Hi, everyone! Are you ready for another glance at Crossing Time, my upcoming paranormal romance novel? Here’s chapter one:
Saint’s Grove, Virginia, October 24th, 2016
My chest is hollow. Tears stream freely down my face, turning frigid almost immediately against the cool night air. I walk at a brisk pace, a sense of foreboding mixing with my misery in a bitter cocktail of emotions. The sky is black, the new moon offering no solace, no glimmer of hope.
The fine hairs on the back of my neck stand up right before I hear soft footsteps behind me. I look over my shoulder and see a dark shape walking swiftly and with purpose towards me. I’m being followed. Fear spears my chest and my heart rate increases tenfold. Sending the carriage away had been a mistake, but my foolish heart had been so sure I wouldn’t be making the journey back alone. Stupid, silly girl.
I’m not familiar with my surroundings, all of the buildings look the same in the gloomy street. I must find sanctuary, only I have no idea where to go. The steps behind me sound closer and I have no choice but to break into a run without any sense of direction. And so the chase begins. My legs feel heavy, as if I’m treading water. I must lose my pursuer so when I spot a corner straight ahead, I don’t think twice before I make the turn, only to be greeted by an even darker, narrow passage. A few paces more and I realize my error. It’s a dead-end. I’m trapped.
I whirl around and feel the presence of my pursuer right at the entrance of the alley. My heart thunders deafeningly in my ears and my breathing is ragged. The man approaches slowly, moving like a predator who knows he has caught his prey. I open my mouth to scream, but no sound comes forth.
“Give me the amulet, little girl, and all will be well,” he says.
My hand immediately goes up to my throat, finding only skin. I’m not wearing any jewelry. I look left and right, trying to find something in that putrid alley that I can use as a weapon. There’s nothing. Panic takes hold of me, just before the man advances, grabbing me by the shoulders and throwing me to the ground. Sharp pain spreads through my back and a choked up cry is swallowed whole when he straddles me and covers my mouth. With his free hand he touches me in places no man has ever touched before.
“Where is the amulet, stupid bitch?”
I struggle against his hold, but it’s futile. He is so much stronger than me. All I can do is cry, even though, deep down, I know I have the power to free myself if I could just keep the panic at bay.
“You gave the amulet to him, didn’t you?” He lets go of my mouth only to slap me hard across the cheek.
I don’t know what he’s talking about, my brain feels useless. All I know is fear. He lets out a humorless laugh and covers my mouth again. He brings his faces inches from mine and his putrid breath reaches my nose, making me gag.
“You just made my life that much harder and for that, you will pay.”
I don’t have time to process his words before sharp pain explodes in my chest, repeatedly, and finally, my bloodcurdling scream fills the night.
My eyes fly open and I sit up in bed, trying to get air into my lungs. My legs feel bound, constrained, and the sensation feeds the fear that still courses through my veins. I move quickly, kicking the sheets off of my body and throwing my legs over the side of the bed, leaning my elbows on my knees and holding my head. The room is still shrouded in darkness when Cher opens the door.
“Maddie, what happened?”
I reach for the night lamp before I look at my friend. Her dark hair falls in tangles around her face, and her Hello Kitty PJs are more wrinkled than a Shar Pei dog, proof that I just yanked Cher out of bed again thanks to my nightmares. In contrast to her appearance, her eyes are wide and on full alert as she scans my face.
“Did you have another nightmare?” She takes a seat next to me on the bed.
I grab the glass of water on my nightstand and drink it all before I can answer her.
“Yes. The same scene as before, the same ending.” I don’t look at her. My mind is somehow still trapped in the horror of that vivid dream.
Cher grabs my hand and squeezes it softly. “I’m sorry, Maddie. Maybe there’s a meaning behind those dreams.”
I whip my face to her. “Like what? That I’m going to get stabbed to death in a dark alley?”
“No. Dreams are never quite that literal. I think we should talk to Madame Sincox, maybe she can help you make sense of them.”
I stand up and go straight to my dresser. I need to move, to do something otherwise the restlessness in my body will drive me insane.
“I’m not going to talk to that wacko lady who claims she can see the future. She only pretends to have some kind of power so she can get everyone to tell her their secrets.”
“She can see the future. She told me I would flunk Chemistry in my junior year and I did.”
I pull a warm hoodie over my night shirt. “Please, Cher. Anyone could have told you that with the grades you had.”
“Whatever.” Cher pouts and waves her hand in a dismissive way.
I take my pajama pants off, throwing them into a corner before I grab my older than dirt pair of jeans from the place they landed when I took them off last night. I could never claim I was a tidy person, but in the past few months, a day where I can see my desk chair without a mountain of clothes on it, is a good day. I don’t have the energy to put anything away when I’m consumed with worries and also dealing with unsettling dreams.
“Where are you going? It’s not even six yet,” Cher asks.
“I’m going for a walk. I need some fresh air.”
“Do you want company?”
The offer is heartfelt, but solitude is what I need.
“No. I’ll be okay. Go back to bed. It’s way too early for you to be up.”
Cher tries to suppress a yawn, covering her open mouth with her hand when she can’t. “True that. I’ll see you later at the Green Fox, okay?”
October is my favorite time of the year. I love the crispness of the air and the brilliant spectrum of colors that comes with the change of season. Virginia is known for its autumn colors, a feast to the eyes, a balm to the soul. But as I walk in the quiet early morning, I can barely appreciate my surroundings. The tendrils of the nightmare still have my heart in a merciless vise, the anguish and fear are hard to shake off. I stroll without direction, letting my feet take me anywhere.
My mind is far away when I turn a corner and end up in front of the Saint’s property, a grand manor that has lost its former grandeur. The shutters are all closed, and the paint on the woodwork is peeling off in many places. This used to be a must-see destination for tourists, the house of Saint’s Grove’s founder. But since the last Saint descendant died fifty years ago, the property has been closed off. There were talks of turning the property into a museum, but for whatever reason, the project never took off. So there the house lies, slowly decaying. It brings a pang to my heart. I think about its previous owners. What would Peter Saint—our glorious founder—say if he saw his property in ruins like that?
The wrought iron gate is closed by a rusty chain. I push against one side, hoping the chain has enough slack to create an opening for me. It parts in the middle instead. Dang. I will have to come back and replace it. I put my small act of vandalism aside and venture into the property.
Since I was young, this place has held some kind of power over me. Cher and I used to come here all the time, but we never got too close to the house itself. Cher believed it was haunted, so we played in the woods that hugged the back of the property instead.
Today, I stop a few feet away from the front steps and stare at the brick construction, wondering what’s so special about this place. Why does it speak to me in the way that it does? I never told Cher about my fascination with the Saint’s property only because she would concoct some kind of supernatural explanation for it.
A soft breeze comes from the west and with it, the sweet scent of ripe apples. There’s an orchard nearby. It snaps me from my reverie and I back away from the house. But before I return home, there’s something else that I must see.
I take the path that surrounds the main building and leads to the forest. Dried up leaves crunch beneath my feet, and a different scent reaches my nose, a mix of pine needles, earth, and tree sap. The smell is familiar, just like the rippling murmur of the creek that runs beyond the tree line is. Serenity finally seeps into my anxiety ridden heart, wrapping it in a soft blanket.
The path disappears under overgrown bushes, but I know the way by heart. I could make it to this particular spot with my eyes closed. It doesn’t take long for me to reach my destination. I stop in front of the massive honeylocust, one of Virginia’s many champion trees. At over one hundred feet tall, it deserves that title. Hello, old friend.
I look up and see the memorable markings. Three initials—A. L. S. The fact that the carving is no longer at eye level tells me how long ago they were etched onto the rough bark. I wish I was tall enough to touch them, to trace those letters with the tips of my fingers. I resign myself to placing my open palm against the tree trunk, feeling every ridge and every knuckle. A shiver runs down my spine as the wind picks up in speed, flapping tendrils of my long hair around my face. I ignore the change in the weather and stare at those initials again, wondering for the umpteenth time who they belonged to.
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