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<strong>Late spring, Tombstone, Arizona Territory, 1880</strong>
"Where is she?" Beatrice demanded in a resolute voice as her gaze slid from the dirty, pink carpet bag on the floor next to the bed to the face of her husband of eight years. She recognised the anger in his eyes and nearly recoiled. He never appreciated it when she pointed out his faults-in fact, it was times such as these when he chose to teach his disrespectful wife a harsh lesson with the back of his hand, as his self-justified Christian duty dictated-but never in view of another living soul. Regardless of the consequences, Beatrice would stand her ground this time. The ugly little carpet bag may as well come to life and announce to the world that her spouse had brought a whore into their home.
She watched as his fists clenched and unclenched at his sides. Almost imperceptibly, his eyes darted to the armoire then back to her face.
"You are supposed to be at church." Failing to sound casual he added in a panic, "I've done nothing wrong!"
"Truly?" she turned to the pine wardrobe and shouted at the closed doors, "If everyone in this room is so innocent, then why the need to hide?" A flash of hope that she was indeed mistaken shot through her mind. If a scandal such as this escaped the walls of their humble cottage, it would topple the very foundation of the church where her husband, Pastor Lindley Gaitland, preached.
"Cease, Beatrice," he warned, his tone hinting at the violence that lined his skin like an expensive, well-tailored suit. "Go and wait in the parlour."
Lindley's dismissal of her only proved his guilt. Beatrice's belly trembled with her indignation. She turned back to her husband. "How dare you defile our bed with some strumpet." she whispered unevenly, unable to draw enough air into her lungs to speak with the fury she felt.
"I said, into the parlour," he growled and drew back his hand.
She blinked, fully expecting to feel his fist across her face. Of course, were she to confront him with his actions at a later time, he would most likely make up some feeble excuse such as he'd only meant to assist her to the next room. Hindsight had told her years ago that she'd made her bed when she'd married a self-righteous, judgemental, delusional snake in the grass. And to the list she could now add 'cheating'.
At that very moment, their attention transferred to the doors to the armoire as they flew open and a naked, hefty, blonde woman spilled onto the floor.
Beatrice's modest sensibilities, which were not only ingrained into her by her East Coast society upbringing, but also demanded by her position as a minister's wife, caused her to turn away. She glanced up at Lindley who looked as if he were in pain. She imagined he must be, having his sin exposed in such a way.
Like a blow to her stomach, a realisation hit her. His humiliation infected her as if it were a germ they exchanged between one another. Angry, hurt and defeated, she escaped the oppressive room, retiring to the parlour as her husband had commanded.
Not long after Beatrice had shakily lowered herself to their shabby settee, the blonde woman, holding the sparse, dingy trappings of a typical mining camp whore against her body, ran from the bedroom to flee the cottage via the front door.
Anticipating her husband's wrath, she waited a full hour before venturing into the bedroom to receive her punishment. When she did, she found Lindley sprawled, belly up, on the floor at the foot of the bed, his face displaying a deathly pallor.
She ran to fetch Doctor Matthews.
Beatrice gasped as she sat up in bed, having been plucked from a recurring dream. The flash of lightning through the window lent the room a blue glow, but then faded to black just as quickly. The wrath-filled thunder rolled over her roof. Her late husband had been dead six months to the day, but her nightmares of that fateful evening had not let her be since the funeral. She'd often thought it might have been Lindley coming back to haunt her.
Hanging her feet over the side of the bed, she placed her toes on the cool, wooden floor and tiptoed over to the window. Another flash illuminated her face's reflection in the glass. "So much lightning, never the perfect amount of rain," she murmured to an empty room.
She pressed her forehead against the windowsill and thought of the poor miners having to endure the electrical storm from inside their flimsy tents. She shivered.
Turning from the window, she climbed back into bed. She could have used a warm body to curl up with on nights like this. A dog would have done just fine, but she couldn't afford a pet. And, besides, the breeds she'd grown up with at home in Rhode Island were not available out here, in the untamed West.
A growling stomach reminded her she'd eaten only one meal earlier that day. It had been given to her by one of Lindley's church members. Regular congregational offerings had stopped several weeks ago. She couldn't expect them to take care of her forever. In the interim, she'd been awaiting a second letter from the bank, informing her of when the small amount of money she'd originally been allowed would become unfrozen. If her late husband hadn't left every last thing they'd owned to his younger brother, she wouldn't be in this predicament.
Perhaps tomorrow she would go into town and ask for credit at the general store. Although she had refrained from doing so before, this last resort had now become essential. She knew without a doubt that Mr McElroy, the owner, would appreciate her plight and lend his assistance.
Her plans to fall back asleep until dawn were fraught with folly. It was likely she'd toss and turn fitfully for the remainder of the night.</block>