LISA CHILDS HAUNTED
n o c t u r n e™
To Tara Gavin, Jennifer Green and Jenny Bent— working with such awesome, inspiring ladies has been a wonderful gift! To Paul, Ashley and Chloe—my family— the greatest blessing in my life!
Prologue Europe, 1655 Strong hands closed over her shoulders, shaking her awake. Elena Durikken blinked her eyes open, but the darkness remained, thick, impenetrable. “Child, awaken. Quickly.” “Mama?” She blinked again, bringing a shadow into focus. A shadow with long, curly hair. “Mama.” “Rise up. Hurry. You have to go.” Her mother’s strong hands dragged back the blankets, letting the cold air steal across Elena’s skin. “Go? Where are we going?” She couldn’t remember being awake in such blackness before. Usually a fire glowed in the hearth, the dying embers casting a glow over their small home. Or her mother burned candles, chanting to herself as she fixed her potions from the dried herbs and flowers strung from the rafters. “Only you, child. You must go alone.” Mama’s words, the final way she spoke, chilled Elena more than the cold night air. “Mama…” Tears burned her eyes and ran down her face. “There’s no time. They will come soon. For me. And if you are still here, they will take you, too.” “Mama, you are scaring me.” It was not the first time. She had scared Elena many times before, with the things she saw, the things she knew were coming before they ever happened. Like the fire. “Is this…is this because of the fire, Mama?” Mama didn’t answer, just pulled a cape over Elena’s head, lifting the hood over her hair. Then she slid Elena’s feet into her boots, lacing them up as if she were a small, dependent child, not a thirteen-year-old girl she was sending alone into the night. Mama pressed the neck of a satchel against Elena’s palm. “Ration the food and water. Keep to the woods, child. Run. Keep running….” “How can they blame you for the fire?” she cried. “You warned them.” Even before the sky had darkened or the wind had picked up, her mother had told them the storm was coming. That the lightning would strike in the night, while the women slept. And that they would die in a horrible fire. Mama had seen it all happen….
Elena didn’t know how her mother’s visions worked, but she knew that Mama was always right. More tears fell from her eyes. “You asked them to leave.” But the woman of the house, along with her sister-in-law whose family was staying with her, had thought that with their men away for work, that Mama was tricking them. That she, a desperate woman raising a child alone, would rob their deserted house. She’d been trying to save their lives. Mama shook her head, her hair swirling around her shoulders. “The villagers think I cast a spell. That I brought the lightning.” Elena heard the frightened murmurs and saw the downward glances as her mother walked through the village. Everyone thought her a witch because of the potions she made. But when the townspeople were sick, they came to Mama for help even though they feared her. How could they think she would do them harm? “No, Mama…” “No. The only spell cast is upon me, child. These visions I see, I have no control over them,” she said. “And I have no control over what will happen now. I need you to go. To run. And keep running, Elena. Never stop. Or they will catch you.” Elena threw her arms around her mother’s neck, more scared than she had ever been. Even though she heard no one, saw no light in the blackness outside her window, she knew her mama was right. They were coming for her. The men who’d returned, who’d found their wives, sisters and daughters dead, burned. “Come with me, Mama,” Elena beseeched her, holding tight. “No, child. ’Tis too late for me to fight my fate, but you can. You can run.” She closed her arms around Elena, clutching her tight for just a moment before thrusting her away. “Now run!” Tears blinded Elena as much as the darkness. She’d just turned toward the ladder leading down from the loft when Mama caught her hand, squeezing Elena’s fingers around the soft velvet satchel. “Do not lose the charms.” Elena’s heart contracted. “You gave me the charms?” “They will keep you safe.” “How?” Elena asked in a breathless whisper. “They hold great power, child.” “You need them.” Elena did not know from where they had come, but Mama had never removed the three charms from the leather thong tied around her wrist. Until now. Mama shook her head. “I cannot keep them. They are yours, to pass to your children. To remember who and what we are.”
Witches. Mama did not say it, but Elena knew. She shivered. “Go now, child,” Mama urged. “Go before it is too late for us both.” She expelled a ragged breath of air, then pleaded, “Do not forget….” Elena threw her arms around her mother’s neck, pressing her face tight against her, breathing in the scent of lavender and sandalwood incense. The paradox that was her mama, the scent by which she would always remember her. “I will never forget. Never!” “I know, child. You have it, too. The curse. The gift. Whatever it be.” “No, Mama…” She didn’t want to be what her mother was; she didn’t want to be a witch. “You have it, too,” Mama insisted. “I see the power you have, much stronger than any of mine. He would see it, as well, and want to destroy you.” Before Elena could ask of whom her mother spoke, the woman pushed her away, her voice quavering with urgency as she shouted, “You have to go!” Elena fumbled with the satchel as she scrambled down the ladder, running as much from her mother’s words as her warning. She didn’t want the curse, whatever the mystical power was. She didn’t want to flee, either. But her mama’s fear stole into her heart, clutching at it, forcing her to run. Keep to the woods. She did, cringing as twigs and underbrush snapped beneath the worn soles of her old boots. She had run for so long her lungs burned and sweat dried on her skin, both heating and chilling her. She’d gone a long way before turning and looking back toward her house. She knew she’d gone too far, too deep into the woods to see it clearly with her eyes. So, like Mama, she must have seen it with her mind. The fire. Burning. The woman in the middle of it, screaming, crying out for God to forgive them. Pain tore at Elena, burning, crippling. She dropped to her knees, clutching her arms around her middle, trying to hold in the agony. Trying to shut out the image in her head. She crouched there for a long while, her mama’s screams ringing in her ears. Run, child. Her mother’s words sounded in her head. Keep running. She forced herself up, staggering on her weakened legs, turning away from all that she’d known, all that she’d loved. Behind her, brush rustled, the blackness shattered by the glow of a lantern. Oh, God, they’d found her already.
The glow fell across her face and that of the boy who held the lantern. Thomas McGregor. He wasn’t much older than she, but he’d gone to work with his father and uncles, leaving his mother, sister, aunt and cousins behind…to burn alive. As they’d burned her mother. “No…” “I was sent to find you. To bring you back,” he said, his voice choked as tears ran down his face. Tears for his family or for her? Her mother had seen this, had tried to fight this fate for her daughter, the same fate that had just taken her life. “You hate me?” she asked. He shook his head, and something flickered in his eyes with the lantern light. Something she had seen before when she’d caught him staring at her. “No, Elena.” “But you wish me harm? I had nothing to do with your loss.” Nor did her mother, but they had killed her. Smoke swept into the woods, too far from the fire to be real, and in the middle of the haze hovered a woman. Elena’s mother. “I have to bring you back,” Thomas said, his hand trembling as he reached for her, his fingers closing over her arm. The charms will keep you safe. Had her mother’s ghost spoken or was it only Elena’s memory? Regardless, she reached in the pocket of her cape, clutching the satchel tight. Heat emanated through the thick velvet, warming her palm. As if she’d stepped into Thomas’s mind, she read his thoughts and saw the daydreams he had had of the two of them. “Thomas, you do not wish me harm.” “But Papa…” Other memories played through Elena’s mind, her mother’s memories. She shuddered, reeling under the impact of knowledge she was too young to understand. “Your papa is a bad man,” she whispered. “Come with me, Thomas. We will run together.” He shook his head. “He would find us. He would kill us both.” Because of what she’d seen, she knew he spoke the truth. Eli McGregor would kill anyone who got between him and what he wanted. “Thomas, please…” His fingers tightened on her arm as if he were about to drag her off. Elena clutched the satchel so closely, the jagged little metal pieces cut her palm through the velvet.
He shuddered as if a great battle waged inside of him. “I cannot give you to him. Go, Elena. You are lost to me.” But when she turned to leave, he caught her hand as her mother had, trembling as he pressed something against her bloody palm. “Take my mother’s locket.” To remember him? To remember what his family had done to hers? She would want no reminders. But her fingers closed over the metal, warm from the heat of his skin. She couldn’t refuse. Not when he had spared her life. “Use it for barter, if need be, to get as far away from here as you can. My father has sworn vengeance on all your mother’s relatives and descendents. He says he will let no witch live.” “I am not a witch.” She whispered the lie, closing her eyes to the glowing image of her mother’s ghost. “He will kill you,” Thomas whispered back. She knew he spoke the truth. Like her mother, she could now see her fate. But unlike her mother, she wouldn’t wait for Eli McGregor to come for her. She turned to leave again, then twirled back, moved closer to Thomas and pressed her lips against his cheek, cold and wet from his tears. “Godspeed, Elena,” he said as she stepped out of t...