Rexanne Becnel

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Authors: When Lightning Strikes
Her father passed it on, then coughed at the effort before turning to the team.
    At that wracking sound Abby suddenly felt ashamed of herself. She hadn’t meant to contradict her father. She hadn’t meant to sound so flip either. She just wanted the chance to get to know Tanner McKnight, and that would be impossible if her father forbade it. But if they could just find some common ground…
    She lifted up the tailgate of the wagon and slid the two bolts home. Maybe she’d better find out just how much of the classics Tanner knew.
    “What exactly did he do to her?” someone asked in a hushed tone.
    Abby shot Sarah a wary look but kept on walking. They were a good-sized group of women this morning with a rowdy gang of little children loosely trailing them. But the women were not paying much mind to the children today. They were all straining to hear Doris Crenshaw’s answer.
    “Mr. Crenshaw had struck up a friendship with Mr. Godwin, you know. And being as how our own Charlotte is only a year younger than poor Rebecca, Mr. Crenshaw was practically distraught when he heard.”
    “But what exactly did he hear ?” Martha McCurdle demanded in the loud, insensitive tones Abby had come to associate with the woman. A blowzy, overfed blonde, she was a vain, gossipy creature, and it hadn’t taken Abby long to figure that out. But today at least, everyone was just as interested in Doris’s answer, for no woman could feel safe if young women were being attacked.
    “Well, I attended her myself, at Mr. Crenshaw’s insistence. Not that I wouldn’t have done it anyway, being a good Christian and all—”
    “But what did he do to her?” Martha interrupted impatiently.
    Doris sent her an irritated look. “Well.” Her voice dropped a level, and everyone leaned in a little closer, even Abby. “It was very odd. He kept asking her name, like he wanted to be sure who she was, or something. But he didn’t, you know, have his way with her—though God knows he tried. Her skirt was ripped—so was her petticoat. She’s all scraped up on her knees and her thighs—”
    “How can you be so sure he didn’t do it?” Martha broke in again. “She wouldn’t admit it if he did. I heard he hit her and knocked her out. How could she even remember what he did to her?”
    Doris glared at the other woman, then indignantly drew herself up. “I was there when the doctor examined her, Martha McCurdle, and he said the brute did not ruin her, so don’t you try to imply that he did.”
    Sarah smirked at Abby. Neither of them liked Martha and her malicious bent, and they enjoyed seeing her taken down a peg.
    “Is she all right now?” Abby asked.
    “Physically she will heal,” Doris replied. “I saw her just this morning and persuaded her to take some oatmeal and coffee. But she’s hurting inside. Afraid he’ll come back. Afraid what people will think,” she added, shooting Martha a warning look.
    The group of women slowly drifted apart, breaking into twos and threes to wonder and worry about the new fear added to their burden. Bad enough that every day brought new dangers—accidents, illness. Snakes, Indian sightings. Did they now have to worry about some threat from within their own midst?
    “It was probably some man at the fort,” Sarah said, giving voice to Abby’s own hopeful thoughts.
    “Yes,” Abby agreed. “But we still must be careful.”
    “Do you really think any of the men of our company would do such a thing?”
    Abby shrugged. “I don’t know them all. My father holds all the single men in suspicion, but there are also a few married ones that have the most unpleasant way of staring at a woman.”
    Sarah nodded, and the two of them walked in silence for a while. To the left the wagons rolled in a long, tedious line. To the right and a little ahead four children gamboled, happy and unaware of the worries that weighed so heavily on the adults around them.
    Oh, to be that carefree again, Abby thought. She pulled her

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