Authors: Lisa Kessler
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Lisa Kessler. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at www.entangledpublishing.com.
Entangled Publishing is a subsidiary of Savvy Media Services, LLC.
Edited by Kerri-Leigh Grady
Cover design by Heather Howland
Manufactured in the United States of America
To Ken and Ally,
in all its
incarnations and never lost hope
in the book or me…
Kate couldn’t remember the drive home or walking from her car to her front door. Her mind kept replaying Tom’s surprised face, the way he jerked his hands free of the woman’s tight sweater, and the flushed cheeks of his grad student. Her knuckles ached from clenching her fists, struggling to control her emotions. Blood smeared across the palm of her hand where her fingernail broke the skin.
She could still hear his footsteps echoing behind her in the desolate parking lot and the pleading in his voice.
“Please, can’t we
talk about this?”
His desperation made her nauseous.
What could he possibly explain?
After three tries, she finally managed to calm her trembling hands and unlock her apartment door. Forcing a deep breath into her lungs, she steeled herself for what awaited. The eight-by-ten engagement photo smiled at her from the side table. Her knees threatened to buckle under the weight of betrayal.
Leaning against the door, she struggled to understand. Their wedding was less than a month away. All their plans, their dreams, tossed away for a pair of most-likely-fake double Ds.
How could she have been so blind? She almost married him.
For the third time since she’d sped away from the university, her 2 LISA KESSLER
cell phone buzzed. She powered it off and tossed it aside. The bastard could call all night, send flowers, beg on his knees, but nothing would change the fact that she’d never walk down the aisle in the designer gown that
insisted she buy. She’d never move into the new condo they’d had their eye on. And she would never trust him again.
It was over.
She wiped her nose and glared at the photo on the table.
Shouldn’t she be jealous? Did she even care if he’d slept with this woman? Was she devastated because she would miss Tom, or because her life wasn’t turning out the way she thought it should?
Puzzled, she pushed away from the door and turned the frame facedown on the table. Her gaze locked onto her parents’ photo.
Nearly two years had slipped by since the accident. She’d worked so hard to distance herself from the pain of their loss that she’d avoided dealing with the remainder of their estate. She still hadn’t sold their house.
Instead, she’d pushed her relationship with Tom forward, avoiding her emotions by planning a wedding to a man she wasn’t certain she loved.
Gripping the frame, she tilted the photo to cut the glare from the overhead light. Her mother’s warm smile brought a swell of heartache—real heartache, not this shock of betrayal and sudden change that Tom had delivered.
“I wish you were here, Mom.” She wiped a tear from her cheek.
“You probably would’ve seen right through his sexy, crooked smile.” She waited, half-expecting to hear her mother’s voice telling her she deserved better.
Because she did.
“I think it’s time for me to go back home. I’m through hiding, Mom.” Once she returned the photo to the table, the tightness in her chest loosened its grip. This wasn’t the end of the world. In fact, it was a chance at a new beginning.
She’d call her school in the morning and let them know she needed a leave of absence. Then she’d get in touch with the caterers and the perky wedding planner.
She could be on the road by the afternoon. She lifted her chin a notch and dropped her engagement photo in the trashcan. Tomorrow, she would take control of her life and her future, and this time she wouldn’t rush into anything.
4 LISA KESSLER
When they parked at the Mission de Alcala, Kate stared up at the bells. Although she grew up in San Diego, she’d never played tourist and visited this famous landmark, which she admitted now was a shame. The white arched bell tower of the first Spanish mission in the New World stretched toward the heavens, oblivious to the changing landscape around it. For a moment, she felt like she’d been transported back in time.
Edie hefted her camera bag over her shoulder. “Hurry up! We don’t want to end up standing for the service.”
“I’m coming.” Kate ran up the uneven tile steps after her friends.
When they entered the white adobe sanctuary, her breath caught in her throat. The natural pine ceiling arched high above them, voices echoed in the cavernous space, and soft chords from the pipe organ at the rear of the hall floated down. The music washed over the congregation, filling the church with its somber peace.
Her mother would have loved this place.
Lori grabbed Kate’s hand and pulled her across the sanctuary to a pew by the opposite door. Candlelight filled the chamber with a warm glow, and soon the only sounds were the soft chants from the priests.
Images of Christ’s crucifixion lined the walls, and the quiet hymns
from the choir added to the poignancy of the Mass. Bittersweet sorrow swelled in her heart. This would be her second holiday season without her parents, and her first without Tom. The Mass felt like a solemn reminder she was alone in the world.
The room blurred behind a wave of tears.
“I need some air. I’ll be right outside,” Kate whispered to Edie.
Edie gave her an
are you all right
look, and Kate managed to smile and nod before slipping out the door. As the heavy wooden door clicked shut behind her, she stepped into a lush courtyard with centuries-old adobe crosses rising through thick ferns that threatened to swallow them. More candles flickered around the garden. Shadows moved across the surrounding walls, mingling with the darkness that gathered in the corners and alcoves.
The cool night air filled her lungs, calming the storm brewing inside her. Seeing the families and couples in the sanctuary stirred up heartache. She had erected protective walls around the spaces her parents and her ex-fiancé used to fill, but now they crumbled.
Kate took another deep breath and stared at the pale moon. She could almost hear her mother’s voice telling her to stay strong. Keep moving forward.
Just as she’d promised herself she’d do.
Clearing her throat, Kate focused on her surroundings and followed a worn tile path to a weathered sign. The courtyard, and the crosses within it, honored the Native American neophytes who worked at the mission in its early years. Kate scanned the garden again, finding even more of the half-hidden handmade crosses peering at her from a thicket of ferns. Most of them now leaned to the side, weathered from years of exposure to the sun and rain.
The once-strong angles of the markers now drooped as though they wept.
She followed the path deeper into the garden and found another cross nearly engulfed by the foliage and flowers that grew around it.
Though the path here was unkempt and the aging monument covered in moss, a simple floral wreath adorned the neck of the cross.
How many Native Americans died at the mission in its early 6 LISA KESSLER
years? She wondered if anyone really knew. She learned about the missions in elementary school, but her teachers never discussed the relationship between the missionaries and the local tribes. Was neophyte a fancy word for slave? She didn’t know, but whatever their role might have been, it was encouraging to see the indigenous people who had lived at the mission had not been forgotten.
When the service concluded, the murmur of soft conversation broke through her solitude. Mass was over already? Kate frowned.
How long had she been outside?
Car engines started and brakes squeaked, the headlights drowning out the candlelit shadows. Beyond the black wrought iron gates, small groups of people departed together until finally the floodlights over the parking lot blinked off. She would have worried about Lori and Edie’s absence, but she knew they had plans with their digital cameras after the mass.
According to her friends, Dia de los Muertos was the perfect night for ghost hunting. Lori and Edie always enjoyed ghost stories when they were kids, and their fondness grew until they considered themselves amateur paranormal investigators. What better place to find them than in the oldest building in San Diego on the one night a year reserved for the dead?
Kate didn’t share their zeal for spirits, but she had no problem waiting for them to have their fun. She was happy to have a few minutes to herself anyway.
The candlelight glimmered around her, the flickering flames left to burn out sometime before morning. The warm glow made for eerie light, casting long shadows of the weeping crosses over the garden. It was exquisite and melancholy in the same moment.
She caught a sudden chill. The longer she lingered, the more her sadness mutated into unease.
The back of her neck prickled. Kate crossed her arms and walked toward the sanctuary doors. She suddenly felt exposed and alone.
Before she reached the doors, Lori and Edie came up the path at the other end of the courtyard, snapping pictures as they walked, until Lori disappeared from view.
When Edie saw Kate approach, she grinned. “Oh, you should see some of the great shots we got tonight. We had lots of orbs in a couple of pictures of the bell tower. There might be even more when we can look at them on a larger screen.”
“You’ll have to show me once you get them on the computer.” Kate glanced around the courtyard. “Where’d Lori go?” Edie turned around. “She was right behind... ”
“Edie... Kate.” Lori’s voice, a loud and insistent whisper, emanated from the shadows.
Kate flinched when she heard her name. She had no idea why she was so jumpy tonight. They tracked down Lori and found her kneeling by one of the crosses. She beckoned them closer.
Edie rushed over with an eager grin, camera at the ready. “Wow.
Look at this.” She squatted beside Lori.
The cross was smaller than most of the others, weather-beaten and canted. There was a single letter in the center, a T, and a single candle burned beside a bundle of large white blossoms.
“Who do you think left those?” Lori whispered.
Kate shrugged. None of the other crosses had fresh offerings.
“Probably the priests, right?”
“I don’t know.” Lori glanced at the other crosses. “Maybe this person’s relatives still visit every year.”
“Can you imagine?” Edie whispered. “Being remembered like that? I hope someone’s still bringing me flowers after I’ve been dead a couple hundred years.”
Kate thought about correcting them, telling them these crosses were memorials to the Native Americans. But she didn’t. Something about the cross held her rapt. The conversation around her faded away as Kate moved in closer to the fragrant blossoms.
She’d never seen flowers like these with huge, beautiful blooms of white, silky petals and a center like pure sunshine. And the scent.
It was the primrose-like perfume that made her reach out to touch them, entranced by their spell.
Had she seen these flowers before?
“Kate? Are you okay?”
8 LISA KESSLER
Kate looked up at Lori, her brow furrowed and mouth pinched in concern. “I’m fine,” she said, yanking her hand away from the flowers.
“Just a little tired, I guess.”
“We’re almost done. We need a couple more pictures around the front by the steps,” Edie said.
“All right.” Kate straightened, still unable to pull her attention away from the cross and its bouquet. “I’ll wait for you here, okay?” Lori continued to frown, but Edie said, “No problem. We’ll be right back.”
Kate watched them wander off before kneeling closer to the cross. Unable to stop herself, she traced her finger along the T in the center.
Behind her, someone cleared his throat. Kate jerked her hand away and shot to her feet. When she turned around she found a tall, dark-haired man staring at her.
Her cheeks flushed with heat. She hoped he hadn’t witnessed her touching the relic. She waited for some kind of admonishment, but he didn’t say anything.