Trade Paperback - August 2009
Mass Market Paperback - September 2011
The man came to her just before dawn.
Danni had awoken with a start a few moments earlier,
tangled in her bedding, unsure of what had pulled her
from sleep. The inky blackness outside pressed against
her windows, a dark entity that wanted to creep in and
take over. Uneasy, she crawled from bed and shuffled to
the kitchen for coffee.
That’s when she felt the air turn.
It plunged in a silent, cold force that made her ears
ring and her stomach sink. Like a latent memory, the
sensation of it was suddenly there, filling her
head—familiar and frightening, pressure and relief. She
knew it; she feared it. She remembered it, though
what the turning air heralded escaped her.
She spun to find the man waiting behind her. Tall, with
broad shoulders and the layered muscles of a warrior, he
leaned against her counter. As if it was perfectly
natural for him to be there. As if he really was
in her kitchen.
Dark brows and long black lashes emphasized the unusual
color of his eyes—not quite green, not quite gray. Eyes
like the sea, relentless and deep. A straight, blunt
nose gave balance to his full lips and square jaw. There
was a harsh and rugged edge to his features that flawed
his beauty and made it something masculine, something
more compelling than simple aesthetics. He wore a black
leather coat over a crisp white shirt and jeans that
tapered from lean hips to long legs. Not just tall. Not
just broad. A big man.
He watched her, assessing and judging her with the same
weighted concentration she gave him. She felt
self-conscious in her faded Save the Children
T-shirt and pink boxers, which was ridiculous. He wasn’t
She knew it, but the knowledge didn’t stop her stomach
from knotting with uncertainty and fear. Why was she
seeing him? What did he want? There had to be a reason.
She knew that, too.
Danni sloshed coffee over the edge of her mug as she set
it down. She would drop it if she held it any longer.
The man interpreted this as acquiescence and began.
Sometimes it was like that, she remembered. Sometimes
they seemed to take Danni with them, like tour guides on
a ghostly journey. Other times they were completely
unaware they’d unraveled the fibers of reality and
forced Danni to peer in at them.
When she’d been a child, the visits—the visions—had been
frequent and exciting. The plunging turn of the air had
felt like flying to her. But the visions had stopped so
long ago she’d forgotten they’d ever happened at all.
No, she corrected herself. She hadn’t forgotten—she’d
wiped the experiences from her memory with purposeful
precision, because only the crazy saw people and things
that weren’t real.
The man turned, gesturing for her to follow as the
familiar kitchen walls behind his broad shoulders
vanished and, like a painting created before her very
eyes, a stark landscape appeared in their place. The
image had fuzzy edges and a grainy texture, but it
breathed in a lifelike way, just as the man did.
It seemed so real. Too real.
A patchwork quilt of vivid greens, earthy browns and
heavy pewter spread out unending. Danni frowned, trying
to put a name to the place. Did she know it? Had she
seen it before? The man crossed from the pale kitchen
tile to a spongy turf that should have left footprints,
but of course, didn’t. His steps were as unreal as his
presence. Reluctantly, Danni went with him.
It felt like they walked for some time, but she knew
they’d never left her kitchen. Still the frosty cold of
the earth against her feet, the wintry wind on her face
and the damp mist clinging to her hair and scant
clothing, chilled her to the bone. The sensations were
crisp and visceral and frightening.
Barefoot, still wearing her pajamas, she followed the
man across a valley to a destination she couldn’t
fathom. The sky above them grumbled and rolled in bleak
shades of slate and steel. It seeped down to lush
emerald pastures and saturated the air with freezing
dampness. The brisk wind carried the spice of sea salt
as it tormented the many limbed alders and bandied with
the stranger’s long leather coat and short cropped hair.
She could hear waves crashing somewhere close.
Where are you taking me?
He paused and looked back at her, as if she’d spoken out
loud. There was something in his eyes as he stared. A
longing. A need. Her heart thumped painfully at the echo
it dragged from inside her. Who was this man? Why did
she feel as if she should know him?
They reached the edge of a precipice hanging out over
the churning sea. A foot path cut a sharp trail down the
side. Even as she prayed he’d turn away from it, the man
started down the steep slope. His long legs covered the
distance easily as he descended but Danni had to
scramble to keep up—certain a deadly plunge was in her
future—not so clear on what that might mean to her real
self. If she died in a vision, would it be for real?
The sounds of the tide thundering relentlessly were
louder now and she smelled the sharp scent of brine. She
sensed something big looming high up to her left, but
didn't know if it was real or imagined and couldn’t turn
to look back.
Enormous rocks poked from the hillside, forcing them to
weave as they descended. The exertion warmed her and now
she could hear sounds rising from down below. A woman’s
voice. Danni paused, listening to the agitated tone.
Frantic, pleading. There were other voices too. A man,
maybe two. And children. Frightened children.
Danni’s blood raced so fast she felt sick. The sound of
their young, scared pleas propelled her back into her
own history. To nights in the communal bedroom of the
group home, where someone was always afraid, always
Solemn and intent, the man continued down with
effortless grace. Danni remained frozen where she was,
listening to the troubled but unintelligible words.
Whatever was happening down there, it wasn’t good and
every instinct Danni possessed urged her not to
There was a loud bang—a shot followed by screams. Danni
trembled, her palms slick with clammy fear. Her shaking
dislodged pebbles that rappelled down the hill. She
didn’t want to follow the man anymore. She wanted out of
this vision. She wanted to be back in her kitchen where
it was safe. She clenched her fists tight, wanting to
escape it. Reject it.
The man paused and looked back. It seemed he knew what
she was thinking. His eyes darkened with compassion, but
also with disappointment he couldn’t quite hide. She
felt it as much she saw it. He gave her a small nod.
Go ahead, he was saying. The gesture came without
condemnation. He was giving her permission to turn away.
To run away.
For a moment the steep sea wall, the glowering sky . . .
the compelling man watching her . . . It all wavered and
Danni could see her kitchen through the overlaid image.
All she had to do was step through, step out.
Down below the children sobbed and the woman beseeched
with frantic incoherent words. Danni felt her despair,
her terror. Her desperate need . . . .
The man started down again, now with urgency. Danni
clenched her eyes tight and breathed deeply. Knowing she
couldn’t turn her back on such desperation, she mentally
closed the passage to her kitchen, slamming the door on
safety and sanity. She began to follow once more,
hurrying to catch up as he disappeared into the deep
gloom covering the bottom.
Broken shells and rocks crusted the shallow strip
between massive boulders and angry surf. It crunched
painfully beneath her feet as she followed the man to a
door cut into the base of the wall rising up to the
cliffs. Danni peered through the gathering shadows and
thick fog that hugged the ground, obscuring her feet
She couldn’t see anyone until she reached his side. And
then, with the pop of her ears clearing and a
surreal rush of color and texture, the source of the
voices emerged from the blur into shocking focus.
Danni was suddenly inside a cavern of some sort that
hunkered low over a tide pool. A stone floor circled it
and on the far side she saw people standing in the glow
of a lantern. The muted lightening turned their faces
into masks, distorting their features with ghoulish
hollows and shiny plateaus. They stood in a cluster—a
woman with two children. A man knelt on the ground just
at the edge of the lantern’s glow. He held something in
his arms Danni couldn’t make out.
She wanted to move closer. She wanted to see their
faces. But she stayed where she was, motionless beside
the green-eyed stranger as the scene played out.
The children she’d heard crying clung to the woman’s
legs, trying very hard to be a part of her. A boy and a
girl, Danni thought. She guessed their ages at four or
five, but she couldn’t be sure. The woman was speaking
again, her voice high with fear. Someone cloaked in the
concealing shadows, responded. The voice was deep and
masculine, but Danni couldn’t see the speaker or
understand what was said.
The green-eyed man Danni had followed from her kitchen
approached the woman. Pausing to look back at Danni, he
lifted the hem of her light jacket and blouse, revealing
the bulge of an early pregnancy and . . . bruises. Huge
discolorations that covered her ribs and abdomen in a
mottled mixture of black, blue, neon yellow, and sickly
green. Old and new, the marks layered one on top of the
The woman spun with a gasp, her eyes wide and
frightened. She stared at the empty space where Danni
stood for a long, breathless moment. Danni felt the
contact of the woman’s gaze as it settled on her face.
She can see me . . .
But that wasn’t possible. Danni wasn’t really there.
None of them were. This was a vision . . . a
hallucination . . . wasn’t it?
The woman continued to stare right at Danni as she
searched for the cause of her discomfort. Danni saw a
shiver work its way through her body, shuddering down to
the hands that held onto her children. Who was she? How
could she . . . ? The thought died suddenly as
recognition covered Danni in an icy sweat. She looked at
the boy standing so quietly beside his mother then at
the little girl holding her other hand. The child’s face
was tear-stained, her eyes big and gray, hair golden
brown. She blinked back at Danni with wide, knowing
It felt like a giant fist had punched through time and
yanked Danni from her body. The little girl was no
stranger, but neither was she an acquaintance or a
friend. Like the vision itself, she was of the
impossible. She was Danni . . . Danni as a child.
I’m looking at myself . . . . Herself as she’d
been twenty years ago.
Danni’s eyes were hot with feelings she couldn’t
process, couldn’t comprehend in this moment that had no
place, no substance in the world she knew. Slowly she
shifted her attention back to the woman, now seeing the
familiar features, remembering how it felt to put her
arms around her, to be held by her.
The woman was her mother.
The mysterious male voice said something in a vicious,
sharp tone, jerking her mother’s attention abruptly
“No,” Danni shouted. She rushed forward and tried to
turn her mother back around. Tried to touch her, hold
her, beg her to see Danni again. But whatever connection
had been made for that brief instant was gone. The
little girl began weeping inconsolably and the man who
knelt beside them rose unsteadily. Through the twilight,
Danni saw a face wet with tears, swollen and red,
ravaged by grief. She felt his pain pulsing off him like
the lapping waves in the pool at her feet.
The tension in the air tightened around them, like a
noose of thin wire that would soon cut through the skin.
There was terror in her mother’s eyes. In the way she
flicked her gaze back and forth between the disembodied
voice and the man at her side. He lifted his hands,
holding them away from his body, palms out—the universal
sign for compliance.
The hostile words exchanged between the woman and her
unseen antagonist grew louder until they echoed all
around them. Why couldn’t Danni understand what was
being said? Why did her mother’s answers come in as an
indecipherable and discordant throb?
Suddenly another bang resounded in the cave and Danni’s
screams joined those of her mother and the children. A
gun, she thought. That was a gun. Even as her mind
catalogued the sound, her body reacted to the bite of
pain slicing through her. She felt it—felt it —as
if a bullet had burrowed into her heart. She looked
down, expecting to see blood. To see her life draining
out of her. But there nothing, nothing to explain the
bewildering agony. She looked around her in shock, in
panic, seeing again the crumpled shape on the ground
beside the cluster of frightened people. Only then did
she grasp what it was—what the man had been holding when
they’d first come in. It was a body.
She managed to turn to the stranger who’d brought her
here. He only watched her, his face impassive. His
presence neither comforting nor threatening. As she
stared at him, she felt trapped by his gaze. She
couldn’t look away, couldn’t turn back to the unfolding
drama. The voices of her mother and the children waned,
taking with it the searing pain. They were fading—all of
Danni wanted to cling to her mother like the child she’d
once been. But she couldn’t break the hold of his
enigmatic green eyes, couldn’t make her legs support the
weight of her need.
Again a swirling mixture of grays and browns frosted the
air, making Danni think of a giant God creating sand art
on an unending pane of glass. The light changed from
dark gloom to hazy murk and they were outside again. The
wind joined the sensation of biting fresh air and bitter
cold. It was just the two of them now. The crushing pain
of the gunshot was gone but Danni’s heart filled with
grief at the loss of her mother. Again. Again Danni had
been abandoned by her.
The man moved, not giving her time to mourn. He had a
mission. She’d forgotten that he was there for reasons
of his own.
They were back in the valley. Danni followed him as he
strode away, a tall dark figure in a world painted with
shades of obscurity. Their time was nearly at an end.
She could sense it, feel it in the crackling air. It
would turn again and the vision would be over.
Towed in his wake, Danni trailed the man to a mound of
dirt amidst the lush pasture. Silently she waited by his
side, once again aware of something huge casting a
shadow on them, but unable to turn and face whatever it
They’d stopped beside a shallow grave, freshly dug and
unmarked. The bitter scent of tilled earth mingled with
the damp fishiness wafting from the sea. She could hear
waves crashing furiously against the rocks below.
Her stranger wore an expression of inconsolable remorse
as he looked upon the open hole gaping in the oasis of
green. Danni swallowed painfully, more afraid than she’d
ever been. The grave was an ominous symbol in this
vision. Or was it real? The muddied ground at her feet
seemed to call out to her. It coaxed her closer. It
promised sweet and seductive rewards.
Danni slowly leaned forward and looked into the hole.
There were two bodies sprawled at the bottom, as if
they’d been carelessly tossed in. One was an adolescent
boy and some shadowy part of her mind said his was the
body she’d seen in the cavern. He was gangly-limbed and
hollow-chested. His legs were twisted beneath him in an
unnatural position and his face turned away. Crumpled
beside him was a woman wearing leggings and an oversized
t-shirt—an outfit reminiscent of the eighties. Her long
golden-brown hair lay in a fall over her shoulders and
against the boy’s chest. Half of her face was concealed,
but the other half . . .
Danni gasped and stumbled back, her mind fighting what
her eyes displayed as truth. Once again, she was
face-to-face with herself. The woman in the grave was
The man beside her stared at the bodies for another
introspective moment. Then he looked to the distance at
the stark precipice that plunged down to the turbulent
sea. Danni felt his grief and anger mix and grow until
it burned like the whipping wind. She felt the power of
it consume him, drive him to a point as perilous as the
Then suddenly he turned those desperate eyes on Danni.
He reached out, as if realizing for the first time that
he might touch her. She waited for the contact with a
biting combination of terror and anticipation nipping at
Visions couldn’t touch, couldn’t feel . . . .
He brushed her cheek with the back of his fingers and
his warmth was electric against her cold skin. She
stared at him, stunned, seeing her own astonishment
mirrored in the glittering silver and green of his eyes.
He touched her again, settling his palm against her jaw,
cupping face—both hands now. Both hands warm and rough
and undeniably real. Transfixed, she stared at
him, catching her breath when his gaze shifted to her
mouth. He was going to kiss her.
Her hands came up to the muscled wall of his chest,
feeling it rise with his deep breath, grappling with the
feel of his heart beating beneath her palms. Her fear
knotted with the rush of sensation and became a ball of
heat in her belly, a longing that smoldered and sparked.
She waited as his head bent, his lips moving closer to
hers. But the air was turning—she could feel it coming.
Even as his mouth hovered over her lips, his breath a
hot whisper, a seductive secret she couldn’t quite hear,
he began to fade.
She tried to stop him, tried to hold back the air even
as it hissed away. In an instant, the man, the grave,
the steel wool sky . . . all of it became a mist that
floated just on the surface. Beneath, Danni’s kitchen
waited for her to come home.
She felt a ripping sensation as it sucked her back to
where she’d begun. She sagged against the counter,
drawing in deep breaths of warm air. Her cup sat just
where she’d left it, coffee not yet cooled, though it
seemed hours should have passed. She couldn’t stop the
shaking in her legs or slow the pounding of her heart.
She sank to the cold tile and curled in on herself.
She didn’t understand what the vision meant, who the man
was or why she’d seen the mother she remembered only
from the single photograph she possessed. She knew one
thing, though. The green-eyed stranger was looking for
Danni and when he found her, she would have to make a
choice. Go with him and answer the beckoning grave, or
deny the call of her mother and everything she’d wished
for her entire life.
Order Haunting Beauty:
Trade: ISBN-10: 0425228177 ISBN-13: 978-0425228173
Mass Market: ISBN-10: 0425243737 ISBN-13: 978-0425243732
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