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No Man's Bride
By Shana Galen
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Shana Galen
All right reserved.
"Daddy, please. Please." Catie pounded her small, aching fist against the walls of her prison under the stairs. She barely rattled the door. She'd been locked in the tiny closet for hours, and all the crying had rendered her weak and pitiful.
She was pitiful.
Just like her daddy said she was.
"Please," she cried again, but no one came. No one ever came when she cried. No one cared.
She pulled her knees to her chest, trying to make herself small, trying to give the mice and rats as much room as possible. She was ten. She shouldn't be scared. Her mamma was always telling her to act like a big girl. But as her tears wet and chilled her knees, she shivered.
Please, God. Please.
Catie heard a creak and opened her eyes. Was it her imagination or was--
"Catie? Are you in there?"
It was her cousin Josephine Hale. Catie would know Josie's voice anywhere. And though it was dark, she could see Josie in her mind. Josie was tall for her eight years and skinny, with a shock of short red hair and freckles. She was probably wearing her eye patch. Josie's sight was perfect, but she was going to be a pirate one day.
"Catie? Where are you?"
"I'm here," she croaked. Behind Josie, their cousin Ashley Brittany held up a lone white candle. The red flamedanced in the drafty house. Ashley was also eight and the most beautiful girl Catie knew--and not just because Ashley was here to save her. With her long hair of spun gold, her huge green eyes, and her porcelain skin and Cupid's bow mouth, Ashley was as beautiful as the picture of the goddess Athena in the schoolbook Catie had once seen.
Like Athena, Ashley was a warrior. "We've come to save you," Ashley told her now.
Josie reached out to Catie, and Catie jumped into her arms and hugged her tight. "How did you know how to find me?"
"Your sister was making fun of your crying at church this morning," Ashley said. "We figured out what happened and came as soon as we could. I'm sorry we couldn't come earlier."
Catie swallowed. It was Sunday evening? She'd been locked under the stairs for almost two days.
"Maddie's waiting outside," Josie told her.
Maddie was Madeleine Fullbright, another of Catie's cousins and the fourth in their circle. Maddie was eight, almost nine. Nearest in age to Catie, Maddie also resembled Catie the most closely. Both had long dark hair and olive skin, though Maddie had huge blue eyes whereas Catie's were plain muddy brown.
"Let's go," Josie said.
Catie paused for only a moment. Her daddy would be very angry if he found her missing. He might even hit her, like he sometimes did when she made him very angry. But Catie could not go back in the closet. Anything but that. "Yes, let's go."
With Josie behind her, Catie followed Ashley and her candle until they turned the knob of the door to the dining room.
"We'll go out the window," Josie whispered. "Maddie will help us down."
They opened the door, stepped inside the dining room, and Lizzy jumped out from behind a chair and into their path. "Where do you think you're going?" She was only seven, but already Catie's sister was a miniature version of their father. Lizzy put her hands on her hips and stood with legs braced apart as he did. It would have been comical, a little blond child with an angel's face standing in the center of the room, making demands of three girls all bigger and older. Instead, Catie felt fear shoot through her like a thousand tiny pins falling onto her body.
"Lizzy, what are you doing in here? Go back to bed," Catie whispered.
"No." She shook her head and pointed at the doorway. "You better get back in that closet Catherine Anne. Go back now, or I'll tell Daddy."
Catie knew she'd do it too. Not only was Lizzy mean and spiteful, she was their daddy's favorite. And she intended to keep that favored status. "No, Lizzy, please," Catie begged.
Lizzy took a step forward. "My name is Elizabeth."
"Yes, I'm sorry, I forgot," Catie said quickly. "Please go back to bed."
The blond angel scowled at her. "Say it. Say Elizabeth."
"Elizabeth," Catie whispered. "Don't tell Daddy."
Elizabeth smiled. "Say, please."
Lizzy appeared to think about her options for a moment, then shook her head. "No. I'm going to tell. Daddy said I could decide when you could come out. I didn't say you could come out yet."
"Little brat," Josie hissed. "Let me get my hands on you."
Catie jumped in front of Josie. "No! She'll scream and wake my daddy."
"That's right." Lizzy stuck out her lip and crossed her arms. "Get back in that closet, or I'm going to tell."
While Lizzy made her demands and stomped her small feet, Ashley moved stealthily behind Lizzy. Ashley chose that moment to grab Lizzy around the throat, clamping her hand over Lizzy's mouth. Sometimes Catie wished she had older brothers to teach her these things.
"Now, you listen to me, Lizzy," Ashley hissed, holding Lizzy tight. "You aren't going to tell anyone about tonight. You hear me? If your daddy wakes up, you are going to tell him that you let Catherine out."
Lizzy shook her head and struggled to free herself from Ashley's iron hold.
"You'll do what I say," Ashley ordered. "If you don't, you better not ever sleep again because I'll come in the middle of the night and get you!" With a shove, she released Lizzy and pushed her to the floor. Then Ashley bent over her so that her long blond hair tangled with Lizzy's until the two heads were almost indistinguishable. "Now go to bed."
Catie watched as Lizzy jumped up and scampered away. She prayed Ashley's threats had worked. If not, her daddy was going to be very, very mad.
Excerpted from No Man's Bride by Shana Galen Copyright © 2006 by Shana Galen. Excerpted by permission.
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