A Time of Storms
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by Dorothy Bodoin
Description: When a surly stranger threatens the life of her rescue collie, Candy, and she hears a voice crying for help in a vacant house, Jennet Greenway suspects that her first summer as a new wife may be tumultuous. But she can't imagine the storms swirling around her Victorian farmhouse in Foxglove Corners and their power to change her life forever
eBook Publisher: Wings ePress, Inc., 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: November 2009
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [399 KB]
Reading time: 241-338 min.
The produce section of Blackbourne's Grocers was an unlikely place to encounter a devil, but there he was--Gage Howard in a garish red shirt tossing baking potatoes into a plastic bag. He had acquired a sunburn, severe enough to reinforce the image of damned souls with pitchforks.
For an instant I considered turning my shopping cart around and backtracking to the pasta and wine aisle.
Ignominious retreat? No! Just walk quickly past him. Look the other way.
"Mrs. Ferguson." He slammed a large potato down on an unlucky loaf of bread. "Not so fast. I want to talk to you."
I kept walking. He put out one beefy hand and stopped the cart.
We were alone in the aisle but not in the store. At this hour, there were about twenty-five people, including employees, in the building. I raised my voice, made it commanding and uncompromising. "Let me pass."
"As soon as I say my piece."
He shoved my cart out of the aisle's center, keeping his hand firm on the handle.
"I'm not interested in anything you have to say."
I tried to move the cart forward, but he held it in a tight grip. In our brief moment of stand-off I couldn't help noticing his eyes. Cold hazel and intensely bright, they had a frightening, mesmerizing quality. The eyes of a serpent, I thought.
"I don't care," he said. "You're going to listen. You had no right to set the police on my trail. I'm just protecting my property. It's my right to do that."
I hadn't intended to speak to him again but couldn't let his assumption go unchallenged.
"I didn't call the police. The deputy sheriff who spoke to you is my husband. He owns the dog you threatened to shoot. Now you know. Let go of my cart."
"I'm not done talking to you yet. I have something else to say..."
"You're mistaken. You are."
Dave, the store's dapper manager, came hurrying up the aisle toward us, his signature amiable expression sober. "Is everything all right here, ma'am?" he asked.
"It is now."
While Dave stood in front of us, assessing the situation, I took the opportunity to wrench the basket free and steer it around the corner. My heart was pounding and my hand shaking. Blackbourne's Grocers was a country store located on a relatively isolated road. How safe was I if Howard decided to pursue his agenda when Dave went back to his office?
Were those heavy footsteps behind me? I grabbed the first bottle of wine in my reach and looked quickly over my shoulder.
Yes. They belonged to another tall, burly man, one with a benign appearance. Not Gage Howard.
Still, I felt in my purse for my cell phone. By good fortune, it was there. I slipped it into my pocket and finished my tour of the aisles, adding only essentials to my basket. I had planned to stock up on cleaning supplies and paper products. Now I saw the folly in burdening myself with bulky grocery bags.
I can ask for a carry-out, I thought.
That would afford me a modicum of protection in the lot. Then I'd be safe in my car. I'd have quick access to the cell if the beige sedan, or whatever car Howard was driving now, showed up in my rearview mirror.
This unanticipated problem had turned a routine shopping trip into a full-fledged dilemma. In a calmer moment, I realized I'd elevated an ill-tempered, mean-spirited bully to demon status. The man was certainly dangerous, but perhaps not as lethal as I thought. And he might be stupid, but surely he was too smart to launch an attack on a woman in a grocery store.
I was angry at myself for letting this chance encounter unsettle me. But, in my defense, Gage Howard had caught me off guard. Who expects to be waylaid in a grocery store?
Thanks to Dave's timely intervention, that hadn't happened. Yet.
I didn't see Howard again until I was in line at the check-out counter with one person in front of me and two behind me.
He took his place at the end of the queue. Although, after that first glance, I didn't turn around, I could feel his cold snake eyes boring into the back of my head. But at the moment I was safe unless he abandoned his groceries or pushed to the head of the line.
He did neither.
As I requested help carrying my groceries out to the car, I berated myself for not being more assertive and, more importantly, for not waiting to hear what else Gage Howard had to say.
It might have been more of the same blathering rhetoric. On the other hand, it might have been important. * * * * * * * *
That night Crane listened to my account of the confrontation in Blackbourne Grocers with rising anger that boded ill for Gage Howard.
"Looks like I'll have to have another word with that man," he said. "He never quits."
I'd been hoping Crane would say something like that. Now I wasn't sure.
"I don't think that's a good idea," I said.
"I handled it. If you talk to him again, you'll only make him angry."
"He's already angry--without sufficient reason."
"Angrier then. He's liable to do something crazy."
"Don't you trust me?" Crane demanded.
"Of course I do, but it's dangerous to step on a rattlesnake. You're sure to get bitten."
"That's my job, honey," Crane said. "And don't worry. Nothing's going to bite me."
I didn't tell him how upset I'd been by the unpleasant interlude, nor that I'd driven away from Blackbourne's at an alarmingly high speed, with the cell phone mere inches from my hand. Not until I'd gone ten miles without sighting Howard's car in my rearview mirror did I feel safe.
He hadn't followed me. This time. Would there be a next time?
And I didn't tell Crane I'd examined his cherished gun collection, the guns I wasn't supposed to touch, and decided to make a long-delayed purchase: a revolver of my own. Just in case.
I'd get a permit and keep it in my glove compartment. Crane didn't have to know. He never questioned how I spent my money. If by chance he discovered his wife had armed herself, I'd say, "Oh, that? It slipped my mind."
Of course I would tell him sometime. Before he found out I was taking shooting lessons.
"You know best, Crane," I said, ever the loyal wife, and attempted to dismiss Gage Howard from my mind. It didn't work.
I gazed fondly at Crane who was frowning into his coffee cup, his evening paper still folded on the table. Our beautiful black collies lay placidly at his feet. My heart came as close to melting as it could.
Gage Howard. Of all the villains I'd encountered over the years, why did this one man truly frighten me?
Well, it was no great mystery. Howard had threatened the life of my helpless dog, and if he were to turn his wrath on me, I had much more to lose now Crane and I were married. Marriage made me somehow more vulnerable than I'd been when I was single, more likely to rely on Crane, which was natural, but...
In the end, I still had to take responsibility for my own safety. Nothing had changed, even though I was now the wife of a respected and effective lawman--who didn't accompany me on grocery shopping expeditions.
If Howard had followed me today, had forced me to stop on some isolated byroad between Blackbourne's and Jonquil Lane, I would have been at his mercy even if I had time to call the police.
So the gun was a good idea.
One thing still bothered me, though.
"Howard said he had something else to tell me, and I didn't let him do it," I told Crane. "Now I wish I had."
"Put the man out of your mind, Jennet." Crane drained his coffee cup and reached for the Banner. "I promised to take care of you, and I will."
His words should have set my mind at rest, but they didn't.