Twenty Years Ago
sarah richardsstood in the middle of her bedroom try-ing to console her infant who was wailing at the top of her tiny lungs. Yes, she knew what pain was, and wanted to cry out as much as her baby was carrying on right now. Instead, silent tears slid down the sides of her face as she turned her chin up to the ceiling and shut her eyes. How, Lord, was a preacher's wife supposed to deal with the fact that her husband was having an affair?
For months she'd denied the obvious. But now her husband's lies regarding his whereabouts had been found out. He'd even violated the sanctity of their home by bringing this woman to their bed - their marital bed. Evidence, in the form of the marriage-violator's perfume and blood, still clung to the sheets. She'd only been gone an hour on a church errand her husband had contrived for her to do. One hour, and now this?
Sarah covered her mouth and turned away, hastening from the sight and stench of the filth, taking her baby girl to lay her in her crib. With her hands trembling, she left the screaming infant, whose wails intensified as she turned away from her. Shame burned through her. How could she call the church elders, or talk to Mother Stone about something like this? How did a preacher's wife, the first lady of the church, force her lips to say that her husband, the Reverend Richards, had lost his natural black mind?
Amid the now hiccupping bleats from the nursery, Sarah became very still as she heard movement in the small clapboard house below her. There were two voices. One soft, seductive; the other was that of her husband. He'd brought this whore back to his home again! Once was not enough? Did he think she was so foolish as to run another church errand to an elderly neighbor, at night, again, so he could be doing God knows what? Couldn't he hear his own child screaming her lungs out - and wouldn't he know that his wife was upstairs? Did he have so little respect for her, or was it that this whore's pull was that strong?
Tears of bitter rage and hurt stung Sarah's eyes, the pain of her acknowledgment almost crushing her rib cage as the muscles around her heart constricted. This woman, this transgressor, had a hold on her husband that not even the Lord could seem to break ... because, Father God knew, she'd prayed on it from the first inkling of doubt. Now, her husband had brought a violator back into his house? Her house. A home designed for a minister, his wife, and children, across the street from hallowed ground? Sarah felt her knees begin to buckle as she envisioned the faces of loyal parishioners who hung on the good Reverend's every word ... just as she once had. This house was not a home, nor was it a place where she or her child could find peace.
She resisted her first instinct, which was to barrel downstairs to confront her husband and the heifer that had crossed her threshold. But something slithered inside Sarah's soul and gave her pause. The green-eyed monster raised its ugly head. She had to know what this hussy looked like ... who was this woman that could break up hearth and home using something that all women had? She wanted to spy and know the things her hus-
band said to this home-wrecker. What lies had Armand Richards told?
Silently, like a thief in the night, Sarah Richards crept down the hall, hugging the wall. She knew this house by heart and easily avoided the creaky floorboards. Stretching her body, she clung to the very paint as she peered around the corner of the landing. The baby's cries escalated, her pulse rising along with it. She held her breath as she rounded the corner - and froze.
A tall, handsome, male figure the color of cafe au lait and dressed in an impeccable black suit, ran a palm across her husband's jaw. The caress was sensuality personified. The sight stole the scream from Sarah's lungs, as her husband closed his eyes and dropped his head back in a display of sheer feminine submission. Sarah took the stairs one by one, clutching the handrail to keep from passing out. She couldn't breathe as she watched in abject horror while this man ... a man ... not a woman ... embraced her husband like a lover and lowered his head to Armand's exposed throat.
When she heard her husband groan, something fragile within her snapped.
Everything became a blur. Her feet flew down the stairs; her screams outstripped her infant daughter's. The words became a chant - "God, no! Not that!" She would crucify this beast, the fouler of her household! There was no rational thought as she hurled herself forward trying to grab hold of his broad shoulders. She wanted blood. A pound of flesh! But the agile intruder simply swept her husband up in his arms as though he were sweeping away his bride, and deftly slipped through the door with him.
Sarah gave chase into the front yard, screaming, crying, hollering behind them, but only the night heard her. She spun in a crazed circle, searching the darkness for them. Where had this lover taken her husband? And so quickly? Sarah fell to her knees in the gravel driveway. The stones cut through her nightgown and pierced her knees. Bloodied, she lay outstretched, sobbing a futile prayer. A man? It was a man. Dear Jesus in Heaven, no! A man, gorgeous, with jet-black, penetrating eyes, a regal carriage, flawless skin, thick, black lashes, onyx curls that would shame any woman ... a man ... please no ... a man that stood six foot two, with a solid frame, and strong enough to lift her husband as if Armand was a baby! No!
She heaved and vomited, wiped her mouth, and clawed the dirt until she could push herself upright. She stared up at the sky and then at the lit window of her daughter's room. Sarah walked slowly back to the house and reached for the telephone. The church matriarch should send her daughter, Marlene, to look after the baby tonight, she heard her inner voice say. Marlene was good with infants. She "was a nice young woman.
Right now, Sarah Richards had an errand to run. One that she'd put off all these months. She needed something more than prayer. Her husband was with a man, and the church elders didn't know nothing about pain like that. The old lady who lived on the edge of the swamps had potions and such to correct these kinds of abominations. And what Sarah would tell her would stay between her and the old witch.
* * *
For three days Sarah sat at the living room window as the church elders held the prayer vigil at her home. Young Marlene had brought them with her when Sarah had hysterically called for a baby-sitter at that odd hour of the night, and had told the girl that her husband was gone. What else had she expected? One didn't call at that hour and think the girl wouldn't have to explain things to a mother, who would then call in church rein-
forcements - not when there was a problem at the church head's house.