Sunset Embrace(5)

By: Sandra Brown


Ma digested that. She took the girl's hand and shook it slightly. When the light brown eyes came back to her, she argued softly, "You birthed a babe, Lydia. Where's your man?"

"Dead."

"Ach! Ain't that a pity now."

"No. I'm glad he's dead."

Ma was perplexed but too polite and fearful for the girl's physical condition to pry further. "What were you doin' out there in the woods alone? Where were you headed?"

Lydia's narrow shoulders lifted in a negligent shrug. "Nowhere. Anywhere. I wanted to die."

"Hogwash! I ain't gonna let you die. You're too pretty to die." Ma roughly straightened the blanket over the frail body to cover the sudden emotion she felt for this strange girl.

She elicited Mas pity. Tragedy was stamped all over the face that shone pale and haunted in the lantern light. "We, Pa and me, buried your baby boy in the woods." Lydia's eyes closed. A boy. She hadn't even noticed with that one glimpse of her child. "If you like, we can fall behind the train a few days and you can go see the grave when you feel up to it."

Furiously Lydia shook her head. "No. I don't want to see it." Tears escaped from under her eyelids.

Ma patted her hand. "I know what you're sufferin', Lydia. I've got seven young uns, but I've buried two. It's the hardest tiling a woman has to do."

No, it isn't, Lydia thought to herself. There are far worse things a woman has to do.

"You sleep some more now. I 'spect you've caught a chill lyin' out there in the woods thataway. I'll stay with you."

Lydia looked up into the compassionate face. It wasn't in her yet to smile, but her eyes softened in appreciation. "Thank you."

"You'll have plenty of time to thank me once you get well."

"I can't stay with you. I have to ... go."

"You ain't gonna feel like goin' nowhere for a spell yet. You can stay with us as long as you can put up with us. All the way to Texas if you like."

Lydia wanted to argue. She wasn't fit to live with decent folks like this. If they knew about her, about . . . Her eyes dropped closed in sleep.

* * *

His hands were on her again, all over her. She opened her mouth to scream and las palm, salty and gritty, clomped over it. His other hand clawed at the neck of her chemise until it ripped open. Her breasts were squeezed by his hateful, clammy hand that derived pleasure from inflicting pain. She sank her teeth into the meat of his palm and was punished by a slap that left her ears tinging and her jaw throbbing.

"Don't you fight me, or I'll tell your prissy mama about us. You don't want her to know what we've been doin, now do you? I think that'd prob'ly send her right over the edge. I think she'd die if she knew I was breedin you, don't you reckon?"

No, Lydia didn't want her mama to know. But how could she bear to let him do that to her again? Already he was grinding his hips against her thighs, forcing them to open. His fingers were poking at her painfully, probing abusively, hurtfully. And that loathsome appendage was driving into her flesh again. When she raked his face with her nails, he laughed and tried to kiss her. "I can take it rough if you can," he jeered.

She fought him. "No, no," she sobbed. "Take it out. No, no, no . . ."

"What is it, Lydia? Wake up. Its only a bad dream."

The soothing voice readied into the pit of hell where her nightmare had flung her and lifted her out. She was returned to the soft comfort of the Langstons' wagon.

It wasn't Clancey's rape that was hurting her, but the pain that had resulted from the birth of his baby. Oh God, how could she go on living with the memory of Clancey's sexual abuse? She had had a baby by his foul seed and wasn't fit to live in the world any longer.

Ma Langston didn't think that way. As the girl gripped the sleeves of Ma's worn dress in fear of her nightmare, the older woman cradled Lydia's head against her deep bosom, murmuring soothing words. "It was only a dream. You have a touch of fever and that's given you nightmares, but nothin's gonna hurt you as long as you're here with me."

Lydia's terror subsided. Clancey was dead. She had seen him lying dead, blood pumping from his head to cover his ugly face. He couldn't touch her anymore.

Gratefully she let her head drop heavily on Ma's breast. When she was almost asleep, Ma laid her back on the lumpy pillow that felt like featherdown to Lydia. She had made her bed out of pine needles or hay during the past couple of months. Some nights she hadn't been that lucky, but had slept as well as she could propped against a tree trunk.