Stacey wanted to get out of there as quickly as she could. Though she had noticed Cellie watching her a couple of times during the group therapy, she had chosen not to participate today. Whether the woman had noticed or recognized her did not matter all that much. The truth was that she needed to get away for a bit. To think.
She had been naïve and judgmental. To assume that his wife was complacent or even a co-conspirator. The words she heard pour from the woman’s soul had shattered those assumptions and revealed her own guilt of indifference. What that woman and her girls had suffered at the man’s hands was every bit as bad, worse than anything she had endured. She could count her rapes.
To live with and be shackled by the unholy bonds of matrimony to that man. To be raped whenever he wanted or felt he deserved sex. Your life threatened if you ever dared to leave. Knowing that without your presence, there was no one to protect your children. Just as the man had made certain, there was no one there to protect his wife.
Stacey felt the bile rise in her throat as she raced down the path towards their cabin. She hoped that she made it before her self-loathing and pity exploded from her gut. She was startled and alarmed when she felt the hand on her shoulder. She assumed it was Indie or Cellie, coming to check up on her. Perhaps Reb.
She drew back from the touch as she had for twenty-seven-years, five months, and three days. However, she realized that her reaction was less violent, and the fear that gripped her gut into tight knots not quite as intense. Maybe all this therapy bullshit was not a waste of time after all.
When she swung around, she was startled to see the almost ghostly white face of the woman she had loathed for years. Wanda Kerr, or Skye as she was calling herself here. Stacey was not sure whether to hit out in anger or beg the woman’s forgiveness. So she remained silent. Let this woman take the lead.
“Please, please, don’t tell him where we are.”
The irony, that this mother feared the same thing that she had from the moment she stepped into that room and recognized her, was not lost on Stacey. She shook her head, but still, words eluded her as the trembling woman gripped her tighter.
“Not for me. But for my girls. They are just beginning to heal.”
“How long have you been gone? He told everyone that you had gone back East to help out some friend who was dying of cancer.”
“What?” Wanda shook her blond head at the revelation. “No, I took the girls and left almost a year ago.”
Stacey choked on the memory of this woman’s story, how closely it resembled her own. But she had only to pick up a telephone to protect Laura from Iggy. This woman had to find an attorney who would take her case pro bono. A woman’s shelter that would be secure enough from the man who was the law not only in Sebida, but feared in much of the area. And convince a judge to issue a restraining order against that man, an officer of the law that he broke.
But she, of all people, understood the wrenching need to protect your children. Wasn’t that what she was doing here now? And she grudgingly respected this woman’s courage. But she had to be absolutely, positively sure Wanda was telling the truth. The lives of her daughters and granddaughters depended on it.
“Then where have you been? I mean, how did you manage to hide from him?”
The woman’s shoulders slumped, and she dropped her hands from Stacey’s arm. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t. Luck, I think.”
“My attorney, Jaycee, is passionate about helping women like me. She had contacts in this underground railroad for abused women and children. We knew that Earl would find some way to search all the shelters. Even if that wasn’t supposed to happen, so, that was never an option. But these were women, families, homes that no one knew about. Once you go into the network, well, not even Jaycee knows where I am now.”
That name rang some bell, but Stacey was not thinking clearly. “Jaycee?”
“Yeah, Jaycee Riley, well, Ranger now. She got remarried after her ex-husband died.” Wanda frowned, “Wait, didn’t the death of her ex, Sean, start all kinds of trouble at McBride Industries? Don’t your oldest daughter work for them?”
Stacey was reluctant. How much did she share with this woman? But didn’t Wanda’s trust in her demand at least some reciprocity? Stacey just nodded.
“It’s okay. I understand. Everyone always said I was a ‘stand by you man’ kind of woman. But sometimes you ain’t got no other choice. I’m sorry if I bothered you. I won’t again. Just please, one mother to another, don’t let anyone…”
Stacey knew what Wanda was going to say even as Reb appeared down the path. “We need to talk,” her heart raced when she recognized the long, thin plastic case he held in his hand. “I need to go.”
Alarm rose in her heart as well as her mind. She forgot the other woman was even there. “Go where? Why? When do we leave?”
“We don’t. You’re staying here where it is safe. I got a message from Chad. Someone has kidnapped Grace, and he asked for my help.” Something about the way that Reb would not meet her eyes then told Stacey that there was more to it than that. She would question him more once they were on the road and away from this woman that she was still unsure of.
“I called Jack, and he’s going to round up the others up. I just have to convince Chad that he can trust them.”
“Oh, no, I’m going with you. Rose will need me. Another woman to lean on.”
“No, she won’t have time. They said that she was to come to Torreon. Alone.”
“Yeah, now you see. All the pieces are falling into place.” He reached his hand out for hers, “That’s why I need you here, sweetheart. Safe.”
“Bull shit. You know I can use a gun better than most men. And you know that if they are heading to Torreon, this involves my baby and that missing girl. I ain’t sitting here waiting for the big bad men to save the day. I have always taken care of what’s mine, and if you think that’s gonna change well…”
“Wait, did you say a girl was missing? Torreon? As in Mexico?” The other woman’s gripped her arm even tighter. Wanda’s face appeared even paler, if that was possible.