Lifelong tragedies of loved ones at sea perpetuate Ella Rowe's soul-deep fear of it. Feeling cursed, she’s haunted by secrets, lies, spirits, and memories of living in other times all with similar fates. Ella’s fear forces her to run from love—until the sea brings her the perfect man—Navy fighter pilot Daniel Ellsworth.
A fated and powerful attraction draws them together in Key West. But believing that loving Daniel will make him the curse’s next victim, Ella wants to run. Daniel questions pursuing her, knowing death could be a consequence. They begin a timeless odyssey of mystery and peril leading back to Ella’s ancestral home in Maine.
Will their destiny be fulfilled, or will tragedy be repeated as Ella and Daniel endure heartbreak to find love, and face death to find life?
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|Publisher:||The Wild Rose Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.74(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Soaring through a world of infinite blue, of sky and sea with no horizons, no beginning or end, was like flying off the earth into the arms of God. It was as close to heaven as Daniel Ellsworth imagined it to be. There was no greater thrill than catapulting off a carrier flight deck in a Navy fighter jet with engines roaring, cutting through the air at insane speeds. He entered the zone, as he called it — defying nature, commanding the space above the Atlantic Ocean and loving every minute with his senses tuned in razor-sharp to every sight and sound in the cockpit. But today there was something wrong. An odd sensation tugged in his gut. Approaching cruising altitude, he did another flight check: no problems; the sea was calm, the sky was clear and welcoming in this routine flight. His rational mind knew there was no basis for concern, but Daniel's trusted inner voice said, Something is coming, and this is fair warning. He knew he'd have no control over whatever it was, like going in for a landing into destiny.
* * *
With a death grip on the steering wheel after an hour's drive from the tip of south Florida heading toward Key West, Ella Rowe saw a bridge in the distance. It was seven miles long and suspended over open water with not a speck of land in sight. It was Ella's idea of hell — driving over ocean and sky through an endless blue nightmare, trapped in a car with no way to get off but over the side. Even worse was an hour and a half more of driving through the Florida Keys mostly over water, over forty-two islands connected by forty-two bridges. As much as she had tried to suppress it, the war inside her between the fear, love, and hate of the sea raged. The longer she drove, the stronger it got, and the fear was taking over. But there was no place to escape as she approached the Seven Mile Bridge with no exits, just road and sea. An accident here would send you to a watery death, she thought. I've heard Key West is a paradise, like heaven on earth, but driving through hell to get there doesn't seem worth the trip.
She'd never been to Key West before, let alone driven there. On a map, the Keys appeared as tiny dots of land slung over the water like a strand of pearls. Just the sight of them on paper gave her chills as she imagined how quickly the ocean could swallow them up. Janie, her best friend and a photographer at the newspaper in Tampa where Ella worked as a reporter, had assured her the actual drive couldn't be as unnerving as the aerial view on a map. But the reality was worse for Ella. Even driving over what little land there was, the water was so close on both sides of the road that there was no doubt she really was driving out in the middle of the ocean.
With over an hour of driving and about twenty more bridges to go, her fear grew exponentially, wrapping her in a suffocating grip. Ella needed help, but all she had was Janie asleep in the passenger seat. Attempting to calm herself, she thought, This is not happening. I'm a sane, rational person. I must rise above this. I can do this. But that only made her feel worse, as if she were talking herself down off a ledge.
The fear ignored her pleas, consuming her, spilling over an invisible edge of what she could handle. In the distance, she saw the road climbing gradually up the arch of the bridge, higher and higher until it disappeared beyond the apex. From her perspective, it seemed the car would drive straight off into the sky. Every nerve in her body trembled with a fear she couldn't contain. Even as she gripped the steering wheel, knowing her body was solidly in the car, something inside her rose and took over. She felt as if her spirit lifted, up and away from the crushing fear, almost as if she could fly.
Ella looked to the sky and saw a jet flying high, gracefully suspended above the earth, free from its confines and fears. As if sitting in the cockpit, she knew what the pilot must've been feeling as he gazed down at the turquoise seas from above. How peaceful and soothing to be so far removed from the limitations of life on the ground, she thought. The sensation of flying over the earth was so real. It was visceral yet comfortable, eerie but familiar.
Unwittingly, she'd swerved and an oncoming car blasted its horn, snapping Ella back to reality, bringing the familiar gnawing in her gut — not just the fear of being surrounded by the sea, but something else — a haunting feeling of the past catching up to her, colliding with destiny. Running away to a new place had always been her escape from the past. Even though she dreaded the upheaval, if this feeling continued to resurface she'd have to uproot her life again. But a small, silent voice played in the background of her thoughts, saying, Running away won't work anymore. There truly was nowhere to run, figuratively or literally, expanding her fear into terror.
Maybe praying would help, she thought. This is the kind of situation where people do that. But with it not being a regular habit, praying out of desperation seemed wrong. God might say, "Ha! I never hear from you unless you need something." And the last thing she needed was to have God ticked off at her. Ella was spiritual in her own way, but tended to keep her thoughts about the nature of God and life to herself. It made for cleaner relationships. Her private beliefs were nobody's business, especially since no one could wrap their minds around her life's mysteries and secrets. They were so inexplicable, even she couldn't fathom their depths.
And then there were the losses — to the sea — her ghosts of the past rendering her a pitiable, haunted being — a person she did not want to be seen as. So she never talked about the issues surrounding her past. She never explored or understood them beyond the obvious facts on the surface. Like oil floating on water, the events of her past would never sink or disappear, but she could move around them. Denying their existence allowed her to carry on through life as a seemingly normal person without a curse, even though its presence rippled through her life. For the last fifteen of her twenty-seven years, she'd managed to evade her dark history. Until now, on this bridge, the unrelenting fear triggered Ella's memory of the first time the sea had terrorized her, setting off a series of foreboding events for the rest of her life.
* * *
Near Cape Elizabeth, on the coast of Maine
At nine years old, Ella walked almost every day along the shoreline of the rocky coast of Maine where she'd grown up. She'd stop at the same place on the beach to look atop a bluff at a dilapidated Victorian house. It cast an ominous pall over the land below, not just with its decaying state and overgrown weeds, but with the air surrounding it — heavy air, burdened with secrets and sadness. Something inside that house seemed to be alive. It frightened her, yet Ella had been inexplicably drawn to it.
One scorching August afternoon, Ella had worked up a good sweat by the time she'd reached the house. Even though she was a good swimmer, she rarely swam in the ocean because she struggled with an unidentifiable lifelong fear. But that day, with the sun burning her skin, she stared out across the endless sea and was mesmerized by the rhythmic sound of the waves stroking the shore. The navy-blue water lured her with the promise of a cool, soothing bath. She could feel the brilliant white froth of the crashing swells like ice in her mouth, and on her parched body. Entranced, she felt as if she was inside a glass dome, set apart from present time and space.
Kicking off her sandals, she took one step toward the water. It invited her in farther, so she took another cautious step. Walking slowly, she looked down, and it seemed her feet were not part of her, like she wasn't really there. She halted as the first cold water rushed around her ankles and up to her calves. Gazing back at the ocean, the fresh salt air cleansed her thoughts and promised good things, a friendly seagull called out above her head in agreement. The wind picked up and gently hit her from behind, a nudge that seemed to come from the old house, pushing her to move deeper into the sea.
Feeling pulled by a tide of destiny, Ella's common sense evaporated into the sea mist. The first cold wave hit her middle, shocking her. She jumped over it, refreshed by the chill. Jumping over two more waves, she moved past the breakers and faced a rolling sea, her feet still on the bottom, floating over each new wave. The cold water numbed but invigorated her, lulling her into a peaceful place, floating on her back, looking to the sky. A large swell, several feet above her head, approached. She glided easily up and over it, but when she came down the other side, her feet no longer touched the bottom. She turned around to look at the shore. She'd been carried far away. Panicked, she turned her back on the open water to swim toward land. Getting closer, chin deep in water, she felt sand under her tiptoes and relaxed. But then a huge wave hit from behind and broke over her head.
As she went under, she remembered her grandmother, Hannah, cautioning, "Never swim alone, and never turn your back on the sea." But it was too late. She'd tumbled head over heels, briefly breaking the surface again. But as she tried to plant her feet firmly on the bottom, the sea came up and grabbed her with cold arms, clutching her legs, pulling them out from under her. With her head submerged and being sucked out again, for a moment she sensed this had happened before — a feeling of powerlessness against the sea. Pumping her arms toward the surface, she got a quick gulp of air before another wave crashed over her. Somersaulting violently, she lost all orientation of up, down, top, or bottom. Panicking, she tried desperately to hold her breath, so long she thought she'd pass out, when a lone thought passed through her mind. I've drowned before.
With that, scenes flashed before her closed eyes, like lightning flashing at night in the distance, illuminating the landscape and her mind for mere seconds: images of a ship, a violent man, a woman falling overboard — and Ella felt herself falling into oblivion. Her head hit the sand as a wave tumbled her like clothes in a dryer. Then something seemed to wrap around her legs. It felt like a long dress, soaked and heavy, pulling her further down. Another vision flashed before her — a woman in a Grecian gown threw a ring into the sea, then succumbed to it as Ella was now.
Knowing her next breath would be water, she recognized the feeling of surrender, of looking death in the face. She screamed inside her mind, I don't want to die! In the next moment, the ocean spit her out and threw her onto the shore. Gasping for air and choking out water, Ella's small body lay sprawled on the beach while she let the sun revive her enough to crawl away from the water like a crab escaping an encroaching net. Weak and trembling, she collapsed with her eyes squeezed tightly shut against the world and her cheek resting on the prickly, hot sand.
Shaken, the scenes she'd just seen while under water burst through her mind again like a movie fast-forwarding through her head. She felt connected to them, like this was supposed to happen; she knew those people and the feeling of dying at sea. But how? Why? Her head was spinning and bloated with water as she dug into the sand with open fists, clinging to solid ground. The space around her fell still and quiet, except for the sound of her breath going out, in, out. She was alive. Exhausted, she let herself drift into a twilight place — conscious of her surroundings while letting her mind go empty and tranquil. In that relaxed state, one question emerged. Why did this happen to me?
An answer came, not as a thought from her own mind, but rather it drifted in from the outside like it was carried on the wind from the sea: Secrets, lies, and murder. The message shattered her calm, making her fully alert, and she pushed her body up to kneel in the sand. Dark clouds had filled the sky. As she rose to stand on wobbly legs, the air grew thick and crackled around her. It was charged with those words, as if the old house echoed them back from a long-ago past.
Ella looked all around. Maybe someone was playing a joke on her, but the long stretch of beach was empty with only her footprints in the sand. She stood, got her bearings, and wondered, Whose secrets? What lies? Whose murder? The house, now shrouded in fog, appeared briefly out of the mist like a ghost and stared down at her with two huge windows glaring like eyes. Thunder clapped overhead. Ella felt the vibration through her body and its echo resounded through her mind: Yours — all yours.
Terrified, she ran for her life with legs that had never moved faster, running to escape the mysterious message of her life's own secrets, lies, and murder. The message didn't seem to be as much a forewarning as it was a light cast back onto a mysterious past, one that might determine her future. She'd run like the wind that day and every day since, away from the haunting past, into the distance, and into a future away from the sea, from death, toward home.CHAPTER 2
The Road to Key West
As Ella's car approached the Seven Mile Bridge, the sun shone brilliantly, and the sky was a safe, clear blue, but the fear from that day in Maine still gripped her. Then, she'd gone home to tell her grandmother about it, who'd made her promise never to swim alone in the ocean. As for the rest of it, her grandmother Hannah said it was most likely shock and imagination gone wild. Ella knew the experience had to be more than that, but didn't argue. Her nine-year-old brain couldn't fathom any of it, so she stuffed it in her subconscious as something to forget. Her fear of that house and the sea lingered, but the mysteries they posed were buried deep within forever, or so she thought. Gram Hannah had soothed her then with love, a warm bath, and a hot dinner. Today Ella relived the memories but had no mitigating comfort — only more driving ahead and Janie sound asleep in the seat beside her.
Surrounded now by only water, sky, and fear, Ella's imagination went into overdrive. If only the situation could be solved as simply as it had been when she was nine. But nothing had been simple in Ella's life since then. Today she was still running, and there was no escape from the small car and the past catching up to her. She couldn't do this alone, so she silently asked anything or anyone who would listen for help, to dissolve the fear and get her through the last leg of this journey and back onto solid ground. Ten minutes went by, but no help came. In desperation, she called out to Janie, but she didn't wake up. Ella called louder. Nothing. Nudging her shoulder, she yelled, "Janie!" Janie jumped in her seat and woke up, startled. "What? Where are we? What's happening? Are you okay?"
Ella calmed immediately now that Janie was awake and talking. "Not sure. I'm glad you're conscious. I'm getting loopy from this drive and all this water."
"Jeez! You scared me. What's going on?" Janie asked through a yawn, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
"You're scared? How do you think I feel driving on this thin ribbon of road with nothing but ocean surrounding us? It's freaking me out." Ella explained in detail the feeling of lifting out of her body and sensing the pilot's feelings in the jet overhead.
"You are getting weird, and you're scaring me even more. Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah. It was a fleeting sensation ... probably my brain's way of getting me out of a scary situation. I'm feeling better now that you're awake and talking to me. I need a diversion, so I don't get wrapped up in my head."
"And your wacky love/hate thing about the ocean. That's what all this fear is about, isn't it?"
"Of course. And it's not wacky. There are good reasons for the way I feel. And I don't hate the ocean. I hate what it took from me."
"I've never quite understood all of that. But then, I don't know the whole story. I know you have things you don't talk about. Regardless, here you are in this predicament." Janie looked around in every direction. "I'd say, 'Pull over and I'll drive,' but that's impossible. There's nowhere to stop."
"Exactly. Hence, my anxiety. It's like panicking in an airplane and feeling as if you'll die if you don't open the door to escape, but you can't open the door. I'm powerless to do anything. I'm trapped."
"I think it's called claustrophobia."
"I'm not claustrophobic. It's complicated."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Eternal Seas"
Copyright © 2018 N. Christine Samuelson.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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