Ethan McVey was in Raven's Hollow to fill in for the police chief, not get entangled in a decades-old legend. But one look into Amara Bellam's striking gray eyeseyes that had haunted his dreams for fifteen yearsand he was helpless to turn his back on the vulnerable beauty. He vowed to keep her safe from the killer targeting her.
Amara couldn't deny the parallel between the recent murders and her family's local lore nor could she ignore her undeniable attraction to her dark and mysterious protector. But as the danger to her life increased, Amara questioned if the killer was truly after her for her past, or was seeking to destroy something much closer to home.
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Los Angeles, California
15 years ago
The scene felt so real, McVey figured this time it might not be unfolding in his head. His totally messed-up head, which wasn't improving thanks to the dream that had haunted him every night for the past two weeks.
The moment he fell asleep, he found himself trapped in an attic room that smelled like old wood, wet dirt and something far more pungent than boiled cabbage. The air was muggy and strangely alive. Thunder crashed every few seconds and tongues of lightning flickered through a curtain of fetid gray smoke.
He knew he was hiding, hunkered down in some shadowy corner where the two people he watchedbarely visible within the smokecouldn't see him.
The man's fingers clenched and unclenched. The woman circled a small fire and muttered unintelligible words.
Two violent thunderbolts later, only the woman and the smoke remained. The man had vanished.
Okay, that couldn't be good. McVey searched frantically for a way out of wherever he was before whoever she was saw him and made him eat the same black dripping thing she'd given the now-gone man.
With her eyes closed and her hair and clothes askew, she mumbled and swayed and breathed in choking fumes. Then suddenly she froze. In the next flash of lightning her head began to turn. Slowly, creepily, like a rusty weather vane in a bad horror film.
Her eyes locked on McVey's hiding place. He heard the black thing in her hand plop to the floor. She raised a dripping finger and pointed it straight at him.
"You," she accused in a voice that made him think of rusty nails soaked in whiskey. "You saw what passed between me and the one she would have you call Father."
Whoa, McVey thought on an unnatural spurt of fear. That was a whole lot, what she'd just said. A whole lot of nothing he understood, or wanted to.
"You have no business here, child." She started toward him. "Don't you know I'm mad?"
Right. Mad. So why the hell couldn't he move his? He stopped the question abruptly, backpedaled and latched on to the other word. Child?
Shock, slick and icy, rolled through him when he looked down and saw his feet encased in tiny, shin-high boots.
Thunder rattled the house. His head shot up when he heard a low creak. Watching her smile, he realized with a horrified jolt that she was beautiful. He also realized he knew her, or at least he recognized her.
When she pointed at him again, the spell broke and he reached for his gun on the nightstand. Except there was no nightstand, and the next streak of lightning revealed a hand that wasn't his. Couldn't be. It was too small, too pale and far too delicate.
"Don't be afraid, child." Her voice became a silky croon. Her ugly clothes and hair melted into a watery blur of color. "I won't harm you. I'll only make what you think you've seen go away."
McVey wanted to tell her that he had no idea what he'd seen and the only thought in his head right then was to get out of there before her fingerstill dripping with something disgustingtouched him.
He edged sideways in the dark. He could escape if the lightning would give him a break.
Of course it didn't, and her eyes, gray and familiar, continued to track his every move.
"There's no way out," she warned. With an impatient sound she grabbed his wrists. "I don't want to hurt you. You know I never have."
No, he really didn't know that, but wherever he was, he had no gun. Or strength, apparently, to free himself from her grasp.
She laughed when he fought her. "Foolish child. You forget I'm older than you. I'm also more powerful, and much, much meaner than your mother."
She dragged him out of the corner. "Come with me."
When she hauled him upright, he stumbled. Looking down, he saw the hem of the long dress he'd stepped on.
"Why am I ?" But when he heard the high, unfamiliar voice that emerged from his throat, he choked the question off.
The woman crouched to offer a grim little smile. "Believe me when I tell you, Annalee, what I will do to you this night is for your own good
McVey shot from the nightmare on the next peal of thunder. The dark hair that fell over his eyes made him think he'd gone blind. A gust of wind rattled the shade above his nightstand and he spotted the stuttering neon sign outside. It wasn't until he saw his own hand reaching over to check his gun that he let himself fall back onto the mattress and worked on loosening the knots in his stomach.
That they remained there, slippery yet stubbornly tight, was only partly due to the recurring nightmare. The larger part stemmed from a more tangible source.
It was time to do what he'd known he would do for the past two weeks, ever since his nineteenth birthday. Ever since his old man had pried a deathbed promise from his only son.
He would set aside the disturbing fact that every time he fell asleep these days he turned into a young girl who wore long dresses and old-fashioned boots. He'd forget about the woman he thought he should know who wanted to give him amnesia. He'd focus strictly on keeping the promise he'd made to his father. If that meant turning his back on the people he'd worked with since well, not all that long actually, so nothing lost there. He was going to walk away now, tonight, keep his promise and change the course of his life.
Maybe if he did that, the nightmare would stay where it belonged. Buried deep in the past of the person he feared he'd once been.
New Orleans, Louisiana Present Day
"Make no mistake about it."
Moments after the sentence had been passed, the raspy-voiced man with the stooped shoulders and the tic in his left eye had looked straight at Amara Bellam and whispered just loud enough for her and the two men beside her to hear.
"Those who brought about my imprisonment will pay. My family will see to it."
Although her eyewitness testimony had played a large part in his conviction, at the time Jimmy Sparks had uttered his threat, Amara had thought his reaction was nothing more than knee-jerk. After all, life in prison for someone of his dubious health surely meant he wouldn't see the free light of day ever again.
But the word family crept into her head more and more often as the weeks following his incarceration crept by. It took root when Lieutenant Michaels of the New Orleans Police Department contacted her with the news that one of her two fellow witnesses, Harry Benedict, was dead.
"Now, don't panic." Michaels patted the air in front of her. "Remember, Harry had close to two decades on Jimmy."
"Lieutenant, Jimmy Sparks is the two-pack-a-day head of a large criminal family. He has a dozen relatives to do his legwork. Harry was a hale and hearty seventy-nine-year-old athlete who hiked across Maryland just last year."
"Which is very likely why he died of a massive coronary just last night." The detective made another useless patting motion. "Really, you don't need to panic over this."
"I'm not panicking."
"No, you're not." His hand dropped. "Well, that makes one of you. Chad, our overstressed third witness, knocked back two glasses of bourbon while I was explaining the situation."
"Chad dived off the temperance wagon right after Jimmy Sparks whispered his threat to us." She rubbed her arms. "Are you sure Harry died of natural causes?"
"The path lab said it was heart failure, pure and simple. The man had a history, Amara. Two significant attacks in the past five years."
Hale and hearty, though, she recalled after Michaels left.
For the next few weeks she fought her jitters with an overload of work. Even so, fear continued to curl in Ama-ra's stomach. She had thought she might be starting to get past it when the harried lieutenant appeared on her doorstep once again.
"Chad's dead." She saw it in his dog-tired expression.
The lieutenant spread his fingers. "I'm sorry, Amara. And before you ask, the official cause, as determined by the coroner's office, is accidental suicide."
"This is not happening." A shiver of pure terror snaked through her system. When the detective spoke her name, she raised both hands. "Please don't try to convince me that suicides can't be arranged."
"Of course they can, but Chad Weaver was surrounded by eleven friends when he collapsedin his home, at a party arranged by him and to which he invited every person in attendance. No one crashed the event, and the drugs and alcohol he ingested were his own."
She swung around to stare. "Chad took drugs?"
"Like the booze, he got into them after Jimmy Sparks's trial. As witnesses, you all hader, haveimpeccable credentials."
"Right. Credentials." Feeling her world had tilted radically, Amara headed for her Garden District balcony and some much needed night air. "Mind's really spinning here, Lieutenant. What kinds of drugs did Chad take?"
The cop rubbed his brow. "Ecstasy, mostly. A little coke. Might've smoked some weed earlier in the day."
She made a negating motion. "No chance that any of those substances could've been tampered with prepur-chase, huh?"
Her sarcastic tone didn't quite mask the anger beginning to churn inside her. "It's a fair question, Lieutenant. We're talking about street dealers, people who aren't exactly pillars of the community. Are you saying that, given the right inducement, not one of them could or would have slipped a little extra something into the goody bags Chad bought?"
"The coroner is convinced it was"
"Yes, I heard that part. Accidental death."
It cost her a great deal to work up a smile. "I guess we'll find out, won't we?" She struggled to maintain her composure. "I can read your face, Michaels. You're going to tell me there's nothing you can do in terms of police protection. I mean, on the off chance the coroner is mistaken."
The detective regarded the toes of his scuffed shoes.
"Massive coronary for Harry. Private party for Chad. No one except the three of you and me heard Jimmy's threat. The media would love to jump all over this, but they won't, because the powers that be are well aware of Jimmy Sparks's many and varied connections. Sure, the odd question is bound to surface, but they'll die as quickly as they're born. After all, there's no evidence of wrongdoing in either case."
"I suppose not. Well, then." Amara took a deep breath. "At the risk of sounding paranoid, do you have any suggestions as to how I can avoid a date with the forensic team?"
When he raised his head, the steely look in his eyes said it all. "You need to disappear," he told her. "Get out of the city and go someplace safe."
"Safe. Great." She pressed firm fingers into her temples. "Where?"
Tossing a worried look onto the street below, Michaels pulled her away from the wrought iron railing. "Your parents are in South America, aren't they?"
"Central America. They're doing medical relief work, have been for the past two years. Mostly with children, Lieutenant. I'm not taking this nightmare to them."
"You have relatives in Maine, don't you?"
"We'll go with the first answer." When the lights bobbed, he closed the French doors and pulled the curtains. "Let's do it this way. You pack, make whatever calls you need to, and I'll drive you to the airport." He managed a feeble grin. "If there's one thing I'm good at, it's shaking criminal tails."
Amara's mind swam. "Surely Jimmy Sparks's family will have the airport covered."
"Not in Jackson, Mississippi. I know this guy, Amara. It won't be a group hunt so much as a single-person stalk."
"As in one person sent to make sure I choke to death on a bite of crawfish or drop dead on the sidewalk from a nonexistent blood clot that'll dissolve before God, what am I saying? No, wait, what am I doing?" She turned to face him. "I can't endanger the lives of my family members. You know I can't."
"You can, and you should. Most of those family members live in a spooky little town in a remote and densely wooded section of coastal Maine. Raven's Cove is your best and safest option right now."
She stared at him for five long seconds before countering with a flat "It's Raven's Hollow, and I will call my grandmother. I'll explain the situation. But if she's the least bit hesitant, I'm choosing another destination."
"Deal." He ran his gaze over the ceiling when the lights bobbed again. "Pack only what you need."
What she needed, Amara reflected, was a time machine. Unfortunately all she had was her iPhone, her grandmother's number and a waning glimmer of hope that she'd ever see anyone in or out of Raven's Hollow, Maine, again.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Legends of Ravens and Witches Amara Bellam flees to Raven’s Hollow, Maine and her extended family when her fellow witnesses against a criminal die. The trail of death behind her continues with the detective who helped her. She arrives at her grandmother’s house to discover a stranger living there. Ethan McVey kept a deathbed promise and has ended up as temporary police chief in Raven’s Hollow. With legends and feuds which stretch back generations it’s a challenge to keep the clans from mutual destruction. He soon discovers his late night intruder doesn’t have murder on her mind. A clever hit man pursues Amara. A rifle toting man from the past seeks McVey. Meanwhile the body count and colorful characters increase. Spring storms – with wind and lightning either conjured or natural add to the suspense. This well plotted story had lots of twists and action. I’d advise reading in it daylight if you scare easy.