Prologue



Thunder rumbled in the distance, and Danielle wondered idly if her parents had thought to take an umbrella as she listened to the rat-a-tat-tat of the raindrops pelting the window pane.

"Your parents are fine," a warm voice said. Startling her until her eyes connected with her aunt Charity's cornflower blue eyes in the bathroom mirror. "Here. I thought you might need this."

Danielle took the pink toothbrush her aunt offered with a smile and picked up the tube of toothpaste beside the sink. "Thank you."

"You know.if you want, I can call them. Check on them for you. Just in case."

Danielle shook her head. Her dark hair spilling over her shoulders. Tonight was too important. Their anniversary. "That's okay," she smiled. "I believe you."

And she did. Her aunt Charity just knew certain things. Her mom called it a gift.

Her aunt brushed her hair back off her shoulders with cool hands and kissed the top of her head. "Then I'll go check on Tessa."

The lights overhead flickered. "Better hurry up, Dani," she said. Her speech garbled by the toothbrush in her mouth. "Or you'll be brushing you teeth in the dark."



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"Luis.do you think you should call and check on her?"

Luis reached across the table and took his wife's hand between both of his. Running his thumb over the smooth gold of her simple wedding band. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze before speaking. "Baby, Danielle's fine. Miguel and Charity are taking the best care of her."

She smiled at him then. But the smile never reached her beautiful blue eyes. A real smile was a rarity these days. How he wished he could bring the light, the joy, back to her sad eyes.

"If it will make you feel better," he said softly. Reaching into his pocket and withdrawing his cellphone.

"Thank you," she whispered. Kissing his lips gently. Lovingly. And for an instant he thought he saw signs of the old Sheridan.

"Miguel," he said into the mouthpiece of the phone. "Listen.is that gorgeous daughter of mine still awake? She is. Put her on the phone, will you. Sheridan wants to say goodnight." He smiled when he heard his daughter's sleepy voice in the background. "Hi, Sweetheart. Someone wants to talk to you. I love you, too. Goodnight."

And he handed the phone to Sheridan.



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He rubbed his eyes tiredly. A small smile on his face as he listened to his five year-old son's account of his day at the beach with his cousins. And all the fun they had had. Until the dark rainclouds started rolling in. Casting a gloomy shadow over all of Harmony.

Intermittent streaks of lightning lit up the sky. Bringing with them flashes, images, of his not-so-perfect life. His blue eyes perused the spanse of her naked back, and the guilt nearly suffocated him when he heard her worried voice.

"Ethan.where are you? Matthew was so disappointed when you missed dinner. I know things have been strained between us lately."

Bit of an understatement there, don't you think, Theresa, he thought bitterly. I just found out only months ago that you've been lying to me for years. Years, dammit. Forgive me if things seem a little strained.

".are you spending the night at the office again? Ethan.please come home," she cried brokenly. "I love you."

He pushed a button, and the distant sound of a dial tone rang in his ears.

That's why this hurts so damn much.



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She pushed a strand of wet auburn hair from her brow and shrugged the jacket that clung to her like a second skin from her shoulders. Letting it hang loosely from her arm as her eyes adjusted to the dimness of the small, smoky room.

Years ago-before the whole fiasco with Ethan-the people of Harmony would be shocked to see a rich socialite like her in such an establishment. But that was years ago. A lifetime ago she'd think, if only the pain wasn't still so ever-present in her heart.

Things were different now. Very different. She was one of Joe's regulars.

She threw her jacket carelessly across the back of one of the barstools and climbed into the seat next to it. "Give me a."

"I know. I know," Joe cut her off. "Here you go, Ms. Hotchkiss. Strong. Just like you like it."

She held her glass up and uttered the same words she'd uttered for the past ten years. "To my miserable life."

Her blood boiled, and her blue eyes turned to ice when she heard him say, "Look what the cat dragged in."

She slammed her glass against the counter and whirled around in her seat. "Go to hell."

If looks could kill.Hank Bennett would be a dead man.



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Ivy held her breath and counted to ten before saying anything. She would not take the bait this time.

Wouldn't let Kay goad her into another screaming match.

Jessica lay a calming hand on her sister's back. Ever the peace-maker.

"No! I will not keep my mouth shut about this, Dad!" Kay spat. Her voice rising in anger with each syllable. She shoved her chair back from the table. The flashes of lightning reflecting in her wild dark eyes. "You never loved Mom. Not really," she accused. Tears stinging and slipping unchecked down her cheeks.

"Stop it! Stop it right now!" Sam demanded. Grabbing his eldest daughter by the shoulders and shaking her roughly. "I did love your mother," he said emphatically. His blue eyes boring into her. So filled with guilt. With feeling. "I still love her," he admitted quietly.

Ivy's heart constricted at his words. She'd underestimated his feelings so long ago. The ghost of his dead wife haunted every facet of their life together.

"Then why are you with her?" Jessica asked pointedly.

And Ivy fled the living room in tears.



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"There you go. Your arm's as good as new," she said. Giving the young boy a friendly pat on the head and smiling reassuringly at the distraught mother. "Adam will be fine, Mrs. Walker. Just six weeks and that cast should come off."

The tiny brunette in front of her burst into a grateful smile and hugged her impulsively. "Thank you so much, Ms. Johnson."

She smiled back at the younger woman. "Eve," she corrected. "Call me Eve. You be careful on the drive home now, Mrs. Walker. That weather's pretty nasty." An enormous clap of thunder sounded then. As if to prove her point.

"Don't worry. We will. Thank you again, Ms. Joh.Eve," the woman stammered.

Eve waved at the mother and son as they walked out the clinic's doors. The tiny green umbrella useless in this torrential downpour. She waited until they were safely ensconced in the run-down Ford before turning around.

She gasped in surprise at the grizzled old seaman standing before her.

"Can you help her, M'am?"

Eve raised a shaky hand to her mouth. It couldn't be. Grace Bennett was dead.



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"Go on home, Noah," Beth suggested. Handing him a steaming cup of coffee. Black.

Noah quirked a golden brow at her. "To that hellhole? No thanks. My dad can put an engagement ring on his slut's finger, but that doesn't make her respectable. Ivy doesn't love my dad. She's obsessed with him."

"Maybe. I thought the same thing at first, Noah," Beth said. Taking the seat next to him. "But Noah," she said gently. "Now I think it's something more. She isn't your mom. But she does love your dad."

Noah leaned back in his chair. His arms crossed defensively. "I don't care. Mom wasn't gone three months before she moved in on Dad. Three months, Beth. She wasn't even cold in her grave," he said. His voice tight with emotion.

The bells at the front tinkled. Announcing a new arrival.

Kind brown eyes gazed at Noah from across the Book Café, and Beth smiled in relief when the young woman walked toward them slowly. Her long dark hair framing her face as tiny rivulets of water trickled down her chin. "Paloma.talk some sense into him."



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She twisted the newspaper in her hands fretfully. Dread in her bones as she turned the key in the ignition, and the car's windshield wipers ground to a halt. Rain pounded down steadily. She didn't know if it was the cause of the dull roar in her ears or her blood rushing through her veins at this latest news.

She uncurled the paper once more, and boldly splashed across the front page were the words "Julian Crane's Release Set for this Friday."

The paper went on to detail the events of years past leading up to his arrest and eventual conviction. Then there were pictures of both former Mrs. Cranes: Ivy AND Rebecca.

Pilar sighed heavily. Julian's release could only mean one thing for her family. Heartache. And evil.

There was only one effective way to fight evil, she realized. Pulling on the door handle.

She dashed up the steps of the church and stepped inside.

The only light came from the candles that gave the sanctuary an eerie glow.

"We must pray," Father Lonagin said.

And Pilar joined him on her knees. Hoping it would be enough.



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The wind howled. Rapping the branches of the old oak tree against Tessa's bedroom window.

Danielle groaned. Flipping over to her stomach and burying her head under her pillow.

Candlelight bathed the interior of Tessa's room, and objects that seemed harmless enough in the dawn now took on terrifying traits. Danielle's imagination was running rampant. Lightning only added to the sinister setting.

"Calm down," she whispered to herself. "You will not be a baby. You will not." What would Mom or Dad say if they saw you right now? You big sissie. Tessa's just seven. A whole two years younger than you. And she's not afraid. Is she? "Tessa?" she whispered timidly. "Tessa? Are you awake?"

Thunder boomed. Its power making the house's foundation shudder, and Danielle clamped her eyes shut. Trembling in fear when she heard the distinct sound of shattering glass.

"Tessa!" she screamed when she found the sheets next to her cool. "Tessa! Where are you?" she cried frantically. Scrambling out of bed to search for the little girl. The wind whipped her dark hair around her face, and the pouring rain stung at her skin.

"Tessa," she cried in relief when a flash of lightning illuminated the child's scant figure. Her yellow hair plastered to her skull. "Tessa!" she shouted over the roar of the storm. "Are you okay?" she asked in a frightened whisper. Gripping her young cousin by the shoulders with bloodless fingers. "You're scaring me. Please, Tessa. Please. Talk to me."

Tessa stretched a pale slender arm out before her. Pointing to the chaos outside. "Evil.evil.it's coming," she chanted with vacant blue eyes. And Danielle felt a chill run down her spine as lightning struck again and she saw the shadowy figure. Maniacal laughter filled the room, and she covered her ears and screamed in horror.