Jack stumbled and fell onto a flat warm surface, his cheek pushing against its somehow familiar caress. The grit of sand grains bit into his cheek, but the discomfort was welcome. The physical pain of it was so much different from the ache in his heart. He felt it come to life beneath him. It was the first time he’d been out of his cabin in days. The sun seared his eyes, his body was weak, but something beckoned. Calling every day, until finally, finally he summoned up enough strength to face it head on.
The dreams. The dreams compelled him to come. The dreams of the angels and of Hannah.
Time for thinking. For dreaming. For wondering. The dreams were interspersed with screaming nightmares at times, the days filled with delirium. The never-ending confusion and illness, the bouts of insanity and the caving in of the walls of his mind were pushing him from the brink of reality to the fiery edges of hell and back again to the gossamer silkiness of heaven. Each took their toll on his body and his sanity.
He couldn’t remember. There was something important he couldn’t remember.
He was convinced of it.
Sometimes he dreamed of an angel sweeping through the rotting corridors of his mind and unlatching the door to his remembrance. He thought of her often, this angel, for she looked so much like Hannah, but she wasn’t Hannah. She was someone else. And he prayed for her to come to him during the day, when he could touch her, speak to her.
But it wouldn’t happen, he knew. He had stopped believing in angels long ago.
Earlier, while lying on his bedstead, he had turned a weary face toward the ceiling.
If only there were angels, he thought. He would have something to look forward to when he died, beautiful angels to rest his eyes upon, for him to believe in, to take him home to God. If only there was an angel to take him home to Hannah.
Then he had risen off the bedstead, as if hands were guiding him.
Soft hands. And he felt them lift at the bar that locked all his memories away in his mind. The unlocked door swung open with a creak that nearly severed his eardrums. The hands pushed him…pushed him out the door.
It was then he fell upon the stone.
Hannah whispered in his ear. A cold rain fell around him. Jack woke to find the side of his face lying in a growing puddle of water.
It fell over him in rivulets, awakening him to a gray dawn. His tongue reached out and lapped at the liquid. Water. He’d not had water in…
Frantically, he wrenched his body off the ground and knelt before the growing pool within the stone, scooping his palms full of the life-giving nourishment and drinking to his heart’s content. Then when he had drunk his fill, he splashed it over his head and face, his arms and neck.
His eyes opened fully to look at the heavens in thanksgiving, rain streaming down in his face, his arms outstretched as if they could embrace the gift God had just given him, for it may very well have been his life.
It was as if he’d just wakened from a thousand years sleep.
And then he heard Hannah’s whispers, again.
Find her, she said. Find her and believe in her. For she is me, and I am her. She loves you. Needs you.
I was a fool, Jack. For us. For our souls. Find her…
As he rose in the midst of the steady shower, the pool of water disappeared, the rain stopped. He reached out to trace the strange carvings in the stone’s face, a stubborn remembrance jostling in his mind. Mesmerized by its power, he could not tear his gaze away. He knew this stone! Somehow, it held the key. Somehow, the stone would answer all his questions. And as he looked, it turned glassy and shiny, a mirror reflecting his image back to him, and he didn’t like what he saw.
Disheveled, haggard and drawn features stared back at him. Like skin stretched taut over a skull.
Like rippling waves in a clear pool of water, his image vanished, replaced by a beautiful face.
Golden tresses. Sea green eyes.
Her face. Hannah. Then suddenly, as she too faded into the stone, every image he’d ever tried to grasp the past few days, weeks, months, came rushing out at him in the mirror of stone.
He kissed her forehead and for an instant, she nuzzled him a little closer. Her hand applied a subtle pressure on his stomach; a contented sigh escaped her lips. He held her, and as he listened once more, he heard nothing. Not the ocean’s roar, not even a heartbeat.
Her body gently relaxed against him. Her breathing halted. The beating of her pulse stopped. And he cried…
Jack tore his gaze away from the mirror and cried out, his terror raping the sands. But he could not look away. He had to look again.
Her eyes flashed open beneath him.
Who are you?
I am your lifeblood.
Oh God, we’re going to make love.
No, we are making love.
I’m a part of you. You’re a part of me.
His chest heaved; his heart started beating again. He was beginning to remember.
He reached out to her. She turned and looked down at him.
Trust me, Hannah.
She jumped into his arms.
Then it was ripped away, another memory replaced it.
So you are a whore, then?
No, Jack. I’m not a whore.
Then you are married.
And another came crashing back…
He crushed her into his body, arms wrapped around her waist, he breathed long and hard, whispering her name over and over again.
The images came and went so quickly, ripped in and out of his remembrance like a…like a…
The dunes sped past him. The houses, the trees. And he looked over at her. At her. Hannah. Claire. Hannah Claire.
His heart raced. His pulse pounded. His chest felt about to burst. He remembered. He remembered!
She stepped back out of the moonglow. He was reaching, reaching out to her.
She screamed for him, her fingers plunged into the beam of light splaying over the stone. He stretched toward her, stretched his fingers as far as they would go. Then the lights enveloped him and he could do no more than scream as he faded away.
I will come back, Jack. I will find you…
Her name bounced off the desolate sands and back into his heart, the memories ripping his chest apart like tiny shards of glass crashing against the stone at his feet.
He had to find her. He had to find Claire.
She dressed in a chemise, skirt, and corset that had belonged to Hannah. She grasped her backpack, rechecking its few contents, which included photographs of her and Vicki, and one of her parents standing in front of the farmhouse. She also packed a few things for the baby: clothing, cloth diapers, bottles, powder, lotion, and several bars of a mild soap with which to bathe him.
She had no misgivings about taking these things, for she would truly need them to care for him. She had no idea what she would encounter back in Jack’s century. She’d just have to be extra careful no one but Jack ever saw them. If she was very careful, they might stay good for quite a long time, even if she had another child.
She bundled Jackson in the baby front pack she’d strapped to her body, padding the bottom with several layers of diapers, making a firm base for his bottom. Then she reached to the bed and lifted the cup into her hands.
“Here,” Jeremiah stepped into the room and thrust the western duster at her. “Vicki says I don’t need this, and you never know. It may come in handy. And with it on and the baby like that, no one will ever know he’s there.”
Smiling, she reached out and took the duster and then stepped closer to Jeremiah and placed a kiss on his cheek. “Thanks.” As she wiped a lingering hint of lipstick away, she looked him square in the eyes. “For everything. You know I love you for it.”
He grinned back. “You know I feel the same.”
“Take care of the farm, you two.” She glanced back and forth between them. “I have no idea of its mystery or why Mama wanted it safe, but I know you will make sure it remains so.”
Vicki hugged her. “You have our word, Claire.”
She looked to Jeremiah. “You don’t mind if I borrow her, do you?”
He shook his head. “I’ll stay here with Kari, if you don’t mind. She’s sleeping so soundly.”
She left him with a lingering smile. She owed this man so much. Donning the duster, she slipped the cup deep into an inside pocket. After throwing the backpack over her shoulder, she then turned to Vicki. “I’m ready.”
They stole across the beach into the dark night, holding hands like children, the bond strong. So strong, in fact, either would do anything for the other. The past few months had proven that. The future would prove it even more.
Golden ridges of lightning streaked through the dark sky around them.
Eyes clenched, Claire could see them through the backs of her eyelids. A few cold, stinging beads of rain battered her shoulders. She opened her eyes and looked at Vicki. “It’s going to storm,” she whispered.
“Yes.” She nodded, understanding. She squeezed Claire’s hand tighter.
They would be safe. As soon as she and Jackson could get across, they would be safe. As long as Rick didn’t follow.
Around them, a sudden maelstrom of rain and water blew hither and yon in the darkened night. Wind fierce and strong tugged and pushed at them from all sides.
Jackson screamed out. Quickly, she looked to her child and cooed, drawing the duster up around him, snug and tight, trying to protect him from the storm, patting his bottom until he quieted. They would soon be to the lighthouse. Suddenly, they stood ankle deep in water. She watched it swirl and pool around her feet…
A high tide. Unusually high.
She searched through the cloud-filled night, trying to find…trying to see if the moon was still full. Surely, it was. Oh God, don’t play tricks on me. And then suddenly, as the rushing wind blew a dark storm cloud away, she saw it, for only a split second, the moon, round and full and yellow, sitting just above the horizon.
A full moon. A blue moon.
With her hair streaking down her face in wet tendrils, she grasped her bundle to her chest and clutched Vicki’s arm. Both ran into the dark night toward the lighthouse. The wind swirled around her, white caps of the ocean’s waves crested in the peak of the storm, the tide curled around her ankles, rain pelted her body, and she prayed.
Prayed with all her might for only one thing, that she’d pass through the portal safely and find Jack. Had to find Jack. Oh, God. Why had she ever left him? Her mother would have understood, wouldn’t she? Why hadn’t she gone back with Jack in the first place? But that was all in the past. And she’d had so much to learn, to understand. Perhaps that was even the plan.
Or the curse. She wasn’t sure which.
But now was the right time, and all she had to do was concentrate on her future.
Their future. She trusted Jack would be waiting on the other side. She refused to think any differently and didn’t want to ponder any other scenarios.
They entered in silence, the protection of the lighthouse quieting the storm. Their hushed whispers broke the interior calm, the storm raged on the outside. Claire led Vicki across the circular floor to the crack over the stone. She’d told her about it a thousand times, and now, they stood looking at it.
And the tears came to Claire’s eyes.
Even in the dark, she could see.
Gone was the gaping hole over the stone. Bricked up. Gone.
Shocked, she stood shaking her head from side to side, the tears falling like hot steaming pellets of rain. “No,” she sobbed. “This can’t be happening.” Thoughts of all the months since she’d been here raced through her mind.
The renovation. The construction.
Why had she not realized? Why had she not thought to check earlier? Why did this have to happen to her now?
“What are you going to do?” Vicki’s soft question came at her and Claire knew. She knew what to do.
“Go get a lantern. Hammers. Crowbars. Mallets. Anything you can find,” she said quickly. “There’s a small shed at the back of the house. I don’t know what’s in there, but surely there has to be something…something. Get Jeremiah. You stay with Kari.”
Claire turned to the stone embedded into the foundation of the lighthouse and stared at the bricks mounted above it. No way could she stand in the center of the stone, reach its energy source, with the bricks in place. Reaching, she touched the mortar between the bricks, tracing the outline of several. The mortar came off easily in her fingernails. New, fresh mortar. Jackson whimpered at her breast, and she laid a tender hand on his back. “It will be okay, baby, it will be okay.”
“Have you taken to talking to yourself while in seclusion these past few months, Claire?”
An icy shiver seized her. She didn’t have to turn around to see who it was; she knew the body attached to that voice very well. How could she have been so stupid to let herself fall into this trap?
Had Rick closed the gap?
When she turned around, she didn’t see him, so she waited. Finally, he stepped out of the shadows from beneath the circular staircase. Drawing her coat around her to conceal her precious cargo, she could only stand there, the picture of utter defeat. On the outside, at least. On the inside she would fight to the death to keep the chalice and return to Jack. He could care less if she crossed over; he only wanted the damned cup. And then panic seized her once more. Somehow she had to keep him from crossing over after her.
“I don’t have what you want, Rick. I…I sold it months ago. I needed the money.”
“Like hell you did, I’ve been watching you. Where’s the baby? Where’s my child?”
If she ever thought fear had embraced her before, she was wrong.
Dread like nothing she had ever experienced severed her soul. It had never dawned on her that Rick would claim this child as his own.
Terror burst through her. “My child, Rick. The child is mine, and Jack’s. You never even came close to giving me something so precious. You never wanted to.”
Stall, Claire. That’s right, stall him. Jeremiah is coming. Keep him talking.
“That’s ridiculous, Claire,” his voice came to her, sultry and seductive, as if he were trying to convince her of his frankness. “I want you and my child.”
A short huff escaped her and she sneered. “You’ve just been waiting to make your move, haven’t you?”
“I’m not stupid.” He stepped closer.
“You are not the father of my child.”
“Where is the child? You’re taking it back with you, aren’t you?”
“And why shouldn’t I? His father is waiting for us on the other side.”
“His father is right here, Claire. I want the child. If you want to go back and live like a dirt farmer, then that’s your business, but my child stays with me.”
She struggled against her rising panic.
Keep him away. Keep him away from the baby.
Rick drew closer, and she stepped back, away from him, her backbone pressed flat against the lighthouse wall. “Stay away from me, Rick. You’ll not get my child or the cup.”
He faced her, reached out, his fingers curled around the placket of her duster. She clutched the opening closed and jerked away. His eyes met hers, fury and rage boiling within.
“You don’t want a child, Rick,” she spat out. “A child is too much responsibility for you. You’re a free spirit, remember? You want adventure, parties, and riches. You don’t want a child.”
He laughed then, and an icy chill flooded her entire blood stream, her heart pumping the frigid mass throughout her body. She yanked away. He grasped at her again and then ripped the duster open to reveal her tiny son nuzzling into her breast.
Rick grinned sardonically.
And gently touched the child’s head.
“Don’t,” Claire whimpered and twisted away. “Don’t do this to me, Rick. You can have whatever you want from me, the farm, the chalice…anything. Just leave me and my baby alone.”
When she saw the look of triumph wash over his face, she knew she had lost. That he had tricked her once more. And that he had gotten what he set out to do. She could hardly stand to look into his face.
Jack. Oh God. If you’re out there, I need you.
I need you now.
Her name bounced off dune and sea, escaping into the clouds, riding the wind into oblivion. The remembrance raced over him. The mirror faded. Clutching it, grasping at the images, screaming at them to come back, he pounded the stone until his hands were beat near to a bloody pulp. Then dejectedly, he rose, frantically rose and looked around him as if he hadn’t seen anything in months.
He remembered. He remembered it all.
The stone. Blackbeard. Rick.
Loving her. Loving Hannah.
But she had sent him back. Claire had pushed him back through time. Let him go back alone. Why?
I have to do this to save you. For our child. For love. It is the right thing. I will be back.
His agonized scream tore through the stillness. He shook his head. He didn’t know why, but he’d be damned to eternal hell if he’d wait around any longer to find out. Swinging back around to the stone, he looked at it, wondering if its powers would be able to take him back to her. He would go, of that he was certain. He would find her. He needed to know when the portal would be open again. He wanted, no needed, answers now.
I need you, Claire, now.
And that was when he stepped on the stone.
Immediately, it possessed him, pulsing red with fire. A high-pitched hum rent his ears. The vibrations seized his soul. And he heard her. He heard Claire’s clear voice directly before the light took him and hurled his body and soul through time to find her.
Jack. Oh God. If you’re out there, I need you. I need you now.
Thunder rolled and echoed throughout the lighthouse. A piercing shaft of lightning illuminated the interior. And a strange hum enveloped both Claire and Rick as they stood facing each other.
“Give me the child, Claire.” Rick crowded up against her, ignoring the happenings around them, his hands searching inside the duster to grasp the child.
“No.” She sobbed and pushed at him, vaguely aware something was wrong, something was changing.
“Then give me the cup.”
A low-pitched hum filled the air.
“Not my baby. Get back, and I’ll get the cup. You can have it. I’ll talk to Vicki. You can even have the farm.”
Rick laughed and let his hands slide down the sides of her breasts and clasped her waist, forcing her up closer. He leaned into her and whispered mockingly, his breath hot and foul against her mouth. “I’ll have the chalice, my dear Claire. I’ll have the child if I want, and the farm. And before I leave, I’ll have you one more time.”
His hand moved down to her thigh. She kicked and pushed.
Time to pull out her ace in the hole. Now, Claire.
She pulled Blackbeard’s Chalice out of her pocket and shoved it toward him. “Here! Take it! Just leave us alone!”
He paused. Looking at the thing that had cursed her and Jack’s love. It glinted and sparked with the intermittent flashes of lightening. His hungry eyes took in the precious artifact and he drooled at the sight of it again.
He grasped the edge of the silver-plated cup.
She tugged back.
He cackled and his eyes shone yellow in the night and smoke curled around his head.
“No!” She wanted it back. Couldn’t let him have it.
Do what you have to do, Claire.
His hands curled around the slim column of her neck and bit into her flesh. “Let it go, pigeon. Or your baby won’t soon have a mother.”
Need air. Can’t breathe. Dizzy.
Lightning struck and thunder simultaneously boomed throughout the lighthouse. Behind Rick, she saw a flash of silver-gray slice through the night, and immediately, his fingers released his hold on her and he crumbled to the ground.
She gasped for air.
“Are you all right?”
Jeremiah. A mallet in his hands. Rick on the floor.
He clasped her to him and she sobbed. “Thank you,” she said into his chest. “Is he dead?”
“No. But I’ll make sure he doesn’t go anywhere for a few days. Go. You go now.”
The deafening hum was already growing around them.
“Take care of you,” she said. “And your family.” Taking a few backward steps, she threw him a kiss to say goodbye. “Tell Vicki I love her.”
Jeremiah slipped into the shadows, dragging Rick with him.
Thunder crashed into the structure and the winds whipped. She turned back. “Run, Jeremiah!”
The pulse had started, low and steady, rotating inside the tall cylinder. Suddenly, a roar engulfed the quaking structure, a crimson pulsating beam lit up the night, and a thousand points of light swirled inside, bouncing off the spherical walls, blinding them. An explosion ripped through the core of the structure and bricks burst forth from over the stone, raining down around them.
The storm and mystical powers collided, and Claire wasn’t sure where Mother Nature began and the stone’s power ended.
She sheltered Jackson from the lights and the sound and the flying bricks and mortar. She leaned into the lighthouse wall, ready to take her step onto the stone.
Then in a halo of bright light, she saw him. Strong, handsome, healthy, his dark hair flowing in the night breeze wafting in from the gaping hole, a red haze filtering around him.
Oh, God. It’s been so long.
He held out his hand, and she stepped forward.
Who are you?
I am your lifeblood.
Do you still love me?
You’re a part of me. I am a part of you.
Who am I?
Claire. You are my Claire.
And you are my husband.
My spirit mate.
With a flash of light, she sighed and grasped his hand, tears stinging her eyes. She held their son close to her breast and stepped on the stone—ready to return to her home by the sea. With Jack. Blackbeard’s chalice dangled from her fingertips as they slipped back through time.
Outside, the winds shrouded the lighthouse until it shook. The storm ravaged the island, ripping the lighthouse from its foundation, and then silenced. The high tide receded, sucking the remnants of the structure into the sea. Midnight struck and the blue moon passed into a new month.
As Jack and Claire stepped from the stone in the eighteenth century, the chalice slipped from her fingers—swallowed into the dune, the cup and curse buried, along with the magic stone and the shifting sands.