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My Outcast Heart

My Outcast Heart by Anne C. Bowling
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Tabetha Small is a subsistence farmer in 1720 Bedford, New York. She loves her home and wants the life her grandparents had – a loving marriage and fruitful farm. This is shattered when her grandfather, Josiah, dies. Under colonial law, a single woman cannot live alone. Tabetha has two choices; leave her home or trust the strange man who comes down from the mountain.

Christian Dalby is a man with a duty. Framed as a thief and branded on the hand with a telltale “T,” Dalby has lived a hermit’s existence on the mountain behind the farm. Dalby had promised Josiah, his only link to civilization, that he would look after Tabetha if the need ever arose. Now he must fulfill that promise, sacrificing his solitude.

Awe-Struck Publishing; January 2006
216 pages; ISBN 9781587495366
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Title: My Outcast Heart
Author: Anne C. Bowling
I grasped the sides of the ladder to the loft, the smooth wood warm against my palms. My right foot planted itself on the bottom rung. I could not make it go any higher. That was not my bed anymore. Someone else could bring my trunk down later, take down the mattress and spread the bedding to dry. The smell of wet wool distracted me. It was an uncomfortable sensation, but brought comforting memories with it. A cold rush of air was followed by Esther’s chirrup and the click of the latch. I counted ten slow, steady steps before wet fingers took mine from the ladder. Dalby’s eyes were rimmed with red, his features grave and tightly drawn, as though he was the one to be buried. His throat worked above his collar, lips parted, then clamped shut to keep words locked inside. I pressed my back against the ladder when he turned me, and folded my arms across my chest. I had to hold them that way, or I would hold him, and never let him disappear back into his forest. “Speak your piece or leave me be.” My words clipped sharp on Dalby’s ears. That blink he had, the unsteady gaze, told me as much. He drew back by inches, though his hands stayed firm on my shoulders. His mouth jerked, twisted, formed parts of words that died in his throat. One of the ladder’s rungs pressed against the base of my skull, but I refused to move. As long as I was rigid, I was strong. “Josiah should have many mourners.” I answered with a nod, glancing my head on the ladder. “Grandfather had many friends.” Dalby rubbed the back of his neck. “He told me about them when he came to visit. Made me feel like I knew someone, like it might not be so bad if I met them.” There was a wistfulness to Dalby’s words. He sounded like some of the older women when they talked of their childhood homes. Friends were as far away to Dalby as the green shores of England. I let my arms fall to my sides. My hands fisted in my skirts. “You still have Gray Wolf.” “Nobody can take Josiah’s place.” The ladder prevented me from taking a step back. “I know. What I meant, was, who will do his job for you now? Bring you apples and tobacco and tell stories? Be your friend?” Even as I spoke, I imagined myself trekking through the forest, trailing the dogs along a path I might come to know well. If, of course, I could stay here. If I could slip away from whatever eagle-eyed widow or growing family came to invade my home and chase Dalby from it. Dalby let out a long breath. It was a tired sound, resigned, the sound of hope pressed down flat. “I’ll get by,” he said. “I have before, so I will again.” He flexed his hand, turning it to regard the branded T. “I’ll ask Gray Wolf about you when he comes.” I tilted my head, then winced. Before I could think what might have caused the tugging on my scalp, Dalby was there. His elbow jostled my shoulder. His hands moved with slow, deliberate care. I would have asked what he was doing, but it didn’t matter. He was there, close to me, one hand cupped to hold the back of my head. I breathed in the natural scent of him, felt his heartbeat strong against my ear, a strong, steady thump. Of their own will, my hands started to rise. The tugging stopped, and he stepped back. A few russet strands were pinched between his thumb and forefinger. “I’ll take this for my fee.” “Your fee.” I nodded. “Thank you. I might have stayed caught there until…” “Until you freed yourself.” Dalby rubbed his thumb against the hair. It looked even brighter next to the white of his scar. I found the contrast more compelling than it ought to be. I stared.
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