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It's not always easy to flee the demons from your past.
Carolyn Atwood's childhood in the polygamist community of Filmore, Georgia, was one of oppression, fear and abuse at the hands of a power-hungry prophet.
After her family fled to the Green Valley, Utah, she was finally able to live the life she had always dreamed of—embracing her newfound freedom, safety and happiness, and to help put the prophet who abused her behind bars for once and for all.
When she hears her father plotting to take the family back to Filmore, Carolyn can feel her happy existence crumbling around her. She has a choice to make—tell a little white lie with the intention of marrying the new bishop so that she can build a better life in Green Valley, or return to the single place on Earth that could crush her very soul.
Lucas Miller has watched Carolyn for the past several years. While he admires her spirit, he knows that any man who is called to make her his wife will have his hands full. Will he trust in his faith that he is exactly the man for this troubled young woman? Will he be able to convince Carolyn that her past does not define who she is beneath that tough exterior?
DISCLAIMER: This books contains the spanking of adult women and elements of power exchange, and is set in a polygamist community.
Carolyn sat up in bed with a start, her body shaking from the shock of the dreams that had haunted her as she slept. She hated being home from college for the winter holiday. She loved being with her parents and little sister in Green Valley, but the nightmares never came when she was away at school. Only when she was home.
The darkness covering the room told her it wasn’t yet dawn—but there was no way she was going back to sleep. She had an essay to write over break—maybe she could sneak down to the kitchen for some tea and sneak some of the cookies her mothers had baked the day before. With her decision made, she rose from her bed, careful to tiptoe across the creaky floorboards to where her robe hung on a hook near her mirror. Trying hard to banish the images and memories that had haunted her dreams, she snuck down the stairs.
The kitchen was her favorite room in the house, bright and cheery with its big windows and yellow cabinets and French doors that gave way into the more formal dining room. She set her laptop on the table in the breakfast nook and made her way to the pantry to choose her tea.
As the pantry door swung open, her father's voice carried from somewhere in the house, and she froze instinctively. Who was he talking to at this hour, and why? Every hair on her body stood at attention as she listened. There were a good many reasons for one to be taking phone calls at 4:00 am and none of them were good.
“Wow. That’s an incredible offer.”
Offer? That didn’t sound like an emergency, nor did it sound scandalous. What was going on here?
“Thank you, Del. I will certainly think about it, although I’m not sure I would be able to convince my wives to move.”
Move? What in the heck was her father talking about? Who was Del? A niggling in her brain reminded her, and her heart stopped. Del was from Filmore, Georgia. The prophet’s right-hand man. With the prophet finally in jail where he belonged, Del would be looking to make some changes. Changes were good—but Del was not.
“Well, of course, I’m in charge of my home,” her father huffed, importantly. “It’s just that things are different now. Carolyn’s in college nearby, and Heddy and Myra are happy. Maddie will be in high school next year. I’m not sure uprooting them all, and moving back to Filmore is the right thing to do.”
Uprooting them all? Moving back to Filmore? There was no way in hell she would let that happen. Tears filled her eyes, and the memories she had been holding at bay overcame her as she sank to the floor against the pantry wall.
All of a sudden, she was sixteen again, and in a hospital room just outside of Filmore.
Carolyn was vaguely aware of the sensation that her entire body was on fire. She tried to open her eyes but they were swollen shut.
“You should see the other guy.” She didn’t recognize the voice but instinctively knew that she was safe.
“Yeah, she really gave it to him. Do you think they’ll finally be able to prosecute?” The voice was softer, and female. Carolyn assumed it was a nurse. She remembered calling 911, but nothing after that.
“Unfortunately, this guy seems to be untouchable. They have their own justice system over in Filmore and their so-called prophet is exempt.” The voice was hard with unmasked anger.
“Grant, she is a child. What is she like fourteen?”
“Sixteen,” the doctor corrected with a sigh. “I’ve called her parents. They’re on their way, not that it will do any good. If they’re anything like the other parents I’ve encountered, she’ll be checked out before daybreak, and we will never see her again.”
Carolyn knew the doctor spoke the truth. The cycle of abuse at the hands of the prophet was what Filmore was known for. Carolyn had heard the stories of years gone by, the simpler time, under prophets old. To her, the idea of a happy and normal life in Filmore was nothing but a fairytale.
There was a sudden commotion outside the door to her hospital room as the quiet sterile room was suddenly bustling with activity and noise. Her parents had arrived—all of them. Besides being a mecca of incest and abuse, Filmore was a polygamist commune. By Filmore standards, their family was a small one. Her father, Frank, had only two wives, and between them, only two children, Carolyn and her younger sister, Maddie. Maddie was ten—a thought that made Carolyn sick to her stomach. Ten was how old she had been when the abuse started.
With her eyes still shut, Carolyn had to rely on her other senses to stay abreast of what was going on around her. Her mother, Heddy, and her other mother, Myra, flocked around her, each moving to stand on opposite sides of the bed weeping softly. Soft mutters carried from across the room where her father was undoubtedly consulting with the doctor. She tried to concentrate on what they were saying, but they were too far away. When the doctor left the room with a heavy sigh, Carolyn wanted to cry out for him to stay and protect her. Instead, her father joined her mothers at her bedside.
“I can’t imagine what possessed you, daughter, to strike your prophet. We must pray that God will have mercy on your soul, and that the prophet will still allow you to accept penance for your wicked ways.”
Her father’s voice was kind, but his words were horrifying. Carolyn had had quite enough of the prophet’s “penance,” and she knew that she would run away before she would go to him and apologize and beg for more of the same.
“Enough.” Mother Myra’s voice was harder than Carolyn had ever heard from the usually meek woman. She would have gasped if she had had it in her. “The only person here who needs to pray for mercy, Franklin, is you.”
“Myra!” her father gasped. “Now, see here—”
“No! No, you see here, Franklin, I am finished. There will be no penance, no apologies, and no prayers for mercy. I am done standing by quietly like a spineless, brainless lump while you put the needs and wants of a wicked man above the well-being of your wives and your children, whom the Lord has given to you to love and protect. I never should have allowed you to convince me to leave Green Valley all those years ago. You dragged me across the country, promising a better life, a closer relationship to God, and to each other, and more blessings in heaven, and all I have gotten is pain and heartbreak. I have been beaten down with lies and abuse until I feel like I'm a shell of a woman. I didn’t know how to stop the things happening before my very eyes, and I was too worn down with lies to even know better. But not anymore. This little girl lying here in this bed, covered in bruises, and welts, by the hand of a man whose job it is to lead her down the right path with love is your daughter. And your response is to tell her to pray for God’s mercy and to beg the prophet to give her penance? What kind of father are you? What kind of man are you?”
Carolyn managed to pop her eyes open just a sliver to catch a glimpse of the outraged shock on her father’s face—he was red faced and sputtering—just as she expected. His mouth was open as if to argue, but so far nothing had come out. Myra, on the other hand, was nearly shaking with rage, but there was a calm strength radiating off her, the likes of which Carolyn had never seen.
Finally, her father found his voice. “Now, wait just a minute, Myra. You are out of line. I never laid a hand on you.”
“You’re right, Franklin, you didn’t. But you allowed him to while you turned a blind eye. And I wasn’t allowed to complain, or believe that it was wrong or unfair, because he was your revered prophet, and he was just showing his care for us all by helping you to mold me into a better wife, and a more Godly woman. And, not being able to turn to you for protection—that was worse. And you know what? As much as I have been trained not to believe it, deep down I know that I deserve better than that.”
Her father had the decency to look ashamed, and perhaps that was what prompted Myra to show him leniency with the next words out of her mouth. “You are not an evil man, Franklin, just a misguided, and brainwashed one. Outside of his evil influence, you could be the man God truly wants you to be. I am leaving tomorrow, and taking Carolyn, and Lord willing, Maddie, and Heddy with me. You can come with us, but we are going either way. I will not turn a blind eye to this man’s sickness any longer. He is not a prophet; he is a pervert.”
Carolyn was cheering inside—of all the things she had expected to happen when her parents got here, she had not in her wildest dreams imagined that her meek and subservient mother would take a stand such as this one. She prayed that her father was not able to talk her mother out of it. Carolyn had heard stories of Green Valley growing up. It was where her mother and father had grown up, and met, and it was nothing like Filmore. Even with the pain she was in and her natural fear of the unknown, Carolyn could hardly wait. A move to Green Valley was a fresh start, where nobody knew her, and she could be anything and anybody she wanted.
The thought was a warm blanket around her as she drifted off into a drug induced sleep. It was the sort of deep, but half alert state of sleep where you can hear everything going on around you, but it’s like you’re in a tunnel of fog, and your body is too heavy and tired to react, and you’re not quite sure when you wake up, if it was real, or if it was all a dream.
“Myra,” she heard Heddy say to her mother, “are you sure going back to Green Valley is the best idea? You told me you didn’t agree with, you know, that thing they do!”
“Pshaw,” her mother replied. Whatever that thing had been, her mother didn’t seem worried about it. “Green Valley is safe. What they do is consensual. They are nice people, with a certain belief system, sure, but the bishop is a good man whom I have known all my life. Anything is better than spending even another day here, Heddy. I won’t do it. Look at Carolyn. How would you feel if that were Maddie lying there, and think really hard, because I guarantee that if you don’t come with me, in a few years, it will be. And that man is getting worse every day. There’s always a new vision, a new restriction, a new form of penance. He is a no good, narcissistic, pathological sadist, among other things.”
“I… just… what if Frank doesn’t come? We’ll be ruined women, shamed by our husband! Will they even take us? You know what the prophet does to shamed women!”
“Heddy, listen to me carefully. There is no prophet in Green Valley. There is nobody playing God. There is just a Bishop, and he does his job well. We will be safe there, whether Frank decides to follow us or not. I’ve already put a call in to Bishop Miller and let him know we need emergency assistance. They are setting up a place for us. It might be small, but it will be clean, and it will be safe.”
“Okay.” Heddy was quiet for a minute, before piping up again. Heddy was a good strong woman, but she was the type to worry everything to death, and she especially hated the unknown. “Are you sure we even want Frank to come, Myra? He’s an easily influenced sort. What if he falls into their ways, and tries to, you know?”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, Heddy, of course we want him to come. He’s our husband and the girls’ father, and for the last time, there is nothing to worry about in Green Valley. Not even that. It’s completely different than what you are thinking. Not that it matters. Frank is going to have to prove himself changed and reformed from that man’s crazed belief system before he is coming near me with a ten-foot pole. I said he could come with us. I didn’t say I was ready to forgive and forget.”
“I like it when you get feisty, Myra. You should do it more often.”
There was a hint of a smile. “Well, when I’ve had enough, you always know. Now, are you in or what? If you are, you need to go pack up. But don’t load the truck until it’s dark. It’s safer to leave without tipping anyone off. Bring as little as possible. We can replace things, not people. Be careful.”
“Yes, I’m in and I will. You be careful too.”
The memory took Carolyn’s breath away and filled her with thankfulness. The last three years in Green Valley had been healing and life changing. Going back to Filmore would be a disaster of epic proportions. Maddie was fourteen now, and rebellious in her own ways. With or without the prophet, she would never survive the harsh rules and stifling lifestyle. And Carolyn herself would never be accepted there, never allowed to live a life that wasn’t filled with pain and penance, not after what she had done. After all, she had been a driving force in the investigation that had finally put the prophet behind bars where he belonged. And just because the man was in jail did not make Filmore a safe place to be. The residents of Filmore were brainwashed from birth, so much so that the prophet still ruled over them with an iron fist—even from his prison cell.
Shaking herself from her fog, Carolyn stood on shaky legs, shocked to hear the soft murmur of her father's voice from the other room. She tiptoed to the French doors, and stood trying not to breathe. “Okay, Del, I’ll see what I can do. March at the latest—I understand.”
She heard the click of the dial tone as her father hung up, and heard his footsteps as he made his way back down the hall to whichever bedroom he was staying in tonight. She thought it was Heddy’s, but she couldn't be sure. Suddenly without appetite, she scurried up the stairs to her room and locked the door behind her. She barely crossed the threshold of her room, before the hopelessness took over and tears truly began to fall and her body convulsed in racking breathless cries—eventually crying herself into a fitful sleep.
The smells of coffee and bacon lulled Carolyn out of bed in the morning even though facing her father was the last thing she wanted to do. It was Christmas break and there was no avoiding it. She quickly showered, scrubbing her face clean of tear tracks and got dressed.
Maddie was sitting at the table, slurping down a sugary chocolate cereal that would never have been allowed in Filmore—the prophet controlled everything, even what they ate and drank. Her mothers were laughing and carrying on in the kitchen, and her father had his face buried in the business section of the daily paper.
When Carolyn sank into the seat across from him, he lowered his paper and eyed her sharply. “Have you been praying, Carolyn, for God’s word about your future husband? Just because you are in college doesn’t mean you don’t need to be open to His plans for that area of your life.”
It was so opposite everything that had ever been said by her father about the strange courting rituals of Green Valley that Carolyn’s breath caught in her throat. She instinctively opened her mouth to argue, but then she caught a twinge of hope in his hardened expression and realized… he was giving her an out. Did he know she had heard, or was he just doing his level best to ensure that she had a back-up plan regardless of his decision?
She stared back at him open mouthed, trying to figure out what to say and do. The truth was she hadn’t. Carolyn honestly wasn’t sure she believed in God, or that she would be able to hear him, or know what he wanted even if he appeared in front of her and shouted his plans to her face. Praying about your future husband was somewhat of a ritual here in Green Valley. Most girls start praying for their vision around sixteen. Carolyn had never so much as wondered. She didn’t have any plans to stay in Green Valley and become a first, second, or third wife. She had planned to get out after graduation and become somebody’s only wife. Her father was still staring at her intently, in that expectant way he had, and she knew what he wanted her to say, and as sick as it made her, she knew why.
“Yes, Sir,” she whispered thickly. “I’ve been praying, and I believe I have received an answer. I shall take it to the bishop this afternoon, so he can pray on it as well.” It seemed like quite the unholy thing to lie about, but she didn’t know what else to do, and her answer would bide her some time to decide. If her parents thought there was a wedding in the works, they would leave her alone long enough for her to come up with a real plan.
“Good, that’s real good, Carolyn.” The thickness in his voice matched her own, and she was shocked to see his eyes were clouded with unshed tears. The sight made her panic. She knew without being told what it meant. He was taking the rest of them and moving back to Filmore.
All she could do was nod in response. The scent of the bacon and the soft melodic laughter coming from the kitchen were now turning her stomach in knots. She hurried to excuse herself, muttering something about needing to finish her Christmas shopping before the crowds got too crazy. She grabbed her purse and Heddy’s car keys and ran out the door.
She held it together by a thread as she turned out the driveway and made the short drive through town. It wasn’t until she was on the highway to Everton that she gave herself permission to lose it.
“Mother Freaking Fudge Sticks!” she screamed, pounding her fists on the steering wheel and not giving a damn whether anyone was looking at her funny. Her southern speak always turned heads here in Green Valley. She was used to it by now. “Think, Carolyn, think. Can you stop this, or is it all you can do to save yourself?”
She already knew the answer. Her father had all but given it to her. She was going to have to get married, and since she hadn’t been focusing on dating in college, it was going to have to be someone from here in Green Valley. In her mind, there was only one acceptable answer—the soon to be newly appointed bishop himself—Lucas Miller.
It felt deceitful to not at least try to pray for a vision, so that's what she did all day, driving aimlessly back and forth on the road between Everton and Green Valley, trying to get up the courage to do what must be done. She never prayed, ever, and she was utterly convinced that unless Jesus appeared next to her in the flesh with a giant neon sign that said “I am Jesus,” it wouldn’t matter if he answered her prayers or not, because she wouldn’t know a sign if it smacked her upside the head. For all she knew, the fact that Luke was literally the only name in her head could be a sign. Maybe the reason was that he was the answer to her prayers.
“Yeah, right, Carolyn, maybe it’s a sign that you’re crazy and selfish, and you’re not good enough to marry someone like Lucas Miller anyway, and you need to give it up, go back to school, and just wait and see what happens. March is three months away. A lot can happen in three months.”
If she didn’t get married, would her dad make her go back to Filmore? She knew in her heart the answer was yes.
She even tried to make peace with it—to convince herself that with the prophet in jail, things would actually get better, and that her daddy wouldn’t go back if he didn’t honestly think things would be better. But the truth was, she didn’t trust that that was true. Myra had been the one to put her foot down and force them to move. Her father had just followed, and he hadn’t seemed too happy about it at the time. Carolyn, however, had been overjoyed. While she didn’t truly feel led to the polygamist lifestyle, Green Valley represented freedom.
The memories of those first few weeks in Green Valley snuck up on Carolyn, her stomach clenching as the waves of emotion were physically painful to remember. It had been too long since she had been so stifled, she had nearly forgotten the reality of it. She couldn’t go back. And if going forward meant becoming the second Mrs. Lucas Miller, that’s what she would do.
Decision finally made, Carolyn turned the car towards Green Valley one last time. She was going to see Luke’s father—the retiring bishop of Green Valley—and she was doing it today.