Home > Witches of East End (The Beauchamp Family #1)

Witches of East End (The Beauchamp Family #1)
Author: Melissa de la Cruz

prologue

The Town at

the Edge of Nowhere

 

North Hampton did not exist on any map, which made locating the small, insular community on the very edge of the Atlantic coast something of a conundrum to outsiders, who were known to wander in by chance only to find it impossible to return; so that the place, with its remarkably empty silver-sand beaches, rolling green fields, and imposing, rambling farmhouses, became more of a half-remembered dream than a memory. Like Brigadoon, it was shrouded in fog and rarely came into view. Perpetually damp, even during its brilliant summers, its denizens were a tight-knit, clubby group of families who had been there for generations. In North Hampton, unlike the rest of Long Island, there were still potato farmers and deep-sea fishermen who made a living from their harvests.

Salty sea breezes blew sweetly over the rippling blue waters, the shoals were heavy with clam and scallop, and the rickety restaurants served up the local specialties of porgies, blowfish, and clam chowder made with tomatoes, never milk. The modern age had made almost no impression on the pleasant surroundings; there were no ugly strip malls or any indication of twenty-first-century corporate enterprise to ruin the picturesque landscape.

Across from the township was Gardiners Island, now abandoned and left to ruin. Longer than anyone could remember, the manor house, Fair Haven, had been empty and unoccupied, a relic in the gloaming. Owned by the same family for hundreds of years, no one had seen hide or hair of the Gardiners for decades. Rumors circulated that the once-illustrious clan could no longer afford its upkeep or that the line had withered and died with its last and final heir. Yet Fair Haven and its land remained untouched and had never been sold.

It was the house that time forgot, the eaves below its peaked roof filled with leaves, the paint chipped and the columns cracked as it sunk slowly toward dilapidation. The island’s boat docks rotted and sagged. Ospreys made their homes on the unadulterated beaches. The forests around the house grew thick and dense.

Then one night in the early winter, there was a sickening crunch, a terrible noise, as if the world were ripping open; the wind howled and the ocean raged. Bill and Maura Thatcher, married caretakers from a neighboring estate, were walking their dogs along the North Hampton shore when they heard an awful sound from across the water.

“What was that?” Bill asked, trying to calm the dogs.

“It sounded like it came from there,” Maura said, pointing to Gardiners Island. They stared at Fair Haven, where a light had appeared in the manor’s northernmost window.

“Look at that, Mo,” Bill said. “I didn’t know the house had been rented.”

“New owners, maybe?” Maura asked. Fair Haven looked the same as it always did: its windows like half-lidded eyes, its shabby doorway sagging like a frowning old man.

Maura took the dogs by the grass but Bill continued to stare, scratching his beard. Then quick as a blink, the light went out and the house was dark again. But now there was someone in the fog, and they were no longer alone. The dogs barked sharply at the steadily approaching figure, and the old groundskeeper realized his heart was pounding in his chest, while his wife looked terrified.

A woman appeared out of the mist. She was tall and intimidating, wearing a bright red bandanna over her hair and a tan raincoat belted tightly around her waist. Her eyes were gray as the dusk.

“Miss Joanna!” Bill said. “We didn’t see you there.”

Maura nodded. “Sorry to disturb you, ma’am.”

“Best you run along now, both of you, there’s nothing to see here,” she said, her voice as cold as the deep waters of the Atlantic.

Bill felt a chill up his spine and Maura shivered. They had agreed there was something different about their neighbors, something otherworldly and hard to pin down, but until this evening they had never been afraid of the Beauchamps. They were afraid now. Bill whistled for the dogs and reached for Maura’s hand, and they walked quickly in the opposite direction.

Across the shore, one by one, more lights were turned on in succession until Fair Haven was ablaze. It shone like a beacon, a signal in the darkness. Bill turned to look back one more time, but Joanna Beauchamp had already disappeared, leaving no sign of footprints in the sand or any indication that she had ever been there.

 

 

chapter one

Cat Scratch Fever

 

Freya Beauchamp swirled the champagne in her glass so that the bubbles at the top of the lip burst one by one until there were none left. This was supposed to be the happiest day of her life—or at the very least, one of the happiest—but all she felt was agitated.

This was a problem, because whenever Freya became anxious things happened—like a waiter suddenly tripping on the Aubusson rug and plastering the front of Constance Bigelow’s dress with hors d’oeuvres. Or the normally lugubrious dog’s incessant barking and howling drowning out the violin quartet. Or the hundred-year-old Bordeaux unearthed from the Gardiner family cellar tasting like Three Buck Chuck—sour and cheap.

“What’s the matter?” her older sister, Ingrid, asked, coming up by Freya’s elbow. With her rigid modeling-school posture and prim, impeccable clothes, Ingrid did not rattle easily, but she looked uncharacteristically nervous that evening and picked at a lock of hair that had escaped her tight bun. She took a sip from her wineglass and grimaced. “This wine has a witch’s curse all over it,” she whispered, as she placed it on a nearby table.

“It’s not me! I swear!” Freya protested. It was the truth, sort of. She couldn’t help it if her magic was accidentally seeping out, but she had done nothing to encourage it. She knew the consequences and would never risk something so important. Freya could feel Ingrid attempting to probe through the underlayer, to peer into her future for an answer to her present distress, but it was a useless exercise. Freya knew how to keep her lifeline protected. The last thing she needed was an older sister who could predict the consequences of her impulsive actions.

“Are you sure you don’t want to talk?” Ingrid asked gently. “I mean, everything’s happened so fast, after all.”

For a moment Freya considered spilling all, but decided against it. It was too difficult to explain. And even if dark portents were in the air—the dog’s howling, the “accidents,” the smell of burnt flowers inexplicably filling the room—nothing was going to happen. She loved Bran. She truly did. It wasn’t a lie, not at all like one of those lies she told herself all the time, like This is the last drink of the evening, or I’m not going to set the bitch’s house on fire. Her love for Bran was something she felt in the core of her bones; there was something about him that felt exactly like home, like sinking into a down comforter into sleep: safe and secure.

No. She couldn’t tell Ingrid what was bothering her. Not this time. The two of them were close. They were not only sisters and occasional rivals but the best of friends. Yet Ingrid would not understand. Ingrid would be appalled, and Freya did not need her older sister’s reproach right now. “Go away, Ingrid, you’re scaring away my new friends,” she said, as she accepted the insincere congratulations from another cadre of female well-wishers.

The women had come to celebrate the engagement, but mostly they were there to gawk, and to judge and to titter. All the eligible ladies of North Hampton, who not too long ago had harbored not-so-subtle dreams of becoming Mrs. Gardiner themselves. They had all come to the grand, refurbished mansion to pay grudging homage to the woman who had won the prize, the woman who had snatched it away before the game had even begun, before some of the contestants were aware that the starting pistol had been shot.

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