My past is behind me, my future uncertain. All I really have is this moment.
Today, I looked out among the sculpted yews of a garden and saw my husband for the first time in three years. Today, I stood before the gates of Wolfe Haven, lost among other gaping visitors. I climbed the long walk to the high front terrace of the house where I had once lived … and found myself anonymous.
Ahead, the stones of Wolfe Haven glowed like warm honey in the sunshine, instead of frowning cold and gray as they once had. I was nothing to the house. I had been put aside, once and for all. I had loved Wolfe Haven and I’d hated it. But I hadn’t come here to see the house.
I wanted to approach quietly, to establish my presence well within the grounds before I could be caught and sent packing. Fortunately, I had found it simple enough to get here from Albuquerque and make my secret assault upon the gates. At the airport, I had gathered my luggage and made a beeline to the car rental counter.
My research had revealed that Wolfe Haven now offered tours twice weekly to the public. Renting a Chevy Cobalt, I stowed my suitcases and raincoat in the trunk, folding my short frame into the front seat, and then merged with the traffic. If I timed the drive carefully, I knew I would arrive at Wolfe Haven in time to melt into the afternoon tour.
Sunlight glimmered on the pavement, along with the heat of the season I remembered so well. The first hints of summer were hanging in the air, like a forgotten memory.
Whipping into an Arby’s drive-through, I ordered a sandwich, curly fries, and a Diet Dr. Pepper. I headed back into the traffic. Caffeine and food were the best weapons against stress, I’d found—as long as the food was spiked with plenty of cholesterol.
The landscape was amazing—mountains bleeding into desert, every color of nature bursting from the land, the trees, and the sky. It revealed in a heartbeat why so many artists and photographers gravitated here. There was something about the light in New Mexico that made everything seem etched by God’s loving hand.
The scenery whizzed by as the Cobalt ate up the miles. Holding tight to the wheel, I let my mind go on rewind. Memories surfaced and tears puddled in my eyes.
Damn my thoughts! I had to sever old ties, as I hadn’t been able to do back in New York. The only thing to do with a dead love is to bury it. The letter from Abby Collins had reached me a week ago, and I’d spent the hours since reading it over and over, assuring myself that Tristan Russell meant nothing to me anymore, and that my marriage was over. Words can arouse emotions, all right, but they don’t work so well at burying them. Only seeing him again would set me free—I hoped.
There was no longer a need to hate him furiously, as I had when I ran away from Wolfe Haven. Surely I had grown up enough in these three years to know that hating was never the way out of anything. But if I saw him again, if I felt again that cold, piercing gaze, I would understand how thoroughly love could die. I would be released from—what? Damned if I knew. Whatever it was, released I must be, so that I could get on with my own life without Tristan and Wolfe Haven tugging at my memory and weighing me down. I was still young, and there was a lot of life to live.
Shutting out the warning storms in my mind, I took leave from my social services job in New York and flew headlong across the continent. I had sent no word to Abby, Tristan’s cousin, who kept Wolfe Haven for him, or to anyone else. Five years ago at age twenty, I had married Tristan. Three years ago, I had run away. Had I grown up at all since then? Sometimes I wondered.
My journey ended when I rounded a sharp bend and caught sight of the tour bus I had so hoped to find. As I parked behind the idling vehicle, I saw the tourists waiting inside to step down. I could see the handsome wrought-iron gates that I remembered all too well, and I swallowed a lump in my throat. What would those strangers think if they knew that Riley Russell, just parking her car, was about to join their group?
Glancing down at my body, I smiled. With my slender, five-foot-one-inch frame tucked neatly into blue jeans and a yellow blouse, and my auburn hair brushed back and loose, I didn’t stand out. Anyway, who would recognize me?
It seemed strange to find Wolfe Haven’s gates closed and barred. It was necessary to summon the gatekeeper to open them. In days gone by, the gates stood hospitably ajar, and the security guard occupying the gatehouse had little to do. He wore no uniform, unlike the strapping young man who now came to let us in. The locked gates were my first hint that all was not well within, and I felt the first stirring of a new uneasiness.
Climbing out of the car and into the heat of a New Mexico monsoon season, I looked through the gates before me to the house beyond. I tried to breathe in some of the peace and calm of the surrounding countryside, but it was impossible. I’d come to settle issues from the past. Nothing calming there.
I retrieved my raincoat and camera from the Cobalt’s trunk. Fumbling with the camera, I stared at the fanciful Wolfe Haven crest, a wrought-iron German shepherd at the center of the gate. Pain stabbed me. Long before this house was built, the crest of a German shepherd belonged to the Wolfes, and the motif was repeated throughout the house and grounds, even on the family letterhead. It had been a Wolfe Haven tradition to breed German shepherds as well, though the litters produced had declined as the demand for them tapered off.
The first puppy born after Tristan had brought me home from our honeymoon became, without a doubt, my dog. Echo we had named her, in honor of one of her ancestors. Tristan and I had raised her together. But Echo had been mine. The only thing here that was ever mine.
I’m not the most affectionate person in the world—with people, that is. My passive side makes me good at my job, but I’m not much for getting close to people. But critters? I lavish attention on them as if I were a twenty-year-old gold digger going after a wealthy but ancient and ailing husband. I cringe to think what Dr. Phil would say about my behavior … probably something along the lines of my overcompensating with animals to make up for a lack of physical closeness with my father after he married my stepmother, all of which no doubt contributed to my failed marriage. Whatever.
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Genre – Romance (Gothic)
Rating – R for graphic sex and language
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