Jilted two days before her wedding, humiliated and despairing Nina Rivers runs into the arms of Cyrus Breckinridge, a biracial rake with a demeanor just as mad, bad and dangerous to know as Lord Byron who Breckinridge eerily resembles. His promise of the love and attention she has always craved and so recently lost is too strong to resist. Never mind the offer comes from someone who died before the turn of the nineteenth century. Nina surrenders to Breckinridge's seduction and is drawn one hundred years into the past. Horrified by these turn of events, Jacob Thompson realizes he has made a mistake letting Nina go and is determined to win his fiancee back. But how can he find a way into the past and rescue her before Breckinridge makes her pay for his promised love and attention with her life?
The man strode to the edge of the porch. A breeze whipped at his open jacket, revealing a beautifully embroidered waistcoat. His breeches outlined a pair of muscular thighs. He stood legs apart, hands on hips, smirking at her.
“Who have we here? Another of your empathetic sisters?”
Amelia turned her face into the door jamb and moaned.
The speaker came down the steps and strode in Nina’s direction.
“Do you have a sorrow shared? A sorrow to eschew?” he asked.
Nina blinked. There was something magnetic in his voice, something alluring that couldn’t hide the undercurrent of danger flowing beneath his words.
“Does what’s dead come between you and happiness? I can see they do. It’s in your eyes. It’s in your silence. You want escape. You need escape. I can give it to you.”
Nina blinked again. She trembled, not from fear but from excitement. She glanced at Amelia who stood and trudged into the house, leaving the door open.
“You won’t find the healing you want looking at her,” the man said, his tone low, pulling on the grief still in control of Nina’s spirit. “You want a touch that says you’re cherished.”
Nina gasped. He’d read her mind…read her wounding.
She nodded, despite a warning voice, small but insistent, urging her to step away, to run away. She didn’t want to run away, wouldn’t make herself run away. She’d run away earlier. She’d run away no longer.
She came to Harlem to escape ghosts from the past, not encounter ghosts in the present.
Everyone knew Esme Parker was different. Too different to live safely in segregated Roper North Carolina where just being Black was already unsafe. Being able to hear the cries for justice of the dead proved Esme too dangerous to be tolerated by the living, Black and White alike. Sent to New York, Esme hoped to find escape and a new life in Harlem. Instead her gift to communicate with the dead has not only followed her, but intensified. Her new life brings with it the potential of a new love: jazz musician Richard Love. Can Esme find relief and release in his arms or must she runaway again to protect him from the destruction her gift inevitably brings?
Car horns blaring. Vendors hawking their wares. The subway rumbling beneath her feet. These sights and sounds assaulted Esme Parker’s ears with the fierce unapologetic life force that was Harlem.
The thrill of her new environment chilled her despite the August sunshine and heat.
She closed her eyes and sucked Harlem into her lungs. Bus fumes. A fruit vendors’ fresh melon and peaches. A nearby truck redolent with the salty scent of crab. The honeysuckle blossom and newly mown grass of Roper’s front yards couldn’t have smelled as sweet.
The towering floors of the majestic YMCA loomed ahead across 135th street and drew her gaze upward. What floors had Claude McKay and Langston Hughes occupied when they stayed there? What luminary might she glimpse exiting or entering the front door now?
Behind her three groups of people came and went into a massive building with Harlem Hospital etched proudly in its stone façade. The first group dressed in the white worn by doctors and nurses, exited with weary, but hopeful expressions. The second in working clothes like hers, entered, their expressions just as weary just as hopeful. The third was dressed in death.
Spirits only she could see.
She closed her mind to their presence, mindful of her mother’s warning against Esme’s ability to connect with those no longer in the natural.
Be careful with that gift, girl. Once roused some ghosts won’t return to the grave without a fight.
Only love can face down those things not dreamt of in our philosophies
Ten years ago no one -- not even the man who said he loved her -- believed Sankofa Lawford's claim she had been brutally attacked by a ghost. Ten years later an assault on a new victim brings her back to Harlem to a mother going mad, a brother at his wits’ end and a former love who wants a second chance. Sankofa longs for her family to be whole again, for love to be hers again, but not if she must relive the emotional pain created by memories of that night.
Mitchell Emerson is convinced science and reason can account for the ghostly happenings at Umoja House. He resolves to find an explanation that will not only satisfy him but earn back Sankofa’s trust and love. Instead, his own beliefs are shaken when he sees the ghost for himself.
Now reluctant allies, Mitchell and Sankofa learn her family was more than a little in love with death. Their search for the ghost draws them together but uncovering seventy years of lies and decadence pulls them apart. As their hopes for happily ever after and dispersing the evil stalking Umoja House slip beyond their grasp, Mitchell and Sankofa find an unexpected source of help: the ghost itself.
For the last hour Sankofa Lawford blinked through a haze of tears at her mother’s stricken face. She held the glassy-eyed woman’s hand and tried repeatedly to get her attention. No gesture stilled the older woman’s incessant rocking. No words penetrated her intonation of the same awful phrase.
“Them that tell don’t know and them that know don’t tell.
Them that tell don’t know and them that know don’t tell.”
Wanda Lawford suddenly stopped rocking and stared in Sankofa’s direction.
A bright glint of glee shone in Wanda’s gaze. Hope struggled for a foothold in Sankofa’s heart then slipped as a death head’s grin contorted her mother’s once beautiful features. With a grip made strong from madness, she pulled her daughter’s hand to her chest and leaned in so her lips pressed against Sankofa’s ears.
“A word to the wise is sufficient. Have you been wise?”
Her hissed warning parodied whispered confidences mother and daughter had shared in the past. Sankofa kissed away a tear from her mother’s cheek.
“Yes, Mama.” She swallowed the lie with a smile. “I’ve been wise.”
Wanda Lawford cupped her daughter’s face and smiled too.
“Good. He shouldn’t have gotten you then, but if you’re wise, he won’t get you now.”
Sankofa took a deep breath and controlled her sadness despite the wobble of her lips.
“Rest now, Mama. Rest. Okay?”
Wanda released Sankofa’s hand only to grip her own and begin rocking again, begin repeating again.
“Them that tell don’t know and them that know don’t tell.”
Them that tell don’t know and them that know don’t tell.”
Sankofa groped her way toward the door, willed her halting feet toward the sanity of the hospital corridor. She pressed a hand against her chest and leaned backed against a wall.
Sad-faced flower-carrying visitors brightened frowns into smiles before entering the rooms of their loved ones. Nurses’ aides delivered lunch on rattling carts. A call for Dr. Li to come to the nurses’ station sang through the air. The tang of Lysol assaulted her from the room across from her mother’s where orderlies cleaned up behind a happy return home or a sadder departure to the morgue. She lifted a silent prayer of thanks for these small handholds on normalcy.
“Jesus, have mercy. ”
“Jesus, have mercy is right,” her brother snorted. “Gotta hand it to you, San. I couldn’t have sat that long with her.”
She kept her eyes closed, wishing she couldn’t see Langston’s face, wishing she couldn’t hear him too.
“Langston, why didn’t you contact me before she got this bad?”
He scoffed. “I would have if I’d known you weren’t indisposed as well. Did I miss the memo that you were out and able to travel?”
Sankofa took a deep breath and forced back the self-recrimination poised to agree with him. She turned and faced him. “In or out, you still could have let me know.”
He massaged the back of his neck. “What good would that have done?”
“What good?” She nodded at his shoulder to wrist cast.
He shrugged in a lopsided way. “Point taken.”