The Sacred Well: A Novel

The Sacred Well: A Novel

by Antoinette May


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A young reporter in 1923, Alma Reed accompanies archaeologists to the ruins of Chichen Itza, where a fortune in Mayan artifacts has been stolen from a sacrificial well. It's believed a curse was unleashed by the theft—yet the career-making story it offers the ambitious journalist seems a godsend. It also leads her to a passionate love affair with revolutionary governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto. But when fate darkens their lives and damns them as doomed political pawns, Alma can't help but wonder if the curse is not, in fact, very real.

In another century, another writer is fascinated by Alma's tragic story. Drawn restlessly to Yucatán-and away from the stifling needs of her desperately ill partner—Sage Sanborn is tempted by her growing feelings for David, a scientist who encourages her to delve deeper into Alma's history. And in this ancient place of mystery and spirits, Sage must make an impossible decision that will forever change the course of her life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061695551
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/24/2009
Edition description: Original
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Antoinette May is the author of Pilate's Wife and coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Adventures of a Psychic. An award-winning travel writer specializing in Mexico, May divides her time between Palo Alto and a home in the Sierra foothills.

Read an Excerpt

The Sacred Well

Chapter One

A Storm Warning


Yucatán, the present day

Mérida is an ancient city, sensual and sophisticated. I loved it on sight and dreamed of getting lost there, a fantasy that haunts me still.

As special guests, our wooden chairs had been placed on a small dais in the center of tiny Parque Santa Lucía. Sitting in the front row, making notes, I watched couples dance on an improvised stage. Dark-suited men darted like moths. Women in white whirled coquettishly, trays of champagne glasses delicately balanced on their heads.

I knew about balancing acts, have gotten good at them. Not now, not tonight, I pleaded to—to whom? Ixchel; this was her territory. I want to have fun tonight, I told the Mayan moon goddess. This is my time.

Leaning back, I fluttered a sandalwood fan against the sultry night, savoring the quaint old park with its graceful archways and lush plantings. The mariachi band sounded great: horns, violins, lots of guitars. When lightning sliced the sky I sat up with a start. A low roar echoed in the distance, barely discernable. Thunder crashed above me now. How quickly the weather changes in Yucatán. The first, fast drops of rain pelted my hair, splashed my face. Companions were already up and running. Behind us was a narrow street, beyond that our hotel. Two group members were halfway there, our leader shepherding the rest across deepening rivulets of rainwater.

I turned back to the stage and saw male dancers scatter in all directions. The women performers, gowns sodden now and clinging, looked uncertainly at oneanother, hands raised to trays still balanced on their heads. A goblet slid off, shattering on ancient paving stones. Mariachis grabbed their instruments and ran from the bandstand. Thunder crashed again, long and ominous.

Another fiery bolt slashed the horizon. "Sage, are you coming?" someone called to me from across the street. Hesitating, I looked again at the hotel, considered my fellow travelers, and remembered their twice-told tales. So tedious. Lost luggage in Guadalajara, leaky toilets in Taxco. I ran—in the opposite direction. The mariachis were disappearing into a cantina on the far side of the square. El Troubabor. Liking the sound of it, I hurried toward the blinking Christmas tree lights that marked the bar's lofty stone entryway. My high heels slipped on rough stones. An experienced traveler should have known better, but I couldn't resist the slinky shoes waiting so long in my closet.

Pushing open the elaborately carved wooden door, I rushed inside, glad to be out of the rain, a smooth marble floor beneath my feet. Too smooth. I slid, missed a step, and pitched forward into the dark, smoky room. An awful moment, tumbling in slow motion. I fell headlong, or would have, if a stranger's arms hadn't reached out and caught me. For the tiniest moment I relaxed against his shoulder.... How good it felt to be held without being needed. How long had it been?

"Are you all right?" the man asked in American English. He looked a little younger than me, early forties, perhaps; tall, rangy, and smiling softly. I'd never seen him before, yet felt in some crazy way that I knew him, might even have been waiting for him.

"I'm fine." I stepped back, wobbly, embarrassed. The room was filled with people, all of them looking at us. "Thank you," I gasped.

"Come, join me." He gestured toward the ornate mahogany bar where his drink waited, something dark and sparkling in a snifter.

Still shaky, I settled onto a bamboo stool, its back thickly padded with embroidered pillows. Mayan designs: Ixchel, my favorite, alongside ferocious snouts and plumed serpents.

My reflection stared back from the cloudy mirror behind the bar. Wide eyes, wary like a startled cat. I took off my scarf, fluffed up the short silver waves its silken whimsy had failed to cover. Good haircuts are hard to come by; I was glad to have one.

"¿Una margarita, señora?" the bartender asked, his ring-heavy hands already busy pouring.

"Sí, por favor."

"You speak Spanish?" the man beside me asked.

"Español por tontos."


"Dummies—it gets me by."

The mariachis, grouped in a corner, tuned up instruments that seemed none the worse for the shower. Much of the brass was dented, the tuba tarnished, but the brave sound raised my spirits immediately. Tasting the salt from the glass's rim, I looked about the cantina: intimate, heavy with history; faded elegance, but still inviting. This was the colonial part of town, the adobe walls a good five hundred years old. I liked the ancient grillwork at the windows, the bright woven rugs scattered across the tile floor.

Studying the faded photographs on the wall beside me, I saw poignant reminders of Mexico's turbulent past. These were the heroes of the revolution: men in white with broad sombreros, bandoliers bristling with bullets, rifles ready. Young, unformed faces with fierce dark eyes. I picked up a bar napkin, jotted a few hurried notes, and looked up to see my rescuer watching me.

"This is a nice place to remember," he nodded. One eyelid seemed a little heavier than the other, slightly engaging, a wink waiting to happen. "The mariachis end up here nearly every night to play their own favorites. Will you be in town long?"

I shook my head. "No. Here today, Chichen Itza tomorrow, then Cancún; finally, Campeche."

"Oh, you're on a tour."

"Sort of. I'm the person who gets people to want to take tours. Now, is that a good thing?" I swirled the liquid in my glass. "I wonder sometimes."

When he looked puzzled, I explained: "I'm a travel writer. My current magazine assignment is Mexico's romantic destinations." Actually, I thought, he was rather romantic. Dark blue eyes, penetrating; slim hips ready for the ghost of a gun belt.

He nodded at the wall of photographs that I'd been examining. "You consider revolutionaries romantic?"

The Sacred Well
. Copyright © by Antoinette May. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Sacred Well 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Soniamarie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have been to Mexico on two separate occasions and not once have I been to visit the Chichen Itza ruins. Now I am seriously regretting that decision and the destination is going on my PLACES TO VISIT BEFORE I DIE list. This historical novel tells the true story of Alma Reed, a reporter in 1920s San Francisco that after saving the life of young Mexican boy on death row, makes an archealogy expedition to the ruins. She uncovers shocking information and hears incredible Mayan legends as well as begins a heartbreaking romance with Felipe, the governor of Yucatan, a married man. While learning about Alma and the moral dilemmas she faced in Mexico, readers are also introduced to a modern day heroine, Sage. Sage is writing about Alma and facing some similar choices. She has a partner of twelve years that has become a demanding, bed ridden patient rather than a supportive lover. When a man named David sweeps her off her feet, Sage must make some hefty decisions not unlike those of Alma. She must choose between Mark and David. Will she follow a path like Alma chose? I really enjoyed this. It was a quick, light, easy read with great research put into it. The descriptions were "just right," not too much nor too little. I managed to feel like I was in Mexico wearing a flapper dress and it didn't take Ms. May 5 paragraphs of descriptive details to accomplish that. A good read. I think it could have done completely without the modern day heroine and not lost a beat.
MissBeachBum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book has everything a good book needs; a little history, lots of culture, romance, intrigue, and tragedy. Being one who loves to travel to the Yucatan I immediately fell in love with May's very accurate descriptions of some of the things I love about the area. If you have never been to the area before, seen Chichen Itza, or a cenote which is what May refers to as the sacred well you will want to go after reading this book.May gives readers an amazing look at what life was like during the 1920s for women who wanted to have careers as well love as she tells the fascinating and true story of reporter Alma Reed (a.k.a. La Peregrina) and her famously passionate love affair with Mexican Governor Filipe Carrillo Puerto that becomes a roller coaster as the two are turned into political pawns.Alma Reed accompanies archaeologists to the ruins of Chichen Itza, where a fortune in Mayan artifacts has been stolen from a sacrificial well. It's believed a curse was unleashed by the theft. In the beginning she finds the curse nothing but a good story to make her career but after many twist and turns in her adventure and the bad fortune bestowed upon not only herself but the (slightly hippy for his time) archeologist Edward Thompson who found the artifacts. The books is full of interesting characters. May also, tells the story of Sage Sanborn an author in the current century who become intrigued by the story of La Perigrina (Alma Reed) as well as the stranger who told her the story while she was on vacation in Merida, Yucatan. David is scientist who 1st tells Sage the story of La Perigrina when she takes refuge from the rain in a Bar in Merida. He encourages her to delve deeper into Alma Reed's history. She takes a job writing the the story of La Peregina and while traveling to and from the Yucatan she discovers the many things she and Alma have in common. Sage struggles with her developing love for David as well as the need she feels to stay home and be the sole care taker of ailing partner whose children do not help ease the stress of such a responsibility. Her decision will change her life forever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LadyLucyLehn More than 1 year ago
Antoinette May did it again! She is an amazing author. Her portrayal of history is just incredible. I enjoyed so much learning about Alma Reed, her life, and her love affair with Felipe. A refreshing, romatic tale.
DRHeather More than 1 year ago
The above Headline says it all - easy to read and based on fact. Should suite a wide range of people. Jumps about a bit, but very easy to follow.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Fortyish travel writer Sage Sanborn is in Mexico¿s Yucatan on a writing assignment to describe romantic spots in the Peninsula. During a storm, she rushes inside a tavern in Merida. There she meets David Winslow who asks her to join him for a drink. They listen to a local band play a haunting love song that David insists was written by a former states governor.

In 1923 Yucatan Governor Felipe Carillo Puerto and American female journalist Alma Reed met and fell in love. She reported the plundering of Mayan artifacts, which angers some locals. Soon afterward Felipe is assassinated; Alma blames herself for the murder of her beloved as her article led to his death.

Sage returns to San Francisco where her boyfriend Mark lives to write the heartbreaking story of Felipe and Alma. However, she also misses David and considers returning to him and the Yucatan.

SACRED WELL is an intriguing premise of an American female reporter investigating the true life story of Alma Reed. The two subplots eight plus decades apart are fascinating to follow especially the historical based on the tragic love between Alma and Felipe. Although the contemporary lacks the excitement of the 1920s, fans will enjoy this fine tale of a modern American journalist searching for what her counterpart found in 1923 in the Yucatan.

Harriet Klausner