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Authors: Marylu Tyndall

Abandoned Memories (9 page)

BOOK: Abandoned Memories
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No, she didn’t need a man to help her. She didn’t need or want
anyone
.

“Why are you always rescuing me?” Her curt tone snapped James around to face her. Shock transformed into confusion and finally into anger.

“Because you are always doing foolish things.”

Angeline wanted to tell him to leave her alone the next time he thought her foolish, but the whine of the ants suddenly grew louder and a line of the vile pests appeared over the ridge of the hill. Grabbing her hand, James plunged deeper into the jungle. With one arm tucked to shield Stowy, he shoved aside leaves and branches with his shoulder, forming a safe cocoon for Angeline following in his wake.

She tried to focus on her legs moving and her lungs breathing and not the feel of James’s hand forming a fortress around hers, guiding her to safety. She wanted to let go of him and find her own way. She wanted to never trust anyone again. But, for the life of her, she couldn’t seem to release her grip.

Finally, he halted, shoved her behind him, and turned to stare down the path.

Ants continued to advance, their scouts weaving down the trail ahead of the pack. Not just down the trail, but now coming at them from every side. Where had they come from? There was nowhere else to run. Angeline squeezed her eyes shut.

They were going to be eaten alive.

A grunt, followed by the sound of tree bark scraping and James’s voice, drifted from above. “Grab ahold!” She pried her eyes open to see his hand reaching down from a low-hanging branch. A sheet of ants marched toward her, inches from her feet. Slapping her hand into his, she heard him groan, felt her feet leave the ground, her legs failing. Ants swarmed the dirt beneath her and stormed up the trunk. Sweat slicked her hand. It started to slip from James’s grasp.

HAPTER
8

D
angling in midair over a horde of army ants, Angeline gazed up at James. His tight grip on her wrist slid. Just a fraction. But it slid. Sweat dripped off his chin. His determined gaze pierced hers like a rod of iron forming an impenetrable bond between them. “I won’t let go. Do you hear me? I won’t let you go.”

With a torturous groan, he hoisted her up, grabbed her waist, and set her on the branch beside him. The ants continued their insatiable crunch and snap over the jungle floor below, but she dared not look. “Won’t they climb up the tree?” she breathed out, trying to settle her heart. Stowy leapt into her lap and meowed in complaint.

“I don’t think so. Thiago said this species stays on the ground or beneath it.”

Yet even as he said it, the little pests continued to skitter up the trunk.

“Come.” He stood, pulled himself up to a thicker branch above, and reached down for her and Stowy. He did the same again and again until they were high above the ground.

“Where did you learn to climb so well? You’re nearly as good as Thiago.” Angeline took his hand one last time as he hoisted her onto the final branch.

“Summers in Tennessee.”

He found a spot where several branches grew together, forming a flat area as big as a cot. Plopping down, he helped Angeline to sit beside him, his breath bursting in his chest. Hers was too, especially thinking the ants had followed. But when she dared a glance down, none were in sight, at least not on the tree. The ground, however, rolled and swayed like storm clouds at night. Leaning her head back on the trunk, she lowered her shoulders and ran fingers through Stowy’s fur. The cat seemed to understand their tenuous predicament and curled up in her lap.

“You’re trembling.” James swung an arm around her and drew her close.

“Who wouldn’t be?” She wiggled from beneath his touch. “With a horde of army ants beneath our feet.” She hated that she’d put a frown on his face, but she rarely allowed anyone to touch her—especially a man.

Taking the hint, he moved away. “If I act inappropriately, you still have your pistol.” He gestured toward the weapon stuffed in her belt as a rakish grin appeared on his lips.

She laughed and plucked out the pistol, laying it beside her. “I’d forgotten all about it.” Though as uncomfortable as it was pressed against her belly, she didn’t know how. She raised a coy brow. “Don’t think I won’t use it, Doctor.”

“Oh, I have no doubt, Miss.” He lifted his hands in surrender. “You can count on me to be a gentleman.”

Yes, she did believe she could. But that only made things harder. She looked away. “I suppose I should thank you, yet again.”

“Not if you don’t mean it.”

A breeze swirled through the leaves of the tree, dousing her with the scent that was uniquely James—all musk and man. “Of course I mean it…. I
do
thank you. It’s just that…” She sighed. “Never mind.” Bundling Stowy close to her chest, she suddenly wished she weren’t alone with James. He had a way about him that made her want to share things she wouldn’t share with anyone. She supposed it was the preacher in him. His duty to care for people and listen to their problems.

He stretched his legs out, dangling one over the side of their wooden platform. “But you’d rather not accept anyone’s help, is that it?”

She searched his eyes for any mockery but found only concern. “Do you find that so odd?”

“For a lady, yes.”

“So you assume all women are weak and in need of help?”

His brows shot up, and a grin touched his lips. “Whoa, I didn’t say that. I meant no disrespect, Angeline.”

She looked away. “Forgive me. I suppose it’s just the stress of being chased by killer ants.” She forced a smile, trying to lighten the conversation. It wasn’t James’s fault she trusted no one.

Placing a finger beneath her chin, he turned her to face him. “There’s no shame in needing help.” His eyes seemed to look right through her, and she found the sensation unsettling to say the least.

She jerked from his touch. “It depends on the price.”

Price? The woman baffled James. They’d barely escaped a rather unpleasant death—one he’d pulled her from twice—and all she could talk about was not wanting his help. Or anyone’s. “There is no price.”

“Maybe not this time,” she mumbled, petting her infernal cat.

James rubbed the back of his neck. What had happened to this poor woman? He so desperately wanted to know more about her. Why did she oftentimes carry a pistol in her belt? What made her turn from lady to dragon in a matter of seconds? Why did she seem so frightened of Dodd? Why, when she thought no one was looking, did a deep sorrow linger in her eyes?

The drone of ants lessened below, though the ground still moved. She followed his gaze, and her breath seemed to heighten.

“We are safe here,” he reassured her. “If they were coming up, they would have done so by now.”

“I fear for our friends. I hope they are all right.”

“I’m sure they made it to the river.” He drew his knees up and placed his elbows atop them. “Where we should have gone.”

Angeline frowned, the freckles on her nose clumping together. “You should have gone without me.”

“Despite your aversion to rescuing, I couldn’t do that.”

“And
I
couldn’t leave Stowy either.” She lifted the cat and planted a kiss on its head.

James suddenly wished he were in Stowy’s shoes—or paws. He shook the thought away. It was such wayward thinking that had caused his many falls from grace. Angeline was a lady of the highest morals who didn’t deserve to be ogled or thought of with impurity. Despite the fact that she looked so incredibly beautiful and vulnerable at the moment. A sheen of perspiration made her skin glow and transformed curls framing her face into dangling rubies. The rest of her russet hair tumbled in waves over her shoulders, down her back and into her lap, where Stowy played with a strand clutched between his paws. James swallowed.

Thankfully, the screech of a macaw sounded, followed by the chorus of birds returning to their song, jarring his thoughts. What was wrong with him? They’d almost been smothered by ants, their crops were ruined, and all he could think about was how being close to Angeline made him feel so alive.

She peered through the canopy, her gaze scanning the ground below, where the swarm of ants had thinned considerably. “How long before it’s safe to return to New Hope?”

Eyes the color of the violets his mother used to grow in their garden in Knoxville searched his. Only, the violet in Angeline’s eyes was more like a bottomless pool of swirling emotions. Emotions he longed to explore, along with those lips of hers she so often bit when she was nervous. He looked away. “We should wait until there’s not an ant in sight. I don’t want to risk getting trapped.”

Nodding, she leaned back against the trunk and folded up the sleeves of her blouse against the sultry heat. A flicker of sunlight brushed over a pink scar on her forearm. He’d seen scars like that before. Many of them. All caused by knives embedded in flesh. But why would such a lovely lady like Angeline have been the victim of such violence? His gaze shifted to the ring she wore on a chain around her neck. Normally she kept it tucked within her bodice, but perhaps it had loosened during their mad dash through the jungle. Since it appeared to be a man’s ring, he’d always wondered about it but had been afraid to pry.

Now seemed like the perfect time.

“That ring you always wear around your neck, it must be important to you.”

Her lips flattened. “I realize, Doctor, that we find ourselves inappropriately alone, but that does not grant you entrance into my personal life.” Her strident tone surprised him. Though he didn’t know why. The woman could switch moods faster than a chameleon could colors. Flinching at the sting in his heart, he held up his palms. “Douse those flames, your dragonship; I was just asking.”

“Dragonship?” A sparkle lit her eyes, softening the hard sheen of only a moment before. “Sweet saints, where did that come from?” She laughed.

“Sorry. Old habit.” James shrugged, thrilled to see her anger flee. “I used to read stories about dragons when I was a little boy. They fascinated me.” He shrugged. “Were dragons good? Evil? How did they make the fire that came out of their snouts?” He winked.

“So am I to be compared to a dragon now?” She laughed as the tension dissipated between them. “You are a strange man, indeed. A doctor, or rather preacher, who is fascinated by creatures that don’t exist.”

Her gaze snapped to his, and he knew she also referred to the invisible beasts he claimed were tormenting the colonists.

A bird landed on a branch and eyed them curiously before beginning a serenade in a variety of tones and notes and pitches that would shame a symphony orchestra.

Despite the joyful tune, she grew quiet. After several minutes, she lifted the ring and fingered it like it was the answer to all her prayers. “It was my father’s. He gave it to me on his deathbed.”

Sunlight cut a swath through the canopy and swayed over the ruby in the center, setting it aflame.

“It’s beautiful,” James said.

“Yes.” She stared at it as if lost in another time.

“When did he die?”

“I was only seventeen.”

“And your mother?”

“At my birth.” She swiped away a tear, and James felt like a cad for bringing up such morbid memories.

She held the ring up to him. “My father told me I was the ruby in the center and he and my mother were the topazes on either side, watching out for me.” She smiled but her voice caught.

“They must have loved you very much,” James said. And with their death, this poor lady was left an orphan at only seventeen. Had family taken her in?

She withdrew the ring, kissed it, and slipped it beneath her bodice. “So now you know.” She sounded disappointed.

“I can keep a secret.”

“It’s not a secret. It’s just mine to know and no one else’s.”

“Then I am indeed honored you shared it with me.”

She gave him a sly smile. “You coerced it out of me, sir. Took advantage of my weakness.”

“Weakness? You? Never.”

An expression akin to disbelief shadowed her face before she glanced away. He longed to bring those violet eyes back to his.

“Friends share things about their lives.” He shifted on the hard bark. “It helps them know each other.” Did she consider him a friend? He hoped so, though he wanted so much more.

She scooted away and peered down through the branches. “The more a person knows about someone, the more power they have over them.”

Shock kept James silent. For several minutes, he watched her pet Stowy and gaze at the ground, no doubt searching for ants. Strands of hair blew in the breeze across her waist. “I want no power over you, Angeline.”

“No?” Turning, she raised a disbelieving brow before glancing down again. “Everyone wants something.”

James scratched his jaw. What had happened to make this lady so cynical?

“The ants are gone,” she announced.

He inched beside her and peered through the lattice of leaves toward the distant fields. Small patches of dark still moved across ground that looked gray and empty in the blaring sun. “We should wait awhile longer. Just to make sure.”

Regardless of whether the lady or the dragon appeared, James was rather enjoying his time with Angeline. When they climbed down from this tree, only God knew what they’d have to face: the loss of their crops, all their food, perhaps even their town. And he could only hope and pray there’d been no injuries. Or deaths. But for now, he would relish being close to a woman he’d spent five months with and yet felt he hardly knew. Every moment in her company only endeared her more to him. And made him want to dig deeper and deeper to understand everything about her. He’d never felt that way about a woman. Never thought he’d find a woman interesting enough and pure and good enough to marry. Yet, here was a woman he could care for. Here was a woman he could love. Perhaps his philandering wasn’t his own fault at all. How could any man resist a woman who flaunted herself before him like a French praline?

BOOK: Abandoned Memories
7.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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