Chapter 29: Things are Never What They Seem

Chantal caught a glimpse of herself in an antique mirror on the wall as she walked into the foyer, and pulled wispy strands of hair behind both ears. “How do I look?” she asked.

“Fine, you better get the door,” said Sierra. “I have to go upstairs to get my umbrella?”

“OK.” Chantal answered the door. “Hi Devlin, come in.”

“Hello sweetheart. Is now a good time to talk?” he asked.



Chantal laughed. “Swell sounds like a throwback to the old days.”

“The old days?” he asked.

“Yes, like the 1930’s. I’m a classic movies fan.”

He blushed. “Shall we take a walk?” 

“I’d like that very much,” she said.

Devlin escorted her through the tall oak double doors, outside amidst the sound of chirping birds and fragrances from the daylily perennial flowerbeds.

“Wait, do you mind if we sit here for a few minutes?” asked Chantal. “Sierra will be leaving soon.”

“OK.” They sat down on a Gothic styled bench near the front gate and started talking.

Meanwhile, Sierra searched her room, and found the umbrella tucked away in the umbrella loops on her brown leather satchel under the desk. She bent over to pick up the satchel and fell to the floor. When she gripped the desk to pull herself up, the wall near the window opened instantly.

Startled, Sierra gasped and asked herself, “What just happened?” She sank down into the chair to process everything. She leaned forward, rubbed her fingers across the front panel of the desk, and discovered a secret button.

She walked into the secret panel with caution, and saw several neatly arranged family heirlooms. A historic restoration specialist, Sierra appreciated the exquisiteness of the items. “This artwork and antique jewelry is priceless,” she said to herself. There, pushed back in a corner on a shelf near the floor, was a vintage silk woven cigar box with an engraved flag of Wales on the cover. She removed it from the shelf and opened it to reveal a key. How odd, she thought.

Then she remembered. “Leslie told me Gary Lloyd hid the key to the iron gate of the mausoleum and permanently locked it, so his son, William D. Lloyd, and his daughter in law would rest in peace forever. “Oh my goodness, is this the key?” she asked herself.

She looked out of the window and took a deep breath. Great, Devlin and Chantal are talking outside, she thought. She walked to the desk and pressed the secret button. After the secret panel closed, she went downstairs.

Oblivious to the world around them, Devlin and Chantal sat on the bench and gazed into each other’s eyes while holding hands.

“Sweetheart, last night I promised to level with you about why I had to leave shortly after dinner,” he said.

“An unpleasant thought entered my mind,” she said.

“The reason for my frequent evening departures is so I can spend dinnertime with my uncle. He lives in a nursing home, and does not have any other living relatives.”

Embarrassed, Chantal held her head down. “Now I feel silly for thinking there might be another woman,” she said.

“Don’t be silly, I should have told you sooner.” Devlin caressed her face gently and hugged her.

She breathed heavily and her heart pounded in her chest. Then, they shared a passionate kiss. Chantal opened her eyes and broke away from his embrace when she looked over his shoulder and saw Sierra approaching them. They stood up to greet her.

“Hello Sierra,” said Devlin.

“How are you?” she asked.

“All is well.”

Sierra blocked the sun from her eyes with her hand.

“Don’t let the sunshine fool you, a burst of summer showers could happen at any moment,” said Devlin.

Sierra laughed. “No kidding, things are never what they seem. I’m leaving to go to a meeting in town, but I would like to meet with you to discuss damages on the second floor.”

“No problem,” he said. “Tomorrow afternoon at two o’clock is good for me.”

“Great, I’ll see you then. I hate to run, but I want to be back before dark.”

Devlin and Chantal said goodbye to her.

Eager to get to the cemetery, Sierra walked away quickly to the car.

Chapter 28: Perfect Timing

Sierra walked hurriedly to Chantal’s bedroom and gripped the doorknob tightly. Then, she stopped abruptly before opening the door. Agitated, she asked herself, “How do I unravel the mystery of Brooke Manor without alarming Devlin or frightening Chantal?”

“Hello, is anyone out there?” Chantal was blissful as she sat on the bed and sketched a picture in her journal.

Sierra took a deep breath and entered the room. “Hey there, it’s only me.”

“You look worried. Is everything OK?” asked Chantal.

Sierra walked over to her. “Everything is fine. What are you doing?”

“Do you remember the information you gave to me about lucid dreams?”

“Yes, what about it?”

Chantal pointed to a picture on her wall. “This drawing is the outline of a man’s face. I’ve been using it to help me recognize when I’m awake or dreaming.”

“It sounds intriguing. How do you know?”

“I know I’m dreaming if I notice distinguished features on the face such as eyes or lips, because those features are not present in the picture now when I’m awake.”

“What does the picture on the wall have to do with the picture you are drawing in your journal?”

“This drawing here has features of William, the man in my dreams and nightmares.” Chantal passed the journal to Sierra. “What do you think? Does this look like Devlin?” she asked.

Sierra peered at the picture. “Oh my goodness, there is an uncanny resemblance to him.”

“Yes, I thought so too,” said Chantal.

The likeness of the sketch to Devlin, and to the photograph of William found in his room, haunted Sierra. The color in her face turned white and she dropped the journal on the floor.

Chantal picked up the journal and held her hand. “What’s the matter sis? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”

Sierra regained her composure and quickly changed the subject. “I’m fine, but we do need to reschedule our shopping trip to town.”

“Oh no,” said Chantal. She held her head down and walked over to the window. Sierra joined her.

“I’m sorry, but my meeting today with the Director of the Mystic Woods Preservation Program to review eligible repairs for the historic rehabilitation tax credit is very important.”

“No hard feelings, I understand.”

“I appreciate that more than you know.”

They hugged each other.

“Isn’t nature amazing? Today, the sun is shining bright.”

Sierra exhaled. “You’d never know there was a storm last night.”

Suddenly, Chantal’s face lit up with a smile. “Hey, it’s Devlin.”

“Where?” asked Sierra with a suspicious expression on her face.

“He’s walking from the gazebo. I think he’s coming to visit us.” Chantal knocked on the wooden shutters three times.

“Great, I can tell him about the water damage in his room.”

“Sierra, may I spend a little time with him first? We have some unfinished business.”

“No problem.”

“I hope he keeps his promise.”

“What promise?” asked Sierra.

“Last night, I asked him to stay until Miles and his mom left. He said he couldn’t, but promised to tell me why later.”

“I see. Well, I can discuss business matters with him another time.”

“Do you think it’s a good idea to tell him you were in his room?”

“Good point. Come, I need to get my purse and car keys.”

Chantal went with Sierra to her room. Then, they walked downstairs together.

“I will excuse myself and leave if Devlin comes to visit you.”


At that moment, there was a knock at the door.

“He’s here,” said Chantal smiling.

“Good luck,” said Sierra.

Perfect timing, this is an opportunity to probe the cemetery for more information without being interrupted, she thought.

Chapter 27: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Later that morning, Chantal joined Sierra in the kitchen for breakfast.

“I checked on you during the thunderstorm last night. How did you sleep?” asked Sierra.

“Fine,” said Chantal.

“I figured you were wearing earplugs because no one could have slept through the noise of banging shutters coming from Devlin’s room. Gusty winds and rain were blowing everywhere until I closed an opened window.”

“How did you get in without a key?”

“Devlin left the door unlocked. The atmosphere was eerie as I walked in his room through a time portal back to the early twentieth century. Dust and cobwebs covered everything.”

“This is an old house,” said Chantal. “What’s unusual about that?” she asked.

“Trust me, you will find out. Don’t be frightened but according to a newspaper article I read, a young married couple died here during the storm in 1938.”

The couple in my dreams died in a storm, thought Chantal.

Sierra continued talking. “Perhaps the room upstairs is a memorial and that is the reason Devlin did not give me a key.”

“Do you mean like our tribute to mom and dad in the living room back home?” asked Chantal.

“Yes,” said Sierra.

“Will Devlin understand why you went into the room?”

“I don’t know, but he should thank me for finding the water damage which needs immediate attention.”

“Is the second floor dangerous?”

“That is unlikely since all the other rooms are safe. I will ask Leslie to do another engineer’s inspection of the upstairs living space. Don’t worry.”

“I’ve finished my breakfast,” said Chantal.

“OK, follow me.”

Next, they went upstairs. “Wait, I need to get my voice activated recorder and a notepad,” said Sierra. She returned and before opening Devlin’s room door, she looked at Chantal and said, “Don’t be alarmed but I saw a mouse in here last night.”

“Remember, I’m not the one who’s squeamish, you are,” said Chantal.

After they entered the room, Sierra opened the shutters to maximize the natural light from outside.

Meanwhile, Chantal’s eyes widened as she scrutinized the furniture and decorations from wall to wall. “Oh my word,” she said. “The lilac colored floral wallpaper, and this old-fashioned black telephone reminds me of scenes from movies in the old days.”

Sierra smiled and asked, “Do you remember telling me, you and Shirley Temple were the same age when you were a little girl?”

“Yes until mom told me Shirley Temple was born in 1928, and made me do the math to figure out her age. I miss mom so much.”

“So do I,” said Sierra. “Ever since then, you’ve had a fascination with the birth-dates and obituaries of actors,” said Sierra.

“Because I’m sickly, I’m always curious about knowing a person’s age when they pass away,” said Chantal.

As Chantal continued talking, Sierra turned on the phonograph to listen to the record she had played the night before, and Chantal blurted out, “Wiener Blut!”

“Have you heard this music before?” asked Sierra.

“Yes, in a party scene from Death Takes a Holiday, made in 1934.”

“What was it about?”

“Death goes on a vacation and lives like a human while posing as a prince. Then, he falls in love with a mortal woman whose father disapproves of the relationship when he discovers Death’s true identity.”

“You’ve just described the movie, Meet Joe Black,” said Sierra.

“I know.”

“Is the atmosphere in here eerie to you?” asked Sierra.

“No, I’ve always felt I belonged to an era in the 1930’s. You’ve told me ghosts and spirits don’t exist. I may sound silly, but I’ve often wondered if I’m reincarnated.”

“Dearest, you’re not silly at all. I’ve evolved since mom and dad died. Life and death as we know it cannot be the end for our souls. I better get to work now.”

Sierra dictated her findings of the damaged floor and walls as Chantal explored the room with her eyes.

“Let’s go, I’m finished,” said Sierra a few minutes later.

“OK,” said Chantal, and they left the room.

Sierra stopped walking in the middle of the hallway. “Chantal, you go ahead, I have to go back to get my notepad. We will meet downstairs in one hour to go shopping.”


When Sierra went back into the room, she saw a medium-sized picture frame lying face down near her notepad for the first time. “How did I miss this?” she asked herself. She picked it up and used her hand to wipe away accumulated dust from the glass.

“Oh no,” she said. Focusing on the images without blinking her eyes, she read the caption beneath the picture. “Mr. and Mrs. William D. Lloyd on their wedding day.” Then, she thought, either William has a striking resemblance to Devlin or Devlin is William’s middle name. “It can’t be possible. I’m going to dig deeper.”

She placed the picture frame face down on the desk and walked out of the room on a mission.



Chapter 26: A Way Out

Early the next morning, beyond the chained iron gate of the mausoleum, Devlin aroused from his spiritual slumber and crossed over into the physical world. Realizing the perils of disclosing his true identity, he paced back and forth, and toiled over an explanation for Chantal about his incessant departures from Brooke Manor at nightfall.

“Where do I begin?” he asked himself. “Chantal’s patience has dwindled. How do I tell her I’m doomed to roam Brooke Manor forever? Unless…”

“She dies for you,” said the voice of a man who appeared as an outline of a dark human silhouette behind Devlin.

Blindsided, by the unexpected visit, Devlin turned to face the visitor. “Amaethon, my soul longs to rest in peace. Why do you torture me so?” he asked.

“Torture?” asked Amaethon. “Pardon the pun, but the origins of your predicament are dead and buried. The established practice of generations past included bargaining with anything for economic success. Many have reached back into the annals of the Lloyd family history and summoned me, the Welsh god of agriculture and controller of the seasons. Your grandfather requested calm weather on the high seas for his shipping business in Wales. Then, your father bequeathed his first-born son for optimal weather during the tobacco planting and harvesting season of May through September.”

“What do you mean? What are you saying?”

“You were a pawn for the precious tobacco farm of Brooke Manor.”

“I am not the first-born son.”

“You’re the first surviving son, but as I stated earlier, you can rest in peace on one condition.”

With an outraged look of disbelief, Devlin walked over to Amaethon and said, “Now you listen and listen good, I will roam the earth for all eternity before I let Chantal give her life for me.”

“Careful lad, you’re too close for comfort,” said Amaethon.

Devlin stepped back.

“There is a reasonable explanation about the fate of your circumstances. You can profess to love another woman or…”

“Or what?” asked Devlin.

“You can tell the truth.”

“The truth, you can’t be serious. She will think I’m insane, and if I tell her there’s someone else, she’ll hate me. Either way, I will lose her forever.”

“It’s a dilemma, but at least she’ll live.”

“Not if her heart is damaged beyond repair,” said Devlin.

“What do you mean?”

“Chantal has a weak heart. The stress may kill her.”

Amaethon appeared to meditate on Devlin’s revelation.

“Don’t you understand?” asked Devlin.

“Therein lies your answer,” said Amaethon.

“I’m appalled. What you are implying does not differ from me killing her with my bare hands.”

“I concede your point, but be prudent about this. The operative word is stress.”

“I’m no murderer.” In a fit of anger, Devlin walked over and grabbed the chained gate.

After regaining his composure, he turned around to face Amaethon.

“Alas, he’s gone,” he said.

Then, he heard the voices of strangers in the cemetery.

“The headstone is beautiful,” said a woman.

“Mother, was dad alone when he died?” asked a younger woman.

“No dear, your father passed away peacefully surrounded by his loving family in the nursing home.”

“I’m sorry I could not get a flight out of Paris before the funeral and burial.”

“Don’t worry sweetheart. He knew you loved him and he loved you. He would have wanted you to dance in the ballet. Your first lead role was all he talked about in his last days.”

“Thank you mom, now I have closure.”

“Come, let’s go home.”

Devlin watched from a distance as the mother and daughter walked away holding hands.

He thought to himself, that’s it. I will tell Chantal that I visit my uncle in the nursing home, at dinnertime in the evenings. I’ll explain, as his only living relative, I’m responsible for making all medical decisions for his treatment.

“There is a way out,” he said to himself.

Chapter 25: Instinct Blindness

Later that night, there was a severe thunderstorm. Frightened by the streaks of lightening and rumbling claps of thunder, Chantal took her medication, changed into her pajamas, and kneeled down to say a prayer before getting into bed.

“Dear Lord, you’ve given me the strength to endure life’s unexpected challenges. Thank you for my sister, who has always been there to support me, and for the opportunity to build a relationship with Devlin. Please bless us all. Amen.”

She reached over to get her earplugs and was about to insert them into her ear to block out the noise from the bad weather when there was a knock on her bedroom door.

“Chantal, are you awake?”

“Yes, come in.”

“Dearest, you look tired.”

“I am.”

“Well, you had an eventful day. Try to get some rest,” said Sierra.

“Are you going to bed now?”

“Not yet, I will be up for a little while longer to review some details of the restoration work that still needs to be done.”

“OK sis, good night.”

Sierra walked over and kissed her on the forehead.

“Good night dearest.”

Then, she went to the private office in her bedroom. After lighting a vanilla scented candle, she sat down at the oak desk to look at the pictures that Devlin had given to her. They were images of the rooms at Brooke Manor in 1899. Under the bright light of a vintage Gooseneck lamp, she focused on the features and finishes of the mansion’s interior structures.

Suddenly, there was a loud clap of thunder. The lights flickered on and off while howling winds violently slammed the shutters in another room. Sierra jumped up from the chair, picked up the candle, and walked to Chantal’s room to check on her.

Great, she’s asleep and wearing the ear plugs, she thought.

Sierra stood in the hallway for a moment. “That noise appears to be coming from Devlin’s room, but there’s no way for me to get inside because he did not give me a key,” she said to herself.

Instinct blindness drove her actions, despite her conscious acknowledgement of the circumstances. In slow motion, she reached out and turned the doorknob. To her surprise, the squeaky door opened.

The wind surged through the window with a force so strong, the door slammed shut. With a haunted expression on her face, Sierra held the burning candle and cleared away the dust and scattered cobwebs. As she approached the window and closed it, she discovered extensive water damage and mold growth. There were splits in the rotted wood panels, and the baseboards along the interior wall had deteriorated.

The second floor may not be as safe as everyone assumed, she thought.

Sierra scanned the room for a closer inspection. She noticed the print of the painting, American Gothic on the wall. Then, she saw the Phonograph Tube Radio Record Player on the desk. She saw a record from 1935, on the turntable. The music was a waltz by Johann Strauss Sohn, titled, “Wiener Blut,” Op. 354. She found the power switch and turned on the phonograph to listen to the music.

Very nice, she thought.

With her vast experience of restoring buildings from different historical time periods, Sierra said to herself, “This room pays homage to a shrine during an era in the early 1900’s. Every detail lacks the touch of a modern man like Devlin, from the twenty first century.”

Then, she looked down and saw an opened photo album on the floor. A page contained the image of a couple in a newspaper article from the Woodbine Chronicle, dated on July 28, 1938. Sierra started to read the article aloud.

“Sections of Woodbine, including surrounding areas of Mystic Woods lay submerged in more than 8 feet of water when the destructive power of the killer hurricane produced a storm surge of 16 to 22 feet.  Notable deaths from the storm included William D. Lloyd and his wife Christa Lloyd, of the prominent Lloyd tobacco family at Brooke Manor. Married for six months, they were newlyweds, expecting their first child.”

Wait, this is the same article I read at the Mystic Woods Historical Society, thought Sierra.

She was about to look through the photo album when a mouse scurried across her foot. She screamed and ran out of the room.

“That’s it for tonight,” she said. “It’s time to get some sleep.”

She walked back to her room and went to bed.

Chapter 24: Mission Accomplished

Chantal stared with a fixed gaze out of the bay window overlooking the front entrance of Brooke Manor, and watched Devlin as he walked away. She listened to the sound of his fading footsteps, which crackled in the gravel until he disappeared from sight beyond the giant sycamore trees.

“I wonder what summoned him away?” Chantal asked herself. Then, the moonlit sky sprinkled a mist of rain to the earth. “Oh, my poor guests!” she shouted.

Sierra overheard her after she returned from the courtyard with Miles and his mother. “No worries dearest,” she said when they joined Chantal in the foyer.  “We came inside when it rained.”

“I’ll take a rain-check for another tour on a future date. That is, if you don’t mind,” said Miles as he turned to Chantal.

“That will be fine, but may I please speak with you alone for a moment?” she asked.

Miles had a look of elation. “OK,”  he said.

Chantal pulled him away to the side for a private discussion. “Miles, you’re always welcome to come back. Please understand, Devlin is an important part of my life. You and I are friends.”

“Just like that?” asked Miles.

“Yes, just like that,” said Chantal.

“If that is your wish,” said Miles.

“It is,” said Chantal.

“Understood,” said Miles. He walked back into the foyer.

“Well ladies, thank you for a lovely evening,” said his mom. “We must be going. My flight leaves early tomorrow morning.”

“I guess we better call for the car,” said Miles.

“Sierra had Leslie call Barrymore while you were talking to Chantal. He’s outside waiting now,” said Miles’s mother. “You darlings were wonderful hostesses. Thank you both for the nice evening.”

“Madame Banks, here’s your handbag,” said Leslie.

“Thank you. Good night,” she said.

“Goodbye Sierra,” said Miles.

“Thanks for coming, we enjoyed you and your mother,” said Sierra.

“Chantal, it was great to see you again,” he said.

“Take care,” said Chantal.

Then, Leslie escorted Miles and his mom to the car. Chantal and Sierra walked into the parlor room and sat on the sofa.

Turning to face Sierra, Chantal asked, “What did you think of the evening?”

“Everything went well considering that Miles brought his mother along as his dinner companion,” said Sierra.

“Although, she loathed me for being the object of Miles’s affections, in a strange way I’m glad she came with him,” said Chantal.

“How so?” asked Sierra.

“She was opinionated, which broke the ice and made for interesting discussions. There was never a dull moment.”

“Touché,” said Sierra. “We won’t argue on that point.”

“Miles still loves me. I got the distinct impression he was more interested than his mother was, in knowing if Devlin lived here.”

“I agree. He recognized your warm relationship with Devlin, and could see you’re not into him anymore.”

“Without a doubt, I am over Miles. But, I felt his pain when Devlin told him, he entertains me while you are working.”

“Well, he and his mother noticed a change in you. Mission accomplished. It was a favorable outcome,” said Sierra.

“Devlin was the quintessential gentleman. He did not appear to be the least bit jealous,” said Chantal. “I wanted him to stay after dinner was over to help me resolve Miles’s desire to reconcile with me.”

“Did you notice he excused himself again soon after it became dark?” asked Sierra.

“Yes,” said Chantal. “Do you think he’s in a relationship?”

“If you mean another woman, I don’t know,” said Sierra. “I’m sure Ella could  answer that question.”

At that moment, Ella and Leslie approached the opened double doors to the parlor room. Sierra and Chantal stood up and walked towards them.

“Thank you both for the excellent job you did tonight,” said Chantal. “The dinner was delicious.”

“It was my pleasure,” said Ella.

“Mine too,” said Leslie.

“You’re a first class team,” said Sierra. “Miles and his mother complimented you both on the dinner.”

“That was nice,” said Ella.

“Mother and I cleaned the kitchen and put the leftovers in the refrigerator,” said Leslie.

“There should be enough food for the next few days,” said Ella.

“Thank you,” said Chantal.

“We appreciated your efforts,” said Sierra.

“It was not a problem. Good night,” said Ella.

“Until we see each other again,” said Leslie.

“Let us show you out,” said Sierra.

They walked to the front door and said good-bye.



Chapter 23: It’s Complicated

As the evening wore on, Chantal entertained her dinner guests. The conversations flowed effortlessly for everyone, except Miles, who was absent in the midst of all the chatter.

Chantal has changed, he thought. There is something different about her. She was charming as the perfect hostess when mother and I arrived, but I can’t help but feel as though my status has been relegated to that of a mere friend. He remained drowned in his observations until Devlin called out his name, and asked him a question.

“Miles,” said Devlin.

“Yes,” he answered.

“Chantal told me that you’re in Woodbine on an assignment to investigate the gas explosion that occurred several weeks ago.”

“That’s right,” said Miles.

“How is that going?” asked Sierra.

“It’s a work in progress. So far, our accident division has worked closely with the Chemical Safety Board, and determined that sabotage was the cause because of similarities to an incident at our company headquarters in California,” said Miles.

“I don’t understand it. Our company always had an outstanding safety record,” said Miles’s mother.

“Perhaps, that is why Ian considered that a disgruntled former employee was involved.”

“Ian is my uncle. He’s the president of our company,” added Miles.

“Is he the one you were staying with in California for the summer?” asked Chantal.

“Yes. At any rate, we were fortunate there were no serious injuries or deaths.”

“Thank goodness or we may have gone under due to bankruptcy from more lawsuits,” said Miles’s mother.

“How long do you expect the investigation to last?” asked Devlin.

“It varies depending on different factors from eyewitness accounts to the safety of the plant’s operating infrastructure, and the proper management of combustible chemicals to prevent hazardous reactions.”

“What’s your role in all of this?” asked Sierra.

“Yeah, how have you contributed to the investigation?” asked Devlin.

“I worked with the hazards prevention team to compile the data about the errors that caused the accident, to formulate a root cause analysis to prevent a similar accident from occurring again,” said Miles.

“Wow,” said Chantal. “I’m impressed.”

“Me too,” said Sierra.

“It sounds like you will be around for some time,” said Devlin.

“I believe I will be,” said Miles turning to Chantal with a smile on his face. The deadpan expression on Devlin’s face concealed his recognition that Miles would be his rival for a little while longer.

“That’s enough shop talk for now,” said Miles’s mother. “Chantal, how about a stroll in that storybook courtyard of yours to work off some of these calories?”

“I would be delighted to show you around. We’d better hurry before it gets dark,” said Chantal.

“Lovely, Sierra, you must invite me back again for a complete tour of the entire estate once you’ve finished the restoration. I will fly back into town just for that,” said Miles’s mother.

“Sure,” said Sierra.

By this time Ella and Leslie had entered the dining room and began clearing items from the table.

“Chantal, if the courtyard is as romantic as you’ve said it is, I’m eager to see it too,” said Miles.

After a brief sigh, and feeling slightly awkward, Chantal looked at Devlin and said, “Perhaps you can join us and give an oral history of Brooke Manor.”

Meanwhile, being aware of the approaching darkness, Sierra was inconspicuous as she carefully studied Devlin’s reaction to Chantal’s question about whether he would join them. She watched as he glanced up at Ella. She saw their eyes meet as if they were reading each other’s mind. Then, she noticed that they both looked over at the miniature Gothic styled Junghans clock on the dining room table at the same time. It was eight o’ clock.

Finally, Devlin said, “I’m sorry Chantal, but I can’t stay. I must go now.”

Here we go, and I bet Ella knows why Devlin can’t stay, thought Sierra.

“That’s fine,” said Chantal.

“Chantal, I will go with Mrs. Banks and Miles to the courtyard while you say goodnight to Devlin,” said Sierra.

“Thank you,” said Chantal.

“You don’t have to leave your guests. I can show myself out,” said Devlin.

“I don’t mind,” she said. “Everyone, please excuse me, I’ll be right back.”

“Goodnight Mrs Banks. Goodnight Miles. It was a pleasure to meet both of you,” said Devlin.

“Same here,” said Miles.

“I look forward to seeing you again when I return for the tour,” said Miles’s mother.

“I will be here,” said Devlin.

“Goodnight Sierra.”

“Goodnight,” said Sierra.

Sierra left the dining room with Miles and his mother. They went to the courtyard when Chantal and Devlin walked into the foyer.

“Devlin, I don’t want Miles to get the wrong impression.”

“Don’t worry, his mother will make sure he doesn’t,” said Devlin. “I think they know that we are a couple.”

“Can you please stay just a few minutes longer until they leave?” asked Chantal.

“I wish I could, but I can’t,” he said.

“Why not?” asked Chantal with a melancholy look on her face.

“It’s complicated,” he said. “I will explain it to you later.”

“OK, I will wait since there is nothing I can do about it.”

“We’ll talk soon, I promise. Goodnight,” he said.


Devlin kissed Chantal on the lips and walked away, unbeknownst to her, to his final resting place.

Chapter 22: Irons in the Fire

Chantal was nervous.

Devlin stood by quietly and watched the drama unfold. A pillar of support, he winked an eye at Chantal and whispered in her ear, “Sweetheart, relax, you can do this.”

Chantal regained her composure as Leslie escorted Miles and his mother into the foyer. She released her sweaty palm from the clutches of Sierra’s fingers and took a bold step forward.

“Hello Mrs. Banks. Hello Miles. Welcome to Brooke Manor,” she said.

“Good evening Chantal,” said Miles’s mother.

“You look beautiful,” said Miles in a blissful state of euphoria with a fixed gaze on Chantal, which had not gone unnoticed by Devlin.

“Thank you. Mrs. Banks, do you remember my sister, Sierra?” asked Chantal, in an effort to take Miles’s etched focus off her.

“Yes, we’ve met before. How are you dear?”

“We’re happy that you could join us,” said Sierra.

“The pleasure is mine,” said Miles’s mother.

“What’s up Sierra?” asked Miles.

“Hi, how are you?”

“Much better, now that I’m here,” he said. “You made this possible.”

“Congratulations on being commissioned to restore such an exquisite property,” said Miles’s mother.

“Thank you,” said Sierra.

“Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to escort you to the parlor room,” said Leslie. Everyone followed him into the parlor room. Then, he left and went to the kitchen.

“The decor is nice, right down to the paintings and hanging light fixtures,” said Miles’s mother.

“Thank you,” said Devlin. “Most of the paintings were passed down the Lloyd family line for generations in Wales.

“And who are you?” asked Miles’s mother in a jovial tone.

“Please allow me to introduce myself,” said Devlin.

Chantal turned to Devlin. “Oh, I am so sorry. Mrs. Banks and Miles, this is Mr. Devlin Lloyd. He’s the owner of Brooke Manor.”

“Aren’t you a tad young?” asked Miles’s mother.

“Mother please,” said Miles. He was not amused.

“It’s OK, I’ve heard that before,” said Devlin turning to Miles. “It’s a pleasure to meet you both.” Then, he extended his arm to shake Miles’s hand.

“Have a seat, make yourselves at home,” said Chantal.

Miles’s mother took a seat next to him and Chantal on a velvet, garnet colored sofa. Sierra sat nearby on a plush parlor chaise lounge chair.

“May I get you all anything to drink?” asked Devlin before he walked towards a mahogany wood cocktail bar cabinet, stocked with alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages.

“I’ll have sparkling water with lemon,” said Miles’s mother.

Devlin gave her a glass of sparkling water.

“Thanks,” she said.

Then, he sat down in one of the bonded black leather arm chairs across from her, and she asked several questions about his plans for Brooke Manor going forward.

Meanwhile, Miles leaned over and spoke softly to  Chantal.  “It has been too long. My heart quivered this evening when I saw you,” he said. “I will be in Woodbine for six more weeks. May I see you again?”

“I don’t know, let me think about it,” she said.

“Mother stopped into town to visit me when she was on her way back home, after shopping in New York. I hope you don’t mind that I brought her as my dinner companion.”

“Of course not,” said Chantal.

Sierra noticed the small talk and wondered what Devlin thought about Miles’s attentiveness to Chantal. She hoped he understood that Miles was only a distraction and nothing more.

Chantal looked over and smiled as she made eye contact with Devlin. He smiled back at her under the guise of indifference, and  he sensed the onset of a rivalry with Miles for her affections.

A few minutes later, Leslie came back from the kitchen. “Dinner is served,” he said. “I will escort you all to the dining room.” They followed him.

“Oh, how clever, we have seating arrangements, and I’m seated next to  Mr. Lloyd,” said Miles’s mother.

Devlin pulled out a chair for her to sit down in.

“Thank you,” she said.

Soon, everyone sat comfortably, and they started chatting while Leslie poured water, tea, and coffee for them

“Sierra, when do you expect to have Brooke Manor completely restored to it’s original beauty?” asked Miles’s mother.

“We’re in the beginning phase of doing repairs in the foyer to stabilize and rebuild the staircase. Then, we’d like to refurbish the water damaged areas on the floor and mansion walls. We’ll focus on the aesthetic features last. So, it may take six months to a year to restore everything.”

“Will you be here until the project is finished?” asked Miles.

“No. I will be here during the summer through late September, but I will visit periodically to monitor the progress.”

“Mrs. Banks, you and Miles have to see the courtyard after dinner. It has a gazebo. It’s a nice romantic hideaway,” said Chantal.

“Umm, did you say romantic hideaway? What a curious choice of words,” said Mile’s mother looking at her son as though he could read her mind.

“What I meant is, the scenery is like a picture in a romance novel, that’s all,” said Chantal.

“Dinner is served,” said Leslie as he pushed a dinner cart into the dining room with his mom, Ella, by his side. They started serving the first course of potato onion soup.

“In fact,” said Devlin, “I’ve been thinking about making the courtyard available for wedding parties.”

Sierra looked at him and said, “That’s a wonderful idea.”

“I love it,” said Chantal.

“So Devlin, tell me about yourself,” said Miles’s mother. “Are you living here?”

“Now mother, that is personal,” said Miles. Although, he secretly yearned for an answer to the question.

“No, I don’t live here, but I do come by often to help Sierra with the original details of the property, and to visit Chantal when Sierra is busy working long hours.”

“That’s convenient.”said Miles’s mother.

“What do you do for a living?” asked Miles.

“Nothing at the moment,” said Devlin seeming inscrutable. For now, I just manage the property.”

Miles had a sullen expression on his face. He was not oblivious to the chemistry between Devlin and Chantal. We both have our irons in the fire. May the best man win, he thought.

Chapter 21: Let the Games Begin

“White or fuchsia?” asked Chantal as she held two evening dresses on hangers near her face, while she stood in front of a full length mirror in Sierra’s room.

“The white halter dress, and it’s almost six o’clock already. You only have a few minutes to get dressed,” said Sierra.

“I’ll hurry. By the way, you look beautiful in your royal blue maxi dress with your hair swept up. Who are you trying to impress?” asked Chantal.

“Well, Leslie Brent, if you must know.”

“I figured as much. You won’t have any problems there.”

“Since I’m dressed, I will go downstairs and check in with Ella to see if she needs any help.”

“OK,” said Chantal. “Miles has a proclivity for being early. I will join you as soon as I put my dress on.”

“Dearest, are you nervous?”

“Just a little,” said Chantal.

“That’s to be expected,” said Sierra.

“I know,” said Chantal and she went back to her bedroom.

Meanwhile, Ella used the servant’s quarters near the kitchen to change out of her usual old-fashioned maid’s uniform and black opaque stockings. She put on a formal long-sleeved ankle length, grey taffeta maid’s uniform dress and a white apron. She took one last stroll through the parlor room, and tidied it up before going into the dining room to make sure everything was in order.

Sierra came downstairs and followed her into the dining room. For the first time she noticed that Ella walked with a slight limp in her right leg.

“Don’t you look nice,” said Sierra.

“Oh,” said Ella. She turned around and faced Sierra. This old dress belonged to my mother. I still remember her wearing it for special occasions when I was a small child.

“Did you recently hurt yourself?” asked Sierra. “I just noticed that you’re walking with a limp.”

“No, I’ve walked this way ever since I was a little girl of six years old. It’s from an old childhood injury.”

“Huh, I never noticed it before,” said Sierra. The grey color is very becoming on you, and it compliments your silvery colored hair.

“Thank you,” said Ella. “I need to get back to the kitchen to take the rack of lamb out of the oven, but first I will put the place cards on the table so everyone will know where they’re sitting.”

“I can help you with that,” said Chantal who came downstairs unnoticed, and overheard the two of them talking as she entered the dining room.

Ella looked at Chantal with a surprised look on her face. The place cards fell out of her hand to the floor.

“I’m sorry for being so clumsy,” she said.

“It’s OK, I’ll pick them up,” said Sierra bending down to get them.

After noticing the expression on Ellas face, Chantal asked her, “Is everything alright? Did I frighten you?”


“Are you sure? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”

“You look like someone I used to know a long time ago, that’s all,” said Ella.

“Chantal, here are the cards,” said Sierra placing them in Chantal’s opened hand.

Ella went back into the kitchen.

Chantal set the place cards on the dining table and described the seating arrangement to Sierra. “I will sit at the foot of the table. Miles will sit to my right. You will sit to my left and Devlin will sit next to you. If Miles brings a guest, she will sit next to Devlin.”

“Let’s wait in the parlor room until the guests arrive,” said Sierra.

“OK,” said Chantal.

Then, there was a sharp knock at the front door.

Leslie opened the door.

It was Devlin. Dressed to the nines, he wore a vintage 1938 dinner jacket, white scarf, and black cuffed trousers with his coal colored hair slicked back.

“Good evening Devlin. Please come in.”

Devlin chuckled and said, “I almost didn’t recognize you.”

“I’m helping my mother, Ella.”

Time stood still for Devlin as the two sisters walked into the foyer where he stood motionless, as if he was in a trance.

This is too eerie, he thought. “Chantal resembles Christa who wore a white gown at my graduation dinner in 1937. Chantal’s taste in clothing and that thing she does with her hair, the wavy peek a boo bang over her right eye, is more than a mere coincidence,” he said to himself.

Chantal walked over and took his hand.

“Oh Devlin,  I’m so glad it’s you. I was so hoping you would arrive before Miles did.”

“Chantal, you look gorgeous. These are for you.” He gave her a fresh bouquet of white roses that he held in his hand, which was hidden behind his back.

“Very nice,” said Sierra looking on.

“They’re lovely,” said Chantal. “I am pleasantly surprised.” Then, she held the roses to her nose and smelled them.

“They symbolize purity, spirituality, and new beginnings,” said Devlin. “They’re all the attributes that you embody.”

“Thank you,” she said as she leaned in towards him and kissed him on the cheek.

“I’ll take these to Ella and ask her to put them in a vase,” said Sierra.

“Thank you,” said Chantal.

“They will look lovely as the centerpiece on the dining table. I’ll be right back,” said Sierra. She walked away towards the kitchen.

Suddenly, Leslie let out a loud wolf whistle as he stood in front of the stained glass bay windows overlooking the front entrance near the front door.

Devlin and Chantal heard Leslie’s whistle. They went to look out the window to see what the reaction was about.

“Wow, that’s a nice limousine,” said Chantal.

“I think it’s a little over the top if you ask me,” said Sierra, who returned from the kitchen.

Then, the chauffeur got out of the car. He opened a passenger door and extended his hand to help a woman dressed in classic couture get out of the luxury sedan. She wore a black evening dress. Miles got out behind her. He wore a grey flannel suit.

Sierra turned around and faced Chantal to gauge her inner compass. The nerve of Miles to bring a date to my sister’s dinner party. Besides that, she looks several years older than him, she thought.

Well-trained in service etiquette, Leslie had by now opened the door to greet the new arrivals.

“What’s your name please?” asked Leslie of the pair who, from a distance, appeared to be a couple.

“Have we met before?” asked Miles. “You look familiar.”

“Not now,” said the woman standing next to him. “Let the gentleman announce us.”

As she continued looking out of the window, Chantal noticed that Miles was twirling his hair. She asked herself, “Why is he nervous?’

Sierra looked at Chantal and Miles. “Let’s take our places along the wall of the foyer, to greet Miles and his guest when they enter through the front door,” she said.

“OK,” said Chantal with Devlin standing next to her.

Leslie proceeded, and announced the couple’s arrival.

“Introducing Mrs. Ava Banks and Mr. Miles Banks,” he said.

A stoic look washed over Chantel’s face. Her discomfort was undeniable.

Sierra placed her hand in Chantal’s hand to support her sister emotionally.

“Let the games begin,” she said.

Chapter 20: The Ex- Factor…Life Goes On

Wanting to relax after assisting Ella in the kitchen, Chantal curled up on the sofa in the parlor room next to Devlin as he read a quote aloud to her from her favorite book, Sons and Lovers, a novel written by D. H. Lawrence in 1913.

“Recklessness is almost a man’s revenge on his woman. He feels he is not valued, so he will risk destroying himself to deprive her altogether,” read Devlin.

He glanced over at Chantal who seemed absent and preoccupied.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

“For the first time in weeks, I can read or listen to some of my favorite sentimental quotes from the book without crying.”

“How do you really feel about facing Miles tonight?” asked Devlin.

Scratching her head, Chantal chided herself for second guessing her dinner invitation to Miles. Then smiling, she answered his question. “This book was a litmus test for some of my decisions.”

“How so?” he asked.

“It was my love for Paul and Miriam’s love story that motivated me to sign up for the high school drama class, where I  first met Miles. Because of their story, I understand the influence that Miles’s  mother has in his life. I’m not angry, and my heart doesn’t ache anymore when I think of him as my ex boyfriend. My memories of our relationship are pleasant now.”

“My, my, you’ve matured so much since the first day I sat down and talked to you in the courtyard,” said Devlin.

“I will be nineteen years old in December, but with the loss of my parents and the break-up with Miles, I have a better appreciation for the adage that life goes on.”

At that moment, the sound of gravel crackled under the friction from tires in the summer heat, as a car pulled up and came to a complete stop in the driveway.

Chantal looked at Devlin and asked, “Who could be here this early?”

“Let’s go see,” he said.

As they walked into the foyer, Leslie Brent could be seen getting out of his black car through the windows in the foyer. He wore a formal one button black jacket, with black and grey striped  trousers, and a white dress shirt.

Chantal opened the door.

“Hi Leslie. What a nice surprise.” she said.

“Hello Chantal.”

“Sierra did not tell me that she invited you to the dinner party. You’re early.”

“Hello Leslie,” said Devlin.

“Hi there,” said Leslie.

“Chantal, I better get going so I will be on time for dinner,” said Devlin.

“OK,” I will see you later,” she said and Devlin walked away.

“Chantal, I was not invited as a guest. My mother called me this afternoon and asked if I could be available to help her serve dinner for some very important guests this evening. She told  me to dress  in a formal servant’s uniform, ” said Leslie.

“Your mother? I’m confused, I don’t understand,” she said.

“Chantal, my mother is Ella, she’s been the housekeeper for the Lloyd family for years,” said Leslie.

“Oh Leslie, I’m so sorry. Please forgive my manners for having you stand outside this long. Do come in,” said Chantal apologetically.

“No worries. So you see, I’m only here to help her out,” he said.

“I was just surprised to see you that’s all. Come on, let’s go to the formal dining room where Ella and Sierra were a few minutes ago, setting the table.”

Leslie followed Chantal to the formal dining room. Sierra saw them as she walked into the hallway to go back into the kitchen.

“Leslie Brent, is that you?” Sierra asked with an astonished look on her face.

He walked over and said, “Hello Sierra, it’s always good to see you.”

“Why are you dressed in formal servant’s clothing?” she asked.

Chantal  interjected and answered the question for him. “You will never believe this, but Leslie is Ella’s son. He’s here to help her serve our dinner guests this evening.”

Sierra turned to Leslie and said, “Not that it’s a problem or anything, but is she kidding me?”

“No, it’s true. Ella is my mother.

“Well, it’s always a pleasure to see you,” said Sierra.

Blushing, he said, “The feeling is mutual.”

“I must say you do clean up nicely,” said Sierra smiling alluringly. I would have invited you, but Chantal made the dinner arrangements last night.”

“Maybe next time,” said Leslie.

“Yes, most definitely for sure,” said Sierra. “Hey, do you remember the guy that came up to me and asked about Chantal when you and I met at the café last week?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Well, that’s who’s coming to dinner, and Devlin Lloyd will be here too,” said Sierra.

“That will be interesting,” he said.

Then, Ella walked out of the kitchen pushing a light cart containing napkins and polished silverware.

“Oh son, you made it,” she said after seeing Leslie. “Thank you for coming on such short notice.”

Walking over to her, Leslie hugged her and said, “Mother, you’re my favorite girl. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you. Here, let me get the items off the cart  for you.”

“Leslie, this is Ms. Sierra and Ms. Chantal Rhys. They’re sisters.

”Mother, we’ve met already.”

“OK,” said Ella.

“We’d better finish setting the table,” he said.

“Son, remember, we will serve each course of dinner from the kitchen.”

“Yes mother,” he said.

Sierra and Chantal marvelled at the affection between mother and son, until Chantal looked up at the miniature Gothic styled Junghans clock that served as a centerpiece for the dining room table.

“Oh my goodness, it’s five o’clock,” she said. “Sierra, we need to go, and start getting dressed.”

“Thank you Ella and Leslie so much for all of your help,” said Sierra.

“We’ll be back soon,” said Chantal, as she and Sierra left the dining room to get ready for her big night.

Chapter 19: Coming Full Circle

“Chantal, wake up,” said Sierra as she tapped her on the shoulder.

“Wake up,” she said again.

“What do you want?” Chantal asked slowly squinting her eyes.

“It’s after nine o’clock and Ella is here. We need to talk to her about our dinner party plans for tonight. She’s going to need our help with the preparations.”

“OK, I’m up,” said Chantal reluctantly, stretching her arms up in the air.

“Good. So, will I see you in the kitchen soon?” asked Sierra.

“Yes,” said Chantal.

“By the way, breakfast is ready. Ella cooked some of the Lloyd family favorites for us,” said Sierra as she walked out of the bedroom and closed the door.

Chantal sat up in bed and contemplated whether she’d made the right decision to invite Miles to dinner at Brooke Manor. Then, she went into the bathroom to take a shower before going downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast.

“Good morning Ella,” said Chantal.

“Hello Chantal, how are you?

“I’m fine, thank you. The food smells delicious.”

“I’ve cooked a variety of Welsh breakfast foods for you and Sierra.”

Smiling, Sierra said, “Ella cooked enough food to get us through the entire week.”

“What do we have here?’ asked Chantal walking over to the kitchen counter stocked with covered casserole dishes of cooked food.

“There’s Welsh sausage, fried mushrooms with tomatoes, black pudding, smoked Kipper, porridge, and fried eggs,” said Ella as she proudly lifted the glass cover of each dish to reveal its contents.

“May I have some porridge?” asked Chantal.

“Sure,” said Ella. “Would you like sugar and milk in it?” she asked.

“Yes please,” said Chantal.

“Sierra, would you like anything?” asked Ella.

“I’ll try the smoked Kipper and fried mushrooms with tomatoes,” said Sierra.

“What is Kipper?” asked Chantal.

“Kipper is a herring fish,” said Ella.

“And it’s loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids, which is good for your heart,” said Sierra.

“OK, nice tip,” said Chantal.

“Ella, we’ve planned a dinner party for four, for tonight,” said Chantal. “We went grocery shopping last night and bought everything you’ll need.”

“We were hoping you would cook the items listed on this menu,” said Sierra as she gave Ella a small notepad.

Reading softly to herself, Ella said, “Rack of lamb is one of Master Devlin’s favorite recipes. How did you know?”

Sierra and Chantal were relieved. They looked at each other blissfully.

“Umm, I didn’t know that,” said Chantal. “It was our father’s favorite dish. He had a very discriminating taste.”

“I see, well, I will be happy to take care of the dining arrangements. I will even stay and serve the guests.”

“Are you sure?” asked Chantal.

“Yes,” said Ella.

“We can’t ask you to do that,” said Sierra.

“It’s not a problem. I can call my son and he will dress for the part to help to me. We will impress your guests. Besides, it’s only dinner for four.”

“Well, it’s possibly five, since I did tell one of the guests he could bring someone with him,” said Chantal.

“No worries. You two finish your breakfast and I will take care of the preparations for the dinner party,” said Ella.

“Thank you,” said the sisters in unison.

Ella excused herself from the kitchen to do her regular cleaning chores. She hummed a song she’d learned as a child, while dusting the furniture in the foyer. Then, there was a knock at the door. She looked out of the stained glass bay window, saw Devlin, and opened the door.

“Good morning Master Devlin. Please come in,” she said.

“Hello, Sweet Ella. My, you’re in a good mood today. Then, he began to whistle “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”

“I was just humming that.”

“I know,” he said. There’s life in Brooke Manor again and it’s wonderful.”

“Chantal and Sierra are in the kitchen,” she said. He followed her into the kitchen.

“Good morning,” he said.

“Hello Devlin,” said Sierra

“Hi Devlin. Would you like some breakfast or tea?” asked Chantal

“No thank you.”

“If you don’t have any plans tonight, I’d like to invite you here to a dinner party at six’o clock this evening,” said Chantal

“What’s the occasion? Who are the guests?” asked Devlin.

Chantal glanced at Sierra with a deadpan expression on her face to hide her discomfort with the question about the guests.

Standing in the kitchen near the stove, Ella sensed their uneasiness. For the first time, she wondered about the motives for having the dinner party.

“Please excuse me, I have more cleaning to do,” she said, and left the kitchen.

“Devlin,” said Chantal, “I’ve invited my ex-boyfriend, Miles. He’s on an assignment in Woodbine to investigate an explosion for his family’s oil company.”

“I will be here,” said Devlin.

“Great. I was hoping you could hang around until eight or nine o’clock after the guests leave.”

Devlin thought to himself, my physical transformation from this world into the spirit realm begins during the first phase of twilight. I have to be in my final resting place.

“I’m not sure I will be able to stay until seven-thirty, so lets play it by ear,” he said.

“OK,” said Chantal. She turned to Sierra and asked, “May I please speak with Devlin privately, alone, for a moment?”

“Of course. I will go and see if Ella can use some help. Goodbye Devlin,” said Sierra.

“I’ll see you later,” said Devlin.

Chantal walked over to him and leaned in closer to him.

“Listen Devlin, I’m sorry for springing this on you at the last-minute,” she said.

“I’m fine,” he said

“I’m glad to hear that,” said Chantal, and she reached out and held his hands.

He kissed her on the cheek.

“Thank you,” she said. “If all goes well this evening, I will never have to see Miles again. I will have closure and my life will come full circle.”

Chapter 18: I’m in a Happy Place

That evening after dinner, Chantal sat alone in her bedroom on the bed, while Sierra worked from the office in her bedroom reviewing a checklist of remaining tasks that she needed to finish to complete the restoration project at Brooke Manor.

Chantal held Miles’s business card in her hand when she stood up and walked over to  the window above the courtyard, and opened the blinds to see the last glimmer of sunset. Reveling in the scenery below, she remembered the quality time she had spent  with Devlin in the courtyard after their first lunch date together. She said to herself, “I’ve become accustomed to Devlin. I like him. I’m finally in a happy place, and I’m laughing again.”

Looking at the cell phone number on the back of the card, she took a deep breath  and asked herself, “Should I reach out to Miles and invite him to dinner? The way he ended our relationship is still too painful to talk about, but I’m sure he will want to discus it, which does not give me an incentive to want to contact him.”

As if responding to her concerns, she heard a man’s voice that said, “You will have to face him again one day. If not now, when? Don’t be afraid, I will always be with you.”

Startled by the clarity in which she thought, she’d heard the spoken words of someone else, Chantal dropped the business card on the floor. Then, feeling encouraged without further hesitation, she picked the card up, took her cell phone off the dresser, and dialed Miles’s phone number.

Miles answered his phone right away.

“This is Miles Banks. May I help you?”

“Hello Miles, it’s Chantal.”

“Oh my goodness, Chantal, it’s so nice to hear your voice. I was starting to wonder if you would ever call me. How are you doing?”

“I’m fine, How are you?” she asked.

“I’m great now that I’m talking to you. I will be in Woodbine with our investigative team for a few more weeks. I was hoping, well, for an opportunity to see you. There is so much I need to say to you.”

“What did you want to talk with me about?” asked Chantal.

“I’d like to discuss  the way things ended between us. I owe you an apology and I need to know that you’re OK.”

“OK,” she said.

“I could not believe it when I bumped into Sierra a few days ago in Mystic Woods, and she told me you had traveled there with her while she completes a restoration project.”

“Yes, Sierra thought it would be a nice summer adventure for the two of us.”

“Chantal, I don’t believe in coincidences. So, I figured it is our destiny to see each other. Who knew I  would be here in Woodbine, thousands of miles  from California, at the same time that you are next door in the neighboring town of Mystic Woods?”

“Go figure,” said Chantal. “Would you like to join Sierra, me, and a friend of ours for a casual dinner at Brooke Manor tomorrow evening at six o’clock?”

“Of course I would.”

“Great, we’re just ten miles west of Mystic Woods, on the outskirts of town. You can’t miss the signs. They will guide you in the right direction.”

“That would be great. Should I bring anything?”

“No, but you may bring a guest if you’d like.”

“OK. Thanks Chantal, I appreciate the invitation.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Goodbye,” he said.

“I will see you then, good-bye.” said Chantal. She went across the hallway and knocked on Sierra’s bedroom door.

“Sierra, it’s Chantal.”

“Come in,” said Sierra.

“It’s done. I made the phone call. Miles accepted our invitation to dinner tomorrow evening at six o’ clock. ”

“Nice work, but do you think Devlin will be there?”

“Yes, we already have plans to see each other tomorrow evening, and a home cooked meal will be a bonus for him.“

“Yes, but how late can Devlin stay? He always seem to leave right after sunset.”

“You’re right. I’ve noticed that, now that you’ve mentioned  it,” said Chantal. “I will be sure to ask him if he can stay for dinner from six o’clock to nine  o’clock when he arrives tomorrow.”

“You may have to call Miles and ask him to come sooner or change the dinner date altogether,” said Sierra.

“I hope not, but I will keep my fingers crossed. Will Ella be available to cook dinner tomorrow evening?” asked Chantal.

“Yes. I looked at the schedule and she will be here tomorrow morning to do her routine cleaning. She will take care of anything else we may need until five o’clock. We just need to give her the menu items we will need her to cook for dinner. What would you like Ella to cook for your guests?”

“Let’s see. We can start by serving potato onion soup followed with a spinach, feta cheese, and tomato salad with vinaigrette dressing,” said Chantal

“My mouth is watering already,” said Sierra writing down the menu items.

“Then we’ll serve rack of lamb with an asparagus and hollandaise sauce bake.”

“These were all of dad’s favorite foods,” said Sierra.

“Yes I know, so we can’t go wrong.”

“OK. What about dessert?” asked Sierra.

“We can have frozen tangerine parfait.”

“Sounds good. Let’s go shopping now so Ella will have everything at her fingertips when she arrives tomorrow morning,” said Sierra.

“Hopefully, she will not feel overwhelmed,” said Chantal

“I will meet you downstairs in ten minutes.”

“OK, good deal,” said Chantal.

Chapter 17: Dr. Cory

The doctor’s office, decorated in a rich hue of pastel blue, had a calming and serene atmosphere. Sierra and Chantal signed in with a woman at the front desk who gave them a pager that would vibrate when the doctor was ready to see them. In the meantime, Chantal completed patient information forms and questionnaires about her medical history.

While waiting, Sierra read the patient testimonials posted on the bulletin board in the waiting room filled with patients. The pager beeped several minutes later, they stood up, and an older woman with gray hair came through an open door into the waiting room to greet them.

“Chantal Rhys?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Chantal.

“Hello, my name is Lena. I’m the nurse. You may follow me.”

“Is it OK if my sister, Sierra, comes with me?”

“Yes,” said Lena. They followed her to an exam room.

“Please step on the scale so I can get  your height and weight.”

“You’re 66 inches tall and you weigh 134 pounds. You may step down and sit on the examination table. Next, I need to put this device on one of your fingers.”

“OK,” said Chantal sticking out a finger on her left hand.

“Now, I need to check your temperature and blood pressure.” She placed a thermometer in Chantal’s mouth and a blood pressure cuff around her right arm.

“Thank you,” said Lena. She removed the blood pressure cuff from Chantal’s arm and wrote down the numbers for the vital signs she checked. “The doctor will be right in.”

A few minutes later, there was a knock on the exam room door. A tall attractive African-American man, about forty, entered the room.

“Hello, I’m Dr. Cory.”

“Hi, I’m Chantal and this is my sister Sierra.”

“Hello,” said Sierra.

“It’s nice to meet you both.” He looked at the notes in the chart that he held and said, “I see that Chantal  has been having nightmares, and she is currently taking Plavix for atrial fibrillation.”

“Yes, Chantal was born with patent foramen ovale. She takes the medication to prevent complications from the hole in her heart. Her heart condition is managed by our family cardiologist in our hometown, Thousand Oaks.”

“Is there a strong history of heart disease in your family?” asked Dr. Cory.

“Our parents were fairly healthy, but our paternal and maternal grandfathers both have high blood pressure,” said Sierra,

“How can I help you?” he asked.

“I would like to find a way to cope with the nightmares that I’m having.” said Chantal.

“How often do you have the nightmares?”

“I’ve had two in the last few days.”

“Do you feel stressed? Is there a history of anxiety, or other mental health issues?”

“No,” said Chantal. “I recently broke up with my boyfriend, but the nightmares started before the breakup, when we were happy, or so I thought.”

“My concern is that the nightmares are disrupting Chantal’s sleep. She’s waking up screaming, full of sadness, and crying, which wakes me up out of my sleep when I hear her. Several years ago, she received psychiatric treatment for nightmares and post traumatic stress disorder after our parents died together in a plane crash,” said Sierra.

“Chantal, there are triggers in your environment, that can activate memories of your parent’s accident,” said Dr. Cory. It could be something as simple as heat billowing from the tarmac on the highway as you’re driving on a hot summer day. It is possible that your nightmares and the PTSD are related. Although, clinically the PTSD  may be resolved.”

“For some reason, I just don’t think the nightmares are about my parents accident. I don’t believe they are related.”

“Are the nightmares violent?” he asked.

“Yes, I guess so. In each of the dreams, an accidental death occurred in a large mansion, during a violent storm. A man fell to his death when a stairway collapsed in the first nightmare. In another dream, a young woman died after she was impaled to a wall by a steel pole through her chest, which blew into the mansion with strong winds caused by the storm. In the last dream, another woman died from a severe head injury.”

“Would you say you are able to recall your nightmares without any confusion?”

“Yes, I’ve been able to recall everything,” she said. “I’ve also experimented with lucid dreaming to learn more about the characters in the dreams.”

“After a nightmare occurs, are you able to return to sleep again?”

“Yes, usually after Sierra comes into the room to comfort me and rock me back to sleep.”

“I’d like to check your pulse and listen to your heart and lungs.” said Dr. Cory.

“OK”, said Chantal.

He took her wrist and checked her pulse. Then, he placed his stethoscope on her chest and told her to breathe normally. Next, he told her to take deep breaths in and out. He followed the same procedure again when he placed the stethoscope on her back.

“Well, I urge you to keep up your current regimen with the Plavix for the atrial fibrillation. Because of your medical history, a non- invasive behavioral therapy for the nightmares will be best. I would not recommend any medications at this time. Lucid dreaming is a good start. It allows you to manipulate the storyline of a dream or nightmare when you’ve recognized you are in a dream.”

“Last night, I had a lucid dream” said Chantal.

“She spoke to a man in her dream, which resulted in her literally talking in her sleep. She was so loud, I awakened from my sleep. Is there any danger with lucid dreaming?” asked Sierra.

“No, not at all.” Looking at Chantal, Dr. Cory said, “Take it slow and stay calm when you experiment with your actions during a lucid dream. Over time, you will have more control and self-awareness.

He took two brochures from a brochure holder and gave one to each of them.

“Imagery Rehearsal Therapy is another behavioral therapy you may want to consider. It involves recalling your dream, and rewriting any part of the dream for a  favorable outcome.  When you have the nightmare again, the script you created will replace the original undesirable storyline.”

“Great, thank you Dr. Cory,” said Chantal.

“Do you have any more questions?”

“No. Thank you,” said Sierra.

“Thank you again,” said Chantal.

“The pleasure was mine.” he said.



Chapter 16: I Confess

“Chantal, how would you feel if I drove a little further up the road to find another place to eat? I don’t think Miles saw us.”

Sierra thought to herself, I don’t need any drama today. She can’t speak with Miles under these circumstances, not before I tell her that I saw him in Mystic Woods and talked to him.

“That’s fine. I’m not ready to see him. For a fleeting moment, all kinds of thoughts went through my mind, and I wondered if the two of you intentionally tried to set this up,” said Chantal.

“I’m sure, but today the focus is on you and getting your sleep issues resolved,” said Sierra. She quickly backed out of the parking space to get back on the road.

“Slow down Sierra,” said Chantal a few minutes later. I just saw a sign and there’s a place coming up on the right called Pearl’s Diner.”

“Great, we can eat there.”

Sierra parked the car and they went inside. Pearl’s diner  was a family style moderate sized restaurant with a 1960’s music theme. It had booth seating for four and tables for parties of six or eight.

A cheerful bubbly young hostess that stood at the host’s station behind a brown wooden podium greeted them at the door.

“Hello my name is Willow. How many are in your party?”

“Two,” said Sierra.

“Follow me right this way please.”

Sierra and Chantal sat down at a booth near a window.

“Here are your menus. May I get you something to drink?”

“I will have hot tea with lemon,” said Sierra.

Chantal said, “I will have a glass of orange juice.”

“OK, your server will be with you soon,” said Willow.

As she walked away, Sierra and Chantal thanked her.

Sierra looked at her watch. “Great, your doctor’s appointment is at one o’clock. We still have plenty of time to eat and chat.”

Then, an older woman with a raspy voice walked over to their booth and introduced herself to them.

“Hi, my name is Nora. I will be your server.”

“Hello,” they replied.

“Here are your beverages. Who ordered the orange juice?”

“I did,” said Chantal.

“Here’s your tea,” said Nora and she gave the drink to Sierra. “Are you ready to place your orders now or would you like more time?”

“We are,” said Sierra. “I will have the spinach and tomato omelet cooked with pepper jack cheese, and whole wheat toast with honey.”

“OK,” said Nora. Then, she looked at Chantal.

“May I please have the pancake special with one scrambled egg and one slice of bacon?”

“Will that be it?”

“Yes,” said Sierra.

“OK, I will be back soon,” said Nora, taking the menus with her.

“Chantal, I must confess something to you.”


“I was just as surprised as you were to see Miles today. Although, I should not have been.”

“What do you mean?’

“Do you remember when I met with Leslie Brent in Mystic Woods to get more information about the cemetery and mausoleum?”

“Yes, what of it?”

“Well, Miles was at the same café.”

“Why are you just telling me now?’

“I wanted to tell you sooner, but I did not want to upset you. You seemed so happy with Devlin after your picnic together. Later that night when I found you in the kitchen resting your head on the dining table, I decided not to tell you after you told me that your heart was fluttering.”

“What about the next day?” asked Chantal.

“I understand if you’re angry, but I planned to wait until the right moment.”

“Sierra, did you tell Miles that we were coming to Brooke Manor?”

“Of course not. I would never betray you. Loyalty is everything.”

At that moment, Nora returned with their food. “Spinach tomato omelet and pancake special,” she said, and placed their plates on the table before them. “May I get you anything else?” she asked.

“No, thank you,” said Sierra.

“I’m fine, thank you,” said Chantal.

Chantal resumed questioning Sierra after Nora walked away. “Then, why is he in Woodbine?” she asked.

“He’s here with a research team from his family’s oil company. They’re Investigating that natural gas explosion that we heard about on the radio in Thousand Oaks.”

Sierra looked  in her purse and took out a business card.

“This is the card that he gave to me. It has his cell phone number on the back. I did not have much time to talk with him.” She passed the card to Chantal.

“Sierra, I appreciate what you tried to do. I’m just bewildered. I did not think I would hear from Miles or see him again this soon. When I tried to convince him to work things out, he was adamant about ending our relationship. He said it was for the best. Now, I agree with him 100 percent.”

“Chantal, I felt so conflicted. I did not want to tell you because you appeared to have moved on since you’ve met Devlin, but I could never forgive myself if I kept Miles’s stay in Woodbine a secret from you. Are you the least bit interested to know what he’s going to say if you speak with him?”

“Who cares? I’m not going to do anything to ruin what I have now with Devlin.”

“I have an idea. Let’s invite Miles to lunch or dinner at Brooke Manor, with me, you, and Devlin?”

“That would be awkward. What would Devlin think?”

“Devlin is a consummate gentleman. He will be kind  to Miles. He will let you go if he senses that you still love Miles, and if Miles genuinely loves you. Devlin will tell you what he thinks. What do you have to lose?”

“OK, I will give Miles a call and invite him to dinner.”

Nora approached the table and asked, “Is everything OK?”

“Everything is fine. Check please,” said Sierra.



Chapter 15: Dream State

Determined to know the identity of the mystery man in her recurring nightmares, Chantal read the information that Sierra shared with her about lucid dreams. Immediately, over the next few days she incorporated different strategies to help her recall details from the nightmares, and recognize when she was dreaming.

Each morning, she wrote down anything she remembered about her dreams in a journal.  Throughout the day she paid close attention to her surroundings. Any distortion in fixed details could help her to recognize when she was truly awake or dreaming. 

She had read about and liked a technique, which involved closing the mouth and pinching the nostrils together to stop breathing. A person would only be able to  breathe air in and out of their lungs while performing the technique  in a dream. It would distinguish wakefulness from dreaming. 

“Ha, the nose pinching technique is not for me. If that didn’t stress my heart and kill me, Sierra would if she ever found out I tried it. I have to think of something else.” Chantal said to herself.

She came up with the clever idea of sketching a structural outline of a man’s head without any real expressed facial recognition. All  the features of the face, which included the eyes, lips, and nose were unidentifiable.

If I notice any recognizable facial features in the picture that were not drawn by me, that would mean I was in a dream, Chantal thought to herself.

She taped the portrait to a wall next to her bed and titled it, You are the Man in My Dreams.  She did reality checks, and looked at the drawing several times during the day, asking herself, “Am I dreaming?” 

Then, one night, Chantal had another nightmare with the same recurring theme about the storm. The atmosphere in the mansion was gloomy and chaotic as a young man walked up a spiral staircase carrying a little girl. There was a stain of blood shaped like a person’s hand on the back of his shirt near his collar. 

“Son, you have a grave expression on your face. What’s wrong?” his mother asked when he reached the top of the stairs, where she stood, to give her the little girl.

“Mother, Christa is gone!” the young man said loudly, full of sadness as he passed the little girl to her arms. 

In shock, his mother replied, “William, it can’t be true.” 

“But it is,” he said.

“Are you sure?”

 “Yes, I was holding her when she died. I just left her side.”

 “How?” she asked.

“I will tell you later. Right now Sophie needs me.”

William’s mother asked, “Where is Sophie?”

“She’s unconscious lying on the floor, bleeding from her head. I must go now!”

“Go! Hurry son and be safe!” 

Wait, thought Chantal. She continued dreaming, and looked at the picture of the indistinguishable face she had drawn, and placed on the wall near her bed a few days ago. Distorted, the face now had a strong jaw line and a sharp nose that was not present before.

How cool is this? This is a dream and the mystery man’s name is William. The blood on his clothing is from his wife’s hand, when they held each other one last time before she died in the last dream.

Chantal attemped to control the dream. She began yelling to William in the hopes that he would hear her before he turned around and walked downstairs into danger, which ironically, would have allowed her the opportunity to finally see his face. 

Chantal yelled out to William in her sleep, “No, don’t go back downstairs! It’s not safe!” 

Her yells were loud, and awakened Sierra who slept across the hall in her bedroom with the door closed. Right away, Sierra hurried into Chantal’s room where she found her sitting up in bed crying.

 “Dearest, I’m here,” said Sierra. She took Chantal into her arms and comforted her.

 “I just had a lucid dream. I tried to save him.” said Chantal between sobs. 

“Enough. Tomorrow, I am taking you to see a doctor. When I was at the library, I wrote down the name and contact information for a doctor in Woodbine.” 

“OK,” said Chantal.

 The next morning, Sierra scheduled an appointment for Chantal to see a sleep specialist later that afternoon. She sat quietly at her desk and wrote down a few concerns she had about Chantal that she wanted to discuss with the doctor, with Chantal’s permission. Then, there was a knock at her room door.

 “May I please come in?” asked Chantal.

“Sure,” said Sierra. 

“Sierra, I’m so sorry about waking you up out of your sleep last night, but last night was different. I felt like I had control over what could happen in my dream. The information you gave me was helpful. My only mistake was that I should not have gotten emotional. I should have kept dreaming, because I’m pretty sure I was about to see William’s face.”

“Did you just say William?”

 “Yes, I learned his name when his mother was talking to him.”

Sierra did not want to frighten Chantal, so she did not tell her about William D. Lloyd, the young man who died at Brooke Manor in the hurricane in 1938.

“Sweetie, it’s OK. All is well. I’m glad I have been able to help you make some progress in discovering more about your dreams. I would still like for us to speak with a doctor for more guidance about the best way for you to practice the lucid dreaming.”

“Fair enough,” said Chantal. 

“Now let’s get dressed so we can leave early enough to grab some brunch in Woodbine,” said Sierra. 

“Where will we eat?” asked Chantal.

 “I don’t know, but I’m sure we’ll find someplace nice,” said Sierra.

“What are you wearing?” asked Chantal. 

“Just some jeans, a white t-shirt, and my black linen blazer.”

“I think I’ll wear the pink shirt-dress that you gave me for my birthday.” 

“That will be nice, said Sierra.” 

“I’ll be ready soon,” said Chantal.

Two hours later, Sierra and Chantal arrived in Woodbine.

“Hey look, Colby’s Pancake House is on the left side of the road.”

“Great, we can eat there. I just need to make a u-turn.” 

“Do you think this franchise will be as good as the one in Thousand Oaks?” asked Chantal.

“Yes, I answered that question based on the number of people standing in line outside waiting to get in. Oh great, we have a parking space near the door.”

Chantal took a closer look at the people standing in line as Sierra parked the car. She paid particular attention to a young man who was tall with curly blond hair. He wore a white short-sleeved dress shirt and navy pants. He held a matching navy colored sports jacket.

Chantal turned around and looked at Sierra with an agonized expression on her face.

“Sierra, there’s a guy here who looks just like Miles Banks,” she said.

“Chantal, that is Miles Banks.”

“Are you kidding me?” asked Chantal.


Chapter 14: William D. Lloyd

Intrigued by the information she received from Leslie Brent about the Lloyd family, the next day Sierra returned to the digital archive room at the Mystic Woods Historical Society, and methodically reviewed newspaper articles and photography collections to learn more about their history.

First, she softly read to herself an article about Gary Lloyd’s biography.

“Gary Lloyd,  owner of Brooke Manor and town founder of Mystic Woods was born in 1875, into a wealthy family in Wales in the United Kingdom. His father, Peter Lloyd ,was a prominent shipping magnate. He moved the family to the United States where they settled in the neighboring  port town of Woodbine to expand the family’s shipping business when Gary was four years old.”

Sierra continued to read about the significant chronicled events of Gary Lloyd’s life.

“In search of his own identity, Gary did not want to ride his father’s coattails. He wanted  to make his personal mark on the world. In 1892, he enrolled into the Steppe Institute of Agriculture to study mass-production techniques of tobacco farming. After he graduated with honors in 1897, his father purchased several hundred acres of land for him as a graduation present. He was a self-made man and  tobacco farmer in his own right.”

Sierra looked at a picture of the young Gary Lloyd standing with his college classmates in a group photograph. He had dark hair, and was tall with an athletic build. He was a handsome man. Devlin had similar features, she thought.

She kept reading. “By 1898, Gary Lloyd had accumulated great wealth and later, founded the town of Mystic Woods. He built Brooke Manor in 1899. In 1900, he married Mildred Sanders, the only child of prominent heart physician, Mark Sanders.”

They were a lovely couple and seemed happy, thought Sierra as she looked at a photograph of the couple together on their wedding day. Mildred, was pretty. A veil hat covered her light-colored hair. She held a bouquet of roses and stood next to Gary. She wore an elaborate long-sleeved, white laced high collared wedding dress fringed in ruffles. Gary wore a formal black frock coat with a high collared white shirt and matching black trousers.

She continued to read softly. “Gary and Mildred had eight children. Lynette Lloyd, William D. Lloyd, and Elizabeth Lloyd, seen together in the photograph below at a family picnic circa 1935, were the only three that survived childhood.”

Sierra zoomed in on the picture of William Lloyd and studied his face closely. There’s an uncanny resemblance between William and Devlin. They could pass for identical twins, she thought.

Last, she read an old newspaper article from the Woodbine Chronicle, dated on July 28, 1938.

“Sections of Woodbine, including surrounding areas of Mystic Woods lay submerged in more than 8 feet of water when the destructive power of the killer hurricane produced a storm surge of 16 to 22 feet.  Notable deaths from the storm included William D. Lloyd and his wife Christa Lloyd, of the prominent Lloyd tobacco family at Brooke Manor. Married for only six months, they were newlyweds, expecting their first child.”

Oh my goodness. Now I understand Devlin’s hesitancy about discussing plans for the cemetery. Perhaps revisiting this history is too painful for his family. I will wait until he’s ready to move forward, thought Sierra

Briefly, she looked at more information including old property records and notable milestones.

Checking her watch, she said to herself, “I better get going so I will have enough time to go to the public library and download information about lucid dreams for  Chantal.”

As she walked along the corridor to leave the Mystic Woods Historical Society, she noticed an eclectic crowd of people gathered in the rotunda room. She overheard closing remarks from Ashley Howard, the preservation architect she’d met with the day before. Impressed with the eloquence by which he spoke, Sierra joined the others in the rotunda room to listen to him.

“Today’s ceremony commemorated recognition for the dedication and sacrifices of Gary Lloyd, Mystic Woods town founder and tobacco magnate. He lived from 1875 to 1965. This marble bust, in memory of him, will stand next to the monument wall with the engraved names that memorialize each victim of the Great Storm of 1938, which includes members of his family. The Lloyd family contributed greatly to our town. Thanks to all of you for joining us today.”

Sierra scanned the room as she listened and looked for Devlin.

“That’s strange, I thought for sure he would  most definitely be here to represent his family,” she said to herself.








Chapter 13: Lucid Dreams

As Sierra entered the kitchen, she saw Chantal. She sat with her face  buried in her arms on the kitchen table.  Sierra tip toed quietly to the cabinet to get a plate. The dishes rattled when she opened the cabinet door, and Chantal lifted her head off the table and sat up.

“Oh, you’re back from taking your bath,” said Chantal.

“Yes, I didn’t want to make too much noise because I noticed you were resting.”

“After I took my medication, I felt a little distressed. My heart was fluttering, so I decided to sit here and be still.”

Sierra walked over to Chantal. She took a serious look at her and asked, “Are you alright?”


“How do you feel now?”

“I feel fine. I think I’m tired from the excitement today, that’s all.”

Well, she won’t hear about Miles Banks from me tonight. It’s too much for her to handle now, thought Sierra.

“Where did you and Devlin have your picnic at?”

“We had it near the white water-lily pond under the large sycamore tree.”

Sierra’s eyebrows furrowed with her disapproval.

“Chantal, that’s almost two miles from here. It’s four miles altogether, considering you had to walk back to Brooke Manor.”

“Please don’t be upset Sierra.”

“Listen, I’m not upset with you. I want to let you lead as much of a normal life as possible, but you have to remember that your health is fragile. I want you to promise me that you will take it easy tomorrow. Be careful. Don’t overexert yourself.”

Chantal looked earnest as she placed her hand over her heart and said, “I promise you, I will be more careful.”

Sierra smiled at Chantal, and took some of the food left over from the picnic out of the refrigerator and placed it on her plate. Then, she sat down at the table to eat.

“OK, tell me why you’re so happy,” said Sierra.

Chantal’s face crinkled as it lit up with excitement.

“Devlin was so kind today. He went out of his way to plan the picnic with Ella, he listened attentively when I told him about the man in my dreams, and he adored the finished portrait that I sketched of him.”

“That’s nice. I’m sorry to  interrupt you, but we have to get the recipe for the scotch eggs from Ella. They are good,” said Sierra.


“Thanks. Go ahead, I’m listening,” said Sierra.

“Devlin helped me recognize similarities between the dreams and my life. It was sort of like your advice to me about my health. She took a deep breath. “I think I love him.”

Sierra stopped eating  and looked up at her.

“What?” asked Chantal. “Why did you look at me that way?”

“You said the man in my dreams, plural. Are the dreams connected somehow?”

“Yes. The symbols in both dreams are love and death during a dreadful storm. I’ve never seen the face of the man in the dreams, but I’m hoping that will change soon.”

“I  read somewhere once about lucid dreams, and different methods you can practice to help you recognize when you are dreaming. To help you with details, you should consider writing down any information you remember about your dreams daily, in a journal. That may help you meet the mystery man  face to face. We do not have an internet  connection at Brooke Manor. So, when I go back into town, I will download some information that you can transfer to your eReader and  read offline.”

“That’s a great idea Sierra!”

“Chantal, I would like to ask you a question, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure,” said Chantal.

“Do  you think you still have post traumatic stress disorder from mom and dad’s death?” asked Sierra.

“I don’t think so. I’ve accepted and acknowledged the pain from that experience. I miss them, but  I believe the dreams are relevant to my life going forward,” said Chantal.

“Fair enough,” said Sierra.

“Oh my goodness, I just realized Miles had a habit of twirling his hair when he was anxious or troubled. His mother commented about it at the dinner party, on the night he broke up with me. The mystery man in the dreams had the same habit under similar circumstances.”

“Really?” asked Sierra. “Perhaps, you’re correct, and the dreams are a premonition.”

“I wonder if Miles and the mystery dream man have anything else in common,” said Chantal.

Sierra looked at Chantal with a tight-lipped smile on her face, and quietly considered the secret she decided to keep about Miles. It was for the best, she thought.



Chapter 12: Sweet Ella

The sound of chirping crickets echoed in the cemetery when Devlin returned to his final resting place. Filled with trepidation from Sierra’s inquiry about the hidden key, he walked up the steps towards the chained door to the mausoleum. There, he caught a glimpse of Ella from the corner of his eye. She wept softly as she read an inscribed dedication on the polished surface of a memorial bench, which glistened in the moonlight.

“This is a memorial to the Woodbine Hurricane of 1938,” she said between sobs. “The storm claimed the beloved lives of two members in the Lloyd family at Brooke Manor, and two members of their household staff.” She wiped her tears away and said softly, “Mother and father, it has been 75 years since you died.”

Unnoticed, Devlin watched quietly and patiently until she finished her tribute.

“I’ve missed you dearly.” She bowed her head and whispered a prayer.

Then, Devlin walked over cautiously to avoid frightening her.

“Sweet Ella, why are you still here?”  he asked.

She turned to him and wiped more tears from her eyes with a white handkerchief that she held in her hand. He reached out and hugged her.

She smiled and said, “Master Devlin, my son will be here to get me shortly. Did things go as planned today with your picnic?”

With a look of contentment, he replied, “Chantal told me to thank you for the delicious food.”

“Did she like the scotch eggs?”

“She did.”

“They were Christa’s favorite. She preferred them to sandwiches.”

“I remember. Today went as well as could be expected. We had a breakthrough. Chantal shared intimate thoughts about her dreams of me.”

“Do you mean she knows about your past?”

“Yes and no. She never saw my face in either dream.”

“How did she feel about that?”

“She would like to have a visual picture of my face, but I’m not ready for that yet. I need to draw her closer to me, and know she would be willing to join me forever.”

“Master Devlin,  it saddens me that you had so little time to build a life with Christa. You missed out on so much. Earlier this evening, I sat here and thought about the life you lost when you saved mine during the storm. I made a promise to do all I can to help you find happiness and everlasting peace within your soul.”

“Ella, you don’t owe me anything, I…”

She interrupted him before he finished his sentence. “I was only six years old, but I will never forget when you found me crying near my mother’s unconscious body as storm waters crashed into the walls. You picked me up and ran to your mother on the second floor where you placed me safely in her arms.”

“Ella, I would do it again.”

“Of course you would. That was not enough. Then you went back downstairs to save my mother but she had already died from a head injury.”

“I could not give up hope,” said Devlin.

“My mother died without ever knowing my father drowned in the stables,” said Ella with a melancholy look on her face.

“I was not as fortunate. I knew of Christa’s death when I met my fate.”

“By then, it was too late for you to save yourself,” she continued.

“Yes, more tidal waves crashed into the walls, and the staircase buckled from the pressure and collapsed,” he  said.

“I covered my eyes when you fell down into the flood waters to your death. It was the worst day of my life,” said Ella.

“Does your son know anything about my history?” asked Devlin.

“No, he only knows his grandparents died at Brooke Manor. Your death was too traumatic to discuss with anyone. Why do you ask?”

“I met him once, when Sierra and Chantal first arrived. Sierra met with him today. He provided her with information about the cemetery. He mentioned a few details about the deaths of some of my family members, including me, and something about a hidden key.”

“When my son asked me to tell him what I knew about the cemetery, I told him that your father hid the key to the chained gate of the mausoleum . I wanted to dissuade him from visiting your crypt. He does not know the names of the persons buried there.”

“Ella, is the key really hidden?”

“Yes. It is in a secret panel in the wall of the bedroom that has the private office in it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“That room was given to Sierra to use, to do her restoration work. She’s anxious about learning as much as she can about the mausoleum, and knowledge of the key has increased her curiosity even more.”

“One day your eldest sister, Lynette, sent me into the private office to get a book off the large oak desk. It was the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and she had promised to read it to me. Suddenly, I heard the door open unexpectedly. It was your father. I saw him but he did not see me because I hid quickly under the oak desk. I saw him take a key from his coat pocket. Then, he pressed a button on the front side of the desk, which opened the wall near the window and revealed a secret panel. He took out a cigar box, and placed the key to the mausoleum gate inside the box. As the panel closed, he made a vow  that you and Christa would rest in peace forever.”

At that moment a car pulled up. The motor stopped, and a car door opened, then closed. The sound of footsteps were heard.

“Master Devlin, Leslie’s here. I have to go now. In all my 81 years, I’ve never told anyone what I saw,” she said.

“Sweet Ella, no worries,” he said. “I’ve found solace in your words.”

“Good night Master Devlin.”

“Good night Ella.”

Chapter 11: Question?

Having just returned to Brooke Manor, Devlin and Chantal saw Sierra as she drove up in the driveway when she arrived from her trip into town. They waited for her near the front door by the colorful hue of flowers in the flower bed.

“Hello,” said Sierra walking towards them.

“Hi sis.”

“Hello Sierra,” said Devlin.

Noticing the picnic basket in Devlin’s hand, Sierra asked, “How was the picnic?”

“It was lovely,” said Chantal. “We have some leftovers.”

“Yes it was,” added Devlin.

“That’s nice, I am a little hungry.”

“You look tired, how was your day?” asked Chantal.

“Let’s go inside,” said Sierra.

They walked inside to the kitchen. Sierra grabbed a bottle of cold water out of the refrigerator and wiped sweat from her brow. Chantal placed her sketch kit on the kitchen counter and sat down at the table, while Devlin unpacked the leftovers and placed them on the stove.

“My day was eventful from the start as I sat down to meet with Leslie Brent,” said Sierra. Especially when I ran into Miles Banks, she thought to herself. “By the way Devlin, do you mind telling me about the cemetery and mausoleum located here on the estate? I discovered it yesterday during my inspection of the grounds and exterior structures. There was no information about it in the packet you gave to me.”

“I apologize, it must have slipped my mind. What would you like to know?” asked Devlin.

“Would you like for me to move forward with an analysis of restoration costs for the cemetery?”

“Let’s hold off on that for personal family reasons until further notice,” he said to her.

“That’s fine, I understand, but Leslie shared some interesting details with me.”

With a curious look on his face, Devlin asked, “What did he tell you?”

“He did some research and told me that no one has access to enter the mausoleum. Gary Lloyd hid the key after his son and daughter in law’s entombment following their deaths in the hurricane.”

Chantal had a fixed gaze of curiosity on her face after hearing Sierra’s last statement about the hurricane.

“Tell us more,” she implored.

“What else did he tell you?” asked Devlin with brooding eyes, unnoticed by Sierra.

“He spoke to me about the size of the family, a few child deaths, and that was basically it. I wanted to learn more. So, after we finished our meeting, I went to the Mystic Woods Historical Society to research the archives about the cemetery and family history. First I met with the preservation architect to discuss the guidelines for my proposed work to restore the original architecture of the Brooke Manor mansion. Then, I was just about to start reading about the Lloyd family tree and history, but had to wrap things up and leave because business hours were over and they had closed for the day.”

Feeling uneasy, Devlin announced, “It’s getting late, and I must go before it gets dark.”

“May I give you a lift somewhere?” asked Sierra.

“No thank you,” said Devlin. Chantal, will I see you tomorrow?”

“Of course you will. Wait, what about Ella? Is she still here?” asked Chantal.

“I believe she left already,” said Devlin.

“But how? Where? I did not see her leave. Did you see her leave?”

“No, but I’m pretty sure she’s gone. She told me she would leave after she cleaned the kitchen and the rest of the rooms.”

“Please thank her for me, for the delicious food today.”

“I will. You two enjoy the rest of your evening. Goodbye,” said Devlin.

“Goodbye,” said Sierra and she smiled at him. He sensed her approval of his friendship with Chantal and began to walk away.

“Oh Devlin,” Sierra called out to him as he was leaving.

He turned around and replied, “Yes.”

“Do you have an idea where the hidden key to the mausoleum is?”

“With an agonized look on his face, Devlin replied, “No, but we can talk more about that later.”

“That’s fine, goodbye,” she said.

“Goodbye,” he said.

“Sierra, I am so happy!” gushed Chantal.

“Dearest, that warms my heart.” Should I tell her now about Miles Banks? she wondered. “I’ll be back. I want to take a nice hot bath before I eat. Don’t forget to take your heart medicine.”

“OK,” said Chantal. I can’t wait to tell you more about my day when you come back downstairs to eat.”

Chapter 10: Portrait of Devlin

“It’s a lovely day for a picnic,” said Devlin cheerfully to Chantal when he joined her in the courtyard after assisting Ella with the lunch menu in the kitchen.

“Yes it is.”

Chantal had just finished sketching the portrait of him. She glanced up briefly with the tip of a charcoal pencil pressed near the corner of her mouth. It was obvious that she was deep in thought about something.

“Let’s go for a walk.” said Devlin holding the picnic basket.


The sweet floral scent of blue flag iris flowers permeated the air as Chantal and Devlin began their stroll beyond the tall iron gates of Brooke Manor for a planned picnic by the pond.

“You’re not your usual bubbly self. Are you alright?” asked Devlin.

“Last night I had a dream about a young man. It was tragic. He lost the love of his life in a dreadful storm. I never saw his face, but I’m sure he was in another dream I had before, in Thousand Oaks.”


“Yes, he also had a quirky mannerism. He twirled his hair in the face of uncertainty or danger.”

That’s me for sure thought Devlin.

“This may sound strange, but I want to dream of him again and see his face.”

“No, that’s not strange at all. Perhaps his purpose was for him to deliver a message to you.”

“Love and death were the primary themes in both dreams. There was his mother’s expressed love for him before he died in a fall, and then the expressed love between him and his wife before she died from a mortal wound. The dreams were thought provoking. I wonder if they were metaphors for the direction my life is going in or if they are somehow analogous to my mortality.”

“Maybe it’s both,” said Devlin, wondering if she would still feel the same if she knew he was the man in both of her dreams.

“How do you mean?” she asked.

“Just that life goes on, whether we adjust to its rhythm or not. Life is precious, and it could be snatched away from you in any given moment. So, on a lighter note, what were you drawing?”

“It’s a surprise,” said Chantal. Fully grounded in the present now, she walked beside him carrying the sketched portrait in an artist tote shoulder bag.

Chantal’s disclosure of her innermost thoughts stirred up an alluring sense of emotions inside Devlin. He felt closer and more connected to her.

“Your radiance strikes a perfect balance with the sunlight. May I hold your hand for the rest of our journey?” he asked.

She replied, “Yes.”

He reached out and took her hand.

When they reached their destination, Devlin placed the brown wicker picnic basket down on the grass, and removed a red plaid colored blanket from underneath his arm and spread it on the ground. They sat down beside each other under a sycamore tree. Then, he opened the basket and proudly revealed its contents.

“Ella packed my favorites for us. We have stuffed olives, scotch eggs, milk lemonade, salmon sandwiches, and sponge cake with fresh slices of strawberries.”

“What are scotch eggs and milk lemonade?” asked Chantal.

“A scotch egg is a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, coated in breadcrumbs or bacon, and baked. The milk lemonade is regular old-fashioned lemonade mixed with chilled milk or cream. It was my favorite drink as a child. Both recipes have been in Ella’s family for generations.”

Chantal reached for an egg and bit into it.

“Umm, it’s good and tasty, albeit a heart attack waiting to happen with my heart condition because of the cholesterol,” she said in a joking way.

“I’m glad you liked it. Lemonade?” asked Devlin.


He poured some lemonade into a glass and passed it to her.

Chantal took a sip and said, “It’s an acquired taste, but I like it. Now I have a surprise for you.”

She unzipped the artist tote bag, reached inside, pulled out the sketched portrait and passed it to him.

“For me?” he asked.

“For you,” she said.

Devlin, entranced, marveled that she captured the love he had in his soul for her in his eyes. Then, he took his index finger and glided it gently over the strokes in the portrait that represented his prominent jaw line, up to his forehead, and finally over the charcoal swaths of color for his black wavy hair.

“Do you like it?”

“I love it. It’s a perfect rendition of me, almost like looking into a mirror.”

He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek and they enjoyed each other’s company until sunset.

Chapter 9: The Hidden Key

“Imagine seeing you here,” said Miles as he stood by and anxiously awaited a response from Sierra about Chantal.

With her eyebrows raised, Sierra was in suspense and relished an opportunity to speak with him alone about her sister, whose heart he had broken. Then, she remembered the reason for her trip to the café.

“Pardon me Leslie, this is Miles Banks. He and Chantal are close friends.”

“Hello, said Leslie.

“Miles, this is Leslie Brent.”

“Hello,” said Miles.

“I apologize, but Leslie and I have a meeting scheduled now.”

“No worries, I don’t have anywhere to go until one o’clock,” said Leslie.

Sierra smiled at him.

Then, she turned to Miles and asked, “Is there a way for me to get in touch with you? Maybe we can talk later?”

“Yes, here’s my card. It has my cell phone number on it. I just stopped here for some coffee with a member of the research team from our oil company. He wanted to visit his family who lives here. We are on our way back to Woodbine to investigate the natural gas explosion that happened over a week ago.”

“OK, I remember hearing about that news story on the radio as I was having breakfast with Chantal when we were home in Thousand Oaks.”

“Do they have any more leads on what caused the explosion?” asked Leslie.

“We’re still gathering data. Well, I had better get going and let you two get back to your meeting. Sierra, I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

“You will, and it has been good seeing you. I will tell Chantal that I saw you here.”

“Great, thank you.” Miles walked away and joined his colleague.

“He seems like a nice young man,” said Leslie.

“He is. Chantal adored him.”

“You used the past tense.”

“I know, she is smitten with Devlin Lloyd now.”

“Ah, young love.”

‘Yes, now please tell me everything you know about the cemetery near Brooke Manor.”

“Well, I did some research after we spoke earlier this morning. The cemetery and mausoleum were privately owned by the Lloyd family, and built on the estate in the early 1900’s. The first recorded burial on the property was  in 1904. Mildred and Gary Lloyd had a stillborn son.”

“I wonder why I never received any pictures or drawings about the cemetery or family plots from Devlin,” said Sierra. “I saw some of the gravestones. They are badly worn and could use a little work. The hedges have grown out of control and need trimming. Surely, he would want to restore and preserve the aesthetic Gothic appearance of the mausoleum, which was absolutely gorgeous.”

“That’s not all,” said Leslie. “Like most families back then, the Lloyd’s had a large family. There were seven more children. Only three of them survived childhood, but they have all since passed away. All of them have a regular burial plot with their parents except the youngest and only other son. He’s  buried in the mausoleum in a crypt next to his wife. The story is that the young couple died horrific deaths, moments apart from each other. So, after their funerals, Gary Lloyd had a chain placed on the iron gate of the mausoleum to lock it permanently. He hid the key so his son and daughter in law would forever rest in peace, literally, to never be disturbed by anyone again.”

“Perhaps, that could explain the reason Devlin never said anything to me about the cemetery,” said Sierra. “I mean there’s not much we could do about restoring the mausoleum if we cannot get inside to assess it  for preservation purposes.”

“No, but you could clean and restore the gravestones along with the statues of the angels and two gold urns on each side of the mausoleum door, and clear away some of the wild growing vegetation.”

“You’re right. I will do more research, and speak with Devlin to ask for his permission to inspect the cemetery. He gave me the master-key for all the rooms in Brooke Manor except for his bedroom, which is understandable. I wonder if the key to the iron gate is hidden inside one of the rooms in Brooke Manor,” said Sierra.

“I don’t know, but that’s an interesting thought.” said Leslie.

Chapter 8: Everything Old is New Again

Knowing she was upset from a bad dream the night before, Sierra took great care not to awaken Chantal when she quietly opened her room door and saw her in bed sleeping peacefully the next morning.

Dressed in faded blue jeans and an old T-shirt, she walked downstairs to the kitchen, and poured water into a black cast iron kettle to make tea. As the water boiled, she sat down at the kitchen table and placed a cell phone call. She reached out to Leslie Brent, the engineer that did the property inspection of Brooke Manor, to inquire about the cemetery.

His phone rang a few times before he answered it.

“Good morning Leslie, it’s Sierra Rhys.”

“Hello Sierra, it’s nice to hear from you.”

“How are you?” she asked.

“I’m fine. What’s up?”

“I was hoping to set up an appointment to meet with you at your earliest convenience to review the blueprint for Brooke Manor.”

“Is something wrong?”

“Not exactly, I just have a few questions about a cemetery located behind the property. It took me by surprise when I saw it because I had no idea it was there,” she said.

“OK, may I place you on hold to take a quick look at my calendar?”

“Sure, that’s fine,” said Sierra. She walked over to the stove and poured hot water from the kettle into a cup. She added two lumps of sugar and a single serving mint tea bag and made her tea.

“Thanks for holding. I’m available this morning between ten o’clock and twelve o’clock if you would like to meet then. I can drive out to Brooke Manor.”

“That’s nice of you, but I need to pick up a few items from the store. I can meet you someplace in town.”

“OK, there’s a coffeehouse called Café Noir located off the highway in Mystic Woods, ten miles north of the farmer’s market that we stopped at when you and Chantal first came to town.”

“That’s perfect. I could be there at eleven o’clock.”

“I will you see then.”

“Great, see you then.” said Sierra.

“I should hurry, it’s already nine thirty,” she said to herself as she placed her cell phone down on the table and sipped her tea.

Then, she heard a knock at the front door. She went to the foyer, and peered through the window. She saw Devlin standing outside holding a bag of groceries and an older woman with a stern look on her face clutching an old-fashioned hobo bag.

Sierra opened the door.

“Good morning, please come in,” she said.

“Hello Sierra,” said Devlin. “This is Ella, the housekeeper I told you and Chantal about when we first met. Her family has served the Lloyd family for years.”

“Ella, this is Miss Sierra Rhys.”

“It’s nice to meet you Miss Rhys,” Ella said in an English accent.

“The pleasure is mine. You may call me Sierra. Let’s go into the parlor room and sit down. May I get you anything to drink?”

“No thank you.”


“No thanks.”

By then, Chantal had awakened and gotten dressed. She walked downstairs looking for Sierra, and found her with Devlin and Ella in the parlor room. They all stood up to greet her as she entered the room. She was wearing a pink flowing ankle length skirt and a pink blouse. Her black hair, styled loosely, had curly wisps that framed her face. Devlin never took his eyes off her.

“She reminds me of Christa,” he said softly to himself. “She is Christa.”

“Did you just say something?” Sierra asked turning to Devlin.


“Good morning everyone,” said Chantal.

“Dearest, you finally woke up,” said Sierra. “Have a seat here on the sofa next to me.”

Chantal sat down and Sierra held her hand.

“Chantal, this is Ella,” said Sierra.

“I brought her here to prepare our lunch for the picnic. She’s available to do housework if you need her,” said Devlin.

Chantal was silent. She stared in wonder for a moment at the tall portly woman whose gray hair, combed back, was neatly tucked into a bun. There were two prominent wrinkles in the middle of her forehead. She had crow’s-feet near the outside corners of her eyes, slightly hidden by a pair of rimless frame eyeglasses with a curved earpiece on each side that wrapped around the ear. Dressed in an all black old-fashioned maid’s uniform, she wore black opaque stockings and a pair of black leather rounded toe shoes.

Devlin’s dressed as usual, she thought.

“It was sweet of you to bring her,” said Chantal.

Ella was spellbound. She recovered, looked at Devlin, and said, “What an uncanny resemblance?”

“I know,” he replied.

“Pardon me,” said Sierra. “I do hate to run out on everyone, but I have an eleven o’clock appointment scheduled in town this morning. I need to go change clothes so I can leave soon. It was nice to meet you Ella. Chantal will let you know if there are any chores to do.”

“Thank you,” said Ella.

“Goodbye Devlin, “ said Sierra walking away.

“Wait, where are you going?” Chantal asked.

“Do you remember the discussion we had when I came in last night?”

“Yes, oh OK, tell Leslie that I said hello.”

“I will,” Sierra said with a wide smile before she went upstairs to her room.

Devlin told Ella about the menu items for the picnic. He had seemed aloof and uninterested during Sierra and Chantal’s discussion about last night, although he listened to every word.

“I haven’t eaten breakfast yet, but what are we having for lunch?” asked Chantal.

“It’s a surprise,” said Devlin.

“Come young lady, let’s go in the kitchen and let Ella cook breakfast for you,” said Ella. She seemed to take an instant liking to Chantal.

In no time at all, Ella cooked a hearty breakfast for Chantal.

Meanwhile, Sierra drove into town alone.

I’m glad I remembered the route Chantal and I took from the farmer’s market to Brooke Manor, she thought. She pulled up in front of the coffeehouse.

She looked at her watch and said, “I’m a few minutes early.”

Then she got out of the car and went inside where Leslie waited for her at a table for four in the center of the café. When he looked up and saw her, he waved his hand for her to see him. She walked to the table.

“Hello Sierra.”

Leslie pulled out a chair and she sat down and joined him.

She smiled. “Hi Leslie, it’s so good to see you again.”

Suddenly, before she could get comfortable, someone tapped her on the shoulder from behind and asked, “Sierra Rhys, is that you?”

Sierra turned around.

When she saw who it was, she asked with a shocked look on her face, “Miles Banks, what are you doing in Mystic Woods?”

Then, he asked, “Where is Chantal?”

Chapter 7: Love is All There is

Dressed in pajamas and a pink silk robe with matching slippers, Chantal sat in the parlor room and worked on a sketch while she anxiously awaited Sierra’s return. Peering through her black rimmed eyeglasses behind a peek-a-boo wave of her dark hair, she used a soft graphite stick on a piece of drawing paper and filled in the shadows of a person’s face.

She dropped the graphite stick and jumped up immediately with the drawing still in her hand and walked to the foyer when she heard the sound of keys unlocking the front door. As she pulled the front door towards her, Sierra pushed it opened.

Chantal seemed relieved. “I started to worry,” she said.

Slightly out of breath, Sierra rushed in and went into the kitchen without breaking her stride. She took a 20 ounce bottle of water from the refrigerator and began drinking it. Then, she walked over to the dining table and removed the leather satchel which was slung over her shoulder. Chantal followed closely behind her.

“Where have you been? It’s pitch black out there.”

“It’s the weirdest thing,” said Sierra as she wrapped her dark long curly hair up in a chignon. She took the folded blueprint of Brooke Manor out of her satchel and opened it on the table.

“What is weird?”

“Well, as I finished my inspection this evening, I saw Devlin walking towards the tall row of hedges that surround the property in the back. I don’t think he saw or heard me because he did not respond when I called out his name. So, I followed him on a path into a cemetery right here on these grounds where he literally vanished. Just like that, there was no sign of him at all.”

“I hope nothing happened to him,” said Chantal.

“Wait, what cemetery? You never told me about a cemetery,” she said wide-eyed.

“That’s because I did not know there was one here,” said Sierra. She reviewed the blueprint methodically without blinking. “Everything here suggests the property line ends where the extensive hedge of trees begins, eight to ten miles from the main road.”

“Is it a public cemetery?” asked Chantal.

“No, I don’t think so, it’s too small. There were only a few gravestones and a small mausoleum with maybe one or two burial chambers inside.”

“Could you read any of the names on the gravestones or go inside the mausoleum?”

“No, I wanted to, but it was getting dark so I decided to leave and come back here. Tomorrow, I will go into town and visit Leslie Brent to find out what he knows. I’m sure Devlin just forgot to include the information for the cemetery in the packet that he mailed to me. Do you want to come with me into town tomorrow?”

“Thanks, but I’ll go with you another time. Devlin and I made plans to have a picnic lunch.”

“You like him very much, don’t you?”

“Yes I do, he’s enchanting and we have fun together. We had a marvelous time today. It was a Kodak moment when I offered him some potato chips with his sandwich. You may not believe me when I tell you this, but he did not know what they were.”

“Really?” asked Sierra noticing the drawing paper in Chantal’s hand. “What’s that?” she asked pointing at the drawing.

“Oh, take a look and tell me what you think.”

Chantal held up the portrait of Devlin’s face that she was sketching. Sierra studied it closely.

“It looks just like him and you’ve captured that inscrutable look in his eyes perfectly. You definitely have our father’s gift as an artist. Has Devlin seen this?”

“No, it’s a surprise, I’m sketching it from memory so I need to spend more time with him to finish it.”

“Sure, you do. I know he will adore it. Well, I’m going to get ready for bed now.”

“Do you want anything to eat?”

“No thanks, I ate a granola bar earlier. Goodnight.”

“OK, I’ll see you in the morning,” said Chantal.

Later that night Chantal had a dream that deafening howls of wind raged with heavy rain and caused large swathes of destruction in a small town. Giant waves from the ocean surged and traveled inland off the coast and began to flood the area. As gallons of water spilled into a mansion, a young man went desperately from room to room opening doors searching for someone.

“Christa!” he shouted when he entered the last room. ”There’s not much time! Where are you? Christa!”

“I’m over here,” said a beautiful young woman with a soft gentle voice barely heard amidst the violent clapping sounds of the shutters slamming in the wind against the broken glass in the windows.

With tenacity, the young man followed the sound of her voice. Tragically he found her, impaled against the wall by a steel pole in her chest that blew in through one of the windows. Blood oozed from the corner of her mouth, and blood stains drenched her pastel colored floral print dress.

The young man froze for a second in shock. Then, he ran to her and began to reach with his hand to extract the steel pole from her chest. His father walked up behind him and grabbed his hand away from the steel pole.

His father stopped him and shouted, “No son! If you pull that out of her now, you will hasten her demise. You do not have much time with her. Flood-waters have covered the floor and risen quickly. Use this moment to say goodbye to her.”

“No, she can’t die! I have to save her!” The young man shouted without ever taking his eyes off Christa to look back at his father.

“Darling, please, love is all there is, and our love will never die,” she said. Tears streamed down her face and moistened her lips that were starting to turn blue. “Now listen to your father and get to safety. I love you.”

“I will always love you, said the young man crying, and he kissed her on the lips before she took her last breath and died.”

A wave of water crashed into the wall of the mansion and the young man ran.

Chantal began screaming in her sleep and shouted, “No! No! Help them! Save them!”

The shouting awakened Sierra who leaped to the floor out of bed and ran into Chantal’s bedroom to console her. She leaned over Chantal and gently shook her awake.

Chantal looked up at Sierra with tears in her eyes and sobbed. Sierra sat down on the bed and placed her arms around her.

“It’s OK dearest. Everything is fine. It was only a bad dream. That’s all it was,” she said and she rocked Chantal to sleep again.

Chapter 6: Out of the Shadows

As the vestiges of twilight faded slowly into darkness, Sierra stayed focused on doing an exterior inspection of Brooke Manor. She began speaking into a voice activated recorder to dictate her notes and recommendations to repair damages as she surveyed the estate.

“This is the recorded checklist for the exterior surface,” she said. “The cream-colored limestone on the second and third levels of Brooke Manor is smooth. The limestone on the first level cracked with mild to moderate erosion and heavy rust stains. A gentle poultice applied to remove the stains will restore it. The entire surface area will be re-polished and we will apply a water sealant to protect it from further damage  followed with a fresh coat of cream-colored paint.”

Because of the rain earlier that day, Sierra decided to walk around the estate to check the grounds for drainage efficiency. She noticed standing water in different areas behind the home.

She began dictating again.

“This is the checklist for drainage efficiency. The surface drainage is inadequate after moderate to heavy rainfall. We will flush the clogged Gargoyle shaped downspout, and upgrade the lot grading system so water can flow and drain properly away from the foundation and surrounding grounds.”

After she finished dictating her findings, she knelt to the ground and placed the voice activated recorder inside a brown leather satchel that she used as a backpack. When she stood up, she saw a male figure walking towards a thick hedge of trees two miles away.

Sierra called out, “Devlin, is that you?” The man kept walking without looking back.

“There’s still a sliver of light,” she said to herself, and she walked quickly hoping to join him.

“Devlin, where are you going?” she asked loudly.

Without answering her, he disappeared on a path beyond an opening in a hedge of trees. Moments later, Sierra followed him into the trees, but she did not see him anywhere.

“That’s odd, his footprints are not here in the mud from the rain,” she said while examining the ground for any sign of Devlin’s trail.

All at once, Sierra stopped in her tracks. She saw a set of white square granite steps that led up to a small white granite building. There was a tall statue of an angel on each side of a Gothic arched doorway with an iron gate locked with a chain. She looked around and saw several gravestones on both sides of the building.

“Oh my, I’ve stumbled into a private cemetery with a mausoleum,” she said as she studied the scene.

“None of this was in the blueprints or photographs I received from Devlin.”

Sierra walked up the steps to the mausoleum door. A hooting owl in a tree above her head startled her before she reached the chained iron gate. Darkness had set in and she was overcome with a feeling of anxiousness about losing sight of Devlin along with a feeling of claustrophobia from the surrounding trees. Quickly, she turned around to go back to Brooke Manor.

Devlin stood silently in the shadow of the doorway, behind the chained iron gate in the mausoleum, and watched her as she walked away.

That was strange, I know I saw him, Sierra thought as she hurried home under the moon lit sky.

Chapter 5: New Beginnings

¨The sun has come out!¨ Devlin said with enthusiasm. ¨I’ve interrupted you two long enough.¨

¨On the contrary, you were a godsend to show up and give me the photographs. This will save us some time,¨ said Sierra.

¨Devlin, would you please stay and have lunch with us?¨ asked Chantal.

¨It would be my pleasure,¨ said Devlin.

¨Forgive me if I don’t join you but I would like to take a second look around outside while the weather is clear,¨ said Sierra.

¨That’s fine,¨ said Chantal.

¨Thank you for being so understanding and helpful. I knew I made the right decision to bring you along with me.¨

Sierra grabbed Chantal’s hand and held it for a moment before walking out the front door.

Chantal and Devlin went into the kitchen to get lunch.

¨Have you two always been close?¨ asked Devlin.

¨Yes, especially after we lost our parents.¨

Chantal tossed her head back and opened the refrigerator.

¨Can I help you?¨ Devlin asked.

¨You’re my guest, you don’t have to do anything,¨ said Chantal. ¨We have whole wheat sandwiches with turkey and swiss cheese or roast beef and cheddar cheese. What would you like to eat?¨ she asked.

¨Roast beef and cheddar cheese will do,¨ said Devlin.

¨Would you like potato chips with that?¨

¨What are potato chips?¨ asked Devlin.

¨Are you kidding me?¨ asked Chantal.

Devlin looked at Chantal with a puzzled expression.

¨You are serious,¨ she said answering her own question.

¨Yes I am but I’ll try some potato chips,¨ he said while walking over to take a seat at the oak dining table.

Chantal placed a serving platter containing sandwiches on the table along with a large bag of potato chips.

¨What would you like to drink?¨ she asked. ¨There is bottled water, milk, and orange juice.¨

¨Milk will be fine,¨ he said.

Chantal poured two glasses of milk. From the corner of her eye, she saw Devlin pick up the bag of potato chips and read the package. With his eyebrows raised in amazement, he opened the bag and ate some potato chips. She returned to the table and sat down across from him.

Amused she asked, ¨Did you like the potato chips?¨

¨Yes, they are good,¨ he answered unabashedly with his mouth full. ¨Please tell me more about yourself,¨ he said.

¨Well, Sierra and I are from a small town called Thousand Oaks located 170 miles north of Mystic Woods. Our parents were both college professors. My father was a professor of the fine arts and my mother taught French. She had always wanted to visit Paris, France, so my father surprised her with tickets for a vacation there to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.We lost them in a plane crash when they were on their way back home from the trip.¨

¨I’m so sorry for your loss.¨

¨Thanks but it’s OK. There is solace in knowing they were happy before they passed. Sierra stepped up and took care of both of us. I was 13 years old when it happened, so she became my legal guardian soon after she finished college.¨

¨God bless her,¨ said Devlin. ¨She’s done a good job.¨

¨How did you end up coming with her to Brooke Manor? It’s summertime, you should  have fun with your friends.¨

¨My plans to go to England with a special friend of mine fell through, so Sierra invited me to join her here. At first I was hesitant about coming here but I’m not anymore since we’ve met.¨

¨Perhaps we can get to know each other better,¨ said Devlin.

¨I would like that very much,¨ said Chantal.

Later, Chantal and Devlin walked through the garden to the courtyard and sat down in a white stone built gazebo adorned with a weatherproof cupola roof and decorated with Tudor arched design door openings.

¨The lavender scent from the flowers and rhythmic sound of water from the angel shaped fountain is intoxicating,¨ said Chantal.

¨This is where I often come to meditate on life or lack thereof,¨ said Devlin.

¨It’s admirable of you to protect your family’s property. Are they proud of you?”

“I hope so,” said Devlin looking up to the sky.

“You can’t be many years older than me Devlin, and yet you have found the time to manage this large estate,¨ said Chantal.

¨I am 20 years old. You, your sister, and her business associates are the only ones that know about my involvement. I want to keep it that way because no one else cared, no one. I had to act because I could not bear the thought of seeing a place close and dear to my heart condemned. I can’t explain it, Brooke Manor is a part of me that must never die.¨

Chantal and Devlin continued talking until sunset when Chantal’s cell phone beeped.

¨I need to go inside and take my medication,¨ said Chantal.

¨What is the medication for?¨

¨I was born with a heart defect.¨

¨Let’s do this again, there’s so much I want to know about you,¨ said Devlin.

¨I look forward to it,¨ said Chantal.



Chapter 4:  The Spiral Staircase

 The next morning heavy rains thwarted Sierra’s plan to do an exterior inspection of the estate. Instead she inspected the damage to the spiral staircase in the foyer. Chantal assisted with the project, and took notes as Sierra described the materials needed to restore the staircase back to its original Gothic architectural design.

¨We will need to order at least 44 square top interior balusters in mahogany wood to match the others along the staircase on the second and third floors.¨

¨Sierra, I have a suggestion.”

¨Sure, go ahead.¨

¨Do you think you should consider having medieval motifs carved into the wood of some of the balusters?¨

¨Dearest sister, that would be an undertaking and expensive. Do you understand I cannot create designs to embellish the presentation of the restored property? My work should reflect the historical aesthetic features of the estate. As of this moment, I’ve seen nothing to lend credence to the idea that the original balusters from 1899 had medieval motifs carved into the wood.

¨Yes I understand but …¨

There was a knock at the door before Chantal could finish her sentence. She walked over to the window and saw that it was Devlin.

She opened the door and said to herself, ¨He’s dressed in old-fashioned clothing again.¨

¨Hello Chantal.¨

¨Good morning Devlin. Please come in, it’s terrible out there.¨

¨Thank you.¨

Chantal was curious.

¨How did you stay so dry without an umbrella?¨ She asked.

¨It’s OK, the rain is not too bad. Did you have a good night?¨

¨Yes we did, said Sierra walking over to greet him. I had a fascinating tour of the grounds before dark.¨

¨And I relished in harmony all evening with the serene sights and inspiring sounds of nature. I can’t imagine being anyplace else,¨ said Chantal with a smile on her face.

¨Devlin blushed.¨

Noticing his embarrassment, Sierra said, ¨I have a list of the materials needed to repair the staircase.¨

¨Excellent, said Devlin. I have some photographs for you. I forgot to give them to you yesterday. They are original photographs of the entire estate.¨

¨Perfect, that will be helpful as I create my report,¨ said Sierra.

¨I just need to get them from my room.¨

¨Take your time, we are not going anywhere in this weather,¨ said Chantal.

As Devlin walked past the formal dining room decorated with classical paintings and elegant crystal chandeliers, his thoughts drifted away to a different time in his life. He had fallen in love for the first time with a young woman he met at his graduation dinner hosted by his mother and father at Brooke Manor.

He remembered how his friends buzzed with echoes of laughter during the special occasion. The celebration was well underway when his father stood up and tapped a champagne glass before he proceeded with a speech.

“We honor Devlin and his graduating classmates, although many of you are leaving to embark on your future endeavors, you must always carry the spirit and values of the Steppe Institute of Agriculture  within you.

His father raised his glass and said, ¨Here’s to a lifetime of success!¨

The dinner guests chanted loudly, ¨Here’s to a lifetime of success!¨

After eating dinner, Devlin joined his best friend Nick who was sitting near the beverage table stocked with everything from milk to vodka. He sat down next to him and leaned back in a tilted chair with his head against the wall looking up into a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling.

Nick stood up and asked, “Would you like something to drink?”

“Yes, could you please bring me a glass of cherry juice?”

Nick went to the beverage table. He returned a few minutes later with their drinks and sat down.

Devlin turned his attention to a beautiful young woman he first noticed during dinner.

“Who is that?” he asked.

“Where?” asked Nick.

“There in the white gown to your left. I think she’s coming this way,” said Devlin.

They both stood up as she walked towards them.

“Devlin, I would like to introduce you to my cousin, Miss Christa Blake,” said Nick.

¨Hello Miss Blake, it is nice to make your acquaintance,¨ said Devlin.

¨You may call me Christa,¨ she said.

Nick noticed his mother waving her hand for him to come to her and his father.

¨Excuse me,¨ said Nick before he walked away.

Devlin began talking to Christa.

“Are you enjoying yourself?”

“Yes I am and congratulations on your graduation,¨ she said.

“Thank you.¨

“What will you do next?” asked Christa.

“I plan to live here in Mystic Woods and work for my father.”

Everyone knew his father was a wealthy tobacco magnate.

Just then, Devlin’s father approached his table.

“Christa, this is my father Mr. Lloyd.”

¨How do you do?¨ his father asked.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you sir,” said Christa.

¨Your home is lovely.¨

¨Thank you. Mrs. Lloyd deserves the credit for that. Son, I am very proud of you. We will talk later.¨

His father walked away.

Nick returned and said, ¨Christa, my parents are ready to leave.”

¨Already?¨ she asked.

“Yes. Good night Devlin. Thanks for entertaining her.”

“The pleasure was mine,¨ he said.

“Good night,” said Christa as she left for home.

Devlin wondered if their paths would ever cross again.

That was a long time ago, Devlin thought as he made it to his bedroom and unlocked the door. The room had traces of cobwebs and a hint of abandonment. It was no longer raining outside and light peered in through a window from the partly opened plantation shutters to reveal several items from a different era. A print of the famous 1930’s painting by Grant Wood, titled American Gothic, was hanging on the wall over a vintage brass metal four poster bed. An old Phonograph Tube Radio sat on a flame-wood desk next to a book titled, Of Mice and Men written by John Steinbeck in 1937The book was opened as though someone planned to return and finish reading it later. Devlin walked over by the bed and unlocked an armoire. It contained his personal belongings, family heirlooms, and photo albums. He searched through the drawers until he found a beige folder.

¨Ah, here are the pictures of the estate,¨ he said to himself.

Overwhelmed with memories from the past, he turned around and left the room without locking the door. He went back downstairs where Sierra and Chantal were waiting for him.

¨These are for you Sierra,¨ said Devlin as he gave the photographs to her.

¨Great, thank you,¨ she said.

Sierra browsed through the folder and then she seemed surprised. Her eyes glazed over after she examined very closely, pictures of the staircase.

¨Chantal you have to see this,¨ she said.

Chantal and Devlin moved to her side to see what she was talking about.

¨OK, look at this picture, it confirms we will need to apply a mahogany finish to each of the balusters. Now take a look at this one. It is a close up shot of the details in the wood. They are medieval motif designs just like you asked me about earlier.¨

¨Wait, let me see that,¨ said Chantal.

¨How did you know about this?¨ asked Sierra.

¨It was just a feeling I had,¨ said Chantal.

Unbeknownst to the sisters, Devlin was ecstatic.


Chapter 3: I’ve Been Here Before

One week later Chantal was a mixed bag of emotions during the flight to Woodbine. She reminisced about the good times she had with Miles. She missed him and still felt sadness from when he said goodbye to her on his birthday. She hoped she would get over the pain, and they could one day be friends. At the same time, she bubbled with excitement and anticipated her new adventure at Brooke Manor with Sierra, who read quietly in the seat beside her on the plane.

Their flight touched down thirty minutes later. They disembarked from the plane and proceeded to the baggage claim area to get their luggage. While they waited, a tall rugged looking man with salt and pepper hair, about forty, wearing blue jeans and a tweed sports jacket approached them.

“Hello, are you Ms. Sierra Rhys?”

“Yes,” replied Sierra.

“Welcome to Woodbine. I’m Leslie Brent, the engineer inspector for Brooke Manor.”

“Mr. Brent, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Please, call me Sierra.”

“Thanks, you may call me Leslie.”

They both extended their hands for a handshake.

“This is my sister Chantal,” said Sierra.

“Nice to meet you,” he said to Chantal.

“Hello,” said Chantal.

Leslie held a glossy folder with the logo of Sierra’s company, Rhys Architectural Restoration, Inc., on the cover. A photograph of Sierra and her associates slipped out of the folder and fell to the ground. Sierra noticed the picture and smiled at him.

“I wanted to make sure I recognized you,” explained Leslie with a look of embarrassment on his face.

Chantal noticed the chemistry immediately between Leslie and her sister.

“Here let me help you with those,” said Leslie as Chantal and Sierra picked up their luggage from the baggage carousel.

“Thank you,” they both said.

He carried their luggage and walked beside Sierra.

Chantal slowed down her pace deliberately and walked a few steps behind them.

“How was your flight?” said Leslie.

“It was fine. Thanks for offering to lead the way to Mystic Woods.”

“My pleasure, I will escort you to the front door,” he replied.

“Do you mind? I need to stop by the airport’s rental car reservation desk,” said Sierra.

“Not at all,” he said. “I can sit here and wait.”

“Thank you,” said Sierra.

Chantal whispered in Sierra’s ear, “I have to go to the ladies room.” She excused herself.

After Sierra completed the car reservation paperwork, she walked outside with Chantal and Leslie to get the car.

“Ms. Rhys, it’s all yours,” said the rental car agent. He gave Sierra the car keys and walked away.

Sierra unlocked the car doors and trunk, and Leslie placed the luggage in the trunk

Leslie asked, “Do you mind taking me to the airport parking garage to get my car?”

“Of course I will, get in” said Sierra.

“There’s my car over there, it’s the black sedan,” he said moments later.

¨Very nice,¨ gushed Chantal.

He got into his car and Sierra followed him as they drove on the interstate through the town of Woodbine.

An hour later, they approached a guide sign.

Chantal read the words aloud on the sign near the exit, “Welcome to Mystic Woods, population three hundred.”

Sierra followed Leslie as he got off the interstate at the exit ramp. They drove past a small strip mall, to a gas station attached to a farmer’s market with a deli, and parked their cars.

Leslie walked over to Sierra and Chantal, “The Brooke Manor estate is only ten miles away from here,” he said.

“Great. We want to buy a few items from the farmers market,” said Sierra. “We won’t be long.”

Minutes later, they were back on the road. Their cars passed an engraved wooden sign.

“Welcome to Brooke Manor,” said Chantal reading aloud again.

Leslie made a right turn off the main road. They drove up a long winding driveway alongside a white water-lily pond filled with violet colored blue flag iris flowers that stretched for three miles.

“The countryside is so tranquil,” said Chantal.

“The fresh air will be good for you. Did you bring your medicine?” Sierra asked.

“Yes mom,” Chantal said sarcastically and they smiled at each other.

They drove through a tall iron gate and parked their cars in the gravel driveway of the mansion nestled behind two giant sycamore trees. They got out of the car and walked towards the mansion. Leslie carried the heavy luggage and the sisters carried the smaller bags.

They each studied the scenery when they stopped near the nineteenth century neo Gothic styled benches that sat on each side of the pathway to the front door.

“Look at the mosaic of bright colors in the tall stained glass windows,” said Chantal.

“The mansion is a little weather-beaten but the Gothic styled pointed arches and flying buttresses, attached to the exterior walls are well-preserved,” said Sierra.

Sierra turned to Leslie with a puzzled look on her face and asked, “Why did the mayor want to demolish the estate?”

“Because he thought restoration costs would be too overwhelming for the taxpayers,” said an unfamiliar voice behind them.

Startled, Sierra and Chantal jumped and turned around. “Where did you come from?” asked Sierra.

“You gave them a scare. Who are you?” asked Leslie.

The unknown man lifted a tan-colored straw fedora hat from his head. “Forgive me, my name is Devlin Lloyd. I am the late owner’s relative and property manager of the estate.”

“Oh Mr. Lloyd, I’m Sierra Rhys, the restoration specialist. How are you? This is Leslie Brent, the engineer who’s assisting me on the project.”

“Hello sir,” said Leslie extending his hand for a handshake with Devlin.

“I’ve been expecting you,” said Devlin.

“This is my sister Chantal. She will stay here with me until my research for the project is finished.”

“I’m pleased to meet you Mr. Lloyd,” said Chantal, captivated by the aura of the young man’s presence.

Devlin was tall and slim with coal-black hair and light brown eyes. His classically styled clothing seemed dated. He wore a tan-colored double-breasted linen suit with two toned tan and white Oxford shoes.

Devlin looked at Chantal with a charming smile and said, “The pleasure is mine. Shall we go inside?”

“Excuse me, I have an appointment,” said Leslie. “Mr. Lloyd, do you mind please carrying the luggage inside for the ladies?”

“Not at all,” said Devlin and he took the luggage.

“Sierra and Chantal, please call me if either of you need anything,” said Leslie.

“I will, thanks for all your help,” said Sierra.

“You’re welcome, goodbye everyone,” said Leslie and he left.

“Goodbye,” said Chantal.

Devlin opened the tall oak, front double doors to Brooke Manor. Sierra and Chantal followed him inside to the foyer separated by a barrel arch from the stair hall where a crystal chandelier was hanging from the ribbed vaulted ceiling.

“Pardon the musty smell. It is most noticeable on the first floor. The floodwater from a hurricane badly stained the wood flooring and discolored the walls,” said Devlin.

“Oh no, it’s beautiful,” said Sierra.

They stopped for a moment in the huge parlor room decorated with artwork of painted family portraits and exquisite Victorian styled burgundy furniture.

“A housekeeper was hired to come in and clean once a week while you are here to do your research. Her name is Ella,” said Devlin. “She will also cook for you if needed.”

“That was nice of you,” said Sierra.

“I imagined Brooke Manor would be eerie, but on the contrary, it is quite enchanted. I almost get a sense that I’ve been here before.” said Chantal.

“May we put away the groceries?” asked Sierra.

“Yes,” said Devlin.

They went into the kitchen where Sierra and Chantal put their groceries away in the refrigerator and pantry.

As they left the kitchen, Devlin told them, “You must always use the stairwell here behind the kitchen near the old servants’ quarters to get to your rooms on the second floor. The staircase near the foyer is not safe.”

Chantal looked at Sierra whose prior admonition was almost verbatim and they followed him up the stairs to the second floor.

“Sierra, you may use the master bedroom,” said Devlin and he opened the door to a large beautifully furnished bedroom complete with a private bath. “It has a miniature study room for your work.”

He walked across the hall to another room. “Chantal, this room is for you. The windows overlook the garden courtyard and fountain.”

Chantal walked over to the window to have a look. “It’s heavenly and there’s also a gazebo,” she said.

“Sierra, this is the master-key to all of the rooms in the house except the room at the end of the hallway,” he said and he gave the key to her.

“Which room is yours so I will know to knock before entering with the key?” Sierra asked.

“My room is the room at the end of the hallway.”

“Oh I see,” said Sierra.

“Please excuse me while I leave you two alone, to settle in and make yourselves at home,” he said.

“Are you staying here too?” asked Sierra.

“No,” he answered.

“When will we see you again?” asked Chantal.

“Soon,” he said.

“Thank you for everything,” said Chantal.

“Yes, thank you,” said Sierra.

“Goodbye, have a nice evening.” said Devlin. He left the mansion and walked towards the sycamore trees disappearing out of sight.

“Wow, I expected someone much older. Devlin and I only corresponded by snail mail so I had no idea he was so young,” said Sierra. ¨It’s unfathomable to think he coordinated the arrangements to restore the manor without guidance from someone older.”

“He seemed so mature beyond his years, in the way he spoke and his style of clothing but he cannot be much older than me and Miles,” said Chantal. “I think he’s nice.”

“You do have to admit, the way he appeared from out of nowhere was creepy,” said Sierra.

“Perhaps he was there all the time and we were too enthralled with admiring the beauty of the estate to notice him,” said Chantal.

“I suppose you’re right,” said Sierra. “Leslie Brent was easy on the eyes too.”

Chantal chuckled and they went into their rooms to unpack their bags and put everything away.

Sierra slid her finger across the wooden dresser as if she was checking for a hint of dust. Everything is so clean and spotless,” she thought.

Later, Chantal walked into Sierra’s room with a bottle of all-purpose cleanser they bought at the farmer’s market. “Will you need this?” she asked.

“No, the housekeeper did a great job,” said Sierra. She took a notebook computer from her handbag. “Hey, I’ m going to take a look around outside to do a simple assessment of the mansion before it gets dark. Will you be fine if I leave you here alone?”

“Sure,” said Chantal.

“OK,” Sierra said and she went on her way.

Chantal took out her e-book reader to browse through a collection of her favorite books that she downloaded. After a while, she walked downstairs to the foyer and leaned her shapely figure against a partially opened stained glass bay window that overlooked the front entrance of the mansion. She basked in the beautiful scenery below. The flower bed arrangement of daylily perennials triggered her thoughts about Miles. They were the same flowers used to decorate the terrace for his mother’s dinner party to welcome him back home.

She had an epiphany when she thought about the dynamics of Miles’s relationship with his mother and the implications for them as a couple.

“Parentification, that’s it. Miles will never be free to love me or any other woman as long as his mother expects him to be present to meet her emotional needs. Our love is lost forever.” Chantal told herself. She sobbed silently and tears rolled down her cheeks.

She asked herself, “What do I do now?”

As if responding to her, the evening breeze turned into the soft whispers of a distant man’s voice that sounded a lot like Devlin.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” the consoling voice told her.

“But I feel so confused and alone,” Chantal replied.

“Be still, you will thrive and find solace at Brooke Manor.”

“Do you mean like the blooming flowers coming into their own?” she asked.

“Yes, and you will love again”

Unnoticed, Sierra had returned from outside and saw that Chantal appeared to be having a conversation with someone as she stood looking out of the window.

“We’ll talk another time, I have to go now,” the breeze seemed to whisper.

“Where are you going? When will we talk again?”

“I am going to rest now but we will talk again soon, I promise. Now go and enjoy your time with your sister.”

“Chantal, who were you just talking too?” asked Sierra standing behind her now.

“Who me? No one,” said Chantal. “I was just daydreaming and thinking out loud.¨

“Are you ready for dinner?”

“Yes, I’m famished”

“Ok, let’s eat.

They went into the kitchen.

“Would you like some baked macaroni and cheese and beef stew?” asked Sierra.

“Yes, that sounds good, thanks.”

“This restoration project is going to be interesting,¨ Sierra said as she prepared a plate for Chantal.

¨How so?¨ Asked Chantal.

¨It just is,¨ said Sierra.

¨It’s been a long day but I am so looking forward to tomorrow. I like it here,¨ said Chantal.

They ate their dinner quietly and then retired to their rooms.

Chapter 2: Brooke Manor

The sunlight, high above the horizon, flashed into the bedroom window and peered down on Chantal awakening her from sleep. She rolled over on her stomach with her head turned towards a clock on her bedside table. She looked at the time. At that moment, there was a knock on her bedroom door.

“Chantal, are you awake?” asked her sister Sierra.


“Breakfast is ready.”

“OK, I’ll be right down, thanks.”

Chantal got out of bed and brushed her teeth. Dressed in her pajamas and a robe, she stepped into her slippers and walked down stairs to the kitchen.

Sierra used a juicer to make fresh squeezed orange juice.

“Do you need any help?” asked Chantal.

“You may get the glasses out of the cupboard,” said Sierra.

They both sat down at the table to have a hearty breakfast of bacon, pancakes, and scrambled eggs.

“I cooked your scrambled eggs like you like them with cheese and diced tomatoes.”

“Thank you,” said Chantal.

Sierra noticed Chantal’s puffy red eyes as she passed the pancake platter to her.

“You don’t look so good, you look pale. Are you taking your heart medicine?” she asked her with a worried expression on her face.

“Yes,” said Chantal. She resented the pampering, but she understood Sierra’s concern. After all, they only had each other now.

“How was the dinner party for Miles last night?” Sierra asked.

“Miles broke up with me last night,” said Chantal. Tears welled up in her eyes.

“I am sorry,” Sierra said. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Chantal poured syrup on her pancakes. “I think his mom made him do it,” she said.

Sierra picked up a slice of bacon, made a fist, and crumbled the bacon into her scrambled eggs.

“I had an uneasy feeling about Miles’s mother when he invited us to their Christmas party last year. She was not particularly cordial to us. Right away she gave me the impression that you were not good enough for her son.”

“Really, why didn’t you ever tell me this?”

“Because you were smitten with him and I wanted to be wrong about her. Besides, you would not have believed me anyway.”

“I remember the Christmas party like it was yesterday,” said Chantal.

Sierra finished her sentence, “You rang the doorbell, and the butler opened the door and announced our presence. Miles smiled as he walked hurriedly to greet us.”

“He seemed so happy,” said Chantal with a melancholy look on her face.

“Yes, he did. Then his mother walked up behind him, and Miles introduced us to her. She looked right past us as if we were invisible and made a comment about the crooked Christmas wreath on the door,” said Sierra.

“Then, Miles loudly introduced us again,” said Chantal.

Sierra finished Chantal’s sentence again, “Miles literally forced her to look in our direction to say hello and welcome us into their home. It was a most unpleasant experience.”

“Experience is the best teacher,” said Chantal.

“Now do you understand, there is realization in the process and some things are better left unsaid?” asked Sierra.

“Yes, I love you. ” said Chantal.” She walked over and gave her big sister a hug.

“I promise you, I will always be here for you when you need me,” said Sierra affectionately.

They cleaned the kitchen after eating breakfast. Music played on the radio. Then, there was a breaking news story and they both listened attentively.

“Authorities say an investigation is underway following a small explosion earlier this morning in an underground natural gas storage facility at Kwest Oil and Gas, Inc. located in Woodbine, just fifty miles west of the small town of Mystic Woods. There were no serious injuries or deaths reported but the blast caused minor power outages. Officials believe a malfunctioning valve switch may have caused the accident. We will keep you updated as more information becomes available.”

“Miles left today to do an internship with the corporate division of that oil company in California,” said Chantal.

“California? Why so far away?” asked Sierra.

“That’s what I wondered too.”

“Oh, that reminds me, I have some news of my own,” said Sierra.

“What’s that?” asked Chantal.

“Our firm was hired to do restoration work on Brooke Manor. It is located in Mystic Woods, the small town mentioned in the news story about the gas explosion.”

Sierra was an architect and managing partner of an architectural restoration firm that specialized in doing renovations to repair the original stonework and plaster work on the interior and exterior of historical buildings.

“What is Brooke Manor?” asked Chantal.

“It is a privately owned, Gothic styled twenty-room mansion built in 1899, near the turn of the twentieth century. The late owner was the town founder of Mystic Woods and a wealthy philanthropic tobacco magnate. Most of the rooms in the mansion are still intact but areas of the first floor suffered major flood water damage during the Woodbine Hurricane of 1938. A relative of the late owner applied for a grant to have Brooke Manor restored and listed in the Woodbine register of historic places to recognize its importance to the town.”

“When are you leaving?” asked Chantal.

“I am scheduled to leave next weekend to begin my research. I have to develop the architectural plans and estimate requirements for materials, equipment, costs, and construction time for the rest of the team. No worries, Aunt Josie has offered to stay here and look after you while I’m away. I plan on living in the mansion until the report is finished.”

Chantal had a puzzled look on her face. “Is it safe to stay in the mansion? You just said there was major damage on the first floor.”

“Yes, we hired an engineer to do an inspection of the structure.” Sierra took a blueprint from her handbag and unfolded it on the kitchen table. Pointing to the drawing she said, “This area by the foyer and main stairwell was damaged. There is a second set of stairs near the servants’ quarters, here, by the kitchen to get to the second floor. I will live in this part of the mansion where it is safe and sound.”

“Will you come home at all while you are working there?” asked Chantal.

“I had not planned on it. Hey, I have an idea! Why don’t you come with me?”

“Yeah but won’t you be busy? Will I be in the way?”

“Don’t be silly. Sure, I will be working during the day but I will have plenty of time in the evenings. The two of us can get together and explore the town,” said Sierra.

“It sounds like fun. I’m all in,” said Chantal.

“Great, I will make your plane ticket reservations today,” said Sierra smiling. “We will fly into Woodbine and then drive to Mystic Woods. I will have a rental car to use while we’re there.”

They spent the rest of the day cleaning the house and discussing their trip.

Chapter 1: Sons and Lovers

Chantal watched from a distance as a middle-aged woman and young man faced imminent danger.

“Quick, get up here to the second floor!” The woman shouted from the top of the stairs to the young man below as he nervously held on to the banister and attempted to walk up the flight of stairs.

“I can’t make it mother!”

She tried to encourage him. “Yes you can, you can do this!”

Suddenly, the stairs began to crumble and he lost his balance.

His mother screamed, “Oh my God no!” and collapsed on the floor.

Chantal, petrified, stood by silently in shock.

At that moment, her cell phone alarm beeped and she awakened.

¨My nap was longer than expected,” she told herself.

Then, she took a little black dress from her closet and hurried to the bathroom to take a shower.

That evening she attended a dinner party for her boyfriend Miles, hosted by his mother to welcome him home after his first year away at college. A close family friend joined them. They sat on the terrace adorned with colorful hues of blooming perennial flowers illuminated by an orange glow from the sunset in the summer sky. The ambiance was cheerful as whimsical chatter fused with the classical music playing in the background.

“May I get you anything else madam?” asked Jones the butler.

“Yes, you may serve dessert now,” said Miles’s mother, an ageless attractive woman with a dominant personality.

“Yes madam,” said Jones.

Chantal was a beautiful young woman with dark hair and almond-shaped brown eyes, which matched her caramel colored skin tone and gave her an exotic appeal.  Miles was tall, fair, and strikingly handsome. Chantal looked tenderly into his steel-blue eyes while he twirled the curly blond hairs on the nape of his neck.

“Miles are you OK?” asked his mother.

“Why do you ask mother?”

“Well, because you only twirl your hair when you’re nervous about something.”

“I have a lot on my mind,¨ he said.

“Professor Pierce, a distinguished looking middle-aged man and close family friend, turned to Miles and asked, “How did you and Chantal meet?”

“We met in our high school drama club. It was our senior year and we had just auditioned for lead roles cast in the theatrical production of Sons and Lovers, based on the novel written by D. H. Lawrence in 1913.”

“Ava, was there some controversy, and a failed attempt by some parents and religious leaders in the community to ban Sons and Lovers from the school’s library and curriculum?” asked the Professor.

“Yes, but the fool’s errand made the book popular and drove students to it like a magnet,” said Miles’s mother.

“We each earned coveted roles. I played the role of Paul Morel, torn between his love for his mother and the women he loved. Chantal played the role of Miriam Leivers. She was Paul’s first love,” said Miles.

“Chantal, how long have you had an interest in acting?” asked Professor Pierce.

“As long as I can remember, ever since I began acting out the roles of characters from my favorite novels as a small child. Miriam Leivers was my first serious lead role and it was the first time Miles and I performed together,” she said.

“We became close during the rehearsals and started dating when I asked Chantal to our senior prom later that school year,” said Miles.

Moments later, Jones and other members of the household staff surrounded the table and began to sing, “Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you!”

Miles’s mother, Professor Pierce, and Chantal joined in, “Happy birthday, dear Miles! Happy birthday to you!”

“Thank you all,” said Miles, looking surprised.

“May you have many more Mr. Banks,” said Jones and he placed a miniature birthday cake with a lit blue candle shaped like the number 19 on the table.

Everyone clapped as Miles blew out the lit candle and cut the cake.

“Mother you should not have. My birthday was two weeks ago,” said Miles.

She walked over to him, hugged him, and said, “I know son, but you were away in college and I wanted to celebrate your birthday at home.”

“Miles this is for you,” said Chantal as she gave Miles a birthday gift from her handbag.

He opened the gift box and said, “It’s a sterling silver men’s locket.”

It’s engraved with your name and there’s a picture of us inside from last Christmas,” said Chantal.

“It’s lovely, thank you,” said Miles.

“Very nice,” said Professor Pierce.

Miles’s mother turned to Chantal with what seemed like an insidious look on her face and asked, “Did Miles tell you he’s going to California for the summer?”

“California?” asked Chantal.

His mother eagerly replied, “Yes, he has a summer job in the corporate division of our family’s oil company.”

“Mother please, I can speak for myself,” said Miles. “Chantal, Mother has made arrangements for me to leave tomorrow morning. I will be staying with my uncle Ian.”

“But what about our plans to visit the birth home of D. H. Lawrence in England this summer?” Chantal asked.

Professor Pierce sensed the tension.

“Jones!” the professor called out.

“Yes sir, Professor Pierce,” said Jones.

“Could you please bring me a dry sherry?” he asked.

“Yes sir,” Jones replied.

Chantal was young but she was not provincial. Overwhelmed with Miles’s mother’s recent revelation, she relaxed and deflected embarrassment after learning about Miles’s summer trip from his mother and not from him. Several thoughts crowded her mind at once. Then, she remembered. Miles’s mother had written what he described as a bizarre letter to him when he was away at college. He had asked Chantal to read it when he visited her during spring break.

In the letter, Miles’s mother had written that Chantal was a distraction and she asked him to end his relationship with her. She admonished Miles for getting too seriously involved at a young age and advised him to focus on carrying on his father’s legacy, and the continued success of the family business.

Despite the letter, Chantal had expressed nothing but compassion for Mile’s mother. She explained that his mother was probably just going through an emotional phase of empty nest syndrome, which some parents often experienced when grown children moved away from home and it was probably harder for his mother to cope with because he was an only child. Chantal encouraged him to become more understanding.

That was then. Now she wondered what his mother’s true intentions may have been all along. She wondered if his mother would have negative feelings towards any woman who was romantically involved with Miles. Her thoughts drifted back to the first time she and Miles met and the plot from D.H. Lawrence’s novel, Sons and Lovers, came to mind. Chantal realized the irony that her life now imitated art.

Chantal regained her composure. “Miles, I’m happy for you, and this sounds like a great opportunity,” she said poker faced.

“Thank you, I will learn more about my father’s research. He died there four years ago in a gas explosion,” said Miles.

Looking at Miles his mother said, “I will miss having you around as the man of the house this summer.¨

“I knew your father well. He would be proud that you’re following in his footsteps,” said Professor Pierce.

“Miles has always aspired  to become a petroleum engineer like his father and he shall be,” said his mother speaking directly to Chantal.

“Of course and why not?” Chantal replied with a better understanding now of her obsession to control Miles’s life.

“It’s getting dark, let’s go inside to the parlor for tea,” said his mother.

Miles looked at his watch. “It’s late, I better get Chantal home and I still need to pack.”

“OK,” said his mother.

“Mrs. Banks, thank you for inviting me to dinner,” said Chantal.

“Do come again,” said Miles’s mother as she escorted Miles and Chantal to the door.

“Ava, I have to go  too,” said Professor Pierce.

“Not you too Claude?” she replied with a disappointed look on her face.

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” and he kissed her on the cheek.

She escorted him to the door and said goodnight.

“Chantal, I wanted to leave because we need to talk,” said Miles as they got into the car to drive away.

“OK, I’m listening,” she said.

“Look, I’m sorry but this relationship is not working for me, I’m not happy.”

“Was it something I said or did?”

“No, I care about you but I’m not ready for a serious committed relationship with anyone. We are both too young and we still have our entire lives ahead of us.”

“Is this a cruel joke Miles?”

“No,” he said.

“This doesn’t sound like you. Tell me you don’t mean it and we can get through this.”

Miles replied gently with a firm look on his face, “No, we can’t.”

Chantal realized his mom had influenced him and she surrendered to his wishes. “Well, I guess there really is nothing I can do about it,” she said as tears streamed down her face.”

“Chantal, listen, it will never work. Life is not a fairy tale. Now, you need to focus on starting your first semester of college in the fall.”

“Says who Miles, your mother? I believed your promises and that you loved me.”

“Wait; did you just say my mother?”

“Oh my goodness, yes and you sound just like she did in the letter.”

“What letter?” asked Miles.

“Yes, the letter, did you think I had forgotten about it?”

“How dare you throw up something in my face that I confided in you about?

Chantal quickly apologized, “I’m sorry Miles, but why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“I didn’t know how to tell you,” he said.

“I love you Miles and I wish you the best even if we can’t be together.”

“I know that,” said Miles.

There was complete silence during the car ride to Chantal’s home that seemed to last an eternity.

Finally, they arrived at the two-story beach house that Chantal shared with her older sister Sierra who was twenty-six years old. Sierra became Chantal’s legal guardian after their parents died together in a plane crash five years ago.

Miles parked in the driveway, got out of the car, and opened the passenger side door for Chantal.

“Would you like to come in for a few minutes?” she asked.

“No thank you,” he said.

“You’re right, it’s probably for the best,” she replied.

“Chantal, I never meant to hurt you,” said Miles.

“It’s  fine. This is happening for me, not to me.”


“Good night Miles,” she said and walked away.

“Good night,” he said.

Miles waited for her to go into the house. Chantal turned around, waved goodbye, and closed the front door. Miles drove off. Chantal walked up the stairs to her bedroom and cried herself to sleep.