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Mortal Wounds [MultiFormat]
eBook by Nikki Soarde

eBook Category: Mystery/Crime
eBook Description: Veronica Lichty has never fit in. Born and raised in the restrictive and unyielding world of the conservative Mennonites, Veronica's independence and fiery spirit have always set her apart. She loves music and longs to sing, but has no way to express the passions that drive her. A chance encounter and a secret romance with a young, handsome reprobate who loves fast cars and rock and roll changes all that. She falls in love and tastes excitement for the first time in her life and begins to see glimmers of true happiness and of realizing her dreams. But it only takes a moment for the dream to shatter. The discovery of their secret begins a series of events that spiral out of control and rob Veronica of everything. Her innocence, the man she loves, her child. Forced to abandon everything she has ever known, she ventures into a strange and frightening world all alone in search of her dreams--vowing never to return. But eventually Veronica must return to confront those who abandoned and betrayed her. Gradually she discovers that beneath the peaceful fašade of the tiny Mennonite community lurks an insidious evil. An evil that will do anything preserve its secret. Anything ... including murder.

eBook Publisher: Ellora's Cave, Published: 2005
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2005

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Chapter One: June 1987

A single bead of sweat pearled between Veronica's shoulder blades. It slipped down to tickle her back in the precise spot that had tortured humanity with unreachable itches since the dawn of time. She wriggled against the hard wooden pew but only succeeded in plastering her dress to her sweat-dampened skin.

She was hot. She was cranky. She was bored. And the air in this tiny church was so thick and stagnant she could barely breathe. Thick and stagnant. The words reverberated inside her brain. It struck her that, in too many ways, those words summed up her life.

To distract herself from her discomfort, she tried to concentrate on the sermon but it was futile. The heat, together with the rhythmic rise and fall of the pastor's voice, began to lull her to sleep. Her head began to droop but a sharp jab from her mother's elbow snapped her back to attention.

Restless, she stole a peek at the congregation seated around her. At Silas Lapp, with his sun-weathered face and the scar on his left cheekbone where a cow had kicked him two years ago. At Eva Brubacher, with her hair pulled so tightly her center part had begun to widen under the strain. Neither of them acknowledged her gaze but sat still as stone, like statues, unblinking and uninspired.

Veronica sighed. How she longed to see a flicker of humor or a spark of emotion in these eyes that she loved and knew so well. Sunday service, however, was not the place for laughter or excitement, for tears or applause. Church was for prayer and reflection, for silent and reverent worship. Unfortunately Veronica had never been much good at silent and reverent.

She focused on the man behind the pulpit and tried to hide an impertinent smile when she noticed the sweat that trickled down his nose and dripped from his chin. His straight-cut black jacket, cotton shirt and simple black trousers hung on him like damp rags. In fact, he looked almost as miserable as Veronica felt.

Time slowed to a crawl and fatigue pulled on her eyes but she managed to keep her head erect and her eyes focused. At last, the second sermon of the morning drew to a close, completing a full hour of hell-fire and brimstone theology. The final sermon, which promised to last between an hour and an hour and a half, would begin shortly. But first they would enjoy a moment of musical respite.

She should be relieved, she knew. It would mean a break in the monotony and give her a chance to stretch her legs and exercise her voice. However, as they stood and flipped through their hymnals, all she felt was dread.

Veronica loved to sing. She often took long walks in the fields and forests near their home and sang out loud, casting her voice unabashedly to the heavens. Music welled up from within her until she ached, and only when she could release herself in song did her spirit soar. Her voice echoed across the fields, its tones rich and sweet. It was a gift from God and one that she longed to share. But not like this.

The plodding notes grated on her like the drips from a leaky faucet. This wasn't singing. The notes barely spanned a single octave and the rhythms lacked any trace of imagination.

They had just begun the final stanza when Veronica felt a tug on her sanity. She had to get out of there.

"Mom," she whispered. "I'm feeling a bit nauseous. I think it's the heat."

"All right, dear." Her mother patted her hand. "Go out and get some fresh air. Don't bother disturbing everyone by coming back in. Just wait outside under one of the maples."

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