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Authors: Marylu Tyndall

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BOOK: Abandoned Memories
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“Ah, yes. Now I remember.” Her aunt strolled about the clearing, the swish of her skirts an odd accompaniment to the drone of insects. She spun to face Angeline, spite pouring from eyes as dark as the feathers atop her hat. “Because you’re a vulgar strumpet who stole my husband’s affections!”

Blood surged to Angeline’s heart, filling it with shock and fury. “I did nothing of the kind.” She couldn’t tell the lady what had truly happened. It would be far too cruel. Even for a woman who had done nothing but mistreat her.

“I curse the day you entered our home,” her aunt hissed. “I knew you were wanton refuse just like your mother.”

The woman might as well have forced a bag of rocks down Angeline’s throat for the way it made her stomach plummet. Her mother had died giving birth to her, leaving a hole within Angeline, deep and vacant. Yet as the years passed, she couldn’t help but hear the whispers floating through town behind raised fans and smug looks. When she questioned her father, he told her that her mother was the most kind, loving, compassionate person who ever lived and to ignore any rumors to the contrary. So she had. Until she moved in with Uncle John and Aunt Louise and their constant degradation of her mother’s character eroded the memory implanted by her father.

“I was only seventeen,” Angeline said. “I wanted you to care for me. I
needed
you to care for me—like a mother cares for her own daughter.” She hung her head. “But instead you worked me to death.”

“I wanted no children. Nothing to steal John’s attention from me.” She fingered the emerald weighing down her finger then stretched out her hand to examine it in the sunlight. With a snort, she snapped her hand to her waist. “But there you came, young and beautiful, a bouquet of lace and curls no man could resist.”

“I had no choice. I had nowhere to go.”

“Humph.” Aunt Louise gazed out over the jungle as if she stood on Granby Street in Norfolk.

Angeline took a step toward her, the longing for a mother’s love shoving aside her misgivings, her memories, giving her a spark of hope that it might still be possible. “Did you ever love me, even just a little?”

Aunt Louise swept eyes as cold and dark as an empty cave toward Angeline. “No one will ever love you.” Then, spinning on her fancy heels, she shoved through the foliage and disappeared.

Batting away tears, Angeline darted after her. She had to tell the woman what had really happened. No matter the pain. No matter the cost. She had to make her understand. She had to beg her forgiveness.

After Angeline had sped off in a frenzy, James could barely concentrate on the rest of the funeral. What would cause the woman to dash away in the middle of a ceremony? Certainly not her grief over Graves’s death. As it was, her departure caused quite a stir in the otherwise solemn occasion, so he hurried through the remainder of his eulogy before closing his Bible, handing it to Blake, and dismissing the gathering. Now, as he shoved through the leafy jungle, he could think of only one thing that would cause her to run. And that one thing sent an icicle down his spine. That and the fact that whoever
or whatever
had beheaded Graves might still be on the loose.

Destruction
. The name etched above the empty alcove. The name of the third being described in the ancient Hebrew book Graves had found in the caves and given James to translate. A being that, it appeared, Graves had somehow freed from its prison. Having seen firsthand what the first two beings,
Deception
and
Delusion
, could do, James feared more than anything the power of this third beast. That was, if he hadn’t gone completely mad and all this nonsense about a fierce battle, the judgment of the four, a molten lake, and invisible angelic beings was just that. Pure nonsense.

But for now, he was more concerned with Angeline’s safety. Shoving aside a tangle of hanging vines, he caught a glimpse of her standing in the middle of a clearing talking to the air. His chest tightened. Suspicions confirmed, he sprinted toward her, but she took off again. He lengthened his stride, ignoring the scrape and jab of branches on his arms as he kept his eyes on her blue skirts flickering in and out of view through the maze of leaves. She stopped again. James rushed toward her, calling her name, but she didn’t seem to hear him. Instead, she stood near the brink of a tall precipice. What he saw next made his blood freeze. Gathering her skirts, Angeline started for the edge.

HAPTER
3

A
unt Louise halted between an acacia tree and a massive fern. She turned and gave Angeline a grin of victory. Gathering her breath, Angeline hoisted her skirts and darted toward her. Still her aunt remained…smiling…gloating. Making no attempt to run. Perhaps she’d decided to speak to her after all. Good, Angeline had more than a few things to say to the woman who had caused her so much pain. She wasn’t a young girl anymore. She wasn’t timid, in mourning, or desperate for love. Nor was she at her aunt’s mercy for survival. This time, the conversation would be different. Just a few more steps…“So, are you ready to—”

Strong arms grabbed her from behind, cinched her waist. “Let me go!” Angeline tried to pry off fingers that tightened like vises. She lunged to break free, staring at her aunt’s smirk that now faded to disappointment.

“Angeline, stop!” The male voice blared in her ears. Her behind hit the ground. Her back flattened on leaves. And James’s face absorbed her vision. “Holy thunder, woman, what are you doing?” Lines of terror spiked from the corners of his eyes.

Angeline pummeled his chest with her fists, but she might as well have been pounding on steel. He pinned her arms to the dirt.

Panic tied her stomach in a knot. Too many men had forced her to her back, held her down against her will. Memories pierced the fear. Bestial grunts and groans, hands groping where none should touch. The struggle against muscles too strong to move. Like now. She kneed the man above her, grinding her fists in the mud. “Get off of me! Get off of me!”

Releasing her, he leapt back, hands in the air. “I wasn’t…I wasn’t…doing anything untoward, Miss Angeline. Forgive me.”

Breath clogged her throat. She rose and inched backward on wobbly arms, staring at the man she least expected to make advances on her. The preacher-doctor, James.

But they weren’t advances. Not from the look of concern in his eyes. Nor the remorse that followed. Not a speck of desire could be found in either. She knew desire. Could spot it in a man a mile away.

“You were about to run off a cliff.” He gestured with his head toward the right as he collected his breath.

Making no sense of his words, she glanced toward the spot where she’d last seen Aunt Louise. But there was nothing there but the jagged edge of a precipice and the empty space beyond carpeted with spindly treetops.

Air fled her lungs. The jungle reeled in her vision, and her arms gave out. Before she hit the ground, James caught her and cradled her against his chest. She couldn’t be sure whether it was the feel of that rock-hard chest or the sight of the cliff where none had been before that made her head spin. But spin it did.

“There was no cliff…just jungle…” she muttered. “And my aunt was there…no cliff.”

James brushed hair from her face. “Your aunt? Did you see her?”

“Yes…Aunt Louise!” Alarm forced its way through the fog in her mind. She pushed from James. “Did she fall? We have to help her!” Struggling to rise, she refused his help and started toward the overhang.

“No.” He pulled her to a stop, caressed her hand with his thumb. “It was a vision. It must have been a vision.” Concern poured from his eyes.

Angeline tugged from his grasp and swallowed. Like Mr. Gordan, whom she’d seen last month. “But she looked so real. She spoke to me.”

“They all do.” He led her to sit on a boulder then knelt and eased a strand of hair behind her ear. The intimate gesture sent heat firing to her toes. She wiggled them, wondering if it was simply nerves. But it was far too delightful to be anything other than what she feared—the thrill of a man’s touch. Not just any man. Looking away, she shook it off. She wanted nothing to do with men ever again. Especially this one: preacher, doctor, drunk? She had no idea which. Nor could she forget their brief encounter over a year ago.

Thankfully he seemed to.

Yet, if he was nothing but a womanizer and carouser, why did he affect her so? Both in the past, when she’d met him on the streets of Knoxville, and now, when he seemed so different. People change. Isn’t that what they said? She wanted so badly to believe that. She
had
to believe that or the rest of her life would surely be doomed.

Nerves strung tight, James rose to his feet. If only to put some distance between him and Angeline. The woman drove him mad. In a good way. In a dangerous way. Truss it, he’d almost lost her! He breathed a silent prayer of thanks to God for helping him reach her in time. One second later and she would have been gone. He couldn’t imagine New Hope without her. He couldn’t imagine life without her. Although they had no formal understanding—and if the lady had a lick of reason, she’d never agree to one—they
had
formed a friendship these past months. Possibly a bit more, if he sensed things right.

Sunlight filtered through the canopy, weaving gold threads through her hair, the color of burgundy wine. A sudden thirst overcame him, and he licked his lips and shifted his thoughts to the funeral then to the spider skittering up the tree at the edge of the clearing, anything but on her. But then she raised moist eyes to his, the same shade as the lilacs circling the vine behind her. And just as striking. She bit her bottom lip, full and soft as a rose petal, and looked at him with such need, such innocence.

He took another step back. He must focus. He was the town preacher, not the town rogue. For once in his life, he must resist this tempting morsel. For once in his life, he could not fail. He ran a sleeve over his forehead and studied the cliff.

“You didn’t see the drop-off?”

“No.”

“That means they are turning deadly.” He frowned.

“The visions?”

“And whatever or
whoever
is causing them.”

“I still can’t believe Aunt Louise wasn’t real.” Her voice trailed off as she wrung her hands in her lap. “She tried to kill me. But why?”

James shook his head, wishing he had answers.

“You think they have something to do with the temple?” she asked. “The empty alcoves and broken irons and Graves’s death?”

He nodded and smiled at the way she wiggled her nose, shifting her sprinkling of freckles. Adorable as always. A flock of green parakeets with black heads landed on the branches of a nearby tree and began chattering, while uneasiness crossed her violet eyes. She fingered a button of her bodice. Another thing he admired about her—her modest attire. High-necked blouses, long sleeves, and her hair always put up in a bun, though now some strands broke free and dangled in the breeze. Angeline was a lady in the truest sense. In fact, all the women in New Hope seemed to possess the highest of morals. Something James was extremely thankful for. He’d had his fill of unscrupulous women back in Tennessee and would not allow them to taint the new Southern utopia they were building here in Brazil.

“And this Hebrew book you’re translating…” She broke into his musings. “The one Graves gave you before he died. Will it tell us more?”

“That is my hope.”

“Who do you think killed the poor man?” She rubbed her throat, no doubt thinking of the manner of his death.

“Whoever it is, you have nothing to worry about, Miss Angeline. Blake and I will protect the colony.” He had hoped to set her at ease, to erase the fear lining her face. Instead, she slanted her lips and huffed.

“Don’t placate me, Doctor.” Her sharp tone surprised him. “I may be a woman, but I don’t wilt like a flower. In fact, I shed my petals years ago.”

But not all her thorns. James smiled, remembering the gun she’d pulled on him last month when he’d surprised her at the river. He scratched the stubble on his chin. “Truth is, I don’t know who killed Graves. But I do believe there is something peculiar going on. Something supernatural, even.” He shrugged. “Demons, angels, curses, who knows? Something only God can help us with.”

BOOK: Abandoned Memories
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