S he was not running away. Savannah Townsend might not have a firm grasp on every little aspect of her life these days, but about this she was perfectly clear.
She may have walked away from her marriage, the career she’d worked hard to achieve, and a spectacular Malibu home with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the vast blue Pacific Ocean. But what was a woman to do when her seemingly idyllic existence turned out to be little more than a pretty illusion, as ephemeral as the morning fog curling around her ankles?
“Well?” Lilith Lindstrom Ryan’s smile was brimming with self-satisfaction. “Isn’t it perfect?”
“For Norman Bates, perhaps,” Savannah murmured as she eyed the Far Harbor lighthouse with misgiving.
Savannah remembered the lighthouse standing regally at the edge of the cliff like an empress above a forest of dark green conifers. Now it had the look of a dowager who, through no fault of her own, had somehow found herself on skid row.
Graffiti covered the graceful tower that had once gleamed like sunshine on snow; the glass of the lantern room had been broken, and the railings that had been painted to match the red top cap were not only rusted, they looked downright dangerous.
The two houses on the cliff-side property were in even worse shape. Paint was peeling off the once white clapboards, and curling red shingles suggested that the roofs would leak.
Surprisingly, the grounds hadn’t been entirely ignored since the lighthouse duties had been taken over by an automated light housed in an unattractive but utilitarian concrete tower a mile away. Someone had planted the most amazing garden Savannah had ever seen. A dazzling mix of tall, stunningly beautiful lilies, irises, Shasta daisies, and spiky bright snapdragons in primary colors were bordered by snowy white clouds of baby’s breath.
“It was beautiful once,” Savannah’s mother reminded her. “And could be again. You just need to use your imagination, darling.”
“I am. I’m imagining spiders the size of my fist and the hordes of mice that are undoubtedly living in the place.” Savannah really hated rodents. Especially these days, when they reminded her so much of her rat of an ex-husband. “It’s a good thing we’re here in the daylight, because if we’d come at night, I just might start believing in the ghost.”
The lighthouse was rumored to be haunted. By whom was a matter of speculation that had kept the good citizens of Coldwater Cove, Washington, arguing for nearly a century, but the most popular notion was that the ghost was a former lighthouse keeper’s pregnant wife, Lucy Hyatt.
“A ghost would be wonderful publicity,” Lilith said enthusiastically. “But even without it, lighthouses are incredibly romantic. And that sweet little assistant lighthouse keeper’s cottage will make a perfect honeymoon getaway.”
“Good idea. Are you going to call Frankenstein and his bride for the booking, or shall I?” Savannah asked dryly.
“You were always such an optimistic little girl.” The silver crescent moons hanging from Savannah’s mother’s ears caught the stuttering morning sunlight as she shook her head. “So open to new things. Your aura used to be as bright as a morning star. These days it’s distressingly muddy….
“Why, if I weren’t a white witch, I’d put a spell on your horrid ex-husband for hurting you so badly. At least you had the foresight not to take his name.”
“Savannah Fantana would have sounded like something from an old Gilda Radner Saturday Night Live skit.” Savannah wished the subject hadn’t come up. Talking about her unfaithful, amoral ex-husband definitely wasn’t on today’s to-do list.
Today was about finding a suitable bed-and-breakfast location. Having spent weeks searching Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Savannah had begun to despair of ever finding a suitable candidate for her post-divorce venture.
“Besides,” she said, “as I told Raine when I first came home, I think my pride was a lot more wounded than my heart.”
“That’s why you spent all those days hiding in bed and the nights crying into your pillow.”
“All right, perhaps I was more upset than I let on,” Savannah reluctantly allowed. “But I’ve put my marriage behind me.” Didn’t she have the papers, stamped with the official seal of the state of California to prove it? “In fact, I honestly believe Kevin might have actually done me a favor.”
Lilith arched a perfectly formed brow. “And I suppose his restraining order trying to prevent you from using any recipes you came up with while working at Las Casitas Resort was yet another favor?” Sarcasm was not her mother’s usual tone. But when necessary, Lilith could wield it like a rapier. “Not to mention stealing half the equity in your beautiful house.”
“Raine forced him to drop that restraining order.” While Savannah had always been proud of her sister, she’d never imagined needing her legal skills. “As for the house, California’s a community property state. Kevin was entitled to half the proceeds.”
“By law, perhaps,” Lilith allowed grudgingly. “Common decency is another matter altogether and something the man was definitely lacking. I’m still tempted to turn him into a toad. The only problem is, some other witch has obviously already done it.”
Savannah certainly couldn’t argue with that. She wondered how many women grew up believing in Prince Charming, only to wake up one morning to discover they’d ended up with the frog instead.
“I thought you’d given up paganism in order to sell real estate.”
“A person can be both Wiccan and Realtor, dear.”
While she tried to be tolerant of her mother’s lifelong flighty behavior, Savannah hadn’t been at all pleased to learn, upon returning home to Coldwater Cove, that Lilith had been arrested for setting illegal fires and dancing nude in Olympic National Park during Beltane. With her usual flair for making the best of a bad situation, her mother had recently married the arresting officer.
“I wonder who planted the flowers,” she murmured, deciding that the time had come to change the subject.
Whoever had chosen the landscape design definitely had an artist’s eye. The varying hues of the flowers swirled together like ornate patterns in a priceless Oriental carpet. Unfortunately, the riot of color and lush, shiny green leaves only made the buildings look more ramshackle by comparison.
“Oh, that’d be John.”
“John Martin. He’s Daniel O’Halloran’s nephew. He has a bit of a mental disability, I believe, but he’s never let it get in his way. He’s also the sweetest boy you’d ever want to meet and the reason Daniel came back to Coldwater Cove last year.”
“Why is that?” Since her sister had become a partner in Dan O’Halloran’s law practice this past spring, as well as marrying his cousin, Jack, and Dan had done some legal work for the family, Savannah had heard bits and pieces of the story. But she wasn’t aware of the details.
“Oh, it’s the most tragic story,” Lilith said with another shake of her head. “John’s parents were killed when a log truck hit their car on the coast road near Moclips. John survived the crash, but he spent months in intensive care. Worse yet, since John’s grandparents on his paternal side were no longer living and the elder Mr. and Mrs. O’Halloran couldn’t give up the income from their fishing charter business to care for the boy, Daniel took a leave of absence from his prosecutor’s job in San Francisco and returned to Coldwater Cove so John wouldn’t have to recover in some rehabilitation center among strangers.
“Needless to say, Dan’s wife, who they say is from a wealthy old Bay area family, wasn’t thrilled with the idea of leaving her Pacific Heights mansion to play nurse to a mentally handicapped thirteen-year-old boy in the little house in the woods, so she remained behind in California.
“By the time John was finally released from the hospital, Dan must have come to appreciate the slower-paced lifestyle of our little burg,” Lilith wrapped up her story, “because he bought a lovely home on the water. In fact, you can see it from here.” She pointed toward a house, constructed of native cedar logs, that overlooked the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
“It’s spectacular.” The two-story glass wall thrusting out from beneath the wood shake roof reminded Savannah of the prow of an ancient sailing ship. All that was missing was a painted figurehead.
“Isn’t it stunning? Unfortunately, by the time it closed escrow, his high-society wife had already divorced him.”
“Seems to be a lot of that going around,” Savannah said dryly.
“Sad, but true,” Lilith agreed. “However, in your case, you’re right about it being for the best…. Well, what do you think about refurbishing this place?”
Savannah had confidence in her ability to run a small inn, but she’d never considered herself a miracle worker. “Didn’t you say something about a Victorian in Port Townsend that’s just gone on the market?”
“Yes, but Victorian bed-and-breakfasts are so common these days. And you couldn’t ask for a better location than this.”
Good point. The lighthouse had, admittedly, been built on one of the most stunning sites on the peninsula. “I’m surprised a developer hasn’t bought the property for a resort.”
“Oh, I can’t imagine the owner allowing that. Having grown up on the grounds, he’s very sentimental about the lighthouse. Didn’t I tell you his name?”
“No. It didn’t come up.”
“He’s Henry Hyatt.”
“Hyatt? Surely not Lucy’s son?”
“The very same. He was five years old when Lucy drowned. In fact, there are some who insist that Lucy’s spirit refused to leave the lighthouse as long as her child still lived there.”
Although she’d never believed any of the ghost stories, Savannah couldn’t resist a glance upward toward the railing surrounding the lantern room where, according to local legend, Lucy could often have been seen, weeping as she stared out toward her watery grave. Although the August sun had burned off the last of the morning fog, Savannah shivered.
After spending another three days visiting countless houses from Port Angeles to Port Gamble, Savannah found herself back at the Far Harbor lighthouse. Ever since she was a little girl, she’d been drawn to this special, romantic place.
Savannah’s mother had been a flower child, a war protester, an actress usually cast as the soon-to-be-dead bimbo in low-budget horror films, and a singer with a frail but pretty voice who’d managed to stay in the business mostly because of her looks, which were still stunning. Whenever Lilith Lindstrom Cantrell Townsend Ryan’s life had spun out of control, which it did with an almost predictable regularity, she’d bring her two daughters back to Coldwater Cover to live with their grandmother, Ida.
On every one of those occasions, the moment Savannah would catch sight of the tomato red cap of the lighthouse in the distance as the ferry approached the small town, she’d feel as if she was coming home. Or at least to the closest thing she’d known to a real home during her unstable childhood years.
She had to agree with Lilith that the Victorian in Port Townsend wasn’t what she was looking for, yet she had seen others that had possibility.
“A lot more possibility than this place,” she murmured as she walked along the path between the houses and the lighthouse. Fragrance from the remarkable garden floated on the evening breeze.
The sun was setting over the Olympic Mountains like a brilliant fan, turning the water to molten copper and gold. Savannah sat down on a bench in the garden and thought that Lilith was certainly right about one thing: this would make a perfect honeymoon location. That idea brought to mind the first bride who’d come to this lighthouse.
No one had ever known why Lucy Hyatt had been a passenger on the Annabelle Lee, a passenger ship bound for San Francisco that had foundered during a winter squall. There were as many stories as there were people who could still remember that so-called storm of the century, but the most popular and prevailing theory continued to be that she’d abandoned her husband and five-year-old child and was running away with her big-city lover, the dashing scion of a Bay area family who’d made their fortune in imported sugar and California land speculation.
Lucy and the sugar heir had been seen talking at the railing shortly before the ship’s departure from its Seattle port, and although more than eighty decades had passed since the tragedy, rumors continued to persist that he’d paid for Lucy’s ticket.
Whatever the reason for her having been aboard in the first place, survivors at the time had all agreed that Lucy had been washed overboard by the violent, storm-tossed waves. The following morning her broken body was found on the rocks below her husband’s lighthouse.
When that tragic tale proved depressing, Savannah rubbed her arms to ease the goose-bumps, took the heavy brass key her mother had given her from her purse, and went inside.
She strolled through the rooms, stepping over fast-food bags and empty beer bottles she suspected had been left behind by vagrants and partying teenagers and imagined lace Priscilla curtains framing sparkling windows that looked out over the water.
“Candles in the windows would be a nice touch,” she decided out loud. Her voice echoed in the empty, high-ceilinged room. “But electric ones.” She certainly wouldn’t want to accidentally burn the historic building down.
An odd sensation teased at her mind, like the misty-edged remnants of a dream after awakening. A warmth began to flow through her blood, easing the tensions of the past months, and while she suspected her New Age mother would ascribe her feelings to some sort of fanciful past life déjà vu, Savannah couldn’t quite ignore the feeling that the lighthouse was once again welcoming her home.
Instead of the odor of damp wallpaper and mold that hung on the musty air, she breathed in the imagined scent of lemon oil and pictured how the scarred heart-of-pine floor would gleam once it had been sanded and stained.
“I hope the fireplace works.”
She ran her fingers over stones that didn’t appear to be crumbling too badly. A crackling blaze would certainly warm rainy winter evenings. She’d recently seen a pair of andirons in Granny’s Attic, an antique shop on Harbor Street across from the ferry terminal, that would prove the crowning touch.
“It really is perfect,” she assured herself as she tried to decide between a seascape or a mirror over the hand-carved cedar mantel.
She crossed the floor and looked up the spiral staircase leading to the lantern room.
“Are you there, Lucy?” she called out. She didn’t really expect an answer, and if Henry Hyatt’s mother’s ghost was actually haunting the lighthouse, she was keeping silent. “You’re not going to be alone anymore, because I’m going to buy your home and clean it up.”
Her words echoed around her. “It’s going to be lovely again,” she promised, undaunted by the lack of ghostly response. “A place you—and I—can be proud of.”
Outside, the sun was sinking ever lower in the late summer sky; inside, dust motes danced in the slanting sunbeams like ballerinas wearing gilt tutus. Giddy with anticipation, Savannah began dancing herself, spinning across the scuffed and scarred floor in time to the swelling music playing inside her head as the shadows darkened and draped the Far Harbor lighthouse in a deep purple veil.