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The Third WifeT H E  T H I R D  W I F E

Mira Books
September 2002
Available Now at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com

On her wedding night, 17-year-old Anna Langtry stole her husband's car and fled into darkness, racing toward freedom. She was desperate to escape the nightmare of her Colorado home -- an isolated rural community that had forced her into a polygamous marriage as an older man's third wife.

Fifteen years later, Anna is working as a federal probation officer in Denver. A fighter for the underdog, she nevertheless can't escape the cynicism of her profession. She doesn't expect much from her new parolee, just the usual sob story about being innocent. But Joe Mackenzie is different.

A white-collar criminal convicted of embezzlement, Joe is tough, quiet, determined ... and innocent. Now he's looking for justice, and he's about to pull Anna into his world, one that will lead her back to the past she'd left behind. One that will reach out to ensnare them both in its dangerous secrets and deadly schemes, where the passion between them is threatened by the grim reach of murder.

Chapter One

South-Western Colorado, June 1987

Brushing away sentimental tears, Betty Jean gave a final tweak to her daughter's wedding veil, fluffing air into it so that it fell in a puffy cloud around Anna's bouffant hair-do.

"You look real pretty," Betty Jean said, urging her daughter to turn around so that she could look at herself in the mirror hung on the back of the bedroom door. "Aunt Debbie did a fine job with your dress, didn't she? She's so talented with her sewing now she's got that lovely new machine Ray bought for her birthday."

Anna heard worry in her mom's voice, barely hidden beneath the note of forced cheerfulness. Betty Jean might not be too smart in terms of book-learning, but she had a streak of shrewdness that surfaced when you least expected it, and she sensed something seriously off-key in her daughter's meekness, even though she probably couldn't pin a name on her worry.

For a moment Anna considered giving up her pretense and just appealing flat out for her mom's help, but she quickly gave up on that idea. Relying on her mom would be dangerous. Real dangerous. If Betty Jean let her down -- and she almost certainly would -- then all the careful play-acting Anna had done for the past six weeks would be wasted. Six weeks of pretending that she was looking forward to marrying Caleb Welks, her stepfather's brother. Six weeks of pretending that she was ready to submit, humbly and dutifully, to God's will.

God's will as interpreted by Ray and Caleb Welks, that was. In this house, there was no need to waste time praying, or reading the Bible to try to find out what God might want for you to do. Here, all you had to do was ask Ray. Sometimes it seemed like Ray just about had a speed-dial phone line direct to God, he was so sure he knew exactly what the Lord wanted.

Anna never doubted that her mom loved her, but love wasn't enough to insure that Betty Jean would be on her side, much less stand up for her. Ray had her mom so much under his thumb that she mostly didn't have a mind of her own any more. The truth was, Betty Jean was so crazy mixed-up right now that she couldn't see what a crock of shit Ray Welks was passing off on her, pretending it was something real good and sweet-smelling.

Anna wished her mom could be stronger, but that was like wishing the moon would shine over the cow barn in the middle of the day. Betty Jean had gone to pieces when Anna's dad died way back in 1979 when Anna was only in the third grade. Ray had been the person who helped glue her mom back together again, Anna had to admit that much. But what Betty Jean didn't seem to realize was that Ray had stuck the pieces together according to his own messed-up pattern, so that instead of being nice and smooth and confident, her mom was all cracked and rackety. The fragile person Betty Jean had become couldn't function without Ray to tell her what she must do and how she must think. And, of course, Ray always told Betty Jean it was her God-given duty to think just like him.

Anna hated to see how her Mom had lost all confidence in herself. In the old days, Betty Jean had been pretty good at stuff like cooking and keeping house and reading fun bedtime stories. Anna remembered how they'd baked cookies after school every Friday, and how her mom always kept a jug of flowers on the table, although they had no money after her dad died and the bank was threatening to take back their house. But nowadays, Betty Jean was so beaten down that even caring for five-year old Billy and three-year old Susan would be way beyond her if it weren't for all the help she got from Aunt Debbie and Aunt Patsy.

Which left Anna pretty much on her own when it came to taking care of herself. That was okay, though, because she had her plans for the future all worked out. She just had to submit to this dumb wedding ceremony, and then she'd be free. Well, almost free. A little bubble of nausea formed in the pit of Anna's stomach, but she ignored it. No need to think about what would happen after the wedding ceremony when she would be expected to climb into bed with Caleb Welks. Thinking about having sex with Caleb wouldn't change the need to go through with it, so there was no point in getting roiled up about it. Right now, what she needed to do was concentrate on keeping everyone in Ray's house convinced that she was happy as a songbird with a belly full of juicy worms.

When Ray first delivered his announcement that God wanted her to be sealed in marriage with his brother, Caleb, shock had made Anna stupid, otherwise she'd never have made the fatal error of screaming out she'd kill herself before she agreed to marry Caleb Welks. He was old, only a year short of forty, and he was going bald, and he had a look in his eyes that scared her. Not exactly a mean look, but something that scared her even more than plain old mean.

Her stepfather never tolerated any opposition, but at least he'd never given her the sort of hot, squirmy look she got from Caleb. Besides, Ray wasn't physically violent. Well, not unless you counted him dragging her up the stairs to lock her in her room when she screamed that she wasn't going to be married off before she finished high school. But Caleb Welks .... well, that was another story. Anna had heard rumors, whispers among the women when they thought Anna wasn't paying attention. After watching Caleb and his family closely in church every Sunday for the past six weeks, Anna believed the whispers. She was sure her soon-to-be husband used his leather belt for a lot more than holding up his fancy, bought-in-Denver pants.

Anna had kept up her defiance for three days after Ray's original pronouncement, even though she'd been locked in her room, with her clothes and shoes taken away, forbidden to go to school for the final week of the semester. At the end of the three days, she finally realized how brainless she was being. What did she think she would achieve with her protests? Even if she managed to stave off marriage to Caleb which was about as likely as her pig Polly learning to fly around the farmyard she would simply be betrothed to someone else. Now that she'd finished her junior year of high school, Ray was going to make sure she was married off before she could complete her senior year and graduate. Educated women with diplomas and dreams of attending college didn't fit well into the Alana Springs community.

Three days of despair concentrated her mind enough that Anna finally got smart. She realized that pretending submission to Ray's wishes was the only way she would ever be able to escape from his clutches. She sent one of her stepsisters to Ray with a message, begging for forgiveness. Then, when he unlocked the door, she fell down on her knees in front of him, sobbing. God had spoken to her, she informed Ray and her anxiously hovering mother. She realized now that it was part of the Divine Plan for her to marry Caleb, and she looked forward to having the ceremony as soon as possible.

Ray announced that the ceremony would take place on Anna's seventeenth birthday, only six weeks away. He sent her a sidelong glance as he made the suggestion, clearly expecting opposition. Anna, newly wise, smiled and told him the date was a perfect choice. It would make for a lovely double celebration to have her birthday and her wedding anniversary on the same day each year. Visibly gratified, Ray said he'd worried that she wasn't ready for marriage, but now he was hopeful she was going to make his brother a loving and obedient wife.

Not in this lifetime, Anna swore to herself. Besides, if Ray harbored so many doubts about whether she was ready for marriage, why was he going ahead and insisting on marrying her off to his brother? She didn't ask, of course. Demands for logical explanations didn't fit well into her new role of mindless obedience.

After her dramatic display of contrition, she'd hoped that Ray would relax his vigilance, giving her a chance to run away, but her stepfather was much too smart to accept her sudden compliance at face value. The door to her room had been unlocked, but she was still a prisoner, watched every minute of every day. Gradually, as the wedding date loomed relentlessly closer, Anna was forced to accept that she had no hope of escaping until after the ceremony.

Refusing to give way to despair, she spent every minute she could spare from her chores perfecting her escape plan. Her husband-to-be had two cars, one of them a new Ford Taurus. If she disabled his old station wagon and stole the Taurus, she would probably be able to make it out of the county before he could catch her. Depending on how much gas was in the tank of the Taurus, she'd need at least another twenty bucks to get as far as Denver, where she figured she ought to be able to hide away pretty good.

The fact that Anna had money for gas was her secret weapon. Nobody knew that she had worked for the school principal during her lunch hour for most of the last two semesters, doing clerical jobs and filing in the back office. The principal had paid her fifteen dollars a week and she'd saved every cent of her earnings. Last night, when Joy, Brenda and Lynette had finally fallen asleep after hours of excited chatter about the wedding, Anna had hidden in the closet and, by flashlight, stitched four hundred and twenty dollars into a muslin band tacked onto the inside of the ruffled petticoat made specially to wear under her wedding gown. She had no illusions about how far that money would stretch. She knew four hundred bucks wasn't enough to rent an apartment in a big city like Denver, not by the time you paid a security deposit and everything, but it was enough to buy her food and she could wash in public restrooms and sleep in the car until she got a job. Anything was better than getting trapped in a celestial marriage, endlessly pregnant with Caleb's babies.

"Anna, honey, what's the matter?" She'd been lost in thought much too long, and her mother's voice had taken on a new layer of worry. " Why don't you want to turn around so you can see how pretty you look in your lovely dress?"

Anna satisfied her mother by swiveling around and staring at herself in the mirror. An overweight, auburn-haired teenager stared back, reflected against a background of four bunk beds crowded into the bedroom she shared with Ray's three oldest daughters. Many of the women in Alana Springs were overweight, not only because they ate a lot of cheap starchy food in an effort to stretch the grocery money as far as possible, but also because baking cakes and inviting each other to little in-home parties was one of the few ways they had to entertain themselves.

Her mom and Aunt Debbie were both looking at her with real concern, and even Aunt Patsy the Queen of Mean appeared a bit anxious. Since Anna had spent the past six weeks chirping and squealing with fake delight over the wedding plans, it was only to be expected that her sudden attack of silence would make everyone nervous.

The need to lull their suspicions gave Anna the strength to force her mouth into a smile, as if she were thrilled by the sight of her hideous, calf-length white wedding dress, with its frilled collar and bloated, elbow-length sleeves, trimmed with scratchy lace bought on sale from Wal-Mart. Pantyhose and toeless white sandals completed a bridal outfit that was so far beyond tacky that Anna couldn't find words to describe its full awfulness even in the privacy of her own thoughts.

Still, she understood the need to appear both grateful and excited. She was carrying a bouquet of pink carnations and baby's breath, picked up yesterday afternoon from the supermarket in Cortez, and she held the bouquet out to one side, twirling around so that her skirt billowed out just a little. Her mom and Aunt Debbie both applauded.

Aunt Patsy wasn't willing to go that far, even if getting rid of Anna had been her main objective for the past three years at least. Instead of clapping, she started to deliver another of her rambling lectures about the sanctity of marriage, and a wife's duty to submit to her husband in all things. Anna was so close to exploding that she was actually relieved when Ray knocked on the bedroom door, asking if they were ready, and telling them they needed to hurry.

His words produced an immediate flurry of activity. Once Ray Welks spoke, the women of his household sprang into instant action. Her mom picked up the suitcase containing all Anna's worldly possessions, and she was rushed downstairs to say goodbye to her stepbrothers and sisters. The little ones looked bewildered, not understanding what was going on, but Brenda and Margaret, her two oldest stepsisters, hugged her fiercely, even though they expected to see her in church tomorrow. Anna felt a sharp pang. Brenda and Margaret were only a little younger than she was, and the three of them had been almost inseparable for the past six years. She loved Billy and Susan, her half- brother and sister, but she loved Brenda and Margaret, Aunt Patsy's daughters, even more. It was real hard to bear in her heart the secret knowledge that she would probably never see them again in her whole entire life.

His arm linked with his stepdaughter's, Ray chivvied his three wives out of the house and into the waiting car. In honor of the special occasion, he'd taken the toddler car seats out of his 1982 Chevy Impala and cleaned off the exterior with the hose. As the bride-to-be, Anna got the position of honor next to Ray, while her mom sat in the back seat, along with Debbie and Patsy, Ray's two other wives. None of her brothers and sisters were allowed to attend the wedding because, according to Ray, it was necessary to keep the guest list small. It would be risky to draw too much attention to the day's activities.

That was why her wedding ceremony would take place in Caleb's house, not in the church meeting house. As far as Anna knew, nobody in Alana Springs had ever been prosecuted for bigamy, but apparently a couple of nosy reporters had gotten in touch with some wicked women who'd fled the protection of their families in the polygamous community that flourished in Colorado City, Arizona. The flurry of outside interest had renewed fears of interference by the state in matters that the True Life Latter Day Saints considered private between God and his church.

According to Ray, reporters didn't care about sacred beliefs, they only cared about creating scandals, and even though everyone in Alana Springs knew that their lifestyle was part of God's Divine plan, they were being extra careful these days to keep a low profile. At breakfast time this morning, Ray had solemnly reported on the warning he'd received during the night from God. A little prevention was worth a lot of cure, God had said, and Ray for sure wasn't going to ignore a direct warning from God.

Anna had noticed over the years that God had an annoying tendency to express Himself in cliches that were notable chiefly for their utter triteness. Besides, neither God nor Ray Welks needed to worry much about stirring up the wrath of the local authorities, however much trouble the folks in Utah and Arizona might be facing. The law was administered in Alana Springs by a sheriff and two deputies who were both practicing believers in celestial marriage, so it didn't seem very likely that they were going to invade Caleb Welks's home and cart him off to jail even if they did get wind of the ceremony that was about to take place. The fact that Sheriff Betz was a practicing member of the True Life Latter Day Saints was the very reason Anna hadn't gone to him for help when Ray announced that she was to be sealed in marriage with Caleb Welks.

Anna had only a fuzzy idea of United States law, but she was fairly sure that a seventeen year old couldn't be forced to marry anyone she didn't want to, even if she was a minor and-- according to Ray -- subject to the will of her parents, under God. Still, all that was irrelevant now. She was going through with the marriage, because then she'd be free. Her husband-to-be was the president of a bank in Cortez and the only member of the Alana Springs community who had money to spare. His house was bigger than most and in an excellent state of repair, eliciting little murmurs of appreciation from Betty Jean, Debbie and Patsy, even though they'd visited many times before.

"My, what a lovely home you're coming to," Patsy said, with a touch of genuine warmth. With Anna finally out of the house, she apparently felt able to be generous. "You're lucky that God and your stepfather have arranged such a wonderful marriage for you."

"It's a nice house," Anna agreed, scanning the facade of the two-story building, and noting with relief that Caleb's Ford Taurus was in the car port, along with the big Oldsmobile station wagon that was used by his other two wives and their six children, five of whom still lived at home. Anna strove to keep all trace of irony from her voice. "I know I'm very lucky to be marrying Caleb."

"My brother is a devoted servant of the Lord," Ray said as they drew up at the end of the dirt driveway. He parked the Chevy on a patch of gravel in front of the stoop, then unlocked the car doors so that the four women could get out. "He will make you a good husband."

They trooped up the steps, Anna's hand hooked through Ray's arm and his three wives ranged behind her. Anna realized it was getting easier and easier to act obedient now that she could count down the hours to the moment of her liberation. After all, this marriage wasn't legal and she didn't believe it was God's will, either. She could think of it as a piece of meaningless play acting. Which, in fact, was what it was in the eyes of most of the world.

Caleb opened the door in answer to Ray's knock. At thirty-nine, he was six years younger than Ray and about twenty pounds heavier, with all of the extra weight carried in a roll of flesh around his middle. In honor of the occasion, he was dressed in one of his banker's suits of dark blue pin-stripes, and he wore a white starched shirt along with a sober blue paisley tie. His jowls hung slightly over his tight collar, making his small ears appear conspicuous. His gaze flicked toward Anna and she saw the usual hot flare of lust in his eyes before he turned toward his brother, adjusting his face into a mask of heavy solemnity.

"Ray, great to see you, come on in." He shook his brother's hand then nodded to the three wives standing just a step behind Ray. "Ladies, thank you for coming. We've got everything ready in the living room. The children are all very excited."

"They do love a party, don't they?" Aunt Patsy gave her brother-in-law a friendly smile. "We'll take your children home with us, Caleb, and bring them to church with us in the morning. That way you and Anna can have a few hours to yourself."

"That's thoughtful of you. I appreciate the offer." Caleb's gaze flicked toward Anna again, but this time she met his eyes and faked a shy smile. However difficult it was not to puke, not to scream, not to run, she had to play along. She couldn't blow it now, or her chance might be gone for ever. Eventually she'd be able to escape, of course, since she couldn't be kept confined to Caleb's house indefinitely. But if they kept her under surveillance, she might be pregnant by the time she managed to make her getaway, and that would spell disaster because she knew she could never abandon a baby of hers, even one who had Caleb for its father. In the long run, Anna suspected it was the children that often kept the women of Alana Springs tied to their husbands, even when all the other bonds started to chafe.

Caleb led the visitors into his living room, where his two existing wives were waiting. Pamela, his first wife, was only thirty-seven, but she looked matronly, almost middle aged. She'd been married to Caleb for nineteen years, and she had three children, a son who was eighteen and had already left home, and two daughters who were sixteen and fourteen.

Darlene, Caleb's second wife, was still in her twenties and the mother of two sons and a daughter who had all been born within three years of each other. Darlene's last pregnancy had been difficult, and she was known to have various unspecified female complaints. Anna thought cynically that a desire to avoid having any more children might well be the major female problem that she suffered from. Birth control was against the religious beliefs of the True Life Latter Day Saints, and sex was normally timed to provide the maximum chance of successful impregnation, so ill-health was the only refuge for wives who wanted to escape the burden of too many pregnancies in too short a time.

Caleb's two wives rose to their feet as soon as Caleb and the bridal party entered the living room, children clustering near their mothers. Everybody already knew everybody else, and there were greetings all around, with much nervous laughter and self-conscious smiles. Darlene told Anna that she looked beautiful, although it appeared as if it nearly choked her to utter the words. She might not want any more babies, but she didn't want another wife vying for Caleb's attention either.

Pamela, on the other hand, seemed almost gleeful in her welcome and Anna well-versed in the politics of polygamous households quickly realized that Pamela was spitefully delighted that pretty young Darlene was about to face competition from a wife who was a decade younger, even if not quite so pretty.

Nobody else seemed to notice anything amiss with the welcome Anna was getting. She wondered if she could possibly be the only person who felt the tension prickling in the air. Or maybe it was just in her mind, and not in the air at all. There were lots of days when Anna was quite sure all the wives in Alana Springs knew their polygamous lifestyle was freaky. Other times, she felt a gut-wrenching fear that the women were as happy as they claimed to be and that she was the weirdo, the odd person out who was so corrupt and sinful that she couldn't see the beauty of the polygamous way of life. Her stepsisters, Brenda and Margaret, had no doubts that celestial marriage was God's will, so why did Anna have this pesky little voice deep inside that kept popping up with snide comments, making her feel like she was always standing at the edge of the group, an observer at the events of her own life?

Ray was acting as priest for the wedding ceremony and he was clearly anxious to get things moving. Perhaps he still harbored a fear that Anna might change her mind if she was given too much time to think about it. He positioned himself in front of the room's largest window and quickly got the women and children lined up on either side of Caleb and Anna, according to which family they belonged to.

With everyone in place, Ray opened his bible and read one of his favorite passages, where Paul the Apostle tells the women of Ephesus that they are duty- bound to submit to their husbands. Ray skipped over the verses in which Paul admonishes husbands to love their wives and took up again at the point where the apostle sternly advises children that they are always to obey their parents.

He then led her and Caleb through a short version of the wedding service. The men of the True Life Latter Day Saints wore only one wedding band to indicate their marital status, but husbands pledged their fidelity to their multiple wives by giving each of them a ring. So Caleb slipped a narrow gold band onto Anna's ring finger as he made his vows to love and cherish her for all eternity, but when it came time for her to give Caleb a ring, he slipped off the wedding band he was already wearing, and she gave it back to him, promising to love and obey him for all eternity.

Like that was going to happen in this or any other lifetime, Anna thought with silent defiance. It wasn't enough that she should promise to obey him in this life. She had to promise to obey him for ever and ever, amen. Yuk, and double yuk. Besides, she'd decided when her thoughts were wandering during an especially boring sermon in church a couple of weeks ago that she believed in reincarnation, which made the whole idea of eternal marriage even more screwy. If that was possible.

Beaming with a relief he couldn't entirely hide, Ray pronounced that Anna and Caleb were now sealed in marriage for all eternity. "Congratulations," he said, shaking his brother's hand. "You can kiss your new bride."

Caleb put his arms on Anna's shoulders and dropped a quick, chaste kiss on her forehead. Anna hadn't expected anything more passionate. It was one of the odder aspects of living in a polygamous community that all the residents of Alana Springs were majorly repressed about demonstrating physical affection in public. Not that she was complaining. The fewer slobbery kisses from Caleb that she had to endure, the better.

Caleb turned to face his two other wives. "Pamela, Darlene. Come and kiss your new sister wife." His tone was commanding rather than amiable.

The two women trooped to Anna's side and dutifully kissed her on the cheek, although she noticed that they both avoided meeting her gaze. Obviously Caleb's wives had even less thought of disobeying their husband than Ray's wives had of disobeying him. Then Anna had to kiss each of Caleb's children on the forehead and promise to love them as her own.

That final ritual over, Pamela clapped her hands and announced with every appearance of genuine merriment that it was now time to begin the party. The children raced out to the kitchen and returned bearing platters of food, and Pamela herself carried in a two-tiered wedding cake frosted with pale pink roses.

The wedding party followed a predictable course, with everyone except Anna eating heartily and downing quantities of the home-made, sickly-sweet lemonade that was a staple of social life in Alana Springs. Then it was time to cut the wedding cake, propose toasts in lemonade, of course and deliver speeches. Unlike the speeches at most weddings, there was absolutely no reference to the honeymoon, the wedding night, or anything that even remotely hinted that sex was a normal part of married life. Fortunately, Anna wasn't expected to do anything more during all of this than smile and blush modestly.

The party continued until dark, which was almost nine o'clock at this time of year. With great efficiency -- polygamy tended to lead to competition for the title of best housekeeper -- the women put away the food, washed the dishes, and generally tidied up, while Ray made the arrangements for escorting his brother's children back to the farm where they would sleep over.

Despite the fact that she knew the children were being taken away in order to give her and Caleb more privacy for the consummation of their marriage, Anna felt the day's first spark of optimism as she listened to the two brothers plan transportation. There wasn't room in Ray's car to accommodate all five of Caleb's children, so Aunt Patsy was designated to drive the three girls back to the ranch in Caleb's Oldsmobile, while Ray planned to take the boys in the Chevy, along with his other two wives.

Her escape had just been made one giant step easier, Anna realized. Now there would be no second car of Caleb's that she needed to disable. If she could steal the Taurus -- and she'd already located the car keys hanging on a hook in the kitchen under the pretense of getting a drink of water -- then Caleb would be helpless to follow her. He could phone for help, but surely she could count on getting a minimum twenty minute head start? And in the middle of the night, with no traffic on the roads, she could be twenty-five miles away from Alana Springs in that amount of time. The recent attention paid to the polygamous community in Colorado City, Arizona, made her escape plan all the more likely to succeed because she was sure Caleb wouldn't inform the legal authorities that she'd run off, so the state police weren't going to be looking for her. All she needed to do was escape the jurisdiction of the local sheriff and she'd be free.

In keeping with the near-obsessive need to pretend that plural marriages had nothing to do with sex, the bedrooms in a polygamous household were off-limits to outsiders. Despite Anna's six Sunday visits to Caleb's house since her official betrothal, neither he nor his wives had ever taken her upstairs, so she had no idea where she would be sleeping and no idea how difficult it would be to make her getaway. The possibility that she and Caleb's other wives might all be expected to sleep together was too dreadful to contemplate, so she just didn't think about it.

She seemed to be doing a lot of not thinking about things today, Anna reflected wryly. Maybe that was how wives in plural marriages managed to get by. They developed the art of not-thinking.

Her ignorance about the sleeping arrangements was rectified as soon as Ray left. Almost the moment the front door closed behind the visitors, Caleb announced that it was time for bed, and that Pamela should show her new sister wife where she would be sleeping, while Darlene was instructed to finish the clean up from the wedding party.

Anna meekly followed Pamela upstairs, although her stomach had started to churn with such sickening speed that her legs felt shaky. Her throat was so dry her tongue kept sticking to the roof of her mouth, and she couldn't produce enough spit to swallow.

It turned out that the upstairs had five bedrooms and two bathrooms, spacious accommodations by the standards of Alana Springs. Caleb's three daughters slept in one bedroom, the two boys had another, and all five children shared the bathroom located between their two bedrooms. She and Darlene each had their own room, Pamela explained, and they shared the master bathroom with their husband.

"But there's no bedroom for me," Anna said, genuinely puzzled. "Where am I going to sleep?"

Pamela gave her a look of mingled pity and envy. "You're the new wife. You'll be sleeping with Caleb, at least until there's a baby on the way."

Anna swallowed hard. "Oh. I see." She didn't ask what would happen when she got pregnant and Caleb wanted her out of his bed. With only five bedrooms, two of the wives would have to share a bedroom, just as her mom and Aunt Debbie did in Ray's house.

She was never going to subject herself to that humiliation, Anna vowed. She wasn't going to lie in bed, pregnant with Caleb's child, and lie quietly waiting for one of the other wives to come back after having had sex with the lord and master. She would be out of here tonight or die in the attempt. Literally.

"Darlene and I always come into Caleb's bedroom each night for family prayers," Pamela explained, talking quickly to overcome a mutual embarrassment that was turning both of their cheeks red.

"Even tonight?" Anna found the prospect of praying in the company of Caleb and two other women who had all had sex with each other almost more than she could tolerate. In fact, it was more than she could tolerate. Her stomach gave a final protesting heave, and she ran into the communal master bathroom just in time to throw up into the toilet bowl.

Pamela followed her into the bathroom without waiting to be asked. In polygamous households, the concept of personal privacy was almost non-existent and Anna felt no surprise at the intrusion. Pamela ran a washcloth under the faucet and knelt down beside Anna, wiping her face, her expression halfway between scornful and sympathetic. Emotions among polygamous wives tended to be ambiguous, and Pamela didn't seem to know quite how she felt about having a new contender for Caleb's time and attention.

" Thank you." Anna leaned back against the bathtub, her insides still queasy.

"You're welcome." Pamela looked away, jealousy and sympathy struggling for dominance. Sympathy won. "I know you must be scared," she said. "You're young, like I was."

"Did you want to marry Caleb?" Anna asked, getting up so that she could run her wrists under cold water.

"It was a good match," Pamela said, her gaze still averted. " You don't have to worry about tonight," she said hurriedly. "Caleb will take care of everything. Guide you in what has to be done-- "

"Yes, I know." The prospect of discussing Caleb and sex with one of his other wives was about the only thing that could have brought Anna to her feet right at that moment. Galvanized, she jumped up. "I never saw my suitcase after Ray brought it into the house. Do you know what happened to it? I need to get out of this dress and find my nightgown..."

Her voice died away at the realization of what would happen when she was finally undressed. The trouble was that the more you tried to avoid talking about sex, the more it seemed to intrude, until it swelled to the size of the elephant in the room that everybody insisted on pretending wasn't there. At least she could console herself with the bitter knowledge that Caleb must be pretty experienced in deflowering virgins by now.

Pamela knew exactly why Anna's voice had skittered into silence, but she didn't make any more references to what was about to happen. She could ignore an elephant with the best of them.

"Darlene brought your case up earlier on," she said, gesturing to the corner of the master bedroom where Anna's suitcase was standing. "Would you like me to help you unpack?"

"No, but thanks for offering." Anna had her nightgown and toilet articles stacked right on the top of the case. She was hoping against hope that she'd be able to leave everything else undisturbed. That way, if she could sneak the case downstairs and out of the house, she'd have clothes to wear once she got to Denver. She knew from trips into the local town of Cortez that her home-made dresses were old-fashioned to the point of being conspicuous, but until she got a job, she couldn't afford to buy a replacement wardrobe. If she could sneak her case out of the house, at least she'd have clean underwear.

"We ... er... say family prayers in our nightclothes." Pamela flushed again. "I thought you'd want to know," she said, then hurried on. "Darlene and I will use the children's bathroom tonight. That will give you more time. Caleb always says family prayers at ten."

"Thank you." Anna fought against a fresh wave of nausea. "I appreciate your help, Pamela."

Pamela hesitated for a moment as if she might say something else, but in the end she simply nodded and left the room. As soon as she was alone, Anna removed her nightgown from the suitcase, then ran into the bathroom and pulled off her petticoat, ripping out the tacked stitches that held the muslin money pouch attached to the ruffled hem. Folding the pouch into thirds, she tucked it under the plastic liner of her new toilet bag.

She barely had time to brush her teeth and get changed into her ankle-length white cotton nightgown before she heard Caleb's voice outside the bathroom door. "Anna, it's time for family prayers. Are you ready?"

"Yes, Caleb. I'm coming." She opened the door, unexpectedly relieved to find Pamela and Darlene already kneeling on one side of Caleb's bed, both garbed in nightclothes very similar to her own. She went to join them, and Caleb smiled at them all approvingly. Like a father who's pleased with his small children, Anna thought with a spark of silent rage. In Alana Springs, children and wives were equally subservient to the male head of the household.

Caleb's prayers were short. Unexpectedly short, Anna gathered, if the expressions of her sister-wives were anything to go by. Dismissed by their husband, Pamela and Darlene both kissed her once again, then left the room.

She was alone with Caleb, and the gleam in his eyes made sweat break out along her spine. Anna found herself reciting an incoherent prayer to any god who might be listening, pleading for a miracle bolt of lightning that would strike Caleb dead.

Unfortunately, the gods were not in the mood for committing ritual murder. In the event, though, Caleb's taking of her virginity was clumsy rather than brutal, and had he not insisted on penetrating her a second time, she thought the physical pain might have been bearable. As it was, she was sore, bloody and aching by the time he rolled off her for the second time and fell asleep.

Anna wanted to take a shower and wash every last trace of Caleb's touch from her skin. Instead she had to lie next to him in the bed, forcing herself to wait for a full hour until his heavy breathing indicated he was deeply asleep. Inching out of the bed, grimacing at the soreness between her thighs, she retrieved her precious toilet bag from the bathroom, then returned to the bedroom to pick up her suitcase. She'd wait until she'd put a few miles between herself and Caleb's house before she wasted valuable minutes putting on day clothes.

Caleb slept soundly, the sleep of a man with an easy conscience and a sexually-satisfied body. Anna looked at him with a mixture of contempt and loathing, then crept barefoot across the bedroom, her heart beating so loud and fast she would have thought even Darlene and Pamela would be able to hear it, let alone Caleb. But nobody stirred.

Anna inched down the stairs, her case held in her left hand, far away from the wall so that there was no risk of making a banging noise. Once downstairs, she made a beeline for the kitchen, grabbed the keys for the Taurus from the hook by the back door, and carefully so carefully eased back the bolt and opened the door.

Her momentary elation transformed to instant despair. Pamela was sitting on the back stoop, her arms hugged around her nightgown-covered knees, her gaze fixed on a distant star. She turned without speaking and her gaze locked with Anna's.

Tears welled up in Anna's eyes and overflowed down her cheeks, running in a hot, painful stream. "Let me go," she pleaded. "Please, Pamela, I don't belong here. Let me go before he makes me pregnant."

Pamela stared at her for a long, silent moment. Then, still without speaking, she stood up and walked over to the side of the yard, her back turned toward Anna.

Anna didn't stop to say thank you. She certainly didn't bother to inquire why Pamela was offering her tacit support. She simply fled across the narrow concrete apron to the carport and wrenched open the door of the Taurus, flinging her suitcase onto the passenger seat at the same time as she stuck the key into the ignition and turned on the engine.

The car hummed smoothly into action and she backed out of the carport. Thank heaven there turned out to be nothing obstructing her exit because she wouldn't have seen anything smaller than a jumbo jet for sheer, blinding panic. She swung quickly from reverse to drive and the Taurus roared down the driveway.

As she hit the county road, vaguely in the distance she heard the sounds of Caleb's angry shouting from an upstairs window. She stepped on the accelerator, her speed inching up toward eighty. The rear wheels skidded and gravel spewed up on either side of the car.

Anna gripped the steering wheel and brought the car back under control, but she didn't slow down. Death or freedom. She would have one or the other tonight. And right now, she didn't much care which.

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