Published by Literary Wanderlust on October 1, 2021
Can she keep the secrets of her past to rescue a girl tormented by a ghost?
In 1920s Los Angeles, Letitia Hawking reads the veil between life and death. A scrying bowl allows her to experience the final moments of the deceased. She brings closure to grief-stricken war widows and mourning families.For Letitia, it is a penance. She knows no such peace.
For Alasdair Driscoll, it may be the only way to save his niece, Finola, from her growing night terrors. But when Letitia sees a shadowy figure attached to the household, it rouses old fears of her unspeakable past in England.
When a man comes to her about his missing daughter, the third girl to go missing in as many months, Letitia can’t help him when she can’t see who’s taken them.
As a darkness haunts Letitia’s vision, she may not be given a choice in helping the determined Mr Driscoll, or stop herself falling in love with him. But to do so risks a part of herself she locked away, and to release it may cost Letitia her sanity and her heart.
The little café was an embodiment of Paris, offering French pastries, coffee, and Swedish chocolates kept in a glass display, with little boxes allowing people to them take home. Letitia didn’t like chocolate much, but she saw above the display case jars of biscuits, including butterscotch. An indulgence during her meeting would be acceptable, given she would not get time for lunch.
Round metal tables were full of people finishing a midmorning repast, people talked in French and English, the tone pleasant on the ear. The warm lights overhead contrasted with the dim day outside, casting shadows across the room and leaving an intimate setting despite the full café.
Mrs. Quinn had taken a table near the back and was being seated by a waiter when she spied Letitia in the doorway and raised her hand in greeting.
Letitia threaded between the tables, stopping before Mrs. Quinn, who rose with a smile.
“Ms. Hawking,” she said, “I’m so glad you could make it.”
“Mrs. Quinn,” Letitia answered, holding out her hand, which Mrs. Quinn shook. The similarity to Mr. Driscoll was elusive, but there in the faint bone structure was a determined jawline that did not bode for a dissimilar personality. Mr. Driscoll was tall with loose curls of graying auburn, while Mrs. Quinn was a strawberry blonde, far younger than him, and a little plump. She was a far cry from the broad-shouldered mountain that was Mr. Driscoll.
“What do you fancy?” Mrs. Quinn said, gesturing to the chair opposite as she sat.
“Earl Grey tea,” Letitia told the still hovering waiter, “and the butterscotch biscuit in the jar on the counter.”
“Madam does not wish to see the menu?” he clarified, holding it out for her to inspect.
“No, thank you.”
When he’d gone, Mrs. Quinn took a deep breath, smiling at Letitia, who braced herself.
“I’m so sorry about my brother,” Mrs. Quinn began in a rush. Letitia held her tongue but returned the smile with a smaller one of her own, prepared to let Mrs. Quinn ramble until she said something useful.
“You see,” Mrs. Quinn went on, “Alasdair and my husband were close, and there was trouble just before his death. My brother feels terrible about it, but our concern is not, in fact, Mr. Quinn.”
“You said on the phone that this was regarding your daughter?” Letitia prompted, hoping Mrs. Quinn would get to the point. The evasion on the subject from Mr. Driscoll bespoke a serious matter, but not why it should concern Letitia. It was annoying.
“Yes, my Finola,” Mrs. Quinn said, lowering her voice. “She’s sick.”
“Have you summoned a doctor?” Letitia said, holding onto her patience.
“We have…and it’s not a physical condition,” Mrs. Quinn said. “She had an awful turn a while back, when she was with Alasdair—I mean, Mr. Driscoll.”
Letitia stared at her, the overeager woman cagey, her gaze darting about the crowded restaurant rather than resting on Letitia’s face.
“Please forgive me, Mrs. Quinn,” Letitia said, “but this affects me how?”
Mrs. Quinn was silent for a moment, clasping her hands and wedging them between her body and the table, almost as though she were praying. Letitia had a foreboding Mrs. Quinn would not call to an unresponsive god but plead Letitia instead.
“You are a very gifted woman, Ms. Hawking,” Mrs. Quinn said, her voice hushed and wary of nearby tables listening in, “but I wonder, have you ever met anyone else like yourself? Able to…contact the dead, I mean? And the other things—I can only assume that’s why you wear the gloves and veil, so you can hide.”
Letitia flushed at the slight, aware now the woman was far more like her brother than she’d realized. The schooling of her features slipped and she eyed Mrs. Quinn with distaste, and Mrs. Quinn waved her hands before her, mouth open as she gasped for words.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “it didn’t occur to me that would be such a rude thing to say.”
Biting words wanted to snap along Letitia’s tongue, but the order arrived and she remained silent. The waiter placed tea and two small biscuits before her, asking if there was anything else before leaving.
Mrs. Quinn had a black coffee and that was all. Letitia was a little surprised at her choice.
It was enough to make her pause when Mrs. Quinn dumped three spoons of sugar in her cup.
Letitia studied her.
Mrs. Quinn’s lips were bright and tinted red, her face powdered, hair in neat curls.
Letitia hadn’t noticed the makeup that covered the swelling of sleepless nights under Mrs. Quinn’s eyes, or the fine tremble in her hands she’d hidden, and her lips weren’t just crimson from an application of tint—she’d been biting them. Little tears in the flesh peppered her skin.
“Mrs. Quinn,” Letitia intoned as Mrs. Quinn stirred her sugar in, “what is it about your daughter you think I can help with?”
The gentle tone Letitia used caused Mrs. Quinn to whisper as though it were a last confession.
“She’s being haunted by a phantom that attacks her in her sleep,” Mrs. Quinn said with despair, “and if you don’t help her, she must go to an asylum.”
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