Bride On The Run (Historical Romance)
things in front of his son and daughter.
    The lamplight glowed yellow through the hot blur of her tears. She stumbled onto the porch and bent briefly to unlace and remove her mud-caked boots. The aromas of beans, onions and coffee wafted through the open doorway, but Anna’s stomach was a clenched knot. The very thought of eating made her feel ill.
    She stepped into the kitchen, conscious of her blazing face, her wantonly bruised lips. Would Malachi’s children guess what had happened when they saw her? Would they say anything?
    Carrie glanced up from washing dishes. “Coffee’s ready,” she said, turning swiftly back to her task. “There’s a cup and saucer on the table.”
    “Thank you, but I’m not feeling well,” Anna murmured, keeping to the far side of the kitchen in hope that the girl would not notice her appearance. “If you’ll point out my room, I’ll just go on to bed.”
    “It’s the one nearest to the fireplace.” Josh spoke up from the table where he was hunched over a page of arithmetic problems, working them laboriously on his slate. “Carrie laid out one of Pa’s clean nightshirts for you, since you don’t appear to have brought along any clothes. Wherever you came from, you must be pretty hard up. But Pa won’t mind that. He says he’s not looking for a wife with money.”
    “My trunk is in the wagon.” Anna would have laughed under happier circumstances. “Your father will be bringing it down tomorrow. But the nightshirt will do for now, thank you kindly.” She slunk along the wall, wanting only to reach the bedroom before Malachi came into the house. Her spirits sank when Josh pushed his chair away from the table and stood up.
    “I’ll show you the way,” he said. “You’re a guest, and we have to be polite to you. That’s what Pa said.”
    “He also said you were to finish your schoolwork before bedtime,” Carrie put in sharply. “You’ve dawdled over it too long already.”
    “I’ll only be a minute.” Josh came bounding over to Anna wearing a friendly grin that drove a barb of guilt into her heart. The boy was her only ally in this place, she knew. But right now she would have gladly traded him for a bevy of backstabbing enemies.
    “This way, ma’am.” He ushered her toward a wide, hand-hewn pine door with iron hinges and a handle made from a section of curving tree root. The door swung open to reveal a simple, almost monkish room from which every trace of femininity had been stripped. The single high window was bare of curtains and shuttered against the night. The tall mirrored wardrobe was missing a door on one side and appeared to be empty. The massive double bed was made from skillfully joined pine logs which had been stripped of their bark and polished to the sheen and hue of wild honey. Someone had once lavished time and attention on that bed. Had it been Malachi?
    The quilt that served as a coverlet was, in contrast, a dark piecing of squares cut from what looked to beold winter coats. It lay slightly askew on the bed, as if the person who’d laid it there had not cared enough to straighten it. Carrie, perhaps?
    A long flannel nightshirt, stiff from washing and faded to the color of river mud, lay across the foot of the bed. At least it looked clean, as did the pewter pitcher and matching basin that sat on the washstand with a folded cloth beside it. Beside the basin sat the only touch of color in the room—a wilting bouquet of crimson wildflowers arranged in an empty bitters bottle.
    “I picked them myself,” Joshua said, “for you.”
    The cold barb of guilt twisted deeper into Anna’s heart. Tears scalded her eyes. She blinked them swiftly away before the boy could see. Why had she come to this place, to stumble so ineptly into the lives of these people? She’d have been better off taking her chances with the bounty hunters!
    “There’s clean pump water in the pitcher so you can wash up,” Joshua said. “If you need anything else, just call

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