Alex’s First Encounter with the Green Lady

Author’s Note: “In earlier drafts of Vision of Darkness, Alex goes to Three Churches on vacation and stays at his boss Webster’s cabin. I later changed how he ended up in town, so this scene was cut. But I still think it’s a good one.”

He wasn’t stalking Pru–technically.

Even as Alex slowed his truck to a crawl and peeked up the winding drive toward the lighthouse, he told himself that. He really was not stalking her. He drove by the lighthouse every time he went into Three Churches. No big deal. Yeah, so he knew she was home, but that didn’t mean he’d decided to go to town just so he could drive by. He had a legitimate reason for going into town. He needed…light bulbs.

Alex brought his truck to a stop just before the driveway and let his forehead fall against the steering wheel.

Ah, hell, he was stalking her.

He missed her with an intensity that scared him. He had popped into the diner every day for the last two weeks, getting her accustomed to his presence, but over the past few days she’d been home sick with a bug. At first, he shrugged off his disappointment at not seeing her. He had other things to do to keep busy. He painted the dining room of Webster’s cabin, kicked Nick’s ass at cyber chess every night, read a couple books he’d been meaning to get to, fended off more phone calls from Theo. He cooked himself dinner; he’d forgotten how much he enjoyed the simple pleasure of grilling up a steak to perfection. He was sleeping better, though still not great. He wasn’t drinking as much, though still more than he knew was healthy. He still felt paranoid, but he figured that was so ingrained in his nature, he’d always feel like he was being watched. To top it off, he hadn’t dreamed once since his first night at the cabin.

Webster had been right. He had been in desperate need of a break.

But as the days dragged by, bringing him ever closer to his scheduled return to Boston, and Pru still hadn’t returned to work, worry for her worked its way into his thoughts. Maybe it was more than a bug. She could be dying and nobody in town would know. He tried to tell himself that was ridiculous since Putnam Sons Construction worked on the renovation up there every day. If she were that sick, John Jr. would get her help. Still, the worry ate at Alex until he wanted to go check on her so badly it was almost a physical ache.

What could it hurt just to drop in and see if she needed anything?

He turned up the drive before he could second-guess himself. The limestone lighthouse tower rose sturdy and proud into his view, followed by the keeper’s dwelling against the backdrop of calm blue ocean. In the watery autumn sun, the dwelling was as ethereal as the ghost it supposedly housed. Sided in limestone and trimmed in dark green wood, two dormer windows peeked up from a red-tiled roof that sloped sharply down to a full-sized front porch.

He had the oddest sense of coming home.

The driveway curved sharply to the right, the house fell behind a rise in the terrain, and the feeling dissipated. He shook his head once to clear out the lingering fog of déjà vu and focused on the bumpy road, which came precariously close to the edge of the cliff. In the winter, this driveway was probably treacherous as hell to navigate, and in the days before decent snow removal it had to have been all but impossible, leaving the occupants of the lighthouse isolated from the rest of town.

At least that part of Pru’s ghost story he could believe. A person could easily go crazy living up here with no contact with others for months on end.

The woman appeared out of nowhere. Just a shadow in the corner of his eye at first, and then she stood in the middle of the road grinning at him. He only had a second to react and jerked the wheel. The cliff was to his right, a solid wall of earth and trees to his left. He chose to take his chances with the trees.

Not fast enough.

He expected to hear the solid thump of a body colliding with metal, but none came. The truck slammed into the wall of earth and bounced like a rubber ball, the force of the impact sending him spinning back out into the road. The cliff’s edge whipped by, stomach churning in its closeness, and he grabbed for the spinning wheel. The leather cover burned his hands, but he managed to get a decent grip and brought the truck to a halt within a hair’s breadth of the guardrail.

He sat back, shut his eyes, and released a long breath. The adrenaline rush left him feeling shaky. While in the military, he’d been able to school his body to ignore the aftereffects of an adrenaline burn, but it’d been a long, long time since anything had made his heart pump like that and he was out of practice. Still, despite the jitter in his stomach, his hands were steady as he reached to kill the ignition.

“Hey! Hey, man, you okay?” John Putnam Jr. ripped open the truck’s door and gave Alex an assessing once-over. Three other guys ran down the driveway toward his truck. Pru, in a robe and slippers, carrying a first aid kit, wasn’t far behind them.

Alex looked at John Jr. and nodded. “Yeah, I’m good. What about the woman?”

“What woman?” John Jr. stepped back to let him out. He wasn’t sure if his legs would hold him yet, so he stayed put. The last thing he needed was to fall on his face in front of Pru.

“The one that ran out in front of me. I almost hit her.”

John Jr.’s brow wrinkled. “Wade,” he called over his shoulder to his brother, “did you see a woman?”

“Nuh-uh,” Wade said, ambling over and hunching his big body down to gaze in at Alex. The man looked as if he’d been welded of steel rather than conceived and born the natural way.

“I was up in the tower,” Wade continued. “I saw you. You were driving along and then you were all over the road. I went and got J.J. ‘cause I thought you might go off the cliff and I knew that’d make Pru sad. She likes you.”

“Thank you, Wade,” Pru wedged herself in between the two men and set the first aid kit on the running board. Her cheeks were pinked, but whether that was from illness or embarrassment, he couldn’t tell.

“I din’t see no woman,” Wade said.

“It’s okay, Wade. Alex, look at me. Are you in any pain?”

He tried out a smile. “No, I’m good.”

“Yeah, that’s why you’re bleeding all over the place.”

“Maybe we should call an ambulance,” John Jr. suggested.

“No, really, I’m fine. Just a scratch.” He swiped at the blood dripping down the side of his face and grimaced as his hand came away painted red. It was definitely more than a scratch. That explained why his head hurt like hell. His vision blurred. He was going to pass out, felt unconsciousness creeping up on him like an enemy in the shadows, and was smart enough to know when not to turn away medical help. He looked at Pru. “I have a concussion. Call the ambulance. I’ll go to the ER but I do not want to stay.” He could hear his words slurring but held her gaze and added, “I hate hospitals.”

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