Five years after Rachel Lindquist had left California to chase her dreams, she returned home to care for her aging mother, only to find herself chasing a ghost! Addie Lindquist insisted a presence haunted Drake House and had hired noted parapsychologist Bryan Hennessy to investigate, but Rachel knew better than to believe in what she couldn't see—or to surrender to the strong current of desire pulling her towards Bryan.
Bryan had dealt with skeptics before, but convincing Rachel was the biggest challenge of his life. The enchanting beauty had lost faith in everything that wasn't practical, and that included matters of the heart. As Bryan fought her reluctance to succumb to feelings she couldn't control, a second, more sinister force began to stalk them, threatening to drive them from Drake House and from each other—a force that could be banished only by a man who believed in the power of love and...Magic.
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University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana
“Okay, everybody, this is it—the final portrait of the Fearsome Foursome. Make sure your caps are on straight, ladies. I’m setting the timer now.” Bryan Hennessy hunched over the 35-millimeter camera, fussing with buttons, pausing once to push his glasses up on his straight nose.
Decked out in caps and gowns, three women stood on the damp grass near the blue expanse of St. Mary’s Lake. The clean, cool air was sweet with the scents of spring flowers, new leaves, and freshly cut grass. Bird song mingled with Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” blasting from a boom box in a distant dorm.
Peering through the viewfinder, Bryan focused on his three best friends: Faith Kincaid, Alaina Montgomery, and Jayne Jordan.
It didn’t seem the least bit odd to him that his three best friends were women. He happened to like women. These three were like sisters to him, surrogates for the siblings he had left behind in Chicago. He valued their company, their views, their support. He cherished their friendship. He missed them like hell and they hadn’t even parted company yet. Just the idea of it made his heart ache.
He adjusted the camera lens, blurring the images before him then bringing them back into focus, willing his memory to hold their likenesses with the same sharp clarity.
Faith Kincaid, her dark eyes bright with innocence and unshed tears, adjusted the shoulders of her gown and checked her cap, poking back long spirals of burnished gold hair. With a little sigh she settled herself and her sunny smile in place, doing her best to look brave and optimistic.
Bryan had always thought of her as their Madonna figure—sweet, serene, kind, and forgiving. It frightened him a little to think of Faith going out into the real world. She was too trusting. Who was going to look out for her? Who was going to steer her clear of men who would take advantage of her innate innocence?
That was the last worry he had about Alaina, who stood to Faith’s right. Tall, cool, and poised, Alaina didn’t trust anybody. Bryan doubted there were many men who wouldn’t back off from her “ice princess” look. But were there any who would be brave enough to look past those barriers of hers to find the lonely woman on the other side?
She seemed tense now, and Bryan realized she was dreading what was to come—the ceremony that would aggrandize their parting, the phony celebration afterward with her social butterfly mother and the latest in a string of stepfathers. Alaina might have been cynical and as practical as the short style of her dark chestnut hair, but Bryan knew that beneath the brusque exterior lay a tender heart that had adopted the other three members of their group as the only real family she had ever known. He could already feel the sharp ache of loneliness echoing inside her.
At the other end of the line stood petite Jayne Jordan, her pixie’s face dominated by wide black eyes and a cloud of wild auburn hair. Jayne was the observer, taking in every detail of the scene around her and committing it to memory. She was their resident flake, a student of all things mystical. She was his soul mate in a lot of ways. Jayne understood about magic and mystery. But who would understand Jayne?
These were Bryan’s three best friends in the world. They had banded together their freshman year. Four people with nothing in common but a class in medieval sociology. Over the four years that followed, they had seen one another through finals and failures, triumphs and tragedies, and doomed romances. They were friends in the truest, deepest sense of the word.
Depression threatened to smother him like a wet woolen blanket. Bryan did his best to ignore it. He set the camera’s timer and hustled around to stand behind his friends, his cap askew. Had he been able to be in two places at once, standing in line and behind the camera, he could have objectively viewed himself. He was tall and athletic with a strong, honest face, and tawny hair that tended to be a bit shaggy because he tended to forget little details like barber appointments. The girls always had to remind him about things like that—haircuts and dates and eating meals. What was he going to do without them?
“Okay. Everybody smile,” he ordered, his voice a little huskier than usual. “It’s going to go off any second now. Any second.”
They all grinned engagingly and held their collective breath.
The camera suddenly tilted downward on its tripod, pointing its lens at one of the white geese that wandered freely around St. Mary’s Lake. The shutter clicked and the motor advanced the film. The goose honked an outraged protest and waddled away.
“I hope that’s not an omen,” Jayne said, frowning as she nibbled at her thumbnail.
“It’s a loose screw,” Bryan announced, digging a dime out of his pants pocket to repair the tripod with.
“In Jayne or the camera?” Alaina queried, her cool blue eyes sparkling with teasing mischief.
Jayne made a face at her. “Very funny, Alaina.”
“I think it’s a sign that Bryan needs a new tripod,” said Faith.
“That’s not what Jessica Porter says,” Alaina remarked slyly.
Bryan felt a blush creep up to the roots of his hair as the girls giggled. While he had never been romantically involved with any of them, he had an active social life, something the girls teased him about unmercifully.
Not that he was a masochist, but he was going to miss that. The girls helped him keep things in perspective. He tended to fall in love at the drop of a hat. Romances came and went in his life, flaring brightly and burning out like shooting stars, but Jayne and Faith and Alaina were always there to sympathize or console … or make a lewd remark.
“If you want a sign, look behind you.” he said as he fussed unnecessarily with the aperture setting on the camera.
The girls turned together and immediately caught sight of the rainbow that arched gracefully across the morning sky above the golden dome of the administration building.
“Oh, how beautiful,” Faith said with a sigh.
“Symbolic,” Jayne whispered.
“It’s the diffusion of light through raindrops,” Alaina said flatly, crossing her arms in front of her.
Bryan looked up from fiddling with the camera to frown at her, his strong jaw jutting forward aggressively. “Rainbows have lots of magic in them,” he said, dead serious. “Ask any leprechaun. It’d do you some good to believe in magic, Alaina.”
Alaina’s lush mouth turned down at the corners. “Take the picture, Hennessy.”
Bryan ignored her, his wise, warm blue eyes taking on a dreamy quality as he gazed up at the soft stripes of color that painted the sky. “We’ll be chasing our own rainbows after today. I wonder where they’ll lead us.”
They each recited the stock answers they’d been giving faculty, friends, and family for months. Jayne was leaving to seek fame and fortune in Hollywood as a writer and director. Faith was heading to a managerial position in a business office in Cincinnati. Alaina was staying on at Notre Dame to attend law school. Bryan had been accepted into the graduate program of parapsychology at Purdue.
“That’s where our brains are taking us,” he said, pulling his cap off to comb a hand back through his hair as he always did when he went into one of his “deep thinking modes.” “I wonder where our hearts will take us.”
He knew three of the answers to that question. He was the confidant the girls entrusted with their secrets. He was the only person on earth who knew Alaina’s deepest wish was for emotional security. He knew Faith longed for a simple life with a husband and children. Jayne’s quest was for understanding and acceptance.
“That’s the question we should all be asking ourselves,” Jayne said, wagging a slender finger at her friends. “Are we in pursuit of our true bliss, or are we merely following a course charted by the expectations of others?”
“Do we have to get philosophical?” Alaina groaned, rubbing two fingers to each throbbing temple. “I haven’t had my mandatory ten cups of coffee yet this morning.”
“Life is philosophy, honey,” Jayne explained patiently, her voice a slow Kentucky drawl that hadn’t altered one iota during the four years she’d spent in northern Indiana. The expression on her delicately sculpted features was almost comically earnest. That’s a cosmic reality.”
Alaina blinked. Finally she said, “We don’t have to worry about you. You’ll fit right in in California.”
Jayne smiled. “Why, thank you.”
Faith chuckled. “Give up, Alaina. You can’t win.”
Alaina winced and held her hands up as if to ward off the words. “Don’t say that. I abhor losing.”
“Anastasia,” Bryan declared loudly. He gave a decisive nod that set the tassel on his cap dancing. The word would have seemed straight out of left field to anyone who didn’t know Bryan Hennessy and the workings of his unconventional mind, but he knew his compatriots would understand immediately.
Anastasia was the small town on California’s rugged northern coast where the four of them had spent spring break. While watching the surf crash against the rocky shore, they had made fantasy plans to move there and pursue idealistic existences. Jayne’s dream had been to have her own farm. An inn with a view of the ocean had been Faith’s wish. They had somehow gotten Alaina to admit to a secret desire to paint. Bryan had wanted to play the role of local mad scientist.
“That’s right,” Faith said with a misty smile. “We’d all move to Anastasia.”
“And live happily ever after.” Alaina’s tone lacked the sarcasm she had no doubt intended. She sounded wistful instead.
“Even if we never end up there, it’s a nice dream,” Jayne said softly.
A nice dream. Something to hang on to, like their memories of Notre Dame and one another. Warm, golden images they could hold in a secret place in their hearts to be taken out from time to time when they were feeling lonely or blue.
Bryan set the timer on the camera once again, then jogged around to stand behind Faith. “Who knows?” he murmured, almost to himself. “Life is full of crossroads. You can never tell where a path might lead.”
And the camera buzzed and clicked, capturing the Fearsome Foursome—wishful smiles canting their mouths, dreams of the future and tears of parting shining in their eyes as a rainbow arched in the sky behind them—on film for all time.