Excerpt - PROLOGUE

1972 - Virginia

The mahogany haired woman clutched the blanket tightly to her chest as she opened the door and stepped out into the dawn. It was bitter cold out. and a thick layer of snow had settled overnight. She wouldn't have chosen to try to drive in these conditions had the circumstances been different. Making her way carefully down the slick stone steps, she heard her father's booming voice behind her. She crossed behind the station wagon and came around to the passenger side. Looking across the roof of the car, she could see that life had started stirring at the farm, even at this early hour.

A man near the barn saw her and waved. She would have waved back but her arms were full.

"You take her out of here," her father growled from the top step. "Don't you ever bring that child back into my house. I don't ever want to lay eyes on her again. If it was up to me she would go the way of those damn feral cats. She has branded and disgraced our name."

With eyes locked on her pursuer, she quickly opened the car door afraid he might try to rip the baby from her arms as he had in the house. It took the strength of two women to wrestle the small, crying infant from his beefy arms. She looked down at the small, perfect face while carefully placing the swaddled infant into the wicker clothesbasket that was wedged on the front seat. The baby cooed softly.

"Shush, it will be all right," she said.

She closed the car door and quickly ran around to the driver's side. He met her as her hand reached fix the handle.

"It never ends. A damned curse hovers over us, nothing but a black cloud, That girl has only brought agony and torment to this family, ripped the beating heart from my chest," he said, incensed. The older man's face was beet red, and he reeked of whiskey.

"Pa, please, just let me go," the dark haired woman cried. "Conspirator, that's what you are!" he bellowed.

The veins in his neck stood out and he spat as he talked. He had morphed into this angry, drunken monster more than a decade ago. She was afraid that he would lose what little control he had left and strike her. The memories of fleeing from his rage years before washed over her, making her wonder how she ever had the courage to come back. They both turned when they heard someone rapping on a window. An older woman with red swollen eyes and tears on her cheeks was looking down from an upstairs window.

"See what this has done to your mother. Destroyed her!" he said, turning back to look at his terrified daughter.

"Please, she wants me to leave and take the baby. Please, Pa," she begged, her gaze rising up to meet his bloodshot gray eyes,

She realized she was shivering, but wasn't sure if it was from the bitter cold or fear. It was doubtful as to whether she could get the baby out of there alive, She heard it then. A voice was drifting up from the barn, calling to him, The man that had waved to her had been watching. She looked over her father's shoulder now, praying for intervention so she could escape with her precious little one. The man had captured her father's attention long enough for her to open the car door and jump behind the wheel. She had the car started and in reverse before he realized what had happened. The intoxicated old man grabbed for the car door, but she had locked it. She looked ahead, put the car into gear and stepped on the gas. He was left standing there, cursing her and the baby.

"If you ever come back here, it will be the last thing you ever do. Dead, that's what you'll be, you and that child of the devil. You hear me? Dead!" he screamed. He started to chase the car down the drive but he lost his balance and fell hard on one knee.

Glancing back, she thought it would be a cold day in hell before she would venture to set foot anywhere near her childhood home again. When the gravel of the driveway met the macadam of the main road, the realization that they had made it overwhelmed her. She took a deep breath before turning the heater dial to high and double-checking that the baby was wrapped securely. The infant girl looked up at her and peacefully yawned.

"Don't worry," she whispered. ''You're safe now. Everything is going to be fine. It's all arranged, You'll be in your mother's arms by this time tomorrow. You are a gift from God, my precious little one. And you're in his hands now."

She pulled away, leaving the large stone house behind her. When she glanced in the rearview mirror, the peak of the redtop disappeared from sight.

"May God save you too," she whispered refocused on the road that lay ahead.