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Chapter 1

There were times, later, when Megan wondered if she should sell the house. There were times when she wanted to take Pandora and Shadrack, get in her flashy new little car, and leave the house and Lydia, all those she had seen and those she hadn't. What stopped her was the increasing worry that what she really wanted to leave behind was herself, and that she couldn't do—yet.

There were none of those questions the day she first saw the rambling old farmhouse, with its wide, shaded porches, only the sure knowledge that this was the home she had been looking for, the one she tried in vain to describe to Dr. Kent.

"Don't you have a home with your father as long as you want?" He never argued, just prodded and probed and pried around the edges of her mind and seemed, somehow, mildly disappointed in her.

"In Washington, D.C.? After what's happened?"

"Or here in Tulsa?" he'd asked softly.

"I have a house here," she had answered, equally softly. "Not a home. Never a home. Never a place where I felt I belonged."

"You can make it your home, Megan."

"Not that house. Jack McIntyre molded it and made it what he wanted as surely as if he'd lived there. I don't think I'll ever be strong enough to change it." She smiled at him in hesitant explanation. "One Christmas when my father was out of the country, I spent the holidays with my roommate at her grandmother's house. It was the only true home I think I've ever been in. There was laughter and warmth and comfort. I was a stranger and yet I felt welcomed, a part of the family. That's the kind of home I want, and that's the kind I will have. But not in the shadow of my father."

"But why Prescott?" he had asked her in a later session. "Why not here?"

Why Prescott? She closed her eyes and pictured the southeastern Oklahoma town in its postcard setting, houses clustered at the base of a hill and just beginning to sprawl into the valley.

"Because there," she told him, knowing nothing else would satisfy him, "I won't be Jack McIntyre's daughter or Roger Hudson's widow. There I can just be Megan, and maybe I can find out who Megan really is."

How strange, she thought, that Roger and his sister had to die before she found the place in which she thought she could really live.

She was fragile. Dr. Kent said she might always be fragile—witnessing brutal, senseless death tended to have that effect on people. But she was stronger, both physically and emotionally, than when she had returned to the States, stronger even than when she had taken possession of this poor mistreated house that Roger's sister, Helen, had long ago turned into a rental.

She had plenty of privacy; the house sat about four miles outside the tiny little town of Prescott, Oklahoma, a town that she'd belatedly discovered had lost all its businesses except for a post office and general store. Her place butted up to the side of a mountain. There was only one other house on that road, farther up into the woods than hers, and while the man she occasionally saw driving past on his way up that road in a sleek, new black Jeep looked vaguely, impossibly familiar, she never bothered him and, thank God, he never bothered her.

She knew that later she would want to announce she was not just another in a long line of tenants but part of the community; later she would want church socials and gossiping at the general store and trading recipes and herbs with the local women. But for now, all she wanted was to heal. So she avoided Prescott and drove twenty miles to the county seat at Fairview for her supplies and to hire the few needed tradesmen she employed, and mostly she kept to herself as she weeded and replanted overgrown flower beds, scraped and painted abused cabinets, and scrubbed and covered windows. At night, tired, exhausted from the work she had done but not tired enough to sleep, she curled up on the sofa with the two young black cats that had adopted her. Then she took out the journal Dr. Kent had insisted she keep and tried to make sense of what had happened and how she had become the person it had happened to.


June 3

I painted the smallest bedroom today: emerald green, a color that will look wonderful with white enameled woodwork. The floor is in worse shape than I thought, so I think I will enamel it, too, and stencil it. Then lace curtains. If it doesn't work out, I can always do it over—something Roger would never have understood.

The cats woke me up about three this morning—again—fussing and fretting in the way only black cats do. But I didn't hear anything or see anything when I walked through the house looking out all the windows. A dog, maybe—or maybe I just need to corral my paranoia. I'm not in South America anymore. I saw my neighbor go through this afternoon. I almost waved at him.

And—God!—I'm avoiding, even in the journal I created so I didn't have to hide my thoughts.

Did I love Roger? Did I ever really love him, or did I think he would somehow magically rescue me? And did he love me? Or was the temptation of being married to Senator McIntyre's daughter just too great for him to resist? Did I base my marriage on a lie, put us both through four years of misery?

—help me oh God somebody please please help me—


Suddenly, after all her weeks of work, all her weeks of healing, the terror was back, as strong as the moment the hand had clamped over her mouth, dragging her back into the trees, into safety, while she watched the others die.

When would it end, Lord, when would it end?

She knew what she ought to do. She ought to turn to one of the other sections of this multifaceted journal and explore that sudden cry for help. Dr. Kent had promised that bringing all the shattered segments of her life together in one book would help her gather into herself all those portions that seemed to be forever lost, had promised that by exploring all the choices she had made, the actions she had taken, even the ones she hadn't as though she had, she could finally make herself whole.

But she couldn't do that. Not tonight. And she couldn't lose herself in sleep. Not tonight. The fear still clawed at her too fiercely. The dreams would come tonight: Roger, Helen, the small staff at the clinic. The green of the soldiers' uniforms. The shots. The screams. The blood.

She sat up quickly, and the black tomcat yowled a complaint. She looked at him, forgetting for a moment what she had meant to do. Then she released her breath, shook her head, and closed the journal.

"Come on, you two," she said, and her voice sounded strangely harsh in the silence of the night. "Let's go paint a floor."


Something was going on at the Hudson place, had been going on for months, even before this newest tenant moved in. Jake Kenyon had attributed it to the activities of the last renter. Now he wasn't so sure. The new woman was an improvement on the lowlifes Helen's place was usually rented to. He supposed if he had to have anyone living at the base of his road, she—whoever she was—was all right. At least she had arranged to have all the dead cars hauled away and was trying to clean up the outside of the place.

Was she the only one living there? After the workmen left, he never saw anyone else, which in itself was odd. She was a young woman; he had noticed that much on the rare occasions he saw her outside, camouflaged in baggy clothes and chopped-off hair.

She might be the only one living there, but she wasn't the only one prowling the place. He'd seen tracks earlier in the year, in the woods. Now the activity seemed to be confined to the hours of darkness, but only when the moon was bright. As it had been last night; as it would be tonight.

He'd turned off the house lights early to let whoever was out and about think he wasn't there or was already asleep. Now he waited in his Jeep at the top of his road in the shadows of a moonlit night so bright he could almost see color. He waited alone except for Deacon, the big black German shepherd that had been shot up as badly as he had and left with him to die—and except for the 9-millimeter automatic he had cleaned and loaded and kept nearby. Once a cop, always a cop, he thought. And once nearly a dead cop, always wary.

Deacon growled once, a low, quiet warning.

"I hear it, boy," Jake told him.

He'd parked at an angle so he could see the Hudson house despite the overgrowth of trees and leaves. Even so, his view was impaired. But the clear night air carried the slightest noise and magnified it, and the sound of vehicles was unmistakable.

Vehicles, plural. More than one. And no headlights.

Some of the last tenant's friends come to pay a visit on the woman living there alone?

"Let's go take a look," he said to the dog, and eased the Jeep into neutral, coasting downhill without starting the engine until he heard shouts and the unmistakable sound of a door being kicked open.

He heard her scream over the roar of the Jeep's engine as he turned into the woman's driveway. It sliced through the night, through the clutter of cars that surrounded the small frame house, raking a chill down his spine that only dimly echoed the terror in the woman's voice.

He felt a moment's hesitation as he recognized the cars: black-and- whites, county cars, all with their light bars dark, and a couple of unmarked ones. But only for a moment. The woman's terror was a palpable thing; there was no way in hell he couldn't go to her rescue.

He ran his car up into her yard and slammed from it at a run, into the house. A dozen men stood around, guns dangling ineffectually from helpless hands. The woman knelt in a corner of the room, dressed only in a thin white shift, her arms clasped over her head, her unearthly wails tearing through him.

Mark Henderson, the sheriff's first deputy, crouched beside her, his hands on her shoulders.

"Get your hands off her." Jake's voice cut through the room.



Jake felt a soft brush at his knee and heard Deacon's warning growl. Reluctantly Henderson released her.

"Now move away."

Jake dropped to his knees in front of the woman. She looked at him with terror-glazed eyes, but he knew she didn't see him. "No one's going to hurt you," he said softly. "It's all right. I promise no one will hurt you."

He continued speaking in a lulling monotone, wondering if she even heard, until her screaming stopped. She looked at him, and this time he thought she saw something, at least. He held out his hand, careful not to touch her. "No one will hurt you," he promised. "No one."

Slowly, cautiously, she reached for his hand and grasped it in both of hers. He saw silent sobs shake her body, felt the desperation in her grip, but at last she was quiet.

"What in the hell is going on here?" he asked with deadly calm.

Henderson spoke carefully, avoiding looking at either Jake or the woman. "You're not sheriff anymore."

"Thank God for that. At least I won't have to answer for whatever you've done here tonight. What happened?"

"We were executing a search warrant for methamphetamines—"

"You what?"

"An informant told us a buy was going down here tonight. You know how hard we've been trying to get something on Max Renfro."

"You stupid sons of bitches," Jake muttered. "Look around you. Max Renfro hasn't lived here for more than two months, as you would have known if you'd bothered to ask instead of trying to hotdog it."

"Then why did she scream? What set her off?"

Jake shook his head. He spotted a state cop in the crowd, one who ought to have known better, and spoke to him. "What would your wife or daughter do, Kelso, if a dozen armed men broke into your house in the middle of the night when she was alone?

"Has anyone thought to call an ambulance? Or begun to consider what hell there's going to be to pay when she realizes what's happened here?"

He looked back at the woman, too quiet now, who still held his hand in a death grip. "If she ever again realizes anything," he added softly. "Did any of you rocket scientists think to look for ID?"

"There's this." A cop from Fairview, out of uniform, stepped forward to hand Jake a black notebook but backed off when Deacon growled.

"Give it to me." Jake reached for it and took it in one hand. A quick glance showed him a diary of some sort, and he dropped it on the floor beside the woman.

"We'll need that for evidence," Henderson said.

"Of what, incompetence? You want drugs?" Surreptitiously, he nudged the notebook toward the dog. There wasn't any point in giving away all his secrets.

Deacon sniffed the notebook once and whined softly.

"There aren't any drugs in that notebook," Jake said. "From the looks of the place, there aren't any drugs here at all." He eyed the white walls, the Spartan furnishings. "This damn place looks like a convent. A purse, a wallet, a name?" he asked again as he felt the woman's grip on his hand lessening, as he felt her growing weaker. "And would one of you stir far enough to find a blanket or a robe, something to cover her with?"

"Hudson," someone said from the back of the room, holding a wallet out toward the group. "Megan Hudson."

Now Jake knew what had set her off, why she held on to him as though she feared for her life, but not why she was living here. What in God's name had brought her?

"Congratulations," he said. If it hadn't been for the woman kneeling before him, he would have taken great pleasure from his announcement. "You have just managed to terrorize Senator Jack McIntyre's daughter, Roger Hudson's widow." And Jake's sister-in- law.


In the end, he took her home with him. He couldn't justify doing so, not even to himself. Maybe it was because of the one entry in her diary he had seen;—help me oh God, somebody please please help me. And maybe it was because she finally looked at him instead of through him, recognizing him although he knew that was impossible, and whispered, "You came," just before slumping unconscious in his arms.

And he took the notebook, because he knew it was something she wouldn't want careless or curious eyes peering through.

He carried her, still unconscious, practically weightless, into his dark house, into his bedroom, and laid her on the bed. The moment he turned on the bedside lamp, she sprang up, shedding the blanket he'd wrapped her in. He saw darkening bruises on her arms where rough hands had held her and recognized from the look in her eyes that she was seeing something he couldn't see.

She began rubbing her hands down her arms, scrubbing them.

"Bath," she whispered.

"No, Megan. Not yet. Not now."

"Bath," she insisted, her voice broken, her scrubbing actions fiercer. "Dirty. So dirty."


When she moved a hand to cover her mouth, he recognized the action barely in time to grab the wastebasket and hold it for her as she heaved up the meager contents of her stomach and continued to retch until she lay back, exhausted.

"Oh, hell," he muttered. He didn't dare leave her to go for a cloth. He yanked the case off one of the pillows and handed it to her. She looked at it blankly for a moment and then scrubbed at her mouth.

Maybe she wasn't completely with him, but she was more here than she had been. A few things could explain her actions. Did he want to know? Did he want to open this ugly can of worms? It didn't matter. He had to ask and then, maybe, she could have that bath.

"Megan, were you raped?"

"Not me." She moaned into the pillowcase. "Some of the others. I couldn't stop it."

At that moment he knew what Helen's last hours must have been, knew he'd have to deal with that knowledge. But not now. Tonight this woman needed him.

"Not then. Tonight. Were you raped tonight?"

She looked at him over the edge of the case. Once again he saw recognition in her eyes, but her words told a different story.

"Six men. One of them is dead now. I couldn't stop them."

"Megan." He closed his hands on her arms, not wanting to hurt her, not knowing how to draw her out of a past hell into the hell this night had become for her. "Think. Tonight. Prescott, Oklahoma, June third. Did one of those bastards come in early? Did one of them hurt you tonight?"

She shuddered once, but when she looked at him again he saw reason and sanity in her eyes. "Not tonight," she said through tortured vocal cords. "They all came at once. I was alone, and they came crashing in. Why did they do that?"

Because they could, he could have answered. Because at best the local law had succumbed to mindless paranoia, at worst to greed. But he didn't tell her that.

"They made a mistake," he told her. "They thought someone else lived in your house."

"They can do that? In this country?"

"Yeah." He realized he still gripped her arms, so he released her. "Are you with me now? I was worried for a while."

He saw a hesitant smile lift the corner of her mouth. "I was worried too."

He didn't think it possible, but he felt a chuckle break from him, as reluctant as her smile was hesitant.

"You're my neighbor, aren't you?" she asked.

Jake nodded.

"I saw you come through from town this afternoon. I almost waved at you."

"I almost waved at you."

"Thank you." She swallowed once and blinked back tears and, he suspected, memories. "Thank you for coming. My name is Megan Hudson. I'm planning—I was planning to live here." She shook her head and smiled again. "Thank you, Mr.—?"

Maybe not so many memories after all. At least not current ones. "Kenyon," he told her. "Jake Kenyon."

She recognized the name. Her mouth opened in a silent oh, and her eyes filled with shock and secrets and shame. "I didn't know. I had no idea you—"

Jake shook his head. "There wasn't any reason for you to know. I didn't know who you were either. Sometime we will have to talk about Helen, but not tonight. You're not strong enough right now, and I'm not sure I am. What I need to do now is get you looked at by a doctor."

"No." Her voice was remarkably firm, remarkably adamant. "I've had enough doctors to last me a lifetime."

"Sorry," he said abruptly, easing himself off the bed and away from her.

What was happening to him? He had caught himself about to take this woman, a stranger in spite of their convoluted relationship, into his arms and tell her he would never let her be bothered again by anything or anyone.

"Trust me on this," he said instead. "You've been through a shock, may even still be in shock. And you seem to have some gaps in your memory of what happened tonight. Let me get a doctor up here to examine you. Then you can have that bath you asked for and maybe get a good night's sleep."

"The what I asked for?"

He closed his eyes briefly. The image of her scrubbing herself, begging to be clean, floated clearly before him. "See?" he said. "Gaps. Trust me."


"This had better be important."

Jake grimaced as the man's sleepy words over the telephone reminded him of the time.

"Sorry, Patrick," he said, "but I need a doctor up here."

"Jake?" Now the man on the other end of the line sounded wide awake. "Have you gotten yourself shot up again?"

"No." Jake hurried to reassure his friend. "There's no blood, at least none that shows. But you'd better tell Barbara to bring her I-might-have-to-take-this-to-court bag of tricks. And you might want to bring your camera."

"And my tape recorder?"

"I don't know if you'll get an interview. If she says no, that's it. But I'll have plenty to tell you."


"Just hurry, will you?"


Jake left Megan to Barbara's tender mercies while he and Patrick drove back down the hill to Megan's house. He found the switches for all the lights and left Patrick to record on film the travesty of trampled flower beds, shattered door and facing, muddy footprints in what had been an almost monastically clean house. Deacon found two half-grown cats huddled and hissing in the closet in the one room of the house that contained any color, a rich green that screamed of life and hope. A corner of the floor had been painted a bright clean white before it had been tracked over. In that corner, too, was the beginnings of a decorative painted pattern, also in green: vines and leaves, budding, reaching, opening.

He rescued the cats, now busily complaining, and carried them into the kitchen, where he found their dishes sitting neatly on a mat near a tightly closed container of food. He fed them, gave them fresh water, and cleaned up and refilled the overturned litter box in the adjacent small room where Megan had installed her washer and dryer.

Then quietly, calmly, he gave Patrick the names and agencies of each man who had taken part in the raid and told him what had been said, and by whom, as they returned to Jake's house.

"No interview tonight," Barbara told them. "She's exhausted and asleep."

"Is she all right?"

"She will be."

"Damn it, Barbara. You know what I'm asking."

"Yes," she said. "I just don't know why you're asking, or why it's so important to you. By your own admission you've never spoken to this woman before tonight."


"Jake," she said, echoing his frustration, "except for the bruises on her arms, there are no signs of physical abuse. The emotional abuse is a lot harder to spot. She gave me the name of her psychiatrist in Tulsa, and I woke him up too. He's concerned, but not overly so. He told me, and I have to agree with him, that Megan Hudson is a remarkably strong young woman."

"Strong?" Jake asked. "Did you look at your patient, doctor? She's about as strong as—"

"Maybe too strong. Dr. Kent told me that in spite of weeks of therapy she's consistently resisted facing the true horror of what she's been through. And in spite of the gaps and inconsistencies you mentioned, she's still sane, and she's still alive."


The moon had long since set; the sun had not yet made its way over the mountains in the east. Jake kept vigil. Seated in an uncomfortable chair he had dragged in from the kitchen, his feet propped on the opened drawer of the nightstand, he watched the woman sleep. She slept tightly and protectively curled, as though even in sleep she found no rest. He wondered about the familiarity of his actions, because he knew he had never watched over any other woman the way he was watching over Megan Hudson. He knew he had never felt the same unexplainable sense of rage and pain as he felt when he glanced at the shadows beneath her eyes and at the bruises on her arms. And he knew he had never before felt the same sense of desperation and frustration that he felt when he remembered Barbara's words: She's alive.


Sugarloaf County, Choctaw Nation Indian Territory, 1872

I must release this fear and hatred before its poison destroys me and the little that has been left to me.

I once thought myself a strong person; now I know that until the events of this summer I had never been tried.

I killed a man.

It seems strange that I can write those words so calmly and yet cannot bear even to think of the events that led up to an act completely alien to the person I once was. But perhaps this is merely another symptom of the madness I feel growing ever stronger within me.

If only I could bear to speak of what happened. But I cannot. And even if I could bring myself to do so, I know it must remain our secret. To reveal it would bring only shame and possibly death.

So I will write. I will spill everything out on these pages, and then I will commit them and, please God, the madness that threatens me to the fire.

On the last day of my youth, I had returned home from my exile at boarding school. Our father was not at home, which was not unusual. Surprisingly, though, he had not remarried as both Peter and I had thought he must do, and do quickly. Only Peter met me when Aunt Peg's driver delivered me. Only Peter laughed with me when I told him that the tollgate keeper at Backbone Ridge had recognized me and claimed he would not charge me a cent to return home but had charged Aunt Peg's driver and maid double the usual toll for a white's passage.

Only Peter was there to argue with me when I insisted on going immediately to Granny Rogers's cabin to see her and—Peter knew this too; he teased me unmercifully—to see Sam.

"He won't be there, you know," Peter told me yet again as we set out on the short journey on foot. But I had dressed in a stylish and sophisticated new walking costume that I had purchased in Little Rock for the express purpose of stunning Sam Hooker into realizing I was at last a woman grown, and I wasn't about to have my plans thwarted by something so simple as Sam not being at home.

We passed the creek, and although Peter looked at it with great longing, he also glanced at the embroidered hem of my skirt and with great restraint refrained from suggesting we go wading.

If I had let him win the argument about our visiting Granny Rogers's house, if I had let him convince me that Sam was not at home, if we had gone wading as we had done so many times before, would any of the subsequent events have happened?

But we passed the creek. And my life—all our lives—changed.

The men came out of the woods just past the first curve after the creek crossing: six of them, on worn sweat-stained horses, crowding around me. The fat one, the one I later learned was called Puckett, already had his rifle in hand and aimed.

"Well, well, well," he said, in a voice I still hear in my nightmares. "What have we found us, boys?"

Peter had lagged behind, a valiant but reluctant escort. Now I prayed his reluctance would save us. "Run!" I cried to him. "Get Sam!"

I saw the fat man raise his rifle, heard the sound of it being fired, and saw my beloved brother fall into the bushes.

"Get Sam?" the fat man asked. A grin split his face, revealing horrid blackened teeth before he spat out a stream of tobacco juice. "Sam Hooker? You wouldn't be his special treat, now, would you, little girl?

"Get Sam," he repeated, choking on a laugh. "Now that is purely what we meant to do. But I think I just changed my mind about the how of it."

He yanked me by the arm, pulling me up and across his legs and the saddle in front of him so that the pommel bit into my middle. I landed with a gasp and immediately began struggling. He only laughed, ripping my new and frivolous little hat away and grabbing a handful of my hair as he pushed my head down.

We stopped later, to water the horses, and although I felt that surely at least one rib had been broken by my punishing ride, I tried to run away. Puckett only laughed when I was hauled back to him. He ordered one of the men to take my boots and then, still smiling, he kicked me, hard, in the ankle. But for the man holding me, I would have collapsed with the pain.

"You won't run again, you Injun-lovin' little bitch," he said. And again he laughed.

They tied my hands together in front of me. This time when we rode away, I rode astride, my feet dangling, my ankle screaming, in front of the fat man. I had thought my earlier ride demeaning, but nothing had prepared me for the indignities of this man's groping hands and the pressures of his body against mine.

"Wouldn't have mattered one way or the other if that Injun kid with you had gotten away," the man called Puckett told me. "Hooker ain't home. Won't be for a couple more days. We found that out just yesterday. Thought we might wait for him and finish settling an old score when he did show up. Now we'll just wait until he finds us."

And he would. I knew that with every breath I took. Sam would come for me.

Puckett laughed, spewing stale breath and spittle across my cheek. "Yep, he'll come. I wonder if he'll like what he finds any better than the last time I left him a present."

An hour or so later, the five other men pulled up around us. "Damn it, Puckett," a tall gaunt one said. "We're tired of waiting. We're far enough away. It's time."

Puckett looked at the sky. "It's too early to make camp."

"We're not talking about making camp, damn it, we're talking about the woman and you know it."

He jerked me back against him, and I felt the swift stabbing pain of a rib giving way. "Yeah. I reckon this is as good a place as any." He bent over and lifted my skirt, grabbing a handful of my petticoat. "Give me your knife," he said to someone, I couldn't see who, who did as he said, and then he ripped a wide swatch from the embroidered ruffle. "Hang this on a branch, about eye level," he said. "We wouldn't want him to miss seeing this spot when he comes through here in a couple of days, would we? Wouldn't want him to miss knowing what we done."

All the men dismounted, leaving me on the horse. For one impossible moment, I thought I might be able to escape. Then Puckett turned and hauled me down.

One of the others carried me, kicking and struggling, to a grassy spot beneath a huge old hackberry tree. They tied a rope to the one already around my wrists—"Just until we all get a good look at what we've got," Puckett told me—and handed the length of rope to one of the other men.

He tossed the rope up over a branch in the tree, stretching my arms up, pulling me up, until I stood balanced only on the tips of my toes. I felt the rough texture of an old root and the bristle of pine needles through my sensible black stocking, along with the screaming pain in my right ankle.

Puckett stood in front of me now, so close the bulk of him blocked my view of the other men. I felt my blood roaring in my ears, felt my heart trying to pound its way out of my chest. I closed my eyes against the fear, but still the stench of him enveloped me.

He lifted his filthy hand to my face and gripped my jaw, forcing my head up. When he saw that I watched him, he grinned, turned his head, and shot a stream of brown tobacco juice to the ground, just missing the hem of my skirt.

"Sam Hooker will kill you for this," I whispered against his hand.

"We hope he tries, little girl. We purely do hope he tries."

Then his hand left my chin and reached for my buttons, those tiny buttons marching down the front of the new dress I had been so proud of, knowing that the first time I wore it would be when I finally returned home.

Would Sam ever see me in it?

Of course he would.

I had to believe that.

Sam would come for me.

He wouldn't let this happen.

Sam would come in time.


Should I hate him because he didn't come in time?

Should I hate him because the men who took me were there, looking for him, and I was merely incidental to their planned revenge?

Should I hate him because once, long ago, before he returned from Texas, before the war, he killed two of Puckett's brothers while attempting to arrest them?

Should I hate him because, although those men might have taken me, they would probably have done what I prayed for them to do: killed me quickly instead of keeping me alive for Sam to see?

Should I hate him? Or should I look into his eyes and see the guilt that torments him when he looks at me?

And if I cannot hate Sam, who then can I hate?

Please, God, if there really is a god, give me someone or something to hate. Because—perhaps—if I hate, I will have no room in my heart for the fear.


I could no longer feel my hands, still tied as they had been for days, but now the rope was pegged to a stake that kept me from running away. Running? The pain in my ankle where Puckett had kicked me had subsided to a dull roar that only throbbed beneath the swelling. Unless I moved it. Crawling, maybe.

No. Not even that.

My skirt and shirtwaist clung to me in tatters, my only cover against the chill of an early June night in the mountains. And if I really felt anything, it was the chill and the pebbles and shale and pine needles on the uneven ground that abraded my already raw back.

I would die. Soon, I thought. I'd passed hunger a day ago. They gave me water, barely enough for drinking, never enough for washing, but only when they stopped for their meals. Other than at those times, when one of them visited me, day or night, it was not to bring me water or food or anything else for my benefit.

I'd heard them talk about selling me to someone in Mexico. That would never happen. I was light-headed most of the time now, too weak to sit in the saddle without being tied. I'd never survive the trip.

They would kill me first. I'd promised myself that.

I no longer fought when one came to me, no longer screamed, no longer cried, no longer lay there silently enduring the obscenities to which they subjected me. No. I had a litany, a well-thought-out monologue, which I repeated with as much fire as I could still dredge up. Maybe soon, one of them would believe me. Maybe soon, one of them would be convinced that somehow I really could carry out my threat. Maybe soon, one of them would put his knife to my throat and end this living hell.

I saw a shape moving in the darkness, approaching with a stealth that only the one supposed to be on sentry duty ever used. The shape dropped down beside me. I didn't bother to look at him.

"I'll kill you," I said, though my voice was no more than a hoarse croak. "If you leave me alive, I will escape. I will find you and I will kill you. Slowly. Painfully. A knife in the gut? A piece at a time? My mother was a witch, you know. She taught me about survival, about secret ways of hurting a man, about—"


I felt fingers on my lips, silencing me—gentle fingers—and heard quiet, gentle words.

"I'll have you out of here in just a minute."

He was a dream; he had to be. I'd gone completely insane and was seeing visions, hearing voices.

But the hands had left me now and were working with the rope over my head.

Then they were under me, lifting me.


"Hush," he whispered. "It will be all right, I promise. But please be quiet while I get us out of here."

"Sam?" Now? After all that had happened?

In answer, he hugged me tightly against him and crept with me into the woods.

"Sam," I whispered. "You came. I knew you would." At last I surrendered to the weakness claiming me, to the tears I had refused to shed since the first day, and to the blackness I had held at bay for so long—too long. And at last I spoke the words I had felt through every fiber of my being but which I should never have voiced—not to him. "But you're too late."


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