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The Sacred Well
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The Sacred Well

4.7 4
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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

May (Pilate's Wife) tells the story of two American reporters from different eras caught up in Mexican intrigue. In 1923, real-life reporter Alma Reed exposed the theft of Mayan artifacts from the Yucatán, leading to an affair with the governor and the ire of local reactionaries. May's fictional modern-day reporter, Sage Sanborn, is a travel writer on a Yucatán junket enticed to tell Reed's story by a mysterious American she meets in a bar. Their explorations and ensuing affair echo Reed's exploits, but the mirrored-narrative premise doesn't build to anything substantial, and May's narrators-Alma and Sage-are pretty vanilla as far as adventuring heroines go. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
The lives of Alma Reed (1896-1966) and Felipe Carrillo Puerto (1874-1924) are examined by May (Pilate's Wife, 2006) in a novel that invokes the history and mystery of Mexico's Mayan ruins. Two love stories occupy the book. The first concerns real-life figures Reed and Puerto and the second concerns a fictitious contemporary writer, Sage Sanborn, and a scientist named David. Reed's tale, the heart of this romantic adventure, would make a fascinating historical romance on its own. A journalist-and divorcee-in 1920s San Francisco, the seemingly fearless Reed made the leap from advice columnist to serious reporter when she got herself assigned to cover a 1923 archaeological expedition to Mexico. Once there, she fell under the sway of the handsome, married Puerto, governor of Yucatan. But the newly peaceful country-its revolution only a few years over-was still a hotbed of civic unrest. Puerto sided with the Mayan people, the oppressed, and many in the States considered him a communist. But Reed, at least in May's take, saw his deep love for justice. She also uncovered a massive fraud and theft, involving the removal of the ancient treasures of Chichen Itza, the Mayan people's birthright, to an American museum. She returned to the United States before Puerto was executed in a final spasm of revolution. May gets the period details right. Her Reed loves the new flapper-style dresses, but blushes at the thought of being seen in her archaeologist trousers. As love blossoms, the swooning prose fits the romance: "The world fell away, leaving nothing but Felipe and me dancing together on a glittering stage." But when May shifts to the present to tell the story of Sanborn, the prose suffers. Perhapsthe tale of a contemporary woman fleeing the emotional pain of a dying lover simply doesn't lend itself to breathless prose, but May doesn't help her case with lines like, "He was lost and I was left-so alive I could almost feel my hair and nails growing."Uneven writing disrupts an otherwise intriguing historical romance.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

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.

Meet 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.

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Sacred Well 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
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