As I said last week, I’ll be sharing scenes from the four back story novellas I’ve been working on. First up is Patrick & Sarah, from my Stained series.
Patrick Bailey pulled back hard on the reins for the team of horses hitched to his wagon as the little boy dashed out in front of him. “Woah,” he called, when he was afraid his touch wasn’t enough to bring the two farm horses to a halt. The boy scrambled back from the large hoof that had nearly caught him in the shoulder. Patrick jumped down from the seat almost before the horses had come to a stop.
“You all right?” he asked the boy, reaching out for his arm to steady him.
The boy looked up at him, eyes wide in his small face. His mouth fell open, but no words came out as he kept staring up at Patrick. “Were you hurt?” The boy shook his head, but he still didn’t say a word.
“William!” a woman screeched, and Patrick turned his head that way.
The boy hunched his shoulders, drawing Patrick’s attention back to him. “I wasn’t s’posed to leave,” he said quietly. “But, Tommy was mean.”
“Will,” the woman cried again, her voice rising with desperation. “Where’d you get to?”
“That your ma?” Patrick asked, looking back at the boy.
He dropped his gaze to the ground, and Patrick just squeezed his shoulder. When he looked back up, the woman was looking around frantically and about to dash into the street herself by all appearances. There were more wagons rolling into town, though, and he wasn’t sure they wouldn’t hit her. He couldn’t let that happen.
Patrick straightened and raised his hand. “Ma’am,” he called out to her. “Ma’am, your boy’s over here.”
Her head jerked toward him, and Patrick’s throat went dry. She was beautiful. Likely the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. And he shouldn’t be thinking like that. She was a mother, which meant she’d have a husband as well. That went several levels beyond what he believed to be wrong.
He kept his hand on the boy’s shoulder as she turned and started stalking their way. He heard the boy gulp beside him, and he gently squeezed that hard knob under his hand. “It will be fine, William, wasn’t it?”
He nodded jerkily. “Yes, sir,” he whispered.
The woman reached them, and her gaze took in Patrick quickly, and he saw her swallow hard, her hands trembling slightly as she grabbed the boy’s arm. “Come here, William,” she said sharply. “I told you not to leave the house.”
“Sorry, Mama,” the boy said quietly. “Tommy was bein’ mean again.”
That was the second time Will had mentioned that. It worried something in Patrick’s mind. Who would be mean to such a little boy?
The woman’s nose wrinkled. “That’s enough, Will. Your brother is not mean. He is just teasing. It doesn’t give you cause to take off.”
But, something in the boy’s face told Patrick it was more than that. “Can I walk the two of you back to your house?” he asked her. “Make sure your boy doesn’t take off again.”
The woman took her gaze off the boy and looked back up at Patrick. “That won’t be necessary,” she said. “I can take care of my sons. I have to get back to work before we can go home anyway.”
A jolt went through him at that. “Your husband makes you go out and work? What is he doing?”
All of the color drained out of her face, and he could have kicked himself. But, before he could make his apologies, even though he wasn’t sure exactly what his misstep was, she had squared her shoulders and lifted her chin.
“My husband doesn’t make me to do anything. It would be difficult as he’s been dead three years now.”
His stomach twisted up at that, and the flash of pain he saw in her eyes. Then, his gaze flicked down to the boy. He didn’t look much more than three years old.
“No, sir,” she said, “he never knew his father. Will was only a little over a month when I got word my husband had fallen in battle.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said, and he truly was. He could not imagine how it had to be for her, raising two boys with no man in the picture. “Do you need help with anything?”
“And what would you expect in return?”
The question took Patrick aback. “What is that supposed to mean, ma’am? I expect nothing. I just want to help.”
Her face was still drawn in hard lines, but he thought her eyes had softened with…confusion, maybe. Just how had people been treating her in the years since her husband had died? Patrick had fought in the war, too, and had seen plenty of men fall. Men who had left widows and possibly even orphans. He’d never worried about helping any of them before. But, something about these two pulled at him. He couldn’t explain it.
“I don’t need any help,” she said, raising her chin.
He wanted to argue with that. After all, her boy had just run out into the street and nearly been trampled. Instead, he took a step back. “Whatever you say, ma’am.”
She seemed startled by his response and stared at him as he backed away. But, he could not force his help on her. Or at least he wouldn’t. “Good day, ma’am, Will,” he added tipping his hat and heading back to the wagon. He’d get the supplies and be on his way back to the farm again.