After a terrifying encounter with the unexplained, it takes ten years and the news of her grandmother’s passing for Emma Grace Hawthorne to return to her childhood home. She seeks peace in saying a proper goodbye, but what she finds is an old love, a sordid family history, and a wrong only she can right.
Living in the shadow of Hawthorne Manor, Noah Garrett has never forgotten about Emma Grace. In a house full of secrets, his search for missing documents reveals a truth that can cost him everything. What he finds gave Emma the freedom to walk away from the mansion, her heart free and clear, but at what price to Noah?
The car slowed to a stop and a decade’s worth of memories tumbled onto the sun-blanched asphalt.
The hand-painted sign hadn’t changed in years. Despite the thick stew of humid air filling the Louisiana landscape, the wood display remained inexplicably unaffected. There it sat—every meticulously scripted letter as crisp and clean as the stark white walls of the manor it lauded, oblivious to the passage of time.
Emma Hawthorne tensed in the seat of the Mustang convertible and stared at her past. Uncertainty churned into unease, the effects of which sent terror flailing in her gut. Anywhere else, the view would have been gorgeous. The drive, lined on both sides with live oak laden with Spanish moss, was the South personified. At the end, Hawthorne Manor held court. Pristine, proud, the boastful antebellum home beamed, lording over its acreage.
But it harbored the unspeakable. No amount of time could erase what happened to her on the other side of the expanse of green lawn. Nothing could change what she’d seen there. Some might say she was crazy — that she’d imagined or invented the whole ordeal — but her scars were all the proof she needed. Whether the shadows lurking behind the façade of the picturesque plantation were real or born of an overactive imagination, there was no way she was going back into that house.
Especially not for a dead woman.
Sparing a glance in the rearview mirror, Emma steeled herself against a trembling in her hands that threatened to overtake her body. She released a pent-up breath, her heart settling into a less acrobatic rhythm at the thought of leaving. She didn’t have to stay here.
Let the South win this one. She was going home.
A split second later, something caught her eye. She blinked, trying to see through the swaying canopy of leaves and moss, certain a figure stood atop the widow’s walk straddling the roofline of the house. But no one—
Something brushed the car, rocking it. Swallowing panic, Emma tried to tear her focus from Hawthorne Manor, but fear kept her from looking anywhere else. Time and distance hadn’t done her any favors; she was a fool for coming anywhere near this place, much less with the ragtop down.
The car rocked harder. The something refused to be ignored.
Panic tightened her throat. Fighting it — fighting the remnants of her past that beckoned and taunted from the walls of the manor home — Emma forced herself to look away from the house, toward the intrusion over her left shoulder.
The first thing she saw was an aged set of gnarled fingers resting on the door, blue automotive paint showing through an ugly translucence.
The second was the face — withered, centurion, and expressionless. Haunting.