Second Chances Ch. 15byharemgirl©
Naomi and Sarah arrived in town and parked the wagon in front of the general store that also served as the local post office. They climbed down, chatting and laughing as they entered the establishment. A bell over the door tinkled, and the young women sighed, glad to be out of the freezing temperatures.
"Hello Mrs. Thatcher," Naomi said, with a friendly nod to the shopkeeper. "I trust you've been well."
Mrs. Thatcher beamed, happy to be the first to see the new Mrs. McKenzie around town. Her eyes gleamed with excitement as she carefully scanned Naomi's appearance, anxious to note any interesting details so that she could pass them along to the other ladies in the town. She noted the younger woman's rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes. She certainly didn't seem to be suffering as the bride of Aidan McKenzie, and Mrs. Thatcher couldn't help but feel a twinge of envy.
"Oh, yes I have been well, thank you Mrs. McKenzie. We've been wondering how you were adjusting to married life. No one has seen you around town since your wedding. It must get lonely for a woman, living out there with only three men for company."
Naomi laughed at the suggestion and placed her arm around Sarah, who had hung back when they entered the store. Naomi drew the shopkeeper's notice to Sarah for the first time.
"Oh, I haven't been lonely at all," Naomi said brightly. "My friend is staying with my husband and me. We've been having a lovely visit together."
Mrs. Thatcher's eyes gleamed with even more avid interest as she looked at Sarah. "How nice for you. But isn't that a little strange, I mean having a visitor when you are still so newly wed?"
Naomi had to struggle to keep her smile from turning brittle. The shopkeeper could be quite tactless. "We've been managing just fine, thank you."
Mrs. Thatcher's forehead crinkled from thought as she continued to look at Sarah. "You look very familiar to me, dear. Have we met somewhere before?"
"I don't think so, ma'am." Sarah shrugged lamely. She couldn't say for certain, because she didn't remember her past. She thrust her hand toward the shopkeeper with a friendly smile. "I'm Sarah Martin. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."
Mrs. Thatcher shook her hand, as she returned her smile with a thoughtful look. "Yes indeed. Your name sounds familiar too. Is that Mrs. or Miss, dear?"
Sarah blushed hotly. "Its Miss, I'm not married."
"Hmmm," Mrs. Thatcher said, nibbling at her bottom lip. "I just can't remember where I've seen you." Pressing the question to the back of her mind for the moment, she smiled at them. "I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually."
Naomi and Sarah exchanged a glance, as they read each other's thoughts. Perhaps Mrs. Thatcher did know Sarah from somewhere in her past. Naomi squeezed Sarah's hand with an encouraging smile before turning back to face the shopkeeper.
"Mrs. Thatcher, we would like to post a couple of letters."
Naomi pulled the letters from her pocket and handed them to the shopkeeper. They had drafted an inquiry to the land claims office, asking for information about any claims by Thomas Martin. They had drafted a similar inquiry to the office of vital statistics, seeking a birth certificate for Sarah or a marriage certificate for her parents.
"We didn't know the addresses of these offices. Perhaps you could help us?"
Mrs. Thatcher was pleased to perform the service, feeling knowledgeable and important as she looked up the appropriate addresses in a directory of government offices. They labeled the envelopes carefully and paid her for the postage.
"How long will it take for the letters to arrive?" Sarah asked with growing excitement.
"Oh, no more than a week or two," Mrs. Thatcher said proudly. "There's a young man who stops in on a regular basis to pick up and drop off the mail. It's quite an efficient system, really."
Again, Naomi and Sarah squeezed hands, and Naomi whispered excitedly into Sarah's ear. "See! Hopefully, in a month or so, we'll get a response that will help you remember your past."
Sarah ginned at her, and they both giggled with excitement. Mrs. Thatcher watched them, still troubled by her failure to recall where she had seen Sarah before. She wished she knew what they were giggling about.
"What was that, Mrs. McKenzie?"
"Oh nothing, Mrs. Thatcher," Naomi said, smiling at the older woman. "Now that we've taken care of our errand, do you think you could show us those lovely soft cotton yarns I glimpsed the last time I was here. I'm looking for something suitable to make a baby blanket, and I think you had just what I need."
Mrs. Thatcher completely forgot about Sarah, as her eyes lit with an eager glow. For the first time, she noticed the small bulge of Naomi's belly, and her mind began racing as she quickly calculated the time the young woman had been married.
"You're expecting!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, we are," Naomi declared proudly, laying a hand over the subtle swell of her tummy. "By August, we'll be welcoming a new member to our family."
"You certainly didn't waste any time," Mrs. Thatcher said, feeling an even stronger twinge of envy. "You must have conceived practically on your wedding night."
Naomi merely grinned. She knew that Aidan McKenzie had been hotly pursued before she snagged him for her own, and she couldn't resist gloating just a bit with her triumph.
"Well, you know," Naomi said, bending close as she dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, "with a man like my husband, we didn't have to try for very long. He had no trouble at all getting me with child."
Mrs. Thatcher looked both scandalized and delighted. She could hardly wait to spread the news to the other ladies in town.
"Do you still have the yarn I'm thinking of?" Naomi asked hopefully.
"Yes, indeed. It's right over here."
The three women sorted through the large basket of various colored yarns, and Naomi selected several balls of a delicate blue. She was convinced she would have a boy, and she refused to even look at the other colors available. Naomi insisted on purchasing a bonnet for Sarah, along with some satin ribbons and a beautiful comb to wear in her hair.
"Naomi, I really can't let you buy these things for me," Sarah said.
"Nonsense," Naomi replied with a smile. "You're my dearest friend, and I feel like treating you to something nice. Besides, it's the least I can do to thank you for the curtains and the table cloth you made."
She insisted, and Sarah finally agreed. Naomi happily paid the shopkeeper, chatting with Sarah as Mrs. Thatcher wrapped her parcels. They thanked her and exited the shop, still laughing and talking as they stowed the purchases in the back of the wagon.
"Thank you," Sarah said with a smile. "That was very thoughtful of you."
"You know, Sarah," Naomi murmured, linking her arm through her friend's, "we're so seldom able to come into town. I think you and I should have a cup of tea and maybe a pastry from the bakery."
Sarah laughed as they turned and strolled along the boardwalk. "I swear, Naomi. You rival Liam with your love of sweets. We have apple pie waiting at home, you know."
"I know," Naomi said with a grin, "but I am eating for two. I think a pastry would definitely be in order."
Mrs. Thatcher stood with her nose pressed against the window, watching the two younger women strolling down the street. Her failure to recall where she had seen Sarah was nagging at her. She was so engrossed that she jumped when the bell over the door tinkled once more, announcing another patron.
Sheriff Wilson entered, removing his hat as he closed the door behind him. He nodded to the shopkeeper with a friendly smile. "Hello Mrs. Thatcher. Was that Mrs. McKenzie I saw leaving?"
"Yes it was," the shopkeeper beamed. "And do you know, she's already expecting."
"Really?" he said, grinning as he admired the two retreating women. He enjoyed the sight of their gently swaying hips, and his grin widened as he mentally acknowledged that Aidan McKenzie was one lucky man. "Who was that with her? I didn't get a good look at her."
"Oh, that's a friend who's been visiting them," Mrs. Thatcher said, pleased that she could be the first to spread that news as well. "Her name is Sarah Martin, and I can tell you..."
"Sarah Martin!" The sheriff's grin evaporated as he watched Sarah and Naomi enter the bakery. "That's Sarah Martin?"
Mrs. Thatcher was shocked by the way he had interrupted her, and she frowned. "Yes. Why? Do you know her? I could swear I've seen her somewhere before."
Sheriff Wilson looked at her as if she had two heads. "Of course you've seen her before. There's a wanted poster with her picture that's been hanging in my office for nearly two months!"
Mrs. Thatcher's jaw dropped, and her eyes popped wide. "Of course! I knew I had seen that face!"
"Excuse me," the sheriff said, jabbing his hat onto his head. "I've got some business to attend."
He left Mrs. Thatcher with her mouth hanging open, and he walked to the bakery as quickly as possible. The sheriff entered just as Naomi and Sarah were seating themselves at a small table. He didn't bother to remove his hat. He simply approached and stared at Sarah, scanning her features carefully.
"Sarah Martin?" he asked gruffly.
The hair on the back of Sarah's neck stood up when she saw his keen interest. She and Naomi exchanged a puzzled glance. Did this man know her? Should she know him?
"Yes," she ventured carefully.
"You'll have to come with me, ma'am. I'm afraid you're under arrest."
As he said the words, he gripped Sarah's upper arm and urged her to her feet. Both she and Naomi gasped from shock. Naomi was the first to regain her wits.
"What on earth are you talking about?" she demanded. "You take your hand off her this instant!"
The sheriff merely shook his head as he towed Sarah to the door. He opened it and pulled Sarah out onto the boardwalk, heedless of the astonished stares he received from the baker and his wife. Naomi was barely a step behind him, and he gave her a frown as he towed Sarah along beside him.
"I can't do that, Mrs. McKenzie. She'll have to come with me."
Sarah had been meekly accompanying him, still dazed by his abrupt announcement. She blinked a few times and dug her heels in, resisting his firm tug on her arm.
"Just a minute! I'm not going anywhere with you until you tell me what this is about."
Naomi joined her friend in trying to pry the sheriff's fingers from her arm. The two women both gasped with indignation when the sheriff merely grabbed Naomi's arm in his other hand. They struggled and screeched, but Sheriff Wilson refused to release them until he reached the jail.
When he let go of Naomi's arm to open the door, both women pounced on him. They pummeled him with their fists and tried to tug Sarah's arm free from his grasp. Sarah even bit him on the hand to try and win her release. With an enraged howl, the sheriff hefted Sarah over his shoulder and carried her into the jailhouse. Naomi dogged his heels, tugging and hitting him as he carried Sarah through another door to the holding cells in the back of the small building. He deposited her onto a cot in one of the two cells, but when he would have locked her inside, Naomi went even wilder.
"I'm not about to let you lock her up," she screeched. "Let her go this instant!"
She again pounded his chest with her fists, and seeing she was having no effect, she slapped him hard across the cheek. With an angry growl, Sheriff Wilson grabbed her upper arms and thrust her into the cell with her friend, locking the door with a loud clang. He rubbed his palm over his cheek to relieve the sting.
"There," he sighed with satisfaction. "You two little hellions can just cool your heels."
"You can't do this," Naomi gasped, jerking on the bars. "You can't just lock us in jail for no reason! What are you charging us with?"
"Hmmm," Sheriff Wilson said, scowling at the tooth marks on his hand, "I'm holding you, Mrs. McKenzie for interfering with an officer of the law and aiding and abetting a dangerous criminal."
Naomi gasped with indignation. "You must be out of your..."
"And you, Miss Martin," the sheriff interrupted, pinning Sarah with an accusing glare, "I'm holding you for murder."
"What?!?" both Naomi and Sarah gasped.
This time, Sarah was the first to regain the use of her tongue. "There must be a mistake. I've never murdered anyone!"
Sheriff Wilson disappeared through the door, returning only moments later with a piece of paper. He waved it triumphantly before them.
"Read it for yourselves," he said, thrusting the paper between the bars. "Now, like I said, the two of you can just cool your heels for a while."
He pulled his breeches higher on his hips and left them alone, slamming the door behind him. Sarah and Naomi exchanged a horrified glance before they huddled close and hurriedly scanned the wanted poster. Their eyes widened in alarm when they saw the drawing. It was a very close likeness of Sarah, and her name was printed in large capital letters.
"It's impossible," Naomi gasped. "I don't believe a word of it."
Sarah was busy reading the details, and when she came across the name Jared Henderson, it seemed to leap up at her from the page. She felt suddenly light headed and nauseous, and she gripped Naomi's arm so tightly, her knuckles turned white.
"Oh Naomi," she wheezed, struggling to draw a breath. Her knees began to buckle beneath her.
"Sarah!" Naomi clutched her around the waist and helped her to sit on the side of the small cot. "Sarah, what's wrong?"
Sarah squeezed her eyes shut, and her mind swam with vivid images. Jared Henderson's name was like the key to a lock, and her memory sprang open. She was flooded by visions and the room seemed to spin around her as struggled to assimilate them all. Every detail of her past crowded close, vying for her attention. She moaned, and for the first time in her life, she fainted dead away.
"Sarah!" Naomi cried again. She eased her friend down onto the cot and patted her cheeks gently. "Sarah, are you alright? Sarah?"
After a minute or two, Sarah slowly woke up, blinking her eyes in confusion. It took her another minute to realize where she was. When she did, she sat up with a gasp, clutching her friend's hands. As their gazes met, Sarah's chin firmed with determination.
"Naomi," she said softly, "I didn't murder Mr. Henderson, but I know who did. We've got to talk to the sheriff."
The McKenzie brothers arrived home shortly after dark. They had spent the day clearing trees from an area where they planned to plant an orchard. All three of them were tired, cold and hungry. As they rode into the yard, they exchanged nervous glances. There were no lights shining through the windows of either cabin, and no smoke rose from either chimney.
They dismounted, and while Aidan went to his cabin to search for Naomi, Brian went to his looking for Sarah. His heart was pounding with dread. He was hoping against hope that he was wrong, because he had a sinking feeling that Sarah and Naomi had gone into town.
When Brian didn't find her inside the cabin, he ran back to his horse and jumped onto its back. Without even a word to Liam, he kicked his horse into a gallop and headed for town.
"Hey, wait," Liam shouted after him.
Aidan reappeared and ran to join Liam, as they both watched Brian race away through the trees. "This doesn't look good," Aidan muttered, mounting his own horse.
They set out in their brother's wake, trying to keep him in sight as they rode. They shared his anxiety. They had also guessed that Naomi and Sarah had gone into town, but they weren't as reckless as their middle sibling. They figured it wouldn't do anyone any good if they made their horses fall on the icy snow by pushing them too hard. By the time they were halfway to town, Brian had left them far behind.
Brian rode into town and steered his horse straight for the jail house. He didn't even bother to tie his horse to the rail, he simply burst into the sheriff's office, breathing hard from his ride.
"Where is she?" he demanded.
Sheriff Wilson had been sitting near a wood stove, chatting with two of the townsmen. He rose, hefting his breeches higher on his hips as he eyed Brian warily.
"If you're referring to Sarah Martin, she's locked up in the back, along with your sister-in-law. I was wondering when you would show up. I realized that you've been harboring a criminal all these months. You knew Sarah Martin was wanted for murder."
Brian released a snarl and headed for the door that led to the holding cells. "You idiot! She didn't murder anyone."
"What do you think you're doing?" the sheriff asked, bristling from the insult.
"I'm getting Sarah out of here," Brian muttered.
The sheriff grabbed his arm and Brian swung around with a fist, landing a hard punch squarely on the sheriff's jaw. The sheriff was jerked backward, but he quickly recovered, and he punched Brian in the stomach. The sheriff was quite a large man, but having grown up with two brothers, Brian knew how to hold his own in a fight. He would have quickly dispensed with just the sheriff, but the two townsmen joined in.
A full blown brawl ensued. The four men scuffled and fought, knocking each other across the desk and the chairs until the sheriff's office was in a shambles. Brian's anger and desperation were so strong, he saw everything through a red haze as he pounded his opponents. He pinned one of the men against the wall and was about to deliver another punishing blow when the sheriff bashed him across the back of his head with the butt of his gun. Brian crumpled to the floor, unconscious.
"Lock him up," the sheriff panted.
The two men grabbed Brian by the arms and dragged him through the back door, depositing him on the floor of the second holding cell. Naomi and Sarah were both clutching the bars, their expressions horrified as they watched the men dump Brian in the cell next to theirs.
"What have you done to him?" Sarah gasped.
Brian's face was bloody and bruised, and his clothes were torn in several places. He lay motionless on the floor. The sheriff locked the door to Brian's cell and sent Sarah a glare.
"I just knocked him out," the sheriff said gruffly. "He'll wake up soon, and when he does, he can pay for the damage to my office."
"Sheriff wait," Sarah cried. "You must listen to me. I'm not a murderer. I know who killed Mr. Henderson."
Sheriff Wilson heaved a tired sigh and shook his head. "Look little lady. You've been hollering all afternoon that you aren't a murderer. I've got a headache from the racket you two have made. Now, I don't like locking up women, but I don't have any choice but to keep you in here until a judge is able to hear your case. If you've got some evidence to prove your innocence, then tell it to the judge." He gave Naomi a reproachful look. "As for you, Mrs. McKenzie, I'll be happy to release you if you think you can behave yourself."
Naomi thrust her nose in the air and crossed her arms belligerently as she glared at the sheriff. "I'm not about to leave Sarah in here all alone. If she stays, I stay."
Sheriff Wilson sighed again, turning toward the door. "Have it your way, ma'am."
He and the other two men left, closing the door behind them. Sarah released a long groan, shaking the bars to release her frustration.
"What are we going to do?" she wailed.
Naomi hugged her around the waist, leaning her own head against the bars. "If Brian knew we're here, it can't be long before Aidan comes too. I'm sure he'll find some way other than starting a fight to get us out of this mess."
They both looked at Brian, and Sarah's lips twitched. "It was rather brash of him, the way he burst in and took on three men. He's so wild and impulsive. I can't help but love him."