When I read this week's prompt -- legs -- my thoughts went at once to this scene from The Wrong Woman. This historical romance is set in the mid-west in 1881. Will Loudon meant to abduct Honey Branson, his brother's fiance, but he stole the wrong woman -- Abigail Rose -- away from the train station. At this point in the story, he's learned Abigail's true identity and has promised to return her to Des Moines.
Excerpt from Chapter 6
Will could not remember ever hearing a sigh quite like the one Abigail emitted. Long, weary, tremulous, and somehow filled with a range of emotion that made him want to pull the confusing woman into his arms and promise her the sun, the moon, the stars, or whatever else it would take to make her stop hurting. Knowing that he was the cause of her despair only made matters worse. He would do whatever he must, he vowed to himself. Somehow he would find a way to fix the mess he'd made of her life.
He watched as she schlumped across the room -- there was no other word for it. Her shoulders sagged beneath some unseen burden, her feet shuffled slowly across the hardwood floor, and the woebegone look upon her face would have made him laugh if he weren't so damned worried about her.
"I sppse I mmta swllb hnst withu." She stared down at her hands, neatly folded in her lap. Her voice was barely audible, her words unrecognizable.
"How's that again?" he asked. He yearned to go into the room, to sit on the bed beside her, and to offer what comfort he could. When he started to take a step toward her, warning alarms went off in his head. No way could he handle such a dangerously tempting situation. He forced himself to remain at the doorway.
"I said, I suppose I might as well be honest with you." This time, Abigail looked up as she spoke. Her voice wavered, but her words came out loud and clear. "I don't have any money. If you take me back to Des Moines, I'll be stranded there with no place to go."
Will scratched his jaw, the day's growth of beard irritating him. He'd have to shave later, he thought, suddenly wondering if he'd remembered to sharpen his razor, and had he bought shaving soap on his last trip into town? And had he --
"Did you hear what I said?"
He rubbed the back of his neck, but then he nodded. "Yeah, I heard you. I'm just wishing I hadn't." A heavy silence fell over the room, growing more oppressive with each passing moment. Neither of them, it seemed, wanted to be the first to break it.
Finally Will got tired of waiting for Abigail to offer any explanation. "What do you mean, you don't have any money?" he asked. "I mean, seriously, how did you plan to get by in St. Paul?"
"My teaching contract included room and board."
"So you got on a train to Minnesota without a cent? What about food, Abigail? Or what if you had to buy new stockings?"
Stockings? Hell, why don't you ask her about her corset, too? Or her undergarments?
Will cleared this throat, forcing his thoughts away from her tempting body and back to the immediate problem. "You've got to have some money, Abigail." He didn't intend to sound so angry, but frustration put a harsh edge on his voice. "And what about yesterday?" he went on. "You said you had money in your handbag. Hell, you all but accused me of trying to steal it."
"My father gave me twenty dollars. For incidental expenses. Like stockings," she added, glaring up at him.
Will closed his eyes, trying not to imagine Abigail slowly drawing a pair of silk stockings on over her shapely legs. But it was hard not to imagine it. Very hard. He shifted awkwardly, wishing now that Abigail had on those blasted spectacles so she would not be able to see how aroused he'd become. Fortunately, she'd looked away. He seized on his growing anger in hopes of fighting off his lust.
"Twenty dollars is a lot of money. What happened to it? And don't dare try to blame me. I swear, I never opened your handbag."
"It wasn't in my handbag."
"But you just said--"
"I thought it was! That's where I put it, at first. But then, I took it out."
"Why would you do that?"
She shrugged, but thank goodness, she still didn't look up at him. Will saw her squeeze her hands together, her fingers so tightly clasped, the knuckles turned white.
"I was worried about losing it. My handbag, I mean. I sometimes can be a little forgetful. I wanted to be sure the money was safe."
"So, where did you put it?"
"In my valise," Abigail wailed. "I've lost everything. My job. My clothes. My money. And now, you want to take me back to Des Moines, dump me at the train station, and act like none of this ever happened. How could you?" she asked, looking up at him with a pleading expression that shook him up so bad, he felt he'd been turned inside out and put through a wringer like an old shirt on wash day. Might as well hang him up to dry now.
He took in a deep breath, gradually regaining control over both his mind and his body. His emotions weren't quite so easy to rein in, but he couldn't stay angry with Abigail Rose. Sure, she'd made a foolish mistake, but who was he to criticize her? Look at all the mistakes he'd made in his life.
Everybody made mistakes. What mattered was what a person did afterward.
"I'll make things right for you, Abigail. You've got my word on it."
"You won't send me away?"
He leaned his head back against the wood door frame and shut his eyes, knowing he was about to make a huge mistake. "No, I won't send you away."
I hope you've enjoyed this excerpt from The Wrong Woman.
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