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Chapter 2

She awoke in that time before sunrise when the birds had already awakened and started their search for the day's food, calling to each other—pleasant sounds in a world gone mad. She didn't have to turn her head to know he was there, but she did so anyway, to look at him, as she looked at him each morning, with a mixture of love and fear and regret. He sat in a chair near her bed, feet propped on a packing crate, head thrown back against the uncompromising chair. And for once he slept—lightly, she knew—and for once he might be getting some needed rest.

He would never sleep beside her—that she knew too. But he would remain nearby. He would watch over her. It was more than she had any right to expect. For her, it would have to be enough.

Megan felt the kiss of a light breeze on her face as she awoke, and she lay there, eyes closed, enjoying its caress until the dreams and memories of the night jumbled together behind her closed lids and brought her upright in bed: a strange bed. And outside the opened windows she saw a strange porch and a strange tree-shaded yard.

She heard a noise, a slight scratching, scrabbling sound, and turned her head to see an enormous black dog rising to a sitting position between her and the hall door. She knew she'd seen it before, but had it been in her dreams? In her memories?

"Am I—" Her voice was hoarse, barely audible, and she found her throat raw and reluctant to let her force words through it. Still, she tried again. "Am I supposed to be afraid of you?" she asked.

In answer, the dog rose and walked toward her. She wondered if she should try to run, wondered briefly if she were still trapped in some bizarre nightmare. But when it reached the side of the bed, the dog butted its head under her hand where it lay on the sheet beside her.

"I guess not," she said, answering her own question and giving in to the dog's wordless command to rub its head. "But am I supposed to know you?"

The dog whined once, whirled away from her, and trotted out of the room.

She supposed she ought to get up, follow the dog, and try to find out where she was, but at the moment she wasn't sure she had the strength. Instead, she sank back against the pillows, sorting through what she was pretty sure were memories of the night before: the raid, the soft-spoken woman doctor, the man with the kind hands and the dark anger-filled eyes.

"Good morning. Deacon told me you were awake."

Megan looked up at the sound of the voice. Ah, she thought, this one had been a memory. But had he been? The voice was the same, and the eyes, although she saw no anger in them this morning—but the rest of him? Had the man she saw last night looked like the man standing in the bedroom doorway? The height was the same, the lean almost hungry-looking build, the dark complexion and even darker hair. But hadn't he been older? Looked more—lived in? Wouldn't she have noticed the angry scar that cut upward across his left cheek or the other one that marred the back of his right hand?

"Do you know who I am?" he asked softly. "Or where you are?"

Memories flooded against the walls of her mind, more than she could handle right now and more than she could bear to share with this man.

"You're Jake Kenyon," she said, "my neighbor. And this must be your home?"

He smiled then, reluctantly, almost as though rewarding her for something, and nodded toward a chair. "I didn't think to pick up anything for you when Patrick—Dr. Phillips's husband—and I went back down to your house last night to lock it up. There's a shirt of mine, and a pair of sweatpants with a drawstring waist. The bathroom's the first door on the right. You'll find clean towels and a new toothbrush in there. I'll have breakfast ready by the time you are."

"Mr. Kenyon—"

"Later, Megan. After breakfast."

The bathroom was small and obviously cut out of another room in the manner she had noticed in her own almost-as-old house, because the light fixtures and outlets and even the window were slightly off kilter. But it was clean. The fixtures gleamed. And a pile of thick clean towels and a new toothbrush, as well as a comb and a new bar of soap, waited for her on the top of a small oak washstand.

Megan closed the door behind her and carried her handful of clothes into the room. She placed them on the washstand and sank down onto the edge of the tub. She glanced back at the door and saw the reflection of herself staring at her from a full-length mirror.

I almost waved at you.

She had said it. So had he. Why? Why would anyone who looked like him even consider waving at someone who looked like the woman she saw in the mirror?

Too-thin arms and legs sticking out from a plain white cotton shift. Too-sharp cheekbones and too-large eyes beneath, nondescript light-brown hair that had been cropped off in an attempt to disguise her in her flight through the jungle, and that she'd not yet had the energy or the inclination to restyle. She couldn't see the salty tear tracks on her cheeks, but she could feel them.

When had this happened to her? When had she become indistinguishable from any of the numberless refugees in any of the numberless camps she had visited over the last five years?

Three months ago. She knew the answer to that question. Or did she? Were the events of three months ago what had truly changed her? Or had she started the change long before that—when the disillusionment had begun?

She frowned at her reflection, thrown uncompromisingly back at her from the mirror, and then frowned at the mirror. It seemed a vanity out of keeping with the harsh dark man who had stormed into the middle of a dozen others to pull her back to safety and sanity.

Helen! Oh, God, Helen. Of course there would be a mirror. Jake Kenyon? Jake Kenyon was more than just her neighbor; he was Helen's husband. And he would want answers. Soon.

Maybe not, she told herself as she reached for the faucets and started the flood of water from the shower. Maybe he had accepted the official story. Maybe he wouldn't need to hear any more. Maybe she wouldn't have to tell it again. Maybe she could push it so far back she would never have to think of it again. . . .

Later, scrubbed, polished, and toweled dry, Megan slipped into the soft faded sweatpants, tied them about her waist, and pulled up the legs until they bagged over her ankles and the pair of gray boot socks she had found neatly folded with the clothes. Then she pulled on the equally soft cotton shirt. Too long and too wide; nevertheless, it fit her like an old friend, and she smiled as she rubbed the impossibly familiar fabric across her suddenly sensitive arms.

She'd shampooed, too, and done the best she could with her hair, and for the first time in months she wished for makeup. But she'd only be hiding behind it, as she had hidden so many times in the past. Maybe it was time she quit hiding. She shook her head and shuddered. Who was she kidding? Hiding—protecting herself from emotional pain—was all she knew how to do, all she'd ever known.

She lifted her chin and threw back her shoulders. She was ready, as ready as she'd ever be, to face Jake Kenyon and his questions.

The dog waited for her in the wide hallway outside the bathroom. "Deacon, is it?" she asked. Again he butted his head under her hand before turning and trotting down the hall. At a door toward the end, he stopped and looked back.

She didn't really need a tour guide, she realized. The house was small, smaller than hers. Only a couple of other doors led off the hallway, and the one Deacon guided her through opened into a large combination living-dining area. A massive stone fireplace dominated one end of the room, with a glass-fronted wood-burning stove butted up against it beneath a rustic carved mantel. Again, she saw only a couple of closed doors indicating other rooms, or maybe closets, before she followed Deacon through an opening to the right. The long narrow room they had entered had obviously once been a porch; its history was apparent from its sloping ceiling to its numerous windows. But now it was a kitchen and small breakfast room, functional and—unintentionally, she suspected—cheerful. And empty.

The pine table was set for two, a kettle boiled on the stove, and the oven gave off a suspicious warmth and an unmistakable aroma.

"Mr. Kenyon?" she said cautiously. "Jake?"

"Be right with you." She heard his voice from inside a room of some sort at the end of the kitchen. "Grab that kettle, will you, before it boils over? All right! Here it is."

Megan switched off the burner just as Jake Kenyon emerged. "I knew I had some somewhere," he said, opening what she recognized as a box of tea bags.

"There's coffee and orange juice," he told her, "but Barbara—Dr. Phillips—said your throat's probably going to be irritated for the next few days, so I thought you might like some tea with honey." He nodded toward a small jar on the table. "It's local. It's really pretty good."

"Tea will be fine, thank you," she said, as awkwardly polite as he.

"Sit down. Yes. Why don't you sit down while I put everything on the table? It's ready."

"Everything" turned out to be crisp bacon, which she couldn't eat without discomfort, and fluffy scrambled eggs and melt-in-your-mouth biscuits, which she could. Remarkably, she was hungry. Famished. More so than she had been for months, maybe even years. With her barely aware of it, Jake kept her cup filled and passed her the butter and honey and the plates of eggs and biscuits. Eventually, though, she realized that he had finished eating, pushed his plate to one side, and now sat with his coffee, just watching her eat and smiling at her in a way that reflected not humor so much as some sort of satisfaction with either her actions or his.

"I'm sorry," Megan said, placing her fork carefully on her plate and clenching her hand on the table beside the plate.

"For what?"

"For—" She grimaced. "This was really very good. You shouldn't have gone to so much trouble."

"It wasn't any trouble. Barbara's mother feels sorry for me, so every couple of months she sends me a few batches of her homemade frozen biscuit dough. All I had to do was stick these in the oven while I fried the bacon and eggs. But why shouldn't I have gone to some trouble for you?"

"Because I've inconvenienced you enough already. I really am sorry."

Megan knew the time had come to confront the night before, because if she didn't do it now, she might never be able to, and this man deserved honesty from her, if nothing else.

"I really lost control last night, didn't I?" she asked. But she knew the answer without waiting for one. "I just want you to know I'm not always so irrational."

"It was an irrational situation."

She found a hesitant smile. "Yes, it was. But I can't imagine anyone else—you, for example—collapsing in a corner and screaming loud enough to bring a neighbor from a quarter of a mile away."

He reached over and took her hand. "Actually, I was already on my way down the road when I heard you. No, I wouldn't have acted in the same way if they had come in on me like they did you, but then I wouldn't have been alive to have breakfast the next morning."

No, she realized, he probably wouldn't have been. That huge dog of his would have warned him that someone was prowling around; he would have been armed by the time the first boot hit the porch, and he would have started firing when the door came crashing in. And he would have been dead. Dead like the others—

"And I don't have the same kind of memories you do, either."

She tugged her hand from his, and he let go. She clasped it with her other hand and looked around, anywhere to avoid the questions in his eyes and the questions his two very obvious scars raised in her. A familiar-looking black notebook lay on the cabinet just beyond his left shoulder. When he saw where her attention had fixed, he turned and lifted the book.

"Yes, it's yours," he told her, handing it to her. "I thought you'd want it safer than leaving it for careless eyes."

"You read it?"

He shook his head. "Only a line or two—just enough to recognize what it was when the deputy handed it to me."

Megan folded the notebook against her. "There aren't that many deep dark secrets in it. Probably not as many as there ought to be. The psychiatrist I saw when I returned suggested I use this as a kind of therapy—you know, talk out what had happened even if there was no one to listen but myself."

"I'll listen."

Megan closed her eyes and leaned back against the chair, sighing. "I was afraid you'd say that. But I knew you had to."

"Yeah. I have to. I have to know how much the official version of the story left out."

"And why I'm alive when no one else is?"

"That too."

Would he believe her? Was it even worth trying to convince him?

Yes, she decided. This man deserved the truth.

"I'm alive because of a series of events that never should have happened," she told him.

"None of it should have happened," he reminded her. "Tell me."

She nodded, swallowed once, and focused on the pattern of leaves and sunlight in the trees outside the window behind Jake. "I'd worked with Project Food for about five years, and we had been supplying the clinic at Villa Castellano almost that long. I'd even made a few trips there, but I don't think Roger even realized that we did so, until the country's aid appropriations bill came in for some real serious objections. My father has always supported that aid, and I guess Roger saw a way to benefit—he said—everyone, even though he'd been pressuring me to quit for over a year. Before I knew it, he had scheduled a junket and had us all in this tiny little village, along with reporters from Time, Newsweek, even People—and Helen.

"Roger said she was filming a documentary, but I suspect there was more campaign rhetoric involved in it—in the whole trip—than impartial journalism. Roger and I had already had what was for us a major disagreement about how this was being presented to the media. You know, the 'this is your tax dollar at work' suggestion rather than plainly stating that all the work there was being done by private contributions.

"We'd gone into a nearby village for the last episode of the media trip before taking the reporters back to the landing strip. One of the women there was in labor. There didn't seem to be enough time to get her into the clinic to the doctor—she had a midwife—but she also had this houseful of scared, crying kids and a husband who came up to me and said, 'Señora, you help my wife?'

"I'd met her on a previous trip. She'd befriended me then, and I had given her oldest daughter a scarf she admired. I couldn't say no, and Roger didn't want me to. I know he was afraid of what I'd say to the reporters if I had any time alone with them. So he left me in the village while everyone else went to the airport to see the reporters leave.

"The woman's husband walked me back to the clinic later, although it seemed hours before he could get away to do so. We were almost to the edge of the clearing when we heard the sound of vehicles arriving. He stopped me. And when he saw they were government—army—vehicles, he pulled me back into the shadows.

"The staff came out. The soldiers came pouring out of their transports, shouting, running into the various buildings, carrying out supplies and equipment, and rounding up anyone they found inside.

"Helen came out of the main office with her minicam in her hand. I think she really thought she could stop them. The officer in charge—I don't know who he was, but Roger did. He recognized him when he came out of the office behind Helen. He said, 'You,' only that, and I think he knew then he was going to die. The officer knew who we were. He looked at Helen and said, 'Señora Kenyon, you should have left with the others.' And then he shot her.

"I'm sorry, Jake," Megan told him, finally looking at him, daring her already shattered voice to fail her further. "But it was quick. It was by far the most merciful of all the deaths that day."

He closed his eyes briefly, but not before she saw a quick flash of pain. "Thank you," he said. "Go on."

"My guide had his hand over my mouth, or I would have screamed. And then it wouldn't have mattered if I had, because there was so much noise no one could have heard me. And when it was over, there was nothing left but death and burned-out buildings, and two weeks of hiding in the jungles, and finally getting to safety, where no one wanted to hear the truth of what had happened. Not even my father."

When she fell silent, Jake pushed up out of his chair and walked to the back door. "I—I have some things to do now but I'll be back in a little while to take you home—if you want to go."

Megan nodded and stood, reaching for the plates on the table.

"Leave those," Jake said. "I'll do them later."

"It's no trouble."

"Leave them, I said."

Megan whirled around, for the first time in longer than she could remember feeling a burst of healthy, heady anger. "You go do whatever manly, macho thing you feel you have to do to get over what I just told you, Jake Kenyon, but I'm the one who had to tell you, I'm the one who has to stay in the house right now, and I'm the one who's doing the damned dishes!"

"Fine. Whatever you say!" Jake yanked open the back door. Deacon scrambled to his feet to follow but Jake made some gesture with his hand. "Stay," he commanded, slamming outside and letting the screen door bang shut behind him.

"Fine," Megan whispered, feeling her anger drain from her. She owed him thanks, gratitude, and only God knew what else; she had just told him how his wife died. And then she had yelled at him. She never yelled at anyone, but she had yelled at Jake Kenyon—yelled at him when what she wanted to do was slide her arms around him and hold him, or be held by him, until the horror of the telling faded away.

What she was going to do instead was clear the table and do the dishes. She glanced at the skillet on the stove and at the clutter on the table. She hated doing dishes.

Somehow, during the simple procedure of putting the kitchen in order, the horror did dull. When she had finished her task and Jake still hadn't returned, Megan made herself another cup of tea and leaned against the counter, holding her journal.

The telling had helped. Maybe the honesty Dr. Kent had insisted she give her journal would help too.

She heard the sound of birdcalls outside the open kitchen door and felt again the gentle breeze, although no longer quite so cool, that had awakened her that morning.

Jake's home was quiet, peaceful, almost timeless, lulling her into a sense of security she couldn't remember ever feeling before. If the raid last night hadn't ruined it for her, she could have this same feeling in her own home; she knew she could. All the elements were the same—except maybe the ages of their houses. His had to be much older than she had first thought, had to have seen so much more life, so much more pain, so much more joy. Had to have been . . .

Megan shook her head as that thought eluded her. All she needed was to become as fanciful as her father said she already was. Work helped keep her from that. And she knew where there was more work to be done in this house. She tossed the notebook on the table and started toward the bedroom, but as she stepped into the living room, she stopped, puzzled.

A fire? she thought. In June? She knew there had been no fire in the fireplace when she came through the room earlier. In fact, there had been a wood stove in place in front of the now-open hearth.

Nor had there been a huge frame balanced on four kitchen chairs in the room.

Megan caught her hand to her mouth. There definitely hadn't been two women in long dresses working over the quilt in that frame.

One of them stood. She was Choctaw, as one would expect in this part of the state, rail thin, and old enough for her black hair to be liberally silvered. She handed a pair of scissors to the other woman, who was young and, surprisingly, white, with soft brown hair and a face that was more than pretty but not yet truly formed because of youth and innocence.

"Liddy," the older woman said, "I've been trying to figure out how to say this, and there's no other way but just to say it. Don't fall in love with Sam."

The younger woman looked up and smiled, seemingly not bothered by the warning. "Granny Rogers, you know I've loved him since I was twelve years old."

"I know you think you have, child. I know you've built him into some kind of hero in your mind because he's a Lighthorseman, and because he turned his back on his daddy's people and returned from Texas, but your daddy's not going to like it. And Sam's having been a Ranger and having worn the gray isn't going to make Daniel Tanner like it. He's going to send you back to those white relatives in Fort Smith. And when he does, you're going to find a young man you can build a life with, someone to share your dreams."

The girl called Liddy clipped the thread from the stitch in front of her, jabbed her needle into a pincushion, and lifted her chin defiantly. "Sam is my dream."

The older woman shook her head and dropped her hand onto the girl's shoulder. "But you're not his. You never can be. Sam has no dreams left, child."


She heard Jake calling her from what seemed to be a great distance away and turned toward his voice. When she did so, she heard Deacon's low whine and once again heard the birds and realized they had been strangely silent while she—while she what?

She turned again to face the living room, and it was as she had seen it earlier that morning: no fire, no quilt frame, no women.

She sagged against the door facing.

"Megan, are you all right?"

Was she? Or was she finally, and in spite of all her denials, losing her mind?

"Jake, is—" She stopped herself before the words escaped. She couldn't ask a man she had just met, no matter how intense that meeting had been, if his house was haunted. "I'm fine," she said.

He came into the kitchen and looked at her intently. "Are you sure? You looked a little strange there for a minute."

Had she now? She wondered how he would have looked had he seen what she just saw—provided, of course, that she had really seen anything.

"Yes," she told him. "I'm sure. I was just—I must have been—I guess I—"

"I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't have insisted you tell me. And then I shouldn't have left you to deal with it by yourself."

Was that what she had been doing? Oh, God, she thought, please let that be what had just happened.


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