A novel by Julia Melano
Newly released February 2021
Ch. 1 Excerpt
Eve finished her book and looked up just in time to catch the last glow of afternoon sun setting over the foothills. The warm 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. She closed her eyes and inhaled 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, soaking up every last bit of the day.
On a low branch in the twisting tree limbs, her mother’s wind chime played a delicate, familiar melody, blocking out every other sensation. Though she tried to fool herself into believing this moment would never end, she knew change would inevitably come. Every sleepy Wyoming summer eventually froze into bleak winter, then melted into dreary spring. But for now, she enjoyed the warmth, happy just to be there, away from the rest of the world.
Ch. 4 Excerpt
They climbed to the top of the hill, listening to the gravel crunch under their shoes, ignoring the signs that read “PRIVATE PROPERTY”.
Soon they found themselves surrounded by a tunnel of tall trees that cast eerie shadows on the ground. Dry leaves and grass caked the road as if no one had ventured up there in years. The air smelled old, like the ancient cedars that surrounded most of the area, and the dust that blew off the road whenever the breeze picked up.
The chilly morning air had disappeared. The sun had reached its height, and the calm, electric hum of insects mimicked the heat waves rising from the road. A lone blue jay flew by, seeming to squawk at half his normal pace. It was as if an unspoken agreement had been made that no creature across the valley should be expected to move quickly that day.
Daniel wiped the sweat from his brow as his blue eyes scanned the forest. “I wish I’d brought water. Hey, you know what?” He smiled excitedly, standing and pointing up the hill. “I think I see it!”
Her 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 imagined, and her feet were reluctant to move.
“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 birdsong 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 parts of it drooped into the tangled ivy below.
Ch. 5 Excerpt
Daniel’s stepfather had arranged logs in the fire pit and was struggling to get the fire to light. Katherine was busy laying out hotdog buns and bottles of ketchup and mustard. The large tent was set up now, and Eve was willing to bet that it was more thanks to Daniel than his stepfather that the area now looked like a camp.
While they waited for the fire to catch, Daniel pulled out the checkerboard he’d brought, and they played a couple rounds. Crickets began to chirp in the woods around them. The two neighboring campsites, which had seemed all but abandoned earlier, were now bustling with families who’d returned from a long day on the lake. The scent of smoky camp food and pine was soothing.
Soon they each grabbed a straightened coat hanger and stuck a hotdog onto the end. The fire hissed and crackled as it licked the food.
After dinner, the mosquitoes came out in full force.
“Daniel, honey, go and change into your jeans,” his mother said. “You don’t want to get bites all over you.”
“Nah, I’m okay,” he replied.
“Dan, do as your mother says,” his stepfather added, tearing open the bag of marshmallows.
“Fine,” Daniel replied in a huff, heading to the tent.
“What’s wrong with that boy today?” Tony whispered under his breath, jamming a marshmallow onto the end of a stick.
Eve fought her temptation to defend Daniel, keeping her eyes on the fire.
After a couple minutes, Daniel returned, carrying a package of Oreos.
“Don’t you want to roast marshmallows with the rest of us?” his mother asked.
“Nah, I don’t like them.” He ripped the package open.
“Since when?” Tony asked. “When we stayed at the Drebbers’ cabin on Lake Shasta a few years ago, you ate half the bag.”
“Well, I guess I got sick of them,” Daniel said, stuffing a cookie into his mouth and glaring at his stepfather. “Wan wunn?” he asked, his mouth full of cookie as he thrust the box at Eve.
Ch. 10 Excerpt
Eve kept her eye on Shelly while her parents drove to the airport to pick George up, and got the apple cider simmering so the house would smell cheerful.
As always, George bustled in as cheery as Santa Claus, carrying suitcases Eve knew were filled with gifts.
Dora passed Shelly to George, and he held her up, admiring every detail of her pudgy face, her body clad in a red and green Rudolph-themed sleeper.
Dora and Eve pulled chairs up to the tree and served mugs of cider.
“You must be so proud,” George said, making a funny face at Shelly.
The baby studied him intently, then let out a gurgle and blew bubbles.
“I can’t believe she’s almost eight months old,” Dora said, wiping Shelly’s face.
“She has Dora’s nose, Rich,” George said.
“And her beauty,” Richard added, taking a swallow of cider.
“And her temper,” Dora added. “This girl does not like mashed peas.”
Ch. 25 Excerpt
Eve made it through the day by pushing everything aside and focusing on other people’s problems. Her patients relied on her. Although she was still hurt, angry, and drained from her argument with Alan, she forced herself to get on with her normal routine. She was sure she’d be able to work through it, eventually.
That evening, she went for a long jog along the Charles River. The brisk winter wind pumped new life into her lungs. She knew she was going to have to face facts. She couldn’t keep the truth bottled up. Shelly and Nadira needed to know.
When she stopped to catch her breath, she watched children playing on swings, packed into bright-colored puffy coats, not minding the cold one bit. Rain clouds rolled in and she stared up at the sky, letting the first few drops hit her face, feeling rejuvenated.
She entered the dark stillness of her townhouse, rubbing goosebumps from her frozen arms, grabbed a glass, filled it with water, and let the cool liquid trickle down her dry throat. The sky grew dark as the rainclouds burst, flooding the streets within minutes, and the wind picked up.
Ch. 33 Excerpt
On the last day of the conference, Eve rented a small Toyota and headed for Wyoming, blasting Aretha Franklin as she powered up the highway, trying to clear her mind. The familiar charm of the western mountains affected her even before she crossed the Wyoming border.
When it grew dark, she was in a remote part of Wyoming, and didn’t know when the next motel might come along. The only other vehicle on the road was behind her, quickly gaining momentum, its high beams shining into her rear-view mirror. Then a large pickup truck passed her, with a gun rack and a bumper sticker with a silhouette of deer antlers and the words “BUCK OFF.” The young driver revved his engine as he drove by, showing off.
For some, the iceberg wasn’t very deep.
It dawned on her that she was alone on this dark road, and it might be a good idea to stop somewhere for the night. As she crested a hill, she spotted the reassuring glow of a Motel 6.
Ch. 39 Excerpt
After dinner, George and Monique delivered Eve to the Hôtel Cocteau on the banks of the Seine where the wedding reception would take place. She had slept through most of the flight, and with her mind still on Boston time, she wasn’t tired. She could already feel the benefits of having left her life behind her.
She admired the décor of her suite, the bronze and blue Louis XVI furnishings, the figurines on the mantel, and the gold-framed mirror in the sitting room. Paradise. And was that chocolate? Oh, dear. My diet is officially over.
In the bathroom, she spotted an old-fashioned claw-footed tub, and a treasure trove of gels and salts in a basket with a note that read “Love, Monique.”
It was foolish to waste a single moment in this city. Her mind was buzzing, and not only from the cold water. It was only ten o’clock, and it seemed a shame not to take a moonlight stroll along the Seine.
She slipped into her jeans, pulled on a light-blue V-neck sweater and black leather jacket, then tucked the gold room key into her pocket. The mirror no longer reflected the bright-eyed college girl she’d once been, but it didn’t matter.
The night was alive with chatter and music from neighborhood restaurants. The intricate architecture and cobblestone pathways were illuminated with bold, twenty-first-century lighting. In the distance, the Eiffel Tower stood bravely at the center of it all, shining like a beacon of strength. Carefree passersby, bundled in hats and scarves, seemed invigorated. And why wouldn’t they be?
Two blocks down, a blue neon sign spelled out Petite Bleu. As a raucous group of four left, the scent of garlic and spices filtered into the street. She was still full after her dinner, but surely, she could find room for one more drink.
Ch. 46 Excerpt
“So, where’s that fierce-sounding creature I heard when I knocked on the door earlier?” she asked.
“Oh, shoot! I forgot about River. I came home in the middle of the day and locked him up so he wouldn’t get into more trouble. He tore up one of my slippers this morning. Are you sure you want dog drool all over your nice clothes?”
“Oh, it’s all right," she laughed. “He must be lonely.”
“He's harmless. But he does have a thing for psychologists,” Daniel said over his shoulder as he walked down the hall. “Okay, take cover!”
River’s toenails clicked on the hardwood floor as he trotted down the hall. When he saw Eve, he bounded across the red living room carpet like a black streak and sniffed her from head to toe.
“He’s beautiful!” she said. “He won’t eat me, will he?” She laughed as River slapped a paw on her knee and tried to lick her face, his big golden eyes looking into hers, his tail wagging eagerly.
Daniel rested his arms over the sofa behind her, watching River drop a rubber bone at her feet. “He likes you already.”
Ch. 47 Excerpt
“So, uh… basement,” Daniel said. “Beware, it’s pretty cold down there.”
“I’m not worried. A little cold never…”
Daniel opened the door at the end of the hallway.
“Dear God!” Eve shouted as a freezing blast hit her face.
Daniel laughed, then flipped a switch and started down the wooden steps.
“Well, that’ll keep me awake. Where’s your sweatshirt?”
“Oh, it’s okay. I’m tough. And we won’t be down here long,” he said, flexing his bicep.
Eve held onto the railing as she followed behind him. She saw a set of weights and a weight bench, some plastic storage bins, camping gear, a sophisticated mountain bike, and a few wooden wine crates featuring the ‘Sinclair’ label.
“I think what we want is in here,” Daniel said, pulling off the lid from one of the bins, and taking out a bundle. “Aha! Yep…”
It was a white pillowcase tied with string and wrapped in plastic. He unwrapped it and handed Eve a stack of letters.
“Are you sure I should be going through these?” she asked, setting her wine glass on a bottom step. “After all, they belonged to your ancestors.”
“It’s fine. There’s nothing in this house you shouldn’t see.