When Luke Templeton agrees to marry Kendall and claim his brother's child as his own, he has no intention of falling in love. Of course, he doesn't bargain on his uncontrollable attraction to Kendall or his inability to remain indifferent to her tiny son.
As Kendall hurtles headlong into danger, Luke has no choice but to follow, intent on saving her regardless of the sacrifices he must make.
|Publisher:||The Wild Rose Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.58(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Kendall shifted uncomfortably on the hard wooden chair. The aches and pains associated with giving birth a little over two weeks ago made it almost impossible to get comfortable anywhere, much less on a chair at least two inches narrower than her hips. The sudden fullness of her breasts made her acutely aware of the time, and she glanced at the baby in the basket at her feet. Any minute now, his eyes would pop open and he would begin to cry. Like clockwork, her milk and his hunger came every two hours. When she left home at one o'clock, she planned to be back long before his next feeding, her teaching schedule for the year in hand. Instead, the receptionist had asked her to wait before finally leading her into the conference room where the board of directors held their monthly meetings. Today the room was empty except for Kendall, her child, and the two men seated behind the long, high tables.
"Miss James." Superintendent Daniels' normally warm voice was cool with what she recognized as condescension.
"Mrs. Templeton," she corrected as she ceased her wriggling and prayed for the baby to sleep just a few more minutes.
"Miss James," he repeated impatiently, "we have called you here today to discuss your request for a position in the coming term."
Choosing to ignore his blatant refusal to use her married name, she pasted a smile on her face as she met his eyes. In the five years since she met him, she'd witnessed Edward Daniels stare down many people, students and adults alike. His pale blue eyes remained impassive even as he seemed to read their minds, delving into the darkest secrets they harbored. Although she found it intimidating, Kendall refused to look away. Let him read her mind. There weren't any secrets.
"We have thoroughly reviewed your request to teach at Chadsworth in the coming year. Unfortunately, we do not have any positions open at this time."
Her stomach dropped at his words, and she stared at him in surprise. Her eyes flew to Frank Howard, the principal and one of her closest friends. His kind blue gaze met hers briefly before he looked away from her silent plea.
"But I spoke to Ellen McDougal last week, and she said several teachers were leaving this year. I can teach anything." She hated the pleading note in her voice, but she desperately needed this job.
"Miss McDougal spoke out of turn, Miss James. She has no business telling anyone whether there are positions open at this school or not." Superintendent Daniels straightened the papers in front of him and stood up.
"Thank you for your time, Miss James," he said dismissively.
Fear clawed at her chest, and she placed a hand there as if she could stop the frantic pounding of her heart.
"Superintendent Daniels, please," she cried.
He turned toward her, pinning her with a cold stare.
"Miss James, it is my job to make sure Chadsworth lives up to its impeccable reputation. In order to maintain that reputation, our teachers' lives need to be open books, above reproach. When we agreed to hire you several years ago, we overlooked your lack of breeding and appropriate history because of your association with Mr. Howard. You were an exemplary teacher, and we were quite pleased to have you. Now, however, your circumstances have changed, and there are several members of the board who think we would be doing the school and our students a grave disservice by allowing you to return. When we received your request, the board unanimously voted against it. Absolutely nothing you say will change that decision."
She remained seated as he exited the room.
"Come on, Ken," Frank said. "Let me walk you out."
"I don't understand," she told him as she picked the basket up and let him lead her out of the building.
Once they reached the cobblestone walkway that circled a large fountain before branching out to the educational buildings and dormitories, Frank stopped and turned toward her.
"Kendall, you're a woman alone with a baby. They don't think it's proper."
"I'm married, Frank."
He rubbed a hand over his prematurely bald head. She had met Frank after her mother's death, when he appeared on Mary Christopher's doorstep to retrieve her on behalf of the Christian Children's Society. After all these years, she recognized his nervousness.
"I'm married," she repeated.
"I know that, but they don't," Frank said. "You've spent your entire pregnancy alone. I believe you because I know you, Kendall. But anyone can buy a ring and say they're married. You wouldn't be the first girl to try it."
"Several of the board members took it upon themselves to look into the county records for your marriage certificate. I don't know whether they did it to prove you were married or to prove you weren't. They felt I was too personally involved to be objective, so they held the board meetings regarding your employment without me." He placed a hand on her shoulder and looked at her sadly. "There isn't a marriage certificate, Kendall."
She swatted his hand away impatiently. "That's ridiculous, Frank. I'm married, and you know it."
"Where is your husband, Kendall?" he asked. "He's been gone for months. He's been gone longer than he stuck around after your marriage. Longer than you knew him before you married him."
His voice softened. "You know I would help if I could, but my hands are tied. I can't go over their heads. I can't afford to lose my job."
What about me? I've lost it all, she wanted to scream. Instead, she nodded her head in feigned understanding and murmured an assurance.
Sunlight glittered on the water in the fountain's pool, and she thought of the countless girls who had sat on its edge, tossing in coins and making wishes. Over the years, she'd heard numerous claims of the fountain's mystical powers. Of course, she dismissed each and every one of them. Yet, when her own wishes seemed to come true, she was almost tempted to believe. She shook her head ruefully. Shouldn't she have learned long ago that a woman couldn't wish her way to happiness?
A bell announced the change of class and she forced her attention back to Frank.
"You're a wonderful teacher, and I would have been happy to take you back. I just can't do it." He pulled a paper from his coat pocket. "I wrote you a very good reference, and you can always have prospective employers contact me here at the school. I'll put in a good word for you. You should have another position in no time. Take care, Kendall."
Chattering school girls spilled from the buildings, and he gave her a quick fatherly peck on the cheek before hurrying back inside.
Aware of the curious glances from colleagues watching the students' progress from their doorways, Kendall practically ran down the path toward the parking area beyond the school grounds. Several students called out greetings to her as she pushed past them. Although she managed to return their greetings in a surprisingly normal voice, she never stopped moving, and made it to the edge of the cobblestones just as the tardy bell sounded behind her. With a cry of despair, she sank to the dusty ground of the parking lot, her legs no longer able to support her.
She buried her face in her hands, hearing Frank's words. Where is your husband, Kendall? Why isn't he here?
If only she knew the answers to those questions, her problems would be solved. She hadn't heard from him at all in six months and hadn't seen him in even longer. She didn't blame people for questioning his existence; sometimes she almost believed she imagined him.
The baby began to fuss, reminding her that somewhere out there she had a real flesh-and-blood husband.
Two weeks later, Kendall left the house she and Adam had rented after their marriage. She left the homemade kitchen curtains, the secondhand furniture, and the few whatnots she owned in their places and walked out. She placed the keys in the hand of the waiting sheriff's deputy. Then, with baby basket and suitcase in hand, she walked through the gate in the white picket fence for the last time. She forced herself to hold her head high, though she wanted to fall to her knees and beg for mercy. She knew as well as anyone that it wouldn't work. The landlord had done all he could to let her stay until after the baby was born, but times were hard for everyone, and he couldn't allow her to live there indefinitely without paying. Last month he had told her she needed to find another place to live.
After her meeting at Chadsworth, she desperately sought a job, but to no avail. The public school system didn't have any openings, at least not for a woman with a baby but no husband in sight. There were precious few jobs available anywhere, and in the long lines of applicants the mother of an infant held little attraction to any employer.
With nowhere else to go, she spent her last few dollars on a small hotel room near the bus station. She lay wide awake in bed, the baby close to her side as she planned her next move. She had no family, no friends, no past she cared to revisit, and no future beyond the one she'd planned to spend with Adam. There was nothing to hold her here, especially when all she dreamed of was somewhere else. Why would she stay? She came up with no good answer to the question. Why would she go? Adam. Love. Brady. She looked down at her son, and a small sigh escaped her. She wanted Brady to have a father, and she knew Adam well enough to know he wanted his son. No matter what, he would want to know his child. And hopefully, when he saw her again, he would know he wanted her, too.
Dawn was just breaking when Kendall slipped from the room and made her way to the nearest pawn shop. Her wedding ring was just a simple gold band, but the owner gave her enough money to purchase a one-way bus ticket. She suspected he knew he would never get his money out of the ring, but she was beyond pride at the moment, so she accepted his charity and took what he offered.
An hour later, she climbed onto the waiting bus and headed for the town postmarked on her husband's last letter.
As the sun began to sink into the horizon, she leaned her head wearily against the bus window, wrapping her arms around her waist in a halfhearted attempt to ward off the unseasonable chill seeping through her thin cotton dress. She knew the coolness should be a welcome sign that the long hot summer was coming to an end. Instead, it served as a frightening reminder that winter loomed before her while she had no place to call home.
The last vestiges of hope ravaged her heart on a daily basis. Even now, as she reached into her purse and drew out the single piece of worn paper and crumpled envelope, she prayed Adam was alive. She didn't want him dead, no matter if he chose a life without her. In her battered heart beat the faint hope that she would find him alive and well, with a logical reason for not coming back to her. In the rational part of her mind, however, she knew that hope ultimately led to a broken heart. That part of her mind said not to waste her time or energy on idle dreams and hopes for a happy ending. A woman must make her own ending, be it happy or sad.
The letter she unfolded and reread was different from his others. Each week for two months she had received a letter assuring her that his business ventures in Larrimore were going well and he would send for her as soon as he secured a place for them to live. Each of his letters contained a few dollars to see her through to the next week. Luckily, she had saved a portion of the money each week. Otherwise, she would have been on the street long before now.
Nearly three months after Adam left, the doctor confirmed her pregnancy. Longing to see his face when she told him the news, she wrote him, begging him to come home for a few days.
His reply was the last letter she ever received from him:
I miss you horribly. Things have taken a turn for the worse here. I don't know when I'll see you again. It may be a month. It may be longer. I may have to leave here. It's all very uncertain, but I will write you again as soon as I can. For now, know that I love you, and remember me kindly.
Certain he was in some sort of trouble, she wrote him back, this time telling him about the baby and promising that everything would be fine if he would just come home, but he never answered that letter at all. She wrote him a dozen more times but never received a reply.
She didn't know what to expect when she reached her destination. She wasn't even sure she would find Adam there. She could only pray she found the answers to her questions. In her darkest moments, she imagined standing at his gravesite, finally knowing why he had stopped answering her letters.
She could still hear his voice as clear as a bell, and the feel of his arms around her was a vivid memory she longed to forget during the endless lonely nights since he left. His face, however, came in fleeting little wisps. For a moment, she clearly recalled his features: the light, teasing eyes, the mouth that smiled so easily, the dark curling hair. She clung to the memory before it disappeared once again, like breath on a windowpane.
Beside her, the baby stretched and whimpered, and she pushed away the dark thoughts of Adam and turned to their son.
"Hi, Pumpkin," she cooed as she ran a finger gently around his face. "Are you hungry?"
He turned his head toward her finger, his tiny mouth open wide. When she pulled her finger away, he flailed his arms angrily and began to cry in earnest. With swift but gentle efficiency, she lifted him from his basket, placed a blanket over her shoulder, and opened her blouse. She smiled indulgently at the quiet piggy noises he made while he nursed.
She leaned back in the seat, welcoming the peacefulness that nursing Brady brought to her. It still surprised her that motherhood made her feel so complete. Her own mother had never seemed completed by it. Twelve years after her suicide, Lydia James remained an enigma to her daughter. As a child, Kendall had tried to solve the mystery of her mother's perpetual misery. She asked endless questions her mother refused to answer and, more often than not, after she peppered her mother with questions Kendall heard her crying in the night. Finally, she realized the questions were never going to be answered and, not wanting to cause her mother such pain, she quit asking them and came to her own conclusions about her mother's sad existence.
Through the years, she'd vowed to do everything differently and never make the same mistakes her mother made. Yet, here she was, alone with a newborn baby, barely a penny to her name, and no prospects of a brighter future.
Like mother, like daughter.
Just as the baby drifted off to sleep, a few pitiful lights came into view ahead. Despite the burned-out bulbs in the signs, Kendall saw they announced the bus station, a hotel, and several bars disguised as restaurants along the waterfront. With a sinking heart, she placed Brady back in his basket and waited for the bus to come to a full stop before she stood. She grimaced a bit at the twinges of pain. Unsure if she could face what waited for her here in this sad little town, she was tempted to sink back to her seat and let the bus take her wherever it went next.
"Daddy!" a small voice cried from outside the bus window, and Kendall watched a soldier disembark from the bus and gather a tiny boy in his arms. With the other arm, he pulled a woman close.
Kendall straightened resolutely, lifted the basket, and moved out of her seat. Resolve strengthened her backbone as she slipped past the small family and walked toward the information booth of the bus station.
Soon, Brady would learn to talk, and she wanted him to be able to say "daddy" and have someone answer.
The man behind the counter of the information booth peered through his thick glasses at her.
"Can I help you, ma'am?" he asked, his eyes darting to the baby and back to her face several times.
"Could you tell me how to get to Hammond Street, please?"
"Hammond Street?" he repeated, puzzlement wrinkling his pudgy brow as he pushed the glasses farther back on his nose. "Who are you looking for?"
Kendall couldn't imagine what business that was of his, but before she could say so, he quickly offered an explanation.
"The roads around here might have proper names, but most of us just know them by who lives there. If you want directions on how to get to someone's house, you'll have to tell me who it is you're looking for."
"Oh," she said, looking around at the narrow street dotted with ramshackle buildings. "To be honest, I don't know where I'm trying to go. My husband is in town, um, he was in town, but I don't know if he still is. I was hoping to find him here, or at least find out where he was headed."
Excerpted from "Sweet Sacrifices"
Copyright © 2010 Gloria Davidson Marlow.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.