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Authors: Catherine Anderson

Tags: #Historical

Coming Up Roses (8 page)

BOOK: Coming Up Roses
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* * *


Zach stirred in his sleep, troubled by crazy dreams. A woman's frightened voice and that of an angry man sliced through the mists of his unconsciousness and tugged persistently at him.

I should beat you!

Zach moaned and tried to battle his way up from the darkness. He heard the woman cry out and knew she needed help.

The voices receded, then grew louder again, but jumbled. Zach strained to listen, but only a few words came clear.

Your body—weeping with lust. You need a God-fearing man to discipline you.

With sheer strength of will, Zach managed to push up on one elbow. The shadowy room seemed to rock on its axis, then go into a dizzying swirl. He pushed feebly at the covers. Then a blanket of blackness dropped over him, and he fell back onto the bed, all awareness lost to him.


* * *


Still shaking with nervous reaction, Kate moved quietly through the dimly lit kitchen, her ears pricked for the slightest sound.

"Miranda?" she called softly. "Sweetness, where are you? Your uncle Ryan is gone, darling. Won't you come out now?"


Kate paused by the table and gazed out the window at the gloaming that had settled over the yard. The old willow tree cast a dark silhouette against the sky, its branches dancing like eerie specters in the evening breeze. Surely Miranda wouldn't have ventured outside when it was so near to nightfall.

Panic tried to clutch at Kate, but she warded it off. Miranda was probably still in the house. All she had to do was find her. And if she wasn't, Kate could call Marcus. He would be doing evening chores. In the barn, most likely.

If she asked, he'd surely help her search the outbuildings and fields.

A board creaked. Kate whirled toward the sound. The pantry door stood partially open, the enclosure beyond dark and silent. She moved slowly toward it. "Miranda?"

With a sweaty palm, Kate pushed the door all the way open and stepped into the darkness. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust. After peering into the shadows for what seemed an endless time, she could finally make out Miranda huddled on the floor in one corner. Her movements jerky, the child rocked quickly back and forth, her chin tucked against her chest.

Filled with a new kind of fear, Kate moved toward her. "Miranda?"

The child didn't answer or otherwise acknowledge that she heard. Kate sank to her knees beside her. Miranda continued rocking and didn't look up. Kate's attention was snagged by another movement, and she glanced down to see that Miranda had her right hand cupped protectively in her left, her outside fingers massaging those within.

Kate closed her eyes on a rush of rage. Damn Ryan Blakely. Damn him. She swallowed hard. Then she forced herself to grow calm. Very carefully, she drew her child's rigid body into her arms, then pushed to her feet

"I'll rock you, Miranda, if you'd like to be rocked. Would you like that?"

Miranda's only response was to press her wet cheek against Kate's breast. Feeling leaden and helpless, she carried her daughter back into the kitchen and sat with her in the rocker by the stove. She didn't allow herself to look into Miranda's eyes. She knew what she would see. A terrifying nothingness.

Battling tears, Kate cuddled her daughter close and set the chair into motion with a push of her bare feet. "You don't have to feel afraid, sweetness. Truly, you don't. I won't let anyone hurt you. I promise. Never again."

Miranda remained rigid in her arms. Kate tried to massage away the stiffness.

"It's just you and me," she whispered. "From now on. When Uncle Ryan comes to visit, he may raise his voice, but he can't do anything bad to us. If he did, I'm sure he knows the sheriff would come and take him away. We're safe. Do you hear? Just you and me. For always."

Kate listened to the urgent creak of the rocker slats and pushed less frequently to strike a more soothing rhythm.

How could she calm Miranda if she revealed fear herself?

"From now on, every day is going to be ours to do whatever we want." She forced a note of cheerfulness into her shaky voice. "We'll grow pretty flowers all around the house. Every color of the rainbow, hm? And I'll make you dozens of new dresses. With icicles galore on your petticoats. We'll bake cookies whenever the mood hits. And every evening we'll sit here by the stove and have story time. Won't that be nice? I'll tell you a story now," Kate whispered. "Would you like that?"

She didn't expect Miranda to answer, but the silence still caught at her heart so that she wanted to weep. Miranda had been doing so well these last few weeks. Only days ago, Kate had been marveling at the transformation, and now this. With one maniacal tirade, Ryan Blakely had undone months of healing.

"Let me see," Kate went on. "I bet you'd like to hear the story about the time my pa went clear to Jacksonville to buy me a kitten."

And so the story began, and Kate was swept back through the years to the innocence of her childhood, to a time before the death of her parents, when she had been safe and loved and fiercely protected. The memories made her long to regress from adulthood, to become that child again. She yearned for her mother's arms, for the feel of her pa's whiskers scrubbing playfully at her neck.

Oh, yes, to be that child again. And to take Miranda with her. Not to have to deal with the reality in which they found themselves entrapped. Kate knew that Miranda, in her own way, was also trying to escape, not into memories but from them, by separating herself from the world around her. What terrified Kate was how successful the child seemed to be at it. What if, during one of these spells, Miranda became lost in her unreality and never found her way back?


Chapter 7


he next morning, Miranda awoke bright-eyed and smiling, as though the visit from Ryan Blakely had never occurred. Kate watched her daughter closely throughout the day, but as the hours wore on, she detected nothing unusual in her behavior. It was as if the child had erased the previous night from her mind.

Alarmed on the one hand, relieved on the other, Kate could only be thankful that this spell hadn't lasted. A few months back, Miranda might have stayed hidden within herself for days, staring at nothing, constantly rocking, her eyes reflecting the nothingness into which she had taken refuge.

At noon , Marcus Stone came up to the house to eat. To avoid any possible conflict, which she feared might send Miranda into a relapse, Kate fed her daughter early and sent her upstairs for her nap so she wouldn't see Marcus when he came.

Usually a quiet man, Marcus surprised Kate by growing chatty while he ate. He updated her on how the sow's seven new piglets were doing, asked how much wool her sheep had yielded during the spring shearing, mentioned that the carrots were coming up in the garden, and then complained a while about the fickle weather, which had been sunny one day and raining buckets the next.

In kind, Kate filled Marcus in on his boss's condition. "He seems to be asleep, now," she said as she turned from the sink. Still clutching a half-peeled potato, which would go into their soup for supper, she waved her hand to convey her lack of words. "I can't describe the difference, exactly. But I don't think he's still actually unconscious. I keep expecting him to jerk awake, but he doesn't."

Marcus seemed to ponder that for a moment. "Nothing to fret over, I reckon. He almost died. His body must need the sleep to heal itself up."

"But to never awaken, not even once? It worries me."

"Maybe he has—just for a minute or two—when we wasn't around."

Kate considered that. "I suppose that's possible."

Marcus swirled the dregs of coffee in his mug and took a slow sip. As he lowered the mug, he regarded Kate with a quizzical expression. "I'd think if anything would've woke him up, that fella raisin' sand in here last evenin'


Kate turned back to the sink and said nothing, not because she wished to be rude but because she didn't know how to reply.

"It ain't none of my concern, but I'm gonna ask anyways. Who in hell was that man?"

"Please don't swear, Mr. Stone," Kate chided softly. "I have a child upstairs."

"Where I come from, there's a difference between cursin' and swearin'." She heard his chair scrape across the planks. "I take it you don't wanna talk about it."

"Not really," Kate admitted.

Marcus sighed. "I heard him out on the porch, there. Yellin' like a wild man. I seen you close the door behind him, so I knowed you was all right, and I didn't reckon I should come up and stick my nose where it wasn't wanted."

Kate dug the blade of her paring knife deep into the potato.

"Just the same, I thought I oughta say somethin'. You bein' alone and all, sometimes it's nice to know you got friends." He cleared his throat, and from the corner of her eye, she saw him put his hat back on. "If he ever comes around ag'in, and you need somebody to stomp his ass, I'm usually wearin' my shit kickers."

With that, he strode from the kitchen. The butchered potato fell from Kate's hands into the sink, forgotten. She curled her fingers into tight fists and closed her eyes.


What Marcus Stone didn't understand, what he couldn't possibly understand, was that Ryan posed a far greater threat than that of physical harm.


* * *


The next three days took on a monotonous sameness. Zachariah McGovern continued to sleep like the dead, not even rousing when Kate spooned broth down him or when Marcus bathed him. The weather lived up to Marcus's opinion of it and remained fickle, burying the valley under rolling clouds one day, then steaming it dry under a relentless sun the next.

Only one spot of excitement occurred—another visitation from Nosy, Zachariah McGovern's pesky dog. To Kate's surprise, Miranda and the dog developed an almost instantaneous and mutual attachment, and because they did, Kate hadn't the heart to ask Marcus to take Nosy home. To keep the dog out of her roses, Kate kept him tethered to the porch post during the day when Miranda wasn't playing with him and brought him into the house at night.

With Nosy for a companion, Miranda ventured out of doors more bravely than before, and Kate grew accustomed to hearing the dog's bark and Miranda's laughter echoing across the fields as they romped together. Though she cautioned Miranda not to wander, Kate still worried. On warmer days, the rattlers might leave their den, and Miranda could stumble across one.

The moment Kate mentioned it, Marcus took care of that worry, and McGovern's last request before losing consciousness was finally granted. Marcus rode to town, located a miner, bought some dynamite, and blew the snake den to kingdom come.

Though Kate felt a mite guilty because Zachariah McGovern didn't really require much nursing now, she remained indoors and let Marcus continue to do the farm chores. One never knew when McGovern might take another fever or wake up, and Kate felt she should be close at hand, just in case. Marcus agreed.

That day, Kate found herself, for the first time in her memory, completely finished with her daily household chores by early afternoon. After putting Miranda down for her nap, she deep cleaned every cupboard and shelf she could think of, scrubbed the windows, and then stood forlornly in the kitchen, wondering what she might do next. It seemed sinful to read while the sun was still out. As long as there was light to see by, she should put her hands to a useful task.

What a quandary. She had no material to sew. No seeds that she could plant. Marcus already had the garden free of weeds. She had all the mending and darning done. A stew for supper was already simmering on the stove, and four loaves of fresh bread were cooling on the rack.

Driven to find something she might do, Kate crept into the sickroom to check the toes of Mr. McGovern's wool socks, which she had washed, blocked, and left neatly folded over the tops of his boots. There were no holes in the sock's toes, none on the heels, or even any worn spots. As she straightened, she spied his jeans, which lay freshly washed and folded on the bureau. She recalled running her scissors straight up the front crease of each leg. There was some mending she could do.

Glad to have a mission, Kate carried the ruined jeans to the kitchen and sat down in her rocker by the stove to begin stitching up the legs. As she sewed, she watched the seam that grew behind her needle, the frantic path she had taken that day with her scissors. She didn't suppose Mr. McGovern would be any too pleased with the mending job, but he might wear the pants to work in his fields.

After her nap, Miranda, accompanied by Nosy, joined Kate in the kitchen, and they spent a pleasant afternoon, Kate telling stories while she sewed, Miranda listening, Nosy snoozing.

Toward dusk, the house grew suddenly dark, and Kate's poor eyesight forced her to set her sewing aside. There had been a time when she had been able to do tedious work while the light was dim, but those days seemed gone forever. She stepped to the kitchen window to peer outside. Black clouds hovered over the mountains.

"Another storm," she murmured. "My guess is it'll hit tonight sometime."

Miranda came to stand beside her. "I hate 'em, Ma. I wish there'd never be storms."

Kate bent to give her daughter a hug. "If there were never any storms, we wouldn't have an excuse to sleep together."

Miranda gave a reluctant smile. "I reckon there's one good thing."

Kate straightened and ruffled her child's hair. "Since we know the storm is coming, we can start the night out right, hm? When I tuck you in, I'll climb right in after you. We'll cuddle. And I'll tell stories. Won't that be fun?"

Though Miranda nodded, Kate noticed that her gaze clung to the window, her huge eyes reflecting her dread.

"Can Nosy sleep with us?" Miranda asked.

Kate curled a finger under her daughter's chin and lifted her small face. "Miranda Elspeth Blakely! You haven't let that flea-bitten, mangy animal sleep on my fresh-scrubbed sheets?"

Miranda worried her bottom lip. "He only takes up just one little spot."

Kate cast a disparaging glance at the large dog. One little spot? "I have never in my life slept with a dog, and I don't intend to start now. And I don't want you letting him get into your bed again. Is that clear? He should be perfectly comfortable sleeping on the rug."

"Yes, Ma." Miranda gave Nosy a woebegone look. "I'm sorry, Nosy. I guess you can't sleep with me no more."

At the sound of his name, the dog cracked open one eye.

"I should say not," Kate said firmly.

That night, Kate fell asleep with Nosy's head beside hers on the pillow, his wet nose pressed against her neck.


BOOK: Coming Up Roses
13.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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