Author’s Warning: This selection, the “Once Upon a Tide…” for Hell’s Dodo, book 5 in the Waves of Darkness series, deals with a childhood tragedy and domestic violence.
The words struck the woman almost as forcefully as her husband’s open palm. She stumbled to the floor from the blow, stunned more by the accusation.
“I have been nothing but faithful to you, Nolan. How can you call me that?” she protested.
He raised his hand again, causing her to wince. The two young boys cowering in the corner ran to their mother. The younger one buried his face in her shoulder. The older one hugged her from the other side, glaring up at his father.
“You’re a liar and a harlot,” Nolan spat at her. “I’ve seen how that rogue, Tucker, comes sniffing around here when I’m off on my business. I have more eyes than just the two in my head, Beulah, and I’m no fool.”
Her own temper flared. “I never said you were, Nolan; but you are acting like one if you think I’d ever have anything to do with that low creature. The way he looks at me makes my skin crawl.”
He backhanded her, splitting her lip. “A pretty lie, that. I confronted the bastard. Not only did he admit having you, he told me how you’ve been bedding men from the docks for years.”
“That’s not true! Mr. Tucker is a liar! He should never have said those things about Mama!” the older boy yelled.
Nolan jabbed a warning finger at his son. “Shut it, Britt. Get away from that whore and get your things. Now, boy!”
“You can’t take my sons!” Beulah cried.
The scorn and hatred on his face made her flinch. “I am only taking my son, slut. You can keep your little bastard there.” He pointed his chin at the younger boy. “I know Britt’s mine. You were at least virgin when we wed. As for that one, how do I know he’s mine or not? He could be anyone’s.”
“You are Jimmy’s father, Nolan. I swear I have never been with another man. I don’t know what evil has poisoned you against me, but please don’t take it out on the children.” Her voice shook with emotion.
“Be silent!” He struck her again, this time hard enough to knock her against the wall. Her head caught the corner of a shelf, and she crumpled like a rag doll, blood pouring from her scalp.
Both boys screamed for their mother.
Nolan reached down and grasped Britt by the arm, yanking him away from his mother and brother. When Jimmy reached for Britt, their father shoved him back. He stumbled and landed on his mother, who didn’t respond.
Within the hour, father and eldest son were packed and out of the modest house.
Two days later, Joseph Tucker came to call on Beulah Westin. He was sure Nolan was gone, probably for good by this time, and was prepared to play the part of comforter to the heartbroken woman. He knew it was his lies that drove her husband away, but he had a fresh set of lies to feed her that would convince her of his innocence in the matter.
When she didn’t answer the door, he eased it open and went in. “Mrs. Westin?”
He got no response. The house was filled with a foul odor, and he could hear a whimper from the next room. What he saw when he entered sickened him.
Beulah lay on the floor, a congealed, blackened puddle of blood around her head, swollen and blown by flies. Her younger son, Jimmy, sat next to her, swatting at the flies.
The child looked pale and gaunt, almost on the verge of collapsing. Tucker must have made some noise. The boy looked up with lost and haunted eyes.
“Mr. Tucker? Can you help? Mama won’t get up. I think she’s sick. I’m hungry.”
Dear God, what have I done? he thought.
“Mr. Tucker?” the boy asked again.
The only answer he got was the sight of the man running from the room to retch.