Although Ophelia Garrett loved Cade Scott first, it was her sister he married and took home to his plantation. When Ophelia receives word of her sister's murder and Cade's arrest, she travels there on a mission to learn the truth. She soon finds the halls of Almenara are haunted by secrets, peril, and quite possibly her sister's ghost.
Despite the cold, angry man Cade has become, Ophelia's heart refuses to believe he is a murderer. Vowing to do everything she can to prove his innocence, Ophelia must open wounds she'd hoped were long healed and face the feelings that still burn between her and Cade. As everyone looks to Cade as the suspect, evil haunts the dunes and halls of Almenara, bringing death to two more young women and forcing Ophelia to confront the danger.
The weeping grew closer, and I battled the urge to sink back against the mattress and cover my head. If someone in this house was in such pain, it was my duty as my father’s daughter to offer them what comfort I could. I grabbed my Bible from the bedside table where it rested and slid from my bed. The ground was cold beneath my bare feet, but I hardly noticed as the weeping woman stopped outside my door. She moaned softly and a chill of apprehension rushed up my spine before I gathered my wits once more and hurried forward.
I eased the door open, peering up and down the eerily silent hall.
“Eleanor?’ I called quietly. “Lorraine?”
A movement at one end of the hall caught my eyes, and I caught a glimpse of luminescent white fabric around the corner. I rushed to the end of the hallway, but found neither a turn to an adjoining corridor nor a door to another room.
The wall that blocked my pursuit was almost completely covered by a life-size portrait of my sister with Cade and Tabitha. In the portrait, they all looked stunning, even Tabitha, who had been painted as a normal child of three or four years old. Gone were the flat features, muted eyes and tiny teeth of the child I had met in the nursery. In her place was what I guessed to be my sister’s version of the perfect child: angelic face, bouncing dark curls, and bright, intelligent eyes the exact color of our own. In truth, she looked just like I recalled Desi and myself looking at her age.
Both Tabitha and her mother were dressed in white gowns, the same bright white as the gown I’d seen from my doorway. Had I somehow caught a glimpse of this portrait from my bedroom door? I reached a shaking hand toward the portrait. Would Desdemona’s dress feel as real as it looked?
A hand closed on my shoulder, and I turned, the breath draining from me in a dizzying wave of fear. My knees buckled and the Bible slipped from my numb fingers to the floor with a thud.
I heard a quiet curse as the hand released my shoulder and an arm encircled my waist to keep me upright.
I got my bearings quickly, recognizing the voice and arm through my fear. “Cade, you scared the life out of me.”
“I spoke your name. I thought you heard me.”
My hands were still shaking slightly, and I clutched them together to still them as I moved out of his grasp.
“What are you doing out here?” He shot one look toward the picture I’d been staring at, then moved so that he stood with his back to it, facing me. I wondered if the sight of Desi looking so alive was too much for him to bear. Was it guilt or grief that caused such a reaction? He repeated his question, his voice sharp with impatience.
“I heard someone crying. I came out to see if I could help them.”
“Crying?” He looked genuinely confused.
I glanced down the hall to the open door separated from my own by two closed ones. There was no way he wouldn’t have heard the crying woman.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t hear it. You had to have.”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Fee, but I didn’t hear anything except you. Perhaps you dreamed it.”
Could I have been dreaming? It had been a stressful day, and I had been quite upset when I went to sleep. Could that have played a part in conjuring up such a vivid dream? Could my own grief for my sister haunt my dreams with wailing cries of distress? There was no other credible explanation, so I attempted to smile at my own foolishness.
“Perhaps you’re right and it was nothing but a very realistic dream.”
He touched my cheek. “You’ve had a hard time of it. Regardless of what the people here thought of Desdemona, she was your sister. Losing her has been difficult for you. Perhaps it would be a good idea for us to have the doctor stop in. He could prescribe something to help you sleep.”
I shook my head. “No, I don’t need medication. I’ll be fine. It’s just so difficult for me to believe Desi is dead. I thought she and I would have time to reunite. She died without ever knowing that I forgave her or wanted her forgiveness.”
“What could you possibly have done that required her forgiveness?” he asked, his finger trailing gently down my cheek.
“It doesn’t matter now,” I murmured. My eyes closed as I enjoyed the sensation of his roughened skin against my face.
“Fee.” Somehow he made my name sound like some precious word of adoration, and I wanted nothing more than to give in to the lure of it. I felt his gaze on me, and I opened my eyes. Instead of him, however, the picture behind him was what I saw.
I could almost believe the woman was me, but I knew better, as would anyone who knew us both. Although she had obviously ordered the artist to paint Tabitha without her flaws, Desi hadn’t thought to have him cover her own. She was as she had always been, a beautiful woman, held apart from those who would love her by some unseen war she fought within herself. Her eyes, at once laughing and sorrowful, bored into mine, and I wished with all my heart I had known how to help her find her way.
Cade whispered my name again, and I forced my eyes from the portrait to his face. The sadness and longing I saw there filled me with fear and I backed away.
“Good night,” I said, scooped my Bible from the floor, and hurried to my room.
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About the Author:
Romantic suspense author Gloria Davidson Marlow's heart is firmly planted in the northeast Florida neighborhood where she grew up in a family of commercial fishermen. She works as a legal assistant for a local law firm, but remains a homemaker at heart who loves cooking, Florida wine, and making pickles and jellies. She and her husband, also a commercial fisherman, have three young grandsons with whom Gloria cannot spend nearly enough time.