Authors: Lisa Greer
Cradled by the Night
Cover Art: Lisa Greer and canva.com
Editing: Juliette Adams
All rights reserved. Copyright, 2016.
Chapter One: Omens
“I love it, Brad! Yes, I want the house. It's exactly what I imagined it would be when you told me about it.”
Amelia Bronson gazed up at the towering house as it came into view through the parted oak trees along the winding gravel driveway. It stood, dark gray and hulking against the sunny landscape—like something out of a gothic romance novel women read in the 1970s. It only lacked a comely, green eye-shadowed virgin running from a man outlined in a lighted window. Still, the place called to her with its Greek Revival style and massive columns. She had always adored old houses and the character they held—nothing gleaming and new for her. Aged, dark, and menacing was fine. After all, it was just a house, not a person. People were the real things to be afraid of—not creaking old houses.
This one had character. It almost seemed to breathe like a slate-colored monster, guarding itself and its secrets.
Amelia shook her head at the fancy, a frisson of uneasiness writhing up her spine. She had a premonition of disaster, of everything going wrong after all she had done to turn her life around. Especially with a baby on its way. Amelia couldn't stand the thought of losing her child or any other disaster now, just as she and Bard were on the cusp of happiness—perhaps for the first time in her life, anyway. She pushed the morbid thoughts out of her mind.
“You want it? My love, you haven't even been inside yet. You know, they call it Stormcliffe. Isn't that something else?” Bard laughed and squeezed her thigh.
“As for the name of the place, I adore it. I think it's romantic, as in the true meaning of the word—imaginative, intuitive, all of the things the poets wrote about in the nineteenth century.” She stopped and glowered at him. “But you know I hate it when you squeeze my thigh. It makes me feel even bigger than I am.” She swatted his hand away, gazing back up at the house.
“I love you just like you are. Why don't you want until you see the place inside to decide if you want to live here, though?” He winked at her.
Amelia gave him a dirty look and sighed, her belly pressing against the seat belt. “Yeah, you love me just the way I am...like a whale. And, I know I want the house. It's perfect.” She sighed and smiled.
“You're a cute, small whale who is very impulsive about house buying.” He ducked.
She punched his arm playfully.
“Ouch. Hey, babe. Just another month of jokes, and you'll feel more like yourself again.” Bard stopped the car in front of the house. “It's unlocked. The realtor told me to take the time I need. She'll be back to lock up in an hour or so. She had too many other appointments today, and apparently, newly hired researchers for Genewise are trusted around these parts.”
Amelia clapped her hands together, feeling like a small child. “You are amazing. Have I ever told you that, because if I haven't...wow!”
Bard shrugged as he helped her stand up from the bucket seat of the car. “I know. You've mentioned it a time or two.”
They linked arms and walked toward the house. Amelia sighed and patted her stomach. She didn't even need to see the inside. The house called to her like a dear, old friend, and she would answer.
“You know, there's a spooky family graveyard out back. You can't see it from here. It's actually sheltered by trees and a little walk from the back door.”
A loud crack sounded in underbrush and trees to their right, a dozen yards away.
“What was that?”
“Probably just an animal.” Bard shrugged and smiled. “We're a little out of the way here.”
Amelia had an uneasy feeling, but tried to shrug it off. That hadn't sounded like an animal. It had sounded like a person, sneaking around in the brush. “So, about that graveyard.”
“Yep. The Winthrop family lived here for almost 200 years, so it makes sense. Burying your family on your own land was preferable, if you could do it. They certainly had the money to. I think you'll like the place.”
“The graveyard?” She grinned as they opened the front door.
“Yes, it's decrepit with a mausoleum for a few of the first family members. Some interesting graves back there.”
“You had time to tour it?”
“I did. I told Lawanna I had read about it online. She kind of looked at me funny, but I insisted on seeing it. I noticed she didn't offer to go with me.” Bard laughed.
Amelia had grown quiet. She gazed around at the old, dark wood and upholstery, so little of it changed. It would need work, but she wouldn't ruin the feel of the place. Bard had inherited money after the death of his father earlier in the year, and he had set a decent budget for buying new things to spruce the place up and having restoration done after the baby got a bit older. They would finance the house with a large down payment from the windfall and Bard's stellar credit. It was a sad time, but Bard's father had been so proud when he had found out his son had gotten the job, just months before cancer claimed him.
“Well?” Bard rubbed her shoulders gently.
“Oh, babe. I love it. It's home. Stormcliffe—what a place.”
“You want it?”
“Do I ever!” She turned and fell into his arms, sighing with happiness. This moment almost washed away the previous 30 plus years of horror her life had been. Bard had done so much for her, and his love was the greatest gift of all. Now, they would have a home she loved—something she had dreamed of as a little girl, staring at blank walls in the orphanage every night. Her dreams hadn't died, even though her spirit almost had, several times.
This is it, little one—your home.
* * * *
Four weeks later
“Shh. You're going to love your new crib, babes.”
The baby had slept in a bassinet near their bed the first few weeks since they all came home from the hospital, but Amelia was ready for her own space. She knew Bard was, too. The cheerful Dr. Seuss's
inspired nursery made the transition a little easier, with its pale green, yellow, blue, and pink tones.
Baby Lottie mewled as Amelia put her down softly on the downy sheets. She set the cheerful giraffe mobile in motion and sighed. She stood still for a moment, her skin prickling. The sensation of being watched had returned.
Amelia went to the window and gazed out down the gravel driveway and along the brushy edges of the yard. Nothing. She only had gauzy, sage green, thin curtains and blinds here on the window and kept the blinds up and the curtains tied back to let in the sunlight. The baby didn't seem to mind it so far, and Amelia figured they were remote at Stormcliffe. On the second floor, it wasn't likely someone could see their every move from a tiny window.
Or could they?
Her emotions were in an uproar ever since leaving the hospital—well, the day before, really.
“Hormones, honey. That's all,” her mother had reassured her.
er mom being 1,500 miles away didn't help much--not that they were close. Still, wasn't this a time when you wanted your mother—when you had your first daughter at the ripe age of 35,
r as her doctor had called it “advanced maternal age?” Yeah, that had been a real ego booster.
Amelia closed her eyes for a moment, tiredness rushing in now that the baby was settling for a nap. The morning had been a blur of feedings, wet diapers, and washing clothes. All she wanted to do was sleep. Her own body odor wafted up around her. Waking up every few hours to feed Lottie every night was doing her in.
“Let me help, hon. I can tell you've had it,”
had said a week after they got home from the hospital. He had two weeks off for paternity leave. It wasn't generous, but it was better than nothing. His job was stressful when he was working, so she welcomed him being around to help.
Amelia had gladly taken him up on one formula feeding during the night, but after he had nearly killed himself two nights in by hitting his head on a shelf and nearly dropping the baby, Amelia had given up on the idea. He already worked at least 50 hours a week anyway as a research leader in the company. It was his dream, and he loved it
She dragged herself to the bedroom, every creak of the old flooring in the house reverberating through her tired skull, and fell on the bed. A shower would have to wait until the baby was sleeping again later or when Bard finally made it home.
* * * *
Her head buzzed with sleep. What had woken her up? The room danced with dim shadows. Crying; that was it.
t didn't sound like Lottie
Amelia licked her lips and pushed herself up. She wasn't as tired as before, but she still felt disoriented.
The sobbing continued.
“Lottie? Is that you, baby?” Her skin prickled as she walked out of the room and slowly down the hall.
It wasn't her daughter. She already knew her own baby's cry. This was
baby's cry—but not hers.
Her mouth grew dry. She stood outside the nursery. Not a peep. It wasn't Lottie, then.
The sound of soft sobbing came again—definitely a baby's cry.
“Oh my God. What is that?” Amelia clasped her head in her hands, willing the noise to stop.
After a moment, still standing in the hallway, she laughed softly, not wanting to wake the baby. It had only been an hour since she had fallen asleep.
I really need to get more sleep myself. I'm losing it.
* * * *
“I saw this posted outside the student center—Moms Meet Weekly. It's for all moms of kids of any age—even adults. I found out some of the faculty cut that time out of work to make it.” Bard handed her a flier across the kitchen table.
Amelia took a bite of broccoli, glancing over at Lottie in her carrier. Sound asleep. At least she had some time to enjoy Chinese takeout—for the second time in two weeks.
“Hmm. I don't know.”
“What don't you know? Hon, you need to get out. It's been nearly six weeks since we came home from the hospital. The baby will be fine. I brought home the list of approved sitters in town. They all have
id training and tons of experience. The company started the list years ago when they hired their first female CEO. I guess she knew what the real priorities are.” Bard grinned and stabbed at a piece of beef.
“That's cool. Maybe I'll give it a try.”
“Good going. I think you'll like it. I took the initiative and called and interviewed a sitter today.” Bard raised one eyebrow. “So you can go tomorrow. It's at 10 a.m. The sitter will be here at 9:30 so you have plenty of time to get ready and find the place. It's only five minutes away though, at the Anglican church.”
“Wow. You really do want me to get out of the house.” Amelia scooped up a bite of rice and sighed.
“I do, because you need and deserve it. This motherhood gig is tough, and I'm working way too much. It will get better in a few months, though.”
She knew Bard believed it, but Amelia knew better. Research was his life, next to her and the baby, and he had worked hard to get this position. He would make sure to do a stellar job and prove himself early on. That meant working very long hours for at least a couple of years.
“Sure, babe. Thank you.”
“No. Thank you. You're amazing. You know that?” He took her hand across the table, and her breath hitched.
“Maybe.” She didn't feel amazing. She felt strung out, sloppy, and tired, but she also wanted her husband. It had been too long. The baby would sleep for another half hour anyway, and the baby monitor was right there on the table to alert them of her status. The huge house required one. Amelia had grown used to carrying it from room to room.
“Come on, while we have a few minutes. Is it okay?” Bard pulled her up from the table, a look of concern in his eyes.
“Yes, I think I'm ready.” She squeezed his hand.
“Good. I've been ready.” He took her into his arms, and her limbs melted when he kissed her softly.
* * * *
Three hours later, Amelia lay in the darkness. The baby was down and wouldn't get up again for a few hours for a feeding. She couldn't sleep, even though she should be able to. Some nights were like that, she had noticed. It was like she was on hyper alert for the baby's cries, even though Lottie would sleep for a while yet.
Amelia punched the pillow and turned onto her back.
Bard snored softly.
At least someone is sleeping well.
Then she heard it. It had been four weeks since the last time and only time.
“No,” Amelia whispered, shaking her head.