in the dresser and closet. Your nightgown is on the bed. There is a bathroom right through those doors. Towels are in the closet. Do you need anything else?”
“No.” Looking around the room, I felt like Alice in Wonderland: overwhelmed. Despite its size, it was cozy. “It’s a pretty room.”
“I’m glad to hear you like it. Sleep well, Teagan. I’ll see you in the morning.”
She closed the door quietly behind her. Standing there in the prettiest room I had ever seen, I’d never felt more alone and afraid. Still dressed in my best clothes, I curled up in a ball on the bed and cried. And that was when
entered my life. I didn’t know anyone had come into the room until I felt a small hand on my back. Lifting my head, I looked into the bluest eyes I had ever seen.
He immediately took a few steps away from me. “I’m sorry about your mom and dad.”
Sitting up, I wiped at my eyes and stared at the boy. I’d never had a boy in my room—hadn’t even known any boys from home well enough to call them friends. I waited for the nervousness that I usually suffered when I was around boys, but I didn’t feel it. Dressed in sweatpants and a tee, he looked to be a few years older than me. His black hair was kind of long and messy, but it was his eyes that I couldn’t stop looking at. They were so blue—the clearest, brightest blue I had ever seen. “Who are you?”
“I’m Kane, Teagan.”
He said it just like that, a simple statement. An odd swishy sensation stirred in my chest hearing that he knew my name. I asked, “Do you live here too?”
He looked even sadder at my words. “Yeah.”
My heart hurt thinking about what had brought me there and what likely had brought him too. “Did your parents die?”
“No, I never knew my dad, and my mom . . . I don’t know where she is.”
Why wasn’t he living with his relatives? There had to be someone. He must have seen that in my expression, so he added, “She used to work here. Growing up, I spent more time here than my own house. I have no one else, so when my mom left, Mrs. Marks adopted me.”
“Oh.” His mom had left. How could a mom leave? “I’m sorry.”
He kind of ignored that and said, “You know, it’s okay to cry.”
“I haven’t stopped all day. My stomach hurts from crying so much.” And even then, just thinking about my parents, I felt the tears stinging the back of my eyes. Needing to change the subject so I didn’t start blubbering in front of Kane, I said, “This place gives me the creeps.”
“I get that; it’s a bit overwhelming, but despite its size, it’s really not creepy. It’s been in Mrs. Marks’s family for generations: her great-great-grandfather built it. It’s fun exploring, because there are lots of hidden rooms and it’s filled with really cool stuff like the suit of armor in the entrance hall.”
I had noticed the suit of armor, which only furthered my belief that I had somehow stepped into an episode of
. “How many people live here?”
“Four.” A small smile touched his lips before he corrected himself, “Five now.”
“Seems like an awful lot of house for so few people.” I couldn’t imagine how long it took to clean it, remembering the hours Mom and Dad had spent on our small house. The thought brought pain again. Seeming to sense that, Kane took a step closer, and, oddly, I found that small act of concern comforting.
“It is, but Mrs. Marks won’t sell. It’s like a part of her.”
“What’s it like living here?”
A little smile appeared on his face. “Different, but Mrs. Marks and the others are really nice—a bit strange, but that’s what makes it fun.”
“How long have you lived . . .” I couldn’t bring myself to finish, seeing understanding and pain in his eyes at my thoughtless question. Asking him how long he had lived there was another way of asking how long it had been since he’d been abandoned. He surprised me, though, when he answered.
“And there are no other kids?”
“Don’t you get lonely?”
“Maybe sometimes, but you’re here now. You should get some sleep,” he said as he started for the door.
I didn’t mean to grab his hand so hard, but for the first time all day I didn’t feel so lost. “Please don’t leave me alone.”
He seemed to think on that for a minute and, making up his mind, said, “Get changed into your pajamas and meet me in the hall.”
I changed so fast because I feared that he wouldn’t be there when I yanked open the door, but he was. He took my hand and led me down the long hallway to the massive stairs.
“Have you ever seen such a big staircase?” Kane asked, and I knew he was trying to take my mind off my parents.
“No.” And, in an attempt to do the same, and because I really thought so, I said, “I bet it would be fun sliding down the railing.”
He glanced down at me. “You wouldn’t be scared?”
“Probably, but that would only add to the adventure.”
A smile flashed over his face, and I knew he liked my answer even before he said, “Agreed.”
We walked down another hallway until we reached the library. As soon as he turned on the lights, I gasped. It was like the library in
Beauty and the Beast
, books as high up as you could see.
“What a room.” I said.
“This is my favorite room. I can’t tell you how many times I come down here when I can’t sleep and start counting the books.”
“What’s the highest you’ve counted?”
“Got up to two thousand once, and I wasn’t even halfway through the room.”
“That’s amazing.” Even more amazing, his taking my mind off my parents was working. A small sofa sat in a corner.
“It’s more comfortable than it looks,” Kane said before he led me to it. We curled up on the sofa with a blanket.
“You okay? Do you need anything? Tissues, a drink?” he asked.
“I’m okay, thanks.”
“I don’t really know what you’re feeling, my situation is a little different, but I do know that a time will come when you can remember your parents and not be overwhelmed with the pain of losing them.”
I whispered to him my biggest fear, “I’m afraid that I’ll forget them.”
“You’ll always be able to see them.” He sounded so confident and, having lost his mom, maybe he really did know what he was talking about. But I wasn’t convinced.
Shifting so I could stare into those blue eyes, I said, “But not in the way I want. When I think of them, all I see are the boxes being lowered into the ground, the tombstones with their names: Amy and Christian Harper. Every time I think of them, that’s what I’ll remember. And I hate it, hate that my last memory of my parents is seeing them being put into the ground.”
“I’m sorry for that, but you can see your parents again, because you can see with more than your eyes, Teagan.”
“No, you can’t.”
“I’ll prove it. Did you ever go on vacation with your parents?”
“All the time.”