by Renee Lake
Come to Forgotten Hills Cemetery and Mortuary and find out!
After their aunt dies Thana and her sisters move back to their childhood home, a mortuary, as the new owners.
When Thana finds the preserved body of a young woman in the morgue, she and her sisters become determined to find out who she is and where she came from.
Meanwhile, Thana reconnects with her childhood sweetheart, Draven, who becomes another piece of the puzzle, and the sisters find themselves amid a centuries-old curse and in possession of several long-kept family secrets.
Why is death stalking their family? And how can they stay one step ahead of it?
Release Date: June 16, 2020
Genre: Paranormal | Gothic Romance
~ A PINK SATIN ROMANCE ~
Not every little girl spent her summers in a cemetery, winding through old weather-worn headstones. Some headstones were so old you couldn't read the writing anymore. Many were bleached by the sun, others covered in the lichen that grew on anything that stood still.
The three sisters loved to run in the deep green grass that always seemed to be up to their ankles and took afternoon catnaps among vines and under the sweeping boughs of old willow trees. They played hide and seek around the carcasses of trees that died years ago and were never cleared away.
Forgotten Hills Cemetery always smelled like a combination of fresh dirt, cut grass and the delicious scent that rain hitting hot pavement makes.
An eight-foot stone wall surrounded the tiny cemetery, so it was a little girl's ultimate private playground, free from anyone gawking, trying to make conversation or scolding.
“I wish we could live here always,” Morana said.
Thana glanced at her youngest sister. They were lying side by side in their favorite spot, the cemetery’s center between two weeping angels that time had eroded so badly their faces were blurs of marble.
This special spot was a little higher elevation than everything else. They liked it because they could see everything, but no one could see them. Elder, their pet name for a large dead and formidable oak tree, shaded the angels and space between.
The path from the gate to their secret spot was a big swirl leading right up to the hill where they sat, a flat packed dirt line sweeping around the entire place curling toward them like a snail's shell.
“It wouldn't be fun anymore,” Dolores said. She was on her stomach, head cradled in her arms, basking in the end of summer’s warmth.
Thana watched as the faint breeze stirred her straw-colored hair. Everyone said that at twelve she was becoming quite the beauty. You know, if not for it.
“Lola's right. Just enjoy the days we have left. Mama and Papa will be here in a week to take us home,” Thana said. She was sitting, head resting against the slab of rough marble that made a perch for the largest angel
“I wonder what the schools here are like? I bet they aren't full of kids who hate you.” Morana sighed and closed vivid blue eyes. She was lying next to Lola, on her back, knees bent.
“Kids at home don't hate you,” Thana said. She was worried. Morana was eight and already being bullied at school for something that wasn't her fault, let alone anyone's business.
“You guys are lucky,” Morana said.
Lola sat up and moved behind their sister, “Enough of that, c'mon, I'll braid your hair.”
Morana reluctantly agreed and slowly moved into a better position so Lola could work on her overly long auburn hair.
Lola's powder blue eyes met Thana's across their little sister's head. They had discussed all summer whether to tell their parents about Morana being bullied. They were leaning toward telling their aunt instead.
“Sing to me, Lola?” Morana asked, eyes still closed, swaying, just a little, but not enough to disturb the braid making.
“Alright, but only to cheer you up,” Lola agreed.
Thana closed her eyes again and tried to relax. Every summer she and her sisters spent two and a half months with their aunt. It was a magical time. Thana's first memory was sitting on her aunt's lap, only three years old, being told she would soon have a new sister.
Summers were two and a half months of late nights, languid mornings and eccentric means of fun.
Their mom was an archeologist and their dad a surgeon. They shared a love of history and every summer went on trips to dry, dusty, hot places while Thana and her sisters stayed in Hill City, Oregon.
Honestly, it was better this way. Mom and Dad were great, but their trips sounded so boring!
Their aunt ran and owned Forgotten Hills Mortuary and Cemetery, though the cemetery part hadn't had a burial in more than a decade, due to space issues. It took a bit to get used to the idea of living around dead people, but Thana and her sisters now enjoyed their summers more than anything else.
Besides, the house didn't look like how she imagined a funeral home. Just outdated and misshapen.
A puff of grayish smoke caught her eye, she followed it knowing exactly where it came from. On the other side of the house where the cemetery ended and the woods began, there was another building. A crematory. The road up to the house circled around to that side making it easier to access.
Thana didn't go over there much, it was an ugly place. A square brick room that didn't match the loveliness of Forgotten Hills. A smokestack sat on top and occasionally, smoke and even rarer flame, would come out of it.
She'd never been inside and didn't want to. She knew bodies went in whole and came out ash. She was only glad that some miracle of science made it so the smoke didn't smell.
Thana listened as Lola's sweet voice sang softly about love and roses, it was the only song they knew in Spanish. Morana hummed with her. Opening her eyes, she let her gaze drift to the house, wondering when their aunt would call them for dinner. She looked up, and in between the gnarled oak branches, she could see the sun, playing peekaboo. She estimated it was around supper time, if not earlier. One of their aunt's rules was dinner around the table, every night.
The mortuary for Forgotten Hills looked like it came straight from the pages of a villain's handbook, like an evil witch would step out onto the large porch amidst the moss and vines to offer poisoned fruit or forbidden candy.
It was a large, house-like structure. Thana and her sisters rarely went to the front of the house where the chapel was and where the office and funeral rooms were. Instead, they used a back staircase next to the kitchen and dining room that wound up to the second floor and the family rooms.
Thana could see the second floor’s dirty glass windows from where she sat. From the outside, a tower-like appendage hid the window to her aunt's bedroom. The other windows on this side were the living room and library. The three bedrooms they slept in faced the driveway in the front and the woods to the east.
Thana wished her room looked out on the beautiful graveyard instead of the gravel and dust filled driveway that led to a parking lot riddled with potholes and faded parking lines.
A proper gate to the cemetery was placed near the road as well. The gate was tall, iron, with a padlock that helped keep out trespassers. A one-car dirt road led to a small circle so cars could come into the sacred space, but not very far. If you wanted to experience everything Forgotten Hills had to offer you had to get out and hoof it.
Thana and her sisters never used this opening. The wall that surrounded the cemetery enclosed the back of the mortuary. Thana only had to step out the back door to enter the dead playground.
There were bushes of deep green placed just so visitors didn't realize a small path to the house was there. From their special spot, Thana could see the back door, a simple piece of brown wood with a bronze handle, covered by a mesh screen.
Lola finished singing and braiding around the same time.
“I wish Mama would teach us another song,” Morana said, sighing.
“She says it's the only one her mother sang her. She barely remembered what the lyrics meant,” Lola reminded her, dotting the braid with tiny white flowers.
“It'd be cool to speak a second language,” Morana said.
“Sure, but then you have to have a mom who still actively speaks it and a dad who doesn't get twitchy when she does,” Thana said. She hated this particular conversation.
“Aunt Lorelei could teach us,” Lola suggested, ducking her head as she earned a glare from her big sister.
“There's no point in asking, end of subject.” Thana crossed her arms over her chest and gave them her best this-discussion-is-over stare.
“There, you look beautiful, as always,” Lola said, tucking a stray strand behind their sister's ear and effectively changing the subject.
“I wish I could wear it like this for always,” Morana said.
“Why can't you?” Thana asked. Morana did look cute. Just like a tiny version of their mother, especially now that her skin had darkened even more with the sun's attention. All three girls had skin the color of almonds, reflective of their Hispanic heritage.
“It shows too much,” was all her sister would say.
She was right, the braid did show it off. Thana wished Morana didn't care. Morana had a large blood red birthmark that crept up her neck feathering over the right side of her chin and curving around her right eye.
Thana and Lola shared this birthmark, but in different and less noticeable places. Lola's spread from the middle of her left calf and covered the back of her leg. Thana's right arm had it from her inner wrist to elbow.
At fifteen, Thana understood that people, in general, sucked. She tried to impress that upon her younger sisters on a regular basis. Kids in their hometown sucked because they treated them like plague victims. Grown-ups in their hometown sucked because they thought the girls' parents were strange and their parents sucked because they failed to notice anything outside of their work.
There were only two people, outside of her sisters, that didn't suck. One was her aunt.
“Aunt Lorelei is calling us for dinner!” Morana jumped up, excited. Dinner with their aunt was always unique. She was a great cook and loved to try different recipes. Last night it was homemade sushi, the night before a curry dish and last week they ate fancy desserts every night, but one. Sometimes she asked for help and taught them to cook, sometimes she kept it as a surprise.
Thana glanced toward the funeral home and saw their aunt standing at the door to the house, she was smiling and waving. Thana heard her husky voice calling their names. Thana looked like her aunt in many ways. Both were a bit on the chubby side with more black curly hair than was manageable and large periwinkle blue eyes surrounded by thick lashes.
Lorelei had nut-brown skin and was six foot tall. Normally she wore skirt suits in vibrant colors, but during her off hours, she favored loose cotton dresses covered by colorful pinafores that she made herself. Thana hoped she could be as cool when she grew up.
Lola stood, helping Morana up and dusting grass and dirt from their cut off shorts and old t-shirts.
“Where's the picnic basket?” Morana asked, looking around. They always took lunch out into the cemetery so they didn't bother Lorelei when she was busy in the basement with the creepier aspects of her job. Thana didn't mind the dead, they played on top of them all day. Her sisters, though, wanted nothing to do with the dead people stored in the basement.
“I think we left it near the Ring. I'll go get it,” Thana volunteered, heart rate increasing ever so slightly.
The Ring was their name for a group of headstones in the very western corner placed in a circle. The names were worn and chipped, but the dates were all the same: September 17th, 1895. It was the only place in all of Forgotten Hills that gave Thana a bit of fear, but even so, it was their favorite spot for lunch. It was away from view from any visitors, very quiet and got the most sunlight of any spot in the cemetery.
It was special to Thana for another reason as well. As her sisters gathered up their other outdoor supplies, she went off in search for the basket.
They never took the main paths. Thana and her sisters had their own ways to get around. She weaved around headstones and under tree branches, slipped behind bushes and over rocks. Happiness surged through her, tinted with sadness that their summer was coming to an end.
Finally, she spotted the Ring and their basket sitting in the middle of it. As she entered the circle a chill went up her spine and not the normal kind. Not like when the faint breeze dries sweat on your back. The kind laced with the knowledge you are not alone, and something is watching you.
“You'd forget your head if it wasn't attached,” a voice from above her said.
Startled, but no longer scared, she looked at the top of the wall nearest her. Sitting on the stone, legs dangling, was a scrawny boy about her age.
“What are you talking about?” Thana asked. She put her hands into the pockets of her jean shorts and stared down at her dirt covered feet, smiling.
“You leave this here a few times a week,” he told her.
“It's a pain to lug around the whole cemetery,” she explained, looking at him.
His hair was gray, bordering on silver and his eyes were the palest seafoam green. He was the whitest white boy she'd ever laid eyes on, including her father.
“Or you just want to see me,” he joked.
Draven—what kind of name was that, really?—never came any closer than the wall, but she'd known him for years. They'd met when she was five. He was the only other child she ever had contact with while in Hill City. A few times a week they'd meet and talk, laugh and joke. He never told her where he lived or anything about his family, but she'd poured out her life history to him.
Once she accused him of dying his hair and he simply laughed, neither confirming or denying it. Whenever she talked about him meeting other people, he became shy and nervous.
She'd wanted to share him with her sisters or to ask her aunt about him, but he'd requested one thing from her these past ten years. That she did not tell anyone about him.
Thana assumed he came from an abusive home. She had a friend like him in school once, private and shy of strangers. Her friend had been sent to live with grandparents when it was found out her dad was hurting her.
Thana didn't want to get him in trouble but hoped after all these years he would at least trust her with the truth.
“My parents will be here by week's end,” she told him. He looked thoughtful for a minute.
“Before September, as usual.”
“Yeah, gotta be home before school starts.” Her heart was thudding in her chest, over the past two summers something had changed when she looked at Draven. She didn't just see her best friend, but a boy, an attractive boy.
“Still being bullied.” Thana wondered if he thought she was pretty and if he'd ever come down off the wall so she could touch him.
“Teach her the trick I taught you.”
Two years before he'd taught her a way to stand and speak so people would leave her alone, she'd taught Lola, it was time to teach Morana too.
“I'm trying, but she's sensitive.”
“Cause it's on her face?”
She nodded. “I just wish my parents paid more attention.”
“Talk to your aunt, she understands.”
“I doubt it, Lorelei is awesome. She's never felt like that.”
“Yes, she has, she grew up with it, too.”
Shock coursed through Thana's system. Her aunt had the same birthmark? Did that mean her mother did too? How come she'd never shown her?
“How do you know that? Did your parents tell you?” she asked, squinting up at him. He wasn't paying attention to her, and his eyes had a faraway look as he stared into the cemetery toward the house.
Then he did something so unexpected she took a giant step back. He jumped off the wall.
“What the hell?” He was taller than she'd imagined, towering over her by a foot. He was so much more handsome up close, his lips curving, and eyes tilted at the edges.
“I'm sorry, Thana,” he said, stepping closer to her.
“Sorry for what?” she asked, a little breathless.
His hands feathered up her bare arms, leaving goosebumps in his wake. The palms of his hands and pads of his fingers soft and warm.
“This,” he said and then he kissed her. Her very first kiss. Warm, with light pressure. He tasted like the cemetery smelled. She wrapped her arms around his thin waist. He shuddered under her touch and the kiss ended. He stared into her eyes for a second and quickly pulled away.
Before she could understand what had just happened, he scrambled up the wall and perched there, looking wary.
Suddenly Lorelei was coming through the bushes, eyes hard as she stared at Draven, mouth set in a firm line.
Great, had it been that long? Was she in trouble for being late to dinner? Had Lorelei seen them kissing? It wasn't like her aunt to be cross.
“I had a feeling I'd find you here,” her aunt said, voice dark with anger.
Thana began to speak and realized she wasn't being spoken to, Draven was.
“I told you to stay away during the summers,” Lorelei snapped at him.
Thana was confused, how could she be mean to a kid?
“It's okay, Aunt, I know him, he's my friend.” Thana touched her arm.
Lorelei looked down at her for a moment and her eyes softened and filled with sadness, “It's not your fault, Querida.”
She looked back at Draven who had a stormy and serious expression on his boyish features, “How long? What have you said to her?”
“Ten years and nothing of significance,” he answered.
That hurt Thana's feelings, nothing they had talked about was significant? What was going on?
“Did you touch her?” Lorelei asked.
“No.” His eyes didn't leave Thana's face as he lied.
Lorelei looked to her niece. Thana knew a blush was spreading, cherry red, over her neck and face.
“Hmmm,” she said. It was obvious she didn't believe him.
“I have not done anything to harm her,” Draven spoke it like a promise.
“I must end this now,” Lorelei sighed, fists clenched at her sides.
“I know,” Draven said. He looked at Thana, eyes downcast. “I have enjoyed spending time with you, Thana. I have looked forward to seeing you over the summers. You are very special to me, please believe that.”
“What's going on, Draven?” Thana felt fear curl in her belly. He was special to her too. She didn't like the confusion coursing through her.
“Go, now!” Lorelei demanded. Thana watched as Draven turned and disappeared over the wall. She felt a heaviness in her chest, as if tears were living behind her eyes.
Lorelei took hold of her shoulders and leaned down to look Thana in the eyes. “Querida, speak truly, do you know who that was?”
“Draven,” Thana answered, shakily.
“That's it? He didn't say anything else, didn't touch you?”
“No, he said his name was Draven...I...I don't know much about him. He's my friend.”
Lorelei gripped her harder. “He is not that. You are never to speak to him again, understand?”
Thana nodded her head, tears seeping from under her eyelids, running down her cheek. Her aunt hugged her, smelling of menthol and pine.
“Come on, Querida, let's go have dinner.” Lorelei picked up the basket and led the way back to the house.
It was the last summer they spent at Forgotten Hills.