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A savage rape on hallowed ground. Secrets buried for decades by the town’s most influential family.
Now Ourania D’Andre will learn the Great Oak’s secrets as construction begins at the Fagan mansion. She can’t afford to turn down a job that promises to stir up the long-buried guilt—and the passion—she shares with powerful Troy Fagan.
She’s already juggling the most important job of her career with her new responsibilities as a foster mother for young Walt and Emma Korchek. And there’s a hard, older man on the construction crew with eyes void of emotion—cold and killing. The secrets of his brutal past will pose a grave threat to the children in her care. Will she find the courage to face him?
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“The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge is an emotionally charged novel that is beautifully written by Christine Nolfi. I do like a book that has you hooked into the story from page one. I found the story very moving and touching. The conclusion to the story is a very satisfying outcome.” – Nikki, Amazon Customer
“Though I expected this to be a romance book, it really wasn’t. For me, it was more about each character’s personal journey for peace. The horror of some of the characters is portrayed in such a way that we aren’t forced to watch, but we still feel the sense of terror that each character feels. Peppered with a few giggles here and there, this is a wonderful read for anyone who wants some entertainment with a little hope and faith on the side.” – Wendy, Amazon Customer
“The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge is fast-paced and impossible to put down. Steamy, poignant and with enough tension in some scenes for a thriller, the book will keep you on the edge of your seat. If you love stories about every-day people overcoming incredible odds, this book is for you!” – B Rap, Amazon Customer
He closed his eyes long enough to steady himself. “My crews are nearing break-through. The bedrooms in the south wing have to be cleared.” The announcement brought his mother up from her reclined position. “Ask your staff to pack away the antiques next week.”
“You’re breaking through to the mansion?” Jackie’s hand fluttered across her heart. “So quickly?”
“The construction schedule is tight.”
Her expression remained placid as she ran nervous fingers across her cheek. Even though it was late, her lips were polished and her eyes made up. The care she took with her appearance lured him back to the memory of a happy childhood. He’d been fascinated by the scents of bergamot and ylang-ylang kept in jewel-toned bottles in her master bath. The tube of lipstick she produced was a particular fascination. Spreading on the color, she chuckled softly at his mimicry as he puckered his lips. The mirror blended their images. He’d savored the moments when she’d let him hold the gold tube, the color as rich as her smile.
Troy loved his sister and his father. He adored his mother. In a family known for light, she never questioned his dark nature. And because they remained close, Troy sensed rather than saw her distress at the prospect of packing up Jason’s bedroom.
Her voice, when she spoke, was whisper-thin. “I thought we’d leave the packing until May.”
“It’s time, mother.”
Oblivious to the grief bearing down on them, Dianne said, “We should get started with the antiques and the Waterford. There are six bedrooms in the south wing. It is a big job.”
“I can’t involve the maids.” Jackie rubbed her arms even though the room was stifling hot. “All those valuables? I’ll do it myself.”
“I’ll help,” Dianne said. No doubt she was eager to keep the crews on schedule. “I’ll be on extended leave soon and bored out of my mind.”
“You can’t, pumpkin.”
“You don’t trust me with the crystal?”
“I do trust you but you’re so pregnant, you’re about to pop. Perhaps Bitsy will help. She’s older, careful—I’ll speak with her tomorrow.”
Dennis sent his wife a worried glance. “Who’ll cook if Bitsy packs?”
“Good heavens, dear. We can eat out.”
Dianne sighed heavily. “Pregnancy is not a handicap. I can do my part.”
“You’re not helping your mother.” Dennis palmed the blazing hair receding from his forehead. “If Frank were here he’d back me up.”
“This is ridiculous! I’m having a perfectly normal pregnancy. I’m happy to pack the Waterford.”
“Not while I’m head of the household, you won’t.”
“Daddy, we can all agree that Bitsy is the head of the household. We’re lucky she puts up with us. She’s not even Irish.”
Jackie swung her legs over the side of the chaise lounge. She began pacing before the fireplace. Dianne and his father, engaged in a cheery squabble, didn’t see the tightening of skin between her eyes. Her shoulders lifted to her ears, as if the sky rained shards of glass and she stood beneath the peril.
Rising swiftly, Troy took her by the wrist. “I’ll help.” She barely reached midway up his chest and the familiar question dogged him: how had such a delicate woman brought the strapping infant he’d been into the world? “Pick the times when we’ll work. I’ll rearrange my schedule,” he added, and the tenderness warming his heart carried into his words, gentling them.
She hesitated and his attention glided to her feet. They were encased in stylish sandals, thin bands of gold.
She tottered on the thin heels. “I can’t impose. You have the addition to build.”
“My crews can manage.” He took her arm to steady her. “You can’t do this alone.”
“I’ve scheduled movers for the second week of May. I’ll ask them to send over a few men early to crate the valuables.”
“You’ll let the movers pack your antiques?” More than a few were museum quality. “Be reasonable.”
Gently she placed her palm flat on his chest, startling him. She made a slow circle around his heart as if her touch had the power to repair the broken mass. “You can’t stand this either, dear. I don’t want you upset.”
“I won’t be.”
The lie came easily. It lifted his mother’s gaze. He cursed the fear blooming on her face, which went undetected by Dianne and his father. They didn’t see the ghost she’d glimpsed or how frightened she was of setting foot in Jason’s bedroom.
Her hand fell to her side. “It would be a terrible hardship. You were so close to your brother.”
Without thinking, he drew back the curtain on her grief. “One foot in front of the other,” he said.
Tears pricked her eyes. “One step,” she agreed.
She returned to her seat. Troy knew he’d won.
We mustn’t cry forever.
After Jason’s funeral, she’d whispered the words to buoy his spirits. Troy had stood in the foyer with Dianne pressed to his hip as his father stepped outside to escort the last guests to their cars. His mother shut the door. And Dianne, too young to comprehend the break in their lives or that Jason was gone forever—she pulled at the hem of her lacy dress because she wanted to change into play clothes. His throat bleached, Troy swallowed down tears. His mother retreated from the door with the finality of a woman walking through ashes. She’d been as ravaged as he when she’d said, we mustn’t cry forever. Always walk forward, Troy. Never look back.
No matter how many years passed, the words remained nested in his heart. Always walk forward. He wanted to believe he had. He’d tried to erect a new life despite the wreckage of Jason’s murder.
Yet as work on the site accelerated he began to wonder if, in fact, he remained shackled to the past. Working with the carpenters to frame in a room, he’d stop abruptly to nurse his doubts. After the crews left for the day, he’d emerge from the turbid depths of his thoughts to find himself alone with the sawdust drifting down and the silence crashing around him. Assessing his life was torture. He’d never married. Work anchored his days. At thirty-five, the path into middle age was laid out. He’d achieved success yet carried the same self-doubts he’d always known, even before Jason’s murder.
He considered Ourania yet refused to examine the emotion burdening him whenever he invited her into his thoughts. He refused to relive the night long ago he’d spent with her beneath the Great Oak. He didn’t dare. It was less painful—though more troubling—to ponder instead that night at Dinks and the mason’s eerie performance with the darts.
During the following week the man was absent from the site. His departure was a relief. The masons weren’t scheduled to return until May to brick in the fireplace and lay the slate for the patio. As the carpenters toiled with finish work, Troy prepared the site for break-through.
Day by day, he rarely glimpsed Ourania. His threat to fire her was a galvanizing force. She cut the electrical in every section of the south wall and rewired the mansion at record speed. If Crash and the carpenters roughed in a room ahead of schedule, she followed within hours with the electrical. He came to admire her finesse.
On a Monday near the end of April, Troy drove down to the factory. After twenty minutes of cajoling, he secured a promise from his mother to begin packing the bedrooms in the south wing the following morning. It would be just the two of them.
Returning to the construction site, he allowed his heart to carry him up the mansion’s steps. He wavered in the foyer. The low hum of a vacuum cleaner barely nicked the silence. Before his nerve might vanish he ascended the wide staircase and strode into the south wing.
The shadowed hallway was thickly carpeted. The muffled thump of hammers reverberated from the new wing. Each bedroom door was tightly shut against the memories. Above, the row of chandeliers swayed.
Squinting, he patted his fingers across the wall in search of the light switch. Before he located it, he glimpsed movement in the shadows.
Far down the hall, Ourania crept from a bedroom. She couldn’t see him in the dim light. He meant to approach to ask for an update on her progress with the fuse boxes. The finality with which she closed the door rooted him to the spot.
When she turned and placed her palms flat against the wood, a crushing agony filled him.
She made small circles on the walnut plank. The gesture carried the same affection as his mother’s when she’d circled her palm on his chest in a fruitless attempt at healing. Was Ourania attempting a similar rescue? She couldn’t save the girl she’d been, wild and careless. She couldn’t erase the past. That she’d try to make peace with it all was a heartrending display of stoicism.
The diminished light hid her face. Yet he caught her whispered prayer as she bent her head. When she straightened, she stared at the door. His soul hollowed out.
And he understood: she’d come to the south wing for the same reason as he—to say goodbye to Jason.
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