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Authors: Jennie Davenport

Tags: #fairy tale retelling, #faranormal, #Romance, #Fantasy, #Suspense, #Supernatural

Hemlock Veils

BOOK: Hemlock Veils
6.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The author makes no claims to, but instead acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the word marks mentioned in this work of fiction.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Jennie Davenport

 

HEMLOCK VEILS by Jennie Davenport

All rights reserved. Published in the United States of America by Swoon Romance. Swoon Romance and its related logo are registered trademarks of Georgia McBride Media Group, LLC.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

Published by Swoon Romance

Cover designed by Najla Qamber

Cover copyright by Swoon Romance

 

 

 

 

For my cherubs, Sam, Josh, and Luke, who have reminded me I’ll never be too old for fairy tales.
 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Every trace of Willem’s blood had been scrubbed away days before, but Elizabeth Ashton’s hands would never be clean. It caked the space beneath her otherwise spotless fingernails, embedded there for life.

She drove northwest on Oregon’s U.S. Route 26, the cone of her only functional headlight attempting to cut through a fog so dense it had the ominous appearance of a living, breathing being. It had hovered from the moment she passed through Warm Springs twenty-eight miles ago, like a protective shield that settled over the Indian Reservation.

Cash fattened the worn corners of the manila envelope on the passenger seat. It screamed for her attention, but she didn’t look. She wouldn’t be able to see it in the dark anyway. It taunted her as bluntly as the murderous smile of her brother’s killer. It belonged in the hands of its rightful owner, not on the hardened vinyl seats of her Saab.

At that moment, the fog lifted like an unveiling curtain, and rain pelted the windshield with a livid fury, the almost-midnight sky heaving its early April wrath. With a rigid hand, she turned on the wipers, setting rubber shrieking against glass. She slowed the car when her single headlight illuminated the wooden sign announcing Mt. Hood National Forest, which meant Warm Springs Reservation was behind her.

A certain peace settled through her at the sign’s passing, despite the highway that appeared as a flowing river. It was the presence of her father, the way this wilderness she’d never seen embodied the man she missed more than anyone, even her only brother, Willem. Her father’s soul had never left this place he used to gush about, his heart always belonging with the firs and cedars of Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness. Willem had been too young, and later too distant, to remember most of their father’s tales, but Stephen Ashton had spoken of these forests with lifted brows and animation in his eyes.

She chose this place as a sanctuary for that reason—this wilderness she had seen only in her imagination. Though she wasn’t free of her conscience, or the money beside her, she was painfully free of ties, free of weighted responsibilities for the first time she could remember. And now she would see the places that had once meant everything to her father, the places he used to swear he would take her and Willem to one day, when he got healthy again.

Only, he never got healthy again.

By the time the junction appeared ahead, several minutes and miles had passed in thoughts of her father. The highway split two ways and she took it left, continuing west on 26, where the forest thickened. The towering Douglas Firs barricaded her on both sides, their topmost branches somewhere far above the range of her Saab’s headlight. She only then thought it strange that she hadn’t passed a single vehicle since the town of Warm Springs. Perhaps it was the storm, or perhaps this forest transformed into magical territory in the late hours of the night, as her father had said.

She had studied her father’s maps countless times as a child, committed them all to memory. She passed through the small town of Government Camp now, where she would have had an excellent view of Mt. Hood if the sun had been shining. The edge of Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness was somewhere near, buried miles deep in the old growth south of the highway to her left. That was his favorite place of enchantment, he used to say: the place of curses and magic—creatures misunderstood by men.
Sure
, he had said,
all of Oregon territory was magic
. But none held the secrecy and beauty of Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness. Dense rainforest and mossy vegetation larger than life: there were always new places to unearth, always a dark corner yet to be discovered.

Elizabeth had long since become too realistic to believe in folklore, but it had flooded her with delightful imagination as a child—delight that ended the moment her father became sick and she was left caring for Willem when she was only twelve. Those stories made up the fondest memories of her father. The Brothers Grimm, Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books, fables of the
Aglaé
and demons known as
Diablerons
, and even stories of beasts so demented that Hell itself denied them: her father’s conviction had never left him, even on his deathbed in that stale hospital room. She had been eighteen and Willem thirteen. And while her disgruntled brother sat in the corner with earbuds jammed in his ears, Elizabeth had listened to her father tell his last fairy tale. She had displayed patience, yet screamed inside at the way he had chosen to spend his final breaths.

Stillness settled over the car; even the rainfall adopted an unusual calm. Only she and her father were here, his last words reverberating in her mind’s ear—even the breathy tone in which he’d spoken them. She grasped hold of the memory, grasped hold of the way he’d been desperate to keep her a believer, desperate to convince her that magic could dwell wherever she was—even if that place was Los Angeles.

Earlier that morning, she’d fled from Los Angeles, on account of her banishment. Her father’s death may have been eleven years ago, but from that moment—the moment she’d turned into her brother’s mother at age eighteen—she’d learned that Los Angeles didn’t have a single grain of magic running through it. She wouldn’t miss even a glimpse of that place and the cancer it had been on her family. The place that had destroyed every last one of them. She was better off fleeing, and even without Frank Vanderzee’s demand that she never set foot there again, she would have left.

So she had, abandoning her apartment and finding a storage locker for her larger belongings, then stuffing the rest into her 1991 Saab, once-upon-a-time cherry red. She’d left that morning, the day following her brother’s funeral—of which she and two others had been the only ones in attendance. She should have found that surprising, even disheartening, but even the two men she didn’t know had been more than she’d expected.

What should have been more disheartening, however, was the way she had remained numb through it all, emotionless. A tiny swell of a sob had built up inside her after he’d been shot, when she cradled his body, but it stayed below the surface, safe and dormant. She’d lost the ability to cry on that overcast afternoon in her father’s hospital room.

And the truth was, Willem had been dead long before the age of twenty-four. Wherever his soul lived now—whether it was with their father or somewhere less fulfilling—she prayed he understood her numbness. Maybe even her relief.

On U.S. 26, or what was known here as Mt. Hood Highway, the rain gathered intensity. With visibility near zero, she brought the car to a slow crawl, cursing her burnt-out headlight. Government Camp was six miles behind her now, and the town of Rhododendron three more ahead. There, in Rhododendron, she would stay until the sun came up and the rain dispersed, then head on her way. To where, she had no idea. The only destination her heart wanted to take her to was the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness.

Anxiety took residence in her chest and, just as she pressed harder on the gas, a threatening pop echoed beneath the hood.

Her headlight went out. At the same time, the unearthly glow of her dashboard blackened.

She could see nothing.

In darkness, she guided the vehicle to the shoulder, the steering wheel nearly stiff.

She’d already replaced her alternator twice in the past year, buying used ones at scrap yards and paying her only decent neighbor a light fee to install them. The last one she’d bought, eight months ago, had lasted the longest. It felt fitting though, cosmically and unfairly so, that after taking her this far it would die now: in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, and in the middle of a downpour.

BOOK: Hemlock Veils
6.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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