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The Redemption of Micah
By BETH WILLIAMSON
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Beth Williamson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAugust 1875, Plum Creek, Colorado
The shovel dug deep into the loamy soil as Micah did his best to fix the mess left by the stupid dog. He shouldn't have kept it in the first place, but the damn puppy had been happily living in the carriage house before he even knew about it. Damn that Candice, anyway; she shouldn't have brought it.
Apparently he couldn't say no anymore.
The breeze cooled his face and for just a moment or two, Micah simply concentrated on his task while the buzz of bees on the flowers surrounded him. He hadn't worked with his hands much growing up. The only things they ever touched were food, women and his horse's reins. God, how things had changed since he'd been a young fool, eager to fight in a war they were supposed to win in six months.
"Good evening." Candice, Plum Creek's shopkeeper and Micah's self-appointed guardian, arrived every weekday afternoon at five to help with supper and anything else that needed doing. She was a forty-something spinster who had shown nothing but kindness, except of course for the puppy incident.
"Evenin', Candice." He spotted the basket under her arm. "Don't tell me you brought another pie."
"Okay, I won't tell you." She looked up at the house. "Any change?"
Micahclosed his eyes for a moment and pictured Eppie as she lay on the bed upstairs. He hadn't given up hope, not completely, anyway, but each day grew harder and he often considered what his life would have been like if Eppie had died after being shot, or after she'd gone into labor. A maudlin thought, but Micah never considered himself to be a good person. Taking care of the woman he loved while she slowly wasted away was the hardest thing he'd ever done, and that was saying a lot.
If anything ever did happen, Candice should know he would have been shouting or screaming, yet she asked every day like clockwork. He wanted to tell her to stop asking, but didn't know how without hurting her feelings, and he'd done enough of hurting others for two lifetimes.
"No change, other than the damn dog digging holes again." He kicked at a clump of dirt. "Stupid mutt thinks she's part groundhog."
Candice sat on the steps and shook her head. "She's a bit feisty, I'll admit."
Micah snorted. "Feisty isn't the word and you know it. She's taken over the house like some kind of canine queen."
"Oh, admit it, you like Daisy." Candice raised her eyebrows at him expectantly.
"I'm not admitting anything." Truth was, Micah liked the dog's spirit, but that didn't mean he actually liked the dog.
"Hmph, I don't think you need to." With a tinkling laugh, the redhead stood and walked toward the front door. "I'll fetch you when supper's almost ready."
A black-hearted soul such as Micah never wanted to be beholden to anyone for anything, yet here he was, each day digging himself a little deeper into a hole. If Madeline were there instead of in Denver, she'd likely smack him upside the head and tell him to snap out of it. Fortunately or not, she wasn't there and he continued to wallow in his self-pity.
"Daddy, pick flowers for Mama?"
Micah glanced up to see his daughter, Miracle, standing in the flower bed surrounded by blossoms, with a big grin on her beautiful face. His dark thoughts blew away on the wind. She knew she wasn't supposed to be in there, but the girl loved the feel of the petals on her bare legs. Even her dresses were always in the bright colors of the blossoms that surrounded the house. She couldn't know her mother used to dress the same way, always brighter than anything around her.
"I did it this morning, but if you don't stop walking in those, there won't be any left to pick." He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his handkerchief. "And if Daisy doesn't stop digging in the flower beds, we're going to have to tie her up."
Miracle had been blessed with wavy dark brown hair, her mother's chocolate brown eyes, and the most gorgeous light cocoa skin. The mixture of her two parents gave Miracle an exotic look that made most folks look at her twice. Micah wasn't boastful when he said his daughter was perfect-she was.
Miracle pooched out her lip. "Daisy's a good dog."
He turned to the flowers again, unwilling to get sucked into his daughter's trap to save her dog from a leash. "Yes, she's a good dog." A blatant lie-she was the spawn of the devil as far as Micah was concerned. "But puppies need to behave, honey. She's not going to learn if we don't teach her."
When he glanced up again, Miracle's little body was just disappearing around the back of the house. No doubt to go whisper into the yellow dog's ear about how much trouble she caused.
Being a father had taught Micah a great deal of humility, but he was still working on patience. Although she'd never heard her mother speak, Miracle already had the sassy, bossy quality that always popped out of Eppie's mouth.
"That child needs two proper parents." The Reverend Mathias's voice cut through Micah's peaceful moment like a sickle. The pompous windbag made it his duty to preach to everyone about their sins, shortcomings, and how readily they were headed to hell.
Micah almost snorted at the thought. He'd been in hell for more than ten years. The older man had no idea how much a human being could endure on Earth. Enough so that Micah didn't even think about the hereafter.
"She has two parents." Micah slammed the shovel into the dirt, unwilling to get into another shouting match with the minister. "What do you want?"
"Tomorrow is Sunday. I wanted to come by and personally invite you to services tomorrow." The man bobbed his white-topped head and latched his hands across the burgeoning belly above his belt.
Micah's hand tightened on the shovel. He'd accepted the invitation once. Just once. He'd never do it again. The women in town had treated his daughter as if she had a disease that was catching. No way in hell he'd subject Miracle to it again.
"Until your congregation treats my daughter as a human being, there's no chance in hell we'll come to services." Micah went back to his chores, pointedly ignoring the minister and his judgmental gaze.
"Mark my words, boy, you'll be looking for a Savior and he won't be there when you need him." With that, the man walked away, thankfully leaving Micah in peace.
Two hours later, Micah sat in the parlor and listened to the sounds from the bathing room upstairs. Miracle was singing at the top of her lungs while Candice hummed along. There were splashing, giggles and fun going on, yet he didn't join them. He couldn't.
He ran his hands down his face and looked around at the opulent furniture left behind when Madeline moved to Denver. The room reminded him of his mother's house and how they'd lived their lives in oblivious ignorance, taking whatever they wanted without ever giving back.
Perhaps having Eppie but losing her inch by inch was his penance for such a childhood. Or perhaps it was punishment for his other multitudinous sins. No matter, it was his life and he'd come to accept it, but he couldn't enjoy it. Miracle was everything sweet and good in his life, and he treasured her beyond words. Just thinking about her soft hugs made his throat tighten.
God, he loved that little girl more than life.
With a sigh, he stood and headed toward the stairs. Each night he sat with Miracle as she visited her Mama before bed. Her childish voice would detail every second of her day to an unresponsive Eppie. One day, perhaps, it would be more than a one-sided conversation.
Micah knew exactly how many breaths Eppie took each hour. He watched the rise and fall of her chest, waiting and hoping. The hell of it was, he wasn't sure what he was hoping for. Micah wasn't ready to let her go, but seeing her trapped between two worlds was killing him. He missed her, he loved her, and dammit all, he wanted to see her open her eyes again.
It had been a true-blue miracle the baby survived the trauma to its mother's body; even more amazing was that the child was born healthy and perfect. When she was pregnant, watching Eppie had become a habit because he could watch his child. Their child. The baby made from a love that shouldn't be, but was. Miracle had been active, sometimes for hours at a time. During that six-month period, Micah never got tired of sitting by Eppie's bedside and watching, placing his hand on her belly, telling them both he loved them.
Micah wanted so many things, but what burned down deep in his gut was the fact he wanted to convince Eppie to marry him and he wanted to tell her he loved her. He'd been hesitant of revealing his feelings before, afraid of being rejected, of losing what he could have.
Regret was something he knew well, ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. It brought him nothing but misery, yet it was still his constant companion.
He entered Eppie's bedroom and was immediately awash in her scent, that unique smell that always made his heart beat faster. A gas lamp burned on the side table, bathing her in a golden glow. Just being in the room with her made him feel better.
She still looked beautiful, even if she'd survived for nearly three years on broth, milk and water. Micah knew every inch of her body from the adorably crooked little toe to the sweet spot behind her right ear. He ran his fingers down her cocoa-colored cheek, the skin as smooth as her daughter's.
"Hey there, Eppie girl." He sat down in his usual chair and put her hand in his. Squeezing the limp fingers, he started talking of Daisy and Miracle's antics. "That crazy dog actually came back and started digging when I was fixing the damn hole. Miracle wasn't happy about tying her up, but she did it anyway. She's a good girl."
"Who's a good girl?"
Eppie's voice, long since unheard, made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
"Jesus Christ." He jumped out of the chair, knocking it backwards a good three feet. Micah looked down into the eyes of the woman who held his heart. "Eppie?"
She blinked and glanced down at herself, then back at him. "Why am I lying in bed? Have I been ill?"
"Are you really talking to me, honey?" His heart slammed into his throat as it pounded so hard, even his bones vibrated. "Eppie, oh my God, tell me I'm not dreaming."
"I'm not sure who you are or why you're in the bedroom with me, but I'm fairly sure you shouldn't be calling me honey." Eppie cocked her head and narrowed her gaze. "Who are you?"
Chapter TwoShe had come into awareness slowly over a long period of time. The sounds and smells around her had become familiar as she surfaced from the depths of darkness. His voice had always been there, a soft gentle companion she'd come to expect and wish for.
Now she'd opened her eyes and there he was, a stranger she knew. The shock and delight in his eyes clouded with disbelief when she asked him who he was. She wanted to ask who she was, for that matter, but he looked like he'd shatter if she asked that particular question.
"I don't understand." He sat back down in the golden chair with a thump and stared at her. His silvery eyes were wide in sunken cheeks. His brown hair needed to be cut and he was thin, way too thin. She also noted his hands shook as he clasped them in front of him. "Are you saying that you don't know who I am?"
She tried to push herself up to a sitting position but found her arms didn't work well. He seemed to notice what she was doing, because he popped out of the chair and helped her. As he leaned over, his scent enveloped her and she breathed in deeply. That, too, was familiar.
"Here, let's put some pillows back here."
He was skinny but strong, pulling her forward as if she weighed no more than a feather and getting her situated on fluffy pillows. When he let her go, a small smile appeared on his face.
"I still can't believe you're awake." He ran his hands through his too-long hair and sat back down in the chair. "I've heard stories of folks not remembering things after they got hit in the head, but I never expected it to happen to you. I mean, you were shot in the shoulder."
"Shot? I was shot?" She reached up to feel both shoulders, grateful to find nothing but a cotton nightgown.
"Eppie, honey, it's been three years. The bandages are long gone."
Three years? Three years? She understood what a year was, even what being shot or a bandage was, but it seemed she didn't remember anything about herself or how she got there. Three years was such a long time. Had he taken care of her the entire time?
"Who are you?"
His smile was so sad, it could have made an angel cry. "My name is Micah Spalding. You and I, well, we fell in love four years ago. Then something got in the way and you saved my life, got shot, and you've been in that bed ever since."
A very confusing and cryptic response, to be sure. She didn't know if she believed a word of it or understood half of it, but there was definitely an earnestness in his gaze. She tried out his name on her tongue.
He nodded. "Yes, it's me. Do you remember now?"
She didn't want to disappoint him, but she wasn't going to lie, either. "No, I'm sorry, I don't, but I do know your voice."
He seemed to deflate before her eyes. "I've been talking to you since your accident. I took care of you and our da-your daily care. I guess deep inside that hole you were in, my voice must've come through."
"Yes, that's what I remember. Sounds and smells floating around me." She tried to explain more, but a pounding started in her head. "I'm afraid I don't feel very well." She put a hand to her forehead and could almost feel the pulsing behind the skin.
"Then I think you should sleep." He started toward the night table to turn down the lamp when the door burst open and a little girl came rushing in.
She had hair like Micah, long wavy brown locks that looked towel dried. Her skin was a beautiful creamy tan color with a slight rosy tinge as if she'd been in the bath. Her little nightgown was white with small pink flowers along the collar. When she caught sight of what was going on, she stopped in her tracks, bare feet squeaking on the floor.
"Daddy?" She glanced up at Micah, uncertainty and downright fear on her face. "Is Mama 'wake?"
Eppie's stomach flip-flopped inside her as she realized the little girl was talking about her. The girl didn't look even remotely familiar, but again her voice was. Could she have forgotten her own daughter?
The color drained from Micah's face as he looked back and forth between them. "Miracle, go to your room, honey, and I'll be there shortly."
"But Daddy." She pointed with a trembling hand. "She looked at me. Her eyes open."
The girl was probably no more than three, still struggling to put all the words together to make herself understood. Somehow after waking from a long slumber, Eppie could already do so with ease. She had trouble thinking of herself as Eppie, though, and wondered if it was a nickname.
"Miracle, go to your room now." Micah sounded like a daddy right about then, using a firm tone that signaled he meant business.
Miracle stuck out her lower lip, but she minded her daddy and stomped out of the room. A red-haired plump woman stood in the doorway, her mouth open.
"Sweet Jesus." She looked at Micah with wide blue eyes. "Is she awake?"
Micah ushered the red-haired woman out of the room. "I'll be there in a few minutes, just put Miracle to bed, please."
The little girl protested all the way down the hallway, at the top of her lungs, but she went just the same. Micah leaned against the doorway and took a deep breath before he went back into the room. As he closed the door he looked at Eppie and shook his head. His gaze roamed her up and down, sending a shiver through her. There was much more than emotion coming off him and it confused her.
"If you weren't sitting up in that bed right now I'd think the whiskey had done its job on me." He came back to the chair and sat down, taking her hand in his. "I am fairly certain you're scared right now, confused and in need of a break from the insanity of our home. Before I let you sleep, tell me if you're hungry or thirsty."
Excerpted from The Redemption of Micah by BETH WILLIAMSON Copyright © 2009 by Beth Williamson. Excerpted by permission.
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