Shadows of Brierley, Vol. 1: The Wanderer (Paperback)

by Anita Stansfield

5060529_the_wanderer
5060529_the_wanderer

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As he neared the edge of the crowd, Ian could hear a loud voice preaching some kind of sermon. He bristled from the inside out. The very thought of God encouraged his guilt and tempted him to turn back to the pub, where he could purchase the means to drown out the taunting voices of shame that had taken up comfortable residence in his tortured mind.

Nevertheless, with a few of his remaining coins, Ian purchases a copy of the book from which the “preacher” is quoting, an act that somehow gives this troubled prodigal the courage to leave the dark alleyways of London and begin the long journey home — home to his beloved Brierley and to the woman whose heart he hopes to win.

Little does he realize the impact this book will have on him and his family as they struggle with the grim consequences of unrestrained compulsions and passions, and the seemingly insurmountable challenges of mental illness. As the threads that hold the tapestry of the MacBrier family together threaten to unravel, Ian realizes that . . . The Book of Mormon had been destined to come into his hands, and he was destined to follow where it led him.

In The Wanderer, set in the lush highlands of nineteenth-century Scotland, Anita Stansfield is at her storytelling best. Filled with past regrets and new beginnings, this volume is an extraordinary journey toward faith and peace — a sweeping emotional experience from start to finish.

    Contents:
  1. Northward
  2. The Prodigal
  3. Jealousy
  4. Home Again
  5. Impetuous and Preposterous
  6. Stitches and Buttons
  7. Restless
  8. The Bond of Brothers
  9. Responsible
  10. Return to Brierley
  11. Protection
  12. Bethia's Ghost
  13. An Extraordinary Quandary
  14. Madness

Product Details

  • Pages:  242
  • Size:  6" x 9"
  • Published:  February 2011
  • Book on CD:  Unabridged

About the Author

Anita Stansfield began writing at the age of sixteen, and her first novel was published sixteen years later. Her novels range from historical to contemporary and cover a wide gamut of social and emotional issues that explore the human experience through memorable characters and unpredictable plots. She has received many awards, including a special award for pioneering new ground in LDS fiction, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Whitney Academy for LDS Literature. Anita is the mother of five, and has two adorable grandsons. Her husband, Vince, is her greatest hero.

For more information visit Anita Stansfield’s fan page on Facebook.

Chapter One
Northward

London—1838
The coldness of the cobblestone alleyway crept through Ian’s coat,
luring him reluctantly into consciousness. Distant noises attempted to
find recognition in his clouded brain. Peering through heavy eyelids, he
saw a glimmer of faint light that felt frightening. Once his senses had
evaluated his surroundings, Ian gasped and bolted to a sitting position,
looking around himself frantically. He was alone. He was alive. The
first was a relief; the latter a miracle. He felt beneath his coat for the
haversack he wore hidden, and his relief deepened to find it there. At
least his few remaining possessions had not been stolen while he’d been
unconscious from his latest drunken escapade. Fearing he might have
jumped too quickly to such a conclusion, he opened his coat and did a
frenzied search inside the bag. He felt more than saw its contents, and
let out a long, ragged sigh when he found everything there. Even the
money was where he’d tucked it. Without what little he had left, he had
no hope of ever seeing another day.

Ian finally pulled together enough presence of mind to get to his
feet. He hung his head and groaned from the way it protested at being
upright. When he finally gained some equilibrium, the pounding
relented enough to make him believe that he could find his way out
of this deserted alley and get his bearings. And then what? He couldn’t
keep going like this. If he didn’t end up as a dead victim of thugs who
might take advantage of his frequent drunken state, he would likely
end up starving in a gutter somewhere, with no motivation or reason to
keep living.

Ian felt almost capable of appearing normal by the time he’d walked
to the end of the alley. Glancing in both directions, he was able to get
a sense of where he was. Shopkeepers were just beginning to set out
their wares, so he knew it was still early morning. He found a water
pump and splashed cool water on his heavily stubbled face, then he ran
his wet fingers through his thick, dark hair that was sorely in need of a
trim. The mass of loose curls had completely lost any hope of control.
The combination of the cool air and the colder water made him feel
more awake. By then the market was coming to life with more noise
and bustle, and he purchased a cup of steaming coffee from one vendor
and a round of bread from another. He ate some of the bread and
tucked the rest into the haversack beneath his coat.

He wandered aimlessly for the better part of the morning, resisting
the temptation to slink into a pub and spend good money on a drink.
When it occurred to him that his resistance wasn’t likely to last through
the day, he was struck more strongly than he ever had been that this
path to self-destruction was quickly coming to a dead end. It was far
from the first time that he’d considered the appalling futility of the
way he was living. But for some reason, today it pierced something
deep within him, something that reached beyond the pain and fear,
something that wanted peace, something that had come to accept he
would never find it by wandering and hiding. But where to begin?
Thoughts of home tugged at his heart, but even these thoughts were
enmeshed so thoroughly into the pain and fear that he doubted they
could ever be untangled.

“Help me, God,” he muttered under his breath, then noticed
that he was headed in a general northward direction, as if some
intangible magnetic force was pulling him toward home, even while
an equal force seemed to drag him the other way. He continued north
instinctively, as if the force of the North Star had some power over
him, even in daylight.

A small crowd gathering at the end of the street caught his attention,
and he moved in that direction, curious and desperately needing a
diversion—any diversion that might keep him from ending up in a
pub. As he neared the edge of the crowd, Ian could hear a loud voice
preaching some kind of sermon. He bristled from the inside out. The
very thought of God encouraged his guilt and tempted him to turn
back to the pub where he could purchase the means to drown out the
taunting voices of shame that had taken up comfortable residence in
his tortured mind. He listened for a minute longer and was about to
leave when the voice increased in volume with words that seized Ian’s
heart, preventing him from taking another step.

“Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy

Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself
a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who
have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the
ends of the law be answered.”

Ian hesitated and turned again toward the crowd. He tried to get
a look at the man who was speaking, but even as tall as Ian was, the
volume of the crowd and the angle of his position made it impossible.
He pressed carefully through the people gathered there—a crosssection
of social status and backgrounds. When he finally came to
a vantage point where he could see the speaker, he was surprised to
see two men: one was holding up a book in his hand with a certain
triumph while he spoke to the crowd of the unwavering love of Jesus
Christ for all men and women, and the possibility of redemption no
matter the sins or mistakes that had been made in this mortal state.
If only it were true, Ian thought and took notice of the other
man standing beside the speaker, glowing with silent agreement
with the words being spoken. Both men looked clean and groomed,
but their manner of dress clearly signified poverty. And yet, there
was something similar in the countenance of both men, something
indescribably warm that caught Ian’s attention and kept him standing
there. He glanced at the people gathered around him, most of whom
were mesmerized and eerily silent while they listened.

Ian turned his attention back to the preachers as the other
one began to speak, reading out of that book his partner had been
holding. Ian’s heart began to pound for reasons beyond his own
comprehension when he heard the words, “Awake, my sons; put on
the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are
bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.
Rebel no more against your brother . . .”

Ian didn’t hear the rest; he didn’t need to. It was as if the words had
been spoken directly from God to his own heart. He felt almost heady
with the effect. He was bound with chains, as surely as he was existing
in obscurity. And he’d never rebelled against his brothers, but their
differences had certainly contributed to his reasons for leaving home—
or perhaps more accurately, his reasons for not returning.

Ian was startled when he realized the sermon was apparently over, and
the two preachers were milling among the crowd. His heart quickened
with a strange excitement when he realized they were selling copies of
the book they’d been reading from. He had no idea what it was, but
he felt as compelled to own a copy as he had been earlier to go into the
pub and drown himself in liquor. He waited patiently for the crowd to
thin while his thoughts wandered through memories and possibilities.
Could he really go home? Was it possible to go back? To mend bridges
that felt unmendable? Again he was startled when he realized that one of
the men he’d heard speaking was standing in front of him, a smile on his
face, his hand outstretched. He introduced himself, but Ian didn’t have
the presence of mind to remember his name. He did take the proffered
handshake, and the tightness of this man’s grip roused Ian to his senses.

“And you are?” the man asked.

“MacBrier,” he said. “Ian MacBrier.”

“Might I guess you’re from Scotland?” the man asked.

Ian wasn’t sure if it was the name or the accent that gave it away,
but he nodded in response.

“You’re a long way from home, then,” the man said with an American
accent.

“Not nearly as far as you are,” Ian said, trying to ignore the sting
that had been induced by this man’s comment.

“All for a good cause,” the man said. “If you’ve got some time, we
would like to share a message with you about the—”

“Could I just . . . buy one of those books?” Ian asked. The man’s
face lit up, as if he knew the book might hold some secret that could
change Ian’s life. Ian handed over the money without even thinking
about how much liquor he could have purchased with that amount.
The man started telling Ian about the origins of the book, but
Ian didn’t hear him. He thumbed through the pages, half wondering
what he’d been thinking, and half wondering if it actually might hold
some secret that could change his life. He absently thanked the man
and left him standing there as he hurried away, tucking the book into
his haversack and moving with more purpose in a general northward
direction.

It occurred to Ian that if he actually intended to travel, he should
get more bread, and perhaps some cheese—whatever his bag would
hold. While he was making his purchases, he discreetly counted his
remaining money and determined that he could get home a lot faster
by carriage, but he wasn’t sure he could afford that and food. But
then, he would need less food if he was traveling more quickly. A
heartbeat later his decision was made. He needed that ticket home as
desperately as he’d needed that book. He considered it a miracle that
he had enough money to get to Edinburgh. It would still be a long
walk from there, but at least it would get him within a reasonable
walking distance. He didn’t think about how hungry he might be
before he arrived. He could only think of going home, and he didn’t
bother to wonder why he’d been too terrified to even consider the
possibility before today. And now he couldn’t imagine any other
possibility.

  • * * *

The Book of Mormon. Ian stared at the title with a sense of bewilderment
that was likely rooted in his absolute exhaustion. He’d spent the first
several hours of the journey in a seat on top of the carriage, since
that’s what he’d been able to afford. He’d been pelted with rain,
and his skin felt windburned. But his mind had been filled with
his destination and the possibilities of what might happen once he
arrived. Had his loved ones changed? Or rather, had they changed the
way they felt about him?

Now Ian was inside the carriage, since most of the other
passengers had arrived at their destinations, and the space had opened
up. Ian sat across from an elderly couple with kind smiles. Now that
he was inside and out of the wind, Ian had tried to sleep. He’d dozed
off for a while—he had no idea how long—but now he felt restless.
He ate just enough of the bread and cheese from his bag to stop the
growling in his stomach. Then he noticed the book he’d purchased
and he took it out to look it over. He wondered now why he’d even
purchased it. In retrospect, the decision seemed a little crazy. He
wondered if his decision to go home was equally crazy. But it was too
late to turn back now. Once he got to Edinburgh, home was the only
place to go without first dying of starvation.

Ian thumbed through the book a bit, then put it away. Again he
tried to rest with his head against the side of the carriage. His height
made it awkward, and his neck kinked painfully until he stretched
out a bit, grateful that no one was sitting next to him. As he began
to relax, more pleasant memories of home filled his mind, offering
some measure of comfort and a small dose of peace. He had come to
believe that it was good for him to be going home. Home to Brierley.

Brierley. The enormous house called Brierley rested in all its
magnificence in the highlands of Scotland, like a sentry guarding the
huge estate and its tenant farmers. A tower stood at each of the four
corners of the house, and Ian imagined standing on a nearby hill
where he knew he could see the crowning stones at the top of each of
those towers. From a distance they appeared identical, but he knew
that one side of the house was built so tightly against the forest that it
was impossible to actually walk around its entire perimeter. The other
side of Brierley was banked by neatly manicured lawns and gardens of
groomed shrubberies and luscious flowers. Ian thought of his brothers.
He recalled the way they’d played in the gardens, and he had equally
pleasurable memories of them venturing into the forest for great games
of imagination and elaborate games of hide-and-seek among the trees.
As the brothers matured, they had enjoyed riding through the trees—
sometimes at a dangerous pace—or hunting game. Or sometimes they
would just escape to the forest to lie back on the cool, shaded ground
and talk, basking in the pleasant comfort of being brothers and friends.

Ian wondered what his brothers were doing now. James was likely
flirting with some woman he shouldn’t be flirting with. For all of his
grand qualities, Ian’s oldest brother was shameless in his philandering
ways. Their parents had always declared that it would be his undoing.
They had boldly taught their children that intimacy should be saved
for marriage, and they had lectured, and exhorted, and pleaded
with all the energy they possessed for James to not live his life in
this deplorable way. Ian hoped it hadn’t been James’s undoing in the
nearly two years that he had been gone.

Ian thought of his brother Donnan. He was Ian’s elder by barely a
year, and their mother had called them “the twins of separate births,”
due to their closeness in age and their inseparable nature. They were
as close as brothers could be. There had been the natural brawls
and bantering that occurred between growing boys, but all disputes
had been mended quickly, and they could hardly bear being apart.
Even living in a house as huge as Brierley, with numberless rooms
available, they had chosen to share a bedroom so that they could talk
to each other as they fell asleep and throw pillows at each other in the
mornings, making the space between their beds an imaginary moat of
evil that had to be crossed through dangerous endeavors in order to
begin their day together.

Ian smiled to himself and settled more deeply into the carriage seat,
his arms folded over his chest. He thought of his sister, Gillian, and
wondered how she was doing. She’d been married more than a year
prior to Ian’s flight from home. She was now living in a home even
larger than Brierley with her husband’s family, more than a day’s drive
by carriage from Brierley. Ian had only seen her once following her
marriage, when she’d announced that she was pregnant. He wondered
if everything had gone all right with the birth. He wondered how old
the child was now. Thoughts of Gillian saddened him, and the sadness
deepened with thoughts of his parents. Of everyone in his family,
he knew he’d hurt them most of all. Facing them would be the most
difficult. But he had to do it. Too much time had passed. It had already
gone on too long.

Gavin and Anya MacBrier were surely the kindest, greatest people in
this world. Ian had spent the early years of his childhood believing that
all parents were this way and that all children grew up loved and secure.
It had been a rude, ugly awakening when he’d realized that wasn’t true.
If anything, the way that Ian’s parents lived their lives was more unusual
than it was common. Ian had always felt an inner sense of gratitude for
being born into such a family, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t taken it for
granted. Now he longed for the opportunity to express such feelings to
his parents. Of all the people he’d hurt, he knew they would be the most
forgiving. He didn’t have to wonder if they’d be happy to see him. But
facing them was the most difficult, simply because he knew how much he
had disappointed them. He could face the anger of his brothers with more
courage than he could face any form of sadness or disappointment in the
eyes of his parents, knowing he was the cause.

Outside of his family circle, there was only one other person he
feared facing—and he feared that most of all. Ailsa Wren Docherty.
To him she was simply Wren. She detested being called Ailsa, and
far preferred the middle name her father had insisted on at her birth.
He’d never had any particular fascination with the birds of the same
name; he’d just liked the name. And Ian couldn’t deny that it suited
her.

Perhaps Wren would be married by now. Perhaps she would have
forgotten all about him, or at the very least become indifferent over
his well-being or his desire to apologize for how he’d hurt her in ways
too numerous to count. Only when he thought of her did tears sting
his eyes with too much force to be held back by his closed eyelids.
He took a quick peek to see if his traveling companions had noticed
the tears on his face. Relieved to see that they were both resting with
their eyes closed, he hurried to wipe the tears away and shifted his
position so he would lean less conspicuously against the other side of
the carriage. He finally drifted toward oblivion while images of Wren’s
rich, dark hair and eyes of a green so dark they were almost black rose
to haunt him. He imagined those eyes burning a hole in his heart and
shuddered before he settled into a tormented sleep.

Ian started from sleep to find the carriage moving into the
crowded streets of Edinburgh. It felt good to get out and stretch his
legs, then the reality descended over him that he had a long walk
ahead of him. He dug out his last few remaining coins and purchased
more bread, realizing that he had very little left. Then he headed in
the direction of the highlands, toward the home of his youth, toward
Brierley.

Evening came on quickly as the noise of the city receded far behind
him. Before darkness fell, he found a place in a meadow with tall
grasses where he could rest far from the road and be hidden from any
possible passersby. He ate a bit more, then tried to find some measure
of a comfortable position. He pulled his coat more tightly around him,
but he still felt cold. Exhausted as he was, he searched the starlit sky as
if he might find a star to guide him back to Brierley. Or perhaps he was
hoping to find some kind of comfort in facing what he knew would
meet him when he arrived. Focusing on a particular star that caught
his attention, he allowed its light to accompany him to sleep. Dreams
of the comfort of home merged into nightmares of how tainted it
had become prior to his leaving. He came awake to the light of dawn,
relieved to find himself alone and in a place where there was no threat
to his safety. He was also freezing. Walking seemed the best way to
warm up, so he jumped to his feet and pressed on.

Ian focused entirely on putting one foot in front of the other,
ignoring the hunger that had nothing to satisfy it. Hours later, he was
actually startled to look up and see the village of his destination in the
evening light. He knew the streets and the shops. He knew the people
and everything about them. And they also knew him. They knew his
mistakes. And they knew the ugly rumors that had surely blazed in
the wake of his leaving. Would these people believe that Greer’s death
had been his fault? How could they not when Ian believed it himself?
He couldn’t remember exactly what had happened. But he knew the
results. Greer had been his closest friend from childhood, as good as
a brother. And now he was dead. Ian should have had the presence
of mind to get him out of the fire. But he’d been too drunk to do
anything but get his own sorry carcass to safety.

Ian forced his mind to the present and willed himself to move
on. He would never know what the townspeople thought of him if
he didn’t just face them and find out for himself. But facing them
was insignificant in light of the hearts he’d broken. And before he
could face his family, he needed to face the woman he’d hurt most.
Or perhaps he was deluding himself to think that she was hurt at all.
Maybe she’d quickly moved on. Maybe he should give her credit for
being smart enough to realize that he wasn’t the right man for her,
and never had been.

Knowing he’d never get any answers just standing there, Ian
gathered courage and wrapped it tightly around his heart before he
took the final steps toward facing the past he’d left behind.

  • * * *

Wren neatly folded the tailored items that would be picked up
tomorrow by anxious customers. She glanced at the clock, glad
for evidence that the day was coming to a close. She relished the
peacefulness of these nighttime hours that only concluded when
exhaustion forced her to end her reprieve with sleep. Even though she
generally needed to work on sewing one thing or another every waking
minute when she was not occupied with other tasks, she loved the hours
when no one was making demands on her and no one needed her care.

“Wren!” her father called from the other room, reminding her
that those who needed her were never far away.

Wren went through the curtained doorway that separated the
Docherty Tailor Shop from the four tiny rooms where she lived with
her father and sister. She found her father sitting on the edge of his
bed, looking as if he might cry. He was staring down at his feet—one
with only a stocking, and the other still shoed. Angus Docherty said in
a voice that was almost childlike, “The lace is knotted; I can’t do it.”

“It’s all right, Pa,” Wren said and went to her knees to untangle
the knot with little effort.

Angus gave her an appreciative smile, and Wren tried to ignore
the silent apology that accompanied it. Her father’s arthritis had
worsened suddenly over the last several months, until his hands were
so stiff and sore that he could no longer do the intricate needlework
that he was famous for in this village. His inability to work and
provide for his daughters had broken his heart, and no amount of
reassurance would soothe his constant discouragement over that fact.
Angus was largely able to care for himself, and he even managed to
help with some cooking and laundry. He had no trouble interacting
with customers in the shop to take orders or deliver them. But his
hands couldn’t manage anything that required the more complex use
of his fingers. Wren’s sister Bethia had cleverly modified their father’s
clothing so that his breeches could be fastened with a drawstring and
his shirts could be pulled over his head. With no buttons or hooks,
he needed no help with any task that would cause him any personal
embarrassment. But there were moments such as this when he had
need of help from one of his girls, and such moments never failed to
enhance Angus’s feelings of humiliation and uselessness. Wren knew
from experience there was nothing she could say to soothe him, so
she just smiled and kissed his brow as she came to her feet.

“Did ye get yer medicine?” she asked.

“I did,” he said. “Thank ye, m’ dear.”

“Sleep well,” she said and left the room, knowing that he would
be sleeping deeply in less than half an hour—thankfully aided by the
medicinal liquid that the local physician had prescribed to ease the
arthritis pain. Angus only took it at night because it made him so
sleepy, and during the days he just endured the pain and tried not to
grumble too much. In Wren’s opinion, her father’s definition of not
grumbling too much was far different from her own. As she saw it, all
he did was grumble. But she had no way to understand his pain, and
she tried to be kind in return. Still, the fact that he often went quickly
to bed after supper and slept late into the morning was a blessing she
would not dispute.

Wren walked through the little kitchen on her way back to the
shop, noting with gratitude that her father had washed the dishes
from supper and everything looked tidy. Bethia was sitting at the
table, leaning toward a lamp, sewing diligently on a fine waistcoat
that had been ordered just today. Wren did well enough with the
basic skills of her father’s trade, but Bethia had a knack for it that
Wren couldn’t quite master. Therefore, Bethia was always responsible
for the creation of the intricate pieces and orders that came from
especially fussy customers. No one was ever displeased with Bethia’s
work, even though most of their customers still gave credit to Angus
for most of the fine tailoring work that came out of the shop. Since
Angus had hardly stepped beyond the shop since his arthritis had
crippled him, few people knew the truth. They just assumed that he
was in the back room sewing away while his daughters ran the shop
and did a few stitches here and there. Wren didn’t care what people
thought, as long as they kept purchasing enough goods to keep her
and her loved ones fed.

“It’s getting late,” Wren said to her sister, pressing a loving hand
over the dark blonde hair that hung down her back.

“I’ll go t’ bed soon,” she said. “Or perhaps I’ll read. Reading
makes me feel better.”

“Are ye feeling poorly?” Wren asked, sitting across from her.

Bethia looked up with an expression that Wren knew well. It was
the look Bethia gave her several times a day that was as good as saying,
Ye know the truth about me. We both know I’m crazy, but I’m doing m’ best
not to cause any trouble for ye.

Bethia returned to her sewing, and Wren asked, “Is it worse than
usual today?”

Bethia sighed and tipped her head to better see her work. “Jinty
was very agitated today, but Selma kept her calm.”

“Where are Jinty and Selma now?” Wren had become accustomed
to talking about them as if they were real people. To Bethia they were
real, except that a part of her understood—sometimes—that they
were a product of her ailing mind.

“In the cellar . . . sleeping, I hope.”

“I hope so too,” Wren said. “And I hope they let ye get a good
night’s sleep.” She paused and asked, “Do ye want t’ sleep in my room
tonight instead of in the cellar?” It took courage to offer; dealing with
the nighttime panic that sometimes overtook Bethia was never easy.
But she hated the thought of her sister secluded in the little cellar, all
alone while she dealt with her personal demons.

“I feel safe in the cellar,” Bethia said without missing a stitch.
“Greer takes care of me.”

Wren bristled as she always did at such a mention of Greer. He
was Bethia’s husband, but he’d been dead for nearly two years. Wren
had become accustomed to the imaginary people that existed in her
sister’s mind, and rarely was there a problem caused by them that
Wren couldn’t handle. But when Bethia spoke of her husband as if
he were still alive and well, it caused a different kind of concern for
Wren. But she just kissed the top of her sister’s head and said, “I’ll
close up the shop.”

Wren walked back through the curtain that divided the shop
from their living quarters. She turned the sign in the window so that
it read Closed instead of Open. Then, out of habit, she moved around
the perimeter of the little shop, making certain that all of the fabrics
and notions were dust-free and perfectly displayed for tomorrow’s
potential customers. Locking the door was always the very last thing
that she did. Her sister had once noticed the order of her habits,
and her explanation had been that she might be hoping for one final
customer that might bring in more business. But the truth was that
she secretly hoped for someone in particular to come through that
door; someone she missed, someone she worried about every hour of
her life.

  • * * *

Ian walked through the dark, familiar streets, naturally gravitating
toward the tailor’s shop that was almost a second home to him. He
stopped for a moment when it came into view. A faint, yellow glow
emitted from the large window where samples of fine clothing were
displayed. It gleamed like a beacon to him, urging him forward.

When he was close enough to reach out and open the door, he
stopped again, his heart thudding in his chest as he saw Wren with
her back to the door, fussing meticulously over the wares for sale. He
took a deep breath, made certain all of the courage he’d gathered was
still in place, and took hold of the knob to turn it.

A little bell over the door tinkled as he opened the door and
closed it again. The familiarity of the sound startled something inside
him, bringing him to the realization that he’d finally come back to
everything he’d left behind, everything he’d willfully avoided.

“We’re closed,” Wren said without turning around, and her voice
had the same effect on him as the bell. She wore a dark, well-worn
dress. Typical. Her hair was loosely knotted at the back of her head,
although much of it had strayed from its confinement throughout the
course of a long day. Also typical.

“The door wasn’t locked,” he said.

“But the sign clearly states that we’re closed.”

“I didn’t come for business,” he said and saw her freeze. Had it
taken that many words for her to recognize his voice? “I came to see
you, and I’ve come a very long way.”

Wren squeezed her eyes closed tightly, as if doing so might allow
her ears to focus more intently and convince her mind that she was
not imagining that he was really here—the way her sister imagined
things. There was a long moment where she almost feared that the
problem was hereditary; she feared that she wanted so desperately for
it to be him that perhaps she had conjured him up as a hallucination.
It took an act of bravery for her to turn around. If he wasn’t really
there, she wondered if she could find anything more to hope for,
anything that might prod her to keep going.

Ian could hardly draw breath when Wren turned abruptly to look
at him. Her dark eyes burned into his heart, just as he’d predicted.
His regret over leaving deepened in exact proportion to his relief at
coming back. They stared at each other while Ian imagined crossing
the room and taking her into his arms. He imagined kissing her
boldly and touching her face and hair with all the seeming madness
he felt after being away from her so long. But he just stood there, not
knowing what to say, not capable of moving.

“Ian,” she said, his name easing through her lips on the labored
breath that she let out slowly. “Tell me ye are real.”

“I’m real,” he said. She crossed the room abruptly, and he held
his breath. She stopped directly in front of him, looking up into his
eyes as if to further gauge the answer to her question. Then, with no
warning, she slapped him hard across the face.

Ian put his hand over the sting, taking a moment to steady his
breath before he turned back to look at her. “I suppose I earned that.”

“Aye, indeed!” she rumbled. Again they stared at each other,
while he felt that hole in his heart burning deeper. Then, with as little
warning as the slap, she threw her arms around his neck and buried
her face in the folds of his coat, oblivious to how many days it had
been since he’d had access to warm water sufficient to shave or clean
up.

It took Ian a moment to accept the fact of her embrace. He wrapped
her in his arms and forced great self-restraint to keep from bawling
like a baby. He managed to harness his emotion back to a little sting of
moisture in his eyes, and she held on to him long enough that he was
even able to blink that away.

“Wren,” he whispered, and she looked up at him. He saw tears in
her eyes when she took his face into her hands and once again searched
his eyes. “I don’t know what to say,” he said and looked down, unable
to bear the eye contact any longer.

Wren let go and took a step back; she didn’t know what to say
either. The details of his physical condition jumped past the reality of
his presence, and she felt alarmed. He was cold and exhausted; dirty
and likely hungry. He looked gaunt and haggard.

“Ye’ve not been home yet,” she said. “Ye’ve not seen yer family.”
He shook his head. “No. I . . .”

“Was it because ye wanted t’ see me first, or because ye didn’t want
them t’ see ye like this?” She motioned toward him with her hand.

Ian extracted a strange comfort from her saucy tone of voice. He
didn’t feel scolded as much as he felt comfortable. Her forthright
honesty had always made it so easy to be completely honest in return.
He was glad to know she’d not changed in that regard.

“Both,” he said.

Wren looked him up and down. “Ye can at least wash up and
shave,” she said, “but it’s far too late for ye t’ be going home tonight.
If ye’re walking, ye won’t get there until the middle of the night.”

“I don’t suspect your father will be terribly pleased to see me,” Ian
said. “I don’t want to cause trouble for you, or—”

“My father is sound asleep and will be far int’ the morning. I’ve
got no place for ye t’ sleep but the floor, although . . .” She looked
him over again. “I suspect ye’ve slept in worse places.”

Ian didn’t answer. She was right, but he didn’t want to admit it.

“Come along,” she said, and they stepped through the curtain
into the kitchen. Bethia looked up from her sewing.

“Ian!” she said, sounding more afraid than surprised. She rose to
her feet as if she might be wanting to run.

“Hello, Bethia,” he said.

Bethia’s eyes moved slowly and cautiously toward her sister, and
she asked in a timid voice, “Is he real?”

Something felt strange to Ian, and an uneasiness in his gut encouraged
the feeling. Wren had asked him the same question, but this was different.
Bethia really meant it.

“What does she mean?” Ian asked, feeling Bethia’s frightened eyes
on him again.

“Aye, he’s real,” Wren said to her sister, who immediately relaxed.
Wren turned toward him and whispered, “I’ll explain later.” More
loudly to her sister, she said, “Ian is going t’ get cleaned up and sleep
here on the floor t’night. Will that alarm ye?”

“No, of course not,” Bethia said. “I feel safe with Ian.”

“Good, I’m glad,” Wren said, lighting the stove where a pot of
water was already sitting, ready for morning. She looked Ian up and
down. “I don’t suppose ye have a change of clothes.”

“I do,” he said, “but they’re dirty as well.”

“I’m sure ye could borrow some of Greer’s clothes,” Bethia said.
Ian’s heart quickened at the mention of his friend, now dead and
buried. While he’d been wandering for nearly two years, attempting
to come to terms with that fact, he’d often wondered how Greer’s wife
and sister-in-law had dealt with the loss. Now he was looking into
Bethia’s eyes, and he saw no sign of grief at the mention of her dead
husband. His heart quickened for different reasons when she added,
“I’m sure he won’t miss them for a day or two, but ye must promise t’
bring them back before he needs them.”

Ian caught a discreet glance from Wren that seemed some kind
of warning. He looked firmly at Bethia and said, “Of course. I’ll have
them back in a day or two; I promise.”

Bethia smiled and went through the door that Ian knew led to the
cellar. Alone with Wren, he turned to look at her, not even knowing
how to ask about her sister’s behavior.

Wren focused on reheating the stew that had been left over from
supper, even though she could feel Ian’s eyes burning into her back
with a question she didn’t want to answer. But he needed to know,
and Bethia would be back in a minute. Without looking at him, she
said, “It’s gotten much worse since . . .”

“Since what?” he asked, unable to keep from sounding angry,
even though he kept his voice down. “Since Greer died?”

Wren looked at him. “Aye. Since Greer died.”

“It seems everything has gotten worse since Greer died,” Ian said.
“But I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Is there something
I’m supposed to already know that would explain why Bethia believes
her husband is going to need his clothes?”

Ian’s uneasiness increased dramatically at the evidence of Wren’s
astonishment. “Surely ye knew.”

“Knew what?” he demanded quietly.

Wren glanced over her shoulder to make certain that Bethia had
not returned. “I can’t believe Greer didn’t tell ye.”

“Tell me what?

“It came on slowly . . . there were signs of it even before they were
married . . . but he married her anyway. He took very good care of
her. He really loved her.”

It suddenly came back to him. Ian shoved down the guilt. “I
know he did, Wren.”

He stopped when they heard Bethia coming up the stairs from
the cellar. She gave Ian a little stack of neatly folded clothing. “Ye’re
close enough t’ Greer’s size,” she said. “That should be everything ye
need.”

“Thank you,” Ian said.

Bethia looked up at him, smiled with tenderness, and touched his
face. “It’s good t’ see ye well, Ian. Greer will be pleased t’ know that
ye’ve come back.” She turned toward Wren, and the sisters exchanged
a kiss on the cheek. “Good night,” she said.

“Sleep well,” Wren said, and Bethia went down the cellar stairs,
closing the door behind her. Ian could only stare at the door and try
not to collapse. The exhaustion and hunger consumed him. But they
were nothing in light of his sorrow, his guilt, his unfathomable regret.
Greer’s death was his fault. And Greer’s wife had completely lost her
mind in his absence. He wanted to run away again, as fast and as far
as he could go. But he didn’t have the strength to do anything but
turn to look at Wren and wish that she would slap him again. He’d
certainly earned it.

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Amazing!

by  lacy  -   reviewed on  February 16, 2011

From start to finish this was a book that was hard to put down. Never knew what to expect, but for me that makes it worth reading. Anita Stansfield ceases to amaze me with her work, and once again she has proven me correct there. Can't wait for the next one to come out to see what else she has in store for my imagination.

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Second Chances

by  Diane  -   reviewed on  January 26, 2012

When Ian awakes from a drunken stupor in a deserted London alley, he is thankful to be alive. “Dear God,” he says aloud. “Help me.” Ian wanders near a crowd and hears words of hope that draw him forward. Ian lingers after the crowd disperses and talks with the preachers. “Might I purchase a copy of your book?” he inquires. His purchase is made quickly and Ian stuffs the book with his other few belongings. Filled with a longing to return home, to make right the wrongs of the past, he spends the last of his funds for the passage by coach. This is a story of forgiveness, love, redemption and starting over. When Ian is making positive steps, more challenges surface and the struggles increase. The Wanderer is the first book in the Shadows of Brierley Series. I can’t wait to read the rest!

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