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The Hungry Heart

The Hungry Heart by Beraru Elise Dee
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Badly scarred, Jenny and Micah survived the Civil War. Can marrying save them?
Awe-Struck Publishing; September 2003
152 pages; ISBN 9781587494017
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Title: The Hungry Heart
Author: Beraru Elise Dee
Well after midnight, the door between the sheriff's office and the jail opened and Deputy Filer stepped in.

"You asleep, Clarkson?"

A gravelly voice answered, "If I was I wouldn't be now."

"Someone to see you."

"Not the preacher again."


Filer unlocked the cell door and allowed the visitor in. He hooked a lantern on a rail and exited, locking the door behind him. Jenny looked up from her crouched position on the cot.

Into the eyes of a thin man.

Those dark, blue-violet eyes were deep set in a face so gaunt and pallid as to seem skeletal. The man had a strong aquiline nose and equally strong jaw surrounding a mouth that looked surprisingly soft for someone so lean. His hair was a dark blond, short, limp and lifeless. His mouth was framed by a tawny, drooping mustache.

He was very tall, well over six feet, but appeared to be as thin below the shoulders as his face was. His clothes--a blue chambray work shirt, brown wool trousers, a brown buckskin jacket--all seemed too large for his frame, as though he had been heavier but had never bought new clothes to accommodate his present build.

It seemed to Jenny that he might have been a reasonably handsome man at some time in his life, but now he was too emaciated for her to tell. She reckoned his age to be in his early to middle thirties.

For a while the man stood there, a look of vulnerable anxiety on his lean features. She had never seen a man show emotion so plainly on his face.

"Welcome to my parlor," Jenny finally said, spreading her arms to indicate the expanse of her cell. "Please forgive its somewhat disordered state. I have something of a journey facing me tomorrow and I wasn't exactly expecting a gentleman caller."

He loved the way her educated speech was gentled by her soft Georgia accent. He glanced down at the slim, blanket-wrapped body. She was beautiful, not in the fashionable way his late wife Melissa had been, but in her intelligence and dignity. Even with her tear-streaked features she was beautiful.

"I saw you at the back of the courtroom every day during my trial. You were the only person in the gallery courageous enough to look me in the face. Sometimes I thought you were the only one in the courtroom who wanted me to be acquitted."

"Maybe I was. He and I were only passing acquaintances, but Leon Purdy was a popular fellow."

"I'm sorry he's dead. I got the jury to believe it wasn't my doing--for all the good it did me."

"Well, maybe it did do you some good."

"Look," Jenny said impatiently, "Even though I saw you every day and feel a little like I know you, we've never been formally introduced." She held out her hand. "My name is Genevieve Louise Clarkson, but they call me Jenny."

He took her hand and held it for a moment. His was a large, long-fingered hand; callused from hard work but as fleshless as the rest of him. She also noticed his hand was cold. Whether from nervousness or thinness, Jenny didn't know.

"My name is Micah Peterman," the thin man said. "I own a small horse farm just outside Loomis." He noticed a book lying open beside her. "What are you reading?"

Jenny picked up the book. "Hamlet," she said, quoting "'To die, to sleep, perchance to dream. Aye, that's the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause...'" She looked up. "Strangely philosophical reading for the last night of my life, but I do enjoy Shakespeare."

"I was impressed by your performance in the courtroom."

Jenny snorted. "Thanks, but a rare lot of good it did me."

"You beat the murder charge."

"And I'm still going to die tomorrow."

"Maybe not, Miss Clarkson."

Jenny's head shot up. "What do you mean?"

"Have you ever heard of the Marital Parole Law?"

Jenny shook her head. "I haven't exactly had time to a thoroughly study the Missouri Statutes."

He fought a smile. "No, I imagine not. Anyway, it was enacted about a year ago because of the shortage of men in the state since the War. It says if a condemned felon not convicted of rape or murder agrees to marry a unmarried landowner and remain married for a minimum of seven years, the death sentence is suspended and then commuted completely at the end of seven years whether the marriage continues or not."

"You said this law was designed to alleviate a shortage of men?" Jenny splayed fingers through her ragged waves. "Despite my short hair, I haven't exactly been considered a man."

Micah smiled warmly. "Indeed not. But I did a little checking. The intent of the law is not written into the statute and only uses the word 'he' in reference to the felon. In Missouri, the use of 'he' also means 'she' unless the law specifically states otherwise."

Jenny blinked, connecting the logic of his statements. "Are you saying because I was acquitted of the murder charge I might be eligible for parole under this law."

"That's exactly what I'm saying. I even checked it out with Judge Plascove to make sure I understood it before I came here."

"So all I have to do is find some landowner in this county to marry me and I don't have to be hanged." Jenny laughed bitterly. "Who'd marry me?"

"I would."

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