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Elisabeth McCartney's flagging spirits lifted a little as she turned past the battered rural mailbox and saw the house again.
The white Victorian structure stood at the end of a long gravel driveway, flanked by apple trees in riotous pink-white blossom. A veranda stretched around the front and along one side, and wild rose bushes, budding scarlet and yellow, clambered up a trellis on the western wall.
Stopping her small SUV in front of the garage, Elisabeth sighed and let her tired aquamarine eyes wander over the porch, with its sagging floor and peeling paint. Less than two years before, Aunt Verity would have been standing on the step, waiting with smiles and hugs. And Elisabeth's favorite cousin, Rue, would have vaulted over the porch railing to greet her.
Elisabeth's eyes brimmed with involuntary tears. Aunt Verity was dead now, and Rue was God only knew where, probably risking life and limb for some red-hot news story. The divorce from Ian, final for just a month, was a trauma Elisabeth was going to have to get through on her own.
With a sniffle, she squared her shoulders and drew a deep breath to bolster her courage. She reached for her purse and got out of the car, pulling her suitcase after her. Elisabeth had gladly let Ian keep their ultramodern plastic-and-smoked-glass furniture. Her books, tapes and other personal belongings would be delivered later by a moving company.
She slung her purse strap over her shoulder and proceeded toward the porch, the high grass brushing against the knees of her jeans as she passed. At the door, with its inset of colorful stained glass, Elisabeth put down the suitcase and fumbled through her purse for the set of keys the real-estate agent had given her when she stopped in Pine River.
The lock was old and recalcitrant, but it turned, and Elisabeth opened the door and walked into the familiar entryway, lugging her suitcase with her.
There were those who believed this house was hauntedit had been the stuff of legend in and around Pine River for a hundred yearsbut for Elisabeth, it was a friendly place. It had been her haven since the summer she was fifteen, when her mother had died suddenly and her grieving, overwhelmed father had sent her here to stay with his somewhat eccentric widowed sister-in-law, Verity.
Inside, she leaned back against the sturdy door, remembering. Rue's wealthy parents had been divorced that same year, and Elisabeth's cousin had joined the fold. Verity Claridge, who told fabulous stories of ghosts and magic and people traveling back and forth between one century and another, had taken both girls in and simply loved them.
Elisabeth bit her lower lip and hoisted her slender frame away from the door. It was too much to hope, she thought with a beleaguered smile, that Aunt Verity might still be wandering these spacious rooms.