Read Abandoned Memories Online

Authors: Marylu Tyndall

Abandoned Memories (29 page)

BOOK: Abandoned Memories
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“Reading your Bible, I see. Like a good little preacher’s son.” Her tone was teasing, playful, like she’d always been with him. “But it never really did you any good, did it? You’re too passionate a man to be restrained by some distant God.”

“What do you want?”

She sidled up to him. “I want you. I’ve always wanted you.”

Pulse racing, he stepped back. “You only wanted to ruin me.”

“Of course not, James.” She pouted, water sliding down her face like glistening diamonds. “I only wanted to make you happy. Weren’t you happy with me?”

He had been. At least he thought he’d been. But what he’d mistaken for love had been only lust. And what he’d mistaken for a lady had been nothing but a trollop. A devouring trollop. Much like the spider he’d seen earlier, Abigail had cast her web for the young preacher and snared him without resistance. Widowed and older than James, she had opened up a new world to him—a world that was exciting and passionate, filled with carnal pleasures he’d never imagined. But it was all an illusion. A deadly one, for when his father, along with their parishioners, discovered his immorality, he’d been removed from the pulpit. “
For
a time of correction
,” his brokenhearted father had said. But shame drove James away. To become a doctor and join the war.

He stared at the leaves, the vines, the rays of sun spearing the canopy, desperate not to glance her way, desperate to give her no opportunity to entice him again. Women like her had ruined him. Twice. Abigail, who had driven him to war, and Tabitha who had ruined his life afterward.

“Thinking of me?” The new voice startled James into daring a peek. He wished he hadn’t, for now both of them stood staring at him with innocent eyes that belied their scantily clad bodies.

Growling, he covered his own eyes, pleading with God to get rid of them, when a new voice, a male voice, added to his misery. He should just turn and leave, run as fast as he could back to the beach, but this particular voice owned a piece of his heart. And that piece forbade him.

“Father.” He opened his eyes to see the man who had sired him, the man he had respected most in the world, standing by the creek, face pale, agony burning in his eyes and blood oozing from a pistol shot to his heart.

“Why did you let this happen?” Blood dribbled from his father’s lips. “Where were you?”

James’s chest caved in. The scar on his cheek began to throb. He rubbed it and fell to his knees, drowning in his agony and shame. He could not bear the sight, the memory of what he’d done. Would it never escape him?

It had been the most horrible night of his life.

And the most incredible. He’d faced a crossroads that fateful evening. One path led to death. The other to life. An angel had come alongside him—a woman who had ministered to him during the night, who had sang hymns and quoted scripture and helped him choose the right way.

“James, are you all right? James.” Someone touched his arm. Small hands, gentle fingers. Abigail, Tabitha? Could visions touch? He jerked away and scrambled backward only to see Angeline staring at him, her face creased with worry.

He blinked the moisture from his eyes and looked away. “Yes. Forgive me.”

“You saw a vision.”

He nodded and slid a thumb over the scar on his cheek. The one he well deserved for what he’d done.

“Who was it?” Her eyes flitted between his, searching, caring…as her hand reached up to caress his jaw.

He took her in his arms. He couldn’t help himself, and for once she allowed his embrace. She felt so small, so fragile. Here was a real lady. Pure and honorable and innocent. Not the kind of woman who lured men into traps and destroyed their lives. This was exactly the kind of woman who could redeem him.

The fear Angeline expected to feel locked in a man’s embrace never came. Even though James was much bigger than she was, much stronger, able to do whatever he wanted with her, she felt no apprehension. Instead, she felt cherished, protected. And loved. This preacher-doctor stirred her heart and soul like no man ever had. And now, dare she hope for a chance to stay in these arms forever? She drew in a deep breath of him and gazed into his bronze eyes still filled with angst from whatever horrifying vision he’d seen. If only she could erase the memory and bring him the comfort he always brought her.

But then he smiled and the agony left his eyes, replaced by such affection, it brought moisture to her own. He slid a strand of her hair behind her ear, and even that slight gesture sent her senses whirling. She’d never known a man’s touch could evoke such feelings. She’d always thought women merely endured lovemaking, that it was nothing but an unpleasant burden for the sake of bearing children. Or in her case, surviving.

But James had woken things within her that bordered on a bliss not of this world. It was
that
bliss that forced her to step back from him now. It would be too easy to give in to his charms, but she was not that woman anymore. She was the lady she saw reflected in his eyes, the proper lady, the virtuous lady. She wanted
so badly
to be that lady.

Approval beamed in his expression as he took her hand in his. “Forgive me for being forward.” He gazed down uncomfortably. “You have captivated me, Angeline. I know I shouldn’t ask again, but I can’t help it. These past few days, you’ve given me reason to hope that perhaps you’ve changed your mind about our courtship?”

He looked so hopeful, so vulnerable, as if his heart teetered on the cliff of her answer. And, oh, how she wanted to say yes to keep it from falling. And hers from falling with it. If only…She hated herself for even thinking it, but if only Dodd would never wake…How cruel of God to dangle the gift of happiness before her on the thread of another’s death.

Her breath came rapid as he lifted her hand to his lips for a kiss. Hadn’t James said that the longer Dodd remained asleep, the less the chance he would ever wake? Maybe God wasn’t cruel at all. Maybe He was giving her a chance at love. But what of Dodd’s chance? He was a vile man who deserved what he got, wasn’t he? If that were the case, then she deserved an equal fate. A person could go crazy with such thoughts!

James smiled and lowered her hand. “It wasn’t that difficult a question to answer.”

“My answer is…yes.” She breathed the word before her good senses smothered it.

James shook his head as if he hadn’t heard her correctly. “What did you say?”

She raised a sly brow. “I said yes, I accept your courtship.”

His smile was blinding. His eyes alight with glee. Taking her other hand, he brought them both to his lips and kissed them over and over.

Warmth sped down to her toes as a giggle rose in her throat.

“I don’t know what changed your mind, and I don’t want to know as long as you don’t change it again,” he said, lowering her hands but not releasing them. “I do not have a perfect past, but I will make every attempt to make myself worthy of you.”

She already knew a part of that imperfect past and wondered at the rest. Yet all of it would seem like a monastic interlude compared to her former life. She was the one who must prove herself worthy of him. Or at least forever hide from what she had once been.

“May I kiss you?” he asked.

No one had ever asked her that before. They’d simply taken what they wanted. She could feel his pulse throb in his hand, could hear his deep breathing, could smell his scent of wood smoke and salt and James. And she could stand it no longer. She pressed her lips against his. Unlike the few stolen kisses they’d shared before, this one had meaning. It carried a devotion and a passion free to express itself within commitment. Each stroke, each caress of his lips on hers held the promise of unending love. Her toes wiggled. Her head spun. She pressed against him. Those beefy arms of his she loved so much surrounded her, hands running down her back, fingering her errant curls. All the while his mouth drank her in with such affection, she thought she would explode in pleasure. Was this what real love was like?

Then suddenly he was gone. He backed away and turned to the side, gathering his breath. “Forgive me. I lost myself.”

Forgive him? For what? Angeline blinked to clear her head, waiting for her body to settle.

He looked at her. “I should not have taken such liberties with so fine a lady as you.” Shame haunted his eyes as he took her hands once again in his. “It won’t happen again. You deserve more respect than that. You deserve my utmost respect.”

Respect? Her?

He ran a thumb down her jaw, and she leaned into his hand. He trusted her. He believed her to be pure and innocent. And, oh, how she loved pretending that she was. Even for a moment. But how could she base their courtship on such a horrific lie?

Yet there would be no courtship without the lie.

Her brain hurt from the conundrum. Besides, how was she to think clearly with him so close, with the taste of him on her lips?

Footsteps and the swish of leaves broke into her dream as Hayden crashed into the clearing. His glance took in their locked hands before he turned to James.

“It’s Thiago. Come quickly!”

Grabbing the ancient book and his Bible, James darted after Hayden, pulling Angeline behind him, but after a few minutes of her skirts getting stuck on every passing branch, she insisted he go ahead without her. They were almost at the beach anyway, and she needed time to think. But no sooner had James and Hayden disappeared into the greenery than the crackling sound of a fire burned her ears. She shut her eyes, knowing what was coming, but then decided it would be best to hurry along and join the others rather than face whatever heinous vision was about to appear. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just one vision, but a half dozen of her former clients who took up a stroll on either side of her. Clutching her skirts, she tried to ignore them.

“Your beau there thinks you’re a lady,” the oldest one remarked, whose name she couldn’t recall. Though she did recall his stench.

“You sure got him fooled!” Mr. Keiter slapped his hat on his knee.

One of her more refined clients brushed dust from his suit of fine broadcloth. “If I were him, I’d want to know what sort of woman I was marrying. It’s only right, you know.”

Grief and fear stole her newfound joy. She covered her ears.

Milton Daniels, one of her regulars, leapt in front of her, halting her in her tracks. He swept strands of greasy hair to the side and frowned. “You never kissed me like you kissed him. You was holding out on me!”

You’re not here! You’re not here!
She screamed inside her head. But his words stung, nonetheless. All of their words pierced a place in her soul where light had risen, where hope had begun to shove the darkness aside. It crowded back. Closing her eyes, she barged right through old Milton, feeling not a whisper of his body on her skin. They weren’t real. But what did it matter? They had done their damage.

Tears spilling down her cheeks, she shoved through leaves and burst onto the beach, hoping they wouldn’t follow her.

“Ah, why don’t you try and drown yourself again? That’s the only way out.” A shout and morbid laughter trailed her onto the sand, but when she spun around, no one was there.

HAPTER
26

H
ealed?” James blinked at the sight of Thiago leaning on Sarah’s arm as they strolled down the beach. He would shrug it off as yet another vision if not for the fact that everyone saw the same thing. Blake and Eliza stood arm in arm, beaming smiles on their faces. Hayden, Magnolia, the Scotts, and Moses also stared at the wondrous sight.

“Is it so surprising?” Blake slapped James on the back.

Magnolia cocked a brow. “You
did
pray for God to heal him, did you not?”

James swept his gaze to Thiago. The Brazilian glanced up, and upon seeing James, a huge smile broke his tight expression as he and Sarah started back toward the group.

Waves crashed onshore, tumbling and foaming, much like the thoughts in James’s head.

“You heal me, Doc!” Thiago exclaimed on heavy breath as he and Sarah stopped before him.

Shaking his head, James scanned him from head to toe. Though his face was pale, he’d lost weight, and he seemed weaker than an overcooked noodle, he was indeed very much alive. “May I?” James gestured toward the bandage on his chest, and at Thiago’s nod, he peered behind it and sniffed. No bad smell, no discoloration. He stepped back, his mind trying to make sense of what his eyes told him.

“You heal me,” Thiago repeated.

“God healed you,” Sarah said with a smile.

“Yes.” James shook his head to shake off the trance that had overcome him. “It was God who healed you, not me. I didn’t do anything.” Nothing at all, in fact, except direct Eliza and Magnolia to make a mess of his wound. And then say a simple prayer. “This is truly a miracle,” he mumbled in disbelief. Slowly, the realization sank into his thick head and then trickled down to his heart, where a spark ignited. He glanced over the crowd. “This is a miracle! This man was dying.” He gripped Thiago’s shoulders and shook him. “You were dying!”

BOOK: Abandoned Memories
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