Fate continues to entangle the Larkin and Sullivan families amidst madness, murder and obsessive love. Colm and Molly's grandson Jean-Claude Sullivan finds his life driven by greed and perversely tainted pleasures. Beloved family chef Claude Mondoux watches helplessly as Colm slowly loses his mind in ghostly visions of Molly, while Colleen Larkin seeks love in the arms of another man with deadly consequences.
Larkin City, Maine
JOHN LARKIN KNEW HE was dying. His shrunken frame appeared diminutive in the cavernous bed, gossamer skin wrapped taut against his ancient bones. Having celebrated his ninety-sixth birthday just three months ago, he felt every inch his age and then some. He cursed the failings of his physical body, made worse by his still-alert mind and acute sensibilities.
He welcomed the warmth radiating from the fireplace, chilled despite the layers of blankets covering him. At one time he considered his luxurious suite on the second floor of the mansion his own private sanctuary, but now felt the rooms to be a hellish place of confinement. It was only a matter of time before he was no longer the master of his own household, soon to be forgotten after he joined his wife Anne and their daughter Molly in the family cemetery nearby.
His eyes went to the mullioned windows, which overlooked the north-east side of the estate with a view of the Banshee Point Lighthouse in the distance. He could see the sky leaden with black-gray clouds, swirled like paint on canvas, revealing hundreds of snowflakes as they danced against the glass panes before falling to the ground below.
There was a quick knock on the bedroom door, which startled John from his lethargy. Before he could speak, his son Roddy strode into the room. He was followed by family chef Claude Mondoux, who carried a silver tray laden with plates and matching dome covers.
"Are you ready for dinner, Papa?" Roddy asked as he came to stand at the foot of the bed. John's only son was tall and imposing with azure blue eyes, but advancing age revealed itself in gnarled, arthritic hands and silver hair, once the color of chestnuts.
John nodded. He was hungry, but knew from past experience he wouldn't be able to eat much. He watched as Claude set the tray on the bedside table, removing the dome covers to reveal a platter of sliced zucchini bread slathered with butter, a bowl of creamy potato soup and a white plate containing a pork cutlet, fat trimmed off, and a pile of green beans tossed with crumbled bits of bacon.
"I prepared some of your favorite foods," Claude told him. "Please try to eat, Monsieur. You must nourish your body to stay strong."
Roddy came forward to help his father into a sitting position. Claude plumped the pillows behind his back, easing the old man against their softness. He placed the tray on John's lap, pointing to the zucchini bread. "Even if you eat nothing else, I know you will enjoy my zucchini loaf. You always do."
John gazed at the chef warmly. Claude had been in his employ for more than fifty years, but was much more than the family cook. The two men were friends, a relationship that developed over the years with mutual respect and shared secrets. John trusted Claude implicitly, never doubting the Frenchman would take confidences to his own grave.
"You never miss an opportunity to applaud your culinary talents," John said with a wan smile. "Are all Frenchmen so self-assured and arrogant?"
Claude winked. "Only the good ones, Monsieur."
"Please eat something, Papa," Roddy urged. "I don't want you to get so weak that we have to call for the doctor again."
John managed to eat a slice of zucchini bread and a few spoonfuls of soup, but little else. "I'm full," he said with apology, looking to the concerned faces of his son and Claude. "Maybe later I can nibble on a biscuit or two."
Roddy smiled kindly at his father. "We'll leave the tray in case you change your mind."
Claude removed the silver tray from John's lap and returned it to the bedside table. "I'll come back later to check on you," he said quietly. "Try to rest, Monsieur."
Roddy leaned down to kiss his father on the cheek, and then helped Claude return the older man to a horizontal position. "Sleep well," he said. "I'll stop by and see you in the morning."
After the two men left, John allowed himself to doze briefly. He was unable to enjoy proper slumber anymore, fearful he might not awaken from a deep sleep. Troubled thoughts also kept him restless in bed, his mind plagued with guilty memories of past deeds.
Suddenly, he felt a cold draft wash across his body. Could the fire in the hearth be dying already? He opened his eyes, trying to focus his aged eyes as they fell on the room. A shape near the windows drew his attention, so he turned his head to get a better look.
Surely he was dreaming. His eyes beheld the diaphanous image of his daughter Molly. Her body appeared seamless and muted, but her dark eyes revealed a steadfast venom he found puzzling. She was pale and thin just as he remembered, yet her striking beauty had lost none of its stunning allure. She wore a dark green cloak, the hood thrust back on her shoulders.
John wasn't frightened. At least not at first, for surely he was dreaming. He had thought about Molly many times since her death thirty-nine years ago, most of his reflections laden with guilty regret. He blinked his eyes, assuming the action would dismiss her image from his dream. When he looked again, she was still there, regarding him with the same venomous contempt.
He realized he was not dreaming, but fully awake. The familiar pain in his legs reminded him he was a helpless old man in his bed, at the mercy of his obviously perturbed daughter. "My dead daughter," he told himself. A sense of panic started to build within him, which he tried to keep from his voice.
"Mary Margaret?" he asked hopefully, using her birth name. "Is that you, or am I dreaming?"
She stared at him, hating and deriding with her regard. "You are not dreaming," she finally said, her voice a slivery whisper.
He looked at her, his mouth open slightly. He felt his body begin to tremble with fear, his hands shaking under the coverlet. "Why are you here?"
She came toward him, seeming to glide rather than walk. He flinched when she loomed over him. He could see a vague outline of the windows through her sheer image, the snowflakes still visible in the backdrop. With her close proximity came another shaft of cold air, which seemed to permeate his bones.
John pulled the coverlet to his chin, looking up at his dead daughter with an uneasiness he no longer bothered to hide. She returned his gaze with anything but love. She raised her arm and pointed to him. "It's time for you to die, old man." Again, her voice was a whisper, yet filled with strong anger nonetheless. "You've outlived your usefulness. For once in your life act with humility, and allow yourself to abandon the bonds of earth."
"Is that why I'm seeing you?" he asked fearfully. "You're here to take me away?"
She was silent for a long moment, watching him. "Depending how you perish, I may or may not be here to take you away."
"I'm not ready to die," he spoke again, his feeble voice tinged with a familiar stubbornness.
"It doesn't matter what you want," she said, her angry tone unrelenting. "It's out of your hands. Don't you feel it? All of your control has ebbed to a mere trickle. You command no one, you have no power to direct and destroy anymore." She laughed harshly, the sound hurting his ears. "The once-mighty John Larkin is now a mortal shell. You're nothing more than an old geezer-bastard, a he-goat who will end his life just like every common man."
"I'm not ready," he repeated, his words coming on a gasp.
She leaned down, her face mere inches away from his. He felt another blast of cold, an unpleasant sensation propelled by his growing fear. "Tough luck," she hissed in his ear. "I wasn't ready to throw Colm away at your decree or end my life on Banshee Point, either. We don't always get what we want, now do we?"
"I suffered greatly over what happened to you," he defended himself weakly. "I've been racked with guilt all these years."
"Lying son of a bitch," she snarled. "If you felt any guilt at all, you'd let the whole truth be known."
He was horrified. "That can never happen," he protested. "Think of the shame, the scandal."
"Mother is dead," Molly replied with scorn. "What - or who - is left to protect?"
"My legacy, for starters." He felt his hackles rise, some of the old spunk returning, if only for a brief time. "I worked for years to establish the family name. I built an empire, Mary Margaret. I will not toss it away by publicly acknowledging your bastard son with Colm Sullivan. I count Colm as a trusted friend, but even he understands I cannot recognize Mick as my grandson."
"Hypocrite!" she accused him. "I'm your daughter. My welfare should have been your first priority, not what local gossipmongers might have said or done."
"That's not the way it works. You know that, Molly."
"You unimaginable bastard," she seethed. He saw her filmy hands clenched at her sides. "What kind of man are you?" she demanded, eyes glowing like dark coals in her pale face.
"I'm hard-working and honest," he responded almost desperately, bargaining to validate his presence on earth. "You never wanted for anything, not once."
"Wrong," she disagreed. "The one thing I wanted you wouldn't let me have. You took away the only true happiness I've ever known. Your selfish actions forced my hand, and directly led to my decision to end my life nearly forty years ago."
John closed his eyes, hoping she would just go away.
"You will listen to what I have to say," she said brutally. "If you have an ounce of sense left in your decrepit old body, you would be wise to take special heed of my words."
He stubbornly kept his eyes shut.
She leaned down to whisper in his ear again, bringing another veil of cold air with her. "You still have choices, old man. I advise you to use them well in the little time you have left. If you allow your life to end on a natural course, your suffering will go beyond any pain you have ever known. The flames of hell will fan your guilt to searing heights. Use your wits to make the right decision, otherwise you will be forever locked with me in the lowest pit of Hades. The Devil's tomb will be your eternal home."
John finally opened his eyes, looking at his dead daughter with terror. "Leave me alone!" he cried. "You're trying to trick me, aren't you? No, no, this is a dream and I will soon awake . . ."
Her ethereal frame resumed its distance, gliding back to the windows. She turned to look at him one last time, a slight smile playing about her lips. It wasn't a cheerful beam but rather an all-knowing expression of satisfaction.
"Don't say I didn't warn you," Molly whispered.
He watched as her image slowly dissolved, leaving behind more bone-hurting chill and discomfort.
John groaned, turning his face to the pillow.
QUIXOTIC CROSSINGS ©Deidre Dalton. All rights reserved.
"Quixotic Crossings" may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. "Quixotic Crossings" is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.