It’s been a year since Ivy’s boyfriend, Tristan, died. They’ve both moved on—Tristan to the other side of the afterlife, and Ivy to sweet, dependable Will. Now Ivy’s heading to Cape Cod, hoping to leave the horror of last summer behind. She wants nothing more than to lie on the beach, sip lemonade, and hang out with her friends.
But then a car crash ends Ivy’s life. As she floats to the beyond, looking down on the life she’s left behind, Tristan breathes life back into her with a passionate kiss. She wakes up in the hospital, surrounded by Will and her family, but all she can think about is the love that she lost.
But memories aren’t all that’s come back from the past. And this time, Ivy’s not sure love will be enough to save her….
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“LISTEN. IT’S SO EERIE.”
The night mist, smelling as salty as the ocean, swirled around Ivy and her best friend, Beth. The old-fashioned yard swing on which they sat creaked to a halt.
“Listen,” Dhanya said again. “It’s moaning.”
“Get a grip, Dhanya,” Kelsey replied. She was sprawled on a white Adirondack chair between the swing and the cottage doorstep, where Dhanya sat. “Haven’t you ever heard a foghorn?”
“Of course I have. But tonight it sounds so sad, like it’s—”
“Moaning . . . mourning . . . soughing . . . sighing, wailing, waiting for her lover who will never return from the sea,” Beth said, then reached in her pocket and pulled out a small notepad and pen to scribble down the foghorn’s contribution to her next romantic epic.
Kelsey threw back her head and hooted. “You haven’t changed, Beth. Even carrying around that old clicking pen. Why don’t you type on your iPhone?”
“Here?” Beth replied. “Where famous writers have scribbled on paper by the light of hurricane lamps burning whale oil, as rain mercilessly lashed their shingled shacks, and not far from their door the wild surf—”
“All right, all right,” Kelsey said, waving an impatient leg at her cousin. “I get it.”
Ivy laughed. Beth glanced sideways and laughed with her.
Since their arrival on Cape Cod four days ago, it seemed to Ivy that Beth and Will, Ivy’s boyfriend, were continually checking to see how she responded to things. Ivy suspected that she wasn’t the only one thinking about Tristan’s anniversary at the end of June. Ivy had loved Tristan more than anyone or anything in the world. Her joy with him was like nothing she had ever experienced. His love for her felt like a miracle. But June 25 marked one year from the start of last summer’s nightmare, one year from the night that Ivy’s stepbrother, Gregory, had tried to murder her and killed Tristan instead.
“Fog is so creepy,” Dhanya went on, “the way it slowly invades a place, the way it hides things.”
It had been foggy the autumn afternoon that Gregory had died, plunging to his death from a railroad bridge. At the end, his desire to destroy Ivy had been so intense, he’d overlooked his own danger.
Now a menacing rumble caused Beth to glance over her shoulder. “Was that thunder?”
Kelsey sighed. “I wish it would storm and get it over with.”
“Where’s Will?” Beth asked Ivy, sounding worried.
“Painting,” she replied, glancing in the direction of the barn, where Will was staying.
The renovated barn—part of Seabright Inn—was only fifty yards from the girls’ cottage. Tonight, with Will as its only occupant and his window facing away from the cottage, the building appeared dark. Across the garden, the lit windows of the main house were yellow smudges in the fog.
“I hate this weather,” Kelsey said, pulling on her long auburn hair as if she could straighten it. She tossed it behind her shoulders. “I’m getting a bad case of frizz. So are you, Ivy.”
Ivy smiled and shrugged. Her hair was always a yellow tangle.
“I can’t believe Aunt Cindy didn’t put cable in the cottage,” Kelsey continued her complaint. “I’m not going to watch TV in the ‘common room’ with her hooked rugs and old china and flowers! She can’t blame me if I go into Chatham and party.”
“It’s almost midnight, and you won’t be able to see the road in front of your Jeep—not in this fog,” Dhanya told her best friend. “Will has cable in the barn,” she added.
“If he’s painting, we should leave him alone,” said Beth.
Pink flashes of lightning lit the western sky. The thunder sounded louder, closer.
Kelsey grimaced. “This kind of night isn’t good for anything but a sports bar or a séance.”
“A séance, that’s a great idea!” Dhanya replied. “I’ll get out my Ouija board.”
Ivy felt Beth shift uncomfortably in the swing. “Think I’ll pass,” Beth told them.
“Me, too,” Ivy said, seeing her friend’s uneasiness. She guessed that for Kelsey and Dhanya, communicating with spirits was a party game, but it wasn’t for Beth, who was psychic and last year had often sensed the danger Ivy was in.
“Pass? Why?” Kelsey challenged them. “Are séances too middle school for you Connecticut girls?”
“No. Too real,” Beth replied.
Kelsey raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything.
Dhanya rose to her feet. She was pretty and petite, with long, silky hair and exotic eyes that were nearly black. “I’m good at séances and other psychic kinds of stuff. People at school are always asking me to do Tarot readings.”
“Yeah,” Kelsey said, swinging her long, athletic legs down from the arm of the lawn chair. “Dhanya was the star of my sleepovers.” Kelsey walked over to the swing and pulled Ivy to her feet. “Come on. You, too, Beth. Don’t be a party pooper,” she told her cousin.
When Kelsey and Dhanya had entered the cottage, Ivy turned to Beth. “It’ll be okay,” she said quietly.
“I haven’t told them about last summer, about Tristan or Gregory—or anything else.”
Ivy nodded. She could imagine Kelsey’s astonishment if they told her that Tristan had come back as an angel to protect her from Gregory and that Beth had been the first to communicate with him. Ivy and Beth would never hear the end of it. “They’re just fooling around.”
“It doesn’t bother you?” Beth searched Ivy’s face, her forehead creased with concern.
When they first met, two winters earlier, Ivy had thought Beth looked like a sweet-faced owl. Beth’s face was thinner now, and her layers of feathery light brown hair had grown out and been styled in a sleek chin-length cut, but her blue eyes were still as large and round as an owl’s, especially when she worried.
Several months back, Ivy had seen through her friend’s sales pitch for spending the summer on Cape Cod. Beth and Kelsey’s aunt, recently divorced, ran her inn on a tight budget. In exchange for their work, Aunt Cindy, as they all were asked to call her, offered them a modest salary and a place to live just minutes from the ocean, a bay, salt marshes, bike trails . . . According to Beth, it was the perfect way to spend their last summer together before college. But it was a summer away from Connecticut that Beth had most wanted for Ivy, Will, and herself—Ivy knew that. Her best friend was determined to get them away from the dark memories of last summer.
“Are you coming or not?” Kelsey called back to them.
“The more we say no, the more they’ll insist,” Ivy whispered to Beth. “Just play along.”
“Coming,” Beth replied to her cousin.
They entered the shingled cottage, which had two rooms on the first floor, a living room and, directly behind it, a kitchen with a large hearth, where Kelsey was waiting for them. Ivy and Beth cleared the kitchen table, while Dhanya retrieved the Ouija board from under her bed upstairs. Kelsey searched the cupboards and drawers for candles.
“Aha!” She held up a package of six dark red tea lights that smelled like cranberry.
“We should use white candles,” Beth advised. “White attracts good spirits. I’ll get some from the inn.”
“No, these will do,” Kelsey said stubbornly.
Dhanya set the board and planchette on the table.
“Sit down,” Kelsey commanded, while she arranged the candles in a circle around the board.
Ivy gazed across the table at Beth and smiled, hoping to ease the tension she saw in her friend’s rigid shoulders. Beth shook her head, then frowned at the board between them.
The three rows of the alphabet, the row of numbers, and at the bottom, the words GOOD BYE were turned so that Dhanya could most easily read them. The word YES was blazoned on the corner close to Ivy, NO on the corner by Beth.
“Try not to set yourselves on fire, girls,” Kelsey said, closing the cottage’s back door to cut the draft. She lit the votives, then extinguished the lights in the living room and kitchen, and sat down across from Dhanya. “So who are we calling back?” she asked. “Who died recently—someone famous, someone wicked—any good ideas?”
“How about that girl from Providence who was murdered a few months back?” Dhanya suggested.
“Which girl?” Kelsey asked.
“You remember—the one strangled by her old boyfriend. Caitlin? Karen?”
“Corinne, I think.” Kelsey nodded her approval of the suggestion. “Love, jealousy, and murder—you can’t beat that.”
“You should know the person you are contacting,” Beth advised. “You should be certain of the name and, most important, be sure that your contact is a benevolent spirit.”
Kelsey rolled her eyes. “Everyone’s an expert.”
Beth pressed on: “With a Ouija board, you’re doing more than just chatting with a spirit; you’re opening a portal for that spirit to enter our world.”
Dhanya flicked away the idea with a toss of her hand. “In my experience, you are more successful when you open communication with whatever spirit is available and willing. Please join hands,” she instructed, “left on top of right.”
Beth reluctantly followed instructions, then Dhanya rolled back her head and chanted, “Wandering spirit, grace us with your presence. You have seen what we cannot see, have heard what we cannot hear. We humbly ask of you—”
“This sounds like church,” Kelsey interrupted. “We’re going to end up with the Virgin Mary.”
“Actually,” Beth said, “before starting, we should all say a prayer for our protection.”
“A prayer to who, Beth?” Kelsey replied. “That angel statue between your and Ivy’s bed?”
“I don’t pray to statues,” Beth responded sharply, then added in a gentler voice, “to whichever angel or guardian you want.”
“It’s not necessary,” Dhanya insisted. “We’re sitting in a circle—that will protect us.”
Beth pursed her lips and shook her head. When she closed her eyes as if praying, Ivy silently said her own prayer. Ivy told herself that Kelsey’s obvious disbelief would prohibit anything beyond the five senses from occurring, but she was starting to have misgivings.
“Place your middle and index fingers on the planchette,” Dhanya told them. “Spirit, we are inviting you to join us tonight. We have many questions for you and welcome your insights. Please let us know you are present.” To the others she said, “We will wait quietly.”
They waited. And waited. Ivy could hear Kelsey tapping her foot under the table.
“All right,” Dhanya said. “We will move the planchette in a slow circle around the board. That helps the spirit gather the energy needed to communicate.”
They moved the triangular piece in a clockwise motion, skirting the alphabet and numbers.
“Not too fast, Kelsey,” Dhanya said.
Around and around they went, with circles as smooth and steady as the foghorn’s moan. Suddenly the planchette stopped. It felt as if it had caught on something. Ivy glanced up at the same time as Beth, Dhanya, and Kelsey did. Their eyes met above the board.
“No pushing,” Dhanya advised softly. “Let the spirit take over. Let the spirit guide.”
The planchette started to move again. It felt strong, as if it were pulling Ivy’s fingers with it. Ivy studied Kelsey’s and Dhanya’s hands, searching for a flexed tendon, or tensed finger—some tiny sign that one of them was moving the planchette. It was making a circle again; it was circling backward, she realized.
Ivy’s eyes rose to the faces around her. Kelsey’s hazel eyes sparkled, more with surprise than mischief, it seemed. Dhanya’s eyes were lowered; she was biting her lip. In the flickering candlelight, Beth looked pale.
The planchette made another counterclockwise circle. And another. Ivy counted the circles—six.
“We have to end this,” Beth said, leaning forward.
The planchette moved faster.
“End it,” Beth said, her voice rising sharply. Outside it was growing windy—Ivy could hear it in the chimney.
“End it now,” Beth shouted. “Move it to ‘Good Bye.’”
“Move the planchette to ‘Good Bye’!”
But it felt as if some strong, inexorable will wouldn’t allow them to. The planchette moved faster, still circling counterclockwise, as if the force would bore a hole through the board. Dhanya’s eyes grew wide with fear. Kelsey swore. The tips of Ivy’s fingers, where she touched the planchette, felt like they were on fire.
“It’s making a portal. We have to—”
Beth’s words were interrupted by a clap of thunder and flash of light. The front door banged open and closed. Glass shattered.
Beth’s mouth stretched open in a silent scream. Kelsey rose halfway to her feet, her hands still on the planchette. Dhanya pulled back, cringing in her chair. Ivy saw the three girls frozen in a second flash of blue light.
“Angels! Angels, protect us,” she prayed, hoping the prayer was not too late.