As soon as Laundry Lady's Love was released readers began clamoring for the next book in the series. I listened and am nearing the end of writing the book. It's Red Dickerson's story. He lost Laura in Laundry Lady's Love but now gets his girl in Music of Her Heart. The cover's not ready for release but I have the first scene to wet your appetite.
Gema's a Russian immigrant who lost her family several years ago. She was taken to Sanctuary Place and now has come to Stones Creek. You met her in Laundry Lady's Love. Several readers wrote and told me I was spelling her name incorrectly. If she was American, that would be right. But she's from Russia. In my research for Russian girls names I found Gema. I'm not sure if they pronounce it Je-mah or Jee-mah. I prefer the first.
Here's the first scene. I'll post more snippets as the time for release gets closer.
Music Of Her Heart
All she could hear was the blood pounding in her ears and the ragged intake and exhale of air as she ran. Gema Volkovichna didn't look back. She just ran. She had to get away. That woman, Flora, had placed herself in danger for her. Gema wasn't going to allow that to be wasted.
She hadn't a clue where she was going, just away. Away from the small cave, the group of outlaws was using as their hideout. Away from certain rape and abuse.
Terror drove Gema on. She tripped, nearly falling. She wished the clouds would break so she could see the sun. She had no idea what direction she was running. Was she heading toward Stones Creek or away? Were the trees thinning? If she left, the cover of the forest would they find her? Stones Creek was near where the land sloped up from plains to forested hills. Just past the edge of town the woods began.
If only she could get back to Stones Creek. Then she'd be safe. Or would she? She'd been kidnapped right from the street in the middle of the day. Or rather the alley behind the hotel where she worked as a maid.
Gema had left the hotel by the back door to go have her midday meal at Sanctuary House where she lived. She hadn't been in the Colorado town long. Only since January. It was now late-March.
As she walked behind the hotel, Gema was grabbed from behind and flung over the back of a horse. Whoever was holding her across the saddle kicked the horse into a gallop before she could even try to scream. The saddle horn dug into her hip. It wasn't long before her hat lost its hold and fell to the ground. Gema hadn't a clue how far they traveled. She might have even fainted for a while.
When the horse was brought to a halt, Gema was dumped to the ground. Her blonde hair was streaming around her face and shoulders, the pins having long past lost their grip on the blonde strands. She looked up from her crouch on the ground and saw four men leering down at her. Grins that spoke of their intent stole her breath.
"Please, let me go." Gema knew they wouldn't understand her words. She'd spoken in her native Russian. Her fear made the use of English impossible.
"Well, girly, I ain't got no clue abouts what you're sayin' an' I don't rightly care. You're a fine lookin' piece, I must say. Nice 'n trim. You'll do us mighty fine." The man was dirty and missing several teeth. His beat up cap sat low over his forehead. Another man stood next to him. Licking his lips. Two more were securing the horses to a brush nearby.
Gema looked around, frantically searching for a place to run. She backed up. A rock cliff rose behind, stopping her retreat. What was she going to do? Lord, help me. Please don't let them… She couldn't even think the words.
"What have you done now?" Gema turned toward the sound of a woman's voice. A large boned woman in ratty clothing stood with her hands on her hips in the opening to a dark cave.
"We done brought us another woman. She'll take up what Prue used to do. Maybe some of Roda's tasks too, now that they's both dead." The man said.
Another woman came to stand behind the first. "No, Ornan. You have to take her back. They'll come after us for sure. What are we gonna do iffen we have to hightail it outta here? We've still got sick younguns."
More faces began appearing behind the women. Several children and young teens. All were thin, dressed in ragged garments and several had faces covered in a red rash. Gema knew what that was. She'd been ill for nearly three weeks. Measles. The epidemic has swept through Stones Creek beginning in late February. Several adults and children, including a woman living in Sanctuary House, had died. The town was still recovering from the losses.
"Don't rightly care just now. I got me a new woman, and I'm fixin' on trying her out." The man, Ornan, took a step toward Gema.
"Nyet." Gema jumped up and began running. He caught her within four steps. She began swinging her fists, clipping him on the jaw.
Ornan smacked her across the cheek. "You'll learn to do as you're told."
"Ornan," the woman said. She strode to where they were and jerked his hand from Gema's arm. "Can't you see she's scared to death? She might not even be able to understand what you say. She's speakin' some foreign language. If you take her now, she'll not accept her lot. She'll fight you and you'll never be able to turn your back on her.
"Remember Edna? You all took her too soon, and she nearly killed Phil, over there." She pointed at another man. There was a jagged scar running down his face. "She stabbed Fred too. Then, you all beat her and left her. Lot of good it did you to grab her and use her right away."
Ornan studied Gema. She flinched back when he reached out. "You gotta point." He looked at the other men. "How about we wait a couple of days. Three at most. Get her used to being here. Then, we'll make sure she understands her place real well."
There were grumbles, but the men were nodding as they did so.
Ornan grabbed Gema's arm again and jerked her to him. He landed a sour breathed kiss on her mouth then shoved her toward the woman. "That's just a sweet taste for your pleasure. I'll get mine later." He looked at the woman who stared back at him. "Take her into the cave. We men got some planning to do." He turned and walked back to the men. They moved to a grouping of logs set around a fire pit.
"Come." The woman motioned to Gema who glanced back at the men, then followed her into the cave.
The space was large enough not to be crowded. There were three fire pits. Pallets were scattered around with blankets, and a few had pillows. Saddle bags, food, and other supplies were in piles. There was a water barrel near the entrance. Nothing was clean or efficiently arranged. And the place smelled. Urine, feces, and vomit fought for dominance.
From the dim light of the fires, Gema could see a couple of children lying on pallets. The ones who had come to the cave opening retreated to lie down on others.
"I'm Flora," the woman said. "What's your name? Can you understand me?"
"Gema. I, Gema." The words were said barely above a whisper. She couldn't force more strength into them.
"Come and sit." Flora led her to a log near the fire. She went to the water barrel and dipped the ladle in, then brought it to Gema. "Drink."
Gema obeyed the command.
"Where’d they steal you from?"
Flora swore. "Them idiots. They had to go to a town that has a sheriff who knows what he's doin’.” She began pacing.
Another woman approached and held out a piece of dried meat and a tin cup with beans. Gema took them and spooned some beans into her mouth. They were tasteless, but she knew she had to eat.
"I'm Sally." She placed a cup of coffee next to Gema. She moved away and crouched down on the other side of the fire.
Someone started coughing. Sally moved to a pallet and picked up a child whose long hair seemed to indicate it was a girl. When she came back to the fire, Gema could see that the little one had the measles. She was small and thin, with a dirty face covered in a red rash. Her eyes were swollen and watery.
Another child, a boy somewhat older came over and sat next to Sally. He leaned against her. He looked to be about eight. In the firelight, Gema couldn't tell whether he was coming down with the measles or recovering. The rash on his face was lighter than on the girl's.
Flora paced back and stood in front of Gema. "You're going to leave. I'm not sure how, but you aren't staying here. I'm not going to be party to another woman's abuse by the likes of these men.
"When Lloyd was leader, he put a stop to the kidnappings. He's dead. Ornan has started them up again." She looked over Gema's shoulder focusing on the wall behind her. "Chloe got out. I thought she'd died back in Minnesota where we abandoned her. I felt so awful when Buster King did that. She was so close to giving birth." Flora turned her gaze onto Gema again. "I didn't know she was still alive until I heard Buster say she was living in Stones Creek. That give me hope. Hope that maybe someday I can get out."
Flora squatted down and looked Gema in the eye. "I'm gonna do whatever it takes to give you the chance to get outta here. You're gonna take it, you hear? You're gonna grab the chance and run as fast and far as you can. Don't think about any of us. We know what to do. How to live."
Sally came over and placed a hand on Flora's shoulder. "What are you gonna do?"
Flora looked up. "What do you think? I'm gonna give them a distraction so Gema, here, can get away."
Gema found her voice, words in English. "What kind distraction?"
"Only two things will draw their attention and the first will just point them back to you. So I'll get 'em good and drunk." Flora stood and marched over to a pile of supplies and pulled out several jugs. She came back, looked at Gema, then Sally. "You be sure to get her out of here."
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