Authors: Odessa Gillespie Black
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Paranormal, #Historical Romance
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
A Cursed Novel
Odessa Gillespie Black
Kensington Publishing Corp.
Lyrical Press books are published by
Kensington Publishing Corp. 119 West 40th Street New York, NY 10018
Copyright © 2015 by Odessa Gillespie Black
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
All Kensington titles, imprints, and distributed lines are available at special quantity discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotion, premiums, fund- raising, and educational or institutional use.
To the extent that the image or images on the cover of this book depict a person or persons, such person or persons are merely models, and are not intended to portray any character or characters featured in the book.
Special book excerpts or customized printings can also be created to fit specific needs. For details, write or phone the office of the Kensington Special Sales Manager:
Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street
New York, NY 10018
Attn. Special Sales Department. Phone: 1-800-221-2647.
Kensington and the K logo Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.
Lyrical Press and the L logo are trademarks of Kensington Publishing Corp.
First Electronic Edition: September 2015
First Print Edition: September 2015
Printed in the United States of America
I’d like to dedicate this novel to Chasity and Chance Moss.
Thank you for believing in me.
There are so many people I’d like to thank; I hope I don’t leave anyone out. First and foremost, as always, I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior: Jesus Christ for giving me the ability and patience to sit down at a computer and write without my ADD kicking in. From there, I’d like to thank Chasity and Chance Moss for all the hours put in reading and re-reading this novel so we could get it to perfection. Your love and dedication will not be forgotten. I’d like to thank Robert Howard Gillespie, known to me and my children as Granddaddy, for the values I try to exhibit in my writing. Thank you, Mama for the final edits and the inspiration you’ve been in getting the novel finished. Brant, thank you for “wiping off my seat” and being the best husband a woman could ask for during all the signings. AnnaMarie, you’ve been the best sister and promoter ever! Maria, thank you for being a wonderful personal assistant and for keeping my sanity intact. Codie, Ceara, Shelby and LaceeDawn, you guys are a blessing from God. I continue to thank him for you daily. Nancy Bloomfield, thank you for reading everything I’ve ever written and being the best cheerleader ever. Your input and editing skills were priceless. Nanette, thank you for selling beau coups of novels to every person you saw! I couldn’t have done this without you!
I’d like to give special thanks to North Valley Forge Gate company at www.gatesiron.com for allowing me to use a gate from their Ultimate Gate Collection as my cover photo. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was “the one.”
And last but certainly not least, I’d like to thank the first little angel who believed in me enough to ask me to put my autograph on a napkin for her in McDonald’s in Cherryville, NC: Brianna Nicole Putnam. I hope it looks cute in the frame! Hugs, Brianna!
Between dream and reality, I fumbled for my phone, knocking over my nightstand lamp in the process. The phone felt like a cold wrought iron handrail of a sweeping Victorian staircase from my dream. I shook off the feeling and answered. “Hello.”
“Allie, you have some mail here,” Mama said. “It’s marked urgent. From the Law Offices of Preston Dawkins of Nashville, Tennessee. You’re not in trouble, are you?”
“Seriously? When was the last time I was in trouble?” I righted the lamp and turned off my alarm. It was set for eleven AM, and I had two minutes before it blared some ridiculous talk show host’s voice in my ear.
Mama sighed and glasses clinked in the background. “Well, it’s odd it came here instead of your apartment. And you are too perfect. I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
“Because I fell from the same tree as your other rotten apples doesn’t mean I have to be tainted, too. It’s probably junk mail.”
“Well, to ease an old woman’s mind, would you have time to come open it?”
“You’re not old. Let me put on some clothes.” A night of restless sleep had left me drained, so I wobbled as I stood. “You could always open it for me. I’m not going to convict you of a felony.”
“I’ll just wait. Besides, it’s a good excuse to see you.” She let out a laugh that had always made my less than desirable childhood experiences bearable.
I hung up and fumbled around, looking for my other shoe. Every morning, after that stupid recurring dream, my chest ached, and the cramped one-bedroom apartment was even lonelier. Most psychology books would instruct me to go to a club with people my age and fraternize more.
Outside, a mixture of baby diapers and rotten salmon patties scented the air. Even breathing through my mouth hadn’t helped. The dumpster next to the apartment overflowed. The little two-door monstrosity, which the local car lot had called the best car there, fired to life. Welcoming the fresh air, I cranked the window down as I made my way to Mama’s.
* * * *
“And you’ve never heard of her?” Mama and I eyed the letterhead, the address, and the body of the letter.
“Nope. She’s no long-lost relative of mine.” Mama scanned from over my shoulder. “But it has a legal letterhead, and it appears real.”
“If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.” I tossed the letter to the center of the chipped Formica table along with the enclosed plane ticket.
“She might be leaving you a million dollars.” Mama smirked as she shoved a sandwich, a banana, and a bottle of water in a lunchbox.
“Or it’s an elaborate sorority prank.”
“You know, I always thought you were meant for more than this.” Her gaze darted toward Daddy as her voice dropped to a whisper. “It may be a case of mistaken identity, and even if the woman leaves you her most valuable cross-stitched quilt, it’s a trip you’ve never taken before. Besides, what’s the worst that can happen?”
“Never say that when someone is about to board a plane.”
“That’s my girl.” Mama kissed my forehead. “Now I can’t be late, or I’ll be fired.”
The screen door slammed behind her.
According to the letter, a video of the deceased reading her will would be shown at the funeral. Apparently, she wanted me to witness it.
A few days later, I boarded a plane to Nashville, Tennessee.
* * * *
A cold, murky thickness surrounded me. Seconds felt like minutes, and my lungs burned under the water.
Mud suctioned against my feet as I trudged forward.
Through the frothy murk, a rectangular box emerged, a casket of rotting wood and rusted latches embedded in green sludge.
My heart did a staccato against my chest, and my lungs burned deeper. My hands grabbed the wooden hatch on the coffin, and the latches broke free.
I pushed the lid upward, and the corpse’s hair lifted with the current. Through the settling hair, leathery gray skin stretched across a deformed skull.
My feet were trapped in mud. Though observing the most horrifying thing I’d ever seen, I couldn’t swim away. A large rock pinned down a decomposing corpse in a long white dress.
My hair tangled around my face as my hands pulled the rock from the box. With a steady jerk, they severed what was left of the rope preventing the body’s escape. I willed my hands to stop, but they wouldn’t.
I shook my head frantically.
The hands that had disobeyed me weren’t mine.
I tried to push up from the bottom of the watery grave, but a force too strong to fight compelled me to stand erect, motionless.
The hands reattached themselves to the forearms of the corpse. Skin and tendons snaked together and pulsated to create unity. The fingers wiggled as the corpse tried them on. The long slender fingers grasped the side of the coffin.
A sucking, popping noise pulsated from the corpse’s neck as it turned its head toward me. The eyelids popped open, revealing large yellowed orbs with white irises.
Thin leathery bands of flesh stretched back into a leering smile.
The rotting corpse rose from the bottom of the coffin with stiff jerky movements. Her face changed and death fell away, little by little, but not enough. She still looked like a dead girl, but she had been beautiful in life. Her skeletal cheekbones became covered in whitish-blue skin, and her eyes blacked out, hollow.
She no longer had difficulty moving through the water.
Propelling myself backward, I stumbled, and my bottom hit the muck. I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound escaped. Dirty water filled my mouth, gagging me. I yanked free of the impossible suction.
She leaned in toward me with her arms outstretched.
With all I had, I flailed against the water to get away.
Under the black depths, a voice that could only be hers blasted through my skull as I reached for the surface. “You have something that belongs to me.”
My fingers scraped against the rough embankment, and jagged rocks cut into my knees. Grass and tree roots gave me anchor as I dug my way out of the pond. I gasped and coughed until I caught my breath. Behind me, the corpse stood motionless at the water’s edge, eyes now black and expressionless.
When I turned to run, a guy with no face appeared. He was the same sweet guy from all my recurring dreams, but this time he was desperate.
“I never belonged to her,” he said. “You have to forgive me.”
His face shifted in and out, giving me an unclear picture of what he looked like, but bright green eyes shined through the vision.
The landing gear skidded across the pavement.
I jumped awake.
The arms of the plane seats were slick, and my shirt was damp with sweat.
Recurring nightmares had found me any time I closed my eyes since I’d received the letter. I’d liked having only the faceless young man dominating my dreams much better. These made no sense.
No one seemed to notice my abrupt jerk awake. The little bald man on one side of me smiled, and on the other side, the elderly lady’s face pinched in irritation.
Had I drooled on her?
As others gathered their carry-on bags and made their way to the front of the plane, I wobbled to the restroom. A refreshing towelette, one of the first class amenities, wiped away the dream’s after effects, though sleep deprivation had set purple circles under my eyes.
Outside the airport, the sign-holder bearing my name wore a suit and a captain’s hat, and he stood next to a long stretch limo. Everyone around me gawked at the huge car and whispered. A few people pulled out cameras.
With my head down, I made my way through the crowd toward him.
“Miss Knowles?” the man said.
“Um, that would be me.”
“Jensen.” He bowed. As soon as he opened the door to the car, the first camera flashed.
I was a nobody.
Jensen offered his hand to assist me into the limo.
The door shut on the faces of people who peered in at me, wondering who I was. I sank into the soft leather with a sigh of relief.
* * * *
The long limo took a left onto Rolling Hills Drive. It twisted and wound around the countryside for miles. The road narrowed so that another passing car wouldn’t have fit. Green-leaved branches of hundred-year-old trees armored the road. Clover and an array of wild flowers bordered the lane banks. It was a private little piece of heaven.