A novel by Julia Melano
Coming in 2021

Ch. 1 Excerpt

As she finished the last page of her book, Eve looked up just in time to catch the last glow of sun setting over the foothills. The warm summer breeze swept through the trees encircling the meadow, creating a mellow, rushing sound like a slowly exhaled breath, and her old, woven hammock creaked as she swung back and forth. To soak up every last bit of the day, she closed her eyes and breathed in the sweet fragrance of dry grass and flowers, dangling her arms down to her sides and running her fingers through the tall blades of grass below.

In the twisting tree limbs above, her mother’s wind chime hung on a low branch playing a delicate, familiar melody, and she smiled, shutting her eyes and blocking out everything but sensation. Though she tried to fool herself into believing this moment would never end, she knew change would inevitably come. These sleepy Wyoming summers always eventually froze into bleak winters and melted into dreary springs. But for now, she enjoyed every last moment of warmth, finding happiness just being here, away from the rest of the world.

Ch. 4 Excerpt

Ignoring the signs that read “PRIVATE PROPERTY”, the kids made their way ambitiously to the top of the hill, listening to the gravel crunch under their shoes.

Soon they found themselves surrounded by a tunnel of tall trees that cast eerie shadows on the ground. The chilly air from the morning had disappeared. The heat of the day had reached its height, and the calm, electric hum of insects mimicked the heat waves rising from the road under the sun. The air smelled old, like the ancient cedars that surrounded most of the area, and the dust, which blew off the road whenever the breeze picked up. It was if no person had ventured up here in years.

“Hey, I think she see it!” Daniel smiled excitedly, stopping in his tracks and pointing up the hill.

Eve's stomach clenched as she spotted a dark green structure deep in the trees. “Oh yeah! Cool!” she said, trying to sound enthusiastic. The house appeared just as frightening as she had pictured, and her feet were reluctant to move.

“My parents might take the house down one day, and I haven’t seen the inside yet," he added persistently. "So, this may be our only chance. Do you want to check it out?”

“Uh… I guess,” Eve agreed hesitantly, ignoring the chills that ran down her spine.

“Come on!” Daniel shouted, leading the way through the trees. “I wonder what’s inside.”

Bones, severed heads… her imagination ran wild.

His eyes were full of mischief as he started up the overgrown walkway to the big two-story house. The sound of chirping crickets echoed through the acres of dense trees, and she couldn’t hear the birds sing anymore. The only sounds were the crunching of their footfalls as they waded through inches of dry leaves and pine needles. Cautiously, Eve followed Daniel up the steps, and when they reached the rickety front porch, they could see that the structure was truly falling apart. Dark green paint was flaking terribly from the siding, and shingles were missing here and there. The porch railing was broken and partially drooped into the tangled ivy below.

Ch. 22 Excerpt

After sipping their coffees together in silence across the kitchen breakfast bar, he went upstairs to prepare for his workday. He hadn’t renewed his apologies, and had seemed to brush everything under the carpet, which went against every fiber in her being, but she figured it was safer to let this one slide, not wanting to relive any more frustration of the words they had exchanged the night before.

Pacing the house for a while, she swept up the dusting of coffee grounds he had spilled, placed their empty mugs into the dishwasher, then took a deep breath and walked down the hall to the laundry room. As usual, she checked the pockets of her clothing before tossing them into the hamper. But as she reached inside the right pocket of her robe, she felt something hard and small.

Pulling the object out, she turned it around in her hand, narrowing her eyes to examine it closer. It was small, about the size of a quarter, and dark red in color.

Alarmed, she jumped and dropped it onto the floor along with the bathrobe, staring at it in fright, as if it were a poisonous spider. It was the red wax seal from the back of the letter she had opened in her dream. There was no mistaking it.

“How on earth?” she shouted.

Ch. 30 Excerpt

Two weeks earlier, on an ordinary Tuesday morning, nineteen al-Qaeda terrorists had hijacked four U.S. commercial airliners. One departed from Newark, another from Washington D.C., and two from Boston. The ten hijackers in Boston managed to make it through Logan security checkpoints carrying box cutters.

All of the flights had been en route to Los Angeles and San Francisco, their bellies full of fuel. Both of the planes that left Boston around eight a.m. ended up demolishing the north and south tower of the World Trade Center in New York, just minutes from where she’d spent four years of her life. The flight that left Washington D.C. crashed into the Pentagon in Virginia. The fourth plane, believed to have been targeting either the Capitol or the White House, ended up crashing in a field in Pennsylvania after the passengers managed to gain control.

A total of 2,996 people lost their lives that day (500 more than were lost in Pearl Harbor) including citizens from 90 countries. Another 6,000 sustained injuries, some of them life-threatening. And that didn’t even include the 80,000 emergency workers present in the aftermath, dealing with the toxic debris where the Twin Towers had once stood as the largest buildings in the world. The media had started referring to this apocalyptic warzone as Ground Zero.

Within the space of a little over an hour, every U.S. citizen from shore to shore had been filled with fear and disbelief, and it wasn’t a feeling that would dissipate anytime soon. Life seemed forever changed. Stores were empty, restaurants were quiet, and it was a struggle to work through the grief and find your way back to normal life.

Ch. 38 Excerpt

Alone at last, she admired the bronze and blue decorated room, complete with miniature statues atop the fireplace mantle and a gold-leaf-trimmed mirror in the sitting room alongside the kitchenette. The ornate, fifteenth century feel of her suite was enough to satisfy a modern-day princess but had a homey atmosphere with a modern-art twist. Paradise. And was that chocolate?

Oh dear. My diet is officially over, she mused.

In the bathroom she spotted an old-fashioned bear claw footed tub, and a treasure trove of gels and salts gift-wrapped inside a basket on the counter. She knew that she should probably enjoy a warm, relaxing bath and go straight to bed to rest after her long flight, but she was suddenly filled with energy and ambition. After all, it would be wrong to miss out on her first Parisian moonlight stroll along the Seine.

She tucked the gold room key into her pocket and slipped on her jeans, then pulled on a light-blue V-neck sweater and black leather jacket, ready for adventure. With a quick glance in the mirror, she noticed that it no longer reflected the bright-eyed college girl she’d once been, but it didn’t matter. She was still young enough to enjoy life.

Ch. 41 Excerpt

“So, where’s that fierce-sounding creature I heard when I knocked on the door earlier?”

“Oh, shoot! I almost forgot River. I came home in the middle of the day and locked him up for the evening so he wouldn’t get into trouble. He tore up one of my best slippers today. Are you sure you want dog drool all over your nice clothes?”

“Oh, it’s all right," she laughed. "He’s probably lonely.”

“He's harmless. But he does have a thing for psychologists,” Daniel said sarcastically over his shoulder as he walked down the hall.

After a moment, the dog bounded out into the living room, a yellow streak across the room. Wiggling over shyly, he sniffed Eve from head to toe.

“He won’t eat me, will he?” she joked, flinching as River slapped a large paw on her knee and attempted to lick her face. “He’s beautiful. Hey, you had a yellow dog when I first met you.”

“Yeah. Maggie. She was great. I just had to get another one like her when I moved out here. But this one’s a little less athletic. He tends to sleep most of the day—that is, when he’s not chewing up my things.”

The dog wagged his happy tail, then went in search of a favorite toy.

Daniel leaned on the edge of the sofa behind her, watching as River dropped a rubber bone at her feet. “He likes you already.” He grinned, then removed his keys from his pocket and set them over on the kitchen counter. "You like Merlot?" he called out, making his way around the corner into the kitchen.

"I thought you'd never ask."