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November 10

Amy threw open the truck door and stepped into the ferocity of the night. The wind assaulted her, peeling her suit jacket off one shoulder. A powerful gust slammed into the side of the house and rounded the corner, howling. Like an invisible hand, it rocked the Jeep, knocked Amy into the door, and whipped an envelope from her grasp, sending it flying across the lawn and into the brush on the state land bordering her property.

“No!” Amy dashed after it until she was deep into the tangled foliage where it had been snagged by a branch. She reached out, straining, finally catching hold of it.

A shrill cry rose above the wind.

Amy froze, her arm in the air. The eerie tone came again, swirling around her in the gale like a voice calling her name. Dropping her arm, Amy stood bolt upright, her heart pounding in her chest, her ears perked. It was too dark now to see through the swaying brush. In the distance, the ocean roared as breakers collided with the rocky bluffs of Cape Peril. All around her was the angry rustle of leaves and branches, the moan of the wind, and…something else.

It was a foreign sound, only a foot or two behind her. Something brushed her arm. Amy let out a shriek and bolted for the Jeep, glad she had left the door open as the interior light acted as a small, flickering beacon. As she ran, roots and thick stalks grabbed her feet. The heel of her right shoe caught, bringing her to a stumbling stop. A bolt of white light streaked across the sky, illuminating the brush and then disappeared, immersing her in darkness. Pivoting on one foot, she bent down and groped around for the shoe. The deep rumble of thunder shook the ground. She abandoned the shoe and ran for the truck.

Suddenly, the interior light went out and the blackness of the night engulfed her. Amy kept going, stumbling in the direction of the truck, thistles, and twigs tearing into the sole of her shoeless foot, scratching her legs, biting into her hands, and lashing her face. She felt none of it.

A moment later she broke through the brush, onto the lawn. She stopped, breathless. The Jeep was on the drive just as she had left it, but the driver’s door was now closed; the interior light off.

Walking on shaky legs, she nervously retrieved her purse and laptop from the passenger seat and limped toward the front door of the house. The two-story log home she had taken such care to design was drenched in darkness. Shakily, Amy pulled the house key from the side pocket of her purse, unlocked the door, and stepped inside, double locking the door behind her. She hit all the switches on the wall panel and light spilled into the entrance hall and up the open staircase. They hadn’t lost the power. Yet.

She stood perfectly still and listened to the sounds around her. The house groaned with each onslaught of wind. Noise emanated from everywhere at once. She let the laptop, purse, and envelope slide onto the mat and took deep breaths, trying to slow her heart rate. A sound–-upstairs! Amy’s eyes darted to the upper floor. With sweaty hands, she pulled herself up the banister to the bedrooms, flipping on the light in each room as she passed by.

A creaking sound! She stopped, ears straining, nerves taut. She peered around the doorframe and into the master bedroom. Light from the hall spilled across the pair of double beds. Everything appeared as she had left it that morning. She pushed the bedroom door back against the wall and stepped into the room. A movement caught her eye. She swung to her right.

The sitting room was shadowed. There! In the corner! The old rocker moved slowly back and forth, as though recently vacated. Amy’s eyes darted around the room and then back to the rocker. Behind it, in the far corner of the sitting room, the drapes billowed. Wind funneled through a narrow opening in the window and across the back of the old chair, sending its wooden rails noisily back and forth over the hardwood floor.

Amy rushed into the sitting room, grabbed hold of the flying curtains, and yanked the window closed. She stood there a moment, heart pounding, unable to recall opening the window.

She had to get hold of herself. What’s the matter with me? Yet, there was a strange feeling in the room.

She returned to the hallway and listened. The roar of wind and waves emanated through the skylights above. Amy was yanked from her thoughts by another sound. She stiffened, listening intently. Uncertain as to its origin, she moved quietly out to the upper balcony and peered down into the great room, her eyes scanning the shadows and the corners of the room.

Wind was gusting outside. The house moaned with each onslaught. Amy ran her hands through her hair. Never had she felt so on edge…and so alone in her own home. She headed for the kitchen. “I need coffee.”

Later, after two cups of strong coffee, she retrieved the laptop and the crumpled envelope, and walked into her study. She dropped the envelope onto an unopened stack of mail and stared at it.

No! Not now. Deal with it later.

Stepping across to her drafting table, she switched on the gooseneck lamp, and angled its wide beam onto a set of blueprints. Slipping a hip up onto the drafting chair, her right hand automatically reached for the pencil, her eyes scanning the floor plan.

Outside, the wind howled. Its sheer force bent the old elm sideways, the giant boughs embracing the corner of the house. Behind her, the branches scratched the windowpane like angry fingernails. Amy stiffened. Shivers ran down her spine. She turned and looked through the glass, but all she could see was a dim reflection of her own image. She felt strangely vulnerable sitting with her back to the dark glass and made a mental note to install a blind.

The huge structural beams supporting the vaulted ceiling above her creaked as another powerful gust battered the roof and shrieked through the vent. Then an onslaught of torrential rain pelted the windowpanes with such fury that it sounded as though the glass would break.

The lights dimmed for a few seconds, then returned to normal. Amy put her pencil down and thought about the flashlight Dan had left charging in case of a power failure. Seconds later, the lights went out completely. Alarmed, she waited in darkness, willing them to come back on. Finally, they did.

Amy was about to breathe a sight of relief when something struck the window behind her. She whirled around. Her eyes widened and all the color drained from her face. What she saw turned her stone cold. Her heart…and time…stopped. She gaped at the image in the window.

Staring back at her was a woman in her early thirties, rain streaming down her pale face. Terror-stricken gray eyes locked onto Amy’s.

The face was identical to her own!

The details of the woman’s face registered somewhere in Amy’s brain:  broad forehead, brows and lashes so fair they were barely visible, same small, straight nose, dimple on the right cheek. Every feature was… exactly like her own!

There was a movement off to one side. A pale hand slid down the glass leaving streaks of crimson.

Blood! The woman was bleeding! A split second later, the power went out, and the room went black.

Amy fought to retain her senses. She reeled on the chair, her brain shutting down. She felt as if she were perched on the rim of a dark abyss. Get a grip!

Her heart raced in her chest. She looked back at the window. More movement. It was too dark to see clearly. A single thought. The woman outside needed her help!

Amy bolted from the chair, running down the dark hallway toward the outlet where she hoped to find the flashlight. Stopping about halfway, she ran her hand along the lower wall, expecting to feel it protruding from the receptacle. Nothing. She moved ahead a few feet, her hand flailing along the wall. There! She yanked the flashlight from the outlet and raced to the front door. Diving into unlaced sneakers, she snapped back the door locks and swung the door open. Wind slammed it backward into the wall.

She raced down the porch steps, sheets of rain pelting her skin like buckshot, drenching her before she reached the sidewalk. The roaring gale shrieked around her and the wind tore her breath away. The darkness was alive with motion. Suddenly, afraid to go further, she stopped—terrified of what or whoshe’d see.

Don’t think. Just move. She’s hurt.

Forcing herself forward, Amy stepped around the pampas grass, inching toward the flower garden beneath the study window. The wind swayed the heavy boughs of the elm tree, creating dark movement across the front of the house.

Amy wiped her eyes trying to see through the driving rain. She raised the flashlight and directed its powerful beam into the garden. No one was there. She moved the light left, then right. Still no one. Swinging the light around, she searched the deep shadows under the elm, and then cast the beam across the Jeep and over the lawn.

No one.

As suddenly as the rain had started, it stopped. Wiping the rainwater from her eyes, she stepped into the garden for a closer look. Blood had pooled in the window ledge. As she stared at it, the office lights blinked back on, spilling light into the garden. She jumped back in surprise, stumbling onto the walkway. A large puddle of blood had collected in a dip of the concrete near her feet. She followed the receding red trail down the concrete driveway to the road, where it ended.

If you enjoyed the excerpt from WINTER'S DESTINY and would like to read more, click on the cover below to choose between an ebook or a print version: