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Ashes on the WavesMary LindseyPhilomel BooksAn Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
She looked like something out of a dream . . . or a nightmare. Simultaneously, so terrible and beautiful, it made me ache.
Waves pounded against the jetty, shooting geysers of frigid salt water into the air as she leaned into the wind, her long hair whipping in all directions.
“No. Stop!” I shouted, but the howling gale and crashing waves consumed my words.
She took a step closer to the rocky edge and held her arms out to the side as if she were going to fly. But she wasn’t going to take flight. She was going to die.
“No!” I leapt onto the boulder at the base of the jetty and fought the wind, picking my way over the slick, moss-covered surface. “Don’t do it!”
Arms still spread, she tipped her head back, letting the spray from the waves shower her face, like a lover embracing the rage of the sea itself.
A huge wave slammed the rocks to my right. I crouched and gained a fingerhold on the rough surface to keep from being washed away.
Just a little farther and I’d be past the wave break point.
She turned toward me, her glassy eyes unfocused. I’d been there. I knew what she was experiencing in that trancelike stupor. Don’t do it, I bid her silently. She teetered for a moment and I felt certain she would fall backward. I was so close—within steps of reaching her. I couldn’t lose her now. “No! Hang on!” I shouted.
As beautiful as I thought she was before, it was nothing compared to seeing her face. Fine and delicate, bathed in the rich, caramel glow of the setting sun, her brow was drawn in concentration as she seemed to grasp the reality of her situation. She’d reached the point of no return. If she didn’t jump now, it was clear I wouldn’t let her. How badly did she want this release? How deep was the pain?
Not deep enough, I realized with relief as I wrapped my good arm around her waist and pulled her to me.
“What the hell are you doing?” she screamed, shoving against my chest. “Are you freaking nuts? Let me go!”
If I had been whole, I could have reasoned with her while standing. Instead, I was forced to sit, pulling her down with me in order to gain enough control to keep her from hurting herself—or me for that matter. As hard as she was struggling, we were both likely to end up in the sea.
“Stop,” I said in her ear as I forced her to her back and pinned her body with my own. She needed to be calm in order to listen to reason. The frigid water crashed against the rocks on all sides as her warmth seeped through our clothes into my skin.
“Oh, God,” she cried. “What are you doing?”
Lying on top of her, I trapped her legs between mine and held her arm over her head by her narrow wrist, the full length of my body immobilizing her except for her free arm, which she was using to beat the side of my head. I lowered my mouth to her ear. “Stop, please,” I said. “I just want to help you.”
She went still.
It felt like her flesh melted into mine as the tension ebbed from her like an evening tide. We remained like this for a while, breathing in unison and saying nothing, her body pliant beneath mine.
Sensing she had calmed, I lifted my weight from her slightly. In one swift movement, she shifted higher and slammed her knee into me.
Part of me marveled at her cleverness. The other part struggled to remain conscious through a wave of pain so intense I couldn’t breathe.
She muttered something indecipherable as I rolled onto my side and she pushed to her feet. Perhaps she had spoken clearly and it was just the sound of my pulse in my head that muffled her words.
Unable to move, I could only watch as she picked her way over the rocks toward the shore, never once looking back, now released from the call of the sea.
By the time the pain had subsided enough for me to get to my feet, she had cleared the jetty and was climbing the rocky path toward the mansion.
The structure loomed ominous and foreboding at the apex of the hill. The bottom half was shrouded in the dense fog that crept across the land from the water. Illuminated by lightning flashes, the mansion appeared alive—like a breathing stone monster waiting for the opportune moment to lay siege to our tiny village below.
I watched from behind a boulder marking the corner of the property as she raked the rain-soaked hair from her face and studied the stone beast as if she, too, sensed its mal-intent.
With her delicate, slender hands, she yanked the iron gate, but it only gave a few inches. The hinges screamed in protest as she gave it another tug and then another, until it finally yielded enough for her to squeeze through.
Inside the gaping mouth of the overhang at the front of the house, huge oak double doors with hand-hewn black metal hardware stood more like soldiers’ protective shields than a welcoming entrance. Everything about the place screamed “go away,” and I would have, but that wasn’t an option . . . not yet, anyway. Not until I was certain she was safe.
She banged ineffectively on the doors several times, then slapped her palms against them—her softness in complete opposition to the unyielding harshness of the structure.
She turned and I ducked behind the huge stone. I thought for a moment she had sensed my presence, but to my relief, she was simply looking for something on the path just off the porch. With almost unnatural grace, she descended the few steps of the porch and picked up a fist-size stone. Rolling it in her fingers, she climbed the steps and slammed it against one of the iron straps across the door.
The sharp raps reverberated against the stone of the mansion and echoed into the fog that had all but enveloped the island. As if in reply, lightning split the sky, making the house appear to lurch as it reflected off of the leaded-glass windowpanes that shone like the eyes of a hundred night animals.
The doors groaned as they were drawn open from within. I didn’t see Miss Ronan, but I recognized her deep, liquid voice. “You should not be outside after dark, Anna,” she warned. “Bad things happen after dark.”
Anna shot a look over her shoulder toward the sea before running into gaping jaws of the mansion.
She was safe inside the belly of the monster: safe from the storm, safe from the call of the sea, and most of all, safe from me—a monster of another kind entirely.