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Hand Me Downs

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Blurb

A Haunting Legacy

John and Branwen face challenges as a couple—his violent past and her unwanted pregnancy. Just when life threatens to overwhelm them, Branwen receives an offer of help from an unlikely source.

Now, John must face his lifelong fears to find the strength to fight an ancient power and save Branwen from her family legacy.

But first, John and Branwen must stop hiding things—from each other and from themselves—and learn to face the truth, no matter their fear of the consequences.

A haunting fantasy story about the lasting power of family legacy.

A page-turning tale of love and sacrifice.

An excerpt from Hand Me Downs:

John was in the grips of an insistent memory that wouldn’t let him rest.

Whenever an upsetting memory caught at him like this, especially from his difficult seventeenth year, John had learned long ago it was best not to resist. Something inside was going to have its way with him. Fighting would only make it worse.

This particular memory hadn’t demanded his attention for so long. Until tonight, he’d dared hope he was done with this one.

The odd solitude of an overnight flight was preferable to a huge family gathering for this sort of ordeal, and certainly better than the twisted filter of his nightmares.

At least while he was awake, he knew the worst night of his life was when he’d at last started to take control and change the course he was on.

His dreaming life gave him no such relief.

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Chapter 1
Chapter 1 John Falconer could feel the nightmare coming. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes. The international concourse, like all the others at the immense Atlanta airport, seemed to follow the curvature of the earth. The opposite end was invisible through crowd and distance. Swarms of people moving at different speeds passed in front of him, thick enough to nearly hide the bright geometrical shapes on the carpet. Most walked as quickly as humanly possible without breaking into an undignified luggage-dragging run. Groups chatted and strolled, always stretched most of the way across the hallway, oblivious to everyone dodging around them. A few were desperate enough to run, their wide-eyed, near panicked expressions always the same. After ten—no, fifteen—minutes of waiting for his wife and watching, John was amazed the incompatible streams of humans so rarely collided in the middle. A steady number of slower moving people detoured out of the constant flow toward the water fountain beside him, pulling plastic or metal or glass water bottles out of their luggage as they walked. Anyone who planned ahead enough to bring their own bottles probably managed to arrive early enough to have time to fill them. Or their connections had cooperated. Years of anxious transfers through Atlanta and other huge airports left John relieved to live here now, to begin and end flights at the busiest airport in the world rather than rushing through himself. Instead of checking the time yet again, John glanced up at the curved security mirror in the ceiling. His torso seemed abnormally short and stubby, his legs far too long. He rotated his neck, trying to loosen the tension that had been building like clouds on the horizon all day. Heaviness in his head and knots in his shoulders let him know this wouldn’t be an easy flight. He was determined to be patient, or at least calm. He leaned forward, making sure he wasn’t getting out too far into the surging crowd. He spotted Gate 17 only a little farther on. They should still have plenty of time. He concentrated on the tile against his back, still cool where he’d sweated under his backpack in January temperatures near seventy degrees. After years of freezing through winters far to the north in St. Louis, the occasional spring-like day here in Atlanta was a treat. He wasn’t sure he’d still feel that way when the long, humid summer really settled in, even compared to the broiling Midwest. After sixteen years in the US, John missed the weather in Scotland more than just about anything else. A bittersweet reminder of the only thing he missed more nearly collided with his legs. Two small twin boys, probably five years old, had apparently been racing each other across the crowded hallway toward the water fountains. At a sharp word from their weary looking father, the boys put their identical curly mops of flaming red hair together and whispered too low for John to hear. Conference concluded, both looked up. “We’re sorry, sir,” they said in almost perfect unison. “We just wanted a drink of water.” “It’s quite all right. Please help yourself.” Two sets of blue eyes widened when John spoke, and both boys covered their mouths and giggled. John laughed under his breath, trying to remember how long it had been since someone reacted to his accent like that. Even after so long away, his origins in Glasgow came through loud and clear. The boys grinned at John, then at each other, before racing off in the other direction. The man pursuing them—now accompanied by a woman who was clearly the source of the red hair—stopped halfway across the hall, sighed, and adjusted their course. John had often wondered how his own parents would have coped with two little boys. Not redheads, but each with his own thick, wavy black hair. If his twin James had survived, their parents would have worn those exhausted, exasperated faces even more often than they had with him. Despite his giving them plenty of stress and frustration, or maybe because they’d managed to raise him to adulthood despite of it, John was closer to his parents than anyone else. Besides Branwen. Who was still in the restroom, more than twenty minutes on. “We are ready to begin boarding British Airways Flight 828 with non-stop service to Manchester. Will our Business Class passengers please approach Gate E 17?” John knew Branwen stood beside him before he saw her. Since the first day they’d met, he’d always known when she was nearby, and often how she was feeling. He’d never had that with other people as strongly or clearly. Lately she’d been able to block him sometimes, and he’d missed their connection terribly. Right now she felt sick, loud and clear. Underneath, so hidden he barely caught it, she felt frightened. Forgetting his own body’s stressful warning signs, John focused on his wife. “Branwen, what’s wrong?” She tried to smile, but the normally sweet expression clashed with the greenish tinge of her skin. She’d pulled her thick brown hair back, and the curling bits around her face were wet. Her dark brown eyes were puffy and bloodshot. “I’m fine. Something I ate last night didn’t sit well, that’s all.” John touched her cheek with the backs of his fingers, the same gesture his mother still used when he wasn’t feeling well. Her skin was colder than the water would explain. Even in the cool airport, that only increased his unease. He’d put her restless night down to travel nerves, but now he wasn’t so sure. “We’ve eaten there before and it didn’t bother you. Sure you’re all right to fly?” John regretted asking before he’d finished. His bride had made it painfully clear she didn’t want to go on this holiday at all. Her being ill was only the newest thing making it clear the whole trip a bad idea. His bad idea. She scowled, and anger pushed the fear away. “I said I’m fine, John. If we’re going, we need to go now.” She slung her backpack over her shoulder and strode away. John stood nearly a foot taller, but when she was in a bad mood he had to struggle to keep up. With her in this sort of especially rotten temper, he was better off not even trying. He picked up his own backpack and followed. As if on cue, he heard the announcement for boarding in the main cabin. They’d missed their chance to get seated and settled early. Now he’d have to wait in line for a very long time with her in a very foul mood, only to sit beside her for what already promised to be a very long flight. John reached out as he reached her side. The fear was still buried, hidden behind the wall she’d somehow built around herself. At least he’d had plenty of practice lately in trying to understand what was bothering her without knowing how she felt. He’d learned not to let his own temper get the best of him, long before he’d met Branwen. The blinding hot but quickly spent fury of his youth wouldn’t have gone well with the slow burn she could sustain for what felt like ages to him. The one time in fourteen years he’d let himself get caught up in an argument with her had led to a horrible fight, only a few short weeks ago. An unforgivable lapse on his part he was determined not to repeat. “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well, love.” John put an arm around her and kissed the top of her head. “Can I do anything?” After a few seconds, Branwen leaned against him, turning her face against his chest. “I’ll be okay. I’m sorry I snapped at you. I’m just dreading this flight.” Dreading a flight couldn’t possibly explain the fear. She’d flown far too often since birth for that to make sense, but he decided to let it go for now. They had plenty of time ahead of them on this holiday to find each other again. When they finally boarded, thankfully none of the rows were full. John himself dreaded the flight, but that wasn’t anything new. A welcome benefit of his new job was these business class seats, with extra room and quiet. John never spent much of any flight sitting still, though. He’d have room to wander while Branwen and nearly everyone else slept. Anything to pass the time. Even knowing he’d have space to move around during the night, he still felt uneasiness creeping around his edges. No matter how Branwen might be feeling, she could always be counted on to be asleep before the plane left the ground. By the time they accelerated for takeoff, she had the blanket pulled up to her chin and her eyes closed. John flipped through the in-flight magazine without seeing it, waiting for the signal to begin his walks around the cabin. They’d leveled off but hadn’t heard the all-clear for moving around when Branwen sat straight up in her seat. She stared at John for a second, then her face screwed up into a grimace. She put one hand over her mouth and grabbed for the seatbelt. “You’re not ill again?” She stood and ran toward the restroom. “Ma’am? Please take your seat,” called one of the flight attendants. John reached for his own seatbelt as Branwen pushed the door shut with a bang. The same flight attendant spoke to him, more insistently this time. “Sir, you’ll have to wait!” He ignored her and walked forward, feeling like he was going up a steep hill. He heard her retching even over the roar of the engines. The flight attendants at this end of the cabin talked to him now, asking him to go back to his seat. Temper and tension and worry pushed him far too close to anger. He made no effort to hide it when he glanced their way. They all fell quiet. He waited, one hand on the door frame, listening to his wife make the most painful noises he could imagine. She was rarely ill, and he couldn’t remember the last time she’d thrown up. If he was right about her restless night, this made several times in just a few hours. John had an uncomfortable certainty something worse was going on. He jumped when one of the flight attendants touched his arm. “I am not going back to my seat until she comes out,” John said, dismayed at how close he was to losing control of himself altogether. “No sir, it’s fine now.” She gestured to the darkened seatbelt sign. “Can I get your wife anything?” “She’s not usually like this, I don’t know.” John raked his fingers through his hair. “Maybe a ginger ale?” “Right away.” A few seconds later, he heard the rush of the toilet flushing and the door opened. This time Branwen’s face wasn’t greenish; it was near gray. Her eyes were again red, and fresh tears welled up when she saw him. Her misery and fear amplified John’s helplessness. “Branwen, please, what’s going on?” “I told you, dinner last night,” she said in a shaky voice. “I’ll be fine.” The flight attendant met them at their seats, a glass full of amber liquid bubbling away in her hand. “I’ll take it, thank you,” John said. “Could you bring water, please? I’m afraid she’ll be dehydrated.” Branwen took the glass but didn’t drink. She held her body rigidly in her seat, eyes closed, mouth tight. When John touched her cheek again, she was hot and sweating. “Can you get some of this down?” She shook her head without opening her eyes. John took the bottle of water from the flight attendant, then turned back to Branwen. “Please, love, try some water if you can. Eight more hours of this in dry air and you’ll keep getting worse.” John had never forgotten his own brush with serious dehydration not long after he’d moved from Glasgow to St. Louis, a seventeen-year-old kid with no idea just how brutal the American Midwestern weather could be. One good long run on a hot, muggy afternoon taught him the dangers of throwing up liquid faster than he could drink it. If Branwen had been dehydrated for hours already, she could be in real trouble long before they landed. “I don’t want any water. It’ll pass.” John gently turned her face toward his, and she finally opened her eyes. They were narrowed, but not in pain. “I know you don’t feel like it. But if you’ve got food poisoning, you have to stay hydrated. Once this starts it’s hard to stop. You’ve got to get something down.” “I don’t have food poisoning. Just let it go.” John drew back at the furious mental push from her. “You’ve thrown up several times in just a few hours. If it’s not food poisoning, then what’s going on?” “I’m fine, John,” Branwen said more loudly, this time pushing his hand away. “Let it go.” The thought of Branwen getting worse with hours over the Atlantic ahead of them mixed badly with the uneasiness he’d been feeling all day. Growing up with a doctor and a teacher had taught him not to panic over nothing. But John did know how to recognize a serious problem before it was too late. “I’m going to see if they have anything on board for you.” Branwen grabbed his wrist with a painful grip. “John, sit down,” she whispered, glaring at him. “I’m not dying. I’ll drink the damn water if you just back…the hell…off.” John froze, hurt and anger perfectly balanced within him. “What are you trying to do?” Branwen said, her voice rising. “How far do you want to push? I didn’t see a shouting cabin on the way in. Should we keep going and see what happens anyway?” He sat back, aware of other passengers looking their way. Branwen swallowed all the ginger ale without stopping, slamming the glass down hard enough to make more people glance uneasily at them. She grabbed the water bottle out of his hand. John was afraid to move. That horrible fight, the one they hadn’t even begun to recover from, had never quite left his mind over the past few weeks. Now he felt a breath away from being back in the same furious nightmare. Branwen’s brow knotted as she stared at the seat in front of her. When she looked back into his eyes, her own weren’t nearly as cold and angry. “Listen, I know you’re worried. If I get sick again, I’ll ask for something. I promise. I’m asking you to drop it for now. Please.” “What do you want me to do?” “You can let me get some sleep. I hardly got any last night. I’ll drink the water, and we’ll see how I feel once we land. I’ll let you know if I need anything else.” Her face softened, and he was surprised to see her blinking back tears. She reached for his hand. After the lonely void of the past few weeks, the connection between them, strong and steady, was more vital than the air he breathed. “I’m sorry, I’m not being myself. I love you, John. I love you.” Too off-balance to do anything else, John stroked her hair. “I love you too. Get some rest.”

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