Conquered with Love

Conquered with Love Cover

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The fiery, outspoken illegitimate daughter of Raybourne disguises herself as a boy to avoid the fate planned for her by Mikkel, leader of the Norman army. When he discovers her deceit, he takes her as his mistress. Edreia struggles between hate and love as her wanton heart betrays her in a tempest of passion and lust with her captor. A battle of wits ensues between Mikkel’s mistress and his betrothed; finally culminating in a diabolical plot between three of Edreia’s enemies to murder her.

Note by author: I have always had a love of English history, especially in the days of knights and chivalry. The violence, conflicts, and passion of the period offer abundant inspiration for writers. The high drama of such an interesting time in history made me eager to write a love story filled with dramatic human events and emotions, not unlike what lovers have experienced throughout history.

In essence, the past never goes away, but returns like the seasons to suffuse with the present and plant seeds of tomorrow.

Conquered with Love has a gothic setting, but the story is timeless inasmuch as it relates a tale about lovers, romance, and the conflicts characteristic to passionate relationships. Conquered with Love is a passionate romance novel woven with breath-taking suspense.

Abduction, rape, and murder set the prelude when Lord Raybourne of Valdenwald takes a young peasant girl as his mistress, who bears him a child called Edreia.

Sixteen years later, during the Norman Conquest, Mikkel, the Norman leader, wages a siege on Valdenwald, making Edreia his personal prize. Edreia’s life evolves into an emotional struggle when her freedom is usurped and she is expected to follow the wishes and commands of Mikkel, the new lord of Valdenwald.

Defiant and rebellious, she willfully does as she chooses, her actions provoking Mikkel to angry threats of retribution. Edreia’s recalcitrant tongue eventually challenges his patience beyond his control and he acts upon his threat, thus making her his mistress.

Vowing never to submit freely to his passionate nature, a conflicting struggle between hating him and loving him intensifies after Cadena, Mikkel’s betrothed, shows up unexpectedly at Valdenwald. A battle of wits ensues between Mikkel’s mistress and his betrothed; finally culminating in a diabolical plot between three of Edreia’s enemies to murder her.

Immersed in a web of violence, her shaky future allows slim hope for a life with Mikkel.

 

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The Wrong Victim

The Wrong V

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SYNOPSIS:  The murder of two women in the basement of Thomas Marshall’s home goes undetected due to a shifty coverup. Years later, Marshall’s daughter, Maria Anna, becomes a target for murder. Someone wants to silence her latent memories from childhood—someone with secrets worth killing for. With time running out, will her fiancé, Private Detective Sam Hesston, be able to stop a diabolical killer before Maria Anna becomes a fatal victim? And of equal importance, will their relationship be able to survive the traumatic situation testing their love?

Prologue

Thomas Marshall drove from the hospital to his home, a bandage covering his forehead where he sustained a cut during a minor car accident. It was Saturday night, his card-playing night. His friends would likely be well into the game by the time he arrived home since he had spent a considerable time in the hospital waiting room. Nevertheless, he had called home, speaking to one of his house maids and asking her to inform his friends he would be late.

It was a dark night outside, but unusually cool for that time of year. He drove through the gated entry to his estate and down the long drive that circled in front of his spacious home. Eager to participate in the card game in his basement, he parked behind the other cars and hurried inside.

When he opened the basement door, everything was unusually quiet downstairs. He smiled, thinking his card-playing friends were engrossed in their game.

“I apologize for being so late, fellows,” he said when he neared the bottom of the stairs. “A van with parents and four children were in a bad wreck and they arrived ahead of me at the emergency room, so…” His voice went silent. He stared in disbelief. His friends weren’t sitting around the card table as he expected. His face contorted into a worrisome frown. His breath quickened.

He saw Yolanda’s body on the floor. “God almighty, what has happened here?” he gasped out in a raised voice brimming with shock.

No one spoke.

Thomas ran and knelt down by Yolanda’s unmoving body. He sees her panties draped around one ankle. He checks her pulse. With shock and puzzlement marring his usually calm features, he looks from one man to the next, and then back again to the most composed of the three men who stood in the doorway of the little reading room containing a daybed. Thomas spots Pia’s prone body on the daybed behind his old friend. Touching Yolanda’s neck again for a pulse, he shakes his head mournfully and comes to his feet.

Pushing past his friend whose bulk is blocking the doorway, he stops dead in his tracks to stare at the still form on the bed. A pillow covers the beautiful young woman’s face. Thomas snatches it off and checks her pulse, shaking his head in sheer horror and disbelief at the bloody sheets between her legs. He turns about so he can see the three men all at once, his face ravaged with shock.

“What in God’s name have you done?” Thomas Marshall cried

Excerpt from Chapter One

Walking from the parking lot, Maria Anna glanced through the plate glass window advertising the name Samuel Hesston, Investigative Services, painted in large pale blue letters. White light from the overhead florescent light fixtures washed his office, spotlighting Sam sitting behind his old banged up metal desk bought at a thrift store. He held a phone to his ear and a pen in his right hand, jotting notes on a yellow pad. She waved at him and her movement drew his glance. He motioned to her to come inside.

She opened the door to his office and stepped over the threshold just as he put the phone down. “Hi,” she said, smiling despite jittery nerves from her recent event with the blue car. Excitement from being in the same room with Sam had the effect of a pleasant electric charge. He put sunshine in her life even when there was none outside, and the mere touch of him could send her passions soaring. He was her first love, her first sexual partner, and she hoped someday he would be her husband.

“Hi Baby.” He spun his swivel chair about to greet her, his gaze drifting over her, registering approval. Her long black wavy hair, thick and fluffy, framed the delicate curve of her oval face with its natural olive complexion. His glance slid on down the length of her, her beautifully clad figure more sensuously inviting than any female he had yet known.

“Something important?” she asked, indicating the phone call he just ended.

“You might say that. The caller was answering a newspaper ad I placed. I have decided to hire someone to answer the phone and help with the paperwork around here. I also plan to hire an assistant who can do some of the legwork and use a computer. Business has been steadily picking up and my time is so scattered with different cases that I can’t adequately apply myself to my clients’ problems.”

“Have you found anyone yet?”

“The ad just went in the paper today and the girl I just spoke with is the first caller. She’s coming in for an interview later today.”

A tinge of disappointment skirted across Maria Anna’s brow. She was so used to stepping over to Sam’s office anytime she wanted and catching him all alone that the thought of a woman employee sharing him touched off a tinge of envy.

She stepped over to where he sat, his ancient old desk facing the wall to avoid the glare of light through the front plate glass window. He swung around in his swivel chair to face her. Maria Anna bent down to rest her hands on his shoulders, leaning forward to plant a kiss on his lips. He liked it so much he pulled her onto his lap and extended the kiss. She could feel the rock-hard arms clasped about her and the smooth sleek firmness of his well-muscled chest pressed against her bosom. Traces of thick dark hair on his chest peeked above the V-collar of his pullover shirt.

“You’re trembling,” Sam said. “Are you okay?” He leaned away from her and studied her face.

Not wanting to spoil the intimate moment, she shrugged and nodded affirmatively. Then she closed the space between them with another kiss.

“I’ve got a few minutes if you want to visit my back room,” he whispered suggestively in a teasing tone—except he was not teasing. They had spent many lunch periods in that backroom that was barely large enough to hold more than the small cot.

Maria Anna laughed, brushing his plundering hand aside. She was highly tempted, and it certainly would not be the first time. He had a magnetic pull on her that required no more effort than a suggestion most of the time. “It’ll have to wait until tonight,” she stated with promise, pecking him on his cheek before moving off his lap.

“Where have you been all day?” Sam inquired.

“The usual, I had a couple of clients earlier whom I drove around on a tour of homes for sale. I put out a For Sale sign at a piece of property I contracted to sell, and then I met with your old friend Pete Scarborough and his architects. He wanted my input on what features of his newly constructed homes were receiving the greatest interest from buyers.”

“I take it you wowed them with all your observations.” He sent her a cockeyed grin.

She arched a brow and smiled. “Pete already knows what he wants. He just wanted me to confirm that he’s doing a good job building saleable homes.”

Sam glanced at his watch, noting it was well past the lunch hour. “Have you eaten yet?”

“No, I have a sandwich in the office. I have lots of paperwork I need to catch up on.” She was thinking about the blue car, wondering if she should mention it to Sam.

“You’re still trembling. Are you sure everything is alright with you?”

“Actually, I’m not alright,” she said and paused.

“What’s wrong?” Sam’s attention piqued.

“Someone followed me yesterday and today.”

Sam’s expression took on avid interest. Frown wrinkles creased on his forehead. “Why do you think that?”

“A blue car followed me home yesterday and followed me again today back to the office. When I turned, he turned. When I sped up, he sped up.”

“Tell me about it,” he urged.

She told him as many details as she remembered from the time she saw the blue car yesterday until today when he drove pass her turnoff into the strip mall entrance. “Sam, if I have any enemies, I sure haven’t done anything to foster their intrusion into my life. You know the hours I put in at my job and the office—six days a week and sometimes seven. I go to work, pay my bills, and never break the law. I’m always careful with people’s feelings, and am grateful enough for my security that I help others whenever I can. If I had to describe myself, I would say I am friendly, harmless, and altruistic—so why would someone follow me?”

“I don’t know, baby, but if this happens again, I want you to call me immediately, and then call the police.”

He pulled her onto his lap again and pressed his lips to her mouth, drawing an instant response. The kiss went on for several seconds until they had to come up for air. Sam loved touching her, being close to her, but she equally loved him touching her. She was “touch” deprived after growing up in a home where the demonstration of affection was not practiced. She had loved her father and Cassie, her nanny, but Sam was the first person in her life with whom she could demonstrate feelings and share affection.

“Are you sure it was the same car yesterday and today?” He asked, nuzzling his tongue in her ear.

“Sam, stop that,” she laughed and moved off his lap. “I’ve got work to do. And yes, it was the same car.”

He appeared unconcerned about someone following her, but she knew he was deeply concerned. “What are you doing tonight?” His flashing white teeth behind his seductive smile hinted boldly.

“What do you have in mind,” Maria Anna asked saucily, reveling in the closeness of him and the way his look could make her feel like the most important person in his world.

The slow grin that followed and the sparkle in his translucent blue eyes was disarming enough to zap the strength in her knees. “I’ll have to show you.” His jaunty grin held supreme promise.

“Behave your self,” she declared, playfully slapping his hand. Then more seriously, she added, “Do you think I should be worried about the blue car following me?”

“Baby, with all the weirdoes out there now a days, one never knows. Just keep your eyes open and if you see the same car tailing you again, then I will definitely look into it. Try to get a license plate number if you can, plus the make and model of the car.”

“Hey,” she said, giving him another hug and a tweak on the cheek, “I’ve got to go.”

“Remember we have a date tonight,” Sam reminded her.

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IMPENDING DANGER

Impending Danger 200x

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Impending Danger

Historical Romance

Gabrielle Hampshire falls in love with Jonathan Briercliff, her rescuer, after her aunt’s murderers try to kill her. A nun, torn between her vows and secularism, fights a losing battle with passions drawing her and Jonathan together. Then his horrible deceit surrounding her father’s death, tears them apart—until he is falsely imprisoned and she faces the worst nightmare decision of her life.

CHAPTER THREE

Near a small village Southwest of Dover

The cloudy day and swirling fogs cast a somber mood as Jonathan kept his horse moving at a slow gait while Tandy followed behind the bouncing wagon. One could barely see five feet in front of them as the mists boiled in over the great chalk bluffs from the sea. Traveling was as slow as a snail’s pace since neither Tandy nor Jonathan were comfortably familiar with the road.

Suddenly, something caught Jonathan’s attention.

“What the bloody devil is that?” Jonathan retorted, barely able to make out the dark apparition alongside the road in a deep gully. He pulled up on the reins, drawing the horse to a standstill. He peered into the thick fog, unable to discern the fog-shrouded object through the cloudy haze.

“Tandy, look at that,” Jonathan called, pointing to the large apparition-like object lying on the deep wayside of the road.

“What can it be?” Tandy questioned, peering through the white mists. He nudged his horse closer to the edge of the road and strained his eyes to make out the dark shape. “Tis’ an overturned coach, Cap’n. Do ye’ think someone might still be in it?”

“Only one way to find out,” Jonathan said, hopping down to the ground from the driver’s box seat. He hurried to the side of the road, slipping and sliding down the steep incline where the coach lay belly up. No animals were in sight, probably gaining their freedom during the accident and running off.

Down the slope where the coach lay in the gully, Jonathan could easily see why it had overturned. Its front right wheel had come off. The driver lay crushed beneath the coach, obviously thrown overboard before the conveyance rolled down the slope on top of him. Jonathan checked the man’s pulse, and seeing he was beyond help, he struggled to his knees.

Tandy scrambled down the hill behind him. “Is the driver alive, Cap’n?”

“No, the coach crushed him. Looks like a front wheel came off.”

“Is anyone inside?” Tandy asked, trying to peer into a window from a crouched position.

Jonathan crouched down next to Tandy and looked inside. He could see a lifeless form crumpled and abused by the accident. “It’s a woman, Tandy. I’ll try and raise the coach while you get the door open.”

Placing his hands on the side, he pushed the heavy coach with all his strength, barely raising it enough for Tandy to jerk open the door. Inside, they saw the still figure of a woman sprawled in a topsy-turvy fashion. One leg appeared bent at a precarious angle.

She was dressed in a heavy black garment with a white gorget around the neck and shoulders, and a wimple worn around her head framing her face. Jonathan touched his finger to the pulse on her neck and felt a slow rhythmic beat. “She’s alive, Tandy. I’m going to get her out. Stand by, mate.”

Reaching inside, he grasped her beneath her arms and dragged her from the coach. He raised her shoulders until she was lying back against his arm and shoulder. He gazed at her a moment, seeing a lovely oval face inside a nun’s habit. A small reticule hung on her arm by a drawstring.

He felt her pulse again, noticing it beat rhythmically and strong. Blood trickled down her cheek from beneath her head covering, and when Jonathan removed it, the nun’s short-cropped hair startled him. Cut close to the scalp, Gabriel’s head must have been shaved at one time. She looked like a tiny pixie, her lovely face hardly marred by the harsh haircut.

Jonathan ran his hand over her head, discovering a huge fractured bump where blood oozed. He searched the lovely oval face, the sharp cheekbones, the short straight nose, the gentle arch of her brown brows, and the porcelain skin that was as pure and unblemished as a newborn babe’s was.

Tandy was peering over Jonathan’s shoulder. “Tis’ a little thing, Cap’n, and pretty as a flower.”

“She’s beautiful,” Jonathan replied as he scooped her up in his arms. Beautiful, young, and innocent, he thought.

“Careful going up that steep hill,” Tandy called as Jonathan stepped in footholds to aid his ascent.

“She’s as light as a feather,” Jonathan replied, carrying her to the wagon where Tandy held her in place on the seat until Jonathan could climb up and cradle her against him in his arms.

With his horse tied behind the wagon, Tandy took the reins, whipping up the animal as fast as he dared in the thick fog.

A small painful groan rose from the nun’s lips as the bumpy road jarred her slender form uncomfortably. Jonathan glanced down to see her eyes closed and shielded by long brown lashes. He grasped her closer to him to offset the bumpy progress of the wagon, her slender body like a lifeless rag doll melting limply against him.

“What do we ‘av there?” Nell asked, from the front door of Hampshire House. George, the butler, looked over his wife’s shoulder.

“She was in a coach accident. We’ll put her in my room for now. Clean another room and put my things in it,” Jonathan commanded, finding the two servants extremely lacking in their duties, as indicated by the unkempt manor.

Lord Hampshire had lost his initiative to oversee his property, letting the estate dwindle to ill disrepair, and thus setting a bad example for the servants. The giant stone mansion that once boasted greatness and grandeur in its glory now wallowed in ruin and deterioration. It held little resemblance to the stateliness it once boasted.

“Tandy, take George with you and tend to the dead driver. Notify the coach depot, and fetch the doctor and the nun’s luggage.

He carried the limp body inside and up the stairs, placing her on the bed.

With Nell’s help, they undressed the little nun down to her chemise.

“She has to be checked for injuries,” Jonathan told Nell.

Nell backed away a step and frowned. “I have no training fer’ sech’. I wouldn’t know a broken bone if it wuz’ sticking out of the skin.”

Jonathan’s shoulders tensed with disapproval. Guarding his tone, he said, “I’ll need warm water and bandages for her head wound.”

Nell hurried away.

Sucking in a quick intake of air as his eyes moved over angelic loveliness, Jonathan made a quick examination for injuries, running his hands over soft, smooth surfaces. The slender nun was exquisite, her skin like alabaster, her soft curves molded to perfection. He checked the leg found nearly folded beneath her in the coach and was satisfied it wasn’t broken.

Gently he turned her to one side so he could check her back for injuries, pulling the chemise up high enough to allow a clear inspection. Seeing no more than a few ugly bruises, he decided there were no remarkable signs of injury. He lowered her again to her back. He touched his fingers to her ribs, sliding over the lean surface to find none broken. Taking one last lingering look at feminine perfection, Jonathan quickly pulled the sheet over her body.

Nell returned and set the warm water, bandages, and an odd assortment of salves and ointments on a table.

“I couldn’t find a nightshirt for her,” she said. Stepping over to a bureau drawer, she pulled out one of Jonathan’s shirts and handed him. “Tis’ a bit big, but will do, I ken.”

“It’ll do,” Jonathan replied.

“If ye’ don’t need me, m’lord, I’ll get started cleaning the room next door”

“Open some windows and air the place out,” Jonathan suggested, noticing the dusty, mildew smells throughout the house.

“As ye’ wish, m’lord,” Nell replied. Glancing at the young woman burrowed in the depression of the feather mattress as still as death, she turned and left.

Jonathan wet a washcloth in the pan of warm water. Gently, he dabbed it on the huge knot on her head, the chestnut brown hair only a couple of inches long and giving her a pixie look. He cleaned away the dried blood on her head and cheek, and left a cool compress on the wound. Lifting her off the pillow, he removed the chemise, and then slid the shirt over her shoulders. He had never seen a more lovely sight on any other woman. Her plush young breasts were round and made for a man’s hands. He felt a strong surge of desire. He straightened the too-large shirt about her, and rolled the sleeves up to her elbows.

Lifting one of the slender hands, he paused, noting broken blisters on her palms and rough calluses. He wondered at the activity capable of damaging her hands so badly.

Wetting another cloth, he gently touched it across her warm forehead, and ran his hand over her short-cropped brown hair. Even with the abused hair, her natural loveliness made her the most gorgeous woman Jonathan had ever seen.

“Who are you beautiful lady?” he asked softly while he stood gazing down at her. Remembering the reticule, he took it and loosened the drawstring. Reaching inside, he lifted what appeared to be a folded letter. The envelope contained an address to Gabrielle Hampshire at a convent he knew to be near Paris.

“Gabrielle Hampshire” he whispered, mulling over the name that seemed entirely familiar. Then it hit him.

Hampshire!

A shock of recognition seized Jonathan. The nun must be Lord Hampshire’s daughter.

Jolted by this realization, Jonathan puzzled over the implications. He gazed distantly off into space, turning to a thoughtful mood. Why was Hampshire’s daughter here?

Rolling his tightened shoulders to relieve the tense muscles, he took the letter from the envelope and started reading:

Dear Sister Gabrielle,

It is with a sad heart that I must inform you that your loving father, Lord Charles Hampshire, is dead, and laid to rest beside your dearly beloved mother. At the time of this letter, the circumstances surrounding his death have not been determined, but we know he was shot and killed over a card game. As other information becomes clear to me, I will make it available to you.

Since you are the only surviving kin, it is imperative that you decide what to do about your father’s estate. Your best choice might be to sell it. At the writing of this letter, an inventory of your father’s assets is not available. To my knowledge, Hampshire estate was still in his name at the time that I write this letter. As the executor of your father’s estate, I wait for your instructions on the matter.

Your humble servant,

Edward Collinwood, solicitor

Jonathan fell heavily into the chair next to the bed, staring at the silent young woman lying there. He could only guess the letter was posted before the whole story about the card game was known. Believing she had come into an inheritance, the little nun came at the earliest opportunity.

“I’ll be damned!” Jonathan hissed, realizing that on top of every other problem of late, this young woman presented yet another. He would have to be the bearer of bad news.

I killed your father after winning his estate in a hand of cards.

The mere thought of admitting to such folly troubled him. With a strong sense of shame and guilt, as though he had perpetrated and committed a horrible sin against the nun, he cursed his insufferable conscience.

He checked the remaining contents of the reticule before putting the letter back. There were only a few meager coins in a tiny compartment, hardly enough to get her back to where she came from. It occurred to him that she might intend remaining at the estate.

“Holy Saints,” he whispered beneath his breath. “Surely, she isn’t planning on staying here.”

His problems were multiplying.

He had nearly been killed in a card game, had killed Lord Hampshire, had won an unproductive estate costing a fortune in back taxes, had gained a manor deteriorating and crumbling into ruins, and now, on top of all else, he had a sick young woman who thought she owned the miserable rock pile.

He shook his head, thinking Collinwood might have had the decency to tell him Hampshire had a daughter whom he sent a letter to before learning of the disposition of the estate. Jonathan had been in the man’s office for the past three days, off and on, and he hadn’t made single mention of the daughter.

Jonathan decided he would address the issue with Collinwood the first chance he got.

* * * *

Jonathan heard horse’s hooves outside, and went to the door. George came from the wagon with a small badly worn bag clutched in his hand. “Where are her trunks, George? Didn’t you bring them?” Jonathan asked frowning.

George shook his head sheepishly. “This is all I could find, yer’ lordship. The lady didn’t ‘ave trunks.”

“No trunks! The devil you say! That tiny bag can’t possibly hold more than a change of clothing.”

“Yes, Sir, I believe ye’’re right, m’ lord.”

“Well, let me have it.” He turned to go, then remembering, he called over his shoulder. “She’ll need food, maybe a strong broth until she wakes up and can take solid food. You will find what you need in the supplies I brought. There’s also tea and coffee.”

“Yes, m’lord, I’ll see to it. We took the dead driver to the sheriff as ye’ said. They sent word to the coach line who’ll be sending someone fer’ the coach. Had a time, we did, getting the driver from beneath it. Doc Tarver should be along shortly. He had another patient to see first.”

Tandy tied the horse to a hitching rail before he joined Jonathan. “Cap’n, I looked at the coach wheel and it was tampered with. Someone purposely loosened the bolts so it would come off. Why would anyone do that?”

Jonathan was thoughtful. He shook his head. “You got me, Tandy. I see no reason why anyone would want to hurt the passenger. Perhaps someone held a grudge against the driver, or even the coach line.”

Tandy shook his head. “Maybe so, but mark me word, somebody wanted that wheel to run off. I spoke to a few folks at the coach depot. The young man who worked inside the depot said he noticed the nun waiting for coach to arrive. He said he saw a man and woman who seemed unusually interested in the young nun, and seemed purposely to remain out of her sight.

“Sounds rather suspicious, doesn’t it?” Jonathan asked.

“Does to me, too,” Tandy replied. “The depot attendant said when the coach arrived, the driver went into the inn to quench his thirst, and the man watching the nun disappeared on the other side of the coach.”

“Did you get the man’s description?”

“None that doesn’t describe half the men in England.”

“Such as?”

“Tall, medium weight, chestnut hair. He said the only distinguishing mark was a deep scar on the man’s chin.”

Something clicked in Jonathan’s memory. He vaguely recalled seeing such a scar, but he couldn’t put a face to the memory. “That’s not much to go on. It could be just about anyone. Keep your eyes open when you travel to Dover or go to the village.”

“That I’ll do, Cap’n,” Tandy replied, taking the horses out to the stable where he had set up quarters for himself in the small tack room.

Jonathan held the small bag containing the nun’s clothing. Its weight was a mere few pounds, maybe four or five, hardly heavy enough to contain much clothing. He glanced inside to find that much of the weight came from a Bible.

Going up the stairs to her room, he put the bag next to the wardrobe. He glanced at her lovely, pale face. Lowering himself to the chair next to her bed, he puzzled over what he would do if the nun remained in her comatose state. He also wondered what he would do when she woke up.

The thought did cross his mind that he could simply return Hampshire estate to her, ride to Dover, board his ship, and sail away from all these uninvited problems.

Yet, he knew she didn’t have funds to put the estate back on its feet. Moreover, what would happen to the tenants and their skinny, hungry little children clothed in rags, and living a day-to-day existence without hope of anything better?

Leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed, Nell interrupted his thoughts with a soft tap on the door. She brought Jonathan a cup of coffee, a commodity that had been rising in demand by the British and imported from countries in Central and South America, and in Africa.

Jonathan raised his head, turning toward her, the aroma smelling wonderful. Nell placed it on the table beside him.

“M’lord, I found some clothing that once belonged to Lady Hampshire,” she announced. “It was in an old trunk stored in a room not used for years. The clothing needs laundering, but I’m sure we might find some things the young nun can use.”

“That’s good, Nell. See to it.”

“Yes, m’lord, right away. The room next door is clean and ready fer’ ye’’ Your Lordship, and I’ve started cleaning another one. Be there anything else ye’’ need?”

“Bring some broth for the young woman.”

“Do ye’ knower name, m’lord?”

“She is Lady Gabrielle Hampshire. Lord Charles Hampshire was her father.”

* * * *

Jonathan woke when George announced Doc Tarver. A glance at the aging man showed a head of gray hair, a tired and weary face, and a stooped back with bent shoulders. His gait was quick though, as he walked across the floor to the foot of the bed, gazing at the patient.

“Banged up in the overturned coach, your man said. Let’s have a look,” he suggested, going to the side of the bed. “I don’t suppose you remember me?” he asked Jonathan.

“I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure, Doc. I’m Jonathan Briercliff.”

“I’m Doc Tarver,” he said, lifting Gabrielle’s limp wrist. “Good strong pulse,” he noted. “Did you notice any bumps or bruises?”

“I found a fractured bump on her head. She seems to be in well enough condition, otherwise.”

Doc Tarver looked at the bump on her head. “Did she wake up?”

“No, but she talked in her sleep.” Jonathan thought he’d heard Doc Tarver’s voice before, even though he was certain he had never met the man.

“Not much I can do for a head wound. Just have to let it take its course. There’s no way to know when she’ll wake up.”

“Is there a possibility she might not wake up?” Jonathan asked a bit anxiously.

“Anything’s possible. There’s no way to predict.”

He picked up her hand and turned it over in his palm. “I see you tended these, too. You could have saved me a trip. Looks like you’ve done about all anyone could do.”

“What do you suppose happened to her hands, Doc?”

“Looks like farmers’ hands, or involvement in heavy labors of one sort or another. So what’s your business?”

“I’m captain of the Seagull.”

“I’m told you won this place from Lord Hampshire in a card game. It’s not worth nearly losing yer’ life,” he stated, glancing at Jonathan while touching and probing Gabrielle for broken bones.

“Doc, if I could undo that night, you and I would likely never have met.”

“Do you know who this young woman is?”

“She’s Hampshire’s daughter.”

“I thought she might be. She looks a lot like her mother. I brought this young woman into the world m’self. Tis’ sad the way the family fell apart after Hampshire’s wife died.”

He adjusted his spectacles and took a better look. “Tis’ so long ago I’d nearly forgotten her. Let’s see, I believe that would be about twenty, twenty-one years ago when she was born. Her father sent her away when she was a little girl.”

“Do you remember much about her when she was growing up, Doc?”

“Her mother and father doted on her. They loved her dearly. Then the mother died giving birth to a second child, a baby boy who died, too. Overnight, Lord Hampshire became a different person. Lost interest in everything and let the estate go to ruin until he had to sell off everything just to buy food and necessities. Then he started selling off those fine horses he raised, losing what money he made by gambling it away. The man started digging his grave the day his wife died. He was nothing like he once was. An aunt, the mother’s sister, took Gabrielle to Paris, I believe. She never came home after that, until now.”

“What do you suppose happened to the aunt?” Jonathan asked.

“Don’t rightly know. I never heard anything about Gabrielle after she left.”

He pulled the sheet up over Gabrielle’s shoulders, and lifted his medical satchel. “Well, I’m finished here. Get some broth and fluids into her, and keep her comfortable. Not much else you can do. Send for me if you need me. I’ll see myself out.”

He took Jonathan’s hand, clasping it briefly but warmly. Then he hurried on his way, thinking of his next stop.

Jonathan gazed at the milky white face, placed a finger on the tiny pulse below her jaw, and was satisfied his young patient would survive.

Impending Danger available at Amazon: http://short.ie/wvqwf4

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DARK DEPTHS OF LOVE

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Dark Depths of Love
is a tragic story filled with deep love,
passion, and a woman’s generous heart
to save her dysfunctional marriage.
***********************
Dr. Heather O’Neal, a woman brought up on deep abiding family love, knows nothing about spousal abuse until she marries corporate tycoon, Anthony Trevor Hampton, a man whose emotions are filtered through layers of childhood abuse and corrupted by a jealous temper laced with on-the-edge rage. His abusive lessons learned in childhood turn Heather’s life into recurring nightmares. He desperately loves Heather and is determined to break the abusive bonds inherited from his father. Heather, however, struggles for normalcy in an unhealthy marriage with a man she has sworn to love always. Untamed passion, undying love, and the journey to trust are just beginning in a heartwarming story of conflict and love.
*********************
EXCERPT
Tony confided his obsession with Heather to Bob, and his fear she might leave him.
“Bob, I’m a damn mess. I love her so much its damn near driving me crazy,” he admitted.
“Tony, I’ve told you for years you need to get help.”
“Yea, well, I got help for Wally and what good did it ever do him. Hell, Bob, I’m not sure those shrinks know any more than I do. How can they help me? They sure as hell can’t change the past.”
“No, they can’t and neither can you, but maybe they can help you learn to live with what happened to you. You carry too much hate around with you in your heart, Tony. You’re still angry with your mother after all these years because she left you. Good God, when are you ever going to forgive and let go of all the venom inside you? I’ve asked you a hundred times over the years to go visit your mother, but you won’t even consider it.”
“Yea, well, who am I supposed to go see her for, her or me? She sure as hell doesn’t deserve it after leaving me behind with a madman to abuse me.”
“Tony, you’re carrying around enough emotional garbage to kill you from toxic waste. Hell, quit thinking about what your old man did, what your mother did. Just think about you and what the hell you want out of life.”
“I have what I want out of life. I’m just so damn afraid I’ll lose it. Worse still, I’m afraid I’ll do some foolish thing to hurt her again.”
“Get help, Tony. Heather doesn’t need anymore of your abuse. She’s been through enough already. You have to get away from her if you can’t control it. If you ever hurt her, I swear I’ll kill you, Tony.”
“Despite my doubts, I did make an appointment with a shrink. I don’t know if he’s any good or not. Hell, I’ll go see a dozen if it’ll do any good. If it weren’t for this damn insane jealousy I feel for Heather, I could be the happiest man alive with her. She’s everything I ever wanted. I’m so obsessed with her I’m like a damn madman. Sometimes I think I’m really going out of my mind.”
“Maybe you should move out for awhile, Tony. Move in with me, stay away from her awhile.”
“I’ve thought about that? But don’t you see how much that would hurt her now that she and I have patched our differences? There’s no easy answer.”
“Maybe you need to tell her how you feel. Share with her what you’ve shared with me.”
“I’ve thought about that, too, but I’d only frighten her. She has enough things to worry about right now without me adding my lot, and there’s the baby to consider. She’s really not all that strong just now.”
“Tony, you’ve got to get yourself together. She needs you with the trial coming up.”
The press finally learned that Heather was back home living with her husband and the son she was supposed to have kidnapped. The news was a blow to the prosecutor who knew they would never convince a jury that she was guilty when the boy’s father didn’t believe she was.
The prosecuting attorney trying the case wanted to drop it, get it dismissed, but as Detective Miller had told Heather, an election was coming up and certain officials could not find an easy way to save face by dropping the case. To drop it would indicate what a bungled mess the uniformed policemen had made at the scene. Their only hope was to press forward and hope a jury might believe her guilt. Numerous people labeled the upcoming trial a travesty of justice.
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Violent Visions of Murder

Violent Visions 300

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 VIOLENT VISIONS OF MURDER 

By

Jeanette Cooper

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SYNOPSIS

Brianna Taylor tries to solve a mystery involving her brother’s dead twin, whose family says he is not their blood child, but was switched at birth. Her investigation draws her into the lives of Preston Marlowe and his two brothers, all under suspicion of murder. After falling in love with Preston she sets out to disprove Detective Sherman’s damaging evidence that could send Preston to prison. With their relationship under severe pressure, only their love binds them together.

The sequel to Violent Visions of Murder is Under Suspicion (which was inspired by an actual murder in my hometown).

EXCERPT

When Brianna accidentally bumps into a risqué looking young man in the grocery store, the visions blasted through her brain like explosives powerful enough to make her black out and crumple to the floor. The event would prompt the announcement of Oakwood’s first case of murder in years.

As soon as she arrived home that day from the grocery store, she drew the picture while the man’s face was still fresh in her memory. She folded it, stuffed it into an envelope, along with an accusatory note about the man with enough detail to give an investigator worthwhile leads to follow. Then she mailed it to the Sheriff’s Department.

Brianna had no idea they would be able to trace her anonymous letter; however, soon after the letter arrived at its destination, two sheriffs’ investigators came knocking on her door.

The eldest showed his badge and introduced himself as Chief Investigator Tom Harrison, then stepped aside.

The youngest didn’t look much older than Brianna was, and wore a suit that must have been fresh from the cleaners because the trousers held their crease without the least wrinkle. He had black hair and was tall and slender, which reminded Brianna a little of her brother Jody. He was suave and handsome, and his face was expressively authoritative as he showed Brianna his identification. He announced his name as Investigator David Sherman while extending his right hand.

Brianna ignored his outstretched hand, learning a long time ago that grasping someone’s hand was the worst thing she could do if she wanted to keep her cool and maintain self-control.

Seeing she wasn’t going to take his hand, he pulled it back, and put his foot in the door in case Brianna decided to try to slam it shut.

“What do you want Investigator Sherman?” Brianna asked, directing her statement to him, since Tom Harrison appeared to be just an observer. Brianna blocked the door with her body when Sherman looked ready to walk over or around her.

She suspected this was about the letter she had mailed, although she couldn’t figure out how they traced it to her. Discussing its contents was the last thing she wanted to do. If her psychic abilities became public, her life would become a circus.

Sherman reached inside an inner jacket pocket and extracted a letter Brianna recognized instantly. She held a pose of indifference, trying to pretend she never saw the letter before.

“Are you familiar with this letter?” he asked. Before she could answer, he sounded off. “Don’t deny it. We’ve put considerable time in tracing it back to this address. I know you sent the letter.”

The silent partner shifted his feet and looked ill at ease. He knew David had transferred recently from a big city police department where he was a detective dealing with street hoodlums, gangsters and criminals of every caliber. It was a tough job and easily produced calloused detectives; however, he would soon learn this wasn’t the big city, and being a tough guy wouldn’t work so well with most Oakwood people who lived decent lives with nothing to fear from the law.

Brianna sniffed defensively. If he wanted answers, he wasn’t taking the right approach with her. “Is my name on the letter?” she snapped, offended by such an aggressive manner.

“No…”

“Then I didn’t write it,” she asserted boldly, her chin tilted upward with daring.

He continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “…but the mail carrier saw the return address was left off, so she jotted your address on the envelope.”

“Isn’t there a law against tampering with someone’s mail? What if someone else put it in my box to be mailed?” she demanded querulously.

“But we know no one else did, don’t we?” he mimicked with a smirk. “Anyway, with the Anthrax scares we’ve had, the postal department likes to know the letter sender’s name, so that’s why the mail carrier jotted your address on it. She could have refused to accept it.”

Brianna’s heart rate increased with rising defenses. At that moment, her best defense was an offense. “What difference does it make who sent it? The idea was for the Sheriff’s Department to do their job and investigate the man who killed his best friend, rather than wasting time investigating the source of a letter.”

Frowning, he pushed past her and stepped inside. His silent partner followed up the rear. The front door opened directly into the living room, and he moved over to stand in front of a stuffed chair. The silent partner stood by the door, his arms wrapped across his chest and his legs slightly parted, looking a little like a genie who just floated out of his bottle. All he needed was a turban to complete the effect.

“May I?” Investigator Sherman asked, indicating the chair.

“By all means make your self comfortable,” Brianna retorted ungraciously.

Despite the intended insult, Sherman smiled. “Miss Taylor, I’m not here to waste your time or mine, so if you’ll just answer a few questions I can let you go back to what you were doing.”

Brianna glanced through the wide doorway to the dining table where her computer set. The article she was working on was nearly finished and ready for submitting to the magazine where she sold her seasonal articles about the river.

Wanting to get the interview over with, she took a seat on the sofa, all the while feeling anxiety take over. She had to fight for control to keep from squirming in her seat. She was picking up vibes from Investigator Sherman, a tough guy who liked to use tough tactics to get what he wanted.

Brianna was nervous with good reason. If word got out how she knew who murdered that man described in her letter she feared the consequences could be treacherous. People probably wouldn’t believe her, and would likely make her the laughing stock of everyone who knew her. On the other hand, curiosity seekers could invade her privacy and make her life miserable.

Investigator Sherman might not be there to waste her time, but he was doing just that, Brianna decided, glancing toward her computer and the folder of work from a local ad agency that had to be finished before Wednesday. Her employer put out a weekly publication composed of free advertising to all except commercial enterprises, and made their money through publication sales. The more free ads they printed, the more papers they sold. Her job was to organize the ads under specific categories, type them on the agency template and submit them in time for the next publication.

Brianna submitted an application for the job after coming home from college, and the owner hired her. After proving capability of doing her job well, the management allowed her to work at home. That gave her two pluses: she wouldn’t be working in an emotional environment of people, and it would enable her to work on her own time-schedule to allow more time for the writing of articles she sold to magazines.

She sent Investigator Sherman a defensive look. “Ask your questions, sir. I would like to get back to what I was doing.”

“David will do, if you don’t mind. Is your name Brianna Taylor.”

“Yes, sir, my name is Brianna Taylor,” she said in a monotone, except for stressing sir.

“The name is David. Did you write this letter, Brianna?”

“The name is Miss Taylor,” she corrected. “What if I say I didn’t write the letter?” She could feel color fluctuating in her cheeks.

“I can charge you with obstruction of justice if you’re lying.”

“Okay, so what if I say I wrote the letter, sir?”

“Then you have a whole lot of explaining to do, Brianna.”

“The letter explains everything clearly, I believe. There is nothing to add that you don’t already have. I even drew you a picture.”

He stared at her, sizing her up. “Where do you know this man from?”

“I bumped into him in the grocery store,” she said, her cheeks turning redder from knowing how stupid it must sound. She didn’t want to tell him she was psychic, and trying to answer factual questions with non-factual answers made her sound like a fool, or an idiot, or both.

“I see,” he said questionably, his chin slightly tilted downward while he raised his brows the way some people did when they looked over the top of reading glasses. He wasn’t wearing glasses, however. His attitude mirrored comical doubt.

“You can check it out if you like. I fainted, and the store manager had to come running with smelling salts.”

A cynical grin spread on Investigator Sherman’s face as his head moved slowly from side to side. He glanced toward his partner with an expression that said the woman’s crazy.

Harrison kept a frozen look locked on his features and maintained his genie position.

“Let’s see if I understand you; you bumped into this man in the grocery store, fainted and was revived, then you came home and drew the man’s picture and wrote this letter and mailed it. Does that about describe the situation?”

The expression on his face spoke volumes of what he was thinking, and none of it was good. Brianna could see he thought she was a fruitcake.

“Mam, if you don’t know him, how is it you were able to put this information together in this letter you mailed to the Sheriff’s Department?”

“Why can’t you just take my word for it?” she snapped derisively, her patience stretched to breaking.

He stood up and paced the floor four steps one way then returned to where he started. He stared at her for a good minute, and then said, “Brianna, do you live here alone?”

His implication that she was crazy was so clear that it cut to the quick of Brianna’s temper immediately. She jumped to her feet. “Sir, only people whom I like call me Brianna, and I don’t like you. It is none of your business whether I live alone or not.”

He sat back down and leaned back into the chair with a sigh. “Miss Taylor,” he said sharply, “we can do this here, or you can come to the station with me. Take your choice.”

“I’ve told you all I know, but if it pleases you, please do continue asking your questions. I have answered them thus far—or weren’t you paying attention?” She remained standing.

He ignored her criticism. “If you don’t know the man, how can you justify saying that he killed someone?”

“The man who was killed is called Henry Holmes. I read in the paper he was pulled from the river with multiple jagged cuts and equally jagged stab wounds.”

“Is that where you got the idea to write your letter?”

Brianna was incensed. “Look, I gave you enough details of what happened that you should have traced the murderer right to his place of residence. I even told you about the bloodstains, which you’ll find there in the kitchen on the table, walls and floor. I’m sure you’ll also find the broken beer bottle there that killed him, if the killer hasn’t gotten rid of the evidence; but I doubt he has because he’s not much into housekeeping. He was drunk, and accused his friend of cheating at cards when he kept losing—and one last thing, the letter is dated before they pulled the man from the river. What more can I tell you?”

“You can tell me how you know all this? Can you think of a reason why I shouldn’t suspect you of having something to do with Henry Holmes’ death?”

Brianna glared at him. “Go to hell, Mr. Sherman. Any idiot should know I wouldn’t risk exposure by sending a letter if I had something to do with the man’s murder. I’m no authority on law enforcement, but perhaps you might benefit with some more training in PR skills and investigative tactics.” Her hands were on her hips and her legs spread slightly apart, and more upset than she could ever recall being previously, she shot flying daggers at him with her look.

Tom Harrison, the silent partner, shifted from one foot to the other, noticeably perturbed at Sherman’s forcefulness with a young woman who was the nearest thing they had to a witness in a brutal murder. As chief investigator with the Department, he was working the case with Sherman, giving him a chance to become familiar with department protocol and technique. He decided he didn’t like Sherman’s technique much.

Sherman didn’t like anyone telling him to go to hell, and was trying to control himself, but he wasn’t doing a good job of it as he came out of his chair and took a step toward Brianna.

Brianna backed away from him, wanting space between them. She didn’t have to ask him what he was thinking. He was all ready putting two-and-two together, although he was having a hard time assembling it as anything other than fiction or surrealism.

“What do you do for a living, Miss Taylor?”

“That question is personal and has nothing at all to do with your investigation.”

“Then let me guess. Are you one of those psychic people who read minds?”

“Is that a professional question or a personal one?” Brianna asked acidly.

“Look, Miss Taylor, I’m trying to conduct an investigation here, and you seem intent on screwing it up.”

“Wrong, sir! You seem intent on screwing it up. You ask questions that have nothing to do with your investigation, you like to play the tough guy, and you’re extremely argumentative.” She glanced over at the silent-one. “Perhaps your partner needs to ask the questions.”

The silent-one, Investigator Harrison, an icon with the department for the past twenty years, suddenly shifted his weight. He didn’t like the damn job of shadowing these new guys, supposedly training them. Sherman wasn’t a rookie since his previous experience on the police force earned him an impressive referral and resume. He was a certified Florida officer recently transferred to the sheriff’s investigative team, and assigned the Henry Holmes case as his first assignment. Harrison’s job was to observe, take notes and serve as a backup. He was having trouble remaining passive.

Sherman’s face turned crimson at Brianna’s statement, the blood rising up from his neck and throat into his face. He felt the heat of it. The tiny curl at the corner of his lips reflected his mood. He was angry as hell.

“Sit down!” he ordered, motioning toward the sofa where Brianna sat earlier.

She glanced sharply at him, afraid that if she angered him too much, he could drag her in on a trumped up charge that wouldn’t hold ice water, but would make things uncomfortable enough that she wanted to avoid it. “Okay, you don’t have to yell,” she replied and fell heavily on the soft cushion.

Brianna used every tactic she could think of to divert the questions away from her visionary giftedness.

“Miss Taylor, I need you to tell me exactly how you discovered the information you’ve written in this letter about Henry Holmes’ murder.”

She hedged. “It was just woman’s intuition. I felt something when I bumped into him at the grocery store.”

“And you expect me to charge the man with murder based on your woman’s intuition?” he asked with a twisted grin resembling a sneer.

“No, sir, I do not. I expect you to go investigate what I’ve told you, find some evidence, and then charge him.”

His frustration was obvious when his face turned red again.

Harrison, the silent one, stepped forward. “Miss Taylor, a man has been murdered, and your letter is the first piece of evidence we’ve had. If you can tell us anything at all that will help us find the man’s murderer, then that is all we’re asking.”

“Mr. Harrison, I can only tell you what I’ve all ready said in the letter. I have no other information for you,” she said, throwing out her hands despairingly and shrugging her shoulders.

“That’s not entirely so, ma’am. You had to gain the information from some source. That is what we need to know. How did you learn about the information you put in your letter?”

“Woman’s intuition,” she said sharply, flinging out her hands and arms in another exasperated shrug.

“A few times during my career when leads on a case ran cold, we’ve requested the help of psychics with some fairly good results. Are you suggesting that you gained this information through psychic abilities?”

Brianna’s face tensed, and she pursed her lips, feeling heat flood her face. She scratched an unknown itch on her neck, buying time. “If I was a psychic—and I’m not saying that I am—do you think I would admit it to you. If word got around to that effect my life would never be the same again.”

Brianna glanced at Sherman whose skepticism and amusement shrouded his face. “Look at your partner,” she said to Harrison. “He’s laughing at the thought of such a thing. Psychic abilities aren’t something most people are ready to believe. Can you imagine the ridicule I would have to endure from disbelieving people like him? Even worse, if someone did believe I was psychic, curiosity seekers would never leave me alone again. I’m not a palm reader, Mr. Harrison, and I sure don’t want people knocking on my door with their palm sticking out.”

Harrison nodded his head. He understood her concern. Lots was written about psychics lately, and some television networks ran stories about psychics helping to solve crimes, but she was right—most people weren’t ready to believe anyone had the capability to envision facts and details of a crime. If people couldn’t think it, feel it, or do it themselves, they didn’t believe it.

“Miss Taylor, I understand what you’re saying,” Harrison said agreeably, “and for the time being we’re willing to let it go at that. After we investigate the details in your letter, however, if our investigation is inconclusive we’ll be back and expect you to give us some much better answers than you have today.” It was a threat of sorts, but at least he let Brianna off the hook for the time being.

As it turned out, the Sherriff’s Department was able to make a strong case against the murderer. When he knew he was cornered, he made a deal with the district attorney, confessing the whole story about the killing, which miraculously fit the details almost precisely to those in Brianna’s letter.

Investigator David Sherman, with egg on his face, made a special trip out to see Brianna and tell her the news. He also apologized for his earlier attitude during his questioning of her, and admitted the Holmes murder was his first case after transferring to the Sheriff’s Department from his previous job on the police force. As a token of friendship, and for the pleasure of calling her Brianna rather than Miss Taylor, he invited her out for dinner.

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Desperate Choices

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DESPERATE CHOICES

SYNOPSIS

Rochelle Rathbone flirts with danger and becomes involved with Tobias Chandler, Miami drug czar; thus, setting the stage for horrors she never knew existed until after their marriage. Guarded around the clock in his Miami mansion, she becomes his prisoner. She devises a desperate plan and escapes, knowing Tobias will come after her. She meets and falls in love with Michael Matheson. She knows there are only two things that will stop his pursuit of her—her death or his…

 

CHAPTER ONE

Miami, Florida

Driving her shiny new car, the combination graduation and birthday present from her parents, Rochelle drove to the address Tobias gave her. She was now eighteen and felt all grown up from the attention Tobias showered upon her. They had met frequently at out-of-the-way places, had talked, laughed, and petted, but nothing more serious. Then immediately after her birthday, he called her private phone to invite her to his home for the first time. The invitation thrilled her. She drove through a neighborhood that flaunted million dollar homes with gated entrances. When she came to the house number she sought, she pulled into the driveway and stopped. A Secured by a six-foot fence with spikes around the top was a stately mansion that boasted a wrought-iron gate with a small gatehouse. She gazed in awe at the spacious lawns on each side of the long driveway leading up to a huge modern structure of mortar, stone, steel, and plate glass windows that reflected the blue sky.

At the entrance, a guard, with a magazine in his hand, stepped from the small gatehouse. He pushed a button and the gates opened with an electrical whirring sound. “Miss Rathbone, drive forward, please. Mr. Chandler is expecting you.”

A bright smile lit Rochelle’s girlish face, and she drove forward with a sense of expectancy. Awed by such grandeur, she stopped in front of the elegant structure with fascinated interest. She opened the car door, climbing out when she spied Tobias coming to greet her.

“Is this all yours?” she blurted out childishly. Looking upward, she saw the outer walls of the house rising to a height of at least three stories.

Tobias ignored the question, and kissed her. “Come inside and I’ll show you around.” His white teeth flashed behind a wide smile and he seemed genuinely happy to see her. They were no longer strangers. They had been together a number of times since their initial meeting. All their visits had been friendly get-togethers. Now, she had just had her eighteenth birthday and was at the legal age of consent.

The tour led directly up the spacious winding stairs to Tobias’s elegantly decorated bedroom with a king size bed and beautiful furnishings. Sliding glass doors opened onto a balcony overlooking green lawns. Tobias reached his arms around Rochelle and kissed her. His hands moved over her body, taking liberties beyond the timid familiarities exercised over the past few weeks. The age restriction no longer applied and now he would take what he had wanted since meeting her.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this day, baby. You know I want you.” His eyes drank in her lovely, creamy smooth complexion and her young woman’s figure.

Rochelle smiled, feeling self-important. Her ego became pumped up by Tobias’s declaration of desire for her. Everything about him thrilled her. Over the weeks when they had met clandestinely, he had touched and fondled her, causing her to yearn for more. Now a simple nod of her head indicated her consent.

With easy abandon, Tobias relieved Rochelle of her clothing and shed his own. His steel-gray eyes scanned her nakedness, the act shaming and thrilling her at once. His hands seemed to be everywhere. A spark of desire struck like lightning as he walked her backward toward the bed, pushing her down until she lay on her back. She had been looking forward to this moment. Having Tobias fondle and entice her over the weeks she had known him had developed into a strong need that begged for repletion. A thrill of anticipation raced through her even while tension tightened her muscles causing her to recline on the bed like a stiff board.

Tobias’s hands slid across her breasts and along the curves of Rochelle’s body to send sensuous chills along the column of her spine. He kissed her until her lips burned with his kisses. He trailed a chain of kisses down to one nipple then the other. The kisses didn’t stop there. They followed a path down to her stomach and beyond. Rochelle’s heart pounded thunderously to her ears.

This was something all new to her. She tensed.

“Relax, baby. Just relax and enjoy it. I’m going to make you feel so good.” He fondled her round breasts to prove it and watched her tiny rosebud nipples rise to delicate pink peaks.

Rochelle was too breathless to speak. She nodded her head, her eyes beseeching him, not knowing what else to expect, but her body was attuning itself to his intimacy.

“You want this, don’t you, baby?” he asked hoarsely, his mouth, hands, and fingers enticing her as never before over the entirety of her shapely body.

Rochelle’s green eyes stretched open wide, resembling a frightened doe. Her response to Tobias’s question was a yes that sounded more like a squeak.

“You have a beautiful body,” Tobias whispered, his voice husky. His hands explored her, touching, feeling, and possessively plundering every inch of her. He slid his fingers up the inside of her thighs. He bent his head again to her lips, while his hand and fingers took liberties with every valley and curve. Although tense, Rochelle became aware of the natural response of her body beneath his bold caresses.

Stimulated by the fiery intensity of his need, Tobias moved between her legs taking a position on top of her. She lay beneath him, still and unmoving. Then he entered her, gently and slowly this first time, finally sending a stabbing thrust to deflower her youth.

“So good, so good,” he groaned hoarsely in her ear just before his explosive release.

He groaned, jerked, and shuddered, letting his full weight rest upon her. Unable to breathe, Rochelle pushed her hands against his shoulders, and he rolled off her, totally spent. He spread out his arms and legs in loose repose with no thought for modesty. Rochelle pulled the sheet up to cover her, diverting her attention to the ceiling.

Rochelle felt needy. She had reached a high point that felt like pure ecstasy in the making, and then nothing when Tobias finished with her. Was that all there was to it? Wasn’t she supposed to experience some sort of pleasure such as he seemed to gain from their sexual encounter? An unfulfilled longing resided in her lower abdomen.

She glanced over at him, feeling slightly abandoned, wishing he would hold her. She scooted over next to him and spread her arm across his chest, snuggling her face up against his neck and cheek.

“Baby, you’re wonderful. You made daddy feel really good.”

Rochelle winced, wishing he wouldn’t use the word daddy in relation to their intimacy. Her daddy would kill her if he knew what she had just done. She snuggled up against him, and the throbbing need inside her was slow to dissolve.

FOLLOWING THAT DAY of lost innocence, Rochelle felt terribly grown up. What few girlfriends she still had seemed young and childish, their example of a night out being a trip to the pizza parlor with the gang. Such pastimes were too tame for Rochelle now after her induction into more grownup activities with Tobias. She had outgrown her old classmates.

Tobias took her to posh restaurants and lively nightclubs and discos. He provided her a wardrobe of expensive clothing, which she kept at his home. He gave her money to buy more anytime she wanted. She grew into their busy nightlife, and since she wasn’t twenty-one, she sipped on cokes while Tobias and his friends drank scotch, bourbon, gin, or vodka.

Following her graduation from high school, she enrolled and started classes at the local university. Her and Tobias’s secret affair—which Rochelle continually hid from her parents by telling them she was going out with friends—went on during her freshman year at the university. When she was ready to start her sophomore year, Tobias decided he wanted to marry her.

At about that same time, Joshua Rathbone, Rochelle’s father, learned that all Rochelle’s nights out hadn’t been trips to the library or outings with her girlfriends after all. Through friends who saw them out in public, he learned of his daughter’s relationship with Tobias Chandler.

Rochelle’s parents went crazy with shock, anger, and dismay.

“For God’s sake, you have to be out of your mind.” Angela Rathbone cried hysterically. “The man is old enough to be your father, and if that isn’t bad enough, he’s a known criminal. Do you have any idea what kind of situation you’re getting yourself into with this man? Do you know what you’re doing?”

“Mom…” Rochelle started, not with an answer, but with a rebuttal.

Before she could say more, her father interrupted. “Rochelle, you will not see that man again. I forbid it! Do you understand me? I forbid it!” he said in raised voice and controlled anger. The news of his daughter having an affair with Tobias Chandler was the worse news of his life.

“Dad, you can’t forbid it. I’m a woman now and have a right to make my own decisions,” she quarreled, exercising an uncommon bravado not familiar to her parents.

Joshua hit the ceiling. “A woman! Good God, you’re nothing but a child. A woman would have better sense than to let that criminal bastard compromise her.”

“He’s not a bastard, and it won’t do you any good to call him names,” Rochelle raised her voice. “I have a right to make decisions about my life. I’m doing what I want, and I won’t listen to this.”

Joshua was well aware of defiance among young people. It had become a sort of juvenile revolution with youngsters of all ages declaring their independence before they were mature enough to take responsibility for their actions. Once normal households had become war zones where parents screamed and fought for control by attempting to exercise parental influence, often in a losing battle with their children. With a kind of feel-good mentality among youths, they sought life in the moment, in the fast lane. Drug use was rampant, as was sexual promiscuity. Youth were in turmoil, but Joshua never expected this kind of behavior from his daughter who had a proper upbringing.

Joshua and Angela raised Rochelle in a morally prudent environment revolving around church, community, and civic affairs. They submersed her in a life complemented by good up-right friends, and set proper standards of behavior exemplified by their own conduct. They never counted on outer influences compromising everything taught her at home.

Now, tormented by Rochelle’s association with Tobias Chandler, Joshua looked back and wondered where he and Angela went wrong. Perhaps they had protected Rochelle too much, instead of acquainting her with the ills of a sick society filled with drugs, perverse sex, murder, rape, and a hoard of crimes against humanity. Knowing Rochelle was innocent prey to a man like Tobias Chandler, Joshua felt the urge to kill him for destroying his child’s innocence.

“As God is my witness, Rochelle,” Joshua exploded, a rarity for his commonly dignified manner, “I’ll damn well lock you in your room if I have to rather than see you ruin your life with some low-life criminal. Everybody in the justice system knows he runs the drug trade in Miami. He’s involved with every low-life who has connections to the drug cartel out of Columbia.”

“That’s a lie! You’re saying that because you don’t want me to see him,” she argued.

“Do you think I’ve defended criminals in the courtroom all these years with blinders on? The State Attorney’s office has been seeking evidence on Tobias Chandler for several months now.”

“Then why haven’t they arrested him?” Rochelle countered.

“Oh they will, mark my word, just as soon as they get enough evidence to make the charges stick. He’s going down sooner or later, and you can count on that.”

“I don’t believe any of this. You would say anything to break us up. You’re just saying these things about Tobias because you don’t want me to see him.”

“What in the hell will it take to get through that thick skull of yours? Rochelle, Tobias Chandler is a known criminal. He’s an evil and dangerous man.”

Rochelle’s voice rose again. “I don’t believe it! I’ve never seen him involved in anything connected with drugs.”

Joshua guffawed with disgust. “Did you believe he would advertise his illegal dealings? Of course, you don’t see anything suspicious or illegal. Neither does anyone else or the state attorney would have squashed his organization already.”

Rochelle pursed her lips, tilting her head at a disgusted angle, and stared defiantly from the corner of her eyes at nothing in particular.

“Let me tell you a horror story about Chandler. A while back, I represented a man called Hobart Pascal, who was one of the cartel’s front men. The police charged him with murdering an innocent man who accidentally overheard a conversation about a shipment of drugs. Hobart killed the man to silence him. When the trial turned sour, Chandler feared Hobart might make a deal with the prosecutor’s office to turn state’s evidence against him. Hobart was found hung in his cell.”

“Then it was someone else. Tobias would never do anything like you’re suggesting,” she stated in bitter defiance.

“No, he wouldn’t do something like that directly, but he delegates. It’s his job to keep the drug market running smoothly and keep the players out of jail. He has at least a fifth of the police department on his payroll. Drug marketing is big business, Rochelle, and Tobias Chandler is Colombia’s kingpin, the liaison between them and drug distribution. Chandler will go down eventually and he’ll destroy you with him. Can’t you see that I’m trying to protect you?”

Raising her chin defiantly, Rochelle stated adamantly. “Dad, I know you and mom mean well, and I don’t want to hurt either of you, but I love him. I can’t give him up, and I won’t give him up.”

“Rochelle, I swear I’ll lock you in your room before I’ll see you ruin your life on a man like Tobias Chandler,” Joshua declared, his face bright red with anger as he hovered threateningly above his daughter, restraining himself from actually hitting her for the first time in his life.

“It would be a tragic mistake for you to try such a thing, Dad. If you make me choose, I’ll leave here and go live with Tobias.”

Angela came to her feet, her face splotched red. She reached out and slashed her hand across Rochelle’s cheek. “How can you be such an idiot? Your father is an attorney and has defended enough criminals that he knows what he’s talking about. You need to listen to him. Even I know what Tobias Chandler is. He’ll use you until he tires of you and then you’ll be found in some lake or dump somewhere. Is that what you want?”

Touching her hand to her stinging cheek, Rochelle jumped up from her chair and raced from the room.

Chapter Two

A stormy Saturday morning blew in with heavy pouring rain. Thunder and lightning boomed and sliced through the atmosphere. Rochelle took advantage of the storm to sleep late. With her energy divided between college classes, studying, and time spent with Tobias, she was exhausted most the time. Last night, she made every excuse to avoid another late night out with him and his associates and their wives, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, he demanded she give up her classes. “You won’t need college classes after you marry me,” he stated offhandedly.

His subtlety didn’t escape her. “Is that supposed to be a proposal?” she inquired with a saucy tilt to her head.

“If it were, would you say yes and give up your classes?”

“I like the idea of getting an education. Why should I give it up?”

“Because when you become my wife, you belong to me and I don’t want you involved in other activities that take you away from me.”

Tobias’s possessiveness thrilled her, making her feel extremely special and important in his life. It made her feel wanted and cared for by him. She thought of all the hard work spent in keeping up with her studies, and privately agreed that she didn’t need to continue her education. If she married Tobias an education wouldn’t benefit her anyway since he wouldn’t want her to work.

A clap of thunder cut through her restful sleep, causing her to turn over and glance at the clock. Ten o’clock. God, she was certain she could sleep the whole day through if she didn’t have class assignments.

She recalled Tobias’s proposal, what he said about giving up her college courses. With a groan, of indecision, she rolled over and went back to sleep for another couple of hours.

“Chelle, darling, its nearly noon. Aren’t you going to get up? You’re not sick are you?” Angela asked, all too aware of the busy pace her daughter had been keeping with classes, assignments, and Tobias Chandler.

“Ohhhh,” she groaned, rubbing her eyes, “I’d like to sleep all day.”

“Then why don’t you, darling? You look tired. I’ll bring some juice and toast up to you in a little while.”

“No, I think I’d better get up.” She pushed herself to a sitting position, and slung her legs off the side of the bed. Like a zombie, she slid her feet heavily across the floor to the bathroom. Half asleep, she went through all the motions routinely followed for the past several years, showering, brushing her teeth, putting on makeup, combing her hair, and then dressing for the day. Finally satisfied with her image in the mirror, she went downstairs where her father finished his lunch and lingered over a cup of coffee.

“Sweetheart, you look tired,” Joshua said, glancing up as she came into the breakfast room. He and Angela both had made concessions in their feelings about Rochelle seeing Chandler. They feared she might follow through on her threat to move in with him unless they took a tolerant position. They loved her and wanted to protect her, but their frustration at not being able to do so caused a low undercurrent of anger at her defiance.

Rochelle yawned, covering her mouth while she pulled out a chair across from her father. “Just trying to wake up,” she said. The truth was, she was weighted down and tormented by the prospect of telling her parents that Tobias proposed to her.

Perhaps she would wait until dinnertime.

ROCHELLE RUSHED THROUGH her assignments so she could linger over dinner with her parents. She waited half way through the meal before gaining the nerve to break the news about Tobias’s proposal. She tensed in readiness for another unpleasant scene.

“Mom, Dad, I have something to tell you,” she said, lowering her head in a thoughtful pose.

Joshua and Angela glanced at each other, looking suddenly anxious. They gazed quietly at Rochelle, waiting for the shattering news neither expected.

Perhaps her nerves were acting up, Rochelle thought, but she could swear the air crackled with electrical currents.

Best to get right to the point, she thought. She blurted out her news in one long breath. “Tobias asked me to marry him.”

Angela dropped her fork. It clattered against the plate. Joshua’s fork stopped midway to his mouth. He sat frozen in that position for several seconds in pure shock while he stared non-blinking at Rochelle’s young face.

Angela’s mouth flew open and she gasped, “Oh my God!”

Joshua’s hand fell, and the fork hit the edge of the plate, bounced on the table, and fell to the floor. “No, Rochelle. You can’t do this.” His unusually quiet voice was a plea as the words quivered in his throat. He swallowed spasmodically, his Adam’s apple bobbing from the effort.

“Dad, I love you,” she said persuasively, “and I would never do anything intentionally to hurt you or mama, but this is my life. This is what I want to do with it. I want to be Tobias’s wife. You have to try to understand.”

“Dear God, Rochelle, what is wrong with you?” Angela cried. “Joshua, please talk some sense into her?”

Before Joshua could say anything, Angela continued in a desperate plea. “Why are you doing this, Chelle? Why, for God’s sake, do you want to ruin your life? There will be other men, young men your own age.” Sobbing, she added, “You can’t do this. You can’t!”

“Mama, why can’t I make you and Dad understand how I feel? Can’t you understand this is my life, not yours? I don’t want anyone else except Tobias. I beg you to understand. Your blessings are important to me.”

“Our blessings! Good God, do you seriously think we could ever offer our blessings for you to marry a criminal?” Joshua’s emotional control, learned from years of being at the center of public observation in the courtroom, was steadfast for the moment.

“When?” he asked solemnly, realizing the futility in attempting to argue the point. His daughter’s determination defied everything he might say to her against her decision.

“We haven’t decided yet. I’d like to finish my sophomore year first.”

“And your junior and senior years—what about those?” Angela cried heartbrokenly.

“Tobias said he wants me to give up my classes after we’re married.” She hung her head, feeling shame now when considering how much her education meant to both her parents. They had never doubted she would complete college. She had even thought at one time of becoming a lawyer like her father, but that would be out now if she gave up college.

“Chelle, I beg you not to do this? You’re going to destroy your life if you marry that man.” Her mother swallowed salty tears, her shoulders slumping like an old woman’s instead of the elegant forty-five year old lady she actually was.

“I’m sorry, mom. I never meant to hurt either of you,” she whispered with a guilty woebegone look.

The lovely dinner was ruined. Joshua pushed his plate back, unable to eat another bite.

Angela’s whole body seemed to cave in, as if swallowed by the chair in which she sat. Wringing her hands nervously, she shook her head back and forth, her eyes suddenly tired and dazed.

Rochelle stared at her food, her appetite gone like her father’s was.

I’ve broken their hearts, she thought, suddenly feeling undeserving of all they had done for her. Learning of her affair with Tobias was shock enough for them, but hearing of her plan to marry him must surely feel like downright betrayal. Quietly, she got up and left the table.

Joshua and Angela took every opportunity in the coming days to talk Rochelle out of making the worst mistake of her life. They begged, pleaded, implored, demanded and threatened. Through it all, Rochelle stood her ground, declaring, “I’m not going to listen to any more of your arguments, so you might as well stop them.”

Tortured by the very idea of his daughter married to a man like Tobias Chandler, Joshua went into Rochelle’s room when she wasn’t home, and rifled through her nightstand drawer until he found Tobias Chandler’s phone number. Joshua called him.

JOSHUA AND TOBIAS MET EARLY one morning at a small diner, that was on the way to Joshua’s office. Both drove into the parking lot only a minute apart. They exited their cars simultaneously. Stepping forward, both men moved toward the front of their vehicles.

Silently, they sized each other up. Tobias spoke first. “Rathbone, I sure as hell hope you have a good reason for dragging me out here. What can I do for you?”

“I’ll cut to the chase, Chandler. I’m here to ask you to stop seeing my daughter.” Joshua didn’t know what reaction to expect. He knew enough about Tobias Chandler to know he was not especially versed in PR skills. His power lay in command and control, and the expertise to get things done quickly and stealthily so no trails would lead back to him.

Tobias chuckled arrogantly. “What’s wrong, Rathbone? Did you fail to convince Rochelle to break off with me, and now hope to convince me to do the deed myself?”

“Chandler you and I both know that a marriage between my daughter and a man your age will never work.”

Tobias leaned against the hood of the car. A sickening grin spread across his face. “I know that it will work as long as I want it to,” he answered with implied insinuations.

Joshua sucked in a deep breath of air. “I just hoped you would be honorable enough to do the right thing.”

Tobias laughed, the sound boiling out of his throat jeeringly. He reached in his front shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Pulling one from the pack, he stuck it between his lips, put the pack back in his pocket, and then searched his pants pockets for his lighter. Staring Joshua in the eyes, he flicked the lighter and put the flame to the end of the cigarette, taking all the time in the world before voicing his answer.

Finally, after taking a big puff of his cigarette and blowing the smoke in Joshua’s face, Tobias replied, chuckling. “I thought I was doing the right thing. I’m making an honest woman out of her.”

Blood rushed to Joshua’s face. He seethed inside, but he held his temper. “What will it take, Chandler, to get you to leave my daughter alone?”

“You don’t have what it takes to get me to do anything, Rathbone. I never liked you in or out of the courtroom, and frankly, I like you even less now for wasting my time.”

“She’s my daughter, Chandler. You must have plenty of women friends. Why do you need Rochelle?”

Tobias laughed throatily. “I like her in bed. Does that answer your question, Mr. Rathbone?” He grinned offensively.

Joshua cringed internally at Chandler’s crude remark. Blood pumped up to his face in scalding hot disgust. He sucked in his breath, and then let it out slowly, doing his damnedest not to let Chandler provoke him. It took all his will power to keep control. “I’d appreciate a show of respect,” he said curtly through partly clenched lips.

“Let’s get something straight, future father-in-law. I want your daughter and I am going to marry her—simple as that. If you know what’s best for you, you’ll just back off and leave the two of us alone.” He looked Joshua in the eyes with a mercury stare that was very serious now.

Such words coming from a man like Tobias Chandler was a threat. A strange sensation of caution and dread slid over Joshua when he realized what a depraved and perverted individual Chandler truly was.

“I’ll pay you. I’ll pay whatever you ask to break off with my daughter.”

Tobias threw back his head and laughed. “Do you think I need your money? Rathbone, when I am through with her, I will serve her up to you on a platter. In the meantime, you’re wasting my time.”

Joshua could feel the heat in his face. Nothing would stop this man outside a bullet. “She’s just a kid, Chandler. You have to be nearly the same age as me. You are old enough to be her father. In another ten years, you will be an old man, and she will still be a young woman. Surely, you see the irony in marrying someone young enough to be your daughter.”

“You miss the point, Rathbone. That’s what makes her so interesting,” he grinned through a disgusting twist of his lips.

Joshua reacted. All his carefully tended control was gone. He swung a hard fist at Tobias, hitting his jaw, and then following with a punch to his lip.

Thrown off balance, Chandler spun awkwardly, reaching out to grab hold of the car in an effort to keep from sprawling like a sack of potatoes on the pavement.

Joshua clinched his fist to keep from hitting him again. “You sick bastard, I’ll not rest until you’re behind bars for your illegal activities. I’ll expose you if it’s the last thing I ever do.”

Tobias rubbed his jaw and touched a swollen lip that oozed with blood. He flung aside the cigarette, its red tip searing his fingers. His eyes were dark with rage, but his words were deadly quiet as he regained his balance and locked gazes with Joshua.

“It will likely be the last thing you ever do, you stupid son of a bitch. You will pay for this, Rathbone. If you attempt to come up against me, I’ll see you in hell!”

“There’s ways to stop people like you,” Joshua threatened. In the back of his mind, a slight nudge warned him that his threats posed danger for him.

Tobias leaned heavily toward him, his face blood red with rage. “You stupid bastard, you have no idea who you’re dealing with. You’ve just signed your death warrant, old man!”

Joshua’s strength crumbled where he stood, and he backed toward his car. Pulling the door open, he slid behind the wheel. Never would he take Chandler’s threat lightly. The man’s history spoke for itself. He made people disappear, and nothing was beyond his sick capability. Pure terror washed over Joshua.

Turning the key in the ignition, he backed up, and then steered the car out to the street, wishing all the while he and his family never had to lay eyes on Tobias Chandler again. Outside of simply killing him, Joshua was determined to do what he could to put Chandler out of commission. He knew he was putting his life on the line, but he could never live with himself to sit idly by and do nothing when his daughter’s future was at peril.

Having represented enough criminals through the court system to know better than take a threat lightly, Joshua knew the risks of what he planned. To pursue attempts against Tobias to bring him to justice would present a direct challenge. He had no doubt that Chandler would not hesitate to follow through with the threat he made if he was provoked.

Joshua knew the risks of what he was up against, but his child meant too much to him to stand by and do nothing while she made the biggest mistake of her life. If it were in his power, he would put Tobias Chandler behind bars where he belonged.

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When Justice is Served

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SYNOPSIS: Assistant district attorney, Nicole Duval, deathly fears encountering the rapist who brutally assaulted her. Even Judge Douglas Keegan, the man she loves, cannot offset her post-traumatic stress disorder. Their sexual relationship is terriby flawed. When a horrible secret relating to their paternity surfaces, things couldn’t be worse—until she prosecutes a rape case that tests her very sanity…

PROLOGUE
Florida, 1950
Sixteen-year-old Mattie Wilson gazed at herself in the mirror. Concealment of her pregnancy was no longer possible. It never dawned on her to tell her employer, Mr. Avery Lucas Keegan, who had expertly seduced her while his wife lay in the hospital with a possible miscarriage. She prayed he might never find out because some instinct told her if he did, it would change her whole life, and likely not for the better. Thus, after her last payday she never went back to Mr. Keegan’s mansion where she worked as a housekeeper.

She was devastated and angered by the injustice of Mr. Keegan taking advantage of her and putting a baby in her belly. He lived in a mansion on a hill and had everything. Her poor baby would have nothing. It was a terrible injustice, she thought, envying Mr. Keegan’s wealth, from which the baby he created would never receive any benefit.

The problems with Pap multiplied when, in the first week she was off from work, he reached out his hand for his cut of her salary.

“There’ll be no more money, Pap,” she said with lowered eyes, fortifying herself against the storm blowing up the minute she spoke.

He snorted, spittle forming at the corners of his mouth marking the telltale sign of his heavy drinking night after night when he came home from his job. “Don’t mess with me, girl. Ye rent’s due. Pay up.”

“I can’t pay you. I won’t be getting any more paychecks,” Mattie announced timidly, afraid to look him in the eye.

“No paycheck! What the hell does that mean?” Then, almost like he was seeing her for the first time in months, he blinked a couple of times, his forehead squeezed into a frown.  His eyes glanced toward her abdomen. His face froze with shock. His mouth fell open and his lips hung like limp pieces of rubber.

“What in the hell is this?” he snarled, spittle shooting from his mouth. Like a striking snake, his hand jerked at the apron tied about her waist, snatching it from her swollen body. “Son of a bitch! How long you been carrying on with someone, girl? Who in the hell does your bastard belong to?” he demanded, drawing back his hand to hit her.

Mattie cowered away, throwing up her arms to shield his blow. “I don’t know,” she lied, knowing Pap must not learn that Mr. Keegan was the father.

“Don’t know! What the hell kind of answer is that? How many good for nothing bums have you been sleeping with?”

His expression looked dangerous, causing Mattie to cower further away from him. She remembered the often-used path she took through the woods from the Keegan’s place back to Pap’s shack. A story formed quickly in her head and she started pouring out words of desperation.

“It happened in the woods when I was coming from work late one evening. Somebody grabbed me from behind, and covered my head with something and did it to me. I don’t know who it was. By the time I got the sack off my head he was gone.” Her voice trembled apprehensively, tears running down her cheeks.

Pap seemed to believe her story, but his wrath still boiled. “You ain’t gonna keep some man’s bastard around here. You can just get rid of it, give it away, do whatever you want with it, but I ain’t going to be feeding another damn mouth. You hear me, girl?” he yelled, lurching forward to grab her wrist while his other hand slashed across her cheek, sending her staggering backwards against the wall.

Life was precarious at best the next three months before Mattie would give birth. Once in Mr. Townsend’s store where she bought food, she saw Mr. Keegan there. His shocked gaze of disbelief caused Mattie to cringe fearfully. Seeing him frightened her so badly she turned and ran from the store. She hid outside behind bushes until she saw Mr. Keegan leave not a minute after her. Only then would she go back into Mr. Townsend’s store to buy groceries.

Mr. Townsend gave her the name of a woman who worked for the Social Services Agency whom he said might be able to help her.

Mattie trekked all the way across town to see the woman who lived in a fabulous neighborhood and a beautiful home. It was a whole world away from the other side of the tracks where Mattie lived among ancient homes and shacks falling into ill disrepair. When she stood before the woman’s house, she was flooded with the same misgivings known the first time she stepped over the threshold of the Keegan mansion and witnessed a world of affluence beyond her imagination. It hit her how out of place she was there.

Suddenly, without even going to the door, she turned and hurried away, eager to cross over the tracks into the only place in the world offering her a sense of security.

Lying on her lumpy mattress night after night, she struggled decisively. Pap did not make idle threats. He said he would not feed another mouth and he meant it. Her only option was to leave, or give away her baby when it was born. Yet, she didn’t see how she could ever give it away. Every time it kicked, her love for it grew stronger. Having someone to love was the most wonderful feeling known to her, since her mama carried to the grave the only love Mattie knew. Having the baby warm and snug inside her had already begun to mend the years of love deprivation. If she gave the baby up for adoption, her empty arms would feel empty forever.

What was she going to do? Night after night the question kept her wakeful. The days offered no peace while she lived with Pap’s anger that could be dangerously close to exploding every evening after he came home from work and consumed at least a six-pack of beer before passing out on the sofa.

Mattie knew a woman who lived close by that  delivered babies for those who could not afford the hospital. She went to see the woman and got her offer of help with the baby’s birth.

When the day arrived for Mattie’s delivery, she walked to the woman’s house and told her the baby was coming.

“Go back home, put on a large pot of water to boil, gather up clean sheets and some clean towels and rags, then put yourself in bed. I’ll be there shortly.”

By the time Ettie Mae Brown, midwife, got there, Mattie was already straining and trying to push the babe from her body. Without much help, the infant came into the world crying with healthy lungs. Mattie lulled into a peaceful euphoria since the birth came easy.

At least the first one did.

Mattie had not counted on a second babe, but sure enough, another came popping out of her with as healthy a cry as the first. Ettie Mae commented that it was the first twins she had delivered.

A large wicker basket sat on a table in the corner. Mattie had found it in the trash bin near Mr. Townsend’s grocery store. She had made a little mattress to fit, made some tiny sheets and a quilted coverlet, and put some pink ribbon on the handle and around the outer edge of the basket. Since the babies were so tiny, the basket would hold them both for a while until they outgrew it.

Ettie Mae Brown finally left when she was sure mother and babies were well. In the days ahead, she stopped by occasionally to see if Mattie needed anything from the store.

Mattie saw Pap peek at the babies only once. He was angry all the time, it spilling out in raving fits when his meal wasn’t ready, or when he found something else to complain about. When he consumed many beers, littering the floor with the cans, he threw them at Mattie in violet rage anytime she came through the room. She nursed bruises frequently. Daily, she dreaded Pap’s homecoming from work and the abuse he inflicted on her.

“I want them out of here,” he kept screaming at her day after day. “You get rid of them, else I will,” he threatened.

One evening after she made dinner for Pap, she went into the room and nursed the crying babies. Feeling unusually tired after having a restless night previously, she fell asleep after putting the babies in their basket. Mattie slept soundly, enjoying a deep sleep when something awakened her. As her eyes adjusted to the near darkness diluted with a wash of light coming through the open doorway, she saw a shadow above the basket where the babies slept. Alert all at once, she sat up in bed, straining her eyes toward the large shadow. She saw her father standing above the basket with a pillow in his hand. Mattie sprang from the bed.

“What are you doing?” she cried, jerking the pillow from his hand. His strong smelling beer-breath made her nearly gag. Reaching for the light switch, she flicked it. The sudden brightness illuminated her father’s evil face. Caught in the near act too horrible for words to express, Mattie screamed. “Get out of here! Get out of here!”

Reality of what he had nearly done seeped through the stupor of drunkenness, and Emory Wilson turned and hurried from the room lest he still do the deed he started.

The near tragedy made Mattie realize she could no longer remain in this house. Pap had been about to kill her babies. She could not take the chance that he might try again.

The next day she took the basket with her babies and went to the bank. She drew out all her money and was flabbergasted to learn that her account contained far more than what her bankbook showed. Mr. Keegan, for whatever reason, had seen fit to deposit a great deal of money into her account, enough to see her safe for many, many months to come.

* * * *

That night Mattie waited until Pap passed out. With her one bag packed full of everything she owned, along with the few baby clothes and diapers, she eased from the house. She headed for the bus stop, hoping a bus would come soon. She hadn’t decided where she was going. It didn’t matter just so she got away from Pap.

Clouds were building in the darkening heavens and rain would soon pour from the sky. Even then, drops started falling and hitting the dirt to create dust puffs. She took the blanket and spread it across the basket, but soon the drops came in earnest and the blanket quickly became wet. She sought the shelter of a storefront whose overhang yielded modest protection from the rain. The babies cried because of the dampness and from hunger, and Mattie cried, too. Weeping blindly, she spotted a cardboard box in front of the store. Although it was damp, she ripped it apart and managed to make a cover to put over the basket to protect the babies from the rain. They continued crying, and Mattie had no idea what to do.

She realized the helplessness of her situation. What was she to do with two tiny infants? She had no home, no place to stay, no one to turn to.

It was then she remembered the social services woman.

From her purse, she took out a piece of paper and wrote the birth date of her babies. She started to write the names she gave them, but changed her mind. She put the paper in the basket and sat there next to it, thinking and crying over what she planned.

After a long time, the rain slackened for a spell. Mattie hid her suitcase in some bushes. Keeping the torn up cardboard box on top of the basket, she walked across town to where the social services woman lived.

The lights were on in the house. With tears still pouring as wildly as the rain, she went up the steps to the small roofed porch. Setting the basket down in front of the door, she knelt and kissed each of her babies. She started to ring the doorbell, but bent down and kissed them again. The rain came harder and she was aware the babies needed to be inside where it was warm and dry. Quickly, she rose and pressed her finger against the little lighted doorbell button and the chimes from inside rang in her ear. With one last quick look at her babies, she rushed down the steps, hurrying toward a nearby bush to hide.

Before Mattie arrived at the bush, she came to a stop when a sudden change of heart overtook her so strongly she knew she would stop breathing if she didn’t turn back. Running, she went back and grabbed the handle of the basket. When she tried to lift it, the handle broke and the babies nearly spilled out on the concrete floor of the porch. In the window, Mattie could see someone inside the house walking toward the front door. With no time to spare, she reached inside the basket and grabbed one of the babies. She released her bosom from her clothing to let the baby find her breast to keep it quiet while she ran behind the bush.

Nearly blinded by rain and tears, she watched in misery as the door opened, spilling light onto the porch and the basket containing her other baby. She didn’t know which baby she held, didn’t know if it was her tiny girl or her little boy. Either way, her heart lay bare and bleeding inside that basket with her tiny infant as the woman lifted her baby, dragged the basket inside the house, and closed the door behind her.

Mattie felt sobs choking her. She started walking. Where would she go? What would she do with a tiny baby?

She hugged the little baby to her bosom and kissed its tiny cheek, the strong sense of loss for the baby left behind like a knife in her heart. The baby in her arms seemed somehow torn in half with the absence of the child she was leaving. How could she go through life with this one baby always reminding her of the one she gave away? What was she to do?

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