Sunday Sampler: Wolf Creek Widow by Penny Richards

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In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Sunday’s Sampler is an excerpt from Wolf Creek Widow by Penny Richards.

As one reviewer said: This was an uplifting story but it also tackled some tough subjects like abuse, racism and taking someone life. All of which were handled very well. The message that God is always with us was woven throughout but we also see that although we go through difficult, sometimes unthinkable things, that God uses those circumstances in our lives for a purpose. That to me was encouraging.

The Story

Meg Thomerson needs assistance getting back on her feet—even if it comes from the man who made her a widow. Ace Allen didn’t intend to kill her husband, he only wanted to protect the town from the man’s rage. Now Ace is keeping Meg’s business and farm running while she heals, both physically and emotionally. But is he helping her out of charity—or because of something more?

Half Native American, Ace struggles to find his place in the world. He keeps himself isolated from the community, but sweet Meg begins to penetrate his defenses. At first, he simply wanted to make amends to her. Now, if she’ll let him, he could become the loving husband she deserves…

The Sampler

Penny Richards
Penny Richards

Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!

The dull, rhythmic sound penetrated the light layer of sleep shrouding Meg Thomerson’s consciousness. She lay on her side, her knees pulled up to her chest as far as her injured ribs and healing arm would allow. Her hands, palms pressed together as if she were praying, were tucked beneath her cheek. Even now, dull pain pulsed in her side with every slow beat of her heart, a persistent reminder of the last time she’d been in this room.

Thunk!

Restless, she moved her head on the pillow, not ready to face the day just yet. Not ready to face what might be left of her life. The lonely night had been made worse without her children there to cheer her.

She’d thought of going into their room, but knew it would only make their absence harder to bear. Besides, she was filled with the certainty that if she started sleeping in their room for comfort, she would never again find the courage to stay alone at night. Meg knew she might be many things, but she didn’t think she was a coward.

It was almost dawn before she’d fallen into a light sleep filled with echoes of Elton’s mocking voice and vivid dreams of him hitting her.

Thunk!

Her eyelids flew upward against her will. She didn’t want to wake up, didn’t want to remember the last time she was here. Too late. Her gaze collided with the battered chest of drawers that sat next to her bed. Elton had hidden some cash and a gun there. The same gun he’d used to try to kill Sheriff Colt Garrett almost six weeks ago after escaping from prison, where he’d been sent earlier in the year for a series of robberies in the area and almost killing Gabe Gentry and Sarah Van-Sickle. The attempted murder had taken place on the same day Elton had been shot and killed.

It was that decision, one of the many bad choices he had made through the years, that led to his own death. Meg moved her head restlessly on the pillow. If she let herself remember, she would be filled with that wonderful, horrible, sinful feeling of relief that had swept through her when the sheriff broke the news that Elton was dead.

Surely she was bound for hell to feel as she did.

Thunk!

She shoved the shameless thought aside. She would take Doc Rachel’s advice and try to keep her mind occupied with other things. The lady doctor had assured her that in time, her inner wounds would heal, just as her physical ones were healing, and her joy in living would return. Meg hoped the doctor was right, but for now, she would not think; she would do. As tempting as it was to stay in bed and lick her wounds, she would get up and see what on earth that irritating noise was.

Using her uninjured arm to lever herself, she sat up. Though she had more or less healed, it was hard to break the habit of moving as if her bones were made of delicate crystal, like that she’d once seen at Sarah VanSickle’s fancy house.

Meg eased her legs over the edge of the mattress and sat straight and still, waiting for her still-tender ribs to accustom themselves to the new position before putting her feet to the floor.

She didn’t have to get dressed. When Doctor Gentry and her husband, Gabe, had brought her home from their place the evening before, Meg had been too tired to put on a nightgown. She’d pulled the hairpins from her hair, kicked off her shoes and curled up fully dressed on the threadbare quilt.

Now she crossed the wood floor to the window at the rear of the little three-room house. The bare planks were cool through her thin stockings. Faded blue-patterned curtains, hand-stitched from flour sacks and hanging from tautly stretched twine wrapped around a couple of sixpenny nails, were drawn against the night. Moving slowly, Meg raised her arms and pushed the curtains aside.

A familiar scene greeted her. The sun was already making its debut above the tree line in the eastern sky, hens scratched in the dirt with an industriousness Meg envied and the big white rooster flapped his wings, puffed out his chest and welcomed the day with a prideful crowing, as if it were all his doing. A lone pig rooted around near the small shack that served as a barn and her ancient gray mare nibbled at the stubs of green grass in the rickety corral.

Sunrise had always been her favorite time of day, an almost sacred time. A time when night and day merged, heaven and earth seemed to mesh and God seemed so near she could feel Him. From watching the world awaken and the animals working so hard, each new morning had seemed like a promise, filling her with warmth and hope and a chance to start over as the soft glow of the rising sun urged her to get up, move on, work harder and just maybe, things would get better.

They never had.

Today she found no joy in the familiar setting. No connection with God. All hope had been taken from her. Not even Elton’s death and the knowledge that he was no longer a threat could fill the emptiness in her heart.

Please, Lord, let Doc Rachel be right. Let me find hope and peace in Your presence once more.

The brief entreaty crossed her mind before she could give it thought, a habit so ingrained that not even the guilt that kept her from voicing a proper prayer could halt the habit of a lifetime.

Thunk!

The sound drew her attention to the couple attacking the woodpile—a man splitting the logs and a small woman with a long braid hanging down her back who was stacking the split wood beneath the lean-to.

He was a big man: tall, broad through the chest and shoulders, long-legged and lean-hipped. Even from where she stood, it was easy to see that he radiated raw power and brute strength. Perfect for chopping wood.

Or battering a woman.

A shudder shivered through her, and her knees threatened to buckle, forcing her to lean against the window frame for support.

The movement must have caught his attention. He turned and, resting the ax on his shoulder, fixed her with a penetrating stare. It was the Indian—well, part-Indian—man who had helped her with her laundry baskets a few times.

She’d never noticed how intimidating he was. His hair, so dark it was almost black, hung just past his shoulders and was held away from his face by a bandanna tied around his forehead. Though she couldn’t see their hue from where she stood, his eyes, in contrast to his swarthy skin, were so light they looked almost colorless.

His features were rough-hewn, and his face was all sharp angles, harsh planes and deep shadows. Heavy eyebrows were set in a straight line above a bladelike nose and a square chin and jaw. The combined effect should have rendered him ugly, but even though his face was fierce and a bit frightening, he possessed a harsh beauty. There was a noble look about him, something in the way he stood with his denim-clad legs slightly apart and the tilt of his head that seemed to shout that he was much more than what she saw standing there.

He looked magnificent and proud and wild.

Nothing at all like a killer.

Feet apart, shoulders back, his expression showing none of the turmoil churning in his gut, Ace Allen stood in the growing warmth of the September morning and stared at the woman whose husband he’d killed. Though the shooting was justified, done to save the sheriff, he was still responsible for taking a life and making the woman at the window a widow and her children orphans.

He wondered where that put him with God.

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