The House on the Hill - Irina Shapiro

Prologue

If walls could talk, what a story they’d tell—a story of love, betrayal, and murder, the woman thinks as she stands at the top of the stairs watching the newcomer, who is completely unaware of the woman’s ethereal presence. The newcomer is moving around the house with the uncertainty of someone who’s trespassing in someone else’s space, trying it on for size to see if she could make a life for herself there. Many others have passed through the house over the centuries, but this one is different. She’s young, by modern standards, but she’s known the pain of loss and the heartbreak of betrayal. It’s right there in her shadowed eyes and the unhealthy pallor of her face.

Maybe this one will be able to help me, the woman at the top of the stairs thinks. Maybe she’ll succeed where others had failed, and finally set me free so I can fulfill my promise at last.

Chapter 1

Lauren

The Present

The morning was bright and brisk, with wispy clouds racing across the aquamarine sky and playing peek-a-boo with the pale orb of the sun. It was mid-March, but there wasn’t a hint of spring in the air, winter stubbornly clinging on. The roads were clear, but snow still covered much of the ground since the temperature refused to rise above freezing, and the icy breath of the ocean held the shoreline in its thrall.

Lauren peered at the GPS as it instructed her to make a right. The road she turned onto was narrow and surprisingly steep, flanked by ancient trees whose branches moved eerily in the wind. The house was about a mile away, perched on a hill that overlooked Pleasant Bay and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

Lauren hoped she was going to like this one. She’d seen several potential rentals over the past few weeks, but the ones she liked were too pricy and the ones she could afford were little more than shacks that smelled of mildew and had such low ceilings she could reach up and touch them. She hadn’t planned on leaving Boston, but the desperate need to escape her apartment and spend a few months in a place that held no painful memories overwhelmed her.

In two weeks, it’d be a year since Zack died, killed by a sniper’s bullet during the spring offensive in Afghanistan. It had been his third tour and would have been his last. They’d made plans. They were going to sell their apartment in Brookline and buy a house in the suburbs, start trying for a baby, and live a wonderfully boring life where Lauren didn’t lie awake night after night waiting for him to call from overseas or avoid watching the news for fear of hearing something that would send her into a tailspin.

While Zack was away, she’d concentrated on her work, finally completing the last book of the military romance series she’d been writing. She’d often heard the advice “Write what you know,” and this was something she knew—the heart-wrenching goodbyes followed by tearful reunions, the worry, the fear, and the pure joy of those first few weeks of togetherness after Zack finally returned to her, safe and sound. Those first few days were like a second honeymoon, but more intense, more precious. Zack had joked that the months of separation kept the marriage strong because the romance never fizzled out. It stoked their desire for each other and transformed the mundane details of their lives into something magical. They’d talk nonstop, their words tripping over each other and falling like a waterfall from their parched lips, and the need to touch, to feel,