- Publisher: Peachwood Press
- Available in: Ebook, Paperback, Large Print
- Published: October 10, 2017
Jack Bentley’s life fractured into jagged shards of pain and loneliness four months ago when his wife’s car plunged into the Snake River. Still reeling from the loss of his wife and infant son, Jack finds his world shaken again when he sees the ghost of his wife, Gina. But the truth she tells him changes everything: their son didn’t drown with her.
Now, Jack must find his son before he slips away forever. Haunted by loss and his wife’s plea, Jack finds himself diving into a mystery deeper than the river’s swift current. No power on Earth can reunite him with his little boy—and even help from beyond the grave may not be enough to bring Jack’s son back.
Here’s a sneak peek from this thrilling novel!
In the quiet before Jack Bentley opened his eyes that morning, he thought he heard Gina humming. He groaned and rolled over, cracking an eyelid at the empty side of his bed. She wasn’t there, no matter that he could have sworn he felt her near him. Jack had never understood how much you could miss someone until he lost her.
The sunlight slanting through the wooden blinds reflected off the glass beads of Gina’s necklace. They hung there silently on the peg by her dresser, four necklaces, like some sort of new age decoration for their bedroom. Jack had given two of them to Gina for Christmas—their last one together. He reached out with a trembling hand. A thin coating of dust had settled on top of the blue beads. He picked them up—they felt cool in his hands. Rubbing the dust off with the hem of his shirt, Jack thought about putting the jewelry away. The clothes in the closet, the purse hanging by the door, her shower gel and bath salts. They had always been there, and now she wasn’t.
He heard a creak from Hallie’s bed and glanced at his doorway as he put the necklace back on the peg. Taking in a deep breath, he moved to the one thing that kept the seams of his life from splitting wide open. His five-year-old daughter stood yawning in the doorway of her bedroom. Pink painted toenails curled into the carpet as she stretched her arms toward him.
“Mornin’, Sweetheart.” He picked her up and she wrapped her arms around his neck. “Did you sleep well?”
She nodded against his neck. For a moment, he wondered if he shouldn’t go today. Maybe if he stayed home, he could take a day for Hallie to try to help her, but how could he help her do what he couldn’t? He was tied up in knots inside from missing so much work, something completely against his nature. Worry nagged at him that he wouldn’t be able to provide for Hallie. And another worry that his construction work wouldn’t be enough to fill the holes in his heart.
Jack pressed his nose into his daughter’s brown curls. They matched his own light brown hair, but he wondered if her hair would go darker, like Gina’s, as she grew. He swallowed that thought and inhaled slowly. “Hmm, smells like a little monster in here. Should we brush it out?”
Hallie laughed—a low throaty laugh like Gina’s—and Jack forced himself to smile at his daughter. “Ready to go to Grandma’s today?”
Hallie nodded again. Jack set her down in the bathroom. “Hurry and get ready and I bet Grandma will have breakfast for us, okay?”
The corners of her mouth turned up slightly and she skipped into the bathroom.
Jack went through the motions of getting ready; trying to ignore the tightness in his chest every time he thought about what he would do today. The road he would travel. He hooked the belt buckle on his Wranglers and slipped on his cowboy boots. The faded brown leather needed a good polish. Gina had always reminded him of things like that before. He sucked in a breath, pursing his lips and cursing his memories—every one outlined with pain.
Hallie was quiet as usual as he loaded her into the cab of his blue Ford pickup, but no—it wasn’t usual, not like Hallie had been. It was the new normal and he hated how it had stolen her little-girl grins. The silence was deafening and yet he carried it with him everywhere. Even in a crowded place, he felt the absence of Gina—her silence consumed him. Her silence wrapped Hallie in a blanket of numbness so she didn’t have to face each day without her mother.
Jack drove for six minutes and pulled in front of Helen’s house next to the mailbox with Rasmussen printed in blue vinyl letters. The N on the Rasmussen name was peeling and Gina would have found a way to fix it. Gina and her mother had always been close so it was natural for Jack and Gina to find a home nearby. The distance seemed to lessen after Gina’s death. Jack and Helen’s grief met somewhere in the middle, neither able to overcome the sorrow of the woman they loved.
Hallie loved her grandma. Sometimes in Grandma’s company the silence would break and Hallie would speak. Jack longed for his daughter to recover—to be that smiling, giggling, chatterbox he loved so much.
He knocked twice on the rickety screen door and let himself in. “Good morning,” he called toward the sounds of the kitchen.
“You’re just in time for pancakes. Come and pull up a chair.” Helen wiped her hands on the red and white ruffled apron Gina had sewn for her.
Hallie wrapped her arms around Helen’s legs and Jack swallowed the memories bubbling from the pit of his empty stomach. “You know, I’m a bit behind, so I’ll let you two eat that stack of pancakes, right Hallie?” He winked, and she climbed up in the chair and picked up her fork.
Helen laughed. “At least take one of my blueberry muffins and a banana.” She grabbed a napkin and handed him the food.
“Thank you.” Jack squeezed her hand. He kissed the top of Hallie’s head. “Be a good girl for Grandma.”
She nodded and Jack waved as he headed for the door. Helen followed him. “Don’t worry. Hallie will be just fine.”
Jack hesitated. “That’s what the doctors keep telling me. They say she’ll talk in her own time, but I do worry.”
“I know, and that’s normal.” Helen smoothed out the ruffles on her apron again and tucked a strand of dark hair streaked with white behind her ear. “It’s four months today, isn’t it?” The tears gathered in her eyes as she asked the question she already knew the answer to. “I miss her so much.”
“Me too.” Jack tried not to think about how Gina had the same blue eyes as her mother. “I don’t know what we’d do without you.”
“I could say the same,” Helen whispered.
Helen put her arms around Jack’s middle and hugged him. His mother-in-law was just over five feet tall, so he always felt like a giant, leaning his six-foot-one frame over for a hug. “I’ll try not to be too late,” he said.
“Don’t worry,” Helen murmured, releasing him and patting his arm. “We’ll be fine.”
Jack nodded and hurried out to his truck. His eyes burned; and the broken edges of his heart seemed especially sharp today. He tried to do one of the relaxing breathing cycles his pastor had taught him, but he winced as the anguish tightened his lungs.
On the freeway toward Idaho Falls, his eyes flicked toward the low-hanging gray clouds in the distance. He set the cruise control and drove in silence, his lips moving in a wordless prayer—the same petition he sent up to the heavens every day. Please, Lord, help me get through this day.
He left the Snake River behind him for now, but it would crisscross over fields and sagebrush to eventually catch up with him again on his drive. Growing up in Heyburn, Idaho, Gina and Jack had spent their summers swimming in the Snake. Whether it was the actual river or one of dozens of irrigation canals spawning from the mammoth waterway, he’d never feared it. Jack Sr. owned a small fishing boat and one of Gina’s favorite memories was when Jack had taken her out on a date and the motor had failed in the middle of Lake Walcott. Jack swam nearly a half-mile towards shore before he was able to flag someone down to help them.
The memories overtook the pain, and for a moment he was so immersed in them he didn’t realize how quickly the bridge was approaching. This was the first time he’d attempted the commute since the accident. As a partner in a large construction firm, it was expected that much of his work was spread across the different sites he managed. He’d been fortunate to rely on others and do most of his work from home over the past few months, but there were several things that needed his personal attention and time this month. One of those was the progress of the side-by-side potato cellars going in on the Whitman farms. Each cellar was roughly the size of a football field and would be filled with potatoes stacked nearly twenty feet high. The construction check on the mammoth cellars couldn’t be neglected. And so with gut-wrenching anxiety he was headed down the same path that he’d made hundreds of times over the past ten years. His regular schedule included a day trip to the Idaho Falls area once a week, a two-hour commute from his home in Heyburn. He visited clients, interviewed contractors and usually took someone to lunch before checking construction sites and the progress they were supposed to be making.
Jack hadn’t planned on stopping, but just before he reached the bend in the road that connected to the bridge, he saw a flash of yellow—someone standing near the edge of the river. The tires squealed as he slammed on his brakes and pulled to the side of the road.
It was Gina. She wore the same clothes she had on when they pulled her from the river. But it was just his mind playing tricks on him, wasn’t it? He looked toward the water and saw her yellow blouse, the one with the silver buttons. She was barefoot, wearing tan capris, her hair dripping wet. Gina looked out toward the river as if searching for something.
Jack jumped from the truck and ran toward her, climbing over the railing on the freeway. He’d longed for a chance to see her, just one more time. She was there in front of him. All he wanted to do was hold her. Jack stumbled and looked down to find sure footing. When he looked back up, she was gone. The pain of losing her hit him full force and he slumped to the ground. Gina was gone. Jack knew that, but he couldn’t resist looking for her. He rubbed at his eyes with the palms of his hands. An eighteen wheeler rumbled by, the smell of exhaust lingering in the air for a moment before Jack’s nostrils filled with the familiar odor of moss tangled along the riverbank. He struggled to breathe, his mind circling around what must have been a grief-induced hallucination.
He sat there, his chest heaving, forcing down the hot ball of tears working its way up his throat when a memory assaulted him. A tiny bundle with blue booties and dark hair nestled against Gina’s breast. His son. It was Easton who always brought the tears to Jack’s eyes. His son, his little miracle, fit so perfectly in Gina’s arms.
After Hallie was born, Gina yearned for another baby, but after trying for three years, the doctors told her the endometriosis had overtaken one ovary, and the other fallopian tube was nearly blocked by scar tissue. They recommended a hysterectomy when they detected endometrial tissue on her kidneys. Gina begged for another chance. She went through another round of laparoscopic surgeries to clear out the endometriosis and went on a strict diet. A year later, she still wasn’t pregnant. Jack had done his best to console her, and Gina kept up smiles for Hallie, but he could see her pain.
They put away the crib and sold the other baby items. The following month, Gina surprised him with a brightly wrapped present that held three positive pregnancy tests. Easton was born eight months later, healthy, and sporting a few fat rolls at nine pounds, five ounces, and twenty-one inches long. He’d never seen Gina so happy. She loved her family, but it wasn’t complete without Easton.
Jack buried his face in his hands as the horrible sensation of loss washed over him. For a moment he thought about heading back home, but then he heard something. Lifting his head, he saw the branches of the Russian olive tree drifting lazily in a breeze. It wasn’t the wind. The traffic zoomed on behind him, but that wasn’t the sound he searched for. He wasn’t even sure he’d heard it, maybe he’d just felt it. He stopped and shook his head. What was wrong with him? One of his friends had told him how crazy she’d felt when her husband died. Jack wondered if he’d finally cracked.
The hair on the back of his neck stood up and gooseflesh scattered down his arms. Crazy or not, it was Gina’s voice. He had longed to hear her voice again, prayed for even a chance to dream of her, but there had been nothing. He stood, brushing the dirt from his pants and stared at the water churning twenty-five feet away. Each step brought him closer to the scene of the accident. He walked carefully toward the edge of the river, lost in tortured memories.
May fourteenth was not a typical day for a rainstorm in the Idaho desert, but four months ago they’d received an inch of rain in two hours. Gina had been on her way to meet him for lunch; an unexpected errand had brought her along the same path as his commute and so they’d planned a date. Hallie was at preschool. Seven-month-old Easton was asleep in the back seat, buckled into his car seat snug and warm.
The police officer had told Jack that Gina’s silver Camry was approaching the bridge when a pickup crossed the median and T-boned her. The force, matched with the freeway speeds, pushed Gina’s car into a roll off the road and into the raging waters of the Snake River.
“No, I can’t do this today,” Jack mumbled. He scrubbed at his eyes and took a ragged breath. His clients would understand, but it’d be hard on Toby. Toby Harmon was the owner of the construction firm and he’d covered for Jack since Gina and Easton’s death. Maybe Jack should try again next week. He turned to walk back toward his truck, uncertain as to what had just happened.
His mind felt foggy, buzzing with energy when a memory overcame him. He shook his head, but the images were vibrant and clear. Gina rocked Easton in the recliner, cuddling him, humming a melody that vibrated against the crown of his head. Easton sighed in his sleep, his perfect mouth sucking at his fist. Jack’s senses were jumbled but then he realized the memory wasn’t his, it was Gina’s. An overpowering feeling of love blocked out any noise from traffic, the rushing river, the whisper of wind. The only sense Jack had was of Gina’s love for Easton.
Keep reading River Whispers HERE