"A potent spell of legacy and sisterhood...this eerie tale will keep readers up well into the night."
–Rachel Griffin, New York Times Bestselling author of THE NATURE OF WITCHES
From Chapter 2: The House
"Holy Mother of Christ," Cordelia muttered as the car broke into the sun and continued around a wall of tightly packed Japanese cedars, allowing the house to finally come into view. A coil of chills broke across her skin, dimpling it in goose bumps and causing every hair on her body to stand at attention.
"You're drooling on me," Eustace complained, but Cordelia ignored her. She couldn't take her eyes off the structure. Three imposing stories stacked upon one another in a frenzy of eaves and turrets, scrollwork and dormers. A combination of dark-red brick, graying stone, and chocolate-painted siding, the house sprouted from the gardens around it like a wild briar, tangled and untamed, refusing to come to heel. Darkened windows dozed under sinister spires; Gothic arches and angles crossed like hexes. A jewelry box of confidences, it nestled among the spread of jade and tourmaline greens like a sparkling, gingerbread topaz—a giant, sleeping bat tucked into itself, just waiting for night to fall. A dominating tower with a fourth-story set of windows
stared down at them in distaste, and Cordelia felt suddenly underdressed. As if she should have come in cocktail attire, or a vintage gown with jet beads and high collar.
It was a true Victorian manor. But Victorian felt like an understatement in this case.
Arkin brought the car to a stop before the wide wide front porch that wrapped around one turreted corner like a sash made of spindles. Cordelia leaned back and met her sister's eyes. Eustace whistled long and low as Cordelia opened her door and climbed out. She moved around the car so that nothing would be between her and the house, looking up to where the tower pierced the sun, bleeding golden light.
Her heart fumbled its rhythm in her chest. She waited for the whisper to come, wondering—almost fearing—what the house would have to say, but it was mute as it loomed over her. She found it hard to imagine her mother growing up here. Even harder that she kept it a secret.
"I trust you had a pleasant drive," a smooth, deep voice spoke from the porch.
Cordelia dropped her eyes to a man with silver hair and a dark suit who stood waiting between two columns at the top of the porch stairs.
"Welcome to Bone Hill," he said cordially.
Her sister rushed past her with an outstretched hand. "You must be Mr. Togers," she greeted, clasping his hand and giving it a hearty shake.
"Bennett, please," he replied. "And you are Eustace Bone?"
"The one and only," she declared with her usual flair.
Cordelia could not match her sister's enthusiastic introduction, because she could scarcely tear her eyes from the house.
"And you must be Cordelia," Bennett said.
She forced herself up the steps. Bennett looked to be somewhere in his late sixties or seventies. This close, she could see that his pewter hair was thinning on top, revealing a liver-spotted scalp, and that his cheeks had a slight wobble where they'd fallen over the decades, sinking in the middle to dark pits. His eyes sat over them proudly, though, a steely glint shining in them like a reptile's. He reminded her of a cross between a butler in an old movie and a moray eel. She wasn't sure if he would kiss her hand or bite it. "I'm sorry. This is all just a bit surprising."
"I take it Magdalena never disclosed the family's position to you?" he replied with an uncanny familiarity, as if he didn't simply know of their mother, but knew her personally.
It had been ages since Cordelia had heard her mother referred to that way. She'd always insisted on Maggie. "No," Cordelia said, squaring her shoulders. "Not exactly."
"Not at all," Eustace clarified.
"Well, then we have much to discuss," Bennett told them. "Unfortunately, I cannot stay to go over it all with you just now. But I will hand over the main key and encourage you to make yourselves at home. The house dates back to the Victorian era, fashioned in the Gothic Revival style. The architect remains a mystery, but some say it may be the famous Alexander Jackson Davis. At any rate, I'm sure you'll find it in working order, if not entirely up-to-date. And, hopefully, quite comfortable."
"Wait," Cordelia interrupted. "You're leaving?"
Bennett smiled graciously. "I assure you I will be back in the morning, and we can discuss whatever questions or concerns you have then. In the meantime, I wish you a most agreeable evening."
At that, he trotted down the steps between them, pausing only to place a large, brass skeleton key in Eustace's hand. At the bottom of the stairs, he stopped and turned. "Do watch out for the bats," he said merrily.
"Bats?" Cordelia frowned. Was he serious?
"They're not dangerous," he insisted. "But they are protected. I'm afraid killing them is out of the question." With that he hopped into the back of the waiting car and rode away, with Arkin at the wheel.
Cordelia gawked at her sister. "Did that just happen?"
Eustace grinned. "Shall we go in?"
She started for the front door, but Cordelia remained. "Wait," she said, craning her head to listen. "I need a moment."
"Suit yourself," Eustace told her as she turned and walked across the porch to the narrow doors that reached over eight feet to meet the beadboard ceiling.
Cordelia backed down the steps and glanced up. She looked past the places with peeling paint and cracks in the mortar, past the Virginia Creeper trying to reclaim one corner of the house and the wavering quality of the old windows. Instead, she listened for the spirit of the place, for the whisper.
The house held its tongue, as if it did not trust this prodigal daughter from another world, another era. But the collective drone she'd felt in the car sounded again between her ears, wrapping itself around her skull, calling from some corner of the property she couldn't place. With effort, she pushed it aside and concentrated on the building before her, this grand dame of brickwork and lace.
And just as Cordelia had given up, Eustace opened the door. A heavy sigh escaped, as if the house had been holding its breath for too long. And with it, the first whisper, like the susurrus of a forgotten woman.
Eustace turned back to look at her, and Cordelia grinned. She grabbed her sister's open hand.
Together, they took their first steps inside.