First Chapter Book Awards Finalist: Maggie’s Dream by Dana Wayne
August 25, 2016
Maggie’s Dream by Dana Wayne is a Finalist in the Romance category of Works in Progress for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.
Award-Winning First Chapter
Bakersville, Texas 1880
“With any luck you’ll be roasting in hell by sundown.” Maggie Kincaid stared at her dying husband, voice devoid of emotion. “Devil wants his due.”
Fever glazed eyes darted about then locked on her. His breathing was labored and shallow, but the Luke she feared still lived. “Let me die,” he gasped, “you’ll be sorry.”
Logically, she realized he could hurt her no more, but the fear he instilled lingered. Heart racing, she met his furious gaze, revealing none of the emotional turmoil she experienced at provoking him.
Luke mad was a force to be reckoned with.
But he needed to experience at least a tiny bit of fear in payment for his sins. She swallowed her terror and taunted him again. “Can you hear him, Luke? He’s getting impatient. You’ve kept him waiting a long time.”
Despite his weakened state, his voice was hard and cold. “I die and Frank Parker takes over everything…including you.” His cruel laughter ended with a coughing spasm that left him breathless, grimacing in pain, blood-tinged spittle dribbling from the corner of his mouth.
She said nothing as he struggled to breathe. Right or wrong, she silently took comfort in knowing his death would not be an easy one.
After all the suffering he caused, he deserved some of his own.
His eyes widened as he labored to speak, each syllable costing him precious strength. “You know…what’s good…for you…make sure…I live.”
“Devil’s waiting on you, Luke.”
He tried to push up on his elbows but sank back when his strength faded. “Have deal…with Frank… if I die.” His voice dwindled to a whisper. “Won’t be so sassy…when he’s…done with you.”
The mere mention of Frank Parker made her shudder, but she refused to let him see that. Not now; not ever again. “You blamed him for letting that bull gore you; told him to leave and not come back. And he hasn’t.”
Luke’s narrowed eyes betrayed his concern. “We talked.”
“We talk, too, don’t we?” She leaned forward. “And who knows more about what a husband wants than his devoted wife?”
Confusion furrowed his brow and he stared. “Stupid bitch,” he sputtered, “don’t know nuthin’.”
Shifting in the uncomfortable chair, she clasped her hands in her lap.
It was time. He had to know before he died.
“Last month you told Brian Tomkins at the bank I could run Twin Oaks without you. Remember? Well, I can, Luke. And I will.”
His eyes bulged as he grabbed for her hand, getting her apron instead, sputtering in his fury. “No damn woman…gonna run… my ranch.” He wheezed and tugged on the apron he clutched.
Maggie leaned back and braced her feet so he could not pull her forward. He wasn’t dead yet and the unease he implanted remained. “Not just any woman, Luke. Me. You bragged to everyone about how smart I was, how much I loved your children and the ranch; how you taught me everything you knew. You did it to show off; but I listened, I watched, and I learned.” She paused for a breath, her voice steady despite the stress and fatigue that caused her to tremble. “You created an image for me, for us; had me to do all your paperwork, write your letters, even handle things at the bank.” She leaned forward slightly and delivered the final blow. “No one but you and I know you can barely read or write so who’s going to question your will leaving Twin Oaks to me?”
“What? No!” He grabbed at her hand again, drew in a final shuddering breath and died, calloused fingers still clenching her apron.
Maggie had no idea how long she sat there staring at his lifeless body, halfway expecting at any moment the old Luke would reappear, ready to issue another lesson in obedience. Absently rubbing the fading bruise on her arm above a rolled up sleeve, she repeated her promise to herself; never again.
She looked around the bedroom. Like Luke it was all hard edges and dark corners. No color brightened the hard wood floors, no curtains adorned the windows.
A dead room. Like Luke. Like her in some ways.
A soft knock on the door, followed by the entrance of Doc Morton, brought her out of the stupor.
He looked at Luke then Maggie. “He gone?”
She nodded, too exhausted to speak.
“Tough old buzzard lasted longer ‘n I thought he would. Bull got him good.” He set his bag on the bed and turned toward her, his voice kind and caring. “You need to get some rest, ma’am. You been at his side since it happened; nothing more to do.”
Maggie couldn’t stop the unexpected tears trickling down her cheeks. The nightmare was over. She was free at last!
“Don’t waste your tears on that bastard.” Doc’s voice turned hard as nails, and he stared at the bruises on her arm. “He ain’t worth ‘em.”
She rolled down the sleeves of her blouse and swiped the tears with her apron. She looked away in shame…because he knew. “I have to tell the children.” She cast one last look at her husband’s body. “He refused to let Sam see him like this. He will blame me for not getting to say goodbye.”
“He’ll be alright. Just give ‘em some time.”
Maggie nodded and went to the kitchen where her step-children were eating lunch. When she entered, she found Maria, the cook/housekeeper beside the table and Sam, the oldest at nine, sitting in his father’s spot at the head of the table. Emily, who was seven, sat to his left.
“I’m the man of the house till Pa gets well so you have to do what I say.” His voice was just below a shout as he addressed Emily. He turned his glare to Maria and added “That means you, too.”
Maria ignored his dictate and moved toward the stove. “Good morning, Mrs. Kincaid. I’ll fix you a plate. ”
“No thank you, Maria. I need to talk to the children.”
“Of course.” She gestured toward the coffee pot. “That is fresh. I will gather the eggs.”
Maggie waited until she left the room before sitting down across from Emily, struggling to find the words. “I don’t know how to—”
“You let him die, didn’t you?” Sam’s accusing voice was so like Luke’s she was momentarily stunned into silence.
“I’m so sorry, Sam. Doc Morton did all he could but his injuries were too severe and the fever –“
“You let him die!” Sam pushed his chair so hard it crashed to the floor when he stood. “It’s all your fault!”
“Sam, please try to understand.”
“I understand plenty.” His small voice quaked with grief. “It’s just like Pa said. You’re stupid and can’t do anything right.”
Before she could react, he raced out the back door. She took a breath and looked at Emily whose head was bowed, hands in her lap.
“Emily…I am so very sorry, sweetheart. I truly did all I could.”
“I know,” came the soft reply, “the bull did it.”
“And I’m sorry you didn’t get to say goodbye. I thought he would get better or there would be more time.” The lie rolled smoothly off her lips. She would never tell this sweet child her father didn’t want to see her at all; his only concern being that Sam never see him in such a fallen state.
“I don’t want to tell him bye.” She raised her head and looked at Maggie, her soft doe-like eyes filled with sadness. “He didn’t want me anyway. Only Sam.”
She reached across the table and placed a hand over Emily’s. “I’m sure that’s not true, sweetheart. You’re a wonderful daughter. Don’t ever think you’re not.”
“Will you leave, too? Now that Pa’s gone?”
“Of course not. This is my home now.”
“Sam said he was the man till Pa got better. Who’s gonna to be the man now? Sam is too little.”
“You let me worry about that.” She smoothed down the front of her apron. “Finish your lunch. I need to find Stoney.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Emily reached for her fork and pushed the peas around on her plate.
Maggie walked outside and stopped at the steps, grabbing the post for support when her knees threatened to buckle. She leaned her head against the rough column, hands grasping the coarse exterior. Sleep the last ten days was limited to short naps in the chair by his bed for Luke insisted she not leave his side and fear made her obey.
On the verge of collapse, she fought back a low moan. I am so tired. Did I eat today?
With some effort, she pushed away from the pillar, and paused to gain her balance. A glance around for Sam proved fruitless and she breathed a sigh of relief. She was far too emotional to deal with him right now. She scanned the yard again and spotted several hands near the far corral watching someone work a mustang. Stoney Wyatt, the foreman she sought was not among them but his right hand, Seth Dalton was. She recognized his lean form as he hung on the wooden fence watching the man on the horse.