Next week, I will finish this story. I’m ready to move on to other samples. :-)
In April, Kent cashed out his investments. He had waited long enough. Within a day, he’d be out of Virginia, and he’d never look back. He went to the train station and waited for Samuel who had written that he’d be bringing Rebecca with him.
When he got there, Samuel was standing next to a woman wearing a hat that made her hard to recognize unless someone looked directly at her. She also wore a dress that marked her as someone who didn’t come from wealth, which made her even harder to recognize in the crowd. Samuel was fortunate to have a woman who looked beyond money and was willing to give it up to be with him.
From the way Rebecca was smiling, Kent knew this was the best thing for her. He’d never seen her this happy in all the time he’d known her. And Samuel looked just as happy to be by her side. Yes, the two would do very well together.
“Thank you for helping us,” Rebecca said when Kent approached them.
“I haven’t seen you since October,” he replied as he handed Samuel the envelope with the money they would need to start their lives together. “You look good.”
“I thought if I stayed away from others, it’d be easier to escape.”
She had chosen the best option she could have. Had he not needed to work and accumulate more money, he would have stayed hidden, too. God knew the stares and whispers were hard to endure, but he’d managed to survive it because he reminded himself that he’d be with Ann soon enough.
“I don’t know how we can repay you,” Samuel told Kent as he examined the amount of money he’d given them.
“Get to Canada and enjoy being together,” Kent said. “That’s the best way to repay me.”
“We’ll be able to do that,” Rebecca began, “thanks to you.” She gave Kent a quick hug. “Good luck, Kent. We’ll never forget you.”
Smiling, he thanked her and joined them to the ticket counter, ready to purchase his ticket to North Dakota.
The first thing Kent did when he arrived in Jamestown was find out how to get to Ann’s house. Then he paid to borrow a horse from the livery stable. His heartbeat picked up when he saw her house come into view.
From the yard, a dog barked, waking Ann from the porch swing. She sat up for a moment before she entered the house. She probably didn’t recognize him from the distance. But that didn’t matter.
Soon, they’d be together again, and she’d never be a prisoner again. She’d annul her sham of a marriage and start a real marriage with him. He hated thinking of how much time she’d spent out here, forced into a life of misery, anxiously waiting for his return.
When he arrived at the house, he tied the reins to a post and stepped up on the porch. The dog stood between him and the door, barking at him.
“Shoo,” he told the dog, but the animal kept advancing toward him. He hesitated then tried to step around the dog, but it snarled at him. “It’s alright. I’m not going to hurt anyone.”
He took another tentative step up to the door and knocked on it, hoping Ann would answer. What did Todd do? Train the dog to intimidate anyone who came to the property? His determination renewed, he knocked on the door again.
“Ann?” he called out. “It’s me, Kent. Can you open up, please?”
The dog barked again, this time choosing to advance toward him.
Kent gulped. He’d never been fond of dogs, and this one definitely didn’t look friendly. He knocked on the door again, this time harder and more insistent than before. He couldn’t leave without Ann. He’d come too far to leave without her. And she was depending on him. He couldn’t let her down. Taking a deep breath, he ignored the dog’s growling and knocked on the door again. Why wasn’t she answering? He tested the doorknob, but it didn’t turn. Why would she lock the door?
The dog leapt at him.
Startled, he stumbled back, his elbow shattering the window in the door. He pulled his arm out of the broken window and examined the wound. The sleeve of his shirt was ripped. He rolled it up to examine the damage, the dog still barking in its annoying way. The cut wasn’t too bad, though he was bleeding as if it was.
“Stop it!” He yelled at the stupid animal and waved for it to leave. Some of his blood got on the animal, which served it right for scaring him. “Go!”
The dog growled and closed in on Kent. Before he had time to react, he fell against the door, screamed for the dog to get away from him, and covered his head with his good arm, using his wounded one to push the animal away from him. The dog finally left, running down the porch and to the fields.
Relieved, Kent relaxed against the door, his heart hammering in his chest. What was wrong with that dog? He shook his head and rose to his feet. It was Todd’s dog. His guard dog.
Well, the dog was gone so Kent could safely enter the house now. He reached in through the shattered window and unlocked the door.
Silence filled the house. He walked through the parlor, searching for any signs of Ann, but she wasn’t anywhere in sight. He turned to the staircase and headed up it.
“Ann?” he called out. “Are you here?”
She had to be here. He saw her enter the house.
“Ann,” he tried again, “I know you’re here. I saw you from the porch when I was coming here.”
He reached the top of the steps and held his wounded arm to try to stop the flow of blood, but a few drops landed on the hardwood floor in the hallway. He grimaced. This wasn’t going to make her feel safe about him being here. He quickly took the handkerchief from his breast pocket and placed it on the wound. It wouldn’t soak up the blood for long, but at least it worked for now.
He stopped at one of the bedrooms, seeing nothing but a bed and empty dresser. Then he went into another bedroom that was similar. No one had slept in either room for quite a while.
Ann had to be somewhere up here. He’d already checked the downstairs. Laughing in disbelief, he said, “I don’t understand why you’re hiding from me.” Unless… Maybe she couldn’t answer him because Todd was there, holding his hand over her mouth. Just how far would Todd go to keep her? “Is Todd here too? Is he keeping you quiet?”
He looked under the bed but saw nothing was under it.
“It’s alright, Ann. Just knock and I’ll know where to find you,” he said as he went back to the first bedroom and looked under the bed.
His steps a little faster, he went to the last bedroom, afraid if he waited too long Todd might do something drastic, like hurt her. But when he got to the bedroom, he stilled, unprepared for what he saw. Her things were with Todd’s.
He swallowed the bitter lump in his throat, his hand clenching into a fist. “Hmm… It looks like you two got friendly. I thought you were going to stay pure for me. I told you I’d be back for you.”
Todd. It had to be Todd’s doing. Todd saw him talking to Ann at the mercantile and probably forced her to consummate the marriage. He lifted the edge of the bed sheet but no one was under there. Then he went to the armoire but only clothes hung from there. She had been up here.
He glanced out the window and caught sight of her running in the yard, heading in the direction of the barn. Hurrying to the window, he opened it with his good hand. “Ann? Are you running away from me?” he yelled, shocked she would do such a thing, unless Todd was downstairs waiting for him.
Gritting his teeth, he stormed down the stairs, ready to confront Todd and tell him he had no right to keep Ann here against her will. He went through the kitchen and parlor, checking everywhere a man might hide but found nothing. Shaking his head, he rubbed his forehead. Why would Ann run from him? Was she ashamed because she wasn’t a virgin anymore?
He hurried out of the house and followed her as she fled to the barn. “Ann! Wait! I can forgive you for sleeping with Todd,” he called out.
She entered the barn, not looking back. She probably didn’t hear him. He could only imagine what Todd had put her through if she was too afraid to talk to him. Well, after today, she wouldn’t have to fear Todd again.
He followed her and once he entered the barn, he found her standing by one of the stalls, holding an axe. He halted, his eyes wide in shock. “Ann, I came back for you. Aren’t you happy to see me?”
“Go away!” she yelled. “I want to be here. I love Todd.”
Of all the things she could say to him, this took him by surprise. Recalling all the times she’d insisted she didn’t want to be with Todd, he asked, “What has happened to you out here? Have you gone mad?”
“Please, leave,” she said, tears in her eyes.
Todd. It had to be Todd. Maybe Todd told her something that made her afraid of him. “Ann, I wouldn’t hurt you. I love you. I want to marry you. It should have been you. Rebecca got in the way. She seduced me, as I’m sure Todd seduced you.” He paused. It wasn’t accurate to say Rebecca seduced him. She hadn’t. That was how it looked at first, but it hadn’t been the way it seemed. He glanced around the barn. Did he really have time to explain everything when Todd could show up at any moment? With a sigh, he ventured, “Can’t you understand that I never wanted to end our courtship?”
“It doesn’t matter what happened, Kent. We’ve already made our choices. You have to move on.”
He felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him. Was this the same person who’d told him she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him, wanted him to do everything he could to make sure they ended up together? “Are you preaching at me?” He moved forward a step, unable to believe she, of all people, would tell him to leave her alone.
She took a step back, glancing over her shoulder at the horse in the stall.
“I’ve had enough of people reminding me that I need to move on,” he said, thinking of their parents and all the grief they’d given him. “What I need is to get back to the way things were a year ago. You can’t honestly stand there and tell me you like it here.”
“Yes, I can.”
“No, Ann! You’re not supposed to like it here. Todd forced you out here and kept you a prisoner against your will. I’m here to save you.”
She shook her head. “I want to be here.”
“No!” He took another step toward her.
She shrieked and swung the axe.
He immediately backed away, shocked she’d try to hurt him. All this time out here with Todd… She must have lost her wits. There was no other way to explain her strange reaction to him.
She reached for the latch on the stall door.
Seeing his chance to get the axe, he grabbed it, and as he pulled it away from her, she fell to the ground. He shook his head when he saw her trembling. Just what did Todd do to her? “Do you think I’m going to use this on you?” He put the axe gently on the ground. “I don’t want to hurt you, Ann. I want to marry you.”
“I’m not yours.”
“We can change that. You ran away with Todd. Run away with me.”
She rose to her feet, shaking her head.
“You have to love me, Ann,” he pleaded, struggling to get her to understand, to remember how things had been between them, before Todd made her forget.
He reached out to embrace her, but something hard struck him across the side of his head. Pain throbbing in his temple, he released her and touched the wound. He glanced at the floor and saw the rock she’d used to hit him with.
It took him a moment before he could collect his thoughts together. He couldn’t believe she had resorted to flinging an axe around and hitting people with rocks. That kind of behavior had to be a result of the things Todd had done to her. He had to get her out of here. Even if it would take time for her to learn to trust him again, he wouldn’t give up on her. He promised to love her forever, and he’d fulfill that promise no matter how much work it took.
He turned his attention to her as she was climbing the door of the stall. He hurried forward and grabbed her foot before she could fall in, before the horse could hurt her. She grabbed the horse’s neck, and it bucked in protest. She lost her balance and fell forward. He tried to hold on to her, but everything happened so fast, all he could do was grab the hem of her dress. He inwardly cursed himself for being so careless and started to climb the stall to pull her out before the horse stepped on her.
“Let me go!” she screamed and kicked at him.
A gunshot rang through the air and Kent felt a bullet graze his ear. Startled, he stumbled back, finding it difficult to gain his footing. He grabbed his ear. Blood seeped through his fingers.
“Get away from my wife.”
Looking up, he saw Todd sitting on a horse, a rifle pointed at him. Kent slowly backed away from the stall, his hands up in the air. Todd probably thought he was trying to hurt her, especially since she was huddled in the stall and crying.
“It’s not what it looks like,” he told Todd.
Todd urged his horse forward, his hold on the rifle steady and focused on him.
Kent backed up until his back hit the wall of the barn.
Todd glanced at the stall where Ann was. “Are you alright?”
Surprised by the tenderness in Todd’s voice, Kent studied Ann who wiped her tears away and peered up at Todd with a look that she used to reserve for him. That’s when he realized her feelings had changed in her time out here. She loved Todd. Todd wasn’t keeping her here against her will. She really did want to be here. Kent swallowed back his tears. All this time he’d been holding on for the chance to be with her, and she’d moved on. And who could blame her? He had ended their courtship and got engaged to Rebecca. She had been true to him, but he hadn’t been true to her. This was his error, and he was going to have to pay the consequences for getting drunk for the rest of his life.
Todd inched the horse forward, directing his attention back to him. “I ought to kill you for attacking my wife.”
“Don’t…I…” Kent’s voice shook. “I won’t come back. I promise.”
“How do I know you’ll leave her alone?” Todd demanded as the dog ran into the barn, barking.
Ignoring the dog, Kent motioned to Todd’s gun. “Look at you. You’re ready to kill me. I don’t want to die.” His touched his ear and examined the blood on his fingertips. Then, he turned his gaze back to Todd. “I understand now. She wants to be with you. I thought I was rescuing her but I wasn’t.”
“You told her parents you would leave her alone. But here you are. I don’t believe a word you’re saying. I think you’ll say anything to get out of trouble.”
He started to shake his head and explain that he didn’t realize Ann had fallen in love with him when someone called out, “Mr. Brothers?”
Todd glanced over his shoulder.
Kent followed his gaze and saw his father standing in the doorway of the barn. Realizing that this might be his only means of escape without having a bullet put in his hide, he hurried out of the gun’s range.
“Son,” his father said with a disapproving scowl, “you have caused much grief to your mother and I. Mr. Brothers, I apologize for trusting my son to stay away from your wife. Kent, get your horse. I want to talk to Mr. Brothers.”
Kent nodded and left the barn, leaving his father to tell Todd whatever he wanted, knowing full well his father wouldn’t tell him the truth about the engagement, how he manipulated Rebecca into making him think he slept with her, how he did everything possible to make sure Kent would never marry Ann. No, his father would make himself look good, leaving Kent to blame for the whole mess.
And at this point, Kent didn’t care. What did it matter anymore? All of his plans…his dreams…the future he wanted with Ann were gone. As he got up on the horse, he couldn’t help but look at his father who was talking to Todd and Ann. Todd had his arm around Ann, and she leaned into him, another indication that she now loved him. Would always love him. Ignoring the tears in his eyes, Kent urged his horse off Todd and Ann’s property.