The Lightkeeper's Daughter (Mercy Falls Series #1)by Colleen Coble
With the lies of the past behind her, Addie finds love;. . . and discovers her true Father.
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The Lightkeeper's DaughterA Mercy Falls Novel
By Colleen Coble
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2009 Colleen Coble
All right reserved.
Addie Sullivan's stiff fingers refused to obey her as she struggled to unbutton her voluminous nightgown. The lighthouse bucked with the wind, and she swallowed hard. Her room was freezing, because they'd run out of coal last week and had no money to buy more. Her German shepherd, Gideon, whined and licked her hand. She had to get dressed, but she stood paralyzed.
A storm like this never failed to bring the familiar nightmares to mind. She could taste the salt water on her tongue and feel the helplessness of being at the mercy of the waves. Her parents insisted she'd never been in a shipwreck, but throughout her life she'd awakened screaming in the night, imagining she was drowning. In her nightmare, she struggled against a faceless man who tossed her into the water from a burning ship.
Thunder rumbled outside like a beast rising from the raging waves, and the sound drew her unwilling attention again. "The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea," she whispered. Her agitation eased, and she reached for her dress.
The front door slammed, and her mother's voice called out. "Addie, I need your help! Get your kit."
The urgency in her words broke Addie's paralysis. She grabbed her dressing gown.The medical kit was in the bottom of her chifforobe cabinet. "Come, Gideon," she said.
Carrying the metal box of bandages, acetylsalicylic acid powder, and carbolic acid, she rushed down the steps with her dog on her heels. She found her mother in the parlor. The patient lay on the rug by the fireplace. Her mother, lighthouse keeper Josephine Sullivan, stepped back when Addie entered the room. The woman's overalls and jacket were drenched from the rain and surf.
"You took long enough, girlie," she said. "I suppose you were hiding in your room."
Addie eyed her mother's set mouth, then knelt by the man. "What's happened? Where is he injured?"
"His arm is swollen. I think it's sprained. He has several cuts. I found him at the foot of the stairs to the lighthouse. I think he fell. He passed out as soon as I got him in here." Her mother stepped over to turn on the gaslights. Their hiss could barely be heard above the storm.
"I'll get you some tea after I tend to our patient," she said to her mother.
The wind had whipped her mother's hair free of its pins. Her gray locks lay plastered against her head. The wind rattled the shutters and lashed rain against the windows. "And food. You should have brought me something."
Addie clamped her mouth shut. The last time she'd tried to take food to her mother as a storm rolled in, her efforts were met with a tantrum. She turned her attention back to her patient. He was in his fifties and had little color in his face. Judging by his clean-shaven jaw, she guessed him to be wealthy and following the fashion of the day. His expensive suit, though shredded, bore out her speculation.
"Help me get his coat off," Addie said.
Her mother reached for the scissors from her sewing basket. "Cut it off. The clothing is useless anyway."
"But what will he wear?"
"Something of your father's."
Addie choked back her objections and took the scissors. The man's tie was missing, and blood showed through the white shirt under the jacket. She cut the shirt to gain access to his swollen arm. "I think it's only sprained."
Her mother dropped into a chair and pushed her wet hair out of her face. "As I said."
"It's God's blessing that he's unconscious. He might need the doctor."
"The isthmus is covered. I'd have to wait until low tide to reach the mainland."
"I'll secure his arm in a sling. He'll be fine in a few days," Addie said. He flinched and moaned, and she knew he'd awaken soon. She pulled out a bandage and secured his arm, then sprayed the cuts with carbolic acid and bandaged the worst of them. "Was there a shipwreck?" she asked.
Her mother shook her head. "Not that I know of. Just this man lying by the steps."
Addie silently prayed for him while she immobilized the arm in a sling of muslin. He moaned again. His eyelids fluttered, then opened. He blinked a few times, then struggled to sit up.
"No, don't move," she said.
He squinted into her face. "Where am I?"
"At Battery Point Lighthouse. Outside Crescent City," Addie said. "California," she added in case he was a bit addled. She touched his clammy forehead.
"The steep hillside," he muttered. "I fell."
"The steps are treacherous in this kind of weather. But you're going to be fine in a few days. I think your arm is sprained, but that's the worst of it."
His eyes lingered on her face, then moved to the locket nestled against her chest. He frowned, then struggled to sit up as he reached for it. "Where did you get that?"
Addie flinched and clutched the locket. "It was my grandmother's." She looked away from the intensity in his face.
"Laura." He clutched his arm. "My arm hurts."
Laura? She touched his head to check for fever. "Let's get you to the chair."
She helped him stand and stagger to the armchair protected with crocheted doilies. He nearly collapsed onto the cushion, but his attention remained fixed on her locket.
She was ready to escape his piercing stare. "I'll make us some tea."
In the kitchen she stirred the embers of the fire in the wood range, then poured out hot water from the reservoir into the cracked teapot. The storm was beginning to blow itself out, and she no longer saw the flashes of lightning that had so terrified her. She ladled vegetable soup into chipped bowls from the pot she'd kept warm for her mother. The sound of her mother's raised voice came to her ears and nearly caused her to spill the hot tea.
"You have no proof!" her mother shouted.
"What on earth?" Addie placed cups and the teapot on a tray, then rushed to the parlor. The man and her mother were tight-lipped and tense when she entered.
"Is everything all right?"
When neither the man nor her mother answered her, Addie set the tray on the fireplace hearth and poured tea into the mismatched cups. What could they possibly be arguing about?
She stirred honey into her mother's tea, then handed it over. "Honey?" Addie asked their guest.
He shook his head. "Black, please." He took the cup in his left hand, which shook. The tea sloshed. He didn't take his eyes off Addie. "I didn't believe it until I saw you."
He set his tea down and glared at her mother before turning his attention back to Addie. His lips tightened. "The way you stand, the shape of your eyes. Just like your mother's."
Addie's eyes flitted to her mother. "Is your vision blurry?" she asked Driscoll. Addie had often coveted the lovely brunette hair she'd seen in photos of her mother as a young woman. It was so straight and silky, and quite unlike her own mop of auburn locks that reached her waist. She actually looked more like her grandmother, the woman in the picture held by her locket. "What is your name?"
"Walter Driscoll. From Mercy Falls."
"Near Ferndale," she said. "There's a lighthouse there."
"What are you doing in Crescent City?"
"Looking for you," he said. His voice was still weak, and he was pale.
He must be delirious. She noticed the swelling in his elbow had increased. "Is your arm paining you?"
He nodded. "It's getting quite bad."
She reached for her medical supplies and pulled out the acetylsalicylic acid. She stirred some into his tea and added honey to cover the bitterness. "Drink that. It will help." She waited until he gulped it down. "Let me help you to the guest room," she said. "Sleep is the best thing." He wobbled when she helped him up the steps to the spare room across the hall from hers.
Her mother followed close behind with Gideon. "I'll help him prepare for bed," she said. "It's not appropriate for a young woman."
Addie studied her mother's face. The woman's mouth was set, and Addie could have sworn she saw panic in her eyes. "Of course, Mama. Call if you need anything."
Closing the door behind her, she went to her bedroom and shut herself in with Gideon. The dog leaped onto her bed and curled up at the foot. She petted his ears. The foghorn tolled out across the water. The fury of the waves had subsided, leaving behind only the lulling sound of the surf against the shore. She left the dog and stepped to the window. She opened it and drew in a fresh breath of salt-laden air. The light from the lighthouse tower pierced the fog hovering near the shore. She saw no other ships in the dark night, but the fog might be hiding them.
The voices across the hall rose. Her mother quite disliked nosiness, but Addie went to the door anyway. Gideon jumped down from the bed and followed her. Addie wanted to know the reason for the animosity between Mr. Driscoll and her mother. She caught only a few floating words. "Paid handsomely," she heard her mother say. And "truth must be told" came from Mr. Driscoll.
What did her mother mean? They had no wealth to speak of. Many times since Papa died of consumption, they'd had little more for food than fish they could catch or soup made from leeks from their garden. The small amount of money Addie brought in from the dressmaking helped her mother, but there was never enough. Someday she wanted to walk into a shop and buy a ready-made dress. New shoes were a luxury she hadn't had in five years.
"She's not your child," she heard Mr. Driscoll say.
Addie put her hand to her throat. Did her mother have another child? Gideon whined at her side. "It's okay, boy." She had to know the truth even if it made her mother furious. She opened the door and stepped into the hall.
"If you don't tell her, I will," Mr. Driscoll said. "She has the right to know about her heritage."
Heritage? Who were they talking about? The door opened, and she was face-to-face with her mother.
Her mother's shoulders were back, and her mouth was stiff. "Spying on me?"
"No, Mama, of course not. I heard arguing. Is something wrong?"
"It's none of your business, girlie."
Mr. Driscoll's shoulders loomed behind her mother. "It most certainly is her business. You must tell her."
Her mother scowled over her shoulder at the man, then turned back to Addie. "Oh, very well," she said. "Come downstairs."
"Of course." Addie still wore her dressing gown, so she followed her mother down the stairs. Gideon stayed close to Addie, and Mr. Driscoll brought up the rear.
"Sit down." Her mother indicated the armless Lady's chair.
Addie's eyes were gritty and burning with fatigue. She obeyed her mother's directive. She glanced at Mr. Driscoll. He wore her father's shirt and pants, the blue ones with the patches on the knees.
Addie turned her attention back to her grim-faced mother. "What is it, Mama? What's wrong?"
"Wait here." Her mother went down the hall and into the office. She returned with a metal lockbox in her hands. "Your father never wanted you to know. I told him this day would come, but he wouldn't hear of it."
Addie's muscles bunched, and her hands began to shake. "Know?"
Her mother thrust a key into the lock and opened the box. "Perhaps it is best if you simply read through these items." She laid the box on Addie's lap.
The papers inside were old and yellowed. Mr. Driscoll stood watching them with a hooded gaze. "Mama, you're frightening me," Addie said. "What are these papers?" She didn't dare touch them.
Mr. Driscoll's Adam's apple bobbed. "They deal with your heritage, Addie. This woman is not your real mother."
Chapter TwoAddie curled her hands in her lap. Where was her fan? She was suffocating. "You're my stepmother? Why did you never tell me?"
"You are the most irritating child," her mother said. "Just read the things in the box."
Addie glanced at the yellowed papers. "Can't you just tell me what this is all about?"
Her mother chewed on her lip. "The nightmares of drowning you've suffered all your life? You experienced a shipwreck when you were about two. Roy found you on the shore and brought you home. He insisted we tell no one how we'd found you."
Addie examined her mother's words. Surely she didn't mean Papa hadn't been her real father. "You're jesting." She pressed her trembling lips together and studied her mother's face. The defiance in her eyes convinced Addie she spoke the truth.
Roy Sullivan had not been her father? He'd saved his pennies to buy her every Elizabeth Barrett Browning book that lined the shelf in her room. He'd bought her the treadle sewing machine. Even the stacks of fabric in her sewing room were purchased by him to give her the start she needed. She'd seen him make many sacrifices for her over the years on his modest lightkeeper's salary.
Pain pulsed behind her eyes. And in her heart. She needed air. She started to rise to go outside, then sank back to her chair when her muscles refused to obey. "What do you have to do with this?" she asked Driscoll.
"I believe I'm your uncle," he said. Cradling his sling with his good hand, he settled on the sofa.
Her hand crept to the locket at her neck. "My uncle?" She rubbed the engraved gold. "I don't understand."
Gideon thrust his head against her leg. She entwined her fingers in his fur and found a measure of comfort. "Is Addie even my name?" she managed to ask past a throat too tight to swallow a sip of water.
Her mother looked away as if she couldn't hold Addie's gaze. "Not if my suspicions are right," Mr. Driscoll said.
"Then who am I?" Addie pressed her quivering lips together.
He smoothed the sling. "I believe you're Julia Eaton, daughter of Henry and Laura Eaton. There are newspaper clippings in the file that lead me to that conclusion." He nodded at the metal box. "Laura was my sister."
Addie focused on the woman standing by the fireplace. Josephine Sullivan. Not her mother. No wonder Addie had always sensed a wall between the two of them. It explained so much. She'd often wondered why her auburn hair and green eyes didn't match either of her parents' features. Her mother had cruelly teased her about being left by fairies until her father put a stop to it.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Addie asked.
"Roy refused to allow the truth to come out. You were his little darling."
"You never loved me," Addie whispered. "Even before Papa died."
"Your disobedience killed him," Josephine said. "If I'd told you once, I told you a thousand times not to go swimming out past the breakers."
Addie dropped her gaze. "And it's something I'll have to live with the rest of my life."
"What's this?" Mr. Driscoll asked. "She killed her father?"
Josephine hunched her shoulders. "He took this post hoping the sea air would cure his consumption, but it never happened. The stress of saving Addie from her own foolish behavior sent Roy into a decline he never recovered from."
Addie bolted to her feet. "I need air."
Josephine caught Addie's arm and forced her back into the chair. "It's time the truth came out."
Addie rubbed her throbbing arm. "If you hate me, why did you keep me?"
"I don't hate you," Josephine said. "But you were a constant reminder of my failure to have our own child."
"Then why keep me?" Addie asked again.
Her mother shrugged. "Money. Someone pays for your upkeep. We receive a monthly check from San Francisco. The attorney who sends the funds would never tell us who his client was, so don't even ask."
"You were paid to keep me from my real family?" She struggled to take it in. "So the sewing machine was paid for by someone else? The books, the fabric, my clothes?"
"Roy was much too generous with you. I wanted him to save it for our old age. We earned every penny. He saved some, but not enough. Instead he bought you fripperies you didn't need." "But we've been paupers since Papa died. Did the money stop?"
"With Roy gone, I was able to save it, as we should have been doing all along."
"That money belongs to Addie," Mr. Driscoll put in. "You'll hand over the bankbook or I'll file charges for kidnapping."
Josephine tipped her chin up. "I raised that girl. It belongs to me."
"I don't want it," Addie said, tightening her grip on Gideon. How foolish she'd been to stay here and try to earn her mother's love. "You should have told me."
"There was no need for you to know," Josephine said.
Addie turned her attention to Mr. Driscoll. "Why are you so sure I'm this Julia Eaton?"
He pointed with his good hand to the locket. "I gave my sister the locket you're wearing. She died right offshore here. The woman in the picture is her mother, your grandmother Vera. You look much like both of them."
Excerpted from The Lightkeeper's Daughter by Colleen Coble Copyright © 2009 by Colleen Coble. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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