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The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond, страница 1

 

The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond
 


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The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond


  © 2018 by Jaime Jo Wright

  Published by Bethany House Publishers

  11400 Hampshire Avenue South

  Bloomington, Minnesota 55438

  www.bethanyhouse.com

  Bethany House Publishers is a division of

  Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan

  www.bakerpublishinggroup.com

  Ebook edition created 2018

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

  ISBN 978-1-4934-1473-4

  Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Cover design by Jennifer Parker

  Author is represented by Books & Such Literary Agency.

  Praise for The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond

  “Atmospheric and suspenseful, The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond is Jaime Jo Wright’s newest masterpiece. She’s an automatic buy for me, and I love her work. Highly recommended!”

  —Colleen Coble, author of The View from Rainshadow Bay and the ROCK HARBOR series

  “Brilliantly atmospheric and underscored by a harrowing romance, The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond pairs danger with redemption and features not only two heroines of great agency—separated by time though linked by grace—but one of the most compelling, unlikely and memorable heroes I have met in an age. Equal parts thrilling and beautiful, The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond is a treatise on faith—lost and found—and the Power greater than any human evil coursing through a century.”

  —Rachel McMillan, author of Murder at the Flamingo

  “Wright’s newest offering is intoxicating and wonderfully authentic. The pages of this book are delightfully shadowed with mystery that will keep readers poring over the story, but what makes it memorable is the powerful light that burst through every darkened corner in this novel—hope.”

  —Joanna Davidson Politano, author of Lady Jane Disappears

  “The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond is true to Jaime Jo Wright’s unique style and voice. Multilayered characters who intrigue the reader and a story the threads of which are unpredictable and well woven together make this a must-read for anyone who enjoys suspense.”

  —Sarah Varland, author of Mountain Refuge

  “Warning! Read The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond at your own risk. Wright grabbed my attention from the first page and never let up. With characters who practically leap off the page and a story line that sizzles with tension, this novel is much more than a follow-up to her brilliant first novel. Go now to your local bookstore and buy this book. You’ll thank me.”

  —Kathleen Y’Barbo, author of Pirate Bride

  Praise for The House on Foster Hill

  “Jaime Jo Wright’s The House on Foster Hill blends the past and present in a gripping mystery that explores faith and the sins of ancestors. . . . Deep emotional struggles are the backbone of the novel and make the corresponding mystery even more engaging. With sharp dialogue and plenty of scares, this is a gripping tale that never loses sight of the light at the end of the tunnel.”

  —Foreword Reviews

  “Headed by two strong female protagonists, Wright’s debut is a lushly detailed time-slip novel that transitions seamlessly between past and present, leading to the revelation of some surprising family secrets that someone would kill to protect. Readers who enjoy Colleen Coble and Dani Pettrey will be intrigued by this suspenseful mystery.”

  —Library Journal

  “Jaime Jo Wright is an amazing storyteller who had me on the edge of my seat, turning pages and reading as fast as I could to get to the end of the book! The House on Foster Hill is a masterfully told story with layers and layers of mystery and intrigue, with a little romance thrown in for good measure. The adventure takes the reader back and forth through time, weaving the content like a tapestry—revealing a little bit more of the design with each chapter until the story is complete. I’ll be excited to read more from this author.”

  —Tracie Peterson, author of the GOLDEN GATE SECRETS series

  “A mystery from over a hundred years ago intertwines with one from the present in this spellbinding tale by Jaime Jo Wright. Rich characterization and intricate plotting combine to make this novel unputdownable. This one will fly off the shelves as readers discover the very talented Wright. Highly recommended!”

  —Colleen Coble, author of The View from Rainshadow Bay

  “Riveting! With its dual story line connected by a single house and the women it touched, Jaime Jo Wright delivers double the suspense, double the romance, and double the reasons to keep turning the pages far into the night. An outstanding novel from an author to watch.”

  —Jocelyn Green, author of The Mark of the King

  To Mom

  It’s not every mother who would let her daughter trade in house chores for book reading, cooking lessons for conjuring up ways to kidnap people, mowing the lawn in exchange for pretending to escape imminent death, and piano lessons for escapades with Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and Anne Shirley.

  Who’s the smart one in the family, I ask?

  You.

  All my love.

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Endorsements

  Dedication

  Epigraph

  1

  2

  3

  4

  5

  6

  7

  8

  9

  10

  11

  12

  13

  14

  15

  16

  17

  18

  19

  20

  21

  22

  23

  24

  25

  26

  27

  28

  29

  30

  31

  32

  33

  34

  35

  36

  37

  38

  39

  40

  41

  Author’s Note

  Questions for Discussion

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Back Ads

  Back Cover

  Thy soul shall find itself alone

  ’Mid dark thoughts of the gray tombstone—

  Not one, of all the crowd, to pry

  Into thine hour of secrecy.

  Be silent in that solitude,

  Which is not loneliness—for then

  The spirits of the dead who stood

  In life before thee are again. . . .

  Edgar Allan Poe, “Spirits of the Dead”

  Chapter 1

  Libby Sheffield

  GOSSAMER GROVE, WISCONSIN

  1907

  Libby Sheffield had never stopped to wonder what she would take specific note of if she ever stumbled upon a dead body. Still, she hadn’t expected to pause in consideration of the black, patent leather shoes, the finely cut wool trousers, or the shirtsleeves cuffed at the man’s wrists with cuff links boasting a scrolled G for Greenwood, his last name. Taking
note of a corpse’s clothing was certainly not important, but maybe it was merely a distraction to deter her from letting loose the longest scream she’d ever let scrape from her throat. The man’s feet dangled in the air, any thrashing having long since ceased. His face . . . Libby looked away. His face wasn’t one she ever wished to see again, though it was more likely than not permanently grafted into her vault of memories.

  Movement beside her ripped Libby from her subconscious attempt to manage the repulsive shock that rendered her limbs stiff and her mouth open in horror.

  Calvin shuffled forward, his shoes clomping on the wide beam floors of the Greenwood carriage house. He snatched the wooden stool that had been kicked out from beneath the man. Calvin struggled to right it, pushing up against the man’s unbending legs as if positioning his feet on the top would somehow encourage the body to breathe again.

  “Calvin . . .” Libby’s attempt to put a stop to her friend’s efforts halted as she gagged. She clapped her hand over her mouth and spun on her heel, staring out at the morning light that stretched across the Greenwood driveway. The shaft of sunlight seemed to lead a path straight to the carriage house doors where it collided with a darkness that could only be described as evil. The open carriage doors had been what beckoned her inside to begin with, rather than knocking on the house’s front door across the drive.

  “It’s not working, Lollie.” Calvin sounded out of breath as he called her by his nickname for her. His desperate tone made Libby summon old remnants of gumption she had long kept dormant.

  Libby turned and skimmed the face of Deacon Harrison Greenwood in all his strangled condition, the rope hoisted over a rafter beam and cutting into his neck. She shuddered and fixed her eyes on Calvin, who still hugged the dead man’s legs.

  “It’s too late.” Her words echoed through the wooden structure. “Calvin, let him go.”

  The boy—rather, the man—Libby had long called her best friend gave her a lengthy, searching stare. The kind he so often did when assessing how serious she was, the truth behind her statement, and how to decipher her intent. Libby despised how the town of Gossamer Grove had labeled Calvin as a simpleton. He was more empathetic and intuitive than other adults who were considered “functional.” She cursed Calvin’s critics many a time in the secret places of her mind. But now she grieved that Calvin could not process the difference between a man fighting for his life and a man whose face was gray and swollen in suffocated death.

  “Calvin!” Libby’s voice was sharp but not stern. Panic made her hands tremble, and it welled inside her until her own throat tightened, as if asphyxiating by sheer empathy for the very stiff, very dead Deacon Greenwood.

  “We need to get help.” Libby pointed toward the house just across the circular drive, its yellow siding cheery in the dawn.

  “But you said he’s dead.” Calvin had released the deacon and now frowned at her.

  “Yes, but . . .” Libby couldn’t help but wave her hands, flustered. It wasn’t supposed to have actually happened! The obituary in her pocket—the one foretelling Deacon Greenwood’s death like some horrid omen—she’d thought it must have been a prank. “Please, Calvin.” She started for the Greenwood house, knowing he would follow. He always did.

  She was at the doorstep far sooner than she was prepared. It was seven-thirty in the morning and not a time for callers—certainly not for this type of call.

  Her chest rose and fell, the soft gray silk of her morning dress ruffling as the breeze picked up and brushed her body with a late spring chill.

  “Are you gonna knock, Lollie?”

  She licked her lips and swallowed, almost imagining constraints around her throat.

  Before she could stop him, Calvin’s knuckles rapped on the door.

  What could she say when the door was answered?

  Good morning, Mrs. Greenwood. I received a strange missive this dawn when I arrived at the paper. An obituary for your husband. I thought perhaps it was a hoax, but I’m afraid to tell you he is most definitely hanging from the rafters in your carriage house.

  That wouldn’t do.

  Libby tried to reconstruct her verbiage.

  Mrs. Greenwood, I’m so terribly sorry to tell you this, but your husband isn’t well. He’s—

  “Dead!” Libby half shouted as the door opened, and the questioning raised brow of Elijah Greenwood, Deacon Greenwood’s son, greeted her.

  “Libby Sheffield, what in the name of all that’s holy—?” Elijah stepped out and closed the door firmly behind him, as if to spare his family from her horrible communication skills and the utter impropriety of her early morning call.

  Elijah’s questioning stare bounced between Libby and Calvin. He would be used to seeing them together, for Calvin was often her shadow. He would also be used to her inability to compose coherent thoughts when under duress, and even worse, anytime he was present. It didn’t serve her well now. This was not a moment to be consumed by the overwhelming emotions she combatted anytime Elijah was within two feet of her.

  Calvin shifted from foot to foot, tongue-tied, as usual, in the presence of the enigmatically serious visage of Elijah Greenwood.

  Libby cast her friend a desperate look, but Calvin had taken to wringing his hands and humming under his breath.

  She lifted her eyes to meet Elijah’s. His brows had risen in annoyance, and he tilted his head as he crossed his arms over his chest—his marvelously broad chest that Libby had oft-imagined hiding herself against.

  “Libby, this isn’t amusing. Why are you here at the break of dawn?”

  Libby stared into Elijah’s brooding eyes. How was she to tell him that his father was in the carriage house, dead? History was a horrid repeat offender. She was always the storm to Elijah’s serenity. She had been since she and Calvin were fifteen, and Elijah the noncompliant participant to her worst and darkest memory of all.

  She shook her head. A hapless attempt to steady her thoughts and nerves.

  “There was an obituary, and when I read it, I thought it best . . . my father hasn’t been to the newspaper office this morning, so I had to open it, and I—most people don’t submit obituaries before they die—maybe some do. No. No, I don’t think one would, would you? Submit an obituary before you died?”

  “Libby!” Elijah’s bark brought her stumbling babble to a swift halt.

  Libby widened her eyes and reached for Calvin. Someone to ground her, to make her think sensibly. But all she could see in her mind’s eye was the lifeless face of Deacon Greenwood.

  Elijah shook his head, his arms still crossed, his expression one of austerity. “I’m not amused. Slow down, gather your wits, and tell me what on God’s green earth has landed you on our doorstep before I’ve even had my breakfast.”

  Libby swallowed hard, fished in her pocket, and rammed the obituary against Elijah’s chest. That was a mistake. The heat from his body warmed through the paper and reached her gloveless palm. Libby dropped her hand, the paper fluttering toward the ground. Elijah snatched it from the air.

  Calvin stepped closer to her, and Libby looped her arm around his. Elijah skimmed the words on the page, his countenance shifting from confused to outright fury. He balled the paper in his palm.

  “Is this a joke?” he demanded.

  Libby sputtered, “That’s what I believed.” Tears clogged her throat. “That’s why I came so early, to check on your father, but—” She pointed toward the carriage house.

  Elijah studied her face, then followed the direction of her pointing finger, and his face paled. His arm swung out, shoving her and Calvin aside. He took the stairs in a leap and sprinted across the yard. Every footstep he took was in cadence with the pounding of Libby’s heart. A pounding she could hear in her ears, mocking the grim silence of the body that hung just yards away. A life snuffed out while the world slept, immune to the wickedness of death that haunted the grounds of Gossamer Grove.

  Chapter 2

  Annalise Forsy†he

  GOSSAMER GR
OVE, WISCONSIN

  PRESENT DAY

  If life could be a mathematical sum, Annalise would maybe understand her own story. But as it was, she could consider the past and segment her life into chaotic, misplaced chapters that ended up like a writer’s manuscript dropped into a jumble on the floor—without page numbers to put it back into order.

  Annalise removed her black-framed glasses and tossed them onto her desk. Her very organized desk. She looked across it at the police-uniformed frame of Brent Drury and his straight shoulders as he lowered himself onto a chair. He had grown a bit paunchy around the middle since their days in high school when he was captain of the football team alongside . . .

  It didn’t matter. Annalise took a deep breath, inhaling the strong scent of coffee that wafted from the shop just outside her office door. But her breath was shaky, and it didn’t fill her lungs as she’d intended. Life had just handed her another confusing punch in the gut. One would think she’d be used to it by now. Apparently not.

  “I don’t understand.” Crud, if her voice wasn’t shaking too.

  Eugene Hayes was dead.

  Dead.

  Annalise shouldn’t care. She had no reason to, except . . . “What do you mean, he had a picture of me in his hand?”

  She’d never even met the recluse, because he was, after all, a recluse.

  Brent’s mouth was set in a tight line. Annalise could tell he was disassociating himself from her to remain factual.

  “Just that. He was dead with a picture of you in his hand,” Brent affirmed. “And, the old man was a hoarder. I mean, it’s going to take a hazmat crew to clean up the place. But he had a desk with pictures of you on it.” He reached into his uniform coat and pulled out his cellphone. Thumbing through the apps, he turned his phone to Annalise. “Take a look.”

  Annalise took the phone and stared in dumbfounded fascination. The run-down trailer aside, it was the meticulously lined up series of old, candid photographs of her that made her stomach clench. Her dance recital as a ten-year-old, her school picture when she was fourteen, with those awful braces clamped onto her teeth—was the man some kind of creeper?

  Annalise stretched the photo larger with her thumb and index finger. She tensed. A quick glance at Brent told her he was studying her reaction.

 
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