Promises and Excuses

Well my lovelies, I’m chalking up this latest blogging break to unexpected computer issues, the added pressure of a new job, and my own personal reasons, but suffice it to say, I’m back!!! I’m so sorry for getting behind in reading and responding to all your wonderful posts on your blogs and as well as the comments and feedback you’ve given me here, but I’m up and typing and busy getting back down to blogging buisness! So thank you for the tags, nominations, and flat out patience, I promise to get to them all in time, along with my own posts of course. And I’m writing the next installments in the Fairest series and the Ratha James story now, so expect to see them soon!

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artists.

Thanks again my lovelies and I’ll post again soon!

 

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The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Fourteen

If you need a refresher course on the Ratha James series here on Moonstonemaiden, go ahead and click here to catch up on all the piratical adventures of this amazing woman and her steadfast friends!

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Fourteen

“You told him what?” Ratha’s voice was low and dangerous as she growled through tightly clenched teeth, the muscles of her jaw tense and rigid as steel. Her fingers dug into the dark-stained wood of her chair like talons as fury flushed the sun-darkened skin beneath her emerald gown.

Joona met her friend’s ire unflinchingly, her mouth pursing into a long, thin line. Her green eyes narrowed, flickering with the heat of her own stubborn anger. “And just what else was I to tell him Amalee James? After he recognized you as a woman clothed as a man. An exquisite woman no less. It’s not as though I could pass you off as an ailing spinster aunt from Kerry! Your ship bears the name of my father’s, so family you must be and a cousin you are.” Joona’s tone grew sharper with every word. She would not be chastised in her own house for something out of her hands and Amalee needed to remember she was not the captain of St. Clare Manor. She held her friend’s fuming eye long enough for the lesson to sink in before allowing herself a small smile. “An eccentric cousin no doubt. Though no less loved for all your wearing of trousers.”

Amalee did not speak, but Joona felt the force of her anger diminish ever so slightly. It was enough for the moment. “He is joining us for dinner this evening, which is why a proper gown was needed. There is much he and Eric must discuss and as his ship has suffered so much damage, a fine dinner and a bevy of pretty faces is the least we can offer him.”

“Oh to be sure,” Ratha spat, accenting her displeasure with a sharp flick of her wrist. “Considering I am a husband-hunter after all.”

“Why else would you be here?” Joona challenged. “Use that mind of yours Captain please. I’ve no plans to sell you off to the highest bidder at the end of the evening, but as far as this man and his crew are concerned, you and Madeline are my cousins, and you are looking for good marriages. And as I highly doubt that this man will be pledging either of you his troth by evening’s end, all I require of you is a few hours of polite conversation and the lure of your own natural charm.”

“We need this man,” she said frankly, her features softening as she turned to look at her husband. “We need his ship. This isn’t what I wanted for your first night home. I have no wish to argue with either of you. I’ve missed you dreadfully. But this is as it must be. Just be the kind, engaging woman you are Amalee, just for tonight. He’s been at sea for months, just give him a pretty face to dream about and a smile or two. Please.”

“Of course Joona,” Madeline nodded, leaning forward to pat her friend’s hand reassuringly, her air contemplative but resolute. She shot Amalee a look of warning, plea, and reproach. “What you ask is easily done.”

Feeling a slight wave of shame lapping at her stomach, Ratha glowered at her two best friends — Eric as well for good measure — but kept any further grumblings to herself. She did not like surprises, not anymore, and for good reason.

But Joona was right, a story was needed and this was the simplest. So, she would stick to it, for the evening at least, and keep herself and her crew safe while these strangers encroached on St. Clare land. But she would watch this other captain, whoever he was, and if it was more than just a pretty face he was after, she would be happy to give him the sharp end of her blade for his troubles.

“Fine. Let’s not keep him waiting then,” Ratha said at last, reaching for her glass and downing the last of the port in one swift gulp. “My natural charm is unnaturally short-lived.”

The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Thirteen

If you need a refresher course on the Ratha James series here on Moonstonemaiden, go ahead and click here to catch up on all the piratical adventures of this amazing woman and her steadfast friends!

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Thirteen

The sun was setting in a blaze of citrine and ruby light into the churning cobalt sea beyond the massive diamond-paned windows when Ratha finally stepped into the glorious St. Clare library. Maddie, Joona, and an unusually weary-looking Eric sat near the warmth and light of a crackling fireplace on the far side of the room, soft conversation enveloping them with the love of longstanding friendship. Each looked up when the door opened, their words halting as Ratha strode towards them, a scowl tugging her lips downward and darkening her bright eyes. Eric St. Clare rose from his seat and moved to meet her with a warm smile, pulling her to him in a brotherly hug that squeezed what little breath she had left from her lungs. Even after all this time, he worried for her safety and to see her and Madeline alive again and home brought him such fierce joy. When he finally released her it was only to lead her to an overlarge chair beside Maddie and to fetch her a glass of port.

Doing her best not to wheeze, Ratha sank into the chair with relief, breathing in as deeply as she could manage in her borrowed gown. She accepted the port with a small smile and took a deep drink, letting the liquid burn it’s way down her throat to her belly, warming her from the inside out. In brilliant contrast to the jagged fire inside her, the crystal goblet was cool and perfectly smooth in her rough, weathered hands. She bit back a rye smile at the sight of her scarred hands holding something so perfect and fragile before setting the goblet down with a decisive clink. Looking back at those before her, she leveled a pointed glare at the red-haired woman sitting before her, her brows arching questioningly.

“Well Joona St. Clare,” she huffed, gesturing down to the emerald gown in disgust. “Why am I in this monstrosity?”

“I think you look lovely Amalee,” Maddie offered with a grin, running an appreciative hand over her own rose pink gown with unabashed pleasure. The sea had yet to take Madeline’s enjoyment of beautiful things and Ratha doubted it ever could. Madeline was born to see beauty in a cruel, sparkling world.

“That’s not the point,” Ratha said with a wave of her hand and a ghost of a smile at her friend’s deserved happiness. But her eyes never left Joona’s. Some new secret lurked beneath their sharp green surface, churning in the depths where love and intellect normally resided. Ratha’s heart beat a little faster. “What is it Joona, what haven’t you told us?”

“There’s a merchant ship moored in our shipyard,” Joona admitted, her mouth a slight grimace. “You’ll have seen it no doubt as you came into port.”

“Yes,” Amalee nodded, thinking back to the ship bearing the garish orange and silver flags with entwined songbirds that had given her pause before she had arrived. A matching grimace turned her mouth downward as well, settling into port with strange ships and crews so close by was never something she enjoyed, but the bulk of the St. Clare’s fortune was made on the seas and ships came and went through their shipyard far too often for it to frighten her away. The vessels never stayed long, and the crews were kept bust unloading a foreign cargo or loading a new one bound for some exotic destination before settling sail on the next earliest tide. Her women had strict orders to stay well clear of the St. Clare shipyard and the men who worked them and the sailors who passed through them. Their names and faces did not need to become known. But her women knew this well and St. Clare had never before felt the need to draw her aside just to mention a ship. Her stomach tightened into a thick fist. “Is it dangerous?”

“No,” Joona said slowly. “But there was a storm at sea some weeks ago and the vessel was badly damaged, the hull breached and a mast snapped in two. The repairs will take some days and in that time the crew will work and sleep aboard their own ship. They will not be a danger to you and yours so long as your women remain out of their way and in their sight. But unfortunately…”

“But unfortunately what?” Ratha demanded, her heart beating so fiercely that sure it would explode out of the confines of her blasted gown at any moment.

“Unfortunately, you have already been noticed. Or rather your beauty has. It seems the Captain was quite intrigued with a certain person, and asked Eric just who the exquisite brunette was wearing men’s trousers and boots as though she was born in them.”

Ratha’s face paled. How on earth did a sailor recognize her as a woman from such a distance, especially with her long hair — her most telling feature — tied up and out of her face?! “What did you tell them?”

Joona held her friend’s gaze, the very air tense with unspoken possibilities before her lips curved upward. “That you were my cousin of course. Fresh from Ireland with a few companions and on the hunt for an English husband to rival my own.”

The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Twelve

If you need a refresher course on the Ratha James series here on Moonstonemaiden, go ahead and click here to catch up on all the piratical adventures of this amazing woman and her steadfast friends!

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Twelve

A sudden deafening knock shattered Ratha’s morbid recollections and she found herself standing before a large gilt-framed looking-glass, one hand raised to touch the burnished skin beneath her eyes. For a moment the ghost of a lingering bruise darkened her sun-kissed skin before fading back into haunted memory. She shuddered, her stomach roiling sickeningly as the briefest flicker of remembered terror touched her very soul. Ratha purposefully turned away from the mirror, squelching the fear before it took root. It was this place, the past would give her no peace here. She would never feel safe on English soil, no matter how many years since her escape. Perhaps it was a mistake to come back after all.

“Amalee Ratha James!” Madeline called irately from the other side of the bedroom door. “I know you can hear me in there! St. Clare needs to speak with us before dinner so hurry and finish dressing and meet us in the library. Joona’s laid out something for you to wear on the chair near the fire, which I’d wager you haven’t even noticed,” Maddie huffed the last to herself, but Amalee heard her through the door clear enough. “If you need help with the lacing, there’s maid here in the hall.”

Lacing? Ratha flinched, her horror renewing as she turned to investigate the clothes Maddie had rightfully guessed she had not yet noticed, preoccupied as she was with the unnerving eclipse of past and present she always felt in this house. She strode towards the crackling fireplace with misapprehension heavy in her heart before stumbling to a halt with a insuppressibly hiss of displeasure. A sturdy wooden chair stood at the ready, swathed in a vision of frothy, endless emerald silk — the color so deep and vivid the gown nearly burned with a life all its own. Like drops of glistening dew, emeralds and fiery diamonds rained over the bodice and the delicate, gossamer lace net covering the full, wide skirts. The gems sparkled wildly in the dancing firelight, but the corners of Ratha’s mouth turned down in a hearty scowl.

What in the blazing Hell was St. Clare up to?!

*****

Grumbling more than a baited bear, Ratha precariously descended the wide, marble staircase in her borrowed finery, on route to the magnificent St. Clare library. With its dark paneled elegance and diamond-paned floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ever-surging sea below, the library was by far her favorite room in this opulent home. Yet even now, the thought of all those lovely leader-bound books could not rid her of the irritation of drowning in St. Clare’s accursed gown. She pulled at the confines of the gem-encrusted bodice as gently but forcibly as she could as she fought to straighten her shoulders and get in a decent breath of air. The damn gown was pinching her mercilessly and she nearly tripped over the billowing yards of skirts. Again. She yearned desperately for the simple freedom of her fitted leather trousers and the bliss of airy linen shirts. With a misstep of her borrowed heeled shoes, she toppled sideways, righting herself at the last moment, swearing eloquently like the sailor she truly was. And boots. She desperately missed her boots.

After six years at sea, Ratha had lost all appreciation for and what little understanding she had of, the beautiful gowns worn by her sex. With her father’s wealth in relative tatters her whole childhood, she’d grown up in plain, simple gowns and serviceable boots, and after she left home for England, Derek certainly never liked her so fully clothed as all this… So she had been quite happy to trade dresses for trousers and confinement for freedom and in the years since, the occasions she’s had since to wear such frippery were few and each heartily despised.

But it was more than the mere fact that clothing was uncomfortable, it was dangerous. The gown was heavy and far too long should she need to run, and she could barely breathe in such a tight bodice — though she congratulated herself on her own firm refusal to wear the whale-bone corset Joona provided — and more importantly, there was no place to conceal her weapons in a garment such as this. She felt the loss of her array of array of hidden blades usually latched to wrist, thigh, ankle, and stomach, as well as the elegant promise of her rapier on her hips, and the blunt surety of the pair of pistols strapped to her belt. Were it not Joona’s own gown, Ratha would have cut slits into the skirts and other strategic places to hide her smaller weapons before emerging from her room, but as the dress belonged to her friend, she resisted the temptation. In the end, Ratha was forced to comfort herself with the knowledge that she was not completely defenseless. The smallest of her knives rested securely between her breasts and the pins securing her dark chestnut hair were sharp enough to inflict damage, were she inclined to, as well as the small pistol strapped to her right calf, and the longer sheathed knife on her left.

Perhaps it was foolish to worry so in the home of her trusted friends, but Ratha James was an outlaw in this land, and Amalee Richards an escaped prisoner. Should she be taken as either it would surely mean her death. These gowns were lush, extravagant creations of exquisite, otherworldly beautiful art, but there was no damned, beautiful dress worth her life.

The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Eleven

If you need a refresher course on the Ratha James series here on Moonstonemaiden, go ahead and click here to catch up on all the piratical adventures of this amazing woman and her steadfast friends!

Image From Google.

Image From Google. All Right’s Belong To Artist.

The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Eleven

Suddenly Amalee was exhausted. The turmoil, fear, and abuse of the past months bore down on her all at once and she sunk leadenly into the plush cobalt armchair, closing her heavy, dark eyes.

“We had heard about Maddie,” Joona admitted hesitantly after a few silent minutes. The shock of the evening left her voice thready and strained and even with the light of a cheery fire haloing her, there were dark circles beneath St. Clare’s eyes that had not there a few hours before. “Months ago. You and I knew, after the horror of that sickness, that her chances of bearing children were slim, and it has long been my fear that it indeed left her barren. But I so hoped…she’s so healthy now, I thought maybe in time, her body would continue to heal. No one deserves a child more than she, and she’s always wanted a babe so desperately…” Joona stopped, unable to say more until the clenching sob in her constricting throat subsided. “I knew she would take the news badly so I wrote to her, inviting her to stay awhile here with us. I thought the sight and smell of the sea might restore her. Maddie so loves the sea.”

“Eric and I even called on their home in London when the letters went unanswered but Robert dismissed us at the door without so much as inviting us in to speak of her. He said Maddie was indisposed, desolate, and wished to be left to herself for a time. He looked so wretched, I felt so poorly for them. I wanted to see her, but how could I know he was keeping her from us? What if, in her grief, she truly did not wish to see me? To intrude at such a time, I feared losing her, especially after you… I thought…”

“You thought I abandoned you,” Amalee breathed, her voice barely a whisper. There was so much pain, and she was so weary, but she mustn’t sleep, not yet. It was not safe.

“I’m so sorry, please forgive me! Joona cried, unable to hold back her tears any longer. After fearing for her friends for months and now seeing her fears confirmed she was close to breaking. “I should have known that you would…that you would never…But I missed you and you never wrote me and I did not know what to think! I worried of course, but also feared you no longer desired my friendship now that we were here on English soil, where you have risen so high. But this,” she said, touching the blackish bruise on Amalee’s cheek with soft, careful fingers. “I could never have imagined this.”

“Of course not you foolish thing, there was no way for you to know,” Amalee reminded her weeping friend affectionately, but sternly. “This is not your fault Joona. Nor is it Eric’s. I saw the blame in his eyes before and I see it in yours now and I forbid it. You found your happiness together as man and wife and I refuse to let anyone cause you to regret it.”

“We were going to find you,” Joona confessed, dropping her face into her slender hands and taking a shuddering breath. “After a few months with no word, we knew something must be done. Eric was gong to leave right away but I…” she laid a land on her swollen stomach as a new wave of silent tears slipped down her cheeks. “I discovered I was with child. For months I was horridly sick and I was so frightened, for the baby, for myself. I wanted Eric with me and he stayed. But now, I wish I had left him go. He would have found you. He would have never given up.”

Amalee took her friend’s hand, feeling the chill of the pale skin, and squeezed it tightly. “You needed him here Joona. Eric’s place is here.”

“But if I had been as brave as you,” Joona whispered, her sharp green eyes taking in every bruise, both faded and fresh, on her friend’s beautiful face. “Perhaps he’d have found you before…”

Amalee shook her heavy head minutely, bringing Joona’s words to a halt. “He hit me the first day we stepped off the ship,” she said quietly, her voice touched with sadness, regret, and anger at the madness of it all, at being delivered into the hands of a monster. “Before the carriage left the dock. You couldn’t have stopped him Joona. No one could have.”

The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Ten

*St. Clare Manor* Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artists.

*St. Clare Manor*
Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artists.

The Adventures of Ratha James Part Ten

It was then that Eric St. Clare entered the little sitting room bearing a tray laden with hot tea and little sandwiches. Neither his countenance or movement betrayed any modicum of distress as he made his way into the room and sat the tray on a low table before his womenfolk, but Amalee saw the aching pain in his carefully schooled gaze as he took in her wasted form. He said nothing, but handed her a cup of steaming tea with a hand that shook only slightly. She thanked him with a wordless nod, which he returned solemnly. She did not know how to begin again, how to say what must be said and neither did he, but the love in his eyes was enough for now. But his stoicism shattered completely upon seeing the tears still shimmering in Madeline’s wide corn-flower eyes.

Without a moment’s hesitation Eric strode to where Maddie sat, pulled her to her feet, and wrapped her in his strong arms. He whispered to her softly, cradling her to his chest as he ran a hand through her hair soothingly, and she allowed herself to finally give way to the barrage of tears that had been choking her for so long. She convulsed with the force of her grief as the terror, disgust, and disbelief flooded over her anew. In that moment, she would have surely broken were it not for Eric’s arms around her, lending her his strength.

With his back to his wife, only Amalee was witness to the anguish tearing across his handsome features. He bore the look of a brother broken by grief, but determined to be strong for his sisters. His eyes found hers and she knew he longed to pull her into the embrace as well, to wrest away her sadness and wrap her in the love they all bore one another, but understood somehow that this was not what Amalee wanted or needed just yet. But still, there was an intensity in Eric’s eyes that left Amalee certain that he would blame himself always for the hurt and damage done to his wife’s friends, to the women he considered his sisters. She shook her head almost imperceptibly. No, she thought, willing him to hear her. You protected Joona. She was yours to protect.

He closed his glassy sea-blue eyes and took a deep, steadying breath. His hand still stroked Maddie’s golden hair soothingly, and when he again opened his eyes, he appeared calmer, more in charge of his turbulent emotions. Amalee hoped he somehow understood her. She would not have his soul scarred by this tragic turn of events.

“I just,” Maddie sniffled, feeling truly safe for the first time in so many months. “I could not…”

“Ah Love, I know. I know,” Eric murmured, shifting so that he could see his wife’s face. He motioned towards the floor above them and Joona nodded with a loving smile. “You are exhausted Madeline, you should rest awhile. I’ve a room with a delightful view of the ships,” he said, leading her from the sitting room towards a long, elegant staircase. Amalee watched them depart, Maddie’s soft form supported by Eric’s resilient one, and wished her friend a restful, undreaming sleep.

The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Nine

*St. Clare Manor* Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artists.

*St. Clare Manor*
Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artists.

The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Nine

The room fell silent for a moment as each woman struggled with her own heartbreak. Seeing Joona’s swollen stomach unleashed a torrent of fresh hatred in Amalee’s heart for the monster she had wed. If not for Derek’s brutal lusts, she too would be carrying her first child by now. He had stolen much from her in the months since their wedding, but sitting in this quiet from with her friends so near, Amalee felt the depth of the injustice anew. But as powerful as her hate was, it was tinged with a strange sort of relief as well. With no child, there was nothing linking her to Derek but a name, unpleasant perhaps but remedied easily enough with a lie. Perhaps it was best the only thing she took from her marriage was herself. Thinking back to the wrenching fear and perils of just the last few days of flight, she blanched whiter than snow. Escaping with a child, even one unborn would have been nearly impossible, she may not have made it — though she would have perished trying, to save the child if not herself.

With a war of emotions blazing across her face, she looked up to find Joona’s sharp green gaze upon her, taking in her tattered, dirt-streaked appearance with a calm that only St. Clare possessed among them. Amalee flushed a heated scarlet to be seen in such a disgraceful manner in her friend’s elegant home, but there was no judgment in Joona’s gaze, only love, and a readiness to do what must be done. It was when her eyes moved to Maddie that Amalee saw them widen with suppressed tears.

Oh Maddie…my poor Maddie.

Cursing herself as a fool for thinking only of her own woes, she turned and felt her heart splinter at the sight of such longing and grief as was etched into Maddie’s lovely face.  If ever a woman deserved a child to love and raise in happiness, it was Madeline…fate had been cruel indeed to take this possibility from her.

As one, Amalee and Joona silently rose and went and knelt by their friend, wrapping her into a tight embrace that spoke of more love than words could ever hope to.  For several long minutes the three women held one another safe, Joona with the fierceness of a fledgling mother, Madeline with the tender hope of an innocent soul, and Amalee with the raw determination of a survivor.

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

Are you new to the Ratha James story or just feel like you need a refresher to catch back up, just click here and read to your heart’s content my lovelies 😀

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

As your very own proud Irish lass, I’m wishing you all a happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day my lovelies!!!

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To The Artist.

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To The Artist.

And just for fun, here’s some of my favorite Ireland themed posts from the Moonstonemaiden vault:

Daydreaming of Ireland…And Warmer Weather!

Brighid: The White Maiden

Sea Salt

The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Four

The Adventures of Ratha James Part Eight

Image From Google.

Image From Google.

The Adventures of Ratha James Part Eight

It was that day that two of the Irish brides escaped their husbands and fled to the only place they could think of: St. Clare manor. Each had been there a handful of times in their youth and knew that it was close to the sea, some miles from London. Convinced that their third friend must have been treated as badly as they, Maddie and Amalee forced themselves to keep going when their tired bodies wanted to stop, to rest. It took two days to reach the manor, and each girl knew the horror that could be inflicted in just two days, and prayed that they were not too late. It was to their great surprise when, in the pitch blackness they found their way to the manor door and discovered that the lady of the house was in and doing well. Being filthy and strangers, the friends were left to wait outside until Joona came to the door to inspect the two travelers who pleaded an audience with her.

Upon discovering her friends, Joona threw wide the door and pulled them into a private sitting room where Amalee and Madeline rushed to tell their stories and to plead for their friend to join them in escaping their English husbands. It was not until Amalee had finished outlining her idea of stealing inside a ship dressed as men that she noticed her friend’s swelling stomach and the smooth paleness of Joona’s face, unmarred by bruises or hidden beneath powder. She reached a hesitant hand out to settle atop the firm swell and was surprised to feel the strong kick of a baby settling inside its mother.

“You have done what we could not,” she whispered reverently, thinking that she too should be this swollen and would be if not for Derek’s temper.

 

The Adventures of Ratha James Part Seven

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

Image From Google. All Rights Belong To Artist.

The Adventures of Ratha James Part Seven

When a breathless, ragged Amalee had arrived on Maddie’s doorstep she was nearly dismissed without seeing her friend, but luckily Madeline had heard her friend’s voice and had flung herself down the staircase to the foyer. The doorman was dismissed and both women stared at each other silently, taking in the other’s bruised face and wasted form. Neither girl moved, far too close to tears to risk movement. Amalee was the first to recover. “We have to leave.”

Embarrassment clouded Madeline’s beautiful face, “I am not fit to leave this house, I am disgraced beyond forgiveness or repair.” Her voice broke with tears and Amalee strode to her friend and threw her stinging arms around Maddie’s shoulders.

“No,” she whispered fiercely. “It is not us, but them. We have to leave Maddie, now before we are discovered. We’ll find St. Clare and run, they’ll never find us! We’ll go back to Ireland, or the America’s, somewhere where they can’t find us amid the hordes.”

“I’m watched constantly Amalee. I am not to leave without my lord’s permission and he is gone to call upon a friend but I expect them back in an hour at the most. An hour, that’s not long at all. We could never be clear of him in an hour. If I left now, one of the servants would alert him within minutes.”

“Then we’ll only have minutes. Would you rather stay here and be battered or at least try. You have to try Maddie, I can’t do this without you, I could never leave you here. Please, come with me, please, let us leave.”

Madeline stared at her friend’s battered face, whatever horrors, she had faced paled in comparison to Amalee’s and yet Amalee still chose to fight back. How could she let her friend down when her own spirit longed to be free of the pain that had been inflicted upon her by her husband? “Go now,” she said severely, as if dismissing someone beneath her station. Amalee frowned but Maddie lowered her voice so that only her friend could hear, “I will meet you at the corner in five minutes but first I have to do something.”

“You promise?” Amalee urged.

“I promise.”