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by Sabrah Huff Agee
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Laura Jane O'Leary and Ezra Gray have each suffered tragedies and seen their individual dreams of the future destroyed. Each faces a bleak and uncertain future until a wise, circuit-riding preacher steps in. With Rev. McNally's help, the two erstwhile strangers join together to forge a new life from their ... Shattered Dreams. [Cover art by Mary Z. Wolf]
eBook Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory, 2004
eBookwise Release Date: May 2004
22 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [423 KB]
Reading time: 287-402 min.
As she left the small bedroom, Margaret O'Leary pulled her long, homespun skirt out of the way and, quietly closing the door turned to face her husband. His eyes, dulled with worry, searched hers.
She shook her head. "She still won't talk about it, Patrick. I've begged her, but she just turns her face to stare at the wall." She sighed. "I'm so worried. She doesn't eat. And what with those terrible nightmares that have her screamin' every night, she isn't gettin' any rest at all."
Patrick O'Leary wiped his eyes and looked away, clenching and unclenching his fists. The big Irishman was used to taking care of his own, but in this case, he was powerless. He'd never felt so helpless in his life.
His oldest daughter, his darling Laura Jane, had been brutally assaulted -- and in broad daylight no less. He yearned -- ached -- to find the man who'd done it. He wanted to experience the pleasure of killing him with his bare hands. But he could do nothing. There were no witnesses and Laura Jane refused to tell anyone the name of the monster who attacked her.
She'd even begged her father not to report what happened to the sheriff. And when she saw Patrick meant to do it anyway, she became so hysterical that he gave in to her pleas.
"Why does she continue to protect him?" He felt his wife's hand on his arm and he realized he was shouting. Lowering his voice to a whisper, he said, "I don't understand, Maggie. Why won't she tell us who hurt her?"
"I don't know, Paddy. Maybe it's just too painful for her to talk about right now. Perhaps in time--"
"Time," Patrick boomed, then lowered his voice again when he saw Margaret frown. "It's been three weeks. If we wait any longer, we may never catch the bastid!"
Margaret wiped her eyes with the tail of her apron and sighed. "I know, Darlin', I know. But what can we do? We can't force her to talk if she doesn't wish it."
"Maybe if I talk to her. Maybe I can make her see reason -- make her understand that she has to give us his name."
Margaret frowned at Patrick. "No! I'll not let you browbeat her, Patrick. Laura Jane has suffered enough. I'll not have her suffer anymore, especially not at the hands of her own Da."
Patrick opened his mouth to argue, but fifteen-year-old Amanda stepped into the hallway.
"Mam? Da?" Amanda looked from one parent to the other, her expression one of bewilderment on seeing anger in each of their faces. "Dr. Bernard is here to see Laura Jane."
Margaret wiped her hands on her apron and smoothed it again as she took a deep breath. "Thank you, Amanda." She touched her middle daughter's face to reassure her. "Show Dr. Bernard to your sister's room. I'll tell Laura Jane he's here."
Shoulders slumped in bereavement, Patrick withdrew into the room he shared with his wife.
Margaret slipped back into her daughter's room. "Luv," she said, gently touching her daughter's brow. "Dr. Bernard's here to see you."
Laura Jane rolled away from her mother's touch. "I don't want to see him anymore, Mam. I'm getting better every day and I'll soon be all right. I don't need a doctor."
"I think I'd better be the judge of that, Young Lady," A smiling Rufus Bernard said as he set his black bag on the bedside table.
He sat on the edge of the mattress and took Laura Jane's hand. With his thumb, he touched the faint bruises on her wrists where a ribbon had bitten into the tender flesh. That her attacker had bound Laura Jane's wrists with the ribbon from her own hair somehow made the act seem even more despicable to the doctor.
"Look at me, Laura Jane," he said in a soft voice.
Laura Jane rolled to her back and looked up at the doctor. She searched his face, as if looking for some expression of pity or revulsion, but there was only compassion in the familiar face with its thick, black beard and kind, brown eyes.
He patted her hand and smiled. "That's better. I'm not so good-looking, I know, but it can't hurt to look at my face. Now let's take a look at that bruised jaw." He gently turned her face from side to side. "Well now, I'm happy to see that your facial injuries are healing just fine. The bruises have almost faded away.
He gently probed her throat. Laura Jane's larynx had been injured in the attack and, as a result, her voice would always have a husky quality. "Are you experiencing any pain?"
"No, no pain."
"Good." He rose to pull off his coat. "Now, if you'll just remove your gown, we'll check the rest of you. If your other injuries are healing as well as your jaw, I think you can--"
"No!" Laura Jane sobbed. "Please, I can't bear for you to. . ." She turned her face as tears slid down her cheeks.
"Laura Jane--" her mother began, but the doctor held up his hand and sat back down on the bed.
"Laura Jane," he said gently . "I know this is difficult for you. But I have to make sure you're healing properly and that there's no infection present. If it weren't absolutely necessary, I wouldn't ask you to let me examine you. But I'm afraid it is necessary."
He patted her hand. "I'm going outside while your mother helps you undress. Just get back into the bed and cover yourself with the sheet. When you're ready, your mother can come for me. All right, Laura Jane?"
She nodded and looked away. Dr. Bernard stood up, nodded to Margaret, and left the room.
• • •
When Dr. Bernard finished his examination, he went into the parlor to speak with the O'Learys. Margaret poured him a cup of coffee, then turned to her middle daughter.
"Amanda," she said to the pretty blond. "Take Molly and Meg outside while your Da and I talk with the doctor."
"But Mam," Amanda argued. "I want to hear what Dr. Bernard says about Laura Jane. I don't understand what's happening around here and--"
"You heard your mother," Patrick snapped. "Take the little ones outside."
Amanda, surprised by her gentle father's sharp command, took her sisters' hands and, without another word, led them out of the room.
When the adults were alone, Dr. Bernard spoke in a quiet voice. "Laura Jane's injuries are healing nicely. I think it would be good for her to get out of that room more often, as well as out of the house. I've encouraged her to take short walks each day until she gets her strength back."
"Praise the Lord," Patrick O'Leary sighed. "So our Laura Jane is going to be all right?"
Dr. Bernard looked into his coffee cup and frowned with worry. "In the physical sense, yes, but emotionally, I don't know. Laura Jane has been severely traumatized. I don't know what far-reaching effects it will have on her. And, there's something else to consider."
Patrick shot the doctor a frightened look. "Something else? Merciful Father, what else could there be?"
Margaret sat down beside Patrick and held his hand as if steeling herself for bad news. "Tell us."
"You have to be prepared for the possibility that Laura Jane may be with child." He grimaced at the sound of Margaret's sob and Patrick's sharp intake of breath. "I know that thought is distressing to both of you, but it's something we can't ignore. I haven't mentioned this to Laura Jane yet. We should know something for certain in another few weeks. In any case, you should be prepared for the possibility."
Patrick tightened his fists as tears streaked his ruddy cheeks. "I only wish I could get my hands on the bastid that did this to my girl."
Margaret dried her eyes and straightened her shoulders. "What can we do to help our Laura Jane, Dr. Bernard, if she does find herself. . . with child?"
The doctor smiled with admiration at Margaret O'Leary. She has guts this woman. No whining, just straight to the point.
"My only advice is that you are as supportive and understanding as you can possibly be. This isn't going to be easy for anyone, and a pregnancy will be especially hard for Laura Jane to deal with.
"A child will make her recovery much more difficult because it'll be a constant reminder of what happened. If she discovers she's expecting, and when she can talk with you about it, she'll need to make some decision as to what she wants to do about the baby once it's been born."
Margaret O'Leary turned puzzled eyes on Dr. Bernard. "What do you mean, decide what to do about the baby?"
"He means, who we'll give it to, Maggie. We cannot keep it here. I won't have that monster's spawn living under my roof."
Margaret glared at her husband. "You'd give away your own grandchild, Patrick O'Leary? Will not that baby have some of your own blood in its veins as well as that of the man who fathered it? Shame on you, Patrick O'Leary. Shame, I say!"
"Good God, woman," Patrick shouted. "Have you forgotten what's happened to our Laura Jane? Could you look at the babe and not remember what caused it to be?"
Dr. Bernard held up his hands to silence his patient's warring parents. "Let's not put the cart before the horse, Patrick, Margaret. In the first place, we don't know if there is a child. If there is a child, only Laura Jane can make the decision as to what will happen to it, and she has a long time to consider what she'll do.
"What you must do is support whatever decision she makes. Be there for her when she needs you. That's the only way she can ever become a whole person again. She has to know you still feel the same about her -- no matter what has happened or will happen in the future."
Margaret looked from Patrick to the doctor. "There's one thing we haven't even considered. How is Billy going to feel if Laura Jane has another man's baby? Shouldn't he be consulted about this?"
Dr. Bernard leaned back in his chair. "I hadn't thought of that. Of course he should be consulted since he's going to be marrying Laura Jane. Would you like me to talk with him?"
Margaret looked relieved. "Yes, doctor, we'd be grateful if you would. I'm not sure I could, and it's certain Paddy couldn't."
Patrick scowled. "I don't know why he should be consulted. He ain't even been to see my girl but one time since it happened. I ask you, does that sound like a man in love? Why he's nothing but a--"
"Patrick," Margaret snapped. "Enough."
The doctor smiled. "Don't worry. I'll see him on my way back to my office. And speaking of my office--" He set down his cup and stood. "--I've got quite a bit of work waiting for me there, so I'd better be getting along. Tell Laura Jane I'll come by and check on her in about a week."
Margaret walked the doctor to the door and handed him his bag. "Thank you so much for coming, Dr. Bernard."
Rufus Bernard put his hand on her shoulder. "I'm always glad for a chance to visit with the O'Learys. I'm just sorry it's under these circumstances. You get some rest, Margaret. It wouldn't do for the mother of this wonderful brood to become ill."
"I will, and don't pay any attention to Patrick. He's just heartsick about our girl." She glanced over her shoulder as if looking to make sure Patrick was still out of earshot. "He feels he's failed her somehow, and it doesn't matter how many times I tell him there was no way he could've prevented it, he still feels guilty."
"I understand how he feels. We fathers tend to think we should always be the protector -- even when it's impossible." He put on his hat. "I'll go now and see Billy."
"Thank you, doctor. And about what Patrick said. . . Billy did come here only once, that's true. But Laura Jane refused to see him, just as she's refused to see all her other friends. I'm sure he's only waiting for her to ask for him."
He didn't reply, but his expression said where Billy Smithson was concerned, Dr. Bernard agreed with Patrick O'Leary.
• • •
Dr. Bernard pushed through the gate and strode down the walk to the boarding house. Inside, Edna Smithson was setting the table in the large dining room.
"Dr. Bernard," she said, wiping her hands on her apron. "What brings you to the boarding house? Is this a social call or has one of my boarders need of your services?"
"I'd like to speak with Billy, if I may. Is he in?"
Her thick brows went up. "Billy? Why, yes, he's here. What do you need to speak with him about?"
"It's. . . a private matter, Mrs. Smithson. Would you call him for me? I'm rather in a hurry."
She pursed her lips, but she didn't argue. She walked to the foot of the stairs and called in a loud voice, "Billy! Are you up there?"
"I'm right here, Ma." Billy entered the hallway from the back of the house.
She tossed her head in the direction of Dr. Bernard. "The doctor wants to talk to you. . . in private." She emphasized the last two words and frowned at Rufus.
Billy pushed his glasses back from where they'd slipped down his nose, then greeted the doctor with a handshake. "Dr. Bernard, what is this about?"
Rufus looked about him. "Is there somewhere private we could go?"
"In here," Billy said, as he led him behind the staircase.
Rufus followed him into a tiny room with a couple of chairs, a small rug, a desk and lamp. Billy's office, he supposed. He sat down in one of the vacant chairs while Billy took the other. Rufus got straight to the point. "I'm sure you're aware of what has happened to Laura Jane."
Billy's gaze shot to the closed door. "Yes, of course, but Ma doesn't know. I thought it best not to tell her yet," he whispered.
"I understand," Rufus said, thinking the boy meant to spare Laura Jane.
Billy shook his head from side to side. "I just can't believe Laura Jane could let something like this happen."
Rufus' eyes grew wide with incredulity. "Let this happen? You think she let this happen?"
Billy looked uncomfortable. "You know what I mean, doctor. She could've done something couldn't she, to prevent this man -- whoever he was -- from doing. . . you know. . . that to her."
Rufus closed his eyes and counted to ten in an effort to keep his anger in check. Then he looked at Billy. "Her hands were tied and she was brutally beaten. Tell me, could you have prevented something like that from happening if you'd been in her place?"
Billy blinked at the doctor. "Well, yes, I think I could've. There are things she could have done. Why didn't she scream? Someone would've heard her if it happened in the broad daylight like she said. And why won't she tell who did it to her? Answer me that. No, I think there's more here than meets the eye, Doctor Bernard. I'm disappointed in Laura Jane."
Rufus' eyes glittered with outrage. "She screamed, Billy," he said, measuring his words. "She screamed until her throat was raw. She screamed so much that her voice box is permanently damaged. Unfortunately, she had a gag in her mouth, so the sound didn't carry very far." Rufus' hands were on his knees and he gripped them to keep from grabbing Billy by the collar and shaking the life out of him. "As for why she doesn't name her assailant, I can't answer that. Perhaps he threatened her life if she told anyone. I have no idea."
Rufus leaned forward and put his face a few inches from Billy's. "But let me tell you this, Billy Smithson. I've never been as disappointed in anyone the way I'm disappointed in you at this moment. Laura Jane is alive. That's all you should be concerned about. That's what you should be thanking God for every night for the rest of your life. Good God, man, you're going to marry her. . ."
At this Billy turned his gaze away from Dr. Bernard.
The doctor let out a disgusted sigh. "Are you going to marry her, Billy?"
Billy swallowed, and Rufus could hear his gullet move in his throat. "I don't. . . I wanted. . ." He sighed. "I want a wife who is pure and unsullied, Dr. Bernard. Laura Jane is--"
Rufus stood so quickly Billy flinched and threw up his hands as if to protect himself. "Don't say it, Billy," the doctor growled. "Don't you dare say it, or I may forget I swore an oath to heal. Say aloud what you're thinking and so help me God, I'll take my fists to your self-righteous face."
The doctor shook his head in disgust. "When did you plan on telling Laura Jane that the marriage is off, Billy? Or did you plan on not telling her at all, just letting her figure it out for herself when you stopped coming around?"
"I was going to tell her when she was better. I didn't want to upset her right now."
Rufus sneered at the young man. "How thoughtful of you, Billy. How gentlemanly. I'm sure when she's trying to get over her broken heart she'll be comforted by your gallantry."
Billy's expression said he was offended by the doctor's sarcasm. "Look, I've been out to the farm, and she refuses to see me. She won't even talk to me. She hasn't spoken to me -- not once in the last three weeks. She won't even give me an explanation for what she allowed. . . er. . . for what happened to her. If she cared for me, she'd have tried to make me understand."
Dr. Bernard gave Billy a hard stare. Then he shook his head, realizing any arguments he might give the boy would be futile. Billy could never understand what Laura Jane had suffered, and he'd never accept a child that might result from it. His reason for coming to talk with Billy was moot, considering the young man's attitude, so Rufus Bernard took his leave.
Laura Jane might be hurt when she found she'd not be marrying Billy Smithson, but she'd survive. Rufus was not so sure she would survive marriage to this self-righteous mama's boy.
Copyright © 2004 by Sabrah Huff Agee