This week, with Chapter Twelve of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony we pass the halfway point. It’s all downhill from here. Oh, and hey, look! It’s up before Noon PST!
I find myself wishing that some of you reading would make comments. I don’t know if anyone is reading, or if it’s just the comment spammers that come by and boost my visitors and page reads. Wait – that’s not true. I did have one person say they were enjoying it. It’d be nice to hear from others!
If you need to start from the first chapter, you can find it here. If you need to read the rest of the book right this minute, there are links to purchase it in a variety of formats at the end of each chapter.
Mendleson liked the feel of Henrietta’s head against his back, her arms around his stomach. He wished the storm would take its leave so that he could spend his concentration on the feel of her. Instead, he pushed the horses through the gale and the sheets of water, looking to find shelter.
He didn’t want to shelter too near the city for fear the magistrate had authority outside its gates. But the storm would soon force him to find shelter, he knew, or it would kill them both.
Knowing they would need both horses, if he managed to rescue her, he had asked Perry to get the other ready and wait for him to return with Henrietta. The kid had agreed without even asking for coin when he heard what Mendleson planned. He had even wanted to come along, but Tara had heard and put a stop to that nonsense.
Mendleson rode out into the storm, praying he could catch up to them before they turned off.
When he found them, his heart had stopped. They were fighting already—fighting wraiths. He kicked the horse into a gallop, pulled out the club he’d borrowed from Tara out and swung it as he crashed through the guards and the wraiths. He pulled Henrietta up onto his horse after swinging the club down onto the head of a wraith, knocking it back, then turned the horse and galloped away.
He had to keep a hold of her so that she didn’t slide off. He didn’t want her arms around him for fear of being hindered should he need to fight.
When they stopped at the inn to get the other horse, Henrietta refused to climb down to get on it. “I’m too tired,” she said.
Instead, she put her arms up over Mendleson’s head, shackles and all, then slid them down around him. He didn’t protest.
They tied a lead to the other horse, and left Tara and Perry standing in the shelter of their stable.
Now, in the fury of the storm, the horses were exhausted and frightened. Every boom of thunder threatened to panic the horses and tumble he and Henrietta to the muddy ground.
When he felt they had passed beyond the immediate influence of Berelost, Mendleson started looking in earnest for a place to shelter both them and the horses. He needed a farm with a barn or a stable, a place they could hide for the few days that Henrietta insisted the storm would assail them.
He feared the storm would kill them. He also feared that the wraiths would appear again if they stopped.
And that, more than anything, frightened him. There were more than one. The black shadows, only outlined by guttering lamps and flashes of lightning had brought the fear back to him. They’d gone so long without seeing one, he’d begun to think they’d managed to escape.
“Mendleson,” Henrietta shouted over the sound of the wind. “We’ve got to stop. We’ve gone far enough.” Her shout sounded strained.
Lightning, and then an immediate report of thunder caused his horse to rear and almost throw them. He dropped the lead to the other horse in his effort to not fall off, and it ran into the darkness.
Once their horse settled down, he concluded Henrietta was right. They had to stop somewhere, soon.
“The next farmhouse,” he shouted, “we’ll stop and ask for shelter.”
He didn’t hear a reply, so urged the horse onward.
A few minutes later, as they came around a bend in the road, he spied a darkened farmhouse in the distance, and rode toward it. Beside the house, he thought he saw a stable, and hoped he’d find feed for the horse, maybe hot food and a mattress for them to sleep on.
As they approached, however, he saw scorch marks around the windows in the stone walls and soon discovered that the roof had burned away. The farm was lifeless, like his own farm had been when he returned from the sea that day.
The memory rushed through him to fill every nook in his mind. The pain, the sight of Mirrielle, Josua, it all came back.
He shook his head, trying to clear it, trying to push it away, but failed. Someone had lived here in this home, and it had burned, and they were gone. They were all gone.
He kicked the horse into a gallop.
“What are you doing?” Henrietta yelled over the gale.
“I can’t stay here!”
“We have to, Mendleson! We need shelter!” She sounded weak, desperate.
But the memories. He couldn’t make them go away. He couldn’t lock them back up in whatever box he’d managed to hide them in the last couple weeks.
“The house, it burned, just like…”
“Please, Mendleson! I need to rest.”
He turned around as best he could to look at her. In the dim light the storm let through, he could see she was worn out. Her hair, normally vibrant, hung limp in the rain to cover her face. She couldn’t even use her hands to brush it away, chained together as they still were around his waist. She couldn’t keep her shoulders straight. She could barely even sit up, and he suspected if she wasn’t chained to him, she would have fallen already.
He eyed the burnt out house once more, then took a breath and directed the horse to the stable. Whatever pain he felt at staying here, he would endure for her.
Fortunately, the disaster that fell upon the house spared the stable. The door was open, the animals gone, but the roof still held, and they were able to ride in, out of the fury of the storm.
Once inside, Mendleson slipped out from under Henrietta’s arms and let himself down from the horse. He helped Henrietta down and to a nearby stool. He tied up the horse in a stall, then searched for feed. He found a bucket that had a little left in it, but it wouldn’t last out the storm. He hoped it hadn’t turned. He gave it to the horse anyway.
While looking for the feed, he found a ladder that led to a loft. He tried to climb it, but his legs ached from the ride, and he found himself at the end of his energy and gave up. It can wait.
Instead, he found the cleanest stall in the barn and brought Henrietta over to it. She slid down against a wall. He went to the horse, retrieved his pack, and brought it to the stall. He delved into it and pulled out his blanket. The oiled leather of the pack had kept it mostly dry. “At least something went right,” he muttered.
Henrietta didn’t even respond.
He bent down and put a hand to her cheek. She shivered under his touch.
“Come on,” he said. “We have to get out of these clothes and let them dry.”
“What?” she said, perking up a little. “No, just let me rest.”
“No, you need to get out of them or you’ll get the chills. I’ve got a blanket. It’s dry and will keep us warm.”
Her head came up so that her eyes could look at him. “Us? What are you after, Mendleson?”
“What?” he asked. “I’m not after anything but keeping us alive.” He was so cold and tired, he hadn’t even thought of anything else.
She looked at him, and for a moment, he thought he saw disappointment on her face. But when he looked harder, he couldn’t see anything but exhaustion, and he decided it must be a trick of his mind. She’d pushed him and pushed him, and despite what Tara had told him, he saw little evidence that Henrietta had changed her mind.
“Fine,” she said. “I trust you, but we have a problem.” She held her hands out, and he realized immediately what it was. There was no way to get her clothes off completely while her arms were still shackled.
He looked around the stable, hoping to see a tool he could use to pop the pin or break a link in the chain, but he couldn’t find anything. The stable had been stripped of most of the useful items.
He came back to her, and ultimately, they decided to remove her garments as much as possible with the shackles still on. Her top hung from the shackles, but it would at least keep the moisture away from her.
He pulled all but his underclothes off and hung them from the wall of the stall.
As he came back, he averted his eyes as best he could, and in the low light, it was easy not to see the detail of her body, but he still felt stirrings within him that he hadn’t felt since Mirrielle died.
And that thought killed any of those feelings.
He stepped up next to her with the blanket, helped her to lie down on the straw covered floor, and then lay down next to her and pulled the blanket around them both. Her skin was cold and clammy on his, but his couldn’t have felt much better next to her. He wrapped his arms around her to try to speed the warming.
After a while, their bodies filled the space under the blanket with enough warmth that they both stopped shivering.
“Mendleson,” she said.
“What?” he asked.
“Thank you for coming to get me.”
“You’re welcome, Henrietta.”
A warmth moved through him that had little to do with their bodies being so close together.
* * *
Henrietta woke to the snapping sound of a fire. Around her, she could see the flickering light it threw off as it danced, but she couldn’t see the actual fire. She began to stand up, but stopped when the shackles, and the still damp clothes hanging from them, reminded her that she only had the blanket for covering—when they reminded her of what had happened, and what hadn’t.
The memories insisted that Mendleson had slept next to her, their skin touching, his warmth feeding her, the hair on his chest tickling her back, his arms holding her tight without straying where they shouldn’t. But she couldn’t see him.
“Mendleson?” she called out.
She heard footsteps, and then he entered the stall. He was wearing his pants, but his shirt was off. She had little choice but to admire his chest.
“You wake,” he said.
“Where’s your shirt?”
“Hanging by the fire with your…”
For anyone to see? She didn’t yell at him for it. They did need to get them dry. “Come help me up. I want to move near the fire.” It’s cold under this blanket without you to hold me. She didn’t want to say that aloud, either. She was grateful he had saved her from the magistrate and whatever fate he had planned, but she wasn’t going to encourage him any further.
He bent down and very carefully helped her up. They managed to get her standing without exposing too many parts he shouldn’t see. Together, they stepped out of the stall, and she saw the fire in the middle of the stable. He’d set stones in a circle to keep the fire from spreading. He had a line running across the stable, from one stall post to another, near enough to the fire to get the warmth, but not so near as to be dangerous. His shirt and coat hung from it, as well as her lower garments.
“How did you get it lit?”
“I had flints in my pack. That, straw, and a few stored pieces of wood in this place.”
She sat down near the fire so that she could feel the warmth.
“How do you feel,” he asked.
“Better,” she said. She was still cold, but much of her fatigue had bled away while she slept. “Hungry.”
Mendleson nodded and sat down next to her. He reached into his pack and pulled out a bundle of dried pork, which he handed to her. “Here, this should help.”
“Where did you get this?”
“Tara stuffed it into my pack as I was leaving. She seemed to feel guilty about something.”
Henrietta took a bite of it. Salty and dry, but it was better than nothing. “She felt guilty about turning me in,” she said after she finished chewing.
“Turning you in?”
“She sent Perry to warn me as soon as she saw the magistrate outside, I think. But I also think once the magistrate came in, she told him where I was.”
“You don’t seem upset at her.”
“She tried to help. It didn’t work out. She couldn’t risk her inn over me.”
Mendleson looked up at her, his eyes dark, but bright at the same time. “I don’t see why not,” he said.
“You wouldn’t. But then, you don’t have a lot to lose, do you?” As soon as the words escaped her mouth, she wished she could take them back. The wound in his heart spilled out through his eyes before he could look away.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that,” she said.
“What else could you mean?” He didn’t look at her. “You still want me to leave. Fine. When the storm lets up, I’ll leave.”
Dammit, Henrietta. What do you want? She wanted to reach out to him, but the shackles made that awkward. She’d have no way to keep herself covered. “I only meant that you didn’t have anything tying you to your home, that you were free to do anything. Tara, she’s got Perry to think of…”
He turned back to her. “But what about my family?” Tears streamed from his eyes. “What about them? I had them.”
On instinct, she withdrew her shackled hands from under the blanket, not caring that the blanket slid down, and put them over his head and around his shoulders. She pulled him close so that his head was next to hers, and she locked his gaze with hers. “They’re years gone, Mendleson. You only have the memories. You have to move on, go forward. Live your life.”
“The memories eat at me,” he said. “I could have saved them.”
“If you had been there, could you really have saved them? Or would you be dead, too? A fire like that, in the middle of the day, they weren’t asleep. If they could have escaped, they would have. You would have been trapped, too, or you would have watched helplessly.”
“You were out at sea, Mendleson, where you were supposed to be. It wasn’t your fault. You have to move on.”
The tears had stopped, but his eyes were still moist. His breath on her was warm. She had a sudden urge to lean forward and kiss him, but she resisted. She had no idea what he’d think.
“I’m trying to let them go. I’m trying to leave that all behind. It’s why I’m still here even though you keep pushing me away.”
“I thought you were here because you were trying to save me to atone for how you think you failed your family.”
He didn’t say anything for a moment. She thought maybe she’d said the wrong thing again. Then he said, “I was.”
“I don’t understand.”
“At first, you were right. I thought I might atone for my failure if I saved you. But then, after the second, or maybe the third time, it became…” He stopped, and then looked down.
She grew acutely aware that the blanket had fallen away to expose her breasts, but she ignored the urge to try to cover herself. “What did it become?” she asked.
His eyes came up to meet hers again. “Tara told me that you love me. Is that true?” he asked.
What? Tara told him? Is it true? Her heart fluttered in her chest. She didn’t know how to answer the question. “What did it become, Mendleson?”
He moved a little closer. Their noses were almost touching. “You keep pushing me to leave, to save myself from you.”
It’s true, but not any more. “You keep saying that. Tell me why you continue to stay with me.”
“It became about saving you for me.”
Her heart split. She pulled her hands from his shoulders and put them on his head and pulled his lips to hers. They were rough from the weather, but so warm. He seemed to want to pull away at first, but a moment later, the tension in him evaporated. His tongue probed at her lips. She let her tongue meet his, and it was so soft, gentle, yet strong. She had imagined kissing a man for most of her life, yet had never imagined this.
He put his arms around her and pulled her tight to him, so that her breasts were against his chest. The hair tickled her nipples at first, and then she forgot about it in the depths of their kiss.
Time passed, she didn’t know how much, and then their lips parted. Neither of them said a word for long moments as they stared into each other’s eyes. He seemed to be waiting for something.
“I don’t know what love is,” she said. “But I do know that I don’t want you to leave.”
“Good. I’m not leaving,” he said.
“But my vision, my fate, your fate. If you stay with me, you’ll die. I don’t want that either.”
“Henrietta. You’ve seen how I am just thinking about Mirrielle. How do you think I’ll be if I let you go, too? We’ll find a way. You can always change someone’s fate. The fact that I’m now tied to yours only proves that yours can be changed. Why do we even have to go to that place? Why can’t we go somewhere else?”
At his question, the part she’d been missing, the idea that she had just been able to touch while the guardsmen had her, finally took shape in her mind.
“Mendleson, we can’t go anywhere else.”
“The wraiths only appear when I am not on the path to my fate. As long as I move toward it, they leave me alone.”
He leaned in to her again and gave her a tender kiss. “We’ll find a way,” he said. “I won’t let you die.”
If you’ve read this far, and you just have to read the rest right now, you can get the eBook or a really awesome paperback from the following retailers.
Read Chapter Thirteen of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony