Bren stayed with Leah and Amy for three months. During that time, she pestered Leah to get the full names, army assignments, and personal information about the men who had assaulted her. Leah dragged her feet about it, but Bren couldn’t understand why. She needed those details so she could make them pay not only for the rape, but also for the damage they had done to her body.
The broken bone in her leg mended poorly, and whenever Bren grew too tired to ignore the constant pain, it caused a slight limp. The burn on the right side of her head healed after weeks of painful washings, debridements of rotten tissue, and ointment applications, a treatment Leah gleaned from the doctor without Bren having to see him. Scar tissue covered the area, making ripples in the skin and pinching at the edge of Bren’s eye, giving her a just-about-to-wink look that Leah assured her was quite attractive. Bren, being Bren, received this information with a snort. The burnt hair stubble fell away with the washings, and the new hair from above her ear to the top of her brow came in snow white. Injury from the loud blast of the revolver shot caused some hearing loss in her right ear. Meanwhile, Bren resumed the name of Sarah and tried to readjust to life as a woman, which was not an easy task.
But it was a necessary one, as had become apparent soon after Sarah’s arrival at Leah’s. When Sarah threw up on an empty stomach for three mornings in a row, Leah sat down next to her friend at the kitchen table.
“You’ve been sick three days in a row now, Sarah.”
“Do you think maybe I’m coming down with something? I seem to be all right the rest of the day.” It surprised her when Leah moved the chair nearer to her and took hold of her hand.
“Look at me, Sarah,” she said.
Their eyes met and Sarah frowned. “You look so serious. What’s wrong?”
“I think you’re pregnant.”
“What?” Sarah practically tossed Leah’s hand out of hers. She stared hard at the blonde, but Leah’s gaze never wavered. The reality of the words sunk in, and Sarah turned away, burying her head in her hands. “Oh God, no.” No, no, no, no, no, kept screaming through her mind, while tears welled in her eyes and overflowed against her fingers. The salty liquid washed into the ointment, stinging the healing burns on her face.
Leah laid her hand on Sarah’s back and rubbed back and forth. “I’m sorry,” she murmured, “so sorry.” When Sarah at last calmed a bit, Leah said, “You don’t have to carry this baby, if you don’t want to. I know someone who can get rid of it for you.”
Sarah straightened up, and Leah handed her a cotton napkin to dry her eyes and blow her nose. She took her time, letting Leah’s words clang around in her head. She balled up the soiled napkin and used her fingers to wipe away a few last tears. “I can’t do that. I certainly don’t want a child, but I can’t punish it for someone else’s evil deed.”
Leah nodded in understanding. “I was terribly upset and scared when I got pregnant with Amy. But I couldn’t get rid of her, either, and I’ve always been glad I didn’t. Someday, you’ll look at your child and you’ll be glad too.”
“I didn’t say I’ll raise it; only that I can’t kill it.”
Leah’s forehead furrowed. “What will you do? Give your own child away?”
Sarah took a deep breath, then let it whoosh out. “I don’t know what I’ll do then. I need to decide what to do right now.” She stretched her arms out on the table and drummed her fingers against its wood surface.
Leah’s eyes sparked. “Right now, you’re staying here until your wounds are healed. You can worry about where to go when you’re in better condition to leave.” She sounded adamant, and Sarah was too worn out to argue. What she said made good sense, anyway. So Sarah had stayed.
Later, when she finally was well enough to travel, she plotted with Leah to “steal” Redfire from Faith’s barn. But when Leah investigated, the stallion was nowhere to be found. “Have you decided where you will go, Sarah?” Leah asked. “Do you have to have a horse? I might be able to buy one for you.”
“No, never mind,” Sarah said. “I want to go to my mother’s. I can take a train from here to there. I’ll just need a pass. As a civilian, I shouldn’t have much trouble getting one.”
“I thought you and your mother didn’t get along too well?”
Sarah sighed. “Well, we haven’t in the past, but one can always hope. Actually, the last time I saw her, she seemed to have mellowed toward me.” Sarah laughed a quick burst. “At least for the moment.” Then she grew pensive. “I always found my mother’s attempts to direct my life annoying, but I think now is one of those times when her attention is just what I need. “
Leah patted her arm. “I have to agree with you there. Wish I’d had a mother to go home to.”
Sarah touched Leah’s hand and said, “If you need anyone ever again, come to me. I mean that Leah, with all my heart.”
Sarah acquired the train pass, and on her day of departure, Leah and Amy accompanied her to the railroad station. They sat down to wait, and Sarah looked around the area. “The last time I was at a station, a munitions train had just been blown up.”
“What?” Leah looked astonished. “Tell me about it.” While they waited for the train’s arrival, Sarah described the havoc she had witnessed at Hadley’s Run, including the part Scott and Phillip had in it. Leah listened, rapt with attention, and when Sarah finished, the blonde grabbed her arm. “Sarah, a man came through here not too long ago who said he was responsible for that attack. I remember him well because he couldn’t stop bragging about it.”
Sarah sat stunned for a moment. “My God, Leah, I wish you had spoken of this sooner.”
Leah let go of her friend’s arm. “I would have if I’d known you were mixed up in it. What can I do now?”
“I’ll get in touch with Phillip—my friend who lost his leg. I’m sure he’ll want to talk to you and possibly pick up the man’s trail. Do you remember his name?”
“Well, no, but I doubt if he gave me his real name, anyway. He stayed at the hotel, and it should be on the register there.” She looked up the tracks as the train pulled in.
“Phillip’s last name is Showell. He might even come in person, since Cranston is in Union hands now. He’s a big, blond man and might have an artificial leg by now.”
“I’ll watch for news from him.”
The train was about to leave, and they said their good-byes. “Please, Leah, see if you can get the information about those soldiers for me. I’ll be looking for them as soon as I get the opportunity.”
“Oh, Sarah, forget about them for now. I’ll get all that later and mail it to you. You need to take care of yourself first.” She gave the taller woman a tight hug. “I’ll miss you, Sarah. I hope we meet again.”
“Me, too, Leah. You’ve been a true friend, and I’ll never forget what you did for me. Remember what I said about if you ever need me.” She released Leah and picked up Amy. “I’ll never forget you, either, sweetheart. Aunt Sarah loves you dearly.” She clasped the child to her, then kissed her cheek, and set her back down.
“Will you come and see us soon, Aunt Sarah?” Amy’s wistful expression touched Sarah’s heart, and when she saw the same look on Leah’s face, she sniffed and wiped at her cheeks.
“I can’t promise that, Amy, but someday, maybe you’ll see me. No one knows for sure what might happen.” The full meaning of the words struck Sarah as she turned to board the train. She couldn’t have predicted the misfortunes that had happened to her so far, and knowing that the future could be just as disastrous was a little scary. She straightened up and sucked in a sharp breath. But I can do this. After mounting the steps, she entered the carriage and waved to Leah and Amy through the window as the train pulled away.
She sat down, leaned back, and closed her eyes. The clack-clack-clack of the wheels emphasized the train’s motion and gave urgency to Sarah’s thoughts. I’m going to my parents’ home. I’ll have this baby. Then I’m going after those bastards. They won’t get away unpunished.
Wounds to the body heal in time, but injuries to the soul don’t respond as readily, if at all. Sarah was damaged in both, and her behavior changed. Try as she might to be civil all the time, occasionally the hatred simmering in her came to a boil, and a flaming cauldron threatened to bubble over inside her if she didn’t soon go after the objects of her hatred. At such times, she avoided speaking to other people and tried to close down any visible clues to her emotions.
Even with her mother’s devoted care, her wounds from the vicious attack had been slow to heal. When word of her injuries had gotten back to Scott and Lindsay, her sister-in-law packed belongings for herself and young Pres and secured a pass across the Confederate lines. She came to join Sarah at Red Oaks Manor, intent on nursing her back to health.
Sarah’s father met Lindsay and little Prescott at the railroad station. Her father-in-law looked just as Lindsay knew Scott would at his age, handsome and dignified. Bundled in hat, overcoat, and gloves, Prescott Coulter smiled with cheeks glowing from the trip to the station in the sunny, but cold, December weather. They exchanged happy greetings, and Lindsay gave thanks that the train trip had ended. Little Pres had been well-behaved, but was beginning to show signs of tiring. Prescott loaded the bags into the buggy and helped Lindsay and his namesake into the seat. He unhitched the reins, climbed in beside the small woman and child, and started home. “How is Sarah?” Lindsay asked.
“I think you’d better prepare yourself for a shock, my dear.” His answer raised the fine hairs on the back of Lindsay’s neck. “You know she was wounded in the head and leg. The leg gives her some trouble . . . I think she has more pain than she admits; sometimes she limps.” He took a ragged breath. “But the head wound was worse. She has a gouge on the side of her forehead. And her face . . .” His jaw worked, but no words came.
Lindsay was holding little Pres on her lap, but she freed one arm and slipped it around her father-in-law’s, and he continued. “The top half of one side of her face is badly scarred, and the hair next to it was burned away and has grown back completely white.” He glanced down at the tears on Lindsay’s cheeks. “It’s better to get your tears out of the way now. You know Sarah won’t stand for anyone feeling sorry for her.”
Lindsay sniffled and nodded. She released Prescott’s arm to get a handkerchief from her pocket and dab at her face.
Prescott’s voice got lower and hoarser. “There’s more.”
His stern expression made Lindsay scrunch the handkerchief in her hand. “More?”
“Those men who shot her also violated her.” Lindsay’s sharp intake of breath hissed in the chill air. Prescott rapidly blinked against the tears evident in his eyes. “And she’s . . . with child from it.”
Lindsay was too stunned to speak. Every piece of information she had just received struck a blow to her heart, each harder than the one before.
My God, she thought, this has overwhelmed me, and I’m only hearing it. Sarah has lived through it. Is now living through it, she amended. Lindsay knew Sarah was strong, but was she strong enough to cope with all of this?
They rode in silence for a while. Apparently, even little Pres was affected by the somber atmosphere; he had fallen asleep.
When Prescott spoke again, Lindsay started. “Sarah has changed, Lindsay, and not for the better.”
She needed a moment to gather her thoughts and refocus her attention. But those ominous words waited for her. They hung in the air like buzzards, ready to tear at her flesh. She spoke with trepidation. “How, Father?”
“It’s understandable that she’s bitter; she’s had a lot to handle. But there’s a moodiness about her—a blackness. Sometimes she’s fine. Other times she acts as though she has closed down a part of herself—the better part, I’m afraid. I’m hoping you can help her with that.”
“I’ll do my best. Maybe having Pres around will help too. Sarah’s always loved children.” But Lindsay wondered how her sister-in-law felt about the one she was carrying.
Lindsay slipped her arm through Sarah’s and tugged her toward the kitchen table. “Everyone’s outside, Sarah. Sit down and talk to me.” Sarah pulled back, but Lindsay persisted. She sat in a chair and dragged Sarah down into the next one.
A hint of amusement flickered across Sarah’s face as Lindsay immediately jumped up. She spooned some tea leaves into a china teapot and poured hot water over them from a kettle that sat constantly on the back of the cast iron woodstove. Then she put the pot and a sieve on the table. After she gathered cups, saucers, and spoons from the cupboard and a covered stoneware bowl from the ice chest, she resettled next to Sarah, propped her elbow on the table, and rested her chin in her hand. “Now, sister dear, tell me everything that happened to you.”
Sarah leaned forward and set her arms on the table. She cocked her head toward Lindsay, glad to have her undamaged profile on the side next to her companion. Her fingertips drummed softly against the tabletop, but she became aware of it and stopped. She shrugged one shoulder. “You’ve heard all the details, and you can see the results.”
“I’m not talking about what I’ve heard or what I can see. I want to know what you feel—how you feel.”
Though Sarah’s eyes took on a guarded expression, her voice burned with passion. “I want to make them pay.” Then she reined it in. “Until I can go after them, I’m trying not to let myself feel much of anything—not that I’m succeeding all that well.”
“Go after them? Why, Sarah? You can’t undo what’s happened.”
“Weren’t you listening? I want to make them pay.”
“But what about the baby?” Lindsay picked up the sieve, then the teapot’s handle, and poured tea through the sieve into their cups. She uncovered the bowl, revealing a chunk of honeycomb dripping with honey. With a spoon, she pushed pieces of beeswax out of the honey pooled around the comb, then put a teaspoonful of the golden syrup in Sarah’s cup and one in her own.
The women stirred their tea while Sarah continued to ponder. She knew her answer would upset Lindsay, and she delayed as long as possible. She lifted her cup and took a sip, then lowered it back to the saucer, all the while sneering at herself for being concerned about Lindsay’s displeasure. Whatever happened to the headstrong Sarah Coulter who made her own way no matter what others thought? Had she lost her spine along with her virginity in that forest clearing?
No, she still would make her own way, but her focus had changed. Helping the Union cause had given way to her determination to hunt down the men who had attacked her. Every bone in her body ached to bring them to justice, and she was the only one who could do that. And nothing . . . or no one . . . could be allowed to get in her way.
“I’m not keeping the baby,” she said.
Lindsay had just taken a drink of tea and the teacup crashed against the saucer as she hurriedly set it down. “What?” The reproach in her tone hit Sarah’s good ear like a slap. “You can’t be serious. What will you do with the child?”
“Put him up for adoption, I suppose.”
“You can’t do that, Sarah. He’s a Coulter.”
“He’s a bastard.” Sarah saw Lindsay flinch. “Well, he is,” she said in a flat voice.
“He’s part of you, Sarah. Your blood. You can’t just ignore that.”
“My blood and the blood of one of the pigs who forced themselves on me,” Sarah said. “Don’t you think I would relive that horror every time I looked at him? And come to hate him for being a constant reminder of it?” One side of her lip lifted. “You weren’t there; you can’t imagine how terrible it was. And who’s to say he wouldn’t inherit the evil he came from?” She curled her hand into a fist and tapped it several times against the tabletop. “I’m adamant about this. I will not keep him.” The look she gave Lindsay challenged her to disagree.
But Lindsay was silent. She picked up her spoon and stirred her now lukewarm tea, while watching the circular motion. Sarah could almost see the smaller woman thinking. Then Lindsay put the teaspoon down, sat up straighter, and matched Sarah’s gaze. “Scott and I will take the baby.”
Sarah’s jaw dropped. In all of her wrenching thoughts and decisions about the child, this possibility never occurred to her. Her teeth clicked together as she closed her jaw. “No. He’d still be a constant reminder to me.”
“You’re a grown woman, Sarah; you can learn to deal with that,” Lindsay said with some severity. “It’s better than giving a member of our family away to strangers. You know we all would have trouble accepting that. This is the perfect answer. Scott and I can raise him as our own,” she went on, gaining enthusiasm. “I’ll be away from home long enough that people will believe I could have had a child. That way he won’t be labeled a bastard.”
Sarah’s fingers started drumming again. She could tell Lindsay’s mind was as determined as her own had been. She had to admit that it sounded like a workable idea. It would free her to search for the three attackers, and when she got back home, if seeing the child bothered her too much, she could make a point of staying away from him.
“Sarah, please say yes. I know Scott will agree.” At last, Sarah answered with a nod, delighting Lindsay. “It’s settled, then.” She tilted her head and patted Sarah’s fingers, quieting their drumming. “Father said you had a leg wound. How did that happen?”
Sarah told her the whole story about the shooting, including Benjamin’s discovery of her while she was tied to Redfire as well as Faith’s part in saving her leg. The narrative brought animation to her face, but it changed when she described her capture. Her voice grew passionate, and she fidgeted with anger. “Faith turned me in. I still don’t understand how she could.”
Lindsay patted Sarah’s shoulder. “Please calm down, Sarah. Try not to be so disturbed. It truly doesn’t make much sense that she would save your life and then betray you. Why would she do that?”
Sarah practically shouted. “She wanted me out of the war, and I told her I wouldn’t leave it. She must have figured that was the only way to get me out. She broke my trust.”
Lindsay gave her sister-in-law a speculative look. “She must have meant well, Sarah. It sounds like she cared a lot for you. And you cared for her, didn’t you?”
Sarah fumed. “Cared? Of course, I cared. I lo—” Sarah stopped midword and threw her hands up to cover her face, which quickly turned red. “Oh, my God,” she whispered and quietly began to cry.
Lindsay scooted her chair closer and put an arm over Sarah’s slumped shoulders. “You fell in love with her. I could tell from the first time you spoke her name. You lit up like a sunbeam.” She didn’t say anymore, just sat in silence, squeezing Sarah’s shoulders.
At last Sarah stopped crying, pulled a handkerchief from her pocket, and dried her tears. “I can’t believe I’m in love with Faith. I had no idea . . .” Giving words to her confused emotions so astonished her that her whole body thrummed. She leaned into Lindsay’s embrace and touched heads with her, accepting her solace. After a few moments, a grimace tilted one side of Sarah’s lips. “You don’t seem to have a problem with my discovery that I love a woman.”
Lindsay chuckled as she released Sarah’s shoulders and leaned back. “I’m not exactly surprised. Look at all the eligible men I had Scott bring around, and you never showed the slightest interest in any of them.” She tapped Sarah’s forearm. “Not to mention how you never gave the eminently eligible Phillip Showell a chance.”
Sarah took some time to digest those remarks as she got up and limped to the stove. She brought the iron kettle and tea leaves to the table and prepared fresh tea in the china pot. Then she replaced the kettle and sat back down. “You don’t think I’m some kind of perverted person?” she asked with some trepidation.
Lindsay gave her a warm glance. “Do you think you’re perverted?”
Sarah scowled. “I know a lot of people would say I am.” Then her face cleared. “But, no, I don’t feel perverted. I feel a little strange, but the more I think about it, the more right it seems for me.” Then her face darkened again. “But why did I have to fall in love with a woman I can’t trust? A woman who betrayed me? I won’t ever be able to believe in her again.”
“Do you think she fell in love with you?”
“Good Lord, no,” Sarah said. “She was married before and has a son.”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Lindsay said. “I have this cousin who was married for fifteen years . . .” Sarah’s sister-in-law proceeded to give her an earful of information about another woman who discovered she loved women. When she heard the story, Sarah searched through the time she had spent with the Pruitts, looking for clues to Faith’s feelings for her. The only time she remembered thinking that Faith was attracted to her was the morning the Union troops had entered Cranston. But that was the same day Faith betrayed her. Sarah gave up her search in disgust.
Later, Lindsay wrote a letter to Scott, sharing the news about Sarah’s condition. She told him of her plan that they would take on the responsibility of raising Sarah’s child as their own, and she asked for his agreement. Scott’s answer came back quickly. He wrote a long letter to Sarah, and another to Lindsay, each including an unconditional “yes” to the plan.
The time of Sarah’s pregnancy passed slowly for her. Being heavy with the baby during the Virginia spring was the easy part. It was her enforced inaction that burdened her patience. She kept up with the news of the war, all the while resenting that her part in it had been curtailed. By the beginning of 1865, as she had already supposed, severe shortages of food and supplies had Confederate soldiers deserting in droves. General Grant pursued General Lee relentlessly, and after Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, fell in early April, the decimated Rebel forces soon surrendered.
At last, the baby came on May 10.
To the family’s delight, the child was a girl, and Lindsay and Scott had already picked a name. They called her Jessica, after Lindsay’s mother. Upon the new daughter’s birth, the whole household became one big nursery, lightening some of the gloom brought on by Sarah’s ill fortunes. Sarah wanted a wet nurse, but since the slaves had been freed, none was available. So she was forced to nurse little Jessica herself for the first four months of the baby’s life.
Jessica had Coulter features but different coloring. Her straight black hair and pale blue eyes told Sarah which of her attackers had fathered the child—the apologetic Hager. Thank God it hadn’t been Angston.
Throughout the whole time period, Lindsay was a rock, providing needed support while buffering the loving but often quarrelsome relationship between Sarah and her mother. Sarah was happy to give her sister-in-law the news that neither Angston’s nor Wertz’s blood tainted the baby’s. She saw no need to add that she still intended to kill the father.
Sarah stood on the verandah at Red Oaks Manor looking out over the peaceful scene while thinking of the war. Thank goodness, Sheridan’s army had marched down the valley on the other side of the Blue Ridge mountains. Her parents were fortunate. The Union Army had cut a destructive path through the Shenandoah Valley, taking what it needed from the land and destroying the rest. After the baby’s birth, Sarah had ridden out to survey the damage, and she returned heavy-hearted to her parents’ home, knowing that so many who hadn’t fought in the war—perhaps had not even believed in it—had lost so much.
She turned from her survey of the landscape and looked toward the door as Matthias came out of the house. “Got some mail for you, Miss Sarah.” He handed her a long envelope with unfamiliar writing on it. “Looks like today’ll be another hot one. Would you want a drink, child?”
Sarah took the letter and affectionately squeezed the hand of the elderly, dark-skinned man. “No, thank you, Matthias. But you better get back inside where it’s cooler. No sense in you staying out in this heat when there’s no need to.”
“Now you sound like my Pearl,” he grumbled goodnaturedly. “What’s a man to do when the womenfolk boss him around all the time?” Then he waggled a finger and answered his own question. “I know, I know, jus’ do what they say.” Sarah smiled and nodded as Matthias reentered the house.
Turning her attention to the letter, she tore it open, anticipation burning her stomach. She skipped immediately to the signature, and her heart jumped. It was the long-awaited news from Leah about the scum she was itching to hunt down. At least, that’s what she hoped it was. She put a hand to her chest to quiet the pounding, then sat at one of the verandah tables to read.
I hope this finds you well. There was so many soldiers coming threw here it was hard to get what you want but I hope I got enuff now to help you tho I worry about you and what you might do that will put you back in danger.
The one named George Wertz is dead and he was killed in a battle and I hope his soul rots in hell for what he done to you.
I could not find much about Hager except his first name is Perry and he came from Cleeveland Ohio so maybe he will go back there if he is still alive.
The sargent is named Willard Angston and he is still in these parts. He has something to do with the mustering out of soldiers or maybe prisoners I am not sure which.
Captain Phillip Howell has been writing to me about the man who said he blew up that train. First the captain wrote his health kept him from making the trip here but now he wants to see me but wants you here so you can draw a pitcher of the man I saw. You two can just come on by when it suits you. Amy asks about you all the time and sends her love as I do to. Please be careful and do not get hurt no more.
Sarah folded the letter and stuffed it in her skirt pocket, her heart still racing. Phillip had written her several times, enthused about the possibility that Leah could give him a lead on the saboteur. Anxious to go to Cranston right away, he was hindered by an infection in the stump of his leg. It was taking a long time to heal, and the delay had given Sarah time to heal too. At least physically.
This idea about drawing the likeness of the man seemed promising, if Leah could give her a good enough description. The potential of putting a face to the man excited Sarah enough to make her eager to get to Cranston. But the likelihood of finding Angston positively electrified her, and she hurried into the house to begin preparations for leaving.
In her bedroom, she pulled a valise from under the bed and placed it on the green chintz bedspread. On an earlier trip to town, she had purchased replacements for the clothes, disguise, and pistol left behind at Faith’s, and now she removed them from the bureau drawers and packed them. The possibility of seeing Faith leaped to her mind, but the thought that she should be chasing her down, too, quickly burst a rising bubble of joy. Disturbed, Sarah buried the idea of vengeance against Faith and continued packing.
“Are you going somewhere?” Lindsay’s question interrupted Sarah, and she looked toward the doorway, answering her sister-in-law with a nod. Lindsay had baby Jessica in her arms, and she walked over next to Sarah and held her out. “First, Jessie wants a hug from her favorite aunt.” Lindsay knew Sarah had received a letter, and a sense of foreboding came over her. She figured the urgent packing resulted from whatever message the letter contained.
Sarah raised an eyebrow. “I’m her only aunt.” She grabbed Jessie under her arms and hugged the baby to her chest, then held her away and gazed at her. By sheer coincidence, she had Lindsay’s coloring, but she definitely had Coulter features. Especially our stubborn chin, Sarah thought, though she believed she was far more stubborn than Scott would ever be.
Lindsay lowered her voice and stage-whispered, “You would be her favorite aunt even if she had twenty others.” She reached for the baby and took her from Sarah. “But I do think you need some baby-holding lessons. You act like she would break if you squeezed her too hard.”
Sarah returned to her packing. “Well, wouldn’t she?” This was not a new conversation. Lindsay often tormented Sarah about her discomfort around the child and kept thrusting Jessie on her in an attempt to cure that.
Lindsay elbowed her in the side, eliciting a grunt. “So, why are you packing as though the devil were after you?”
“You’ve got that backwards; I’m going after the devil—two of them, at least.”
“You’ve heard from Leah!” Lindsay laid Jessica on the bed and sat down on the edge, patting the cooing child.
“Yes.” In the past months, Lindsay had pried nearly every bit of information about Sarah’s ordeal from her, though Sarah had difficulty speaking about most of it. She wouldn’t have been able to confide in anyone else, but she and her sister-in-law had a bond of trust in each other that cemented their friendship. They each knew the other would never betray a confidence. “She sent me the information I’ve been waiting for. One man’s dead, she found out where the youngest one’s home is, and the sergeant . . .” Sarah’s face twisted with hate as she took a deep breath. “The head devil is still in Cranston. So that’s where I’m going.”
“Sarah.” Lindsay shifted her hand from the baby to Sarah’s arm, halting the taller woman’s movement. “Are you certain you want to do this? What they did to you was horrible beyond words, but you’re no killer.”
Lifting her arm away from Lindsay’s touch, Sarah moved to the bureau, picked out some more clothes, and brought them to the bedside. In a hard voice, she said, “You don’t seem to grasp that I’ve already killed thousands of people.” She thrust the clothes into the valise and squashed them down. “What difference will a few more make?”
“Oh, Sarah.” Lindsay’s deep blue eyes darkened with emotion. “That was war. You shouldn’t take it so personally.”
“Maybe. But Angston and Hager made war on Sarah-Bren Coulter, and I take that very personally.” She lifted a hand to touch her scarred face, pausing at the pinched corner of her eye, then pushing her fingers back through the broad white streak in her hair. “They owe me a debt, and I aim to collect it. So save your breath. As soon as I telegraph Phillip to meet me in Cranston, I’m leaving.”
“Faith lives in Cranston too, doesn’t she?”
Sarah frowned and her lips tightened. “She turned me in, remember?” She stomped back to the bureau and yanked some more clothes into her arms.
“Maybe you should look her up and ask her about it.”
Sarah dumped the armload of clothes on the bed, startling the baby. Jessie let out a cry, and Lindsay picked her up and soothed her. “Sorry,” Sarah muttered. She looked into Lindsay’s eyes, then glanced away. “You know how I feel about her. That just makes her betrayal all the harder to forgive.”
“Are you absolutely sure it was Faith? What about her son? Couldn’t he have been the one?”
Sarah’s expression softened, and she shook her head. “Not Benjamin. He’s a sweetheart. In the short time I was there, he and I formed a bond. Besides, his father was a Confederate soldier. He would never have turned me in to the Union.”
Leaning Jessie against her shoulder, Lindsay patted the baby’s back as she fell asleep. Then, with a tilt of her head, she looked up at Sarah. “You and Faith formed a bond too.”
Sarah stopped dead and stared at her sister-in-law. “Not Faith, just me.” She lifted her hands and dropped them. “The woman saved my life, Lindsay. But I hate that she turned me in—I trusted her. Hell, I fell in love with her. I’ve never been so wrong about anyone in my life, and I hate that too. Do I hate her?” Sarah’s fist slammed into her opposite palm with a loud pop, and Lindsay jerked reflexively. “I come damn close to it.”
Jessie whimpered, then gnawed at Lindsay’s shoulder. “I think our little lady is telling us she’s hungry. Time to hunt for some milk and pap.” She stood up, and Sarah reached out a hand to cup the back of the baby’s head.
The silky softness of the child’s hair emphasized the baby’s vulnerability and brought a lump to Sarah’s throat. “She’s lucky to be young enough to have missed this war. Don’t ever tell her my part in it.”
Lindsay shook her head. “I won’t promise you that. Sarah-Bren Coulter is one of my heroes. I want Jessie to know about your service, and Pres too.”
Sarah gave a wry look. “And they call me the stubborn one.” Folding her arms around Lindsay and the baby, she hugged them quickly. “I’ll finish packing while you feed Jessie. I want to leave as soon as possible.”
“All right,” Lindsay agreed. “I’ll see you downstairs.”
She left, and Sarah put her hands on her hips and looked around the room. Ostensibly, she was checking to see if she had thought of everything she wanted to take. But instead, Lindsay’s earlier words echoed through her mind: You and Faith formed a bond too. Had Faith felt anything for her? If she did, she had a strange way of showing it. Sarah snorted at the impossibility of the idea even though her heart thudded painfully as she resumed packing.
To be continued in Part Eight
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