Jane always thought she’d live a fairly ordinary life. Then the world broke and changed everything.
Jane never expected to be the one running the local unofficial orphanage. But while it wasn’t what she had planned, she wouldn’t trade it for anything. She loves her kids and the life they’ve all built. She’s happy just trying to stay under the radar while keeping them all fed and out of the clutches of the local militia.
Things are going well until her kids surprise her with an unconscious woman on the kitchen table, not even an hour after the militia was in the front yard looking for the same woman. Jane has no issue hiding someone from the militia as long as they aren’t an actual criminal, so together the household nurses Livy back to health. It doesn’t take long for Livy’s bright smile to start chipping away at Jane’s short but sturdy walls. Can Jane let down her guard enough for Livy to slip through? And what will Livy do if she does?
She wasn’t ready for her world to change again…but love has a mind of its own.
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I made my way up the stairs to the large room we used as the nursery for the babies and toddlers. I opened the door quietly and peeked inside.
Jessa was sitting in the ancient rocking chair, her salt and pepper hair loose around her shoulders. She looked up and smiled, deepening the soft lines around her wide mouth and bright blue eyes.
Catia and Toni, our one-year old—ish, we didn’t know their birth date—twins, were sitting on the floor under the window playing with Antony, their pale brown skin and dark hair a subtle contrast to Antony’s much lighter coloring. The three of them seemed to be building a castle out of Legos and wooden blocks.
Smiling, I sat on the floor in front of Jessa, leaning against her legs.
“Is everything alright?” she asked quietly.
I nodded. “They were looking for a woman. I think someone ran away, but they’re trying to make it sound like she just wandered off and got lost.”
I nodded. “They asked about Jeffrey.”
She sighed. “I miss those boys, but I guess it’s good they left when they did.”
“I miss them, too. But I’m glad they weren’t here.”
Jeffrey and Alban had left last week, not wanting to be conscripted. Unwilling to be separated, they had run together, hoping to make it across Puget Sound then up into what used to be British Columbia but was just West Canada now. It was rumored that things weren’t as messed up to the north. And if the rumors were wrong, they could always keep going.
“Fern and Sara are going to have to leave soon.”
“I know. I was hoping they’d be able to stay longer, but if the soldiers are paying that much attention to our kids…”
Fern and Sara had both started disguising themselves as boys when they were away from the house, hoping to look like younger teen boys instead of the near women that they were. It had worked for a while, but we all knew they would have to leave soon.
I held back a snarl. At first the military had only taken the young men, then the older boys. We had both hated and appreciated the blatant sexism. But the girls weren’t safe anymore. They said they were taking the girls to be maids and help around the military camps, but we all knew that they were hoping for more than clean floors. The young women might not be forced into bed with the men, but coercion and bribery were just as bad in my opinion.
The more beautiful the girl, the more likely she was to be taken. And Fern’s half-Korean features meant she was in even more danger; I had overheard more than enough disgusting comments about “exotic” women to know that she needed to be kept hidden. Fern didn’t go to town anymore.
I looked up at a soft knock on the doorframe. Sara stood there looking nervous, and I held out a hand. She came to me, letting me pull her down to sit next to me and snuggle her into my side. I kissed her short, light brown hair. “Everything is fine.”
She nodded and let her head drop to rest on my shoulder. “I had to hide behind the blackberry bushes next to the yard. There were so many of them.”
“They were looking for someone.”
She sighed. “Yeah. And I heard them ask about Jeffrey. I’ll pack tomorrow and leave the next morning. Fern and I were talking last week, and she wants to stay, even though it’s risky.”
I hugged her tight. I supposed it made sense that they were thinking about it if Jessa and I were. Our kids weren’t stupid. “I’m sorry.”
She sniffled a little. “I’ll be okay, Mama Janie.”
Oh, Lord. She hadn’t called me that in years. I blinked back a couple tears, hoping not to let her see. I leaned my head against hers, cuddling harder.
I felt Jessa reach down and stroke Sara’s hair. “We’ll miss you around here.”
“Can we have your chili and cornbread for dinner tomorrow, Miss Jessa?”
“Of course, love.”
Thomas, our second eldest boy at thirteen, stuck his head into the doorway. He turned sad eyes to Sara before looking at me. “Martin and Fern are waiting for an all clear before they come in. Are we good?”
I nodded. “They should be long gone.”
“Okay. I’ll go get them.” He dashed forward suddenly and grabbed Sara in a hug. “Love you.”
“Love you, too, brat.”
Thomas dashed off, and Sara pushed to her feet. “I saw the roast in the crockpot. Are we doing that and vegetables for dinner?”
“That was my plan,” Jessa answered.
“Alright. I’ll go prep veggies and add them in.”
Jessa chuckled as Sara left the room. “That girl spoils us. We’re going to have to pick up the slack when she’s gone.”
I laughed. Jessa was right. Sara was a homemaker at heart. The older she got, the more chores and cooking she did, without us asking or expecting. She just liked it. We would definitely notice her absence in the workload.
The back door banged open, and a couple loud noises came from the kitchen. Jessa and I frowned at each other.
“You’d better go see what’s going on,” she muttered.
“You should both go. I’ll watch the twins,” Antony said.
Jessa and I blinked at each other.
“Thank you, Antony,” Jessa said, watching me with wide eyes.
“Thank you, Antony,” I echoed. “Just stay up here, okay?”
We both headed for the stairs.
“That kid is growing up unsettlingly fast,” Jessa muttered.
“Seriously. We’re going to have to start being more careful.”
Jessa shrugged. “I don’t think so. I mean, we’ll be careful to make sure he’s able to be a kid, but he’s smart. And if he grows up knowing the realities of the world…well, that’s not a bad thing.”
I nodded. “You’re right, of course. So, we’ll…just…” I skidded to a stop inside the kitchen door. “Why is there a dead woman on the table?”
“Jane!” Jessa scolded, shoving my shoulder.
I gestured helplessly at the woman draped across the table. The assortment of young people standing around the kitchen made a few odd noises as they tried not to laugh.
Fern, standing next to the woman between two displaced chairs, rolled her eyes. “She’s not dead. Just unconscious.”
“Alright. But why is she on the table?”
Martin, our oldest boy, four years older than Thomas, winced. He brushed his dark shaggy hair out of his eyes and scowled down at the woman. “Unconscious adult people are heavy.”
Fern snorted. “You’re just scrawny.” She leaned over and poked at his, admittedly skinny, arm.
“Fern,” Jessa scolded, more resigned this time.
I tried to hide my smile as I walked over to the table. Any traces of amusement vanished, though, as I looked down at the mystery woman.
What were the chances that the battered, slender, auburn haired beauty on my table wasn’t the one Major Grosman had been chasing?
Thank goodness the kids hadn’t brought her in an hour earlier. It would have been much harder to keep a straight face.