CHAPTER ONE, PART THREE FROM
OUT OF THE EMBERS
BY AMANDA CABOT
Click to read part one, previously featured on Lone Star Book Blog Tours
Click to read part two, previously featured on Lone Star Book Blog Tours
One Friday, December 21, 1855
As they rounded the final bend in the road, the cause of the smoke was all too clear. The light from the almost full moon revealed the ashes and rubble that were all that was left of the building that had been Evelyn’s home for the past ten years. She stared at the blackened foundation, trying to make sense of something that made no sense. Well aware of the danger fire posed to a frame structure, Mrs. Folger was vigilant about safety. Yet, despite her caution, something had happened. The orphanage was gone.
So were its inhabitants. There should be close to two dozen children swarming around, yet Evelyn saw nothing more than a few men. Though her heart was pounding so violently that she feared it would break through her chest at the realization that she’d lost her home, she clung to the hope that Mrs. Folger and the children had escaped and had been taken in by some of the town’s residents. If not . . .
The possibility was too horrible to consider. Her mother had told her not to borrow trouble, and Evelyn wouldn’t. Instead, she’d ask the men what had happened. Surely everyone had been saved. But though she tried to convince herself that she would be reunited with the matron and the other orphans, in her heart she knew that was one prayer that would not be answered.
Evelyn bit the inside of her cheek, determined not to let Polly see her fears. But she failed, for the child began to tremble.
“What happened to the ’nage?” Though Polly’s diction was far better than one would have expected from the shabby clothing she’d worn when she was abandoned, whoever had taught her hadn’t included “orphanage” in her vocabulary.
Evelyn wrapped her arms around Polly and willed her voice to remain steady as she said, “It’s gone.” And, if what she feared was true, so were Mrs. Folger and the children who had been her family.
As she descended the small hill and approached the front drive, Evelyn saw that the men were wandering around the yard, their casual attitude belying the gravity of the situation.
“Ain’t no one left,” one called to the others, his voice carrying clearly through the still night air. “Smoke musta got ’em.”
No. Oh, dear God, no. It couldn’t be true, and yet it was. Once again, she had lost everyone she loved, everyone except the girl who clung to her, her own fear palpable. Once again, it was night. Once again, she was powerless to change anything, but at least this time it had been an accident.
Evelyn shuddered and said a silent prayer that Polly wouldn’t realize the extent of the tragedy. Somehow, she would protect her. Somehow, she would help her recover from all that they had lost in this terrible accident.
“Can’t figger it out,” another man chimed in. “Who woulda wanted to do ’em in? No mistakin’ them kerosene cans, though. Somebody set the fire.”
Evelyn gasped, feeling as though she’d been bludgeoned, and for a second everything turned black. The fire wasn’t an accident. Someone had deliberately destroyed the orphanage, planning to kill everyone inside. Including her.
“Where is she?” The memory of the voice that still haunted Evelyn’s dreams echoed through her brain, shattering the fragile peace Mrs. Folger’s assurances had created. Tonight proved that she wasn’t safe, not even here. Someone wanted to kill the last of the Radcliffes.
Why? That was the question no one had been able to answer ten years ago, the question that had kept Evelyn from leaving the sanctuary the orphanage had promised. Now that promise was shattered.
She closed her eyes as fear and sorrow threatened to overwhelm her. The life she had built was gone, destroyed along with the building that had been her refuge and the people who had become her family. Oh, God, what should I do?
The response was immediate. Leave.
It was the only answer. She could do nothing for Mrs. Folger and the others, but she could—and she would—do everything in her power to give Polly a safe future. The question was where they should go. Evelyn stared at the stars for a second, then nodded. Gilmorton, the one place she would not consider, was east. Resolutely, she headed west.
“What happened?” Polly asked again, her voice far calmer than Evelyn would have expected. Either the child was too young to understand the magnitude of what had happened, or she’d experienced so much tragedy in her life that she was numb.
“We need a new home.” For the first time, Evelyn gave thanks that Polly had formed no strong attachments to anyone other than her. That would make her transition to a new life easier. While grief had wrapped its tendrils around Evelyn’s heart, squeezing so tightly that she had trouble breathing, Polly seemed to be recovering from her initial shock.
“Okay.” Though the child tightened her grip on Evelyn’s arm, her trembling had stopped. “Where are we going?”
“It’ll be a surprise.” At this point, Evelyn had no idea where she and Polly would find their next home. All she knew was that it had to be far from here, far from whoever had set the fire, far from the Watcher.
Polly was silent for a moment before she said, “It’s okay, Evelyn. You’ll be my mama, and you’ll find me a new daddy.”