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Authors: Antoinette Stockenberg

Beyond Midnight

BOOK: Beyond Midnight
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Beyond Midnight

 

"Full of charm and wit, Stockenberg's latest is truly enthralling."

--
Publishers Weekly
 

 

Salem
. Will history repeat itself?

In 1692,
Salem
,
Massachusetts
was the setting for the infamous persecution of innocents accused of witchcraft. Three centuries later, little has changed. Helen Evett, widowed mother of two and owner of a prestigious preschool in town, finds her family, her fortunes, and her life's work threatened -- all because she feels driven to protect the sweet three-year-old daughter of a man who knows everything about finance but not so much about fathering. Helen's feelings toward little Katie's handsome father are decidedly mixed, and it will take more than knocks in the night, perfumed air, and bone-chilling cold to convince her otherwise.

Nathaniel Byrne is willing to consider Helen's advice and help. But he does it grudgingly, because the woman is by far the most determined, pushy force he's ever encountered. Recently widowed, tormented by the circumstances, and at sea about being a single parent, Nat is not inclined to hand over his daughter to just any preschool -- not when he has an accomplished, London-trained nanny who's more than willing to help make those decisions with him.

And the nanny herself? Peaches Bartholemew is as clever as she is beautiful, as efficient as she is soothing. Peaches can do anything. The trick, for Nat's dead wife, will be to keep her from doing it.

"Ms. Stockenberg is a marvelous story teller who writes with humor, wit, and real experiences that we can relate to. Totally absorbing ... a superior tale with just the right combination of greed, hysteria, obsession and romantic passion. Spectacular! A terrific story that had me anxiously turning the well-written pages."

--
Literary Times

"Entertaining and fun.
BEYOND MIDNIGHT's
shining strengths are its insights into parenting and relationship issues, its brazen humor, its writing style, its to-die-for hero, its cunning villain, and its intriguing supernatural overtones."

--Kristi Lyn Glass, editor,
Gothic Journal

 

For John, with all my love.

Acknowledgments

 

My
gratitude
to
Sgt. John Jodoin and
Officer Paul LeBlanc of Salem; to staff naturalist Robert
Speare
of the Ipswich river
Sanctuary;
to Director Kathleen Nelson of the Garrettson Memorial Day Care Center in Newport
; and, as
ever, to Dr. Howard Browne.
 

This
is the place to drop into a deep curtsy to Steven
Axelrod
for
his
steadfastness
.
Thank
you
so much
.

Chapter
1

 

M
arch.

Helen Eve
t
t dropped a log into the jumpy flames of her cozy hearth, then went over to the sitting room window and closed the heavy drapes of faded rose, muting the sound of sleet that tapped against the panes.

This March will be different.

She poured herself a glass
of sherry, settled into a deep-
cushioned chair in front of the fire, and cracked open the cover of a brand-new biography of Freud that she
'
d been meaning to read since Christmas.

It's
been four years now. Long enough.

Five minutes into the book, Helen looked up and began staring at the flames, unable, after all, to shake herself free of the mood. March in Massachusetts was long, cold, and cruel, full of false hope. March was a liar. March couldn
'
t produce a damn thing except April first, the anniversary of her husband
'
s death.

For four years in a row, Helen
Eve
t
t
had tried to convince herself that spring would be less painful. She had planted hundreds of snowdrops and burned cords of wood, and yet here she was, facing April again with dread. The memories of that fateful day had burned deep and left scars:
the somber troop commander standing at her front door, the slow-motion ride to the hospital in a state police car, the shocking sight of Hank
'
s gray, lifeless face.

She hadn
'
t dared pull the sheet farther back than his face; part of his chest, she knew, had been blown away.

Helen sighed heavily. Things would get better after April first. But tonight it was still March.

"
Mom! I
'
m home!
"

In the hal
l outside the sitting room, Helen heard the satisfying thunk of the heavy oak door falling into place. One child back, one to go.

"
How
'
re the roads?
"
she called out. Becky had
good instincts and a level head,
but her driver
'
s license was so new it still smelled of plastic.

"
No problem,
"
the girl said in a voice that Helen knew was being deliberately upbeat. Becky was as aware of March as her mother was, but she had her own system for dealing with it: she shopped.

"
Look what I found at Filene
'
s Basement.
"
The girl strode into the room, still in her black hooded trench coat, and nudged the cat off the hassock with her shopping bag.
"
Cashmere. And dirt cheap.
"

She flipped the hood of her coat off her head, revealing straight gold hair that took its glow from the fire, and beamed at her mother.

Helen, still marveling at the whiteness and straightness of Becky
'
s teeth despite the fact that her braces had been off for over a year, frowned and said,
"
Cashmere? Since when can you afford cashmere on a baby-sitter
'
s wages?
"

"
Well, it
'
s not all cashmere. Just twenty percent.
"

"
I hope you put gas in the car.
"

"
Ten
dollars worth,
"
Becky said, wrinkling her nose.
"
I
'
ll put in another
ten
when I get paid.
"

"
Becky, this won
'
t do. You can
'
t go spending money like there
'
s no tomorr—
"
Instantly Helen regretted having said it. Who knew better than they did that sometimes there
was
no tomorrow? For Trooper Hank Evert, writing out a routine speeding ticket, there had ended up being no tomorrow.

Becky was shrugging out of her rain-spattered coat; she let it fall where she stood on the worn Oriental carpet. When she faced her mother again the look in her green eyes was as calmly agreeable as the smile on her face.
"
You
'
re right, Mom. This is the last thing I
'
ll buy for a while.
"

I
t
'
s March,
Helen reminded herself.
Let her be.

Rummaging through a wrap of tissue, Becky pulled out a smart turtleneck sweater for her mother
'
s perusal.

Helen smiled ironically.
"
Oh, good. More black. Just what you need.
"

"
It
'
s not black. It
'
s blackish charcoal.
"

"
It
'
s charcoalish black.
"

"
It
'
ll look terrific on you, too, Mom. With your black hair and gray eyes—
"

"
I
'
d look like a lump of coal. Why all the black, anyway?
"
Helen added, unable to keep the protest out of her voice. The color of mourning held no allure for her.

"
It
'
s just cool, Mom,
"
said Becky with an edge in her own voice.
"
For no other reason.
"

Helen had to leave it at that. She stood up, automatically retrieving her daughter
'
s crumpled coat from the floor. On her way out to the hall clothes tree, she asked,
"
Did your brother say when Mrs. Fitch was picking them up?
"

She heard Becky mumble something about Mrs. Fitch
'
s car being at the mechanic
'
s.

Surprised, Helen said,
"
So how are Russ and Scotty getting home?
"

She turned around in time to see Becky sprinting for the stairs. Without pausing, the girl said,
"
Russ told me a
friend of Scotty Fitch was gonna meet them at the mall and drive them both home.
"

"
Rebecca!
"
Helen said, more angry with her daughter than with her son.
"
How could you leave him to come back on his own?
"

Becky was taking the stairs two at a time.
"
We live in
Salem,
Mom,
"
she ventured over her shoulder.
"
Not Sarajevo.
"

"
You know what I mean! He
'
s fourteen,
"
Helen snapped.
"
All feet! No brains! I don
'
t want him hanging around with kids who drive.
"

Turning at the top of the stairs, Becky looked down at her mother and said quietly,
"
I don
'
t see how you can stop him, Mom.
"

"
Oh, really?
"
Helen answered in a crisp, dry voice.
"
Wait till he gets home, then, and watch.
"

"
Oh-h
...
don
'
t take it out on Russell,
"
Becky pleaded.
"
It was my fault. I
'
m the one who let him.
"
In self-defense she added,
"
When I was fourteen you let
me
get chauffeured around by girls older than I was.
"

"
That was different. You were level-headed. I could trust your judgment—up until tonight, anyway,
"
Helen said with a dark look.
"
And besides, times are—
"

"
I know, I know:
totally
different,
"
Becky said with a roll of her eyes.
"
Even though it
'
s—what?—a year or two later?
"

"
You don
'
t know who
'
s out there, honey,
"
Helen said, ignoring the sarcasm.
"
There are nutcases
..
. madmen
... psychos
...."

BOOK: Beyond Midnight
4.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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