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|Publisher:||Lyrical Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.51(d)|
Read an Excerpt
The Lady Who Lived Again
A Sole Survivor Novel
By Thomasine Rappold
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Thomasine Rappold
All rights reserved.
Misty Lake, New York, 1882
Everyone wished she had died with the others. Maddie Sutter had accepted this truth long ago. But much to the small town's dismay, she insisted on living and breathing despite it.
Straightening her shoulders, she lifted her chin against the barrage of eyes watching her every move as she forged down Main Street. After three years of suffering this unwelcome attention each time she ventured to town, one would think she'd have grown used to the assault.
Maddie had resigned herself to many things since the accident, but she'd never adapt to the dread her presence induced in those she had known all her life — those who had once loved and cared for her.
With a fortifying breath, she approached a cluster of young boys on the corner. The same wretched imps had greeted her earlier when they'd spied her arrival in downtown Misty Lake. She braced herself for a repeat performance of the cruel rhyme they'd composed in her honor.
"Four dead girls on the slab, on the twelfth day of May. On Friday the thirteenth, one girl walked away."
Refusing to alter her course, Maddie strode straight toward them. Her lungs swelled with triumph as the alarmed little brats scattered like mice. With another fractional lift of her chin, she swept onward and rounded the corner.
She entered the general mercantile, the jingling bell on the door her only greeting as she stepped inside. Along with a handful of patrons, the store housed a hodgepodge of scents. Aromas of charcoal and beeswax mingled with the sweet smell of cinnamon and apples. Renewed by the boon to her senses, she enjoyed the whiff of fond memories that came with it. She shopped quickly, spurred on by the hushed whispers echoing through the aisles as she browsed the shelves.
Gathering a bag of sugar, a tin of baking powder, and the other items on her list, she headed to the front of the store, then placed them on the polished counter.
"Good morning, Mr. Piedmont," she said with a smile.
He wiped his hands on his bibbed apron and took a step forward.
With a curt nod, he lowered his somber eyes to the items on the counter and began to tally her purchases.
Maddie's smile faded, her mind drifting back to the days when Mr. Piedmont's face would light up to see her and her friends bounding into the mercantile. The Fair Five, as they were known back then, had charmed everyone. The girls had hardly put away their pinafores when they first learned to use their collective wit and beauty to full advantage. The Five always left Mr. Piedmont's store lapping at complimentary peppermint sticks, pressed upon them by the kindly merchant with a playful wink.
Maddie took a deep breath, forcing away thoughts of the past and the accident that had snatched her friends from this world. At twenty-four-years old, Maddie was a living reminder and the sole survivor of the worst tragedy in Misty Lake's history. People could barely stand to look at her. And Maddie couldn't blame them. She could barely stand to look at herself.
Mr. Piedmont worked swiftly, the sound of crumpling paper filling the awkward silence as he wrapped her purchases and bound the tidy parcel with string. By rote, his freckled hand reached to the nearby jar of candy. Placing a single peppermint stick on top of the bundle, he slid it toward her, then turned to face the shelves lining the wall behind him.
Tears blurred Maddie's vision as she stared down at the red-striped treat, the simple reminder of who she once was — who she still was, if only one of her neighbors could manage to look her in the eye long enough to see it. She swallowed hard.
"Thank you," she murmured to the shopkeeper's back before he walked away.
Maddie left the store and proceeded to her final errand. As she'd anticipated, a letter from Amelia awaited her at the post office. Maddie would wait until later to open it. Their recent correspondence had rattled her to the bone, and she knew any public display of emotion would be ripe fruit for hungry local gossips.
Not that maintaining decorum could help her cause now. People already believed the worst about her. These rare trips to town only served to remind her that nothing had changed.
Shoving the letter into her skirt pocket, she headed south on Main Street. To her relief, the band of young hooligans that had taunted her earlier was nowhere to be seen. She hurried out of town nonetheless. Each dreaded trip was a tax on her nerves, and when added to the anxiety of what awaited in Amelia's letter, Maddie yearned for the comfort of home.
When she reached the outskirts of town, she took the path through the woods that opened to a large field. She welcomed the sound of chirping crickets and birds. As always after she exerted herself with a lengthy walk, her leg was beginning to ache. She slowed her pace, then stopped to rest at her favorite spot on her grandfather's sprawling property. Sitting on a felled birch log in the broad clearing, she stretched out her leg. The cramped muscles unfurled as she enjoyed the serenity of the surrounding forest, the gentle spring breeze through the swaying trees. The sun felt heavenly, and she lifted her face to bask in its glow.
She'd avoided town all winter, hibernating like a bear in a cave. She'd emerged from seclusion renewed by foolish hopes, but the first outing of the new season had been just like the last. A bear would be better received.
Maddie sighed in defeat, dug out the letter that was fairly vibrating in her pocket, and unfolded its pages. The bold strokes on the delicate cream sheets conveyed Amelia's confident tone and dramatic style.
My dearest Mads,
I received your response denying my request, but I refuse to take no for an answer. I simply cannot get married without you!
You swore an oath to one day serve as my bridesmaid, and it is time for you to honor it. My deep love and concern for you force me to hold you to your promise.
The past is the past, my dear friend, and you must lay it to rest. Eventually, the town will follow suit. Consider attending my wedding as your first step toward getting on with your life.
We arrive in Misty Lake in three weeks. I look forward to seeing you then.
Maddie's breakfast turned in her stomach. How on earth could she attend? No one, save Amelia, wanted her there. Certainly not Daniel. The mere thought of facing her former fiancé and all the others who'd blamed and abandoned her ... no. Maddie hadn't the courage. Amelia didn't understand. How could she? She was not present when it happened. Nor was she here for the aftermath.
Something rustled in the woods across the field. Squinting against the sun, Maddie scanned the trees. A deer hobbled into the clearing, took one final step, then collapsed to the ground. Maddie gasped at the arrow protruding from its shoulder.
Without a thought, she ran to the deer and dropped to her knees at its side. Blood flowed, a crimson stream from the gaping hole around the arrow. The trembling doe stared up at her, eyes wide with pain and terror.
Maddie glanced around to ensure she was alone. The arrow was a direct hit to the vitals, and the poor creature couldn't have traveled far. Someone might be tracking it. Glancing into the deer's desperate eyes again, Maddie tossed caution to the wind.
She grasped the arrow, clenching it as hard as she could. The blasted thing was in deep. Mustering her strength, she pulled, grunting as the arrow ripped through the torn muscle and flesh in which it was lodged. She fell backward, arrow in hand. Blood gushed everywhere. Tossing aside the arrow, she leaned over the deer and pressed her hands to the wound. Blood oozed between her fingers. Life drained from the deer, the warm flow filling her nose with the acrid scent of looming death.
She squeezed her eyes shut, swallowing against the bile rising in her throat. Behind her closed lids, pictures flashed in the darkness. The wagon careening out of control. The approaching tree. The bodies hurling through the air. Sounds of terrified screams filled her ears. Tears poured down her face as she opened her soul. All the pain, all the guilt, manifested inside her, raging through her veins. Heat radiated to her hands, transferring everything onto the dying deer.
Her hands grew hotter and hotter. Her heart pounded and she could barely breathe. She opened her eyes, watching through her scalding fingers as the stream of blood slowed and the torn hide around the wound began to close. The deer stirred, and Maddie sat back on her haunches, panting for air.
The deer sprang to its hooves. Its wide eyes met hers before it darted across the field, white tail raised like a flag as it hurdled the birch log, then disappeared into the forest. Maddie exhaled a shaky breath. The thrum of her pulse waned in relief. Once again, she felt worthy, if only for a moment, of surviving when no one else had.
She'd awakened after the accident with the ability to heal, and the absolution implied by this power helped her cling to her sanity. The mysterious gift was her only justification for living now, a token she'd smuggled back from some place between heaven and earth. One she had to keep hidden if she hoped ever to regain any semblance of a normal life.
Maddie spun toward the voice in the trees. A man charged into the clearing, a large bow in his hands. With a curse, she pushed to her feet and turned her back to him as she gathered her wits. Wringing her bloody hands furiously between the folds of her beige skirt, she fought for composure, concocting her lies.
She inhaled a sharp breath and turned to face him. He stopped, startled by the sight of her. "Are you all right?" He rushed toward her. "Did it hurt you?"
"I'm fine," she said, backing away from the tall stranger.
He glanced down at the pool of bright blood at his boots, then looked around for the deer. "What the devil happened? Where is it?"
Maddie pointed toward the trees. "It ran into the woods."
"It's still running?" His blue eyes narrowed. "Impossible. I struck a kill shot."
"Unfortunately for the deer, your aim was not so precise." She gauged his wary reaction. "Nor is your eyesight if you thought you struck the vitals," she added, pinning her lies firmly in place with an angry nod. "Your clumsy shot to the gut will prolong the poor animal's misery. I dislodged the arrow to lessen its suffering."
His brows shot up. "You dislodged ... Are you addled?" He stared in disbelief. "What possessed you —?"
"Senseless torment possessed me," she shot back. "And I assure you, my mind is quite sound."
The man was not convinced. Lowering his chin, he yanked off his hat and scratched his dark head. "I could have sworn I hit the ..." Tousled black hair gleamed in the sunlight as he bent for the arrow. "You dislodged it, you say?"
He analyzed the bloody hair on the arrow, clearly distracted. She could see the questions forming in his bewildered eyes. She had to get rid of him.
"Your deer bolted, but it won't get far." She gave a nod toward the trees. "You should hurry."
Ignoring her suggestion, he took a step forward. "What's your name?" He dropped the arrow, his gaze fixing on her bloody hands. Reaching into his coat, he pulled out a handkerchief. He grabbed her wrist and attempted to wipe at the blood.
Maddie yanked back her hand. "My name is Madeline Sutter, and I can do that myself."
With a frown, he relinquished the cloth and let her proceed with the task.
"I'm Jace Merrick, Miss Sutter. I've taken over Doctor Filmore's practice in town now that he's retired."
The news surprised her. Doctor Filmore was eighty years old, if he was a day, and she'd always assumed he would die wearing his stethoscope. She was equally surprised by the youthful mien of Filmore's replacement. And by this new physician's obvious appetite for hunting. Weren't doctors supposed to be devoted to preserving life? Not that Doctor Filmore had gone out of his way to preserve hers. He'd pronounced her dead for God's sake. She slapped the cloth between her palms.
"It's about time that old fool retired," she muttered.
Pushing her disdain for the elderly doctor aside, she focused on the man before her. Jace Merrick possessed a palpable confidence, but dressed as he was, he didn't look like a doctor. His brown trousers were tucked into large boots, and a green flannel shirt peeked out from his open tweed coat.
And yet, even in his casual hunter's uniform, the man was impressive. The words ruggedly appealing sprang to mind. He stood taller than most, surely taller than Daniel. Doctor Merrick's build was broader than Daniel's as well. A twinge of longing fluttered in the pit of her belly.
The queer sensation took Maddie aback. She straightened her spine, steeling herself against her attraction to the handsome stranger. As she knew only too well, a man in the medical profession could destroy her. The doctor's stern voice snapped Maddie out of her reverie.
"Wild animals can be dangerous, Miss Sutter. Especially when they're wounded. You were fortunate in this instance, but I'd advise you against taking such risks in the future."
"I appreciate your advice, Doctor Merrick, and I have some for you." She took a step toward him. "There is no hunting allowed on Sutter land, so please do your murdering elsewhere." She finished wiping her hands, then handed him back the bloodstained handkerchief. "Now take your belongings and get off my property."
* * *
Jace blinked, staring at the woman. Whatever he'd done to earn her hostility, he'd obviously done it well.
"This is your property?"
"My family owns twelve acres. Hunting is restricted on all of it." Her spine stiffened like a broomstick. Beneath her simple straw bonnet, wisps of dark hair fringed her pretty face. Specks of hazel and gold sparked in her brown eyes, along with an annoying tinge of righteous indignation. "My grandfather makes exceptions in cases of necessity only." She eyed him from head to toe. "Since there are several eating establishments in town, and you're clearly not starving, you can pursue your sport elsewhere."
"In my defense, Miss Sutter, this hunt was necessary."
"Is that so?"
His business was none of her concern, but the challenge in her skeptical tone got the best of him. "Your elderly neighbor, Mrs. Tremont, is a patient of mine. Her weight has dropped drastically, and her appetite continues to wane."
Her smug tone faded. "I'm sorry to hear that," she muttered, looking genuinely distressed.
"The woman has a craving for fresh venison. I apologize for trespassing, but I intend to provide it."
She lowered her eyes, and Jace couldn't help enjoying her contrite response.
"Had you not intervened with my deer, I'd have no reason to dally here. On your property," he added, just for the hell of it.
"Well, don't let me keep you," she snapped. "Good luck with Mrs. Tremont." Her hard look softened again, as did the harshness in her voice. "Please send her my regards."
With a lift of her chin, she collected her market basket from where it sat beside a log, then hurried away. Jace stared after her, absorbing the view. She held her head high, her stance rigid and aloof. Her frame was small but curvaceous, possessing the perfect measure of female proportions. Ample breasts, narrow waist, pleasing backside.
Of course, one had to get past the bloodstained dress to appreciate what lay beneath, but as a doctor who'd seduced dozens of nurses whose aprons were soaked with far worse, this posed no problem for Jace. Her slender form moved swiftly as she made her way down the path through the field, but her pace was slowing. He detected a slight limp in her gait, though from this distance, he couldn't be sure.
"Madeline Sutter," he mumbled, shaking his head. What kind of woman went about pulling arrows from dying deer?
Jace had met some odd people during the month since he'd arrived in town, but he'd yet to meet anyone like Miss Sutter. Dragging his gaze from the fading view of her, he squatted before the patch of blood in the grass where his deer had fallen.
Excerpted from The Lady Who Lived Again by Thomasine Rappold. Copyright © 2015 Thomasine Rappold. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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