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Authors: Marylu Tyndall

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BOOK: Abandoned Memories
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“Where are Patrick and Dodd?” the colonel asked.

“They spotted the gold moon and stars above the altar.” Hayden’s lips slanted. “Need I say more?”

James snorted and leaned toward Angeline to whisper, “Are you sure you want to continue?”

“Yes, I’ve come this far. I might as well go on.” Though her bodice was glued to her skin and sweat trickled down her neck and the fetor that rose from deep within the tunnels was enough to wilt a sturdy oak tree, she would prove herself brave. At least this once. Anything to keep James gazing at her with such admiration.

“Let’s get on with it, then,” Hayden said, urging them forward. “I’ve got a new wife to return to.”

Eliza smiled and looped her arm through her husband’s. “She was so sweet to take over the clinic in my absence.”

“I’m glad she did,” Hayden replied. “I wouldn’t want her coming to this vile place.”

Vile indeed. Angeline had forced her eyes shut at the sight of the images of torture carved into stone obelisks that littered the temple yard above. As well as the huge fire pit where no doubt the cannibals had roasted their victims so many years ago. Thankfully, James had ushered her past it all and into the temple before she’d had time to visualize the scenes in her mind. Something she was prone to do, especially with bad memories.

Trying to not lean on James for support, she followed Eliza and Blake as they descended an uneven set of stairs into a dark hole that grew hotter and hotter with each step. The walls narrowed. Air abandoned the space as if too frightened to go farther. She couldn’t blame it. Coughing, she gasped for a breath, but only the foul odor of death and decay invaded her lungs. James patted her arm. Torchlight cast ghostly shadows over walls and ceiling. Angeline shivered and nearly tripped.

“Almost there.” Blake’s voice reverberated through the narrow passage.

They descended another set of stairs cluttered with dirt and rocks then crawled one by one through an opening that led into a large cave. Stalactites and stalagmites thrust from floor and ceiling like giant fangs of some otherworld creature—its mouth gaping wide to receive them. Blake lit torches hooked on walls about the chamber. Their flames cast talon-like shadows leaping over rock and dirt. Angeline’s gaze flew to two empty alcoves carved upright into one of the walls. Her breath caught in her throat. Eliza’s description did them no credit, for they were much larger, much taller, and so perfectly hewn from stone that Angeline could only stare in wonder.

“Mr. Graves!” James shouted, his voice echoing like a gong. “Mr. Graves!”

Nothing but the
drip, drop
of water and howl of wind replied. Angeline took a tentative step toward one of the alcoves, her eyes fixed upon the iron shackles lying loose at the bottom of a long vertical pole. Her mind tripped on the impossibility of such a place existing beneath an ancient temple, of smooth alcoves carved in a perfect semicircle out of solid rock, of a metal pole and chains that formed some ungodly prison.

A blast of heat swamped her, coming from nowhere, yet all around. Air as hot as a furnace seared her lungs. Sweat moistened her face. The tunnel began to spin. James clutched her arm and handed her a canteen. She took several gulps, allowing the hot but refreshing water to slide down her throat.

“How could Graves stand to be down here so long?” Hayden said from behind them.

“Graves!” Blake shouted. Lifting his torch, he slid through another opening to their left, Eliza on his heels. With a heavy sigh, James followed, escorting Angeline through the narrow crevice into yet another cave. Most of this chamber was filled with large rocks stacked to the ceiling as if the roof had collapsed. The smell of sulfur and feces stung Angeline’s nose, and she covered her mouth as her gaze latched upon a single empty alcove carved out of the wall—the same as the two in the cave above.

Leaping atop a boulder centering the room, James raised a torch and tried to peer above the mound of rocks. “There’s another alcove back here. I can see the top.” He jumped to the ground and approached the empty one then kneeled to examine the broken chains at the bottom. The clank and jangle of iron thundered an eerie cadence through the cavern. Angeline tensed. Dropping the chains, James stood and lifted the torch to reveal writing etched above the alcove. In a foreign language. No, two different languages from what Angeline could tell. James’s Adam’s apple plummeted, and he snapped his eyes to Blake’s.

“Same as the other?” Blake asked.

James nodded.

Hayden approached, glancing up at the writing. “Destruction?”

But James didn’t answer. Instead, his wide eyes focused on something on the ground hidden from the rest of them by the boulder.

“What is it?” Blake circled the large rock, glanced down, then turned to stop Eliza from following him.

But it was too late. She shrieked and buried her face in her husband’s shirt.

“What’s wrong?” Angeline started forward, but James darted to her and held her back.

“It’s Graves.”

Blake groaned. “Without his head.”

HAPTER
2

A
ngeline hated funerals. They reeked of finality and no more second chances. They spoke of an eternity hounded by memories one could never escape, mistakes one could never rectify. The last funeral she’d attended had been her father’s. She could still see Reverend Grayson in his long black robes, Holy Book in hand, his words dribbling on the fresh mound of dirt, empty and meaningless as the drizzle of rain that had battered her face. She could still see the crush of people—black specters hovering beneath billowing umbrellas—come to pay their respects to a beloved member of their community, a pillar of Norfolk society, businessman, scholar, man of God. Pushed through a window to an early death by a misguided man inflamed in anger. She could still see Uncle John and Aunt Louise standing on either side of her. Her aunt wearing an impatient scowl, her uncle a look of interest. Though that interest was not on the funeral or the reverend or the crowd. But on her—a devastated seventeen-year-old girl. She hadn’t known at that time just how far his interest would take him.

Or how far it would take her.

“Mr. Graves made few friends among us.” James’s voice drew her gaze to where he stood before a fresh heap of dirt, much like Reverend Grayson had done that dreary day three years ago. Only this time, the sun was shining and they weren’t in a graveyard in Virginia but in the middle of a lush jungle in Brazil.

Tall, thin trees surrounded the clearing, their vine-laden branches bowed as if paying respect to the dead. Colorful orchids and ferns twirled up their mighty trunks. Luxuriant lichens swayed in the breeze. Birds of every color flitted through the canopy, providing music for the ceremony—albeit a bit too cheerful for a funeral. But not many of the colonists mourned the loss of Mr. Graves. Stowy shifted in her arms, and Angeline caressed the cat who’d been her dear companion since the ship voyage to their new land.

“He spent his time in Brazil deep beneath the earth on a quest for power that made little sense to most of us,” James continued. The preacher-doctor looked nothing like Reverend Grayson either. Where the reverend had dark short-cropped hair, James’s light hair hung in waves to his collar. Where the reverend was a thin, gaunt man, James was tall and built like a ship—like one of her father’s ships. Where the reverend had an angular face, James had a round, sturdy face with a jaw like flint and eyes of bronze that reached to her now across the fresh grave.

She lowered her gaze. That was another way the two men were different. With just one glance, one brush of his skin against hers, James could evoke a warmth that sizzled from her head to her toes. She’d never felt such a thing from a man’s touch. And a preacher, at that. Sweet saints, the shame!

“Perhaps we failed Mr. Graves somehow by not trying harder to befriend him. If so, may God forgive us.”

Angeline knew the remorse in James’s tone was genuine. He truly cared for each and every colonist. Yet she still could not reconcile this man before her with the one she’d met a year ago in Knoxville, Tennessee.

“May God forgive Mr. Graves for sins that would keep him from entering heaven’s gates.”

Forgiveness. Bah! Angeline well knew there was a limit to God’s forgiveness. And from what she knew of Graves, he, like her, had far exceeded that boundary. A breeze, ripe with the scent of orange blossoms and vanilla, wafted through the clearing, fluttering ferns and spinning dry leaves across the ground. A butterfly, its wings resplendent with purple and pink, landed atop Eliza’s bonnet as if she were the only worthy subject in the crowd. Beside her, her husband, Colonel Blake, hat in hand, stared at the ground with his usual austere, determined expression.

The butterfly took flight and settled on Sarah’s shoulder. Ah yes, another worthy soul, Sarah Jorden, Angeline’s hut mate, and one of the sweetest, most godly women she knew. Her baby Lydia, now five months old, was strapped to her chest and thankfully asleep at the moment. Being the resident teacher, children flocked to Sarah as they were doing now, tugging on her skirts, vying for her attention. Delia grabbed her two wayward lambs and ushered them away, casting apologetic looks at Sarah. Angeline wondered if the freed slave woman was happy here in New Hope, where she endured much of the same racial aversion she would have experienced back in the States. Delia took her spot beside her brother, Moses, at the back of the crowd.

“Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?” James spoke with enthusiasm as if he actually believed the poetic hogwash.

The shifting canopy scattered golden snowflake patterns over the crowd. A sunbeam set the butterfly’s wings aglitter as it danced through the air, skipping over Mr. and Mrs. Scott. The wealthy plantation owners were under the impression they still lived on their Georgia plantation and the colonists were their slaves. Yet no one paid them much mind. Angeline smiled. Especially their daughter, Magnolia, the object of Mr. Scott’s glower at the moment.

But Magnolia didn’t seem to notice as she stood hand in hand with her new husband, Hayden, at the foot of the grave. The butterfly landed on their intertwined hands, bringing another smile to Angeline’s lips. Despite the somber occasion, the couple couldn’t hide their happiness, nor the loving glances they shared—glances that held such promise. A promise of intimacy and love Angeline would never know.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life….”

Wiley Dodd’s eyes locked upon hers as the butterfly passed him by. She tore her gaze from the hungry look on his face. The ex-lawman remembered her. She was sure of it. She could see the mischievous twinkle in his eyes, the knowing glances when he passed her in town. Why didn’t he simply tell everyone her secret? What was he waiting for? Despite the heat of the day, her fingers and toes turned to ice.

The butterfly landed on her arm, instantly warming her. She hadn’t time to ponder the implications when the crackle of flames sounded in her ears. Glancing up, she expected to see a lit torch, but none was in sight. Neither did anyone else seem to hear the sizzle that grew louder and louder. Wind wisped through the clearing, fluttering black feathers atop a hat that drifted at the outskirts of the crowd. No, not just any hat.

Heart slamming against her ribs, Angeline peered across the grave and through the assembled colonists, trying to make out the woman’s face, but the lady wove through the back of the mob, her hat bobbing in and out of view. A hat of ruby velvet, trimmed in a black ribbon with a tuft of black feathers blowing in the wind. Angeline knew that hat.

“I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live,” James droned on.

The lady stopped. The crowd parted slightly, and the woman tilted her head toward Angeline.

Aunt Louise!

The butterfly took flight. And so did Aunt Louise. But not before Angeline saw a devious smile curl her lips. Setting down Stowy, Angeline clutched her skirts, barreled through the colonists, and plunged into the jungle after her.

“Aunt Louise!” Greenery swallowed a flash of ruby red in the distance. Thrusting leaves aside, Angeline headed in that direction, ignoring the scratch and pull of vines and branches on her gown. “Come back!” Why was the woman even here in Brazil?

Batting aside a tangle of yellow ferns, Angeline burst into a clearing and stopped, gasping for air. She scanned the mélange of leaves in every shade of green for a glimpse of ruby or flutter of black feathers. The
caw, caw
of a toucan echoed from the canopy, drawing her gaze to a golden-haired monkey scolding her for interrupting his mango lunch.

“Aunt Louise!”

There. A flash of red. Lifting her skirts, Angeline plowed through the greenery, her eyes locked on one target: the insolent smirk on her aunt’s face. The red grew larger in her vision. The smirk wider. Until finally Angeline stopped before the lady. She caught her breath while studying every inch of her father’s sister, wondering how two siblings could be so different, wondering why the woman had despised Angeline more than any relative should. Despised her from the feathers atop her promenade hat to the tiny lines strung tight at the corners of her mouth, to the pearls on her high-necked bodice, the black velvet bows on her pannier skirts, and down to the tassels on her patent leather boots. Boots that tapped impatiently on the dirt as they used to do on the wooden floor back in her Norfolk home.

“What are you doing here?” Angeline asked when her breath returned.

Louise cocked her head. “I could ask you the same. Aren’t you supposed to be polishing the silverware like I ordered?”

Angeline stared at her. That was the last chore her aunt had assigned her to do before…well, before her life disintegrated. “What are you talking about? I no longer live in your house.”

Finely trimmed brows rose. “And why is that,
Clarissa
?”

Angeline cringed at a name she hadn’t heard in years.

BOOK: Abandoned Memories
4.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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