Fitzpatrick woke screaming, her heart pounding out a rhythm
of terror. Fear was a living, breathing entity in the darkness
of her room. The weight of it crushed her, held her helpless,
unable to move. She could taste it in her mouth, and her body
beaded with sweat. Around her, the air seemed thick so that
her lungs burned for oxygen. She knew something monstrous was
stirring deep in the bowels of the earth. For a moment she lay
frozen, her ears straining for the murmur of voices rising and
falling, chanting words in an ancient tongue that should never
be spoken. Red, glowing eyes searched through the darkness,
summoning her, beckoning her closer. She felt the power of that
search as it neared, focused, as it crept ever closer. Her eyes
flew open, the need to flee paramount in her mind.
entire room lurched, flinging her from the narrow bunk to the
floor. At once the cold air brought her out of her nightmare
and into the realization that they were not safe at home in
their beds, but in the cabin of a wildly pitching boat in the
middle of a ferocious storm. The craft was taking a pounding,
tossed from wave to powerful wave.
scrambled to her feet, gripping the edge of the bunk as she
dragged herself toward the two children, Tara and Trevor Wentworth,
who clung together, their faces pale and frightened. Tara screamed,
her eyes wide, her terrified gaze locked on Jessica's. Jessica
managed to make it half way to the twins before the next wild
bucking sent her to floor again.
get your life jacket back on this minute!" She reached
them by crawling on her hands and knees, curved a supporting
arm around each of them. "Don't be afraid, we'll be fine."
boat rose on a wave, teetered and slid fast, tossing the three
of them in all directions. Salt water poured in a torrent onto
the deck and raced down the steps into the cabin, covering the
floor with an inch of ice-cold water. Tara screamed, and clutched
at her brother's arm, desperately trying to help him buckle
his life jacket. "It's him. He's doing this, he's trying
to kill us."
gasped, horrified. "Tara! Nobody controls the weather.
It's a storm. Plain and simple, just a storm. Captain Long will
get us safely to the island."
hideous. A monster. And I don't want to go." Tara covered
her face with her hands and sobbed. "I want to go home.
Please take me home, Jessie."
tested Trevor's life jacket to make certain he was safe. "Don't
talk that way, Tara. Trev, stay here with Tara and I'll go see
what I can do to help." She had to shout to make herself
heard in the howling wind and booming sea.
flung herself into Jessica's arms. "Don't leave me, we'll
die. I just know it, we're all going to die just like Mama Rita
wrapped his arms around his twin sister. "No, we're not,
sis, don't cry. Captain Long has been in terrible storms, lots
of them," he assured. He looked up at Jessica with his
piercing blue eyes. "Right, Jessie?"
exactly right, Trevor," she agreed. Jessica firmly had
a hold on the banister and began to make her way up the stairs
to the deck.
fell in sheets, black clouds churned and boiled in the sky.
The wind rose to an eerie shriek. Jessica held her breath, watched
as Long struggled to navigate the boat through the heavier waves,
taking them ever closer to the island. It seemed an eternity
of struggle between man and nature. Slowly, through the sheets
of rain, the solid mass of the island began to take shape. Salt
water sprayed and foamed off the rocks but the sea was calmer
as they approached the shores. It was only his knowledge of
the region and his expertise that allowed him to guide the craft
to the dock in the terrible storm.
rain was pouring from the sky, the clouds so black and heavy
overhead the night seemed unrelentingly dark. Yet Jessica caught
glimpses of the moon, an eerie sight with the swirling black
of the clouds veiling its light.
go, Jessie," Captain Long yelled. "Bring the kids
up and your luggage. I want you off this boat now." The
words were nearly lost in the ferocity of the storm, but his
frantic beckoning was plain.
hurried, tossing Trevor most of the packs while she helped Tara
up the stairs and across the slippery deck. Captain Long lifted
Tara to the dock before aiding Trevor to shore. He caught Jessica's
arm in a tight grip and pulled her close so he could be heard.
"I don't like this, Jess, I hope he's expecting you. Once
I leave you, you're stuck. You know he isn't the most pleasant
worry," she patted his arm, her stomach churning with knots.
"I'll call if we need you. Are you certain you don't want
to stay overnight?"
feel safer out there," he gestured toward the water.
waved him off and turned to look up at the island while she
waited to get her land legs back. It had been seven years since
she'd last been to the island. Her last memories of it were
the things of nightmares. Looking up toward the ridge she half
expected to see a fiery inferno, red and orange flames towering
to the skies but there was only the black night and the rain.
The house that had once sat at the top of the cliff overlooking
the ocean was long gone, reduced to a pile of ashes.
the dark, the vegetation was daunting, a foreboding sight. The
weak rays of light from the cloud-covered moon were mottled
as they fell across the ground, creating a strange, unnatural
pattern. The island was wild with heavy timber and thick with
brush, the wind set the trees and bushes dancing in a macabre
fashion. Naked branches bowed and scraped together with a grating
sound. Heavy evergreens whirled madly, sending sharp needles
flying through the air.
Jessica took a deep breath and picked up her pack, handing Trevor
a flashlight to lead the way. "Come on, kids, let's go
see your father."
rain slashed down at them, drenching them, drops piercing like
sharp icicles right through their clothes to their skin. Heads
down, they began to trudge their way up the steep stone steps
leading away from the sea toward the interior of the island
where Dillon Wentworth hid from the world.
to the island brought back a flood of memories. The good times,
her mother, Rita Fitzpatrick, landing the job as housekeeper
and nanny to the famous Dillon Wentworth. Jessica had been so
thrilled. She had been nearly thirteen, already old enough to
appreciate the rising star, a musician who would take his place
among the greatest recording legends. Dillon spent a great deal
of his time on the road, touring, or in the studio, recording,
but when he was home, he was usually with his children or hanging
out in the kitchen with Rita and Jessica. She had known Dillon
in the good times, five years of incredible magic.
Trevor's young voice interrupted her reflection. "Does
he know we're coming?"
met the boy's steady gaze. At thirteen, Trevor was well aware,
had they been expected, they wouldn't be walking in the dead
of night in the middle of a storm. Someone would have met them.
your father, Trevor, and it's coming up on Christmas. He spends
far too much time alone." Jessica slicked back her rain-wet
hair and squared her shoulders. "It isn't good for him."
And Dillon Wentworth had a responsibility to his children. He
needed to look after them, to protect them.
twins didn't remember their father the way she did. He had been
so alive. So handsome. So everything. His life had been magical.
His good looks, his talent, his ready laugh and famous blue
eyes. Everyone had wanted him. Dillon had lived his life in
the spotlight, a white-hot glare of tabloids and television.
Of stadiums and clubs. The energy, the power of Dillon Wentworth
was astonishing, indescribable when he was performing. He burned
hot and bright on stage, a man with a poet's heart and a devil's
talent when he played his guitar and sang with his edgy, smoky
Jessica also remembered Vivian Wentworth with
her brittle laugh and red, talon-tipped fingers. The glaze in
her eyes when she was cloudy with drugs, when she was staggering
under the effects of alcohol, when she flew into a rage and
smashed glass and slashed pictures out of frames. The slow,
terrible descent into the madness of drugs and the occult. Of
her friends who visited when Dillon wasn't there. The candles,
the orgies, the chanting, always the chanting. And men. Lots
of men in the Wentworth bed.
warning, Tara screamed, turning to fling herself at Jessica,
nearly knocking her off the stairs. Jessica caught her firmly,
wrapping her arms around the girl and holding her close. They
were both so cold they were shivering uncontrollably. "What
is it, honey," Jessica whispered into the child's ear,
soothing her, rocking her, there on the steep stairs with the
wind slashing them to ribbons.
saw something, eyes staring, glowing at us. They were red eyes,
Jess. Red, like a monster
or a devil." The girl shuddered
and gripped Jessica harder.
Tara?" Jessica sounded calm when inside her stomach knotted,
revolted. Red eyes. She had seen those eyes.
Tara pointed without looking, keeping her face hidden against
Jessica. "Through the trees, something was staring at us."
are always animals on the island, honey," Jessica soothed,
but she was straining to see through the sheets of rain into
the trees. Trevor valiantly tried to shine the small circle
of light toward the spot his twin had indicated, but the light
wouldn't penetrate the sheets of rain.
wasn't a dog, it wasn't Jessie, it was some kind of demon. Please
take me home, I don't want to be here. I'm so afraid of him.
He's so hideous."
took a deep breath, let it out slowly, hoping to stay calm when
she suddenly wanted to turn and run herself. There were too
many memories here, crowding in, reaching for her with greedy
claws. "He was scarred terribly in a fire, Tara, you know
that." It took effort to keep her voice steady.
know he hates us. He hates us so much he doesn't ever want to
see us. And I don't want to see him. He murdered people."
Tara flung the bitter accusation at Jessica. The howling wind
caught the words and took them out over the island, spreading
them like a disease.
tightened her grip on Tara, gave her a short, impatient shake.
"I never want to hear you say such a terrible thing
again, not ever, do you understand me? Do you know why
your father went into the house that night? Tara, you're not
a baby to listen to gossip and anonymous phone callers."
saw the papers. It was in all the papers!" Tara wailed.
was furious. Furious. Why would someone suddenly, after
seven years, send old newspapers and tabloids to the twins?
Tara had innocently opened the package wrapped in a plain brown
wrapper. The papers had been brutal, accusations of drugs, jealousy,
the occult and rock stars too much to pass up. The speculation
that Dillon had caught his wife in bed with another man, that
there had been an orgy of sex, drugs and devil worship and murder
had been far too titillating not to play it up long before the
actual facts could come out. Jessica had found Tara sobbing
pitifully in her room. Whoever saw fit to enlighten the twins
about their father's past had called the house repeatedly whispering
horrible things to Trevor and Tara, insisting their father murdered
several people including their mother.
father went into a burning house to save you kids. He thought
you were both inside. Everyone who had gotten out tried to stop
him, but he fought them, got away and went into a burning inferno
for you. That isn't hate, Tara. That's love. I remember that
day, every detail." She pressed her fingers to her pounding
temples. "I can't ever forget it no matter how much I try."
she had tried. She had tried desperately to drown out the sounds
of chanting, of the thick presence of evil. Of the black lights
and candles. The incense. She remembered the shouting, the raised
voices, the sound of the gun. And the flames. The terrible greedy
flames. The blanket of smoke, so thick one couldn't see. And
the smells never went away. Sometimes she still woke up to the
smell of burning flesh.
put his arm around her. "Don't cry, Jessica. We're already
here, we're all freezing, let's just go. Let's have Christmas
with Dad, make a new beginning, try to get along with him this
smiled at him through the rain and tears. Trevor. So much like
his father and he didn't even realize it. "We're going
to have a wonderful Christmas, Tara, you wait and see."
continued up the stairs until the ground leveled out and Jessica
found the familiar path winding through the thick timber to
the estate. As islands went, in the surrounding sea between
Washington and Canada, it was small and remote, no ferry even
traveled to it. That was the way Dillon had preferred it, wanting
privacy for his family. In the old days, there were guards and
dogs. Now there were shadows and haunting memories that tore
at her soul.
path led through the thick trees, the wind whipping branches
so that overhead the canopy of trees swayed precariously. The
rain had a much more difficult time penetrating through the
treetops to reach them, but drops hitting the pathway plopped
loudly. Small animals rustled in the bushes as they passed.
don't think we're in Kansas anymore," Trevor quipped, with
a shaking smile.
immediately hugged him to her. "Lions and tigers and bears,
oh, my," she quoted just to watch the grin spread across
can't believe he lives here," Tara sniffed.
beautiful during the day," Jessica insisted, "give
it a chance. You've never seen such a wonderful place. The island's
small, but it has everything."
followed a bend, stumbling a little over the uneven ground.
Trevor's flashlight cast a meager circle of light on the ground
in front of them, which only served to make the forest darker
and more frightening as it surrounded them. "Are you certain
you know the way, Jess? You haven't been here in years,"
know this path with my eyes closed," Jessica assured him.
"It isn't much farther." Which wasn't exactly the
truth. In the old days, the path had been well manicured and
veered off toward the cliff. This one was overgrown and led
through the thick part of the forest toward the interior of
the island, rising steadily uphill. "If you listen, you
can hear the water rushing off to our left. The stream is large
right now, but in the summer it isn't so strong or deep. There
are ferns all along the bank." She wanted to keep talking,
hoping it would keep fear at bay.
three of them were breathing hard from the climb and they paused
to catch their breath under a particularly large tree that helped
to shelter them from the driving rain. Trevor shined the light
up the massive tree trunk and into the canopy, making light
patterns to amuse Tara. As he whirled the light back down the
trunk, the small circle illuminated the ground a few feet beyond
where they were sheltering.
stiffened, jammed a fist in her mouth to keep from screaming
and yanked the flashlight from Trevor to shine it back to the
spot he had accidentally lit up. For one terrible moment she
could hardly breathe. She was certain she had seen someone staring
at them. Someone in a heavily hooded long black cloak that swirled
around the shadowy figure as if he were a vampire from one of
the movies the twins were always watching. The hood hid the
face but whoever it was stared malevolently at them. In his
hands was something that glinted in the flash of light.
hand was shaking badly but she managed to find the place where
he had been with the small circle of light. It was empty. There
was nothing, no humans, no vampires in hooded cloaks. She continued
to search through the trees, but there was nothing.
reached out and caught her wrist, pulling her hand gently to
him, taking the flashlight. "What did you see, Jess?"
He sounded very calm.
looked at them then, ashamed of showing such naked fear, ashamed
the island could reduce to her to that terrified teenager she
had once been. She had hoped for so much, to bring them all
together, to find a way to bring Dillon back to the world, but
instead she was hallucinating. That shadowy figure belonged
in her nightmares, not in the middle of a terrible rainstorm.
twins were staring up at her for direction. Jessica shook her
head. "I don't know, a shadow maybe. Let's just get to
the house." She pushed them ahead of her, trying to guard
their backs, trying to see in front of them, on both sides.
every step she took, she was more convinced she hadn't seen
a shadow. She hadn't been hallucinating. She was certain something, someone had been watching them. "Hurry, Trevor,
I'm cold," she urged.
they topped the rise, the sight of the house took her breath
away. It was huge, rambling, several stories with round turrets
and great chimneys. The original house had been completely destroyed
and here, at the top of the rise, surrounded by timber, Dillon
had built the house of his boyhood dreams. He had loved the
gothic architecture, the lines and carvings, the vaulted ceilings
and intricate passageways. She remembered him talking with such
enthusiasm, spreading pictures on the counter in the kitchen
for her and her mother to admire. Jessica had teased him unmercifully
about being a frustrated architect and he had always laughed
and replied he belonged in a castle or palace, or that he was
a renaissance man. He would chase her around with an imaginary
sword and talk of terrible traps in secret passageways.
Fitzpatrick had cried over this house, telling Jessica how Dillon
had clung to his dreams of music and how he had claimed that
by having the house built it was symbolic of his rise from the
ashes. Somewhere in that time, as Dillon realized from his hospital
room, after the agony and pain he had endured, that his life
would never return to normal, the house had become a symbol
of the darkness that had crept into his soul. A symbol of that
very pain and anguish. Looking at it, fear stirred in Jessica,
a foreboding that Dillon was very changed.
stared at the great hulk half expecting to see a ghost push
open one of the shutters and warn them off. The house was dark
with the exception of two windows on the third story facing
them, giving the effect of two eyes staring back at them. Winged
creatures seemed to be swarming up its sides. The mottled light
from the moon lent the carvings a certain animation.
don't want to go in there," Tara said, backing away. "It
" she trailed off, slipped her hand into her
Trevor supplied. "It does, Jess, like one of those haunted
houses in the old movies. It looks like it's staring at us."
bit at her lower lip, glancing behind them, her gaze searching,
restless, wary. "You two have seen too many scary movies.
No more for either of you." The house looked far worse
than anything she had ever seen in a movie. It looked a brooding
hulk, crouched and waiting silently for unsuspecting prey. Gargoyles
crouched in the eaves, stared with blank eyes at them. She shook
her head to clear the image. "No more movies, you're making
me see it that way." She forced a small, uneasy laugh.
a small mass, but it works for me," there was a trace of
humor in Trevor's voice. "I'm freezing, we may as well
one moved. They continued to stare up at the house in silence,
at the strange animating effect of the wind and moon on the
carvings. Only the sound of the relentless rain filled the night.
Jessica could feel her heart slamming hard in her chest. They
couldn't go back. There was something in the woods. There was
no boat to go back to, only the wind and piercing rain. But
the house seemed to stare back at them with that same malevolence
as the figure in the woods.
had no inkling they were near. She thought it would be a relief
to reach him, that she would feel safe but instead, she was
frightened of his anger. Frightened of what he would say in
front of the twins. He wouldn't be pleased that she hadn't warned
him, but if she'd called, he would have told her not to come.
He always told her not to come. Although she tried to console
herself with the fact that his last few letters had been more
cheerful and more interested in the twins, she couldn't deceive
herself into believing he would welcome them.
was the first to move, patting Jessica on the back in reassurance
as he took a step around her toward the house. Tara followed
him and Jessica brought up the rear. At some point the area
around the house had been landscaped, the bushes shaped and
beds of flowers planted, but it looked as though it hadn't been
attended to in quite awhile. A large sculpture of leaping dolphins
rose up out of pond on the far side of the front yard. There
were statues of fierce jungle cats strewn about the wild edges
of the yard, peering out of the heavier brush.
moved closer to Jessica, a small sound of alarm escaping as
they gained the slate walkway. All of them were violently shivering,
teeth chattering and Jessica told herself it was the rain and
cold. They made it to within yards of the wraparound porch with
its long thick columns when they heard it. A low, fierce growl
welled up. It came out of the wind and rain, impossible to pinpoint
but swelling in volume.
fingers dug into Jessica's arms. "What do we do?"
She whimpered. Her teeth were chattering and Jessica could feel
the child shivering convulsively.
keep walking. Trevor, have your flashlight handy, you may need
it to hit the thing over the head if it attacks us." She
continued walking toward the house, taking the twins with her,
moving slowly but steadily, not wanting to trigger aggressive
behavior by running.
growl rose to a roar of warning. Lights unexpectedly flooded
the lawn and porch, revealing the large German Shepherd, head
down, teeth bared, snarling at them. He stood in the thick brush
just off the porch, his gaze focused on them as they gained
the steps. The dog took a step toward them just as the front
door was flung open.
burst into tears. Jessica couldn't tell if they were tears of
relief or fear. She circled the girl's shoulders protectively.
the hell?" A man greeted them from the doorway. "Shut
up Toby," he commanded the dog.
them the hell off my property," another voice roared from
inside the house.
stared at the man in the doorway. "Paul?" There was
utter relief in her voice. Her shoulders sagged and suddenly
tears burned in her own eyes. "Thank God you're here! I
need to get the kids into a hot shower and warm them up immediately.
Ritter, a former band member and long time friend of Dillon
Wentworth gaped at her and the twins. "My God, Jess, it's
you, all grown up. And these are Dillon's children?" He
hastily stepped back to allow them entrance. "Dillon, we
have more company. We need heat, hot showers and hot chocolate!"
As wet as she was, Paul gathered Jessica in his arms. "I
can't believe you three are here. It's so good to see you. Dillon
didn't say a word to me that you were coming. I would have met
you." He shut the door on the wind and rain. The sudden
stillness silenced him.
stared up at the shadowy figure on the staircase. For a moment
she stopped breathing. Dillon always had that effect on her.
He lounged against the wall, looking elegant and lazy, classic
Dillon. The light spilled across his face, his angel's face.
Thick blue-black hair that fell in waves to his shoulders, as
shiny as a raven's wing. His sculptured face, masculine and
strong, with that hint of five o'clock shadow along his jaw.
His mouth was so sensual, his teeth amazingly white. But it
was his eyes, vivid blue, stunningly blue, burning with intensity
that always mesmerized everyone, including Jessica.
felt Tara stir beside her, staring up in awe at her father.
Trevor made a soft sound, almost of distress. The blue eyes
stared down at the three of them. She saw joy, a welcoming,
surprise dawning on Dillon's face. He stepped forward and gripped
the banister with both hands, a heart-stopping grin on his face.
He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and his hands and arms
were starkly revealed as if the spotlight had picked up and
magnified every detail. The scars were whirling webs of scarred
flesh running down his arms to thicken at his wrists and hands,
his fingers thickly scarred. The contrast between his face and
body was shocking it was so great. That angel's face and twisted,
shuddered visibly and flung herself into Jessica's arms. At
once Dillon slipped back into the shadows, the welcoming smile
fading as if it had never been. The burning blue eyes had gone
from joy to ice-cold instantly. His gaze raked Jessica's up-turned
face, slid over the twins and came back to her. His sensual
mouth tightened ominously. "They're freezing, Paul, explanations
can wait. Please show them to the bathrooms so they can get
out of those wet clothes. You'll need to prepare a couple more
bedrooms." He started up the darkened stairway, taking
care to stay well in the shadows. "And send Jess up to
me the minute she's warm enough." His voice was still that
perfect blend of smoke and edginess, a lethal combination that
could brush over skin like the touch of fingers.
heart beating in her throat, Jessica stared after him. She turned
to look at Paul. "Why didn't you tell me? He can't play,
can he? My God, he can't play his music." She knew what
his music meant to Dillon. His life. His soul. "I didn't
know. My mother never brought me back. She came the one time
with the twins, but I was ill."
sorry," Tara was crying again. "I didn't mean to do
that. I couldn't stop looking at his hands. They didn't look
human. It was repulsive. I didn't mean to do that, I
didn't. I'm sorry Jessie."
knew the child badly needed comfort. Tara felt guilty and was
tired, frightened and very cold. Shaken by what she had discovered,
Jessica had to fight back her own tears. "It's all right,
honey, we'll find a way to fix this. You need a hot shower and
a bed. Everything will be better in the morning." She looked
at Trevor. He was staring as if mesmerized up the stairway after
his father. "Trev? You okay?"
nodded, clearing his throat. "I'm fine, but I don't think
why we're here, Trev," she pointed out. Jessica looked
at Paul over Tara's bent head. She didn't believe for a minute
that they'd find a way to fix the damage Tara had done, and
looking at Paul's face, neither did he. She forced a smile.
"Tara, you don't remember him, you were just a baby, but
this is Paul Ritter. He was in the original band, right from
the very beginning. He's a very good friend to your family."
grinned at the girl. "The last time I saw you, you were
five years old with a mop of curly black hair." He held
out his hand to Trevor. "You had the same mop and the same
do," Trevor said, grinning back.