Legacy: The Niteclif Evolutions, Book 1

BOOK: Legacy: The Niteclif Evolutions, Book 1
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Dedication

This dedication has to be shared between several important people in my life. First, my everlasting love and gratitude must go to my husband, Jay. Without your support and encouragement, I wouldn’t have taken this first step.

A special thank you goes to my parents who, despite it all, have continued to love and support me throughout the years.

I want to thank the members of my writers’ group—Betty, Lenny, Paulette, Paul, Sabrina—for their feedback and encouragement. Without each of you this book wouldn’t have come to life like it did. Betty, I owe you extra thanks for going above and beyond.

Janna, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the long hours you put in. Your feedback and unwavering support have made me a better writer from the very beginning.

Prologue

I once heard someone say it’s a good thing the world sucks or we’d all fall off. At the time, I laughed. Now I’m thinking of having it tattooed on my ass. Everything has changed for me in the last eleven months, and I’m so emotionally tired in the wake of the changes that I’m nearly dangerous to myself and others. My parents were killed in a train derailment. I had been an only child—now I’m an orphan. I no longer believe in a happily-ever-after that will last. Too many things, important and irreplaceable things, can be taken from you in the blink of an eye. In a moment of rash behavior I sold everything I owned, quit my stable, predictable job as a copy editor and decided to go to the United Kingdom for a solid month to try and rebalance my life. Total bug nut behavior if there ever was such a thing.

There’s a strong pull to be there, in England. I don’t understand it. It may have something to do with my dreams, dreams that are dark and disturbing. If nighttime is my enemy, sleep is my nemesis. There is a need to stand and commune with the past at the stone circle I see when I fall victim to sleep. There are aerial shadows that make me duck and run, skittering like a mouse from cover to cover, knowing I’m chased by something beloved yet deadly. There is something separate that moves among the forests of my mind like mist, never materializing enough to identify itself as ally or enemy. But it follows me, and in my dreams I shift away from it instinctively. Then there are the bodies. They weep the tears of the dead, holding out their hands to me in pleading supplication. They beg silently, mouths gaping, for help. I wake up screaming, terrified and full of a longing for the smell of London fog and the feel of Highland heather under my feet… Things I’ve never known before, but that feel as familiar to me as breathing.

All I know for sure is that right now I need to be somewhere, anywhere, but here.

Chapter One

If sleep deprivation driving was an Olympic sport I’d be gold medaling tonight. Exhausted after so many sleepless nights, the effects of jet lag were a real concern. However I was determined that on my first day in England I would get to Stonehenge, damned roundabouts notwithstanding. There was no reason, valid or otherwise, that I
had
to see Stonehenge immediately. It was a draw, a pull, some inner-compass leading me there. Unfortunately that same compass didn’t have a true north, so I was stuck wandering, chasing the famous megalith on a strange British map.

The sun had long since set, and the roads were inky paths bleeding black through the grassy hills and across the plains of Wiltshire. I hadn’t passed another car in more than a half hour, and it was a lonely feeling. It was Mid-Summer’s Eve, at least for a little while longer. According to the car rental clerk, a strange little man with violet eyes, it was a beautiful time to be here. We’d see about that when the sun rose, hopefully finding me having seen Stonehenge and finding my way back to my hotel in London. I thought it reasonable to assume I’d see it, satisfy this slightly obsessive inner draw, then come back later as a traditional, mentally stable tourist. I rounded a corner, lost in thoughts of feather-topped mattresses and 600-thread-count sheets, and I nearly missed it. I screeched to a halt and backed up, weaving like a drunk. I was gobsmacked at its size and beauty, by the subtle power implied by the huge stones set atop others like door lintels. Cloaked in moonlight and shadows, the stone circle appeared as it had in my dream and, though it seemed imposing, it still called to me like a siren’s song. I parked the tiny car haphazardly on the edge of the small road, unfolded myself from the driver’s seat and walked toward the stones.

A small, nagging pulse began to build at the base of my skull, worsening with every step I took closer to the standing stone circle. I shook my head, trying unsuccessfully to clear the fuzziness that descended. Pressure built until my ears needed to pop, and I worked my jaw to no avail. Still I moved forward. I stumbled when, in a moment of clarity, I remembered the stones been fenced off years ago to prevent just this sort of thing.
Perhaps something had changed
, I thought.
Perhaps
. My mind shifted to the dense shadows cast by the tall stones and my concern dissipated, a puff of breath in the cold air.

The night was silent save for the sound of the wind. It was clear and cool, bordering on cold, and my little windbreaker wasn’t really jacket enough. I couldn’t bring myself to leave, though, even to go back to the car for a heavier coat. I wandered among the stones, thinking about their history and mine, wondering what would be left of me after so long. Would I leave a mysterious legacy? Or would I crumble under the elements and disappear? The latter felt more likely.

I paced the circle and drew my fingertips over the weathered stones in no repeatable pattern as I walked this circle from my dreams. The intermittently clinging moss lent a random slickness that contrasted harshly with the weather-roughened stone. There was a sense of peace that came from standing within what I had come to think of as my circle. I trailed my fingertips around the largest of the standing stones and looked up. What an unbelievable night sky. The stars were so dense they made me dizzy. I stumbled to the altar stone and lay across it like the proverbial sacrifice. The alter stone was somehow smaller than I thought it would be, and, in turn, it made me feel smaller, insignificant. Tears slipped from my eyes unbidden, sliding passed my temples and into my hair, leaving cold tracks the breeze danced across. I felt broken, adrift. My parents had been my mentors and my very best friends. Losing them was a physical pain I wasn’t sure I could withstand. Eleven months since the accident, and I still didn’t know how I was going to live without them.

The night sky was so close it felt like I could touch the stars and pluck them one by one from the heavens. I picked one out of the infinity, a less brilliant one toward what I assumed was the south, and thought,
Starlight, star bright, first star I’ve chosen tonight…
Wouldn’t it be cool if I could wish away my problems, my hurts, my reality? I could be someone else, here in this land of myth and mystery, and I could obliterate my past. I could be strong again, and quick-witted, with little fear of the unknown and a great sense for adventure. In three words—my old self. And what harm could wishing do, really? Urged on by memories of a sunny childhood and simpler days where nothing was impossible and I was loved unconditionally, I followed through and wished for just that—a changed reality. Love, unconditional or otherwise, would have to be a bonus the Fates would figure out because the loss of my parents had shattered my heart. With the smashing return of their memory my hope winked out. But my wish had been made. Things beyond my understanding were set into motion. I couldn’t take it back.

Without any warning the stars spun, increasing in velocity, and the altar felt as if it tilted hard to my right. I dug my fingers uselessly into the stone, breaking fingernails down to the bloody quick. Bracing my feet against the end of the altar, I tried to hold on through this inexplicable rush of vertigo. I got incredibly nauseous and two spins from tossing my last American meal, the world stopped. I felt weightless for a moment and I heard the stones breathe, “
Adael i ddechrau
.”
Let it begin.

Why could I interpret that voice?
I rolled off the altar and ran for the car like a drunk on a three-bottle bender.

I reached the little coupe and wrenched the door open, physically throwing myself inside. I slammed the door shut and locked it. Breathing hard through my mouth, I shook uncontrollably and felt like I couldn’t get enough air.

I’m dreaming,
sleepwalking. I have to be hallucinating—no other explanation than that
.

The last sign I’d passed had promised me I was less than two hours from my hotel bed, and I decided I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to make it back there. Surely a good night’s sleep would cure my overactive imagination. I couldn’t stop myself from glancing back over my shoulder at the standing stone circle as I turned the key and cranked the Mini’s engine over. Standing near the altar, a shadow within a shadow, was a person. And that person was staring at me. I left a trail of burned rubber as I headed back to London.

 

The lights of the city danced over the car’s shiny red paint as I drove past a handful of traditional tourist stops that were far from common—Kensington Palace, Parliament, Big Ben. I’d finally slowed when I reached the outskirts of the city. The farther I got from the standing stones the more likely I thought it that I had both suffered some sleep-deprived auditory and sensory delusions and imagined my shadowy observer. It was easier to convince myself of my temporary break with reality, too, since the shaking had stopped. I found my hotel and, after the night I’d had, chose to spring for valet parking. Being American, I was pre-destined to pull in through the wrong lane. The valet smiled indulgently, and I could tell he knew I was a foreigner. The Nikes, faded blue jeans and Abercrombie T-shirt probably labeled me an American just as much as my backwards driving did. Oh well.

“Good evenin’, miss,” he said, tipping his hat to me.

“Hi,” I replied, smiling. I love how some Brits don’t pronounce the Gs at the end of words. I handed him my keys and turned back to reach into the car and grab my laptop case out of the back seat. I noticed a folded up sheet of ivory-colored paper in the passenger seat. Huh. I didn’t remember buying any paper like that. Maybe it was from the previous renter. I grabbed it, struck by its odd texture, and stuck it in my back pocket. I would inspect it when I was checked into my room and settled. I walked through the revolving front door and into the lobby, impressed that the travel website had actually been right about this place. It was lush. Done in white and gray Italian Carrera marble, the walls were washed in a soft gray with mahogany wainscoting all around. The ceilings had to be at least twenty feet high, and there was a small fountain littered with coins set in the middle of the lobby floor. The elevator doors were polished silver, not that tacky brass color that American hotels use. The furniture looked antique, though I would probably never be able to tell a reproduction from an original, even at gunpoint. The wood on the furniture matched the mahogany color of the wainscoting, but the velvet on the sofa was what arrested my attention. In deep, blood red velvet, it was the only primary color in the room.

I went to the long reception desk and presented my reservation. The black-jacketed clerk looked everything over and took my credit card for incidentals.

“It’s a non-smoking room, right?” I asked. All I needed after all this stress was an excuse to buy a hard-pack. I missed my cigarettes.

“Of course, unless you’d like to change?”

Oh cruel world, why do you mock me? Feeling more like a cocaine addict than a nicotine junky, I set my jaw and shook my head. “No, no change, thanks.”

“Very well. Welcome to the UK, ma’am,” he said with a smile, swiping the card and handing it back to me with an electronic room key imprinted with the Union Jack. “Enjoy your stay at the Pemberton. Just press star zero if there’s anythin’ we can do for you.”

“Thank you,” I said. I pulled out the travel handle on my laptop case and asked, “Will the bellhop bring my bags up tonight?”

“Of course,” the clerk replied. “Do you need them immediately?”

“No. In the next half hour will be fine. Will you call up before delivery, though, in case I’m in the shower or something?” I requested, trying my best to not draw attention to my travel-ravaged hair or my wrinkled clothes.

“Of course,” the clerk replied again, studiously avoiding looking at my bedraggled self. The guy gave great eye contact.

The manager, dressed in a fitted black suit, walked out of his office behind the desk and greeted me. “Hallo, Ms…” he paused, looking at my reservation, “…Niteclif. It’s nice to have you with us. Wait. Niteclif? The American?” He looked at me expectantly, almost anxiously.

“Yes,” I said, unsuccessfully stifling a yawn.

“There’s a message for you.” He disappeared back into his office. He returned quickly, carrying a message on ivory-colored paper. As I accepted it I realized it had the same look and feel as that that had been on the car’s front seat. What were the odds?

“You must be mistaken.” No one knew I was staying here.

BOOK: Legacy: The Niteclif Evolutions, Book 1
10.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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