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Free Reads From the Genre-istas will close to story posts in February of 2015.
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ill do Encore Postings each Friday beginning Jan. 9th. Thank you for your interest and support!


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Devil of Dunmoor

by Christy Carlyle

[Due to a family emergency, Christy was unable to write a new Valentine's story for today. We decided to re-post her most popular story to date, The Devil of Dunmoor. Enjoy!]

“You cannae go there, lass! Not on All Hallow’s Eve of all nights.” Adelaide Morton heard the old woman’s voice tremble with fear as she spoke and the meager glow cast by the single candle made her familiar face appear drawn and eerie. Addy ignored the shiver that skittered across her skin and gave Senga a reassuring smile. She reached out to offer some comfort, but the cook grasped her hand with all the force her aged body could muster.

            “They say the devil lives there. The Evil One himself.” Senga’s voice was high and desperate as it echoed off the cold stone walls of the kitchen. Some hidden chink in the stones admitted a breeze to rustle the copper pots hanging from hooks above the oven. One pot scraped a grating path along the stone wall and Addy searched the darkness for the source of the noise. A gust of wind rapped at the window and they both jumped.

            Addy stood and turned toward the still warm oven, chafing her hands above the heat. She couldn’t allow superstitious fears to deter her. “Those are rumors, Senga. Legend. Superstition. I have been up to the stones before. Further than the stones. To the house itself.”

            Senga raised her hands to her mouth. “No, lass. You never.”  
          “How do you think I healed him?” Adelaide had known Senga all of her life and yearned to tell her the truth. But it wasn’t her truth to tell. It was his secret and for what he gave her, she would pay him anything. Silence was the least of what she would give.
          Addy could let Senga think that she met the devil at the ancient stone circle and made a deal for the health of her brother. She could even allow her to believe that Lucifer himself had lured her into his decrepit manor house that lay on the crag beyond. What she could not do was breach his trust.
There was no doubt Senga was trustworthy. The woman had been more than a family cook. Unlike the parade of nannies and governesses, she had been a constant. Whether Addy had needed a late night cup of warm milk to chase away bad dreams or a sympathetic ear to listen to her woes, Senga had been there where her mother could not be. Addy had killed her own mother in childbirth. That was never how her father put it, of course, but his coldness towards her often made her wonder if that is how he felt about the whole dreadful matter.
Addy knew his old grief was compounded when her father had lost his second wife the previous autumn. Caroline had lived long enough to mother her own child, but only for five years. Now William, Addy’s little brother, lay weak and feverish in his bedroom above. He had been sick so many times in his short life that Addy had lost count. But this illness was different. It clung on with vicious tenacity, imprisoning him in a cycle of coughing and fever that racked his small body. He had shown such signs once before and Addy had found the answer. Now she had to seek out that answer again. She would see him again. The thought quickened her breath and stoked a heat in her chest. She grasped her abandoned cup of tepid tea and gulped down the liquid that Senga brewed dark enough to choke a weak man.
      “I must go now. There is no time to dither. With this storm, you know he will worsen. I cannot allow that. I cannot lose him.” The thought of laying that precious little body in the earth next to his mother, next to her mother...no. Addy felt the hot sting of a tear at the corner of her eye and swiped it away before Senga could see.
     “You’re a reckless girl, Adelaide Mary Morton.” Senga stood and crossed her arms across her chest as if she would stand sentry at the kitchen door and deny Addy the right to cross the threshold.    
      “I’ll not allow you to go.”

      Addy pulled her father’s tattered old overcoat from a hook near the oven and collected the scarf that she’d perched near the fire to absorb a bit of its warmth. She tied her bonnet quickly and approached Senga. She had intended to give her a peck on the cheek and head off to meet the devil, but the woman’s tired eyes held her fast.
“My dear, I am hardly a child anymore and I know what I am about. I told you, I have been there before and yet stand before you all in one piece. I will be fine, but Willy may die if I do not go.”
“There is evil in those stones. And God only knows what dwells in the house beyond. In the village, they say that bodies go missing from their graves...”
“Nonsense. They buried Mr. Cuthburt in the spring and I am certain he is still in the ground." Addy softened her tone. "You put flowers at his stone just last week.” Senga had been sweet on old man Cuthburt and it was clear the shopkeeper was smitten too, but he had been a quiet, shy sort. And he’d waited too long.
Addy put her hand on the door latch and looked back to give Senga one last smile before heading out into the blustery autumn night.
“Wait!” Senga rushed at her in the gloom and thrust an object into her hand. It appeared to be some kind of root, though dessicated and washed clean. “‘Tis a talisman. Henbane. I pray it will protect you. Now, get on with you, lass. I will wait up for your return.”
There was no use arguing with her. Addy had learned that lesson well. She leaned in to kiss the tissue-soft skin of Senga’s wrinkled cheek and heard her whisper, “God speed, my girl.”        
           Halfway to the stone circle, Addy acknowledged to herself that Senga was right. She was reckless and a fool to boot. Making one’s way across the moor was difficult enough on such a stormy night, but the darkness and rain only added to the trial. She had rushed off without lighting a lantern and though the moon was full, fierce winds chased clouds across the sky, obscuring its glow.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Through the Lens

by Mae Pen

      Cassandra inhaled the warm musky scent of things growing. The roughness of the potting bench beneath her hands centered her in her surroundings. Eleven years. Today marked the eleventh year since the horrible accident that had blinded her. She blinked, hoping by some miracle that she would be able to see again. It was just one of the curses of this day. Sighing she turned back to the delicate task of potting her new orchid. The moss squished between her fingers with the excess of liquid from the transport. Cassandra shook her head. Some people would never learn.
Glass clattered in the hallway inside the house. The gruff grumbling of John's voice rumbled through the closed French doors. For a brief second a smile graced her lips. Just as quickly it vanished leaving behind the emptiness she'd been fighting lately. Though she loved her father dearly, he wasn't enough to bring her out of the blackness that was swallowing her whole. Not even her beloved gardening was doing the trick.
Her eyes burned as she fought not to cry. Her glass encased sanctuary felt more like a glass walled prison. Jackson's voice floated through the glass panes. She frowned. She hadn't expected him today. In fact, she'd expressly forbidden him from visiting. She didn't want to see anyone. She snorted. See. Right.  She moved to the far side of the conservatory hiding behind the large palm fronds. The smoothness of the leaves reminded her of silk against her skin.
The French door opened. The woodsy sandalwood that was purely Jackson drifted to her. She closed her eyes inhailing the treasured essence. She could always tell Jackson was near by his scent alone. The heavy clomp of his boots against the tile floors told her he was moving further in looking for her. She took a tiny step back and winced as her shoulder bumped the glass wall.
"I know you're in here, Cassy."
For a minute she debated if she should say anything. His footsteps stopped in front of her hiding spot. Shoulders slumping she knew she'd been found.
"I told you I didn't want to see anyone today. Including you."
"You know I'm not going to let you brood today."
"Brood? You think I'm brooding? Lose your sight and see how you feel." She pushed past him moving back to the orchid. The light scent of the plant usually brought her a semblance of calm.
Jackson caught her wrist before she went too far past him. His calloused fingers pressed against the pulse beating rapidly beneath her skin.
"You’re brooding. As you do every year on this day. It's time to let it go, Cassy."
"Let it go? I can't just let it go Jackson. I can't see!" She tugged her wrist back but he only tightened his grip. She swallowed the large lump threatening to burst free. This was why she hadn't wanted to be near anyone.
"I know Cassy. Do you think you let anyone forget?"
"You don't understand." She pulled her wrist again. He let go. She stumble back a step before catching herself. She hadn't really expected him to let go. Sometimes he was like a dog with a bone.
"I understand better than you think. You weren't the only one who suffered that day."
"I lost my eyesight. What did you lose?"
He was silent for several minutes. If it hadn't been for the whisper puffs of his breath and the lack of the door opening and closing, Cassy would have thought he had left. She jumped when he spoke just over her shoulder.

"I lost my conspirator. The one person that willingly went with me wherever I went and got into the same trouble I did. I lost my best friend." He tried to hide the anguish he felt, but the gruffness of his words seared themselves into his heart. She stood so stiff before him. He desperately wanted to rub her shoulders to get her to relax. His fingers itched reminding him of the wrapped package he still held. Jackson laid his forehead down on her shoulder. She didn't move away, but she didn't relax either.
"We still spend time together Jack."
"It's not the same. You're not the same. Your father's not the same."
"I know that." She took a deep breath then let it out. The tension in her body left.
"I brought you a gift." He spoke lifting his head from her shoulder. He deposited the package on the workbench before her.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Today's Knight

By Robin Weaver

Please don’t let him see me.

After a full day of mommy duty, Annie Addison couldn’t conjure up enough energy to deal with Lance Walker. She ducked behind her open trunk, praying for a bit of luck. The appearance of a size twelve Nike indicated good fortune would not be forthcoming.

Busted, she lifted her head, whacking her noggin on the raised trunk. “Yeow. Quit stalking me.”

She massaged the top of her head, only slightly mollified when he began to sputter. “I…I’m not stalking you. Just wanted to make sure you got into the building safely.”

“Oh, pleeaaase.” Her southern twang emerged with her temper. “It’s a secure parking lot with a guard less than fifty feet away.”

The parking lot light revealed the pinkish glow creeping over Lance’s face, making Annie regret her verbal attack. The man annoyed her simply by breathing, but he wasn’t that bad. Not if one liked the intelligent, hunky sort.

Delete that thought. Lance purchased his clothes at Nerds ‘R’ Us and refused to open the blinds because the mean ole sun created a glare on his computer screen.

She focused on the negatives, doggedly ignoring his body, ripped from regular workouts, and refused to envision the way his gray-green eyes twinkled when he smiled. If she didn’t concentrate on his pesky nature, she might have to admit he was better than not bad.

No way. Her life precluded having time, or use, for a man, even one that seemed nice. Her efforts centered around two jobs, a degree yet to be earned, and a three-year-old angel who reminded Annie each day that men couldn’t be trusted.

Maybe she should just tell him about Natalie. Even a pursuer as ardent as Lance would run if he discovered her maternal secret.

After grabbing her tote, she scurried toward the building, hoping to escape both Lance and her thoughts. At the gate, she set down her bundle to swipe her badge. A hand grabbed her canvas bag before it touched the ground. “Let me carry that.”

She smirked when Lance stumbled at the unexpected weight. “If you had half a brain, Walker, you’d stay away from me.”

“Brains are overrated.”

So was the cute grin he flashed.

“Let’s grab a coffee during break.”

Annie made a production of her sigh. “Giving you credit for half a brain was fifty percent over-inflated. The answer is no.”

She passed through the revolving bars, leaving Lance to manage her oversized tote. His long legs enabled him to catch her at the elevator, even lugging her bag and his backpack. “Is it my breath?”

“Yeah. That’s it.” She bit her lip to keep from laughing when he ran his tongue over his teeth.

She jerked her bag from his hand. “It isn’t your breath, it’s the body odor.”

He sniffed at his armpits. “Body odor?”

“I’m kidding, Walker.” His downcast face caused her tone to soften. “I can't afford fancy coffee.” The company paid well for her voice-overs, but between tuition, daycare and rent, she still needed to waitress to cover expenses.

“Come on. My treat.”

“I’m not going out with you. Period, the end.”

He raced for the door, grabbing it just in time to smack her shin.

“Ouch!” She pierced him with a nasty look. “You don’t take rejection well, do you?”


She ignored the concern etched on his features. Red welt or not, his eyes stared at her calf and partially exposed thigh. She jerked her skirt down. “Don’t.”

Lance blinked. “Annie, I wasn’t…ah, forget it.” He lifted his head, staring at the ceiling, but continued to hold the door open.

She hadn’t been so “anti-men” during her first month at Interactive Action, but as Romeo wannabes grew bolder and pick-up lines grew more ridiculous, she’d wrapped herself in protective iciness. Bob from the accounting department would use the accident as an excuse to stroke her knee and Lance’s buddy, Arnie, would look up her skirt. To be fair, Lance wasn’t like those bozos.

Of course he is. After he got her in the sack, she’d become a statistic. She’d learned that lesson the hard way. Courtesy of Natalie’s dad.

“I’m perfectly capable of opening my own doors.”

His eyes met hers. “Duh. Trying to be chivalrous here. And you couldn’t open anything carrying that bag. I’m surprised you can even walk. What’s in here anyway?”

Her hands clutched the bag protectively. In her haste, she’d grabbed the wrong tote. No way would she tell him the bag held her daughter’s things: roller skates, clothes, and dumbbells, because Natalie wanted to lift weights like mommy.

To distract his attention, she snapped, “Chivalrous? This is your idea of chivalry?” She pointed at her shin, the bump already making the transition from red to blue. “In the Middle Ages, men opened doors for women because the doors were heavy. Chivalry wasn’t just a grand gesture, it had a purpose.”

“Really? Then chivalry is dead because there’s nothing I can do for you that you can’t do for yourself.” A boyish smile erased the dejection on his face. “Except, maybe, buy you a fancy coffee?”

She wanted to kick his shin with her uninjured limb. Men thought spending a little cash solved everything. “Surely your genius brain can come up with something more original than holding a door open, especially if you must break my leg in the process.”

“I could say ‘thank you’ when you let me buy you a fancy coffee.”

“Nice try, but that’s just courtesy.”

“Ah ha! You said courtesy.” He grinned a Cheshire Cat grin. “The dictionary defines chivalry as ‘bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women.’”

Her eyes widened. “OMG! You looked the word up? You need to get a life. You're becoming a terminal nerd.”

The pun hadn’t been intentional but they both laughed. The propeller-head probably memorized the definition of chivalry for the game he worked on, Gwain’s Ghost. Not to impress her.

“Courtesy is important, Walker, but chivalry is a combination of all the things in your definition.”

“Tell you what, I’ll come up with an example of modern chivalry if I can explain my idea over dinner. On Tuesday.”

She narrowed her eyes. Tuesday would be her first day off in weeks. And Valentine’s Day. “Why would I do that?”

Friday, February 15, 2013

An Unlikely Engagement

By: Deanne Wilsted

St. Valentine stood in the doorway of the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum and blew on his bare fingers. Though cold weather would never affect a saint, especially one who’d been dead for two-thousand years, give or take a few, he enjoyed looking the part of a normal person going about his everyday business. And while his official business vexed him, his unofficial cover as Marketing Director for the museum fit him like a well-worn Roman robe. After all, what else was he but the ultimate marketing manager, albeit of love?

When God had directed him to lead Mandy and Ryan toward the alter St. Valentine had been more than a little confused. Having the ability to hear the thoughts of those in love was a distinct advantage when arranging unions. And, over the time he had been studying this couple Mandy, the sophisticated brunette’s, thoughts had clearly been very centered on marriage. But try as St. Valentine might, all he’d been able to read from Ryan, the tall athletic looking guy, had only ever been stress. He hoped today, of all days that would change and he might understand God’s plan in this union.

From his spot behind the cracked open door, he watched Ryan take Mandy’s hand and lead her toward him. St. Valentine put aside his doubts and waited for his perfectly orchestrated scene to unfold, ready to step in if needed.

“Ryan honey,” the woman said through gritted teeth and a pasted on smile, “I’m pretty sure the museum closes at five-thirty.”

“Huh!” Ryan shot her a puzzled frown. “I could swear the brochure said six-thirty.”

Normally St. Valentine would have loved the intrigue and the excitement of what was about to unfold, but Mandy’s thoughts disrupted him: Some make-up date. Her disappointment was tangible.

Ignoring her, Ryan pushed open the door where and led the way into the center atrium of the museum. St. Valentine stepped back, into the shadows of a nearby alcove.

Behind them St. Valentine heard Mandy’s gasp, and like a prism, her vision of the atrium was superimposed over his own and Ryan’s.

They were alone in the Italianate courtyard since, as Mandy had assumed, visiting hours were technically over. As a newly platinum sponsor of the museum though, Ryan had been given special consideration. Around them white sculpted columns rose three stories up to the metal and glass roof. Every season in the atrium garden was different. Although the choice of design was entirely up to the museum, Ryan could not have chosen a better theme had he created it himself.

It was the time of year for the white garden; when every plant shone in either a shade of green or a perfectly pure white. Adding to the luminescence, white votive candles shimmered in the arched, indoor window openings and led the way along pebbled pathways. And in the center of the garden, a table covered in a lacey white tablecloth flaunted a candelabra which illuminated and reflected light off Royal Daulton china, leaded Waterford crystal, and sterling silver flatware.

St. Valentine raised one long fingertip and a pianist on the balcony overhead began to play Rachmaninoff. Silently Ryan led Mandy across the entry and over to the table.

“I’m so glad I could surprise you,” Ryan said softly. “I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. You’re usually too clever for me.”

Mandy, eyes sparkling, looked up at him and laughed. St. Valentine noted her elation as the full import of the occasion hit her. “Hmmm,” she said. Only by biting her lip did she hold back the smile which threatened to bloom larger than the white peonies bending over the nearby stone fountain.  “This is an awful lot of work to go to just to apologize for standing me up the other night.”

“See what I mean,” Ryan said with a mock frown on his face. “You are impossible to surprise… though you’ll hopefully forgive me if I keep trying.” He glanced at St. Valentine and nodded. The undercover saint gave the go-ahead to a tuxedoed waiter who stood waiting, hidden in a darkened hallway at the rear of the museum. Hand held high in the air, like one of the waiters on the Polar Express, he carried over two champagne glasses on a silver tray. With an old fashioned bow, he allowed Mandy and Ryan to each take their glass of bubbly before spinning on his heels and disappearing again.

St. Valentine followed the departing waiter into the shadows and observed the traditional dance of a marriage proposal. Mandy’s thoughts flowed freely into his mind and he listened intently to see if he could decipher God’s intent in the union.


“Mandy,” Ryan began, reaching across the table and capturing her smaller hand with his own.  “You know, I never could have imagined my life would lead in this direction again.”

But I did, or at least hoped… Mandy’s thought held courage for both of them.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Saved by the Ring

By Diana McCollum

He had just been dumped. Dumped by Elizabeth Barrett Steller, his college sweetheart, and not for just any reason, but because he signed back on with the Army.
Ben stomped to the car, his anger making it hard to get the key in the lock of his old 1989 Chevy pickup.
Yanking the door open, he slid into the driver’s seat. Leaning his forehead against the steering wheel, he took deep breaths as he fought to control his emotions. At twenty-four he could damn well make his own decisions. The sweltering June sun only added to his temper.
God, he felt like his heart had been ripped out. He had re-upped for her, for a chance of a future together. He didn’t want to end up pumping gas like his brother or doing some other menial job. That was no way to support a wife and family. The Army would insure he could afford college, and get a degree in computer science. He’d be able to get a VA house loan someday and take care of his family. That didn’t matter to Lizzie, spoiled self-centered Lizzie.
“Ben, Ben…wait!” Lizzie ran towards the truck barefoot, her long brown hair flying behind her. He paused for a second as he glimpsed the college cheerleader he’d fallen in love with four years ago.
He turned the key and floored the gas. She’d had her say. His pride didn’t need any more abuse from her about how he should live his life. He fingered the ring box in his pocket, as he glanced in the rear view mirror. The road was empty. Good thing he’d had sense enough not to ask her today.
Her words burned in his memory.
“Ben, if you re-enlist there is no guarantee you won’t be sent to Iraq. I can’t go through it again, not knowing if you are safe or not.” Lizzie had turned on the tears, always a good move, only this time they didn’t work. “I want to be with you. Don’t I mean more to you than the Army?”
When he told her why he had re-enlisted, she took her final stand with her arms crossed, “I’m not waiting for you, Ben. You do what you have to do, but I’m not waiting. I’m not an Army wife and I don’t plan on ever being one. The stress was too much during your last deployment. When you went missing for four days…I couldn’t eat or sleep. I almost lost my job. I can’t do it again, I just can’t.”
She turned away from him and stared out the kitchen window. “Go. Just go.”
He turned to leave. His hand on the doorknob, he paused, waiting for her to tell him to stay, that they could work it out. She didn’t.
Six months later in the Iraq desert the Cougar Ben was riding in set off an IED. As Ben lay in the sand listening for the whirl of the Medevac copter to arrive, he thought of Lizzie. He had thought of her almost daily since the breakup. Once he got to the war zone, he’d tried to put her out of his mind. The sadness of losing Lizzie gripped him and a tear slid down his face.
The fire in his core engulfed him. He gasped. The sweat ran down his face, he wiped at it and came away with blood. Now with the potential of death, he prayed, a low whisper of a prayer, “Lord, let me see her one more time.”
Helicopter rotors kicked up a cloud of dust and in seconds a medic was by Ben’s side. His ears rang from the blast and that along with the noise from the copter made it impossible to hear what the medic was saying. The last thing he remembered was being strapped onto the litter and hoisted into the Blackhawk.
Wounded Warrior, that’s what the staff at Walter Reed Hospital called him. A respectable title for what he and many other wounded soldiers had been through. Ben worked hard at recovery. Physical therapy kicked his ass.
The doctor came in carrying a small book. “This is yours soldier. It just might have saved your life.” He handed the small Bible to Ben.
“What‘d you mean it saved my life?”
“Turn it over.”
Ben turned it over and saw the jagged hole in the cover.” His eyes misted over, his voice trembling with emotion he said, “Thanks Doc, thanks a lot.”
His mom called that night. Her recuperation from a mild stroke was as good as it was going to get. She had trouble with her speech but the doctor hoped it would clear up eventually.
They wanted him home, his family. When he could walk on his own, he’d be going --not before. His goal was to walk off the plane on his mom’s favorite holiday, Valentine’s Day.
On February fourteenth he headed home. He walked off the jet, picked up his luggage and hailed a taxi. He couldn’t wait to see the look on Mom’s face when he gave her the box of chocolates and told her he was taking her out to dinner. He chuckled remembering how much she loved Valentine’s Day. That was their special day, ever since he drew her a Valentine’s card in first grade.
When the cab turned down his mom’s street Ben let out a low whistle. “Looks like someone’s having a party.” Both sides of the street were filled with cars. A few he recognized. His brother’s and Aunt Tilly’s were parked in front of the house.
“You can just drop me here.” He handed the cabbie the fare, and got out. The heart shaped box of chocolates he’d bought for mom tucked under his arm. He turned towards the house and stopped, not able to pass the car that sat in the drive.
His eyes must be playing tricks on him. Nope, it was Lizzie’s unmistakable mini-Cooper in the driveway. What was she doing here?

Friday, February 8, 2013

An Unexpected Valentine

An Unexpected Valentine
Paty Jager
Spencerville, Oregon

Someone pounded on the back door of his twin sister’s home as Willem Kerk stepped into the kitchen.
“Janna, I need to hide! Janna, please!”
Willem’s heart picked up speed. He knew that pleading voice well. It was the reason he hadn’t returned to Spencerville after becoming a doctor. He hadn’t wished to open wounds this woman had made. The desperation in her frantic plea and pounding fists tugged at his heart and his feet drawing him crossed the room.
Willem opened the door.
The blustery January wind blew in snowflakes, chilling his hands and face. A thin woman dressed in a baggy cotton dress fell into his arms. The moment his hands gripped her cold, boney arms she glanced up into his face. He barely recognized the woman who’d stolen his heart and turned to another when he set out to make a life for them both. If not for her full head of red curls, he would have guessed her to be another woman.  
Her wide frightened green eyes narrowed and she shoved out of his hands. Her arms lifted as if protecting her head from blows. “Where’s Janna?” she asked, turning her back to him and side-stepping deeper into the kitchen.
Willem had worked with battered women at the hospital in Chicago. His heart sputtered almost to a stop to think the man Molly had chosen over him was hurting her. He counted to ten, inhaled deep, and slowly released his breath to tamp down the flaring rage this realization sparked.
“She went to the mercantile to get the powders our father needs.”
Shivers not of fear or revulsion snaked up Molly Lawrence’s backbone and warmed an empty space in her chest. When she’d realized she’d fallen into the arms of a man, she’d thought it was Janna’s husband Ronald.  But the face she peered into and the soft voice with an accent just like Janna’s visited her dreams. There hadn’t been a night since marrying David Lawrence that she didn’t think of the man who left her for a profession as a doctor.  Had Janna told her brother about the beatings?
Before she made the decision to turn and let him see the damage David did this time, large hands gently grasped her arms. She started to struggle, knowing only hurt from a man’s hands the past five years.
“It’s all right, Molly. I won’t hurt you. It is I, Willem.” His hands remained but the grip loosened.
 The calm, deep voice reassuring her, took her back to the carefree days when she and Willem were inseparable. She peered up into his face.
His bluish-gray eyes studied her. His expression never changing, but the color of his eyes grew brighter. She remembered how they would darken when his mood changed. But mostly right before he kissed her. His grip tightened and she sucked air, preparing to flee.
He released her arms but stood steadfastly in front of her.
“Who did this to you?” He motioned for her to sit at the kitchen table.
Molly’s legs shook from her run and the realization the one man she’d always wanted had just witnessed the mess she’d made of her life. She shuffled to the chair and plopped on the hard surface. The last few months her body had lost much of her padding and the wood smacked against her sitting bones. She grimaced at the slight pain and jarring.
Willem’s back was to her as she settled onto the chair and pulled her sleeves down to hide the bruises on her wrists and lower arms.
The only man she’d ever loved knelt beside her, holding a glass of water.
“Who did this?” His fingers skimmed over the older bruises on her face. The touch was soft, like a feather caressing her cheek. The complete opposite of her husband’s touch. How many nights had she lain in her bed, spilling tears down her cheeks, and wishing this man lay beside her?
He skimmed her face again, drawing her gaze back to his. “Who hurt you?”
“David. I didn’t have his dinner ready. I’d been helping old missus Crandall and lost track of time.”  She hated to admit to the mess she’d made of her life, but she couldn’t lie to Willem. Had never been able to hide her feelings, which was why it had hurt so bad when he chose doctoring over her. She choked back a sob as the last horrid half hour played in her mind.
Her arms trembled remembering the vibration as the skillet she swung at David’s head connected. Fear shot her out of the chair. “I have to go. I need to borrow a coat from Janna.”
“No.” Willem gently settled her back down on the chair.
She didn’t hear the words coming out of Willem’s soft lips, only the calm, deep voice as terror clawed at her throat. She’d killed her husband!
“I can’t go to jail! I didn’t mean to…he was… I couldn’t take another beating.”
“Shhh…” He forced the glass of water into her hands. “Drink, then tell me what happened.”
She stared into his kind eyes. Eyes that as a young man had crinkled at the edges when he laughed at her silly comments. Her gaze dropped to his lips, now pressed together in a stern line. There was a time when those lips turned up at the corners and made her heart skip. The softness of them nuzzling her neck and kissing her cheek…
The swallow of water stuck in her throat and she coughed, spewing across Janna’s clean table cloth.  What have I done?
A large, warm hand leisurely rubbed circles on her back. She leaned back into the warm, gentle touch.
“Why are you set on running away? If your husband is beating you, you have grounds to divorce him.”
Willem’s calm demeanor helped to settle her rattled state.
Molly drew in a breath and peered into his eyes. “I may be a widow.”
His hand stalled, then resumed the circles. “How is that?”
“Janna has been badgering me to stand up to David. She said a man who beats a woman is a coward.” Molly shuddered as the vision of David roaring blasphemies and coming at her with his fists raised played in her mind. “When I told him I was going to leave him if he didn’t stop beating on me, he charged like a rank bull. I grabbed the closest thing…a skillet…and struck him alongside the head.” She turned to the man sitting on a chair beside her. When had he sat on the chair? Shaking her head she continued. “He went down to his knees then sunk to the floor, blood spilled over the floor by his head.” She grabbed his shirt. “I didn’t know what else to do, so I ran over here. Janna’s always been here for me.”
Willem cursed as the back door opened and shut. His sister returning couldn’t have been timed any better.
Janna crossed the room at a run. “Godverdomme, Molly, he’s been beating on you again.”
Willem stared at his sister. “I’ll speak with you later. Right now I want you to get a blanket to wrap around Molly. Give her a cup of tea and some broth. I have a patient to tend to.”
Both women stared at him when he returned to the kitchen with his doctor’s bag in his hand and dressed to weather the cold. If Molly knocked her husband out, he’d patch him up and give him the same talking to he did the husbands of the women he’d patched up in Chicago. Give the wife a divorce and move on or he’d press charges. While there were still many men who believed a wife deserved a beating, the women were starting to get more voice in politics and with their husbands. Spencerville wouldn’t tolerate a wife beater, which brought up the question—How had Molly kept it a secret from everyone but Janna? If the man was dead…he’d find a way to keep her out of jail.
It didn’t take him long to traverse Main Street and find the path to the Lawrence house. Janna had pointed it out when he’d first arrived to help with their ailing father. His strides shortened and his gait slowed. How would he respond to the man if he was merely injured? He’d never liked David even when they were schoolmates together. He’d seen the brutal side to him then. But he hadn’t been here to talk Molly out of marrying the man. According to Janna she’d tried to explain her brother would be back and to wait for him, but Molly didn’t believe her best friend anymore than she believed him. It still ate at his pride that she didn’t believe he would come back and marry her.
He knocked on the wide open door. “Mr. Lawrence? David?” Willem called out before stepping across the threshold. The house was eerily quiet. The scent of blood hung in the air. It had taken him nearly a year to get used to the scent when repairing a mangled body at the hospital. The factories and warehouses maimed many men…and boys.
“Mr. Lawrence?” He stepped into the kitchen. David didn’t lie in a heap on the floor, but the evidence of Molly’s fear congealed on the floor. A cast iron frying pan larger than he thought Molly could lift lay on the wood beside a fair-sized spot of glistening blood.
Where was David? Terror squeezed his chest. Looking for Molly!
His first instinct had been to clean up the mess so no one knew what had happened, but the knowledge the man could be searching for his wife and would be even angrier at her fighting back sent him back out the front door and running to his sister’s house.
Molly huddled over the steam from the tea and the broth Janna had placed in front of her. Pulling the scratchy wool blanket tighter around her body, she moaned. Her life had turned out so different from what she’d planned. And now, she could be going to jail for killing a man who had beat on her since two weeks after their wedding five years ago.
The back door banged opened and she froze. Was David still alive? Fear started her trembling at her toes and worked up her body until her head started shaking. She fought to keep her vision from blurring. What did death feel like? It had to be better than the past five years.
Willem hadn’t meant to bang the door open so hard. In his fear for Molly, he’d hit the door at a run, slamming it against the wall.
Janna jumped and scolded him, but his gaze was on the woman shaking like a wagon on a rutted road.  He closed the door quietly and walked over to the chair.
“Molly, you didn’t kill David. He wasn’t there.” He placed a hand on her shoulder, and she jerked away her body vibrating.
“Molly, sweetheart, liefje, I won’t let him touch you.” Willem scooped her shaking form up in his arms and carried her into the parlor where he sat on the settee with her on his lap and rubbed her arms and back, trying to bring her back to the present.
“Janna, bring tea with lots of sugar,” he called into the kitchen.
When his sister entered the room, he flashed her with a stern look. “Lock all the doors and only let your husband in.”
Janna nodded and scurried from the room.
Liefje, look at me.” He tipped Molly’s chin up so her beautiful green eyes stared into his. “I won’t let anyone hurt you.” Placing her small hand on his chest over his heart, he said, “This heart still beats for you, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get you away from that man.”
He saw a brief flicker in her eyes.
“Drink this.” Willem held the tea up to her lips. She sipped, her eyes steady on his. By the time the cup was empty, her body had stopped shaking. He continued to rub her arms and back. She was so bony. Even her adolescent body hadn’t been this thin. It would be hard to not take a cast iron skillet to David’s head himself when he saw him.
Molly squirmed and he realized he’d stopped rubbing and was squeezing her arm.
“Sorry. I’ll keep my thoughts only on getting you well and keeping you safe.” He kissed her forehead.
Tears trickled down her cheeks.
“Do you hurt somewhere I can’t see?” His hands felt her ribs, slid down her abdomen, and started to descend her legs.
She stayed his hands with hers. “No.” She sniffled. “I’m not hurt anywhere else. Why are you being so kind? You walked away from me.”