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Shirley Hailstock

Eleanora Sloan looked up at Blythe Cove Manor and down at the creased copy of a two hundred year-old sketch in her hand. She did this twice before she was willing to believe the evidence in front of her eyes. Blythe Cove Manor, a quaint little B&B on Martha's Vineyard, and the house in the sketch were the same.

Fear lodged in her chest. She tried to calm herself down by cataloguing the differences between Blythe Cove Manor and the house in her sketch. The B&B had been well maintained. Her sketch was from a time when the Cove was smaller and the house had fewer additions. Wind, rain, erosion, and time had conspired to widen the gap between each side of the bluff until it grew to the gulf it was today.

At last Ellie was ready to find out where fate had led her. She'd come all the way from Rayford, Tennessee to Martha's Vineyard to stay in this house and uncover whatever secrets it held. Yet the echo of her footsteps across the sidewalk had stopped a few yards from the door. Why was she hesitating?

Taking a deep breath, Ellie put her hand on her small rolling luggage bag. She'd only reserved one week at the bed and breakfast. A week should be long enough to find out what she needed to know. She walked up the long pathway, her apprehension increasing with each step. She didn't like feeling unsure, but in the past two months turmoil had replaced her natural confidence.

Two months ago she found the sketch inside the wall and everything she thought she knew about herself had turned upside down. It was time to right her world, at last.

Ellie was working on her house. She was always working. Even with contractors stumbling over each other, she felt the need to get her hands dirty, put her mark on every single part of the house she called home. And finding that sketch had somehow brought her to Blythe Cove Manor.

The memory of the moment everything had changed played through her mind as she fought the growing anxiety. She'd been protected against everything a renovation job could throw at her: a white elastic cap protected her hair; a face mask with a charcoal filter that exaggerated her breathing protected her lungs; and clear goggles protected her eyes. Even her t-shirt and jeans were covered by white overalls. But there had been nothing to protect her from what she was about to find while renovating the last room in the Tennessee home that had been in her family for generations.

She loved restoring old houses, especially this one. She planned to make her ancestors proud with her loving restorations. And then she planned to live in the house and enjoy the fruits of all her hard work.

The upstairs guest room was the last of the old structure that needed renovation. She'd worked her way room by room until she arrived there. And then, as she worked to fix a damaged section of plastered wall, she'd found it. A cache hidden in behind the wall.

She'd found hidden caches before, of course. But nothing more than old newspapers, or abandoned shoes. This time, however, she had found something that was clearly valuable.

She'd stopped her work and stared at it. And then she'd grabbed an old towel and carefully removed her find from the wall.

It was a mahogany chest, inlaid with Mother of Pearl and sealed tight with paraffin wax. Her heart beat fast at the date on the bottom. 1827. The box had been placed in the wall the same year the house was built. But even then, she hadn't understood how much this find was going to turn her life upside down.

A gull cawing overhead brought her thoughts back to the present. Time seemed to release her feet and she reached her destination at last.

Opening the door, she heard the jingle of a bell. She glanced up to see what caused the old-fashioned sound, blinking away the sensation that she'd just crossed the threshold into a previous time. Ellie pulled her suitcase in and walked across a beautifully appointed room to a reception desk. On it was a guest register. She smiled. It was a paper register, something you signed in on. In this electronic world, Ellie never expected to see this. She'd made her reservation electronically and expected the same amenities of a 5-star hotel. But already she felt as if the Manor was a portal into the past. Good, because the past was where she needed to go if she wanted to understand what she'd found inside that mahogany chest.

As Ellie admired the desk and register, a woman came from a room at the back and smiled at her. Accompanying her was a large grey and brown tabby cat. Ellie glanced at it with a smile.

"Welcome to Blythe Cove Manor. I'm Blythe Calvert."

"Eleanora Sloan," Ellie introduced herself.

"Ms. Sloan. We've been expecting you. Won't you sign the register?" Blythe spun it around to face Ellie.

Ellie looked down. She took the pen lying on the crease of two pages, surprised it was a ballpoint and not a quill, and leaned down to sign her name. "I never expected to see a real register. Most hotels have everything on computer." Ellie spun the register back toward the woman.

"We have it on computer too. This gives the place a nice Old World touch." Blythe's smile wrinkled her nose. Ellie instantly liked her. "All right, Ms. Sloan. You're in the Cove View Room. You'll love it. It's a beautiful room with sweeping views of the ocean."

"It's Ellie. No one calls me Eleanora."

Blythe smiled and repeated her first name. The two women shook hands becoming fast friends. Blythe turned and pulled a large skeleton key from a mahogany cubbyhole behind her. "Is that all your luggage?" she asked.

"I travel light," Ellie answered.

"Some guests arrive with truckloads," she said with no censure in her voice. "Here's your key. The room is the second one along that hall." She pointed to the right. "The name is printed on a plate next to it."

Ellie accepted the key. It was heavy and large in her hand, not at all like a normal key.

"Ms. Calvert--"

"Blythe," she corrected.

"Blythe," Ellie said. "Is there a history of the Cove or of Blythe Cove Manor anywhere?"

Blythe frowned. "Strange, no one has ever asked me that before. There isn't a history of this place. You can find some facts about the Cove itself at our local library. Why do you ask?"

"No reason," Ellie lied. She didn't want to tell anyone what she was doing. Not until she had more information. "This is such a picturesque setting. I love history--in fact, I teach it back home--and I like to read about the places I visit. I'll check at the library."

She noticed the cat had settled next to the registration desk and was no longer paying her any attention.

"That's Martha," Blythe said. "She thinks she owns the place.

Ellie nodded, understanding that cats were territorial.

The Cove View Room was beautiful. Unlike hotel rooms and other bed and breakfast places where she'd stayed, this room was huge. Two hundred years ago people had large families and they didn't account for heat rising to the high ceilings or making a room just for sleeping. Often, bedrooms doubled as sitting rooms. This one sported a queen-size bed, something more modern than a two hundred year-old antique. It had a padded headboard and a quilted coverlet. French doors on two sides opened to the ocean and gardens. The view was spectacular, with both the ocean and an explosion of flowers to delight each visitor. The ocean spoke to her, depositing its waves on the distant shore, a beckoning call for her to join the story it told.

She wondered if Blythe would be able to fill in the missing pieces of the story Ellie had uncovered in the mahogany box? Turning from the window, Ellie opened her suitcase and removed the clothes she'd brought with her. At the bottom of the case lay the diary and letters she had found in the wall of her home. They had led her to the Vineyard, or maybe she should say the Vineyard had called her to bring them home?

Ellie changed from her travel clothes into shorts and a shirt and headed out toward the ocean, hoping the sea would calm the anxiety that still roiled within her. She skirted around the Cove and found an ancient stairway that led down to the sand.

The stairway was steep, but sturdy, so Ellie was surprised when, at the last step, she stumbled and fell. Strong hands caught her and pulled her up before her knees hit the sand.

"I'm sorry," she apologized pushing herself out of the arms of a stranger--an almost naked stranger.


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