back. Sarah's come home."The
whisper was overly loud and tinged with something close to
fear. Or respect. Damon Wilder couldn't decide which. He'd
been hearing the same small town gossip for several hours
and it was always said in the same hushed tones. He hated
to admit to curiosity and he wasn't about to stoop to asking,
not after he had made such a point of insisting on absolute
privacy since he arrived last month.
As he walked down the quaint narrow sidewalk made of wood,
the wind seemed to whisper, "Sarah's back." He heard
it as he passed the gas station and burly Jeff Dockins waved
to him. He heard it as he lingered in the small bakery. Sarah.
The name shouldn't carry mystery, but it did.
He had no idea who Sarah was, but she commanded such interest
and awe from the townspeople he found himself totally intrigued.
He knew from experience the people in the sleepy little coastal
town were not easily impressed. No amount of money, fame,
or title earned one deference. Everyone was treated the same
from the poorest to the richest and there seemed to be no
prejudice against religion or any other preferences. It was
why he had chosen the town. A man could be anybody here and
no one cared.
All day he had heard the whispers. He'd never once caught
a glimpse of the mysterious Sarah. But he'd heard she once
climbed the sheer cliffs above the sea to rescue a dog. An
impossible task. He'd seen those crumbling cliffs and no one
could climb them. He found himself smiling at the idea of
anyone attempting such an impossible feat and few things amused
him or intrigued him.
The grocery store was the center of town and most of the gossip
originated there and then spread like wildfire. Damon decided
he needed a few things before he went home. He hadn't been
in the store for more than two minutes when he heard it again.
"Sarah's back." The same hushed whisper, the same
awe and respect.
Inez Nelson, owner of the only grocery store held court, spilling
out gossip as she normally did, instead of ringing up the
groceries on the cash register. It usually drove him crazy
to have to wait, but this time he lingered by the bread rack
in the hope of learning more of the mysterious Sarah who had
"Are you sure, Inez?" Trudy Garret asked, dragging
her four-year-old closer to her and nearly strangling the
child with her hug. "Are her sisters back too?"
"Oh, I'm certain, all right. She came right into the
store as real as you please and bought a ton of groceries.
She was back at the cliff house she said. She didn't say anything
about the others, but if one shows up the others aren't far
Trudy Garret looked around, lowered her voice another octave.
"Was she still
Damon rolled his eyes. Everyone always annoyed the hell out
of him. He thought moving to a small town would allow him
to find a way to get along to some extent but people were
just plain idiots. Of course Sarah was still Sarah. Who the
hell else would she be? He let his breath out in a rush of
impatience. Sarah was probably the only one with a brain within
a fifty-mile radius so they thought she was different.
"What could it mean?" Trudy asked. "Sarah only
comes back when something is going to happen."
"I asked her if everything was all right and she just
smiled in that way she has and said yes. You wouldn't want
me to pry into Sarah's business, now would you dear,"
Inez said piously.
Damon let his breath out in a hissing rush of impatience.
Inez made it her life's work to pry into everyone's business.
Why should the absent Sarah be excluded?
"Last time she was here Dockins nearly died, do you remember
that?" Trudy asked. "He fell from his roof and Sarah
just happened to be walking by and
" She trailed
off and glanced around the store and lowered her voice to
a conspirator's whisper. "Old Mars at the fruit stand
said Penny told him Sarah ..."
"Trudy, dear, you know Mars is totally unreliable in
the things he says. He's a dear, sweet man, but he sometimes
makes things up," Inez pointed out.
Old man Mars was crotchety, mean and known to throw fruit
at cars if he was in a foul enough mood. Damon waited for
lightning to strike Inez for her blatant lie, but nothing
happened. The worst of it was, Damon wanted to know what Old
Mars had said about Sarah, even if it was a blatant lie. And
that really irritated him.
Trudy leaned even closer, looked melodramatically to the right
and left without even noticing he was there. Damon sighed
heavily, wanting to shake the woman. "Do you remember
the time little Paul Baily fell into that blow hole?"
"I remember that, now that you say. He was wedged in
so tight and no one could get to him, he'd slipped down so
far. The tide was coming in."
"I was there, Inez, I saw her get him out." Trudy
"Penny said she'd heard from her hairdresser that Sarah
was working for a secret agency and she was sent to some foreign
country undercover to assassinate the leader of a terrorist
"Oh, I don't think so, Trudy. Sarah wouldn't kill anything."
The store owner's hands fluttered to her throat in protest.
"I just can't imagine."
Damon had enough of gossip. If they weren't going to say anything
worth hearing, he was going to get the hell out of there before
Inez turned her spotlight on him. He plunked his groceries
down on the counter and looked as bored as he could manage.
"I'm in a hurry, Inez," he said, hoping to facilitate
matters and avoid the usual match-making she always tried.
"Why Damon Wilder, how lovely to see you. Have you met
Trudy Garret? Trudy is a wonderful woman, a native of our
town. She works over at the Salt Bar and Grill. Have you ever
been there to eat yet? The salmon is very good."
"So I've heard," he muttered, barely glancing at
Trudy to acknowledge the introduction. It didn't matter. They'd
all made up their minds about him, making up the history he
refused to provide. He felt a little sorry for the returning
Sarah. They were making up things about her as well. "You
might tell me about that beautiful old house on the cliffs,"
he said, shocking himself. Shocking Inez. He never gave anyone
an opening for conversation. He wanted to be left alone. Damn
Sarah for being so mysterious.
Inez looked as if she might faint and for once she was speechless.
"You must know the one I'm talking about," Damon
persisted, in spite of himself. "Three stories, balconies
everywhere, a round turret. It's grown over quite wild around
the house, but there's a path leading to the old lighthouse.
I was walking up there and with all the wild growth, I expected
the house to be in bad shape, dilapidated like most of the
abandoned homes around here, but it was in beautiful condition.
I'd like to know what preservatives were used."
"That's private property, Mr. Wilder," Inez said.
"The house has been in the same family for well over
a hundred years. I don't know what they use in the paint,
but it does weather well. No one lurks around that house."
Inez was definitely issuing a reprimand to him.
"I was hardly lurking, Inez," he said exasperated.
"As you well know the sea salt is hard on the paint and
wood of the houses. That house is in remarkable condition.
In fact, it looks newly built. I'm curious as to what was
used. I'd like to preserve my house in the same way."
He made an effort to sound reasonable instead of annoyed.
"I'm a bit of a chemist and I can't figure out what would
keep a house so pristine over the years. There's no sign of
damage from the sea, from age or even insects. Remarkable."
Inez pursed her lips, always a bad sign. "Well I'm certain
I have no idea." Her voice was stiff as if she were highly
offended. She rang up his groceries in remarkable time without
saying another word.
Damon gathered the bags into his arm, his expression daring
Inez to ask him if he needed help. Leaning heavily on his
cane he turned to Trudy. "The hairdresser's dog walker
told the street cleaner that he saw Sarah walk on water."
Trudy's eyes widened in shock, but there was belief on her
face. Inez made some kind of noise he couldn't identify. Disgusted,
Damon turned on his heel and stalked out. Ever since the first
whisper of Sarah's name he had been unsettled. Disturbed.
Agitated. There was something unfamiliar growing inside of
him. Anticipation? Excitement? That was ridiculous. He muttered
a curse under his breath at the absent Sarah.
He wanted to be left alone, didn't he? He had no interest
in the woman the townspeople gossiped about. Sarah might not
walk on water but her house was a mystery. He saw no reason
why he shouldn't pay her a neighborly visit and ask what preservatives
were used in the wood to achieve the nearly impossible results.
Damon Wilder was a man driven to the edge of sanity. Moving
to the tiny town on the coast was his last effort to hang
onto life. He had no idea how he was going to do it, or why
he had chosen this particular town with all its resident eccentrics,
but he had been drawn here. Nothing else would do. He had
stepped on the rich soil and knew either this place would
be home or he had none. It was hell trying to fit in, but
the sea soothed him and the long walks over million year old
rocks and cliffs occupied his mind.
Damon took his time putting his groceries away. The knowledge
that this town, this place, was his last stand had been so
strong he had actually purchased a house. His home was one
of the few things that gave him pleasure. He loved the working
on it. He loved the wood. He could lose himself in the artistry
of reshaping a room to suit his exact needs. For hours the
work occupied him so nothing else could invade his brain and
he was at peace for a time.
He stared out his large bay window, the one that looked out
over the sea. The one that had an unobstructed view of the
house on the cliff. Damon had spent more hours than he cared
to think about staring up at the dark silent windows and the
balconies and battlements. It was a unique house from another
century, another time and place. There were lights on for
the first time. The windows shone a bright welcome.
His leg hurt like hell. He needed to sit and rest, not go
traipsing around the countryside. Damon stared at the house,
drawn to the warmth of it. It seemed almost alive, begging
him to come closer. He went outside onto his deck, intending
to sit in the chair and enjoy his view of the sea. Instead
he found himself limping his way steadily up the path toward
the cliffs. It was nearly a compulsion. The path was narrow
and steep and rocky in places, almost no more than a deer
trail and overgrown at that. His cane slipped on the pebbles
and twice he nearly fell. He was swearing by the time he made
it to the edge of the private property.
He stood there staring in shock. Damon had been there not
two days before, walking around the house and the grounds.
It had been wildly overgrown, the bushes high and weeds everywhere.
The shrubbery and trees had drooped with winter darkness on
the leaves. A noticeable absence of sound had given the place
an eerie, creepy feeling. Now there were flowers as if everything
had burst into blossom overnight. A riot of color met his
eyes, a carpet of grass was beneath his feet. The gate was
open as if in welcome. He could hear the insects buzzing,
the sound of frogs calling merrily back and forth as if spring
had come instantly.
The gate, which had been securely locked, stood open in welcome.
Everything seemed to be welcoming him. A sense of peace began
to steal into his heart. A part of him wanted to sit on one
of the inviting benches and soak in the atmosphere.
Roses climbed the trellis and rhododendrons were everywhere,
great forests of them. He'd never seen such towering plants.
Damon started up the pathway, noting every single weed was
gone. Stepping stones led the way to the house. Each round
of stone held a meticulously carved symbol. Great care had
been taken to etch the symbol deep into the stone. Damon leaned
down to feel the highly polished work. He admired the craftsmanship
and detail. The artisans in the small town all had that trait,
one he greatly respected.
As he neared the house, a wind rose off the sea and carried
sea spray and a lilting melody. "Sarah's back. Sarah's
home." The words sang across the land joyously. It was
then he heard the birds and looked around him. They were everywhere,
all kinds of birds, flitting from tree to tree, a flutter
of wings overhead. Squirrels chattered as they rushed from
branch to branch. The sun was sinking over the ocean, turning
the skyline into bright colors of pink and orange and red.
The fog was on the far horizon, meeting the sea to give the
impression of an island in the clouds. Damon had never seen
anything so beautiful. He simply stood there, leaning on his
cane and staring in wonder at the transformation around him.
Voices drifted from the house. One was soft and melodious.
He couldn't catch the words but the tone worked its way through
his skin into his very bones. Into his vital organs. He moved
closer, drawn by the sound and immediately saw two dogs on
the front porch. Both were watching him alertly, heads down,
hair up, neither making a sound.
Damon froze. The voices continued. One was weeping. He could
hear the heartbreaking sound. A woman's voice. The melodious
voice soothed. Damon shifted his weight and took a two-handed
grip on his cane. If he had to use it as a weapon, he'd have
more leverage. Concerned as he was with the dogs, he was more
centered on the voice. He strained to listen.
"Please, Sarah, you have to be able to do something.
I know you can. Please say you'll help me. I can't bear this,"
the second voice said.
Her sorrow was so deep Damon ached for her. He couldn't remember
the last time he'd felt someone's pain. He couldn't remember
how to feel anything but bored or frustrated. The dogs both
sniffed the air, and as if recognizing him, wagged their tails
in greeting and sat down, hair settling to make them appear
much more friendly. Keeping one eye on the dogs, he strained
to catch the words spoken in that soft lilting tone.
"I know it's difficult, Irene, but this isn't something
like putting a Band-Aid on a scraped knee. What do the doctors
There was more sobbing. It shook him, hurt him, tore up his
insides so that his gut churned and a terrible weight pressed
on his chest. Damon forgot all about the dogs and pressed
his hand over his heart. Irene Madison. He recognized the
voice, knew from Inez at the grocery store that her fifteen-year-old
son, Drew was terminally ill.
"There's no hope, Sarah. They said to take him home and
make him comfortable. You know you can find a way. Please
do this for us, for me."
Damon edged closer to the house wondering what the hell she
thought Sarah could do. Work a miracle? There was a small
silence. The window was open, the wind setting the white lacy
curtains dancing. He waited, holding his breath. Waited for
Sarah's answer. Waited for the sound of her voice.
"Irene, you know I don't do that sort of thing. I've
only just come back. I haven't even unpacked. You're asking
"Sarah, I'm begging you. I'll do anything, give you anything.
I'm begging on my knees
" The sobs were choking
Damon. The pain was so raw in the woman.
"Irene, get up! What are you doing? Stop it."
"You have to say you'll come to see him. Please Sarah.
Our mothers were best friends. If not for me, do it for my
"I'll come by, Irene. I'm not promising anything, but
I'll stop by."
There was resignation in that gentle voice. Weariness. "My
sisters will be coming in a day or so and as soon as we're
all rested we'll stop by and see what we can do."
"I know you think I'm asking for a miracle, but I'm not,
I just want more time with him. Come when you're rested, when
the others have come and can help." The relief Irene
felt spilled over to Damon and he had no clue why. Only that
the weight pressing on his chest lifted and his heart soared
for a moment.
"I'll see what I can do."
The voices were traveling toward him. Damon waited, his heart
pounding in anticipation. He had no idea what to expect or
even what he wanted, but everything in him stilled.
The door opened and two women emerged to stand in the shadow
of the wide columned porch. "Thank you, Sarah. Thank
you so much," Irene said, clutching at Sarah's hands
gratefully. "I knew you would come." She hurried
down the stairs, straight past the dogs who had rushed to
their mistress. Irene managed a quick smile for Damon as she
passed him, her tear-stained face bright with hope.
Damon leaned on his cane and stared up at Sarah.