Start Reading The Widow of Saunders Creek

Prologue

Corrie

An easy spring wind blew through my open Jeep, lifting my hair and ruffling the cloth seat covers as I turned off the interstate and traveled east toward Saunders Creek. It was the last leg of my nine-hour drive from Dallas to the tiny, unassuming Ozarks town that bore my husband’s family name.

Towering oaks, full maples, and evergreens hugged the narrow, winding road in a way that even a few months ago might have felt intrusive. But today the trees seemed to embrace me, welcoming me.

Déjà vu came over me, as though the scene before me came out of my own childhood memories instead of recollections of stories my husband told about growing up here.

I wanted him beside me, flashing his Top Gun Maverick grin. Jarrod had died the way he lived—reckless, but heroic. Saving at least fifty lives in a little Iraqi settlement on the east bank of the Tigris River. Leaving me to pine after him, sick with love for a man who would never hold me again. I couldn’t breathe. God, just take me too. But every day my eyes opened, air filled my lungs, and I forced myself to go on.

Six months ago, I buried him according to his wishes, in the Saunders family graveyard. After the funeral, my mother demanded that I return home to Dallas to grieve—as though I could just put the last seven years behind me and move on. Forget the consuming, crazy, once-in-a-lifetime love who had rescued me from her in the first place. Every night since then I had dreamed of my husband’s childhood home. A force compelled me to come here, and I couldn’t ignore it any longer.

Jarrod was gone, but as I drove my Jeep up the path that led to the two-story farmhouse, I finally understood why I had been so drawn to this place.

I had come here to find the man I loved.

One

The memory of my husband’s funeral returned with an uncomfortable clarity as I navigated the winding road to Saunders Creek.

I barely made it through the service with all my pieces intact. My skin crawled from the unfamiliar embraces. Everyone wanted to hold me. Fat, clammy arms threatened to suffocate me. Muscular arms would have gladly relinquished their strength for my weakness, because that’s the way Jarrod’s vast, extended family was. Motherly arms, fatherly arms, arms of women who could only imagine how they would feel if it had been their husbands and were thanking God it was mine instead. So many people clawing at me I wanted to tuck in my elbows, jerk my arms upward, and watch everyone scatter. Instead, I soldiered on—a good army widow.

But that had all happened what seemed a lifetime ago, and after spending the winter with my mother in Dallas, I hoped Saunders Creek would still want to embrace me. Still want to gather me in and allow me to live among them like one of their own.

I pulled up to my tumble-down house, relishing the solitude. I’d been smothered in Dallas, forced to mingle with Mother’s kind of people, when all I wanted was to stop and catch my breath, to remember how to breathe again.

I owned my pain. Hid it deep inside. I couldn’t let anyone see me fall apart. Mother taught me that. I hadn’t dared show weakness during those months in Dallas. I’d kept my tears close and silent. My grief was my own, every tear sacred.

Quiet surrounded me as I slid the Jeep into park and stared at my new home. An old white farmhouse built at an angle to the road. Windows everywhere. The waning sun shone on the front porch, and I pictured how well lit the east side of the house would be in the morning.

On either side of the house, vibrant lilacs bloomed. The wind carried the sweet rose-and-vanilla fragrance from their purple flowers through the open windows of the Jeep. I smiled. Jarrod knew how I loved the smell of lilacs. Perhaps he’d had them planted for me. I climbed the rickety wooden steps to my rickety wooden door and turned the wobbly knob. Apparently the contractor hadn’t bothered to lock it. I didn’t blame him. If anyone wanted in, they’d get in about as easy with a lock as without.

Fresh grief splashed over me like ice-cold water as I stepped inside. I looked around my new home, which had once belonged to Jarrod’s grandparents, and my stomach tightened until it hurt. Did I actually believe Jarrod would be here? No. I wasn’t crazy. But in coming back to this place he had loved so much, the home where he came on weekends and spent most of his summers, I hoped to feel something that my heart recognized.

But there was nothing, unless you counted dust motes and stale air. And a deep sense of disappointment.

My furniture had arrived and had been placed in some sort of order, rather than thrown into the house for me to deal with. Boxes stretched along the hallway, politely moved to the side. Jarrod’s cousin Eli had unlocked for the movers, and this was his way of welcoming me, I assumed. I appreciated the order more than I could say.

The scarred wooden floor groaned beneath my weight as I walked slowly into the kitchen and dropped my purse onto the kitchen table. My gaze fell on the trifolded flag the officer had handed me during Jarrod’s military funeral. I stopped short and stared. I hadn’t wanted it that day. I was so grief-stricken, so angry, that I left it on the chair at the cemetery. My mother and I had left directly after the funeral. We hadn’t come back to this house, and I couldn’t imagine how it had turned up on my kitchen table.

I stared at the red, white, and blue symbol of death and felt nothing but cold rage. What did I care about the American flag anymore? My pride at the sound of the national anthem or the president’s voice beseeching, “God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America” died six months ago with my husband. I would never again lay my palm reverently across my heart and recite the pledge. That day, I hated the “purple mountain majesties” and “sea to shining sea” as much as I had once loved my country. I would have crawled on top of Jarrod’s coffin and let the dirt tumble over me as willingly as he had tackled a twelve-year-old zealot and carried him to an abandoned building before they both exploded into a million pieces.

The images haunted me.

Excerpted from The Widow of Saunders Creek by Tracey Bateman. Copyright © 2012 by Tracey Bateman. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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