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Ruthann Cooper can barely remember the fiancé whose plane went down in flames over Nazi Germany. He faded as she did her bit for the war effort in the munitions factory. Now, the war over, she meets the faculty on her first day as a schoolteacher. From that moment on it’s impossible to forget the piercing blue eyes and gentle, artistic ways of the superintendent of schools, who welcomes her both to the school and to his life.
WWI veteran Drew Mallory still battles a debilitating injury from that earlier conflict. With complications of the injury, plus a grown daughter, the widower feels his life is all but over…until he meets the new third grade teacher. His renewed spirit rejoices, yet he must consider the effect he may have on her life.
Their deepening relationship spawns a series of increasingly vicious attacks on Ruthann, and she finds herself on the brink of another, more personal war simply because of Drew’s interest in her. Should she retreat, as he wants her to for her own safety? Or can she do battle for the man she finds herself loving more than life?
Page Count: 288
Word Count: 68390
“Just go home and be safe. You didn’t make all this happen. The evil was already here. It’s been here for a long time.” He shook his head as if he knew he’d said too much and walked quickly away.
“What did he mean by that?” Rena asked. “The evil is already here?”
“I’m not sure, but I can’t help wondering if…”
“Never mind. Let’s go home so I can start packing.”
An hour after supper, Aggie appeared at Ruthann’s door. “Mr. Mallory is downstairs.”
Ruthann straightened from bending over her trunk. “Drew’s here?”
Aggie crossed the room and touched her arm. “I’ve never seen him look like he does tonight, Ruthann. Don’t get your hopes up.”
Drew leaned against the empty fireplace as Ruthann entered the living room. “You and twenty-three children might have died yesterday.”
Ruthann’s stomach felt leaden. “I know that.”
He held up two thin pieces of wood. “Do you know what these are?”
“They’re shims. They’re what were under your bookcase that caused it to tip, and these particular ones jammed your classroom door so it couldn’t be opened from the inside.”
She wanted to flee from the haggard, gray-faced stranger in front of her, but she couldn’t move.
“Aggie told me you were upstairs packing. You should’ve gone last week instead of coming to school like nothing was wrong.”
“I didn’t…” Her voice died away.
“I told you to go, and you didn’t listen.” His eyes—colder than they’d been the day he tore up her contract—repelled her now, where before they’d drawn her into his heart.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think…”
“It doesn’t matter what you thought,” he interrupted her. “All that matters is that you and your pupils almost died.”
She stepped aside as he started laboriously for the door, his leg dragging.
“I didn’t ask you to love me, either,” she managed to whisper as he came even with her.
He stopped, but this time he didn’t look at her. “It was a fling, that’s all. A fling, like Gwen said. Go home, Miss Cooper. I want you out of Camden permanently.”
When the outside door opened and closed, Ruthann raced to the window and watched him struggle down the walk toward his car. At one point, she thought he was going to fall, but he managed to stay upright.
Was I really just a fling? All those talks we shared, all those sweet, sweet kisses…were they all lies? Am I really such a fool, believing anyone could love me the way I thought you did? Oh, Drew, why did you let me love you?
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