Spinning the Moon

Published September 6, 2016
ISBN-10: 1101989513
ISBN-13: 9781101989517

Spinning the Moon

Available Now in Paperback

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Time and again, New York Times bestselling author Karen White has proven herself to be the “ultimate voice of women’s fiction.”*

Now, you can revisit the beginning of her signature style in two of her earliest novels—completely revised and together in one volume for the first time.

When Laura Truitt first sees the dilapidated plantation house, she’s overcome by a sense of familiarity. Inside, the owner claims to have been waiting for years and offers an old photograph of a woman with Laura’s face. Soon afterwards, when a lunar eclipse inexplicably thrusts Laura back in time to Civil War Georgia, she finds herself fighting not just for her heart, but for her very survival…
Alone and with nothing left to fear, Catherine deClaire Reed answers her sister’s desperate plea and travels to the cold comfort of her home in Reconstruction Louisiana. But Elizabeth is nowhere to be found. No one—including her husband—has seen her for days. Now, Catherine must search for her sister in a place where secrets wait behind every closed door…

“There is a rhythm to the writing of Karen White. It has a pace, a beat, a cadence that is all its own.”—The Huffington Post

“The ultimate voice of women’s fiction.”—*Fresh Fiction

“White’s dizzying carousel of a plot keeps those pages turning, so much so that the book can [be]—and should be—finished in one afternoon, interrupted only by a glass of sweet iced tea.”—Oprah.com

“This is storytelling of the highest order: the kind of book that leaves you both deeply satisfied and aching for more.”—Beatriz Williams, New York Times bestselling author of Tiny Little Thing

“Readers will find White’s prose an uplifting experience as she is a truly gifted storyteller.”—Las Vegas Review-Journal

Chapter One

When beggars die, there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
-William Shakespeare

Our daughter, Annie, was born exactly two weeks after moving into the house. Although my strange attraction to our new home never faded and questions remained unanswered, I pushed them aside and threw myself into my new role as mother.

An engaging and guileless little girl, Annie had inherited equal parts from each parent. She had bright green eyes and an odd crescent-shaped birthmark on the inside of her forearm from her mother, and fair hair and perfectly shaped ears from her father. But her little personality was all her own. She was everything I could have wanted in a child.

Annie was a gentle baby, which made it easy for us to resume our adult lives when she was still quite young. She went everywhere with us, her fair head poking up over the carrier strapped to one of our backs. We enjoyed being together, our little family.

Annie was only twenty-three months old when we took her to see her first comet atop Moon Mountain. Sky watching was a hobby of mine, introduced to me as a child by my Cherokee grandmother, and I was eager to share it with my daughter. Genetti’s Comet would be sharing the sky with a total lunar eclipse-a rare enough event to warrant mention of it in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Moon Mountain wasn’t really a mountain, but rather a largish hill and the perfect vantage point for celestial happenings. According to my grandmother, who was widely known for her eccentricities, it was a place with strong unknown powers. She called it a sacred place to the Cherokee Indians, who had inhabited this part of the country for centuries.

Michael grumbled only slightly when I roused him that Saturday morning. It was usually his sleeping-in day, but I had made plans for an early start at antique shopping and general family togetherness before the lunar eclipse that night. He leaned over and rubbed his stubbly chin on my bare midriff, where my nightgown had ridden up. Resting his head on my abdomen, he gently traced a circle around my navel with his finger. I ran my hands through the thick mane of his hair and sighed softly. He looked up at me with a raised eyebrow.

“Laura, why don’t we just skip the shooting star and stay in bed all day?” He rose to nuzzle into my neck, sending delicious shivers down my back.

I pressed my head into the pillow and tapped him gently on the head with the flat of my palm. “It’s not a shooting star-it’s a comet and an eclipse. It’ll really be spectacular.”

“Mmmmm,” he mumbled.

I shifted my head, enjoying his attentions to my earlobe. Slowly, he worked the spaghetti straps of my nightgown off my shoulder and moved his mouth lower. I looked down at his dark blond head, and my body flooded with love and desire for this man. I sighed, and our eyes met.

His moist lips formed a slow grin. “I’ve got powerful methods of persuasion, you know.”

I sat up, pulling off my nightgown completely. “Yes, you do. You certainly do.”

We made love slowly, in the comfortable way old lovers do, and then we held each other close, listening to the sounds of morning outside our window.

“Mommy!” came the shout from across the hall.

The sound made me grimace. Reluctantly, I threw off the sheets. “It was nice while it lasted,” I said as I slipped out of bed and into my robe. I leaned down to give Michael a kiss and then hurried to the nursery, where I was being summoned in a tone approaching hysteria.

Annie clutched the top rail of her crib, huge tears of distress running down her cheeks. I tripped over the object of her anguish and bent to pick up her stuffed giraffe from the floor, the apparent victim of a fall through the crib slats. Her chubby arms stretched up to greet me as I approached. I handed her the giraffe and reached for her.

“Hello, morning glory,” I whispered as I picked her up and kissed her baby-fine hair. The mingled scents of baby sweat and shampoo wafted up my nose. “Can Mommy have some good-morning butterflies?”

Annie put her face right up to mine and fluttered her eyelashes, tickling my cheek. She then laid her head on my shoulder, a cue for me to sing and waltz. This had been our morning ritual for as long as we both could remember.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray,” I sang as I twirled my delighted partner, my bare feet padding gently on the hardwood floors of the nursery. “You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

As I placed her on the changing table to dress her, Michael came in to give Annie her good-morning kiss. “Maybe we should get your mother to babysit Annie tonight. I mean, she’ll probably sleep through the whole thing, anyway.”

I finished snapping up the bottom of Annie’s one-piece outfit and lifted her. “Oh, Michael-I thought it would be so much fun with the three of us. My dad used to take me when I was her age, and I remember watching the sky with him. It’s such a magical thing.”

He shrugged. “All right. If it means that much to you.” He kissed me quickly on the lips and reached for his daughter.

I was fascinated by comets-those ghostly apparitions from the past traveling along sweeping pathways through space and time. Historically, comets have always been harbingers of doom, having made appearances prior to the assassination of Julius Caesar, the Black Death, the defeat of the Alamo, and the fall of Atlanta to the Yankees in the summer of 1863. Ancient man thought that comets were God’s messengers alerting mankind of what was to come. Despite Mr. Haley’s scientific explanation on the origins of comets, I, too, thought there was something more ethereal about those dirty snowballs of ice and dust.

I was especially intrigued because of something my grandmother had told me when I was a girl. As I was leaving her house after a day of learning about folklore and her own brand of ancient astronomy, Grandma had held my arm and whispered in my ear, “Be careful of moonless nights and speeding stars. Though the magic is there, there is danger, too, and great heartache.”

I had no idea what she was talking about, and she refused to elaborate further on subsequent visits. But her prophetic words would always return to me as I climbed Moon Mountain to witness yet another astronomical event.

Double-checking the diaper bag for Annie’s hat and sunscreen, I loaded it into the Explorer. As I bent down to tie my shoelaces, a bead of perspiration dripped on my knee. At ten o’clock in the morning, it was already sweltering-a typical August day in Georgia.

It had rained during the night. Not one of those gentle rainstorms found in northern climes, but a powerful combination of window-shaking thunder and daylight-making lightning common to Georgia and other Southern coastal states. But the sky above was now cloudless, a blue dome over the baking earth.

By the end of the day, we found ourselves at the foot of Moon Mountain. The National Park Service had fashioned an asphalt parking lot at the foot of the hill, and I was happy to see that there were no other cars. Even at nine o’clock at night, the heat rose from the blacktop. Perspiration prickled down my back as I stooped to get our sleeping Annie out of her car seat. I had tried to keep her awake in the car, but her exhaustion had finally overtaken her. I hoped she would wake up in time to see her first comet.

Her head lolled to one side and I carefully cradled it as I lifted her out. I zipped her snugly into the carrier on Michael’s back and laid a gentle kiss on her sweaty cheek.

The gravel path cut across the hillside and disappeared around the bend. We hastily checked the car door, then began our ascent, refraining from talking so we wouldn’t disturb Annie. Despite the additional twenty pounds on his back, Michael kept a grueling pace. The only sounds besides the crunching of the gravel beneath our feet were the constant whirring of the cicadas and the distant hum of traffic from Highway 9. My shirt began to stick to my back and quickly became drenched under the arms. With a quick glance behind me to ensure that we were alone, I slid off my backpack for a moment to remove my shirt and continue the climb in my bra. Michael raised an eyebrow and shook his head in mock exasperation.

My heart softened as I watched Annie in her little cocoon, one plump hand resting on her father’s shoulder and her thumb on her other hand firmly implanted in her mouth. During our climb, I could occasionally hear frenzied sucking coming from the little bundle on Michael’s back, and it made me smile. She was worth every visit to the fertility clinic, every poke and prod from doctors, every ounce of despair. Even after all we had gone through, we almost lost her to placental abruption in the delivery room. Only an emergency C-section had saved her life. And mine. We longed for another child, but I wasn’t quite ready to accept the risk again.

We reached the crest in about thirty minutes. I quickly took off my backpack and rifled through it for Annie’s blanket. I laid it on the ground by the side of a pine tree and gently lifted the still-sleeping Annie. She stirred slightly and raised her ruffle-covered rump in the air. Her thumb found her mouth again and she settled back down.

I walked toward the edge where a coin-operated telescope was mounted, unnecessary for reveling in the beauty of our secluded spot. The twinkling skyline of Atlanta lay to the south and I could pick out the Bank of America tower rising higher than its sister skyscrapers. A halo of light, outlined in the purple tinge of dusk, surrounded the skyline in a gentle benediction. Genetti’s Comet glowed dimly on the horizon.

Michael approached and pressed his bare chest against my back. I reached behind me to grasp hold of him. His expert hands quickly unsnapped my bra and then slid around to cup my breasts. I laid my head on his shoulder as he planted lingering kisses on my neck.

“You taste salty,” he said as his lips traveled down to my shoulder.

I sighed, enjoying the caress of goose bumps as they traveled down my spine. “Michael, not here. Someone might see.” I made no move to step away.

Annie grunted in her sleep, and I shifted around in Michael’s arms. “Can you hold that thought until later?”

He touched my cheek, his fingers slowly traveling down to my neck. “If I have to.” He reached behind me and refastened my bra.

“I have something to cool you off.” I stepped back and walked toward where we had dumped our gear. “We should drink something so we don’t become dehydrated. I learned that in my new-mommy CPR class.” I squatted in front of my backpack and pulled out two bottles of water.

We sat next to each other, leaning against a scrubby tree trunk, and drank our water in companionable silence while waiting for night to fall completely. A soft snore came from Annie, and the rhythm of it lulled us both to a semiconscious stupor. Michael’s head sagged forward and I reached my hand up to wake him, only to find myself seemingly paralyzed. I willed my limb to move, but it lay limp and useless at my side. I struggled to keep my eyes open, but an unseen force seemed to be dragging me into a deep, dark slumber. I made an attempt to wiggle my toes, recalling how doing that had brought me out of bad dreams when I was a girl. Nothing moved; I was completely immobile. The last thing I remembered was reaching for Annie.

I dreamed I was running through darkness. My legs were leaden weights and would not propel me toward a dim light shining though the murkiness. A pervading sense of loss enveloped me, and I knew escape was neither imminent nor possible. A loud whirring sound buzzed in my ear and I turned my head from side to side to make it stop.

I woke up to find a cicada screeching loudly on the tree trunk next to my head. I struggled to orient myself for a moment until I remembered where I was. It was too dark to see my watch, but the sunlight filtering around the earth’s edge had turned the moon a vivid red. A black shadow had already hooded a quarter of the moon, causing me to recall the Mayan myth of a jaguar wolfing down the lunar orb.

I reached over to feel for Annie and my hands found the warm tangle of her hair. I moved my palm to her back to feel her strong rhythmic breathing and the heat of her body. Michael’s outline slumped asleep against the tree trunk next to me, and I decided not to disturb him just yet. I wanted a private moment with the comet alone before I had to share it. Standing, and trying to recall how much wine I had had at dinner, I walked to the clearing to get a better view of the eclipse. I caught a strong whiff of gardenias, which surprised me, as I didn’t remember seeing any on our climb up.

Genetti’s Comet hovered brightly in the darkened sky. A chill swept down my spine, raising the hair on the back of my neck. I shivered involuntarily and wrapped my arms around me. It was then that I realized that the insects had ceased their nocturnal chorus. I couldn’t hear the traffic anymore. Silence hugged the hilltop, enshrouding us. A strong wind began to blow, whipping my hair about my face, but the sound it made wasn’t the gentle whooshing noise that precedes a storm. Instead, the wind howled loudly and then softly, swirling around my head so I couldn’t determine the direction. The strong scent of gardenias assaulted my nose again, and I trembled with an unseen fear. My head pounded and the blood rushed through my ears, the pressure so intense that I fell to my knees.

Annie. Something was wrong and I had to get to Annie. I panicked, trying to reach the spot where I had left her in the dark. I stumbled on something hard and rough and fell to the ground. I cried out Michael’s name, but I couldn’t hear anything over the din of the wind. I crawled on my hands and knees, crying out their names. Only the wind answered me. My fingers grasped the edge of the blanket where Annie had been sleeping, and I began to sob with relief. I crawled over it until I realized it was empty. The bile of pure terror crept up my throat and I threw up. I was still gagging when a hand touched my shoulder.

Excerpted from Spinning the Moon by Karen White. Copyright © 2016 by Karen White. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.