Nestled on Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin is a small, secluded town called Bloodmoon Cove with volatile weather, suspicious folk…and newly awakened ghosts.
Don’t close your eyes…
Back into the mouth of hell…
Daniel and Hannah Reynolds are newly married with their first child on the way when a notice comes from a lawyer saying that the remaining member of the Bonavaris clan has died and willed Bloodmoon Manor and all its possessions to Hannah, her former maid and cook. While Hannah can’t fathom the reason for the bequeath, the notion of selling the manor and the valuable items inside it begins to grow inside her like an obsession. She and Daniel have begun their married life with little more than outstanding debts from his medical education–debts that come due around the same time as the birth of their baby. After a lifetime of poverty, Hannah refuses to allow her child to face the kind of scavenging, hand-to-mouth existence that had led to her employment at the horrible Bloodmoon Manor in the first place.
Unable to convince his beloved wife to forget about returning to Bloodmoon Cove to secure a future for their family, Daniel has no choice but to follow her into what he aptly calls “the mouth of hell”–a place Hannah just barely escaped with her life last time.
Daniel’s worst fears are justified when the doors of Bloodmoon Manor slam shut behind them. They’ve been lured here deliberately, and the horrors that haunt the dark, evil manor aren’t willing to let Hannah leave ever again…
Genre: Gothic Paranormal Romance
“They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. In their gray visions they obtain glimpses of eternity, and thrill, in awakening, to find that they have been upon the verge of the great secret. In snatches, they learn something of the wisdom which is of good, and more of the mere knowledge which is of evil…” ~Eleonora by Edgar Allan Poe
They didn’t talk once they set the timer in the bathroom and, as one, got into their bed in the room next door. They both had a rare, mutual day off, and a part of her still couldn’t accept that this was how they’d chosen to spend it. Taking a home pregnancy test.
The Hannah Cavanagh of old, the Hannah who’d been unloved, unwanted, cast into a nightmare with no one to save her, no one to even notice her existence, would have thought this situation was a dream. A dream come true. But also a nightmare.
The aspect of the situation that never ceased to send her mind reeling was that she’d been that damaged girl not long ago. It’d been little more than a year since her escape. One year, two months, and 18 days. Sixty-three weeks and two days. 443 days. 10,632 hours. 637,920 minutes. 38,275,200 seconds…
“What are you thinking about?” Daniel asked softly, his down-turned-at-the-corners, grass-green eyes tender.
Hannah fought the urge to laugh. He really didn’t want to find out that her mathematical brain had kicked in. Coping mechanism. I do it when I’m baking at the restaurant, too, trying not to think about how long before the rest of the staff shows up. How much faster I need to work to avoid them all.
“I can’t believe this is my life,” she spoke the recessed thought behind the superficial one. “I can’t believe how much has changed since…” Since my parents sold me to the Bonavarises, for all intents and purposes–and for such evil purposes.
“I love you,” he murmured, leaning closer to kiss her.
Hannah closed her eyes and sank into her salvation. Daniel Radcliffe had changed her life just by being the amazing person he was. From the first time she’d met him after she and Amberlyn and the Saunderby children had been rescued from Bloodmoon Manor, she’d trusted him. She couldn’t even say why. She’d trusted no one, not after what’d happened to her. Something about him… No, not just something, something random. This was definite, black and white. This, specifically this–the way he touched me. The way he looked at me. He seemed to understand me, seemed to love me even that first time. I didn’t know what that was, and I couldn’t resist the curiosity, my drive to find out exactly what I was dealing with. Even now, I can’t resist. In the few months since we married, my every deeply-buried dream has come true. Because of Daniel, all that he is and all that he makes me just by being the center of my life.
When he eased away a fraction, she reached up to stroke his dark, reddish brown hair with messy curls. He looked so much like a boy, other than the thick five-o’clock shadow that sometimes looked painted permanently on his freckled face. “You’re worried, aren’t you?” he guessed. He always seemed to know exactly what she was feeling.
“We were careful,” he started.
This time Hannah laughed quietly. “No, we weren’t.”
His face cracked with his sheepish grin. “This is so unfamiliar for both of us. We’re newlyweds.”
Daniel had been raised in a Christian home. In all the years he’d been a bachelor, he said he’d never met a woman who made him want to break his vow of celibacy until marriage. But with us, it was different. I never knew I could want someone to touch me like he does. It was unimaginable in my life until him. As soon as we got married, we couldn’t keep our hands off each other. And, even though we used birth control sometimes, we didn’t always. Sometimes the thought never entered either of our heads. Now we may pay for that, for good or evil.
Gathering her closer to him, he said with the kind of confidence and faith she couldn’t imagine possessing, “We’ll be okay, baby. No matter what happens, we’ll be all right.”
“How?” The flood of uncertainties broke through the fragile dam of hope she’d built inside herself, insisting they hadn’t been that careless. “Daniel, we’re in so much debt, we might never get out of it, even when you get your degree. And, if I’m pregnant, how can I start that pastry arts program at the college? Even the two-year degree would be too much for me, if I can get myself to go in the first place.”
After coming to Marshfield with Amberlyn and Daniel, she’d tried to hold a job–all she qualified for, being a maid at local hotels. She’d had nowhere to go, no way of earning a living and inevitably she got fired from each position because she couldn’t handle being around other people. Normal people. She’d stayed with Amberlyn for awhile, but she’d felt wrong being there, sponging off someone she’d been anything but a friend to.
She’d even stayed (for a very, very short time) with Jack Devoti, who’d asked her to care for the Saunderby children he’d gotten custody of after his sibling had died. Jack had gone looking for his new charges after they’d been kidnapped by Katerina Bonavaris and brought to Bloodmoon Manor, where Hannah had been for a decade at that point. While it was true Jack wasn’t home most of the day and she was earning her keep, her guilt for the damage she’d inadvertently caused those kids with her selfishness had eaten away at her night and day. Somehow Daniel had seen her torment and he’d offered her the second room in his not-great apartment at the same time Amberlyn’s husband had given her a position as the pastry chef at Lyon’s Main Course, his nationally known restaurant. The job allowed her to work when there was no one else there and earn her living legitimately in a way she could handle.
With her living situation secured and a job she excelled at in place, she’d been attracted to Daniel the way she’d never been to another human being. He’d convinced her he’d hardly ever be at home, since their schedules were in conflict, but that hadn’t been the case. Not when they were magnetically drawn to each other, not when she couldn’t sleep, and she’d found everything about him–from his chronic slob nature to his contradictorily optimistic pessimism–irresistible. She’d asked Amberlyn once, “What does it mean when my heart turns into a bird and seems to fly around crazily inside my chest?” The answer, so simple and so unfamiliar had thrown Hannah for a loop. Amberlyn had said, “You’re happy.” Not “You’re in love”, which would have equally been true. Daniel made her happy the way she’d never imagined human beings could be happy. Even the tiniest matter, the playfully silly things they said and did together, brought her ecstatic joy.
Within weeks of moving into his apartment, she’d told him things about herself and her life that she’d never admitted to another living soul. He’d led her to believe and follow the God she’d prayed to a million times and been disappointed by in the past. She now believed God had sent Amberlyn, and Daniel most of all, to save her. She’d fallen in love with everything about Daniel Radcliffe almost overnight and, whenever she looked back now into the not-so-distant past, she marveled at the radical shifts that’d taken place inside and outside of herself.
“You worry too much. We’ll find a way. The Lord will watch over us.”
He believed that. She could see the total lack of worry in his beautiful eyes, and she let herself relax and believe, too, despite all evidence that pointed in the opposite direction. “Would you be happy?” she whispered, her fingertips on the rough hair outlining his full, firm lips.
Just as she’d known he wouldn’t, he didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”
“You would? You want…a baby?”
“I want everything with you, Hannah. I want a family.”
How can I be a mother? “You would be a good father.” His brothers and sisters had many children, and he was good with all of them, regardless of age.
“And you’d be an amazing mother.”
How could he believe that? Everything in her life screamed her inadequacy, her failures. But she already knew how Daniel believed. Daniel was Daniel. He didn’t believe the best in everyone–far from it–and somehow that was what made the difference for her. He was generally a pessimistic who distrusted nearly everyone. Yet he believed in her. He loved her.
I’m a better person just for that. But how can I ever be worthy of a child after the horrors I’ve inflicted on those poor kids I should have protected? All I cared about was myself. I already know I’m nothing like a good mother.
“I hope so,” she whispered.
“I know so.”
They smiled at each with the familiar refrain of those words. But, like a warning, the timer went off in the bathroom. Deep fear settled inside Hannah again. Instead of letting it overwhelm her, she allowed Daniel to ease her out of bed and into the other room. He picked up the test stick in one hand. The word written on the stick couldn’t have been clearer when he turned it toward her with a blown-away expression.
Daniel quickly set down the tester when Hannah gasped and all the strength in her legs seemed to give out.
“I threw them to the dogs,” she muttered in wild terror.
He knew exactly what she meant. He shook his head, insisting, “You’re not the person you were, baby. You were desperate. Imprisoned in that hell-house for a decade. You were threatened with torture and abuse. A person who lives in that kind of daily terror…you become someone you’re not just to survive. Now, you wouldn’t make the same choices you did then. You absolutely wouldn’t now.”
“How can you be sure? I’m not at all certain of that.”
“Even that proves you’re a good person.”
She closed her eyes. Daniel drew her head to his shoulder, guiding her back out to their bed. It was barely six a.m. While they were both used to whatever their schedules required of them–four in the morning or noon–he knew she hadn’t slept much last night, when they’d decided they’d take the test first thing in the morning.
“Daniel, how can we be parents? We’re still working on lives for ourselves. We can’t afford this. We can barely afford the next tank of gas in our cars. And I shouldn’t even consider that education program. Cain won’t fire me if I don’t get the certification to bake at his restaurant. He’d be happier if I had it, but he won’t fire me without it.”
Amberlyn’s husband Cain owned a restaurant that’d earned a Michelin star long before he’d hired a full-time baker. Previously, he’d had desserts brought in from a local bakery each day. But, since hiring Hannah to do all the baking for the restaurant, her desserts had become so popular that customers were forced to “pre-order” to make sure they got one. The pre-orders were booked weeks in advance. No other pastry chef would get that kind of fanatical devotion–one Daniel shared. Hannah’s desserts, and her cooking in general, had him obsessed. He’d been attracted to her even when she’d been a lost waif, scared of the world. Scared of everyone except me. Thank You, Lord. An awed part of him had wondered if he’d taught her to smile and laugh. She’d said something like it the first time they’d done something silly together.
As soon as he got them settled under the blankets again, he drew her against him and she sucked in her breath, her almond-shaped, hazel green eyes widening slightly. He’d been so careful all this time since she’d come to Marshfield with Amberlyn because she had no one, nothing and nowhere else to go. He’d been wary about not spooking her, scaring her, making her run into the arms of darkness that would extinguish the light he’d seen in her from the first. That he hadn’t sent her running was another “God thing” in his life. What were the odds that this woman who’d been so damaged and traumatized would be drawn to him the same way he’d been to her? And, from the initial touch, he’d seen she wasn’t afraid of him. She’d been intrigued. Needy. We’ve both been alone so long, looking for each other even when we didn’t realize we were.
Slowly, he slid his hand inside her nightgown, watching her eyes continuously. He wondered when he’d stop being so aware she couldn’t have allowed anyone else this kind of intimacy at any other point in her life. This is just for me.
“We’re gonna be okay, baby. Trust me. Everything’ll work out. Okay, maybe we are poor, but we’re gonna have a baby. Our own baby. We’ll be good parents. We’ll give our kids everything they need. We’ll love them.”
“Kids plural?” She sounded terrified at the prospect.
He shrugged like his assumption was no big deal, nothing to worry about, certainly not right now, and she seemed to relax when he said casually, “Someday.”
He knew exactly what worried her so much: The fact that she hadn’t protected the Saunderby children more than she had when they were imprisoned alongside her inside Bloodmoon Manor. Beyond that nightmare of the past, they were in debt up to their eyeballs. That was his fault. Like everyone else in his family, his education had seemed more important than whether or not he could afford to be educated. His college debts were astronomical, and, when he and Hannah had gotten married, he’d had to reveal the truth of that to her. For the first time, he’d been ashamed. During the multiple times he’d become disillusioned and unsatisfied with the role he’d chosen at the hospital, his family had encouraged him to find something he enjoyed doing there instead of sticking with what he wasn’t happy doing. That had seemed like a priority, and so he’d gone ahead without worry about the future. Seeing his debt and his inability to settle down in his career choice permanently through Hannah’s eyes had been painful for him. He’d resolved then and there to finish out his bachelor’s degree that he was well into already. He would stick with radiology after that, even if he eventually decided he wasn’t happy doing it. In the future, he wouldn’t let himself change his chosen career just because he wasn’t feeling fulfilled or because something else sounded more exciting. More than ever with a child in the center of his future, he needed to make his vow count this time.
“I’m not doing my share, Daniel. It’s not just you. I have to stop letting my fear hold me back. Maybe I’m ready to do that. Maybe I can take on more hours at the restaurant. So we can have more money for the baby when he or she comes.”
She’d tentatively agreed to the program at the college–Cain had exerted a little pressure and even Daniel had thought she might be ready for such a big step. She was handling the whole person-in-a-world-full-of-people thing so much better than she had when she’d tried hard to hold onto those maid jobs that put her in constant contact with other people who could never understand what she’d been through.
“We have to have this verified first, Hannah,” he murmured, watching her eyes as he stroked her ultra-sensitive skin. Her stomach was impossibly flat. She’d been so thin when they met, gaunt even and ghost-white from living in the darkness of that house on top of the mountain for so long. Though she’d finally put on some much needed weight, filling out curves that had barely been there before, she was still so slim, he couldn’t help wondering if it was safe for someone as small as she was to have a baby. We need to get the proper medical guidance throughout her pregnancy. But convincing her of that…
Meeting new people was hard for her, almost as hard as getting close to anyone was, and he knew this would be even more so because a doctor would eventually have to touch her and sometimes in private places she’d protected most of her life until he came along.
“A doctor?” she asked.
He nodded, understanding her expression. She surprised him when she nodded as well. “I will.”
“I’ll be with you. Every single step of the way, baby. I won’t leave your side.”
She offered him a shaky smile. “Then I’ll be okay. I can get through anything if you’re with me.”
Sitting up, she pulled her nightgown off, and his gaze was drawn helplessly to the quarter-sized, blood-red mark on the under slope of the breast she drew his hand to with eagerness. The crescent within a disk mark was a constant reminder of what she’d endured in another life. His tenderness flooded him as, in word and deed, they proved their love to each other.