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Authors: Jill Gregory

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When The Heart Beckons

BOOK: When The Heart Beckons
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When The Heart Beckons
By Jill Gregory

Smashwords edition published August 2011

Copyright 2011 © Jill Gregory

Cover Art by Marsha Canham

eBook Formatted by
A Thirsty
Mind

First published by Dell Publishing, 1995. All rights
reserved. No part of this may be used or reproduced in any manner
whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief
quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places and incidents are either products of the author’s
imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events,
locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All
rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
without permission in writing from Jill Gregory.

To my beautiful daughter, Rachel,
who enriches my life
with her wonderful spirit,
her wit and intelligence,
her dreams, and her laughter.
Honey, this one’s for you!
With love forever and always.

 

Prologue

S
omething strange
quivered in the sultry southern air.

The stoop-shouldered peddler felt it prickle
his skin as he drove his horse and cart along the rolling,
violet-laced hills outside of Richmond. The peddler’s name was
Jonah E. Banks and he had traveled this particular shaded and
lovely road many times before, but there was something in the air
today, something clinging to the hemlock leaves, whispering among
the lush grass and blue lobelia, something which made him swallow
hard and peer over his shoulder with an uneasy grimace. It was a
sadness, a sense of
loss
. A heartrending melancholy which
made the skin on his burly forearms prickle. Jonah coughed
nervously and glanced sideways through baggy, faded blue eyes,
peering through the trees at the abandoned, white-columned house
nestled well back from the road.

Something moved across the crumbling stone
porch and his heart skipped a beat. A shadow—no, a woman—he thought
in astonishment. A slim woman with flowing crystal hair, a woman
whose pale gown of indeterminate color floated about her in
shimmery splendor. No, no, it was only a shadow after all, a trick
of the sunlight, Jonah realized. He blinked and stared again. But
the lovely vision of shining femininity was gone, and only the
dazzling flicker of sunbeams remained.

Your imagination is playing tricks on
you
, the peddler told himself. Briskly, he snapped the reins.
He had business to conduct in the city, and beyond. There was no
time to waste imagining ghosts flitting through the woods or
skulking about old deserted houses. He had wares to sell and miles
yet to travel. First he would traverse the South and then the grand
untamed West. Work to do and supper to eat and riches to seek.

The peddler disappeared around a bend in the
road. The moment the clip-clop of his horse’s hooves ceased, the
warm honey-scented air on the hillside began to hum with echoes of
old tunes and voices.

* * *

Savannah Brannigan tapped her toe and stared
at the path that Jonah E. Banks had traveled.

Then she moved slowly forward down the porch
steps and around to the back of the house, drifting across the
weed-strewn lawn, toward the stand of red cedars which clustered
like brave sentries beside the tiny meandering brook. This was the
place she had loved, the place where in years past she had come to
think and wonder and pray.

Where was the brooch? Savannah glanced
around helplessly, searching for guidance. She hadn’t lost it in
Richmond at all, but in St. Louis, the day of the fire. But still
... something told her it was nearby.

Her movements were graceful flickers among
the green-gold leaves, as light and quick as fairy wings. Her
spying days were long over, her days on earth as a human woman a
remnant of the past. She was only spirit now, spirit and soul, yet
there was about her such a strength of purpose that her airy
passing actually rustled the leaves upon the spring-clad trees.

It had been exactly one year since her
passing. Her daughter was now ten years old. She stared at the
house where Annabel had been born, where she, Savannah, had lived
throughout the war and had planned each of her spying missions for
the Union, and as her spirit floated around it, she remembered
everything she had done and had been forced to do, the good and the
bad.

She bent her head. When she gazed upward she
was no longer in Richmond, but in another place, miles and miles
away.

St. Louis, the place Annabel now called
home.

Gertie, Gertie is my daughter
happy?
she silently beseeched her aunt, who opened the kitchen
door at the moment and emerged from the three-story brick mansion
with a shopping basket tucked beneath her plump arm.

Gertie glanced up, her kind, dimpled face
wearing an expression of odd sharpness as she glanced about, then
she shrugged her rounded shoulders and proceeded down the walk.

Savannah swept through the house, drifting
among the fine large rooms with their grand furnishings, gliding
past gold-framed paintings which hung upon mahogany-paneled walls.
She passed beneath intricately corniced ceilings and magnificent
crystal chandeliers. She saw the beauty and the splendor. But she
sensed tragedy and sadness beneath the magnificence. Fear smote her
as she wondered what effect the dark history of this house would
have upon her daughter.

Annabel. Where was Annabel?

She heard laughter, and in the garden she
saw her girl, with hair the color of cinnamon, playing tag among
the flowers and fountains with a boy only a little older, perhaps
twelve or thirteen. They darted through the garden, laughing,
shrieking, and then Annabel, glancing over her shoulder, distracted
perhaps by the odd sensation of gentle fingers brushing her cheek
when no one was there, tripped suddenly upon a loose stone in the
pathway and fell headlong into a large marble cat. It toppled over,
and the cat’s head broke with a crack and shattered onto the
stone.

Savannah drifted beneath an elm to watch as
at that moment a man emerged from French doors and glared at the
two children standing guiltily among the flowers.

“If you have nothing better to do with your
time than make noise and break valuable statuary, Brett, I can
certainly find something of more usefulness for you to turn your
attention to. Haven’t you any studies to complete?”

“I’ve finished everything for the day,
sir.”

“Then come inside and sit in the library
until I’ve time to go over your studies with you. I won’t have you
romping about like a heathen.”

“But, sir,” Annabel chirped up, her little
face flushed as bright as the poppies growing in their neat beds,
and her hands clenched nervously together as she stepped forward.
“It was my fault—”

The boy shoved her neatly aside, stepping
quickly between her and the massive, frowning, gray-haired man in
the doorway. “I apologize for breaking the statue, Father,” Brett
declared. “Annabel didn’t want to play in the garden at all—she
wanted to walk to the park, but I insisted on the game.”

“Next time you’d best use a little sense and
an ounce of care,” the man barked. He waved his hand impatiently.
“Quickly, boy, I don’t have all day to stand here in the hot sun.
There’s work to do, and until you learn to behave yourself like a
serious and proper young gentleman you can sit in the library and
think about the kind of conduct that becomes a young man of your
station and your name. If you want to make something of yourself in
this world, Brett McCallum—and to keep ahold of this empire I’ve
built for you—you’ll need to make proper use of your time, and not
squander it on stupid games and reckless behavior.”

Savannah watched as her little girl cast the
boy a worried look, no less anxious for the adoration in her
eyes.

“But the game was
my
idea, Brett,”
she whispered furiously. “You shouldn’t be the one who is
punished.”

“Quiet.” He softened the order with a light
tug on her braid, then grinned at her, and with a quick jaunty
wave, strode forward to where his father stood glaring.

Together they disappeared into the great,
silent house and Annabel was left alone in the sunshine.

She stooped to gather up the pieces of
marble in her skirt, then suddenly straightened, and all the pieces
tumbled out again.

“Who’s there?” The little girl glanced
around uncertainly. Her face grew still and alert. “I know someone
is out here.”

Savannah wanted to reach out to her. “My
precious daughter!” she cried silently with all of her heart and
soul, but as Annabel watched and listened, still as a statue
herself, Savannah felt herself being pulled inexorably toward the
stables west of the garden, drawn farther and farther from the
baffled little girl she’d left behind.

The stables. Savannah felt a creeping horror
descend upon her as she found herself before the long building. She
stared at it, as dreadful images writhed all around her. Time spun,
blended, whirred together like grains of sand shaken in a bottle.
In the past ... or perhaps the future ... an evil deed had happened
here ... to an evil man ... begetting an even greater evil ...

It will touch Annabel
.

The ice-cold knowledge came to her on a gust
of late afternoon wind, and suddenly the sun vanished and the trees
shook and gray rain plummeted from the sky.

Then she was drifting, floating, flying, her
spirit caught in the wind which blew away the spring sunshine, and
she was on a high mountain ledge in wild beautiful country where
horses roamed free, looking down at an oval valley where a boy—no,
a strapping young man—labored near a meadow stream. He was building
a cabin, heedless of the light rain falling all about him.

The brooch ...

Savannah searched the tall mountains, north,
south, east, and west, as sagebrush tumbled down the slopes of the
valley and distant thunder echoed through the gray and purple
mountains. She had come in search of the brooch, the brooch that
Ned had given to her as a wedding present, the brooch that should
have passed on to Annabel. She could not rest until it was restored
to her daughter. But her wanderings had only led her to this high
rocky place and to the young man below building the cabin.

She looked down at him and shivered.

He wore a black shirt, pants, and boots,
with a gray leather vest and a belt adorned with hammered silver.
And two guns in a leather holster
.

A blue scarf was knotted loosely around his
neck. He was tall, handsome, and strong, Savannah noted, with dark
hair that reached to the edge of his collar, hawklike features, and
long-lashed black eyes set in a lean quiet face. But a bleak
emptiness echoed out from his heart. And she knew all at once that
he was a lost soul. His spirit was as hard and relentless as the
surrounding mountains and she did not understand why her search had
brought her to him and to this wild, pine-scented place.

Savannah. It is time. Come back to me
now
.

Ned’s spirit called to her and as always she
returned to him. Yet as she left the rain and the thunder and the
timeless mountains behind, soaring through the thin white air above
the aged pines and spruce trees, the restlessness still tormented
her soul and she knew one thing.

Annabel was not safe from the evil and would
not be safe until the brooch had been returned ... returned to
Annabel, to its rightful owner and its rightful place ...

And the handsome young man would somehow
play a part ...

* * *

The dark-haired cowboy in the valley paused
with the ax raised above his head. He lowered the blade and turned.
Was that a woman sobbing? He wiped the rain from his eyes with the
back of his hand and scanned the high gray peaks from where the
sound had seemed to come.

No, how would a woman come to be here in the
fierce treacherous brakes of the Mogollons? It was only the wind
and the rain playing tricks on him.

He shrugged and turned back to his work,
ignoring the rain and the eerie moaning wind, which sounded so
desolate, so pitifully lost and sad. He was alone, which was
exactly as he wanted it—alone with his thoughts and his memories
and his bitterness—and with his father’s ugly secret.

There was no woman, no sobbing—only the
rough, lonesome Arizona wind sweeping down from the pine-scented
rim.

A woman. He smiled sardonically to himself.
It was not his destiny to share this valley, this cabin, or this
life with a woman, any woman, he told himself as he hefted the ax
again. He was too ornery, too mean and cursed with stubbornness and
pride ever to bring a woman anything but long-term misery. Yes,
he’d felt a longing to belong to someone. To come home to someone.
But that was not to be. His fate was that of a wanderer, a hired
gun, a man unattached to anyone or anything but his own instincts
for survival.

BOOK: When The Heart Beckons
10.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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