EVELYN SQUEEZED HER eyes shut and let the nickel fall into the collection basket, passing it on before she changed her mind and snatched the money back. Only a sinner like her would begrudge God a meager coin. She stood to sing the final hymn, anxious now to escape the stifling heat and the reminders of how far she fell short of the glory of God.
The preacher called sinners to repent. He promised salvation for those who laid their burdens at the Lord’s feet. “Cast the yoke of sin off your shoulders,” he cried, “and the grace of God will be yours.”
Several people made their way forward to kneel and accept God’s forgiveness, but Evelyn’s feet remained rooted in the soft earth of the hay field. Forgiveness was for those who renounced their sin, who put it from their hearts and minds—things she had tried to do and failed. No matter how hard she prayed, or how righteous a life she lived, her sins remained written on her soul, visiting her in the dark of her lonely nights, condemning her to eternal damnation.
A demon lived inside her—her father and her ex-husband had said so—and she believed them. Why else would her mind and her body crave the things it did? She’d tried repenting. Had prayed for the longings to go away. Had let an entire congregation lay healing hands on her, and still, wicked desires stirred her body and disturbed her dreams. Satan dwelled inside her as surely as the sun rose in the East every morning.
Hope had drawn her to this tent today, but as the preacher laid hands on the repenting sinners, she knew in her heart his sermon had changed nothing. His words were as hollow as the ones she heard every Sunday morning at the church down the street from where she lived. Salvation was not to be hers, not in this lifetime.
Preacher Nathan placed his hands on the head of a woman kneeling at his feet. After commanding the demons to leave the woman, he offered a blessing no different from the ones Evelyn had heard a million times over, then helped the new child of God to her feet. The woman’s face glowed with life and love, her expression one of wonder as tears of joy streamed down her cheeks.
Evelyn couldn’t bear to remain there another minute. While the congregation raised their voices in celebration at the salvation of another soul, she stepped into the aisle and, head down, fled as fast as her feet would carry her.
It was a long walk back to town, but she’d rather walk than share a car with strangers the way she’d gotten there. Her emotions were too raw, her disappointment too fresh for her to listen to the inevitable recounting of Preacher Nathan’s success. How many souls had he added to his saved tally today? How eloquent were his words? How fortunate they all were that he had answered God’s calling and brought the Word of God to their neck of the woods today.
“Bullshit,” she mumbled to herself. It was all bullshit. Only one who knew a demon’s grip firsthand could understand that Preacher Nathan was all show. God had not been present in that hell of a tent, and he most certainly had not cast any demons out of bodies. If he had, he would have recognized the one dwelling inside her and cast it out above all others.
She drew the cooler air into her lungs and focused on the horizon, putting one foot in front of the other. “Nothing but bullshit.” The breeze carried the softly spoken words from her lips.
“What’s bullshit?” Evelyn started at the masculine voice close behind her. A second later, the owner of the voice joined her, matching his longer gait to her shorter one.
“Nothing.” She continued walking, resisting the urge to look at the man beside her. What was he doing here, anyway? “I’m not going back, if that’s why you came out here.”
“Nope. Not why I’m here.”
They continued walking in silence until she stopped on the edge of the gravel road. The man was a full head taller than her five feet three inches. He was one of the most handsome men she’d ever seen, with sandy hair and eyes as green as winter wheat that seemed more amused than angry at her assumption that he’d been sent to drag a stray sheep back to the fold.
“Then why are you following me?” The last thing she needed was a Goody Two-shoes meddling in her life. Her demons were hers to battle. She’d been doing it alone, and she would continue to do it without any help from a stranger.
He shrugged his wide shoulders. “Don’t know, exactly.” He looked back the way they’d come as if he wasn’t sure why he was standing on the side of the road instead of back there, watching the spectacle. When he turned back to her, the amusement was gone, replaced by an expression that sent a shiver along her spine. She took a step back toward the safety of the tent.
“Please, don’t go.” The plea in his voice stopped her. “I saw you in there, and I knew I needed to get to know you, so I followed you out.”
HER EXPRESSION CHANGED from alarm to curiosity. He hadn’t imagined the interest in her eyes when she’d first checked him out either. And now that he saw her up close, he didn’t know why he hadn’t seen her beauty before. Her skin was flawless, like the finest porcelain. Sunlight glinted off the streaks of gold in her hair, making her look like an angel. An annoyed angel, but he could work with that. The revival would be breaking up soon; he didn’t have much time to convince her to give him a chance. He was taking a calculated risk, but some things in life were worth it. “I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t take another minute of that.”
He considered her silence a good thing and continued. “I’m glad you left.”
She glanced back at the tent where people were beginning to meander out, and then back to him. Without another word, she moved past him down the road toward town. He fell into step beside her.
“I don’t know what you want, but you aren’t going to find it here.” He’d heard subtler turndowns, but she wasn’t going to get rid of him that easily. It had been a long time since he’d seen a woman who intrigued him the way this one did, and he wasn’t going to let a few barbs deter him.
“The only thing I want is to get to know you. I’m Jimmy Doyle, by the way.”
“Like I said, Mr. Doyle, I’m not interested.”
He chuckled at her mistake. “Walker. Jimmy Doyle Walker. I’m thirty years old, never been married, and I play baseball for the Washington Diplomats. I’m originally from Texas—grew up on a dirt farm there before I left to play ball.”
He hoped opening up some would encourage her to do the same. That had been his error. Shoulders back, she continued to walk as if he didn’t exist. A few cars passed them, kicking up a cloud of dust thick enough to choke a horse, but she continued on like a soldier marching to war. Another car passed, this one too close. He grabbed her arm, pulling her off the road and into the shade of an old oak tree.
“What are you doing? Let go of me!” She wrenched her arm out of his grasp. Her chest heaved with indignation and exertion. He had to force his gaze up to her face. The minute he’d touched her, his dick went hard. Seeing her breasts press tight against the thin fabric of her dress only made his situation worse. He’d have her, but not until she gave herself to him. Convincing her to surrender her control was going to take time and patience. He had plenty of the former and not so much of the latter.
“Those people are drunk on believin’, sugar. You think they didn’t see you leave before the show was over?” He pointed at the car disappearing down the road. His heart was beating with a combination of fear and lust; he didn’t know which one fueled his outburst, and he didn’t care. Keeping her safe had suddenly become a top priority for him. “That one only wanted to scare you. The next one might not miss. Unless you’re prepared to plead your case at the pearly gates today, best you wait awhile.”
He hated the look of fear on her face, hated that he’d put it there. He reached for her, pulling her into his embrace. “You’re okay, sugar. No one is ever going to hurt you again.”
EVELYN’S MIND REELED. Pressed up against his solid chest, his strong arms enveloping her in a gentle yet unbreakable hold, she felt safe. The feeling was absolutely absurd considering she didn’t know him from Adam, but there it was. If she let him, this man would take care of her.
She’d thought that about another man once, but he’d seen into the darkness of her soul and cast her out. This one would too, but for a moment she wanted to believe his words, wanted to revel in the illusion of safety he’d built in the span of a few minutes.
His big hands stroked her back, and she could feel his cheek pressed to the top of her head. He smelled of starch and fresh, clean man. She allowed herself the luxury of wrapping her arms around his trim waist. The muscles of his back were as hard as the rest of him. Just as the thought entered her mind, one hand dipped low on her back, holding her firm while he stepped into her. The unmistakable ridge of his desire pressed into her belly.
The demon inside her roared to life, flooding her body with heat and desire. The flesh between her legs swelled, and her womanhood melted for him. She used to pray for this heathen need to go away, but that had proved useless. There were only two things that could make it go away, and since she wouldn’t debase herself with this man or any other, tonight she’d feed the demon herself. She had become adept at bringing on the forbidden pleasure. Afterward, she’d find a measure of peace. But it never lasted for long.
“My buddy is here. He’ll give us a ride home.”
Dazed by the need clawing at her insides, she was barely aware of him helping her into the backseat of a car and joining her there. She gave him her address, which he conveyed to the driver, and then he wrapped his arms around her and held her close until they pulled to the curb in front of the boardinghouse she’d called home for the past five years.
With his arm still around her waist, he leaned down to speak to the other man. “Thanks, man. I’ll see you tomorrow at the game.”
They were alone on the sidewalk. She didn’t know what to do. Men weren’t allowed inside, not that she had any intention of inviting him in. His stomach rumbled. He squeezed her hip against his and chuckled. “I’m starving. Have dinner with me?”
Evelyn eyed the clapboard building. Lace curtains hung limp in the open windows. A record played on the Victrola in the downstairs parlor. The murmur of female voices fell in the early-evening heat. There was nothing for her inside. It would be hours before the house was quiet enough for her to assuage the need inside her without fear of anyone hearing her muffled cries of ecstasy. She looked to the man beside her. Fool that she was, she trusted him.
“There’s a diner on the next block.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish