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She fought her way from the murky depths of the lake, kicking against the skirt of her gown. The wet tatters of material wound around her legs like the tentacles of some monster of the deep, trapping her beneath the icy water. Help me! Help me!
She could only utter the words inside her head. Her voice, shaking with fear and desperation, echoed inside her mind. She blinked back the water and tears that blinded her. Faint light guided her toward the surface, yet she could not break free. But she could see the world beyond the lake. She could see him.
With the ripples in the water, his face wavered in and out of focus. He crouched atop a boulder on the rocky shore, the wind ruffling his hair, which was all black but for a thin streak of white in the lock falling across his forehead. He leaned out over the lake and tossed long-stemmed roses like stones across the water.
Frantically thrashing her arms and legs, she finally broke free to the surface. But no water splashed. She didn't create so much as a ripple.
His shoulders hunched and head down, he didn't even glance toward her. His face, with sharp cheekbones and deep-set eyes, reflected in the lake. But her facenone of herreflected back from the water. Because she no longer existed. He had made certain of that.
"Are the flowers for me?" she asked him through the bitterness and anger choking her.
He lifted his head, as if listening. Then he pushed a slightly shaking hand through his hair, which was long, nearly brushing his broad shoulders. With a heavy sigh, he climbed down from the boulder and walked away, leaving the lake and her behind him.
"Damien!" she screamed. But the birds continued to chirp in the trees surrounding the lake, undisturbed by her cry. Because no one could hear her anymore.
But him? He turned back, glancing over his shoulder at the roses floating across the surface of the water. Did he see her floating just above? Or did he see only the mist that rolled across the lake every evening as the sun dropped from the sky?
"Damien!" she screamed again, but he whirled away from her and headed up the steep hill to the Victorian house perched on the edge of it. The weathered clapboard and fieldstone facade of the house, with its turrets and gables, blended into the rocky slopeexcept for its widow's walk, the ornate railing rising eerily above the roofline.
Propelled by anger, she found the strength to pull herself from the lake. She followed him but stopped before the boulder from which he had tossed the roses. A glint of metal drew her attention to a bronze plate affixed to the ancient rock. She reached through the thickening mist and, with a trembling, pale fingertip, traced the engraving in the memorial plate.
Olivia Ann Kingston-Gray, Rest in Peace.
But Olivia could find no peace in death or this limbo in which she existed where her body layat the bottom of the Lake of Tears for the past six months. And her restless spirit roamed the rocky shore of the lake, anger feeding off her grief and fear until rage consumed her.
She traced the last words of the inscription. Beloved Wife. Another pretty lie. He had told her so many timesmaking her trust him, making her fall for him. Olivia didn't know at whom she was more angryhim for telling the lies or herself for being so gullible that she'd believed him. But now, too late, she knew better.
And she knew what she had to do. Olivia had returned from the dead for one reason. Revenge. Against the man who had killed her. Her husband.
Damien Gray stared down at the lake, which stretched out a half mile from the rocky shore in front of the house. Woods of ancient pines surrounded it. He studied the surface of the lake, watching it grow dark as the last trace of daylight faded into dusk.
Wisps of fog drifted across the gray surface like the roses he had strewn onto the water just a short time ago. He braced his palm against the cool, curved glass of the second-story, turret bedroom window and leaned forward, staring intently across the rocky shore to the lake. He narrowed his eyes, trying to peer through the thickening mist. Trying to see her.
Had she been there earlier, floating on the surface of the lake like the fog? Or had her faint image only been his mindand his heartplaying tricks on him again? Hell, everywhere he looked he saw her now. Maybe she was only a figment of his imagination and his guilt.
Or she was actually haunting him ?
He blew out a ragged breath of bone-deep weariness and turned away from the window. Maybe if he could close his eyes and not see her, he wouldn't see her when he was awake, either. He needed some damn sleep. Now. Before insomnia stole whatever was left of his sanity.
But when Damien turned toward the antique sleigh bed, the last thing he thought of was sleeping in it. He thought againalwaysof her. And their honeymoon
Olivia had giggled as Damien kicked open the door and carried her across the threshold into the master suite. "You're really pushing this macho thing by carrying me up the stairs," she teased. "You better put me down."
Never. The thought flashed through his mind, and his arms tightened around his new bride.
"Trying to get away from me already?" he asked, keeping his tone light and teasing even though he worried that she was. That she might. Because it had happened before.
Her hand clenched on his shoulder, and she smiled up into his face, her pale blue eyes shining with love. Or so he'd thought at the time. "I'm right where I want to be," she assured him.
"Good," he said with satisfaction, "because you are not going anywhere."
She lifted her chin and challenged him. "Oh, I'm not?"
"No, I forbid it." And he wasn't entirely joking.
She tilted her head. "Hmmm as I recall the vows that we spoke today, we agreed to respect each other, but there was no mention of obeying."
"Hmmm " he mocked her, "I recall you definitely agreeing to obey. Have you forgotten so soon, Wife?"
"Nice try, Husband," she mocked back. "But if you don't let me go, I can't give you your surprise ."
His gut tightened with apprehension. "Surprise?" He hated surprises. He'd had one too damn many.
Taking advantage of having distracted him, Olivia wiggled out of his arms. "Yes, I have a surprise for you." She grabbed a small suitcase from the chest at the foot of the bed and carried it into the bathroom. "I'm glad the bags were brought up."
"Nathan brought them up when we went down to the lake," he said, glancing toward the curved turret windows that overlooked the rocky shore and the Lake of Tears. But he didn't move toward the window; he could not move farther away from her.
"Nathan?" she asked through a crack in the bathroom door.
"My cousin and the caretaker of the house and lake," he explainedas much as anyone could explain Nathan Gray.
"The shaman?" she asked.
Obviously she had spent enough time in town to hear about Nathan. Usually the residents of the village of Grayson, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, were reticent with and suspicious of strangers. But from the moment Olivia had come to town, she had been accepted as if she belonged. And she didshe belonged with him.
"Yes, Nathan is believed to be a shaman," he said. But no matter what the townspeople, or Nathan, thought, Damien struggled to accept the legends and the beliefs of the past as anything more than fairy tales. He was too pragmatic and cynical to believe in the supernatural.
"I want to meet him," she said.
Probably to question him about the lake, as she had persistently questioned Damien since they had first met. Her fascination with the legend of the Lake of Tears should have forewarned him of the tragedy to come.
"I want to thank him," Olivia explained, "for bringing up the bags."
Then she stepped out of the bathroom and into the soft light of the crystal chandelier. And for a moment Damien stopped breathing, the air trapped in his lungs, as he stared at his bride. Even though she hadn't worn a wedding dress for their civil ceremony, she had been beautiful in an ivory skirt and jacket, with her hair pinned up. Now she looked bridalin a white silk-and-lace robe and gossamer gown with her platinum hair shimmering like moonlight around her shoulders.
"I want to thank him, too," Damien said, his voice raspy as desire for his bride overwhelmed him.
Her fingers trembling, she plucked at the long, full skirt of the gown. "It's not too much? I know we wanted to keep things simple." Dark pink color flooded her pale skin. "And it's not like we've never done it before ."
He reached out and pressed a finger across her lips. "Shhh " He sought to settle her nerves even as ones of his own rushed up to squeeze his chest. "Tonight is our first time."
Beneath his finger her lips curved into a smile of amusement. "Damien "
"Tonight is our first time as man and wife." He moved his finger back and forth across the silkiness of her full lips. "Tonight is the first time I sleep with my bride ."
"This bride," she murmured, her eyes soft with vulnerability.
Since he'd met her, which had actually been a few short months ago, he had witnessed only her strength and confidence. He had never glimpsed her insecurity until that moment.
Did she have doubts or regrets about marrying him? "Olivia?"
"I'm sorry," she said, shaking her head so that her hair swirled around her shoulders. "I shouldn't have mentioned her"
But now that she had, the pressure that had weighed on Damien for years returned. He shoved a hand through his hair and said, "Maybe we shouldn't have come here."
"You didn't want to," she reminded him. "I talked you into it."
And he should have followed his gut instinct and stayed away from the lake. Hell, maybe he should have sold the house and property. Unlike Nathan and Olivia, with their fascination with the past, Damien preferred to leave it behind and move on to the future.
But he and Olivia had met here at the lake, and so he had allowed himself to be persuaded to return for their honeymoon.
He was the one who needed to move on, to let the past go and focus on the future. His future with Olivia.
"I intend to give you everything you want, Olivia," he promised.
She gazed up at him, her blue eyes soft, and insisted, "I only want you."
He lifted his hand and ran his thumb over the gold band on his finger. "You have me."
"I'm greedy," she said, her lips lifting in a smile again, but one that was more wistful than amused. "I want all of you."
He had worried that she would want more from him than he could give. But yet he had proposed. Maybe it was the gambler in him that had compelled him to risk his heart again. Or maybe it was her.
"You have all of me," he assured her. "I'm here."
Not at the chain of casinos that usually consumed all his time and energy but that had rewarded him for his hard work and dedication with more money than he would ever be able to spend.
"And I'm with youonly you." Because of her, he was able to move on beyond the pain of his past.