Enjoy this excerpt from my Dark Romantic Fantasy series, The Birthrite which is set to be rereleased in January of 2022!

PART 1:

HECTOR’S CAVE

June 20, 1844

Tuxpan, Mexico

The serenity of early evening surrounded Hector as he walked along the shore. He reveled in the ocean’s tide swallowing his bare feet as he headed toward the secluded area pocketed at the other end of the beach. It was a place only he knew of; a place never visited by anyone. That is, save for him and Samuel.

Even at sixteen, Hector thrilled at the idea of a secret retreat all his own. While most young men his age were long passed such things, Hector was not like his peers and finding common ground with another was rare for him.

To this day, he questioned whether he had found the place or if it found him.

The discovery was made four years ago, just after sunrise as he was walking the coastline on the morning after his twelfth birthday. Amidst the exquisite surroundings of sand, water, and endless sky, a large rock cluster Hector never recalled seeing before peeked out from a far corner on the beach.

He thought it strange as he stood watching the morning tides slap the formation’s boulders. Unable to move his gaze, he felt a pull forward.

As he observed the mysterious cluster, a sudden low vibration from somewhere deep within the earth trembled beneath his feet. Panic arose on the initial assumption of an earthquake but as he listened, the rumbling seemed to be more of a call reaching out to him from beyond the rocks.

Perhaps it was Hector’s fascination with the unknown that piqued his curiosity, or maybe it was the impression that whatever lay beyond the rock formation was indeed calling to him. For what reason, he hadn’t a clue.

Either way, it was enough cause to give in to whatever energy beckoned.

He was cautious in his initial approach, especially when climbing up and over the boulders. Upon reaching the other side, he found himself staring into the mouth of an underground cavern.

His heart palpitated with excitement as he made his way toward the cave’s opening and entered. He delighted in the view of the sun’s rays trickling in through the crevices and ended up spending that entire morning exploring while losing track of time in the process. Five hours later, Hector ran home to find out that his parents had gone searching for him after he failed to show up for breakfast.

Miguel and Inez de Fuentes reprimanded their son for not only missing the morning meal with the family, but also the school lessons with his four siblings and their governess. For the remainder of that week, the boy was confined to the house.

During that time, every one of Hector’s dreams revolved around the cave. He would travel deep into the tunnels and enter worlds that were not his own. The people he saw there were unfamiliar to him, yet he also felt a certain kinship. One in particular was a boy his age from the Northern Americas.

Hector also had an ability to see and hear things no one else could. Some might say that he was clairvoyant and audient. This was something he discovered at age five and kept to himself, despite the rich spiritual culture and heritage around him.

The reasons behind the dreams were lost on him, yet his need to return to the cave strengthened; he hoped and prayed it would still be there after his punishment was over.

At the end of that week, he hurried back, hoping his experience wasn’t imagined or an instant in which the cave might only appear to him once.

Now – four years later – the cave remained a place where Hector came to think, read, and watch the distant ships sailing to and from ports in Mexico and America. It belonged to him, a place only he (and Samuel) knew of. He had come to know and appreciate what it truly was. Through that understanding, a deep bond between him and his cave was formed, one he never experienced before with any living human.

He wasn’t ashamed of being a loner and treasured any time to himself. Often, he joked privately of wanting to be interred within his cave following earthly death (whenever that would be). But the more he thought on it, the more he came to realize that that was exactly what he wanted.

Now on this evening in 1844, just prior to the summer solstice, Hector arrived at the rock formation housing his cavern. Evening tides crashed against the boulders as he made his way up and over. As usual, the cave’s mouth was open and awaiting him.

Hector smiled, as if greeting an old friend. He then turned to sit on one of the boulders and focused his gaze to the ocean. All of eternity lay before him. In the distance, a ship sailed out from port before disappearing to the infinite horizon.

Hector shut his eyes, taking in the sounds of churning waves as he welcomed the salty sea air on his face. He could hear them. The voices. Those from his dreams (including Samuel). As he allowed their essence to penetrate his being once again, two boys materialized in front of him. One had about ten or eleven years in age and the other appeared between eighteen and twenty. They were brothers from a slave village in the more Eastern part of Europe, and that was all Hector knew.

He could see them, running toward a thick, dark forest…

2

Wallachia

(Near the Transylvanian Border)

…as a waxing crescent moon provided just enough light in a black, starless sky. It was just after midnight, and Nicolae Ganoush and his younger brother, Sebastian, were on borrowed time.

The older one knew a manhunt would ensue, and officials throughout Wallachia (and possibly even beyond for all they knew) would be alerted to watch out for two gypsy slaves on the run. The Domn Anton Alexandru would surely see to the young man’s neck stretched in a hangman’s noose.

At nineteen, Nicolae was a wanted man.

The boys felt their way through the brush, keeping their steps at an even pace despite Sebastian’s protests, all of which were met with Nicolae ordering him to shut his mouth. As they ventured into the dark forest, the little boy held back tears and did his best at keeping up with his older brother. He hadn’t seen much of Nicolae that evening, and the boy had been long asleep when his brother barged into the hut and yanked him from his cot. Sebastian immediately noticed the blood on Nicolae and questioned him. Having to leave at once was the only reply the older one offered.

The younger boy shuddered as ghostly clouds floated passed the moon, their only source of light. To him, they were playing an antagonistic game, taunting the brothers with small amounts of light before enveloping them in darkness.

Nicolae grabbed Sebastian’s hand as they continued deeper into the thick, black brush. 

“Keep close,” the older brother whispered.

The woods surrounded them, dark and endless as they trudged on, hearing only the soft grass and earth beneath their boots.

Anything or anyone could hide here. Hide before they jump out and eat us! Sebastian forced away the frightening thought as the sound of running water brought him small, instant relief. They had arrived at a creek in a clearing.

Flowing water over rocks and branches proved a soothing contrast to the heated tension radiating from Nicolae. The moon emerged from behind the clouds, casting its pale beam onto the patch of land on which the boys stood. Sebastian watched as his brother removed the bag slung across his torso and set it on the bank. The younger boy was grateful for the stop, however brief it would be. He also hoped Nicolae had food in his bag; the haze of sleep left, but the pains of hunger grew.

Nicolae knelt by the stream and roughly scrubbed at the drying blood on his hands and forearms.

Blood that is still wet… Sebastian felt the skin on his arms prickle as he watched the dark red liquid leave his brother’s skin and fade into the clear water.

What happened? Why is he so bloody…? But before the boy’s thoughts could wander any further, the empty pit in his stomach made itself known.

He stepped cautiously toward his brother. “Nicolae…”

“What,” Nicolae replied without looking up. He removed his bloodstained shirt and dipped it into the water.

Sebastian caught hints of anxiety on his brother’s face as the older one worked to remove as much of the blood as possible from his clothes and skin.

“I’m really hungry.”

“Well you’re going to have to wait!” Nicolae growled.

Sebastian flinched at his brother’s angry tone. The hot tears that had been in limbo since he was wrenched from sleep moments earlier formed at the rims of his eyes. He turned to face the other direction, not wanting his older brother to see them. All he wanted was a scrap of something to eat and for Nicolae to tell him what was going on.

I’m not a silly child, Sebastian thought as two tears rolled down his cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” he heard Nicolae say.

Sebastian wiped his eyes and cheeks with the back of his hand before looking back. In the moonlight, he could see genuine remorse in his brother’s eyes. 

“Look, I will allow you to eat soon. We just need to go a little further while the moon is out and there is still light.”

Sebastian slowly nodded. “Thank you.”

Nicolae gave his brother a sad smile and pulled his damp shirt back on, covering the scars that crossed his upper body.

He got most of the blood out, Sebastian noted, but where did it all come from?

Nicolae picked up his bag. “Come. Just another mile and we will stop to eat. I promise.” 

Sebastian gave his brother a grateful smile, one that Nicolae met with an expression dark and far away. It sent chills across the little boy’s arms.

Nicolae turned away, carefully slung the bag back over his torso and proceeded walking alongside the creek. Sebastian followed, trying to keep up with his brother’s quick, long strides.

A strange, new tension was present. As Sebastian sneaked the occasional glimpse at his brother, he saw pain among a mélange of other unreadable emotions and it troubled him greatly.

“What is it, Nicolae”? the boy wanted to say. “Please tell me. Whatever it is, I’ll understand.”

He was about to give up attempting to reach his brother when another thought suddenly occurred to him. Eloisa! More confusion filled the boy. Why isn’t she coming with us?

He turned his eyes up toward his brother, hoping for an answer to at least one burning question.

“Where are we going?” Sebastian asked.

Nicolae hesitated, as if considering the best way of answering. Finally, he uttered out, “America.”

Sebastian’s eyes widened. He stared at Nicolae, who avoided any eye contact.

The boy frowned. “But…what about Eloisa? She’s not coming with us?”

At the mention of her name, Nicolae came to an abrupt halt and Sebastian thought he could see a glimmer of tears at the edge of his brother’s eyes. Nicolae shut them tightly and gripped the strap of his bag. “I’d rather not speak of her.”

A pronounced strain filled the voice of the older one, but before anymore questions could be asked, Nicolae hurried down the bank, leaving Sebastian to once again jog to keep up with him.

Nicolae looks very sad and Eloisa isn’t coming…we left so quickly and we are going to America… Nicolae was all bloody…the blood on Nicolae…there was blood on Nicolae, and Eloisa is not coming…

Chills rose once again on Sebastian’s skin as possibilities of what might have happened swarmed his mind. His imagination had always been an active one, and there were times when his mind conjured images and scenarios quite frightening and almost too real.

A branch snapped nearby, jarring Sebastian from his thoughts. Nicolae also heard it and whispered for his brother to get behind him as he withdrew his dagger from the sheath hanging from his belt.

The blade glistened in the moonlight. Silver metal…with red…and what looks like pieces of meat not cooked…? Sebastian’s heart raced as he focused on the rusty red chunks caking the blade. Then his attention was thwarted by a shadow emerging from the brush.

The brothers watched with nervous anticipation, but that disintegrated when the shadow – and apparent source of the snapping – was revealed as a deer.

The animal regarded the two boys with large, curious eyes. As Nicolae lowered his dagger, the creature turned and scampered down the bank, in the same direction the Ganoush brothers were headed.

Nicolae’s eyes fell to the stains on the dagger’s blade before they darted to his younger brother. Sebastian’s breath caught in the back of his throat as Nicolae’s dark eyes blazed in the moonlight, communicating a silent though blatant warning to not question him any further.

The young man quickly removed a cloth from his bag and wiped the blade clean before sliding it back into the sheath. He then dipped the stained cloth into the creek, wrung out the excess liquid and returned it to the bag.

After a nod to Sebastian, the boys resumed their quick pace in the same direction the deer had gone. They would barely cover that last mile before the ghost clouds returned, shrouding the moon and leaving the boys in darkness.

Sebastian sighed. Well, at least I can eat now…

And Nicolae did allow him this.

3

Tuxpan, Mexico

The anxiety, tension, and fear of the two Roma boys reverberated through Hector’s being. Anguish pulsated from the older one, along with his struggle to maintain a solid front for his younger brother. There was protectiveness toward the little boy, along with a sense of responsibility for his safety. Overpowering loss was also present, and cold emptiness threatened to consume the older of the two. It was almost too much for Hector, and he was relieved when a bright warmth faded in to replace the oppressive essence of Nicolae Ganoush.

That warmth came from a far up the northern part of America, near the border of Illinois and Iowa Territory. It was there that a young Irishman also exuded some anxiety, but it differed from what came from Nicolae…

…It was a beautiful early evening on the prairie, much like the one Hector enjoyed in Mexico…

4

Illinois-Iowa Territory Border

…as eighteen-year-old Jonathan Blake rode his black stallion, Samson, across the American Midwest’s frontier. After finishing his day of work for the town blacksmith, he quickly ate his supper before excusing himself to retrieve his six-year-old horse from the family’s barn.

His mother, Emma, was slightly taken aback by her son’s sudden departure; the rest of the family had barely finished their own supper and she still had yet to bring out the rhubarb pie she made. But Charles and Emma Blake granted their eldest child permission. It had been a longer work day than normal, and Emma knew how much her son loved taking his horse out for long rides before nightfall.

The Blakes were a family of working class immigrants from Galway in Ireland’s Connacht province. Charles had brought his wife and (then) two children to America with the intent of obtaining land near the Iowa Territory. As Catholics and being Irish under English rule, the family had been unable to openly proclaim and practice not only their faith, but the overall culture of their heritage. And with evidence and talk of a plague starting to slowly spread throughout the country and other parts of Europe, Charles and Emma foresaw nothing but more poverty and persecution for not only their future, but for those of a barely five-year-old Jonathan and two-year-old Brendan. Of course, they knew America held no guarantees, but both were willing to take a chance for the sake of their sons and any other children to be had. Thus with heavy hearts, the couple made the decision to leave the land of their births, very possibly to never again return.

In autumn of 1831, the family finally landed at a New York seaport.

If one were to ask Jonathan and Brendan of the boat ride from Ireland, neither could recall much. But one memory Jonathan did have was of getting off the ship and clutching his father’s hand as his mother walked beside them with Brendan in her arms.

Taking in the new surroundings as the other passengers filed alongside passed them overwhelmed and excited little Jonathan. He was a curious child and could hardly get enough of everything happening around him. The new country seemed so different from his native Ireland, and he wanted to see it all. For this reason, he was terribly bored and restless while waiting for his father to handle affairs in the Immigration building.

Upon their arrival, Charles had only enough money to provide his family with the most basic of necessities as they lived inside a hostel. After struggling for months to find work, he was finally met with good fortune when James Livingston agreed to hire him for a custodial job at Livingston Publishing.

Within that following year, Frances Deirdre (or “Frankie” as family and friends would call her) came into the world as the family’s newest member. The Blakes considered the baby girl a wonderful blessing, but with one more mouth to feed, obtaining land out west seemed a far greater challenge than before.

Consideration of a permanent stay in New York had crossed the minds and late night discussions of Charles and Emma. But despite the possible setback, the devoutly religious family opted to be thankful for the blessings they did have rather than covet more. The Blakes also found an unlikely friend in the very wealthy James Livingston, who offered Charles a better paying position shortly after his month-long trial period ended. In addition, James helped the family with obtaining living arrangements more suitable than the hostel, giving Emma a more comfortable setting when she gave birth to Frankie and then, three years later, another son named Isaiah.

Finally after five years, the Blakes were able to purchase their land out west, and little Rachel was born inside the farmhouse Charles built with his own hands. Now after eight years since the move to Illinois, Jonathan had much to be thankful for, including the joy of riding the open terrain in the warmth of a late afternoon sun. Despite the risks of the frontier, it was indeed a much loved pastime. He had come to know the area well, but there was always new uncharted territory to discover.

On this particular evening, he was returning to a place where, two days ago, he found what he considered a new treasure. The greatest he would ever find.

Be still, my beating heart, he thought, anticipating the possibility of seeing her again. If there was such a thing as love at first sight, Jonathan surely experienced it.

He gently nudged Samson, quickening the horse’s pace.

“Please, Lord,” Jonathan prayed aloud as a light wind from the west tousled his dark brown collar-length hair. “Have her return to me…”

He nudged Samson again, hurrying the horse along. Time was not something he could afford to lose.

As the familiar canopy of trees came into view, his heart skipped a beat. The heavily wooded trail seemed almost out of place from its surroundings, which had been what piqued his curiosity in the first place when he discovered it two days prior.

After making the decision to turn Samson onto the mysterious patch, he happened upon the most beautiful girl he ever laid eyes on. She was walking up the trail from the opposite direction and singing softly to herself, a sound he would never tire of replaying in his mind.

His groin tightened at the image of her warm, honey brown skin, delicate features, and petite figure underneath garments of her Native tribe. Fantasies of pulling her close and kissing her full, lovely mouth filled him.

He was slightly surprised at the affect this girl had had on him. As a young man of eighteen, he recently started seeking out a potential wife to court, and there were plenty of girls in the town and neighboring areas whom Jonathan found quite beautiful and very charming. He was also never without several girls at a time vying for his attention, but none ever made him feel the way this young woman had two days ago…

…when he pulled on the reigns, slowing Samson to a halt just in front of her.

She ceased her singing and regarded him with dark, inquiring eyes. His heart pounded as his gaze traveled from her moccasined feet to her long, silky mane of black hair. She appeared a couple of years younger than he (possibly sixteen years in age), and Jonathan immediately figured her to be from the nearby Dakota Sioux village.

I have never seen such beauty, he thought.

He observed his surroundings, a habit developed from living on the frontier. Somehow though, he felt safe within this patch of trees.

In an attempt to put her at ease, he masked his own nerves, offering a friendly smile that was met with apprehensiveness.

“Please, lass,” he said. “My intention is not to hurt you.”

The girl relaxed her stance a little but remained silent.

He slowly dismounted and hooked Samson’s reigns to a strong branch on the closest tree. When he turned back to face her, their eyes locked, her near black to his grayish-blue.

The evening’s light wind carried strands of her hair, and Jonathan could feel the world around him fading until he existed with only her on that covered path.

As his feet took him toward her, visions of them together in a paradise with no physical or emotional barriers between them burned his mind’s eye.

She stood frozen in her place as he closed the distance between them.

The two were close to touching as he struggled with the urge to lift her into his arms and claim her lips. He drew in a breath and opened his mouth to speak again, but before any words could be said, she jumped back and ran toward the other end of the trail.

“Please! Don’t run away,” he called, but she already disappeared into the outside field, leaving Jonathan alone on the trail with Samson.

A strong wanting to run after her pulsed in his every fiber, but he resisted. His steps were heavy as he moved down the path, stopping to stare out to the field she had run to…

Over the following two evenings, Jonathan returned to the trail, each time hoping she would return. When she did not show by nightfall, he left for home, feeling overwhelming emptiness. Even Samson seemed to sense his master’s disappointment; the stallion’s steps had slowed, dragging as Jonathan rode him back to the barn.

Questions of whether the incident had been imagined or if perhaps the lovely young girl was nothing more than an angel sent from Heaven for a mere torturous minute taunted him. He spent those last two nights staring out at the stars as he lay in bed and imagined her asleep in her village.

“I hope your dreams tonight are sweet ones, my raven-haired rose,” he whispered, wondering if somehow his message would reach her. And I hope I am with you there, he wanted to add but stopped himself, not wanting to push his luck.

Then his own mind would wander to the wooded path, where he saw himself lying with her, holding her protectively to his heart while drifting into sleep. He could feel her soft, sweet breath on his chest as their bodies were intertwined, bare skin upon bare skin after knowing one another in the most intimate way. In his mind, she gave him the most precious gift a woman could give to a man and he hoped that somehow, he could be that man for her.

He had considered the risks accompanied with his desire to court and marry a native girl, should it come to that. In the end he decided the potential outcome was worth any risk. So on this eve of the summer solstice, he returned for a third attempt.

Riding Samson toward the trail’s entrance, he was unaware of two Romani boys on the other side of the world. Unaware of Nicolae Ganoush (a young man only a year older than he) and his brother Sebastian (the same age as Jonathan’s own brother, Isaiah) running through a dark forest with hardly any possessions to their names. As they stopped at the creek so Nicolae could wash away the blood covering him, Jonathan halted Samson at the trail and surveyed the area for the girl of his desire. The Irishman nudged his horse down the path while the Ganoush boys followed the creek toward the Wallachian-Transylvanian border. When the former gypsy slaves took that brief, sweet moment to eat some stale bread and drink a little water from Nicolae’s canteen, the Irishman from the American Midwest felt his heart leap when he saw her.

His heart thudded rapidly as the girl walked up the path toward him, singing softly to herself as she had two days prior. About midway, she noticed him and ceased her steps.

“Come to me,” he whispered. “You needn’t fear me.”

As if having heard him, she continued to where Jonathan and Samson waited. When she arrived in front of him, he offered her a warm – though nervous – smile.

“Hello,” he said.

The girl winced slightly, and he almost expected her to run away again.

After a tense pause, her lips turned up into a rather shy smile, a sight Jonathan melted at. Then she lifted a small hand to pet Samson.

He drew in a breath and dismounted the stallion. The girl froze, her eyes darting back up to him.

All of a sudden, words poured out from Jonathan like a rushing waterfall:

“Please do not run away, my love. I am a man of honor and I mean you no harm.”

The girl’s eyebrows shot up, and Jonathan cringed upon recognition of calling her ‘his love’ when he had no right to do so. He feared having offended her and anticipated her leaving for good this time. His heart pounded as she regarded him for another moment before relaxing her expression. Then she brought the hand used to pet Samson to the center of her chest.

“Kimimela,” she said. Her voice echoed the light breeze flowing around them.

Jonathan’s heartrate slowed and he took a tentative step forward. “Is that who you are, lass?”

She studied him as one trying to comprehend words. He was aware of the native tribes having their own languages and wondered if she was able to understand him at all.

Finally, the girl nodded.

“Kimimela…” he repeated. “That is your name?”

She nodded again, this time with more confidence.

He exhaled the breath he was holding. “My name is Jonathan.”

“Jonathan?”

“Yes,” he said, a wide smile spreading over his lips.

Kimimela lowered her eyes. “I like your voice,” she said, and peered back up at him.

Jonathan’s cheeks flushed at her compliment of his Irish brogue. He cleared his throat and asked, “Would you give me the honor of walking beside you, Kimimela?”

She nodded, her eyes brightening, and Jonathan fought to contain himself as he took hold of his stallion’s reigns.

“What do you call your horse?” she asked.

“Samson.”

“Han, khola Samson,” she said soothingly, patting the horse’s nose.

The young man had no understanding of what she said, but to him it was among the most beautiful sounds he ever heard.

Jonathan watched as Kimimela and Samson interacted with one another. The stallion was already fond of her, he could tell.

When she pulled her hand away, Jonathan said, “Forgive me, but may I ask what you said to him?”

“I told him hello,” she replied. “And I called him a friend.”

Jonathan and Kimimela held their gazes for another moment before starting to walk side by side with Samson trailing behind them. Of all the blessings Jonathan was thankful for, meeting her was now what he treasured most.

As Jonathan Blake became a young man wanted by a girl with whom he would share a great love, Nicolae was a man wanted by Wallachian Law Enforcement. The love that would develop between Jonathan and Kimimela was one Nicolae shared once with a young woman called Eloisa.

A woman and a love that was now a distant memory.

5

Tuxpan, Mexico

The attraction between the Irishman and the American Native girl was evident in their nervous conversation and glances as they walked the secluded path together.

Secluded…just like my cave…

Hector could faintly hear their pleasant voices and feel Jonathan resisting his desire to take her hand. All initial unease between the two evaporated, so much that a casual onlooker might guess the couple had been courting for far longer than a day.

In an instant, the image of Jonathan and Kimimela left and in their place a quaint American town in New York state appeared. A place Hector knew.

Where Samuel’s family stays on holidays…

6

Plains, New York

The Livingstons were among the oldest, most highly regarded families of the New Colonies. With their origins in Scotland, the family had settled in the new world near the Hudson River during the seventeenth century and gained tremendous wealth through the fur trade. From there, many in the bloodline held prominent political positions, including chancellor, mayor, judge, and several respected lawyers.

In the eighteenth century, Robert R. Livingston was a contributor to drafting the Declaration of Independence, and the family became one of the first in American aristocracy, owning large portions of land surrounding the Hudson.

On a late summer night in July of 1794, James Henry Robert Livingston was brought into his family’s world of wealth and privilege. As a boy, he and his five siblings were schooled privately by the most prestigious of instructors. While most of the lessons left a young James fighting to stay awake, he did excel in science and literature, two subjects for which he became quite passionate. For a Livingston, following in the footsteps of the predecessors was not only typical but expected. James, however, would be among those paving a slightly different direction with his inheritance.

From ages thirteen to eighteen, he attended a high end secondary school before being accepted to Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts in order to further his studies. He did well there, and during his second semester, he was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society, an honors organization emphasizing in Liberal Arts and Sciences with literature as a pillar, thus allowing James an outlet for his passions.

In his final year at the college, fate smiled on him when he met eighteen-year-old Samantha Jo DeWitt at a party hosted by his fraternity. Samantha’s parents, Johan and Elaine DeWitt, approved of James courting their daughter, and in the year following his graduation, he remained in Cambridge to pursue the relationship.

On Christmas Eve in 1816 (with Johan’s blessing), a twenty-two-year-old James offered nineteen-year-old Samantha a formal marriage proposal, which she accepted with enthusiasm. The wedding was set for the summer of 1818 and shortly thereafter, the newlyweds settled in Cambridge as James continued his pursuit in becoming a lawyer. He also enjoyed employment at the college’s printing press despite hardly needing the money. After graduating from law school, he did what was expected of him and moved Samantha to New York where he started his practice.

The first few years were filled with many futile attempts for children, but in the spring of 1825, Samantha gave birth to a son they called Jesse Robert. That same year, James took a chance; he gave up practicing law and opened Livingston Publishing. The company’s offices were located in the city, only a block from the large home he shared with his wife and newborn son.

Three years later, Samuel James was born, and a new branch of Livingston Publishing was in development within the newly founded town of Plains, just short of an hour from the city. As one of the town’s founders, James oversaw building the town hall, a schoolhouse, and other key establishments in the area. The project he favored most was the new library, which opened to the public in March of 1832.

Four years later, Lawrence Henry Livingston entered the world as the third child of James and Samantha. In the year of the youngest Livingston’s birth, James reserved land for building his family a holiday home in the new Plains. The two-story house sat upon a large field that stretched back toward forestland covering the mountains that expanded into Northeastern Pennsylvania. Over the years, it became a peaceful retreat for James and his family. They traveled out there often, occasionally inviting the Blakes and their other close friends, the Flemings, along.

As Hector concentrated, he could see Samuel’s father seated in a carriage headed toward that very house. James’s forty-nine years had been kind to him, only slightly aging his face with fine lines that creased his eyes and mouth. Furrow indentations distinguished his brow, and the faintest touches of gray peppered his reddish-brown hair. Even young women found him attractive, and a few brazen ones made suggestive advances in hopes of being taken as his mistress. But he was an exception to his many philandering peers and chose to keep his devotion with his wife.

Though he loved Samantha’s company, the occasional solitary carriage ride was indeed welcomed. This particular evening followed a rather stressful work week and James savored the silence while traveling from the city. The portfolio case in his lap contained important paperwork concerning new growths within Livingston Publishing, the library, and the orphanage owned by Cedric and Margaret Fleming. Last but definitely not least was a letter to his dear friend, Charles Blake, which also needed finishing.

The rhythm of the horse’s hooves clomping on the road as it pulled the carriage lulled him. Every so often, the distant call of a crow or nighthawk was heard as the Flemings’ orphanage trickled into his mind’s eye…

“Sir?”

James jolted to attention. The carriage was at a stand-still in front of the house, and the coachman, Bradley, awaited his employer’s exit as he held the carriage door open.

“Oh…my apologies, Bradley. Do allow me a moment.”

“Of course, Master Livingston,” the coachman replied.

A sudden wave of nausea passed through James as he attempted to stand.

Concern filled Bradley’s bluish-green eyes. “Forgive me for asking, but are you well, sir?”

James regarded the light-haired young man. “Yes. Yes, Bradley…I am quite all right, thank you. I suppose the carriage ride caused me to drift a little.” He shook away the last of his dream state, regained his composure, and exited the carriage.

“My lord,” Bradley said with a small bow as James’s boots landed on the dirt road in front of the house.

James responded with a clipped nod. “Safe travels home. I shall require a carriage to the city on the morrow’s evening. Seven ‘o’ clock, to be precise.”

“Yes, Master Livingston,” Bradley replied. “Will there be anything more before I depart?”

“No. Thank you. You are relieved for the night. The lady of the house and the boys have our servants, should they be in need.”

“Very well then. I shall return at your requested time on the morrow. Have a pleasant night, Master Livingston.” Bradley gave another small bow and returned to his place at the front of the carriage.

As the sound of the horse’s hooves faded out toward the city, James gazed up at the topmost window of the dark two-story house. The still quiet of this area always left him in awe. And, as of recent, unnerved.

A breeze traveling west lifted his cloak as he started up the pathway toward the front door. He made it only halfway when an ominous chill crept over him. James paused, squinting as he studied the woods up ahead. In his righthand peripheral vision, a small figure ran across the field, passing the house as it headed toward the woods. He turned quickly in the direction, hoping to perhaps see one of the local children, but the field was open and empty.

James let out a breath and massaged his temples. Perhaps I do need a holiday. A real one…

A sudden mournful howling flowed out toward him from somewhere within the mountainous brush. Wrenched from his thoughts, he hurried up the remainder of the path, making certain his key was ready to unlock the door.

Shutting himself inside, he felt great relief, regaining his composure enough to light oil lamps in the foyer and sitting room. Grateful that no one was around to witness his anxiety, he made his way up the stairs toward his study.

Before placing his portfolio case on the desk, he lit an end table candle and the oil desklamp. He removed the documents, organizing them into neat piles before sitting down to focus on work. Taking up his pen and dipping it into the ink well, he began reading over a form concerning the Fleming Orphanage and started making notes.

A few sentences in, the paper’s lettering was becoming a blur. James attempted to ignore it and proceed, but the harder he tried pushing through, the more bothersome it became. Throbbing pain seeped through his temples, seeming to increase with each passing second.

James slammed down his pen and brought his hands to his face, waiting for the pain to subside. When it dulled a little, he shifted his eyes toward the liquor cabinet.

A drink…I could use a drink. Yes. Perhaps that will help…

Grasping the edge of the desk, he rose from his chair and slowly walked to the small cabinet. He took out a bottle of brandy with an appropriate glass, poured in the dark liquid and absently swirled it before taking a first sip.

Under regular circumstances, this would have been enough to relieve any discomfort, but the image of the young lady he encountered a week ago was forever seared in his mind.

Now, James Livingston was a man most would consider reasonable.

Logical.

(Sane)

While he attended the Presbyterian church with his wife and sons every Sunday, a passion for science along with being a self-proclaimed Agnostic compelled him to seek explanations that satisfied his pragmatic logic. He hardly entertained much outside of what could be seen, heard, and felt with the five physical senses. Therefore, one could only imagine the pains he was taking to explain what he had seen at the Nathaniel Fleming Orphanage.

The property was not far from the Livingston holiday home, and he even considered heading over just to prove he was not going mad. There is reasonable cause for what I saw in that room…

In the dim light of the study, he brought the glass to his lips again, taking in the sweet, warm liquid. As the brandy trickled down his throat, his thoughts returned to the small, dark-haired young woman.

On the Friday prior to this night, James and Samantha went with Cedric, Margaret, and little Maxine Fleming to the property after dining together at a nearby inn. James was quite fond of the Flemings, having known Cedric since their days as schoolmates and fraternity brothers. Despite their three-year difference in age, the two became fast friends and remained so ever since.

James and Samantha extended their help to the Flemings in all ways possible, including with the orphanage. James was up to the property a few times to oversee the progress and seeing Cedric and Margaret in such good spirits made the project worthwhile. The tragic death of their young son Nathaniel five years prior had been devastating and the construction of the orphanage, along with having their daughter Maxine with them, seemed to breathe new life into the couple.

On that Friday night one week ago, Cedric wanted to show James a newly finished building meant to house the kitchen, dining hall, some classrooms, a small library (that Cedric insisted on naming after James), and dormitories for class instructors intending to live on the property during school semesters. The kitchen and dining hall were on the first floor with the classrooms and library on the second. The third and fourth floors held the dormitories and living quarters. It was almost complete, only needing furnished and a few utilities.

Upon their arrival, James expressed interest in having a look around the building. After Cedric gave him a lantern, James excused himself and left his friend in the dining hall with Samantha and Margaret to finish their coffee. Ten-year-old Maxine ate a bowl of ice cream, appearing quite bored as the adults engaged in seeming endless chatter of a wonderful young twenty-five-year-old instructor by the name of Christian Andrews they recently hired.

With lantern in hand, James started up the stairs…

…The voices of the other three grew faint as he peered into each room on the second and third floors. Satisfied with what he saw, he ascended to the fourth and repeated the routine until reaching the second to last room at the end of the hall.

Room 410.

He stepped inside the empty room, observing the window ahead of him, then the bookshelves built into the wall, the mirror just above the washstand, and finally the clothing chest.

As James turned to leave, the lantern’s flame suddenly flickered out. Puzzled, he looked back at the shut and latched window. After surveying the area for another source of a possible draft and coming up empty, he dismissed the incident as a case of the lantern simply running out of oil. Figuring he had seen all he needed to anyway, James decided to return to the dining hall. Evening shadow cloaked the corridor, but enough light still streamed through the windows. I just need to proceed with caution in the stairwell…

As he was about to step into the hall, a tiny tremor was felt from within the floorboards, followed by a low rumbling.

“An earthquake? Here?”

The quaking increased, and his first thoughts were of getting down to Samantha. He made it into the corridor but was immediately jolted back into the room. Grasping the door frame, he struggled with maintaining focus on making his way downstairs.

In an instant, all was still again.

As James breathed out a relieved sigh, the room’s temperature dropped, and the aroma of tobacco accompanied a fog that permeated the air. Despite years of spending Wednesday evenings in the tobacco smoke-filled gentlemen’s club, the odor overwhelmed him to the point of choking.

As the veil of smoke finally lifted, he was assaulted by deafening, unearthly, and ghoulish sounds he could not even begin to place.

“What the devil…?” He gritted his teeth and pressed his hands to his ears.

His eyes caught shapes materializing as he faced the room’s interior. Shapes of a bed and desk.

James shut his eyes tightly, telling himself that this was nothing more than evening shadows playing tricks after a small earthquake. Finally, and to his relief, the ghastly noise faded.

He counted to ten, released his ears and opened his eyes. He expected to see an empty room but instead beheld one completely furnished. There wasn’t time to observe it all because that was when he saw her.

Despite the minimal light, he was able to make her age out to be at about twenty years, and her long, black hair matched her clothing. His heart was beating rapidly as she stood on a chair to secure a hangman’s noose twisted out of red bed sheets onto a hook in the ceiling.

James stepped toward her, pausing at the desk where he placed his hand on the surface and nearly fell over when it went right through. An electrical current surged through him as he recollected himself.

He continued toward the girl, coming to a stop beside her as she finished securing the noose. Her dark eyes stared blankly as drying tears stained her slightly gaunt face. He could see her delicate chin, the shadows under her eyes, and the hollowness in her cheeks.

When he reached out to touch her arm, his hand went through her, and a sudden wave of sadness joined the static surge. Sadness, anger, anxiety, and a desire to end it all took over, nearly paralyzing him. Their eyes met, and although she did not appear to see him, her eyes told a story of who she was and all she had been through. James saw everything, from the young woman’s birth up until that moment prior to her self-inflicted death.

Slowly, he shook his head. “No…”

The girl returned her gaze to the noose and placed her hands where her neck was to go.

He struggled to move his legs. “Please, stop!”

She placed the noose around her neck and stepped down from the chair. As her small body suspended in mid air, James finally broke free from whatever restrained him. He lunged forward to grab her, hoping to save her before it was too late. But the girl disappeared.

James crashed into the wall and turned to find himself alone again and the room empty. Hints of her remained, causing him to collapse into sobbing. He lowered his hands to his knees, staring at the floor, wiping away the tears streaming to his chin. It was then his eye caught sight of his lantern lying in pieces.

He knelt to carefully retrieve the shattered remains and thought of the others downstairs, hoping they were nothing more than a little shaken after the earthquake. Especially Samantha.

Holding the pieces of broken lantern, he rose to standing and used the final remnants of daylight to check his reflection in the mirror above the washstand (also noticing that the mirror hadn’t even the slightest crack).

He turned to exit the room, but his movement was halted upon seeing a small figure in his path.

“Maxine! Good heavens, I did not hear you come in.”

The little girl held her own lantern. “Sorry. It was boring down there, so Momma and Father said I could come find you.”

James forced a smile. “Well, I thank you, Maxine. I assume all is well downstairs, mostly at least? That was quite an earthquake we had, was it not?”

Maxine raised an eyebrow. “What earthquake?”

James’s stomach dropped. “Oh, nothing. Nothing at all. I am likely just exhausted. Please, just run along and tell your parents and my wife that I am headed back down.”

“Alright, Mr. Livingston.”

He waited for Maxine to leave the room, but she continued staring up at him, narrowing her icy blue eyes while moving them between his face and the broken lantern he held.

“Are you well, Mr. Livingston?” she asked.

His eyes widened and for a reason he couldn’t place, chills rose on his skin. Maxine regarded him in a rather shrewd manner for someone her age, as though she were able to read his very thoughts.

He cleared his throat. “Yes. Yes, Maxine. Run along and tell your parents and my wife that I am on my way.”

Without another word, the little girl headed toward the hall, but instead of exiting as expected, she paused in the doorway and turned back to face him. “Mr. Livingston, your lantern is broken. How will you see down the stairs? There is no light in the stairwells, you know.”

Heat crawled toward James’s face as he looked down at his broken lantern. “Why, you are correct. I suppose I am right behind you.”

The child appeared pleased with herself as he followed her out of the room.

As the two walked side by side toward the stairwell, James could once again feel her eyes on him. He looked down and offered the girl a quick smile. 

“Mr. Livingston,” she said.

“Yes, Maxine.”

“Why were you crying?”

He stopped. “I beg your pardon?”

“I heard you crying.”

James avoided her stare. “I was not. Perhaps you were hearing things. Let us return to your parents and my wife now, shall we?”

“I was not hearing things.” Her tone was defensive and harsh. “I heard you.”

His heart started to race. “I was choking. Perhaps that is what you heard.”

“What would you possibly be choking on?”

“Look, it does not matter.” James used every ounce of his strength to control his rising anxiety. “Let us just return to the dining hall.”

He turned the knob on the stairwell door, feeling absurd for arguing with a ten-year-old. As he stepped through the doorway, Maxine spoke again.

“You saw her, didn’t you.”

James tensed. “Who?”

“The crazy girl. The witch who lives in Room 410.”

His eyes widened, and a sick feeling entered his stomach. He turned around to see the little girl’s unwavering stare.

“Her ghost lives in that room, you know,” she whispered. “I see her all the time and also have dreams about her.” The child rose onto her toes, bringing her face as close to his as possible. In that moment, her whisper dropped even lower. “Don’t tell Momma and Father, now. They don’t know. Only you and I do.”

James found himself unable to respond as a wide grin spread over Maxine’s face. He nearly jumped backward when she giggled (a move that might have sent him falling down the stairs).

“Come, Mr. Livingston!” Her blonde curls bounced as she pushed passed him, practically skipping as the two descended the stairs.

In the end, both returned to the dining hall, acting as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. James also noted the surprisingly minimal damage from the earthquake.

Actually, he observed, there was no damage at all…

…He swirled the last drops of his beverage as little Maxine’s words echoed in his mind.

“You saw her…the crazy girl…”

In that passed week, the dark-haired young woman was present in his dreams almost every night. Each time, he felt her inner torment before waking up in a cold sweat. There were times when Samantha was also awakened and while she expressed concern for her husband, she never forced him to talk if he did not wish to. For this, he was grateful.

James shook his head and finished off the brandy, welcoming the burn to the lining of his esophagus. Pouring another glass, he glanced back at his desk. Perhaps it is best I leave business with the orphanage until morning.

Part of him felt foolish all over again for caving to what seemed like unnecessary fear, but he still opted to work on the letter to Charles Blake instead.

Finishing the letter did help calm his nerves and brought to mind another important document kept in the safe at his home in the city. His Last Will and Testament. James’s lawyer was scheduled over that Sunday evening to aid in some important changes being made.

After signing his signature to Charles’s letter, James allowed the ink to dry before sealing it in an envelope and returning it to his portfolio case.

He then turned his attention toward paperwork regarding the library when he noticed a shadow outside his study. The door was opened a sliver, through which he could see a shape moving passed the room.

His heart lurched into his throat, as he knew Samantha and the boys would have made their presence known by knocking on the study door or calling up to him. His mind returned to the small figure he saw running toward the woods hours earlier. The one that seemed to disappear as soon as I turned toward it…

Shoving the thought away, he reached into his pocket and fished out his keys. Finding the one he needed, he unlocked the bottom desk drawer where his pistol was kept inside a locked box. He took up the firearm, prepared it, and quietly proceeded toward the study door, nudging it open to glance down the corridor. The figure was nowhere to be seen, but the door to a room at the end of the hall was ajar. James frowned, certain that door had been closed upon his arrival.

Armed with his pistol, he crept toward the room in question. A soft glow from inside illuminated the doorway and he could hear movement. Drawing in a breath, he peered in. Sure enough, a figure draped in shadows stood in the far end of the room at the clothing chest, seeming to be rummaging for something.

Without another thought, he kicked in the door and pointed his pistol out in front of him. “WHO’S THERE?” he yelled.

“Master Livingston, please!” a voice cried.

James froze and slowly lowered his weapon. “Winifred?”

“Yes, Master Livingston.” A middle-aged, dark-skinned woman of African descent turned to face him. She was the housekeeper at the Livingstons’ holiday home, paid quite well for coming once a week to ensure the house was clean and orderly.

He let out an exasperated sigh. “Good God, woman! What the hell are you doing sneaking around like this?”

“I’m sorry! I thought I left my reading spectacles in here earlier today. I let myself in with my key and saw the lamps were lit, so I called out to let you know I was here. You didn’t answer, so I figured you were occupied…again, I apologize…”

“Winifred, it’s all right,” he said quickly. “I supposed I was so engrossed in my work that I must not have heard you. I apologize as well for my outburst.”

Winifred nodded and made her way passed James.

At the top of the stairwell, she paused and turned to face her employer. “Master Livingston, if I may be so bold…please, get some rest. You do not look well.”

James stared at the woman and gave her a faint smile before waving her dismissal.

“I will let myself out,” she continued. “My son Daniel is waiting for me out front. Have a good night, sir. And do get some rest. I shall return on Wednesday at my usual time.”

Unable to form a response, James braced himself against the wall, wondering how he hadn’t heard the housekeeper calling to him upon her arrival.

As Winifred descended the stairs, he had a thought. One that amused him so much he burst into laughter as the front door closed after her. Winifred is the third in such a short time to suggest my not being well. First little Maxine, then Bradley, now Winifred…

James leaned his head back and raised his eyes toward the ceiling. His thoughts returned to the dark-haired girl at the Fleming property. “Her ghost lives in that room,” Maxine’s voice once again echoed through his mind’s every crevice.

No sense could be made of anything and for the first time in his life, James felt alarmingly helpless.

“Perhaps I am not well…perhaps I never will be again…”

7

Tuxpan, Mexico

…Samuel’s father was not mad, Hector wanted to scream out, as he too had seen that dark-haired girl on more than one occasion.

The young man tried delving deeper into James’s mind but was instead taken to the Livingston home in New York City where he saw Samuel seated upright on his bed reading a book. Hector tried focusing in on the title but was unable to make it out.

Like Hector, Samuel was a loner.

The two boys had met a year ago when Hector was exploring a newly discovered area inside his cave and was startled to see the bewildered New York boy with blue eyes and reddish-brown hair step out from inside a crevice. Fortunately, Samuel and his brothers were well-educated in several languages, including Spanish, and the two were able to communicate.

Samuel very much resembled his father as did his older brother Jesse, though the latter’s hair was a few shades darker. Lawrence resembled his mother more, having her flaxen hair but still his father’s eyes.

As Hector sat facing the ocean, he tried strengthening his focus on Samuel, hoping his friend would receive a message and come over to the cave. But before he could even begin channeling such energy, a low rumble vibrated beneath the rocks at the ocean’s floor. A vibration that was also felt by four other individuals in Eastern Europe and North America.

In that moment, Hector de Fuentes, Nicolae Ganoush, Jonathan Blake, James Livingston and Samuel Livingston had visions that were not from the world in which they all dwelt. Although significant to each individual, neither experience would last for longer than a second. Each vision would lead to the heightening of each man’s five natural senses while simultaneously triggering the igniting of the sixth.

Veils between worlds thinned as the Earth tilted toward the sun on its axis, and another step was taken toward what had long been predestined.

And Hector was the thread that bound them all.

Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for more excerpts as the release date draws closer!

*******

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