Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


Tanzy Hightower is not crazy. At least, that’s what she tells herself. Crazy looks more like her mother, who studies each sunrise with the same fascination other women give tabloid magazines in the grocery store checkout line.



Tanzy Hightower is not crazy. At least, that’s what she tells herself. Crazy looks more like her mother, who studies each sunrise with the same fascination other women give tabloid magazines in the grocery store checkout line. Crazy sounds like the woman on the radio claiming there’s a whole separate world existing parallel to our own. Still, Tanzy can’t deny the tingle of recognition she feels each time she sees her mother standing at the kitchen window, or hears the panic in the woman’s voice coming through the speakers of her father’s truck. 

Tanzy intends to follow her father’s footsteps into the professional horse world. But the moment she watches him die on the back of a horse in an accident she feels responsible for, everything changes. 

On the first anniversary of his death, a fight with her mother drives her back to her father’s farm in the middle of a stormy night. Neither Tanzy nor life as she knows it escapes unchanged when she is struck by lightning and introduced to a world... unseen, and receives proof her father’s death was no accident. 

Two strangers seem too willing to help her navigate her new reality: Vanessa Andrews, a psychiatrist who believes lightning chooses who it strikes, and Lucas, a quiet, scarred stable hand with timing that borders on either perfect or suspect. But Tanzy has secrets of her own. Desperate for answers and revenge, Tanzy must put her faith in their hands as her past comes calling, and her father’s killer closes in.


The sweet scent of coconut pancakes draws me from the edge of sleep. I smile, knowing my mother is standing in the kitchen downstairs mixing batter, no doubt wearing a few clumps of it in her coal black hair. I toss my denim quilt aside, cool air whisking across my skin, and blink against the warm light of dawn that filters through the old lace curtain panel covering my window and sets the worn wood floor of my room aglow. The constant autumn rain must have finally offered a reprieve. My mother will be happy to see it. She’s convinced a clear sunrise on a person’s birthday is a sign of good things to come.
As I pull on jeans and a shirt, Dad’s laughter rumbles up the stairs, and then the fire alarm chirps. Mom has probably burned a pancake on the griddle.
In the kitchen, Dad is opening the window behind the sink, and Mom is perched on one foot in a wooden chair with her back to me, stretching to fan the smoke away from the alarm.
“I swear this thing is too sensitive,” she mutters. There’s a streak of flour on her hip and a glob of batter on the sleeve of her T-shirt. My mother can forecast rain better than any meteorologist. She can predict the approach of a gust of wind a few minutes before it roars across the Shenandoah Valley, but she can’t cook to save her life.
There are three plates on the table. Two of them are still empty. Mine has a short stack of blobby pancakes and a streak of runaway butter. A couple charred pancakes are tossed on the counter, and one more is on the floor at the foot of the trash can.
My dad grins at her over his shoulder and catches sight of me standing in the door.
“Happy birthday, Tanzy!” he says. “It’s the big eighteen. You know, Hope, Tanzy’s an adult now. You should make her do the cooking,” he teases, and snaps a washcloth in my direction. His smile is all teeth, and his amber eyes glitter. It’s the one physical trait we share. Otherwise, I don’t look much like either of my parents.
“I’ve made her coconut pancakes for her birthday every birthday since she was six. She may not be home for her birthday next year.” Mom’s chin quivers. She presses her lips together.
“I’ll come home for my birthday, Mom.” I slide into my seat and shovel in a bite. It isn’t cooked all the way through, but it’s warm, and sweet enough to chew and swallow without making too much of a face.
“Thank you, Tanzy,” she says, casting a mock glare at my dad. He winks at me before disappearing through the door that leads to the back porch. He reappears less than a minute later with two mason jars full of wild flowers.
“For my girls,” he says, and places one on the window sill and the other in the middle of the kitchen table. “Birthdays are big days for moms, too.”
“Travis, when did you pick these? Did you leave any flowers in the garden?” Mom arranges the blossoms with her nimble fingers, and then leans into them, breathing deep.
“Why do you think I got up early this morning? It’s freezing out there,” he says, watching her. “Weatherman said the temp is going to drop overnight and the whole valley will be covered in frost tomorrow morning. They’ll all be dead in twenty-four hours anyway.”
“Weatherman is wrong,” she replies, one corner of her mouth curling up.
Dad snorts. “We’ll see.” He rolls his eyes, but I know he believes her. “Eat up, Tanzy. We have a lot to do today.”
“Tanzy has school today,” Mom replies.
“You cook her coconut pancakes, and then she comes with me to the farm. You have your tradition, we have ours.” He winks at me. “Besides, she’s a senior. Isn’t the rest of this school year just for show? And who says she’s going to college? What if she decides to ride professionally?”
“Travis Hightower,” Mom scolds. “We’ll argue about this tomorrow. As for today, stick to tradition.” She wipes her hands on the front of her pants. “But make sure you pick up any homework assignments while you’re out. And please get home before dark. I made a dinner reservation for six p.m.”
Dad makes a face. “Isn’t that a little early?”
“I’m pretty sure that’s when normal people eat dinner,” I say, and then choke down a sticky clump of semi-cooked batter.
“We are as normal as normal gets,” Dad replies. “We’ll do our best, honey. Let’s get a move on, Tee. I’ll take my breakfast to go.” Dad kisses mom on the cheek, scoops a fresh stack of pancakes onto a paper towel with one hand and picks up his metal coffee mug with the other, and then heads through the back door toward the truck.
“Have fun,” Mom concedes, “and please be careful.” She glances out the window at the streaked sky and gnaws on her bottom lip. Her fingernails tap a quick rhythm on the countertop. I take my plate to the kitchen sink and follow her gaze to the glowing dawn. I wonder what she sees in it, and why she seems to hunt it for answers every morning.
“We’ll be fine, Mom,” I offer.
“I know.”
“Thanks for breakfast,” I say. “I really will come back every year, no matter where I go after graduation. Nobody does coconut pancakes like you do.”
“Thank you, sweetheart.” She looks at me, blinking rapidly. “Now go, the day’s wasting,” she says, and then turns back to the sun. I steal one more glimpse of her, and follow Dad to the truck.
We ride in silence for the first few minutes. Dad rolls up the pancakes with one hand so he can eat them like a burrito while he drives. Once he finishes, he wipes his mouth with the paper towel and then tucks it into the pocket of his flannel shirt.
“I don’t know why you like those,” he says, and sucks at his teeth.
“I haven’t liked them since I was about ten,” I admit.
Dad lets out a honk of a laugh. “You’re a good girl, Tanzy,” he says. He turns up the volume on his favorite radio station to listen to the morning show. The voices fade in and out for the first few minutes as we make our way to the main road. The radio host’s voice becomes audible, announcing the beginning of the routine Science Fact or Fiction Friday segment.
“With us today is Dr. Andrews, who has a rather extraordinary theory about light and lightning, and some compelling studies to back up her claims. Dr. Andrews, thank you for joining us.”
“Thank you for having me,” she answers.
“So Dr. Andrews, give us your science fact.”
“Did you know that the human eye sees less than one percent of the color spectrum, and our ears hear less than one percent of the sound spectrum?”
“No, I did not.”
“What do you think is in all that clear, all that quiet?”
Dad glances at the radio dial as if checking the station.
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it,” the host answers.
“What if I was to tell you that there’s an entirely separate world in the clear, undetectable by human senses.”
“A world?” the host repeats. I shift in my seat.
“Yes, a world,” the woman continues. “A world happening around us all the time. It has been operating alongside ours like two plays on one stage.”
“Do you have proof of this world?”
“None that you’d believe,” she replies. A chill of interest conjures goose bumps from my elbows to my wrist. I pull the sleeves on my jacket down to cover my knuckles.
“Well it’s pretty safe to invent something that you claim you can’t prove.”
“There’s nothing safe about it,” she answers.
“I’m not sure what this has to do with light or lightning.” The host’s voice raises an octave, and his question sounds more like an accusation. I lean toward the dash.
“Lightning and other weather events aren’t random. They’re tools of—”
“Okay, that’s all the nonsense I can take for one morning,” Dad interjects, his voice filling the cab, and turns the knob on the radio until a country song comes in clear enough to recognize. “Ruined my morning show and my drive,” he grumbles. “Let’s hope your mom didn’t hear that woman spreading her paranoid crap. She’ll stuff our house with furniture from floor to ceiling just to take up all the empty space. A world in the clear.” He huffs. “What’s wrong with these radio shows and news reports anymore? All they do is try to stir people up. They’ll give any nut a microphone and air time so long as it’ll get a reaction out of somebody.”
My gaze drifts out of my window, and to the clear air whistling by the car as we wind down a tree lined road, soaring skyward until it fades to black thousands of miles above us. Maybe it’s just the sound of the tires grinding against the asphalt vibrating through the bottom of the old Ford truck, or the whine of air curling around the hood, but the silence seems fuller than it did a moment ago.
“You are your mother’s daughter,” Dad says softly. “Don’t give wild hares prime real estate in your head. Your mom thinks her fears keep her safe, that they prepare her. All fear does is build walls, Tanzy—walls she can’t break because she’s convinced herself they’re useful.”
“I can cook. And I would rather be outside than inside,” I say, listing off the first two differences I can think of between my mother and me. I can’t imagine islanding myself at home the way she does. We only have one vehicle because she doesn’t like to drive and won’t go anywhere alone. In the last year, the walls of my room, of every room in our house, have felt a little closer in than they did before, the ceilings lower, too. Still, my heart sinks. I have felt the rabbit of nervousness race through me with nothing prompting the chase. What if, one day, I need walls the way she does?
“Before you came along, your mom couldn’t stand to spend a whole day inside. Hell, even a single lazy morning would make her agitated, and she’d need to go for a ride. Then she had that bad fall, and she didn’t want to have another one. Taking a risk has a higher price tag attached to it when you have someone depending on you. And it’s not just that. Being a parent changes things—changes everything. You see the world through the eyes of someone whose sole purpose becomes keeping a tiny, helpless baby safe. This world we’re in has more sharp edges and teeth than you realize.”
“Now who’s paranoid?” I smile at him.
“You’ll see one day, if you decide to have a kid of your own,” he says, his gaze following the nose of the truck as he makes a turn.
“That’s a big if,” I say.
“It’s also a long ways off. It better be, anyway.” He winks.
“Dad, seriously.” I fold my arms across my front. “But is Mom . . . is she okay? I know me leaving next year is hard on her. But she wants me to go, doesn’t she?”
“Of course she does. She’ll feel better once you know what you want to do and where you’re going. It’s the unknown that bothers her most. But you don’t need to worry about her. She’s stronger than you could ever imagine. I think when you have to raise yourself like she did, well, it shapes your perspective.”
“What really happened to her parents? I know you guys have said no one knows, but I always thought maybe it was some secret you were keeping until I was an adult or something. I am eighteen now.” I raise an eyebrow, and try to keep my tone light.
“It’s just something your mom isn’t willing to talk about. It took me a long time to accept it, and it’s natural for you to be curious. That’s a piece of your family and your history, too. But whatever it is, your mom keeps it from us for her own reasons, and I have learned to respect that.”
“I know.” I bite at the inside of my cheek, my mind still digging at the dark place in my mother’s past. I’m not as curious about who the people were in her life as I am interested in who she was during it.
I stare at the eastern horizon. Dad has watched the sunrise through the windshield of his truck on this drive to Wildwood Horse Farm six days a week for as long as I can remember. Nested against the west side of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, the sunrises are long and spectacular. Mostly, so are the days. The sun comes up. The horses eat. Some of them are worked through training exercises, some are shown to potential buyers, and the rest are turned loose to run in the pasture. Stalls are cleaned. Water buckets are filled. Aisles are swept. Students are taught. The horses eat again. The sun goes down. He drives home. Aside from the sun, Dad controls everything at Wildwood. He is the head trainer there, and the biggest gear in the proverbial clock, making the other parts turn.
Next year will be different. Where will I be? Mornings will either find me in a saddle, working to climb the rungs of the international show jumping circuit, or sitting in a desk with a college text book propped open in front of me. Either way, it won’t be here in this truck. It’s hard to imagine my world changing so unequivocally while theirs remains the same, save my absence.
We pull into the parking lot at Wildwood Farm. We are the first car here. Dad could turn over the first daily chores to the staff, but he likes to be the one to start each day, to see how each horse has come through the night, and wants to be the one to discover anything out of the ordinary, not be told about it secondhand.
Today, the morning runs like clockwork. I am allowed to come to the farm for my birthday, but I’m certainly not allowed to throw off the farm’s routine. I wouldn’t want it to. The routine is a heartbeat, a living thing, breathing life into the cracked concrete aisles and faded barn walls. A horse farm isn’t wood and sand and grass and steel. It’s the movement that happens around and in and on the wood and sand and grass and steel.
After a quick lunch, we unload a tractor trailer’s worth of alfalfa into the hay shed. My dad throws a bale of hay like most people toss laundry into a hamper—easy and mindless. I grit my teeth to keep from grunting with the effort it takes to try to keep up with him. By the time we’re halfway through, sweat beads along my scalp and trickles into my ears. The radio show from this morning resurfaces in my mind. Dad’s right, that woman was a loon. She’s probably never worked a day on a farm, never felt the ache of real labor, the release of exhaustion. If she’d just look around at her own world, maybe she wouldn’t need to invent something invisible, and impossible to prove or disprove.
My thoughts drift to my mother. I don’t know how different I would be if I grew up without parents or any family to speak of. Who would she be if she’d had the security of walls and home-cooked meals, no matter how badly they were burned? I wish she’d tell me about her life growing up, and I wish she would want to be here with us on days like this. Maybe a hard day of farm work is exactly what she needs to remember that life doesn’t always have a twist lurking around every corner.
Dad waves at the driver as the empty rig pulls up the driveway.
“Do you want to take Teague and Harbor for a ride in the woods, Tanzy?” he asks. “It’s the first pretty day we’ve had in a while. It’s not going to last, though. The radar looks busy again in about an hour.”
I pause, studying his face for any sign he’s kidding. I still have stalls to clean, and he has three client horses on the schedule for training sessions. Dana McDaniel, his assistant manager, has the day off. Not to mention my mother expects us home at a decent hour. There’s no time for a leisure ride on our own horses.
“Your mom was right. This might be your last birthday at home for a while, depending on where you are next year. We should make the most of it,” he continues.
“Okay,” I answer slowly, waiting for him to change his mind or list off what we need to take care of before we tack our horses. Instead, he retrieves his helmet from his office and heads to his horse’s stall. I hustle to Harbor’s stall, buckle her halter, and jog down the aisle to where Dad has tied Teague for tacking.
“We haven’t done this in too long, Tanzy,” he says on an exhale as we finish fitting the bridles to our horses. “Life is short. Too short. Sometimes you have to slow down and take in the view. I don’t care what that whack job said on the radio this morning. A big clear sky is one of my favorite things on earth, and I think we should go enjoy a little piece of it. Let’s ride up the ridge. I bet the river is up high with all this rain we’ve had.”
“Are you sure we have time? Mom did say to stick to tradition. Leaving work behind . . .” I trail off and glance back at his office door, imagining the to-do list printed on the whiteboard. It’s only half-done. “Well, it’s not tradition,” I finish. My middle stirs and twists. Is this just one of the wild hares dad was talking about before? Is this how it all starts, and then one day I’m staring out my window at the sun, reading its color and clarity for omens of the day to come? My entire life is going to change in a matter of months. Change is a good thing.
“Maybe it’s time we start a new tradition. A birthday trail ride sounds like a good one. Are you coming?” Dad asks.
I steel myself with a quick breath in. Harbor peers at me, black eyes round and soft. “Yep, here we come,” I say, and lead her down the hall.


Tanzy's journey continues in Windswept, the second installment of the Hightower Trilogy... An Unseen World believes Tanzy Hightower is the key in an ancient prophecy meant to deliver the only new birth in all of time. They have waited a thousand years for her soul to return to life in human form. Some of them will stop at nothing to fulfill the prophecy, and others have sworn an oath to end Tanzy's existence, permanently. Tanzy's body is compromised. Her veins are now home to the blood of a savage, wild horse, and its instincts are becoming impossible to control. Her world is also divided. She is determined to rescue Lucas, an Unseen creature who has loved her since her first life, and to find her treasured Harbor and the other stolen horses, which are bound for a catastrophic end in a world she can't access on her own. Yet the only allies she has left insist she seeks refuge in a remote safe house on the Outer Banks. While her fellow candidates beg her to stay in hiding, new enemies work to draw her out, making it clear Lucas and the horses are hers for the taking. But Tanzy knows all to well that when your loved ones are used as bait, finding them is only the beginning. 



“Tanzy.” My mother murmurs my name without reaching for me.
My hands tremble at my sides. I should meet her gaze, but my focus is drawn to her throat. I want nothing more than to cradle my cheek against the soft curve of her neck, to feel safe in her embrace. To feel like her child again. How many times over the course of this past year have I wanted to feel exactly the same way?
A girl steps between us—a girl I met moments ago. Her name has already escaped me, incinerated by the shock of seeing my mother come through the cloak of fog and trees. Whatever else she said, mere seconds ago—something important—has scattered from my mind like ash in the wind.
My mother. My mother is here. Here, in the woods lining Vanessa Andrews’s house. Vanessa, who’s been playing mind games with me for months, who knows what I’m going to do before I do. My mother wouldn’t, couldn’t be on Vanessa’s property without her knowing, could she? If she knew what danger she was in, she’d never have come. But she’s here. . . . She’s here.
What if this isn’t my mother at all? What if it’s an Unseen creature borrowing her face? A chill pricks my thudding heart, slowing it in my chest.
“Who are you?” My voice falters, and I withdraw behind a line of shadows. The taste of metal floods my mouth, and everything inside of me begins to hum. I mean the question for my mother, but the girl answers instead.
“I’m Jayce, remember?” she says. “We’re here to help you, Tanzy. Both of us.” Her fingers are strangling the strap of her messenger bag. Her white-blonde hair frames her narrow face. The ends are dyed pink, a shock of color against her alabaster complexion. Faint lines of darker pigment zigzag across her exposed skin. Two bright stripes descend from the inner corners of her eyes, tapering to a point at either edge of her mouth.
I recognize those markers immediately—the stain of Vires blood flowing through her body, which means she’s met Asher. If the pattern on her skin is any indicator, he transfused her with the blood of a tiger. Fresh suspicion prickles my spine, and I’m suddenly comforted by the knowledge that I’m one of the strongest mortal creatures on this side of the veil.
Jayce may have the stripes of a tiger, but the deepened hue of my skin, my long lashes and dark, wild hair, all of it emerged after my transfusion in the hospital. Asher completely siphoned my blood and replaced it with the Vires blood of a wild horse—the horse Spera saved from death a thousand years ago. The horse who laid down its life for her, and for her future incarnations, apparently. The horse now rendered to porous stone in Vanessa’s magnificent mansion, not a hundred yards from where we stand.
Vanessa, who I trusted. I wonder if I’ll ever trust blindly again. I hope not. I clinch my hands to fists and step out from the shroud of shadows.
“Who are you?” I say, staring hard into Hope’s eyes this time so there will be no misunderstanding.
“I’m your mother,” she says meekly.
I close my eyes and steel myself against the rising memory of the letter she left in my empty room:

This house is no longer your home. I am no longer your responsibility, and you are no longer mine. Don’t look for me. You won’t find me. Our paths will not continue unless we walk them alone. Leave, Tanzy, and don’t come back.

SHE SIGNED it with her name instead of her role. Perhaps that hurt worst of all. Not my stripped belongings, the bedroom she left bare save a lantern and a pathetic scrap of a note. Not the days I spent in the hospital wondering if she was okay, when she should have been worried about me. Not the hundreds of unanswered phone calls.
She locked up the house. Our home. Abandoned it. Abandoned me. She isn’t my mother anymore. She’s just . . . Hope.
“Even if you are my mother, I’m no longer your responsibility, remember?” I say through my teeth, my eyes brimming with tears.
“Please, I don’t have much time.” Her hands dangle at her sides. I catch myself staring at them, willing them to reach for me. They don’t even flinch in my direction. I could die a day from now; an hour. Or worse, I could be taken by Asher and kept alive for an eternity. If today is any indicator, it’s a matter of when, not if. She can’t possibly understand what I’m up against, but shouldn’t a mother recognize when a daughter needs her most?
In a way, her distance confirms her identity. An impostor would’ve tried to hug me by now. This shred of proof is sharp and hot.
The pressure in my chest creeps up my throat. “You’re wrong.” My voice cracks. “I’m the one who’s running out of time.” I turn away from her and move deeper into the trees. I can’t think in a straight line with my world so categorically flipped on its side.
“You have to stop her,” my mother cries out, choking on a sob.
Keep walking, I tell myself, but my stride slows. My pulse soars. I strain to hear the note of desperation in her voice—desperation for me. As if . . . as if she actually cares.
Footsteps, too light and quick to be hers, scurry in my direction.
“Hear Hope out, Tanzy,” Jayce pleads. “If you don’t, you’ll regret it. Trust me.” She steps in front of me, blocking my path, and hugs her arms to her ribs.
Regret. Trust. Those words make me want to laugh. Or vomit. I glare at her, but the sight of her stripes stirs something inside of me. Sympathy, remorse. Do those feelings belong to me, or to Spera? Does it matter?
I remember Jayce now, and who she once was a thousand years ago—Cavilla. I saw her in Spera’s memories. Another soul marked by Asher. Guilt creeps around the base of my throat and draws tight. A thousand years ago, my first incarnation ended hers.
Does any piece of this life belong to me and me alone? Or is my every move and relationship colored by the decisions Spera made during her existence? Is anything in this life really, wholly mine? Is even my mother a piece of this puzzle? A pawn like me? Or something else . . . something worse?
It should have been you in that river. Her words come clawing to the surface in my mind, the words that drove me back to Wildwood and into Asher’s carefully laid trap. And yet, she repeatedly warned me away from Wildwood, tried to forbid me from ever returning.
“Why is my mother here? What’s she doing with you? What’s her part in all of this?”
“She needs to tell you good-bye.” Jayce toes at the ground with her sneaker.
I press my hand against the ache in my chest, stunned there’s any piece of me left intact enough to break. I am no longer your responsibility, and you are no longer mine.
“She already told me good-bye,” I mumble, turning away. I can’t take anymore. I can’t endure another blow and be able to keep walking, keep fighting.
“Fine,” Jayce calls at my back. “Don’t talk to her. But don’t run away, either. Please, Tanzy, you have to stay with me.” Her footsteps punctuate her words as she follows behind me, and I have to stop myself from taking off at a run. “We need you, and like it or not, you’re going to need us, too. If not for her, if not for yourself, then do it for Lucas. He’s going to need all the help he can get.”
Lucas. My heart lurches against my sternum. My face snaps to the side, where Vanessa’s stone house is peeking through the trees. In my head, I hear myself calling Lucas a killer. I see the agony painted on his face, feel the burn of his eyes on my back as I turn away and leap through the window, leaving him in Asher’s murderous hands.
“I forgot . . . How could I . . .?” Freeing Lucas is my plan. At what moment did I lose focus?
“Hey, you didn’t forget him. For ninety seconds, you got distracted.”
Jayce touches my elbow. The slight contact makes me crash back into the dreary woods, gray and slick with mist. I yank my arm from beneath her fingers.
She lifts her hands in a show of surrender, then lets them drop.
“Lucas is part of one life for you. Your mom is part of another. When one showed up, the other took a back seat. I get it. What you need to square with is that Hope and Lucas are very much a part of the same life. The same world.”
“I highly doubt it.” But doubt has made a home in me, its reach consuming and breathtaking. My mother is the last piece of the world I once knew. Lucas is everything else, a lighthouse in a sea full of teeth. He was there when lightning struck me. When I died and was resuscitated. He was there day after day, sitting beside my hospital bed, filling that stale, white room with wild flowers in mason jars. Turning me into the light of the sun.
He was there when I woke in the hay shed after my trip through Spera’s memories. Guarding me. Always guarding me. And where has my mother been all this time? Even before she left, she was leaving me, more and more every day. Leaving me for a year, when I needed her most.
“Let Hope explain it to you,” Jayce is saying. “Please. This is the one lifeline you’re going to get. You can try to survive on your own, and we won’t stop you. But if you come with us, we might be able to save your soul.”
I wrestle with her words, indecision gnawing within. No one has mentioned saving my soul, only the price I will pay for living, and the price I will pay for dying. The prophecy of the Vessel is horribly simple. If I choose to open the door between our world and the Unseen world, I will live forever as Asher’s queen and deliver the Novus, the one Unseen child in all of time. The Seen world will not survive. If I choose to seal the veil, I’ll die, my soul never to return, and Unseens will be trapped on their side of the veil forever. I can’t decide what’s less likely: the possibility of some kind of ancient loophole, or the idea that my mother is somehow involved in all of this.
I work my lower lip between my teeth as Jayce returns to my mother’s side.
Always look a gift horse in the mouth, Tanzy. Always. My father’s voice echoes in my head, and I close my eyes, absorbing the warmth from the memory of him. If I’d heeded his advice, if I’d examined Vanessa’s friendship more closely, I might not be in this mess.
At last, I raise my gaze and stare at my mother. She’s thinner than I’ve ever seen her, pale as wind-driven snow, and just as shaky. I would know her face, her hands, her laugh among a million. But in this moment, I realize I know absolutely nothing true about her aside from two facts: that she loved my father, wholly and unwaveringly, and once upon a time, she loved me too.
I armor myself with these truths, and ascend the hill.
Jayce steps to the side as I approach. My mother visibly swallows. Her face is a canvas of desperation. A blue sheen ripples beneath her ivory skin. Sweat collects along her brow. Her lips move to form a word, but the lines around her mouth blur. She looks sick, dangerously sick.
My tears come, hot and disobedient and all at once. “What’s happening to you?” I take a step closer and reach for her.
“No!” She recoils from my touch. Her movements are weak, shaky.
It doesn’t make them hurt any less.
I stagger back, doubling the distance, and gulp in air as if I’ve been struck.
“I can’t, Tanzy. I want to. You have no idea how much I want to. But I can’t. What I wrote in that letter, I had to.” She struggles to catch her breath. “I couldn’t help you as a human. I had to . . . to turn back.”
Jayce’s earlier words return like the melody of a song: What you need to square with is that Hope and Lucas are very much a part of the same life. The same world.
The Unseen world.
“You’re an Unseen,” I whisper, as ringing floods my ears and the world around me blurs.
I press my lips together to keep my chin from quivering. The final layer of foundation crumbles beneath me. She was in on this the whole time. She knew one day Asher would come for me, and she never said a word. I’ve been little more than a pawn from the moment I was born—reborn. But how was I born at all? Unseens can’t have children. It’s impossible. The prophecy of the Vessel states there will be one Unseen child in all of time—the Novus. I am not the Novus; I am destined to be its mother.
Hope draws enough strength to continue. “I am an Unseen, nothing but a piece of wind and sky. For a short while, I became human. Not a masked Unseen. A true, mortal human.”
“How? Why?” I nearly choke on the questions, their weight and velocity a most damaging combination.
She shakes her head, a tremor rocking her body. “The kind of help you need now . . . I can’t give it to you as a human. I found a way to change back, but nothing comes without a cost.”
“What price are you paying?” My voice breaks.
“You.” Tears roll down her face, taking strips of color with them. “The price is you. I’ve been given this time to tell you good-bye. Then I can never appear to you again. You will not see me after this. We cannot exist to each other. I promise I won’t leave you . . .”
“How long do we have?” I whisper. Please don’t go. I have so much more to say. Don’t you? How am I supposed to do this without you?
“A few minutes. Maybe less.”
“Haven’t I already paid enough?” I cry out. Everything inside of me quakes as whatever binds me together threatens to explode.
“I will find some way to make this up to you one day. Stay with Jayce. Stay alive. We’ll find a way to save us all.” She closes her eyes.
“Wait! How do I save Lucas?” I plead.
Her form brightens, glowing white at her core. “He doesn’t deserve saving,” she says. Her voice is like air, but her gaze is heavy and sad. She knows I’ll try to save him anyway. Spera would save him, and Spera and I . . . we’re two different people. But we’re also the same. “The less they have to use against you, the longer you can hold them at bay.”
Save yourself, Tanzy, she means to say. But I can’t. I won’t.
You’ve taken care of people for so long, you don’t even see when you’re the one who needs help. That was Dana, Dana who knew me well enough to betray me. But she was right. I tried to save my father from the shadows on the ridge. I tried to save my mother from herself, tried to save Harbor from those beasts, tried to save Vanessa from Dr. Andrews. Saving people . . . that’s who I am. Me, Tanzy.
It’s who Spera was, too.
My mother’s skin is fading. Becoming translucent.
“Don’t go,” I rasp.
Her face falls. A wind sweeps through the trees, distorting her form into wisps of light.
“I love you,” she whispers. Her voice hangs in the air a moment longer than the traces of her body. Then even her words are gone, claimed by the damp gray.
I reach for the space she occupied a heartbeat ago. The wake she’s left is cooler and charged. I curl my trembling hand, trapping the sensation in my fist. The chill of her slips through my fingers, and is swept into the fog.

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About the author:
Young-adult author. Equine professional. Southern gal. Pacific Northwest Transplant. Especially fond of family, sunlight, and cookie dough.

I wrote my first book in seventh grade, filling one hundred and four pages of a black and white Mead notebook. Back then I lived for two things: horses and R.L. Stine books. Fast forward nearly twenty years, and I still work with horses, and hoard books like most women my age collect shoes. It's amazing how much changes... and how much stays the same.

The dream of publishing a novel has hitch-hiked with me down every other path I've taken (and there have been many.) Waitress, farm manager, road manager, bank teller, speech writer, retail, and more. But that need to bring pen to paper refused to quiet. Finally, in 2009, I sat down, pulled out a brand new notebook, and once again let the pictures in my head become words on paper.

As a child, my grandfather would sit me in his lap and weave tales about the Cherokee nation, and a girl who belonged with horses. His words painted a whole new world, and my mind would take flight. My hope - my dream - is that Tanzy's journey does the same for you.

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Anonymous said...

Beautiful cover.

Debra Branigan said...

I absolutely adore the covers. Definitely a TBR list series.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for joining the Rockstar Book Tour for Wildwood and Windswept! <3

Calvin F. said...

Lots of symbolism in this one, sounds like a great ride

Debbie P said...

This book sounds like a really good read.