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Authors: Marylu Tyndall

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BOOK: Abandoned Memories
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Her snicker brought his gaze back to her. “You don’t believe in evil, Miss Angeline?”

Her eyes sharpened. “Evil? Absolutely.” She stood and brushed dirt from her skirts as if she could brush away memories of that evil. “It’s God I have trouble believing in.” She raised her chin.

That would certainly explain why the lady never attended church. “I’m sorry to hear that.” What had happened to this beautiful woman? Whatever it was, James longed to know more about her, to ease her suffering if he could. Memories of their ship voyage from Charleston to Brazil rose to prick his suspicions. Perhaps she had not seen a vision at all just now, but had intended to fling herself off the precipice. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d attempted to leap to her death. Yet she had seemed much better since they landed in Brazil—happier, more settled.

A breeze rose from the ravine and swirled through the loose strands of her hair. Her gaze shifted to the cliff. “How did you know? Where I was?” Her brows—the same lush russet as her hair—scrunched together. “How did you know I was in danger?”

“You ran so quickly from the funeral, I assumed something had either frightened or upset you. So I followed.”

“Your duty as town preacher, no doubt? Comfort the afflicted? Save the tortured soul from hell?” The cynicism in her voice stung him. But he refused to let it show.

“Something like that.” He chuckled. “Though, I must say, you do make my job sound rather nefarious.”

A tiny grin flitted across her lips. “My apologies, Doctor.”

“Please call me James.”

She glanced down as if he’d asked her to reveal her deepest secret. He would ask her to do just that if he thought she’d tell him. The warble of birds and buzz of insects filled the awkward silence. James shifted his boots over the ground, littered with dried leaves. “When I saw you heading for that cliff…”—he’d felt his heart tumbling over with her—“and you weren’t slowing down…I…I’m just glad I made it in time.”

His heart cramped even now…even though she was safe. And he realized for the first time how much he truly cared for her. In all his twenty-eight years, he’d never truly cared for a woman. He’d never had time. From an early age, he’d spent his days studying Greek, Hebrew, and theology under his father’s tutelage, and his nights resisting the delights other young men his age embraced: courting young girls, attending parties and plays, playing All Fours or Faro at the local tavern. All innocent enough activities, but out of reach for a preacher’s son studying to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Angeline moved toward the cliff, stared into the canyon, and hugged herself.

Trouble was, James hadn’t wanted to be a preacher. He’d wanted to be a doctor. So, after proving himself an abject failure at pastoring, he ran away to apprentice under a physician in Charleston while attending the Medical College of South Carolina. The news broke his father’s heart. And his mother’s. Especially when the war began and he volunteered to serve.

Blood. There had always been so much blood. Day after endless day. Night after endless night. It was as if the world and everything in it had been painted red. And no matter how he tried, he could never scrub the stain from his hands. He stared at those hands now. They shook at the memory, and he fisted them at his sides.

A dark cloud rolled overhead, stealing the sunlight and settling a smoky dust on the scene. And now here he was in the fledgling colony of New Hope—a haven for Southerners after the war—preaching again. Not doctoring. He chuckled at the irony, drawing Angeline’s gaze over her shoulder. “Something amusing?”

“Just pondering life’s twists and turns.” The most recent twist had him bearing the spiritual well-being of an entire town when he couldn’t even bear his own.

Thunder bellowed, and a gust of wind brought the spicy scent of rain upon a gentle mist. He found himself remembering what she had looked like drenched from seawater…how her blouse had clung to her underthings, mapping out her bountiful curves.

She whirled about, caught him staring at her, then narrowed her eyes as if she perceived his thoughts. “We should go.”

No, he wasn’t fit to be a preacher at all.

“Yes, of course.” Though he hated to leave. Though he knew these rare tête-à-tête’s were beyond appropriate. Yet he so enjoyed them.

They set off side by side, crunching the leaves beneath their shoes and brushing aside foliage as they went.

“If you should see another vision, Miss Angeline, please oblige me and do not follow it.”

“I will try,” she responded with a slight smile, “but I so desperately needed to talk to this particular one.”

James understood that all too well. He had tried to refrain from talking to the vision of his dead mother a few weeks ago, and he’d been no more successful than Angeline. “I suppose that’s why they appear. They know we can’t resist them.”

“Perhaps they are just cruel tricks of our imaginations. Memories rising to taunt us.”

“I doubt it. If so, all the colonists’ imaginations are ravaged with the same plague.”

She swatted a leaf, not even flinching at the large beetle that grazed upon it. “We all have our demons, do we not, Doctor?”

James touched her arm, stopping her, always amazed at how petite she was—at least a foot shorter than his six feet. “Whatever your particular demon is, Miss Angeline, whatever is bothering you, I hope you know you can talk to me.” He cleared his throat. “As your pastor of course.”

She tugged from his grip and forged ahead. “If I talk to you of my demons at all, Doctor, it will not be as my pastor.”

The rest of the hike back to camp was made in silence as James pondered the unusual woman beside him. Part angel, part dragon. Both terribly wounded. By the time they burst onto Main Street, black clouds broiled low over town like a witch’s cauldron. Though most of the colonists had no doubt taken refuge in their huts, Blake, Hayden, and Magnolia stood beneath the cover of the meeting shelter, peering up at the frightening sky.

James started toward them when a bright flash turned everything white as if someone had struck a giant match over the scene.

Thunder roared. The ground shook. He blinked, waiting for his vision to clear when Blake’s shout pounded in his ears. “Fire! Fire! The sugar mill!”


etting down the bucket, Angeline leaned back against a tree and tried to settle her rapid breath. She plucked a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped the perspiration cooling her face and neck as she examined what was left of their sugar mill. What once had been the building’s frame lay in piles of smoking, charred remains. Several of the town’s men, including James, stood staring at the ruins, water pails locked in their grip as if there were still some chance to save it. The colonists, who had only moments before formed a human chain of water from the river to the mill, began to drop like wounded birds to the ground, their chests heaving, their haggard faces aghast at the futile result of their hard efforts.

Magnolia appeared beside Angeline, her normally flawless skin streaked in soot and sweat. Wincing, she stretched her fingers on both hands, no doubt from the same ache that afflicted Angeline’s after an hour of hoisting buckets full of water.

“I can’t believe this happened. Of all the places for lightning to strike.” Magnolia fingered her hair, attempting to stuff strands back into their pins.

“I agree. Any other building would have been better.”

“My parents’ house, for one.” Despite the dire situation, Magnolia gave a sly smile as her gaze traveled to her mother and father standing in the distance, eyeing the disaster with shock and dismay—as they had done through the entire ordeal.

A month ago, Magnolia would have been by their side, thinking herself too superior for such menial work. Especially too superior to bring herself to such a state of perspiration and filth to save a mere mill. What had changed her? Marriage? Angeline glanced at Hayden, the roguish stowaway who’d stolen Magnolia’s heart. Word was he’d been a confidence man before coming to Brazil. The swindler and the Southern belle. An odd match, indeed.

Cursing under his breath, Hayden tossed down his bucket, splattering water over the dirt.

Magnolia cocked a brow. “I better go calm him down.” After giving Angeline’s hand a squeeze, she joined the men standing just feet from the smoking remains.

Angeline did the same. For the first time since she’d been a young girl, she had friends—friends who cared, friends on whom she could rely. Though if they knew her secrets, she doubted they’d have much to do with her at all. Smoke burned her nose and throat. James’s bronze eyes swept her way, at first hard and pointed but then softening around the edges. He tapped her on the nose then held up a finger covered in soot and smiled. Heat surged up her neck.

“You brat!” She laughed and wiped her nose.

Blake cursed and took up a pace before what was left of the mill, instantly stifling their playfulness. “It took us a month to cut down trees, shape the logs, and erect this frame.”

Angeline felt sorry for the leader of their new colony. It was a hard enough task to organize such a diverse group of people while struggling to create a new town and eke out a living in the jungle. He certainly didn’t need any further setbacks.

“Perhaps we can salvage the rollers.” Eliza, his wife, gestured to the round iron objects used to press sugarcane that now lay in a glowing heap inside the building. “And the gears. It appears the fire didn’t destroy them.”

Blake nodded and rubbed the back of his neck. “Yes. Thank God for that.”

“And we still have the donkeys.” Magnolia pointed to the two animals tethered off to the side. One of them brayed in response.

“Indeed.” Blake heaved a sigh and turned to face the colonists, raising his voice for all to hear. “Thank you all for working so hard! You pulled together when we needed you the most.”

“A lot of good it did us,” one man shouted.

Moses, the burly ex-slave, lowered himself to a stump and wiped sweat from his forehead. With no thought to his own safety, he’d been up front with Blake, James, and Hayden, enduring the full heat of the flames. His sister, Delia, and her two children approached him, and he swept both little ones on his knees in a tight embrace.

“Where’d the lightning come from?” Mr. Lewis, the old carpenter, pulled a flask from his coat and leaned against a tree.

Thiago, the Brazilian guide the emperor had assigned to their colony, glanced upward and scratched his head. “Look at sky now.”

All eyes snapped above, where sunlight speared the canopy.

“It was black as night a minute ago,” Hayden said.

“It is curse,” Thiago added with a shiver.

As if he were searching for something, James’s gaze spanned the sky then lowered to the wide river from where they’d drawn the water, before taking in the rows of huts that made up their town.

Eliza slipped her hand into her husband’s. “The good news is we have plenty of time to rebuild the mill before the sugar is ready for harvest.”

“And at least no one was hurt,” Angeline offered, trying to lighten the dour mood.

Eliza nodded and placed a hand tenderly over her belly as if she could caress her child before it was born.

Magnolia leaned against Hayden, and he swept an arm around her, drawing her close.

Angeline’s closest friends had found love on this journey. Love and marriage and happiness. She should be happy for them. She
happy for them. She hadn’t come to Brazil to find a husband. A husband was the last thing she needed. Or wanted. Then why did the sight of her friends arm in arm make her feel so alone?

James shifted his stance and glanced her way. Was he as lonely as she? No matter. Lonely or not, she must avoid the doctor—for a number of reasons. The one foremost in her mind was the way she’d felt all hot and tingling when his body had been atop hers, when his warm breath had wafted over her cheek, when his arms had kept her from tumbling to her death.

To her death?
Sweet saints, she’d almost darted off a cliff! Her legs wobbled at the memory.

James finally lowered his bucket to the ground and stretched his back. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t keep her gaze from traveling his way. Damp, sooty hair stuck out in all directions and hung to his collar where it curled at the tips. A muscle twitched in his tight jaw, and dirt blackened the tiny scar on the right side of his mouth. She remembered the night he’d received that scar. She had tended to the wound in a room above a tavern in Knoxville, Tennessee. But she wouldn’t ask him about it, lest he ask her where she’d gotten the scar she kept hidden on her arm.

Nevertheless, he’d been so kind to her today in the jungle. So caring. He’d made her feel safe. But she didn’t want to feel safe with him. She never wanted to feel safe with any man again. Out of the two men she’d ever trusted—the two men she should have felt the safest with—one had died and the other had betrayed her. She took a step away from James.

No. She would not be fooled again.

The colonists struggled to rise and began ambling toward the river to clean and refresh themselves. Angeline was about to join them when James grabbed Blake’s arm. “Have you considered this may not have been a natural act?”

The colonel’s dark brows dipped together.

Hayden snickered. “I suppose you think some invisible beast did this, eh, Doc?”

Magnolia glanced at her husband. “Come now, Hayden, how can you deny what we’ve all seen?”

“I didn’t want to say this in front of the others”—James scanned the five of them who remained—“but we all saw it firsthand. The empty alcove. The next beast gone. Have you ever seen a sky turn that black and oppressive in so short a time? And the lightning. Did it strike anywhere else? And now the sun returns within minutes?” He shook his head.

rather strange.” Eliza hugged herself.

“Perhaps what we should be more concerned with,” Blake said, his face drawn tight, “is who killed Graves and why. And whether the murderer is still close by.”

BOOK: Abandoned Memories
9.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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