Authors: Elizabeth Sinclair
Tags: #Romance, #Paranormal Romance
My God, all this blood. Where had it come from
What have I done
Terror rose up in her throat and nearly choked her. Tears blurred her vision. She felt as though she'd gone to sleep and awakened to find her nightmare was real. She began to shake uncontrollably, and not as a result of the numbness that had taken over her feet or the icy frostiness that had claimed her body.
, she admonished herself, in a desperate attempt to get a grip on her fear and confusion.
Calm down. Think
. But her mind remained as blank as an unused sheet of paper.
Help. I need help
. Surely, when she found someone, they'd be able to help her understand what was happening to her. In this weather, she couldn't have just wandered into town. She must live here. If that were true, then it logically followed that the people who also lived here would know her.
But she didn't know where to go to find any of those people. How could she, on these deserted streets? She didn't even know where she was or where she lived. How could anyone help her?
Hollow desperation flooded her. Hopelessness overcame her, and a new spate of tears blurred her vision. Still, as if driven by some unseen force, she plowed on through the drifting blizzard toward… what? Once more she stopped and looked around her, frantically searching for something, anything that looked familiar. Again… nothing. It was as though she'd been picked up and set down in a strange town, with her memory wiped clean of anything beyond this moment in time.
Forcing herself to concentrate, she prodded her mind for answers until her head throbbed so painfully that she felt as though it would burst open like a ripe peach. Gritting her teeth, she bore the pain. It was worth it if she could just find one thread of memory, one tiny little thing that she could cling to. But she found nothing. Her mind was like a blackboard that had been erased.
Her stomach heaved in response to her throbbing in her skull. She rubbed her aching temple and felt a slick stickiness on her skin. Drawing her hand slowly away, she stared down at her fingertips. More blood. Could all this blood be hers?
Head wounds bleed profusely
She squinted against the pain in her head and tried to focus.
How had she known that
? She searched the blankness inside her mind for an answer, but none came.
Why can I recall that and not my name or my address or
She pressed the heels of her hands against her pulsating temples.
"Someone, please help me," she pleaded to the frozen landscape.
Frustration blossomed inside her and grew until she wanted to run screaming into the night to find someone who could tell her what was happening, who she was. Was the blood all hers, or had she done something unthinkable? If she'd hurt someone else, she had to find them, get them help, make it right.
Then, just ahead of her, through the wall of swirling snowflakes, she saw subdued light coming from a window of a large, brick building. The light splayed over the snow like a bright pathway, as though showing her the way. Through the window, she could see a couple of people inside. She hurried toward the beacon, stumbled, slipped on the snow-covered walkway, and fell into a drift. Clawing her way to her feet, she righted herself, ignored the icy snow that had gotten inside her coat collar, chilling her to the bone and making her wet blouse cling to her skin, and trudged on purposefully in the direction of the light.
At the end of the walk leading up to the front door, a large, white sign with bold, black lettering protruded from the snow.
Tarrytown Public Library
. As if an invisible thread were connected to her, she felt herself being drawn toward the building. With hope singing in her heart that surely someone in there would be able to tell her who she was, she hurried to the door, opened it, and stood poised on the doorstep.
Blessed warmth rushed out at her and almost stole her breath. Snow swirled in ahead of her and melted instantly on the polished hardwood floor, leaving small, shimmering puddles that reflected the dim lighting. The aromatic fragrance of cinnamon mixed with fresh-cut pine accosted her. In one corner stood a large Christmas tree decked out in paper chains and candy canes. On the wall behind the tree, red construction-paper stockings hung, each bearing the name of its owner in gold glitter. Pots of poinsettias sat on each of the highly-polished tables scattered about the room.
Gathered around one of the tables on the far side of the room were two women, a man, and a little girl. The child was sleeping peacefully in the older woman's arms.
She stepped gingerly inside and closed the door. The sound of the heavy, wrought-iron latch falling into place made all three people turn to her.
"I—" she began. "Can you help me?"
"Oh my word!" For a moment, Assistant Librarian Irma Peese studied the terrified girl shivering uncontrollably in the middle of the library floor. Her face was as pale as the snow coating her entire body. The girl was covered with spatters of blood, and a large cut, probably the source of the blood, marred her temple. The look of stark fear on her face brought Irma to her feet.
Irma glanced at Steve. "Get me some wet paper towels." Then she turned to Meghan. "Take Faith." Gently, she transferred her sleeping granddaughter to her daughter's arms, then rushed to the girl's side, took her arm, and led her to a chair.
Moments later, her son-in-law rushed back to her side with a wet paper towel and handed it to her. "Here, Irma," he said. "Wipe away the blood so we can see how bad it is."
Irma took the paper towel and began carefully wiping away the blood on the woman's forehead. "My, but you've got a nasty cut here, dear." She glanced at Steve. "Stitches?"
He studied the cut, gently probed the edges, and then shook his head. "It looks worse than it is. It's really shallow. Just a good-sized bandage should do."
Irma turned to her daughter. Faith was now awake and standing beside her mother, staring at the young woman with large, inquisitive eyes. "Meghan, go into the librarian's office and bring me the first-aid kit." When Meghan rushed off to do her bidding, Irma looked down at the young woman's pale face. "What on earth happened to you?"
"I… I don't know," the girl said, her voice low and almost apologetic.
"Well, no need to worry about that right now. Let's see to that cut and get you cleaned up first." Irma proceeded to gently wipe the blood from the girl's cheeks and chin with a clean paper towel. She looked at Steve and then nodded toward her granddaughter, who was still staring wide-eyed at the injured woman. Faith didn't need to see this. "Steve, why don't you take Faith home, and we'll meet you there in a bit."
"Are you sure you won't need me?"
Irma shook her head. "As long as she doesn't need any stitches, I'm sure Meghan and I can handle it, dear."
"Irma," Steve said, lowering his voice. "Is she the one?"
Irma nodded almost imperceptibly. "I think so. Now, you get Faith home. It's past her bedtime." She leaned down and placed a warm kiss on the child's rosy cheek and then brushed the tangle of ash-blond curls from her face. "See you in the morning, love."
"Tell Meghan I'll see her at home." He took Faith's hand and led her toward the door. "Come on, sweetie. We'll go to the cabin and make hot chocolate for when Mommy and Grandma come home."
"Can the lady have some, too?"
Irma looked at Steve. They exchanged silent glances. Irma nodded. Her heart had told Irma almost the instant she'd looked up and seen the woman standing there that this was the girl Emanuel had sent word about, and she'd be getting more than a cup of hot chocolate at the cabin. She'd find a beginning to a new life.
"Of course, she can, sweetie, if she wants to," Steve said. He winked at Irma and then ushered his daughter out the door and into the snowy night.
"Drive carefully," Irma called after them, and then went back to her chore. When she was satisfied that she'd gotten most of the blood off the young woman's forehead, Irma stood back and looked down at her. "We'll put a bandage on that cut just as soon as Meghan comes back with the first-aid kit."
"Thank you," the young woman murmured, her eyes downcast, "but I can't take up any more of your time. You should be going home with your family. I'm so sorry to have bothered you." She started to stand, but wobbled like a child's top just before it fell over sideways to the floor.
Irma grabbed her arm and eased her back into the chair. "It appears as if you're not going anywhere just yet. Now, you sit down and let me see to that cut. This storm is no place for anyone to be wandering around, injured or not. I have all the time in the world. I was just closing the library. Tonight was the annual Christmas Eve story hour."
Irma glanced out the window at the blizzard, hoping that her young audience members had made it home safely. This night in particular was very special because it was the night Irma told the story of Rachel and Michiah and the miracle of the mist, just as Anna Hobbs had done at Christmastime for the last twenty-five years. But since the children had to leave early, she'd had only her small family as an audience.
"The children got here before the storm started but had to leave early." She made a
sound, shook her head, and then centered her attention back on the stranger. "What's your name, dear?"
The woman looked at her with a blank expression and then promptly burst into tears.
Irma smiled warmly, wrapped the young woman in her arms, and murmured assurances to her. She hadn't felt quite this helpless since the night she told Meghan she had witnessed her own mother's rape and then left Meghan in the safety of Emanuel's care to protect her from the evil of the world.
"Now, now. No need for tears. If you don't want to tell me your name, you don't have to."
Slowly, the girl raised her head and sniffed loudly. She peered up at Irma from a pallid face, her large, green eyes wide with fear and confusion. "It's not that I don't want to. I just can't remember what my name is," she said around a heartbreaking sob.
Irma smiled to herself.
. Emanuel certainly found unique ways to administer to the spiritually needy.
Just then, Meghan appeared with a white box bearing a large red cross and handed it to Irma. "Here's the first-aid kit you wanted, Mom."
Irma took the box, set it on a table, and opened it. "This young lady tells me she doesn't know who she is, Meghan." After sending her daughter a speaking glance, she removed a square of white gauze from its paper wrapper and applied a dot of antibiotic salve to it.
Meghan smiled knowingly. "Then perhaps we can help her."
Irma smiled. "I wouldn't be at all surprised."
Hope brought a sparkle to the woman's lackluster eyes. "You can help me? Really?"
"Everything in good time, my child," Irma said as she laid the gauze on the woman's forehead, then secured it with two strips of adhesive tape. "First of all, we need to find out your name."
She looked from one to the other, her lovely eyes large, frightened, and puzzled. "But I—"
"Look in your pocket," Meghan urged.
When the young woman looked to Irma for confirmation, Irma nodded. This reminded her of the day she'd first told Steve about the Gateway Cabin. He'd been hesitant, too… until he'd discovered the envelope where Irma had written the directions to the Gateway Cabin, the envelope he'd thrown in the trash and that had magically reappeared in his pocket.
"Do as Meghan asks, dear. Look in your pocket."
Irma and Meghan waited silently while the woman dug into her coat pocket and pulled out a small, rumpled, white piece of paper. She handed the paper to Irma. Irma scanned the sheet. It was a receipt for several tubes of oil paint from a store called The Artist's Palette. The upper corner had been torn off, but today's date was still visible and just the first name—
The interior of the Camerons' cabin closed around Carrie like a mother's womb, enfolding her in its warmth and love. Though her memory was still tantalizingly beyond her reach, she had no trouble recognizing a house decked out in all its splendor to celebrate Christmas.
A huge blue spruce spread its abundant branches and took up the entire bay window. Glittering strings of tinsel; rainbow-colored lights; garlands of fluffy, white popcorn; and an abundance of all sizes and shapes of shiny ornaments graced every limb. Beneath the tree lay colorfully wrapped packages tied up with bows and just waiting for the recipients to discover what was concealed inside. Over the blazing fireplace, a swag of fragrant pine adorned the mantel, permeating the house with its rich aroma. The coffee table held a cut-glass bowl overflowing with pinecones interspersed with gold and silver balls. The blazing fireplace's reflection danced brightly in the bowl's prisms. Candles burned on every surface, spreading a homey warmth throughout the room that no electric lamp could attain.
Carrie could feel in her bones that love, laughter, and happiness resided within these walls and that the people who lived here were special. Yet all the wonderfully calming emotions she sensed here felt so very foreign to her. Why?
Meghan deposited a tray laden with four mugs topped with snowy whipped cream on the coffee table. She handed Carrie one of the steaming mugs. The aroma of rich chocolate drifted up with the steam and made Carrie's taste buds water. She had no idea when she'd last eaten, but from the hollowness inside her, she had to assume it had been some time ago.
"Faith insisted I give you hot chocolate because she just knew you were very cold and would catch your death if I didn't." Meghan laughed. "I think she may follow in her father's footsteps and be a doctor someday."
Carrie looked around to thank the child.
"She's gone to bed," Meghan explained. "She has a big day ahead of her tomorrow. We're going to the city to help feed the homeless, and then she'll be staying with her grandmother for Christmas Eve."