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The Maven
Sister Towns

What the Heart Knows (Book One)
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It was completely dark in the unfinished house. To make matters worse, it was a moonless nigssht, and such stars as normally sparkled in the clear, windswept autumn air were obscured by rare cloud cover. Chris shifted her foot. She'd been standing still long enough that the sensation of the nail under her sole had numbed. She noticed it only when she moved. Still she waited, hoping her eyes would make a further adjustment to the unrelieved darkness.

Even standing still this long, her pulse hadn't slowed. A hundred feet below, the sea pounded. A tropical storm was traveling the South Pacific, and even this far north, the Central Coast was feeling the effects. "Generating winds of up to 50 miles per hour...." she could hear her colleague saying. The house seemed to sway with the crashing surf, unsteady on its poles. That was an illusion, she knew. It was her own legs that were unsteady. She cursed him again, and her own insatiable curiosity.

She tried to focus. She stood in what would undoubtedly be the living room - an expanse of white Sheetrock for the moment, which gave way on one side to a wall of glass. The view would be spectacular. On the opposite wall, flagstone had been fashioned into an oversized fireplace. It seemed curiously complete in this incomplete room, except that a gaping rectangular hole directly in front of it left room for a hearthstone.

Imported marble, she remembered: one detail that had shown up on both sets of plans. Detail. Remember, she thought to herself, one detail can save your life. Reed had always told her that, and he was the best reporter in the business. She should leave this place, this swaying, unhallowed structure, menacing in its protruding metal shards and ragged concrete edges. But she'd been led here, vectored here by one clue after another. She had to find out.

Chris took a step and her knee buckled. She caught herself by bracing against a cinderblock wall, tearing a piece of skin from her palm. She cursed in the dark, but the sharp pain had served to sharpen her attention.

The reasons she'd come here began to return to her mind in an orderly progression. He'd called her again. He'd been right about the plans. Chances are he was right about this house. Her own research had confirmed part of what he'd said, this illusive informer, a man with no name who called with tantalizing fragments of information. She tried to fit them together like so many shards of broken crystal, clear and sharp-edged.

She was here to gather more shards and she found herself resenting it. Joseph would be waiting with a clandestine dinner for two, all the more romantic for the secrecy. The thought hastened her, and she tried again to focus on the incomplete room. Clicking on her flashlight, she began inspecting the raw beams and Sheetrock.

"A171" was scrawled on one beam. "A172" was on the next. Okay, so these guys can count, she thought. On the next beam was an arrow pointing down. She knelt awkwardly, trying to read the next mark. It seemed to be a depth marker, followed by another arrow pointing down.

She'd have to check the length measurements printed on the poles. That meant climbing down the unfinished stairs into that black hole. Blacker than the unfinished, moonless living room. Cursing again, she began walking towards the fireplace, remembering to avoid the gaping hole in front of it.

Somehow through the wind and crashing surf, she heard a noise. Clicking off her flashlight, she hugged her body close to the Sheetrock. I'm alone in a windswept rattletrap of raw beams and rusty metal scraps, and I ought to be home doing my nails, she found herself thinking. Details. They were always her best defense against fear.

Clicking her flashlight back on, she began to search for stairs. There was nothing, however, but a ladder leading down into the hearth-well. "It's nothing but a black hole," she said out loud. "Blacker than a black cat's ass on black velvet."

"There's a quick way down there, Ms. Christian."

"Uh! Oh, for Christ's sake, you just about scared the.... What the hell are you doing here?" Her heart pounded louder than the surf. She clutched her flashlight and tried to keep it from bouncing across the man's features.

"I work here, Ms. Christian." The voice was steady, self-assured. The face seamed, it towered over a hulking physique.

"Oh...yes. I remember. Good thing you're here, because I could really use some help." A laugh erupted out of her throat like a burst of static from a malfunctioning radio. "You see, I've been trying to get a reading on these beams, and it's so hard to see in the dark." The man said nothing. She wondered how long the uninterrupted stream of words could surround her like a kind of force field. "Say, you didn't even bring a flashlight."

"Very perceptive," he said simply.

"Guess you know the house real well if you work here. One of the construction crew, huh?"

"Right again."

"Well, listen, it's really getting late, and I'll come back in the morning when I can see better. Thanks a lot for all your help." She made a move away from the hearth-well, but it only brought her closer to the man. She could smell alcohol on his breath as he spoke. Probably a bourbon drinker, she thought absently.

"Oh, I haven't done anything yet."

"But you're about to, am I right?" Humor had always been her strong point. That and clear, simple logic. How many times had she played out this scenario in her head? How many times had she talked her way out of a tight spot?

"Too right."

It was now or never, she knew. He might be bigger, stronger, more massive, but maneuverability was on her side. She clicked off her flashlight and hurled it at him. She'd already chosen exactly where her foot would land when she cleared the hole. In the sudden blackness she knew she'd have a second's worth of advantage. It was just the second she needed.

She heard the crack first, before she felt the impact. Sounded like a gunshot, she thought. And the next sound she heard was someone's voice, as though from a great distance. It was yelling. No, it was screaming, screaming for help.

As she landed, the wind was forced from her body like exhaust from a jet engine. That voice, she found herself thinking. It sounded familiar... it sounded like mine. But it couldn't have been. It was too far away.

It'd been too many seconds since air had found its way into her lungs, and with a sudden clarity, she realized she wasn't breathing. In the same moment, Chris began to feel dirt pressing on her chest. Desperately, she inhaled, but she found no oxygen. Only the wet, sandy soil of the Central Coast.

Author Mara Purl
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Milford-Haven Novels Menu

"What The Heart Knows" (Book 1)
"Closer Than You Think" (Book 2)
"Child Secrets" (Book 3)
"Cause & Conscience" (Book 4)
"Nobody's Fault" (Book 5)
"Dream Catchers" (Book 6 - Coming Soon)
"Christmas Angels"

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