Excerpt from Sophie’s Christmas Gargoyle by Katherine Kingston
Copyright © Katherine Kingston, 2015
She ignored Jean’s query and wide-eyed astonishment as she went out into the rain. A freezing blast of wind pushed against her as she struggled to get to the corner. The woman still stood there, though she turned a startled and terrified look her way when Sophie put a hand on her arm. Fortunately the terror faded when she saw Sophie, but the look of resignation, almost despair, that replaced it was heart-breaking.
“You’ll catch your death out here,” Sophie said. “My shop’s right over there. Please come in.”
The woman didn’t answer, but she didn’t resist when Sophie led her to the door. Jean met them there and held it open. As Sophie turned to close it behind her she noticed the man still watched from a doorway opposite. She couldn’t see his eyes, but knew he was staring at her now. To her surprise, he nodded acknowledgment, but made no other move.
She didn’t have time to puzzle over it. Jean had already nudged the woman into the one armchair, retrieved a couple of towels, and was trying to dry her off. Sophie hung up her coat and dropped the umbrella. Jean had put on the kettle to heat water and Sophie made tea, then brought the cup over.
“Drink,” she told the soaked woman, who still seemed in shock. The woman took it from her and sipped carefully. A bit of tension seeped from her and she wrapped her hands around the cup, savoring the warmth.
“I’m Sophie. This is Jean. What’s your name?” she asked.
“Eleanor. Ella, most people call me.” Her teeth chattered a bit on the answer. She looked up at them and pushed hanks of long, sopping brown hair off her face.
Sophie sucked in a harsh breath. “Who did that?” A swollen knot stood out on the woman’s cheek; another disfigured her sharp jaw; and a dark ring circled her left eye.
The woman leaned forward, hanging her head, letting wet hair fall back over her face. She wore a plain, gold band on her left hand.
A sharp, quick nod answered the question.
“Do you have children?”
This time she shook her head in a negative.
That was a relief. “I know a place you can go where you’ll be safe,” Sophie told her. “I can call right now and get you in.”
Ella shook her head again. “He’s… You have no idea.”
Sophie sighed. “Oh, yes, I do. I have a very good idea. Been there.”
“You have?” The woman jerked her head back to stare at Sophie.
“It’s not my best memory. But yes. He wasn’t my husband, but that didn’t actually make much difference. We’d talked about getting married. He’d always had a temper, but I didn’t think too much of it until he started pushing me around and then hitting me. Unfortunately, we’d already moved in together. He was always so apologetic, but at the same time, he convinced me it was all my fault. Now I can’t believe I let him get away with that shit.”
“How did…?” She shook her head and looked down again.
“How did I get out of it? With a lot of help. I was fortunate that my aunt was still living then. I went to her one day when I was all beat up and scared that I might die from it, and she took me in. Got me involved with a group that helped me realize I was worth more than just a target for an abuser, and while it wasn’t my fault that he was punching me, it was my fault that I continued to let him. That I kept accepting his bad-mouthing and his apologies and the promises he never kept. It took a while before I believed it, but now I can see how stupid I was to let him convince me I was ignorant and useless and deserved his abuse.”
Ella started shivering violently. Sophie took the nearly empty teacup from her and set it aside. “I can put you in touch with the people who helped me. All I need to do is make a phone call and they’ll help. I promise they can help.”
The front door of the shop suddenly opened and closed rapidly. Sophie jumped and turned that way. The man she’d seen in the doorway across the street stood there, ignoring the rain water dripping off his clothes.
“Her husband is looking for her.” He had a deep, raspy voice. The hood still shadowed his features; along with his size and something about his tense stance, it made him seem sinister and menacing. And, yet, attractive as well. Blast. Surely she’d gotten beyond that now.
“He doesn’t know she’s in here.” The stranger glanced around the shop, stopping for a moment to study Sophie’s face. He shook off the distraction. “Get her out of sight before he walks by and sees her.”
Sophie turned to Ella. “Is that your husband?” she asked.
The woman gaped at the newcomer. “No. I have no idea who he is. I’ve never seen him before.”
“Who are you?” Sophie demanded of the man.
“Later.” The word was sharp with impatience. “Get her out of sight now. Make the place look normal. I’ll answer questions later.” He glanced out the window, up the street. “He’s headed this way. Hurry.”