Secrets Chapter Five

It is said time stands still for no man, and assuredly this was true for Alexander and Audra. After lying together, loving each other like a man and woman should, Alexander kept his promise to her, the one he'd made while he'd made love to her. He came by every day, took her horseback riding, to church, and to a dozen other things; no one could deny the two had become a steady couple. During that time the two did a lot of talking, lighthearted and serious, though they never crossed that line again. That was something they had promised they would only do when they did indeed marry…whether it was because they'd been caught or whether they just simply married with no extra feet on the way.

Then it happened. Audra woke up feeling rather sick and had to make a beeline to the bathroom. It was only when she was through getting rid of the supper from the night before that she realized she was late for her time of the month. Maybe it was just a coincidence? She didn't know, but she hurried and cleaned up, dressed and went downstairs as if nothing was wrong. She would not do anything in haste until she was sure.

The moment her daughter sat down, Victoria knew something was up. Actually, she'd known for weeks something was amiss. After all, the bubbly, outgoing young woman had turned into a more serious adult, not that her sense of humor was gone mind you. Though Victoria tried, she hadn't been able to get a word out of her daughter, even if it was nothing more than to be told not to worry about it; she was fine. Now, she was too quiet and the look on her face was too serious. All her brothers noticed it too, even Gene. The young man was home from college for a visit. Naturally they were all concerned.

"You okay, Audra?" Gene asked eyeing his sister carefully.

"I'm fine, just a little under the weather is all," Audra forced a smile on her face as she answered. She wasn't surprised when each of her brothers started to give her one piece of advice after another. Thank goodness her mother put a stop to it, telling her if she was coming down sick she should take it easy for the day. Audra might have tried saying she'd be fine except Silas brought breakfast out at that moment. Normally, she would have started grinning from ear to ear. As it was, she found the smell of eggs and bacon actually turned her stomach. Before she knew it, Audra had to bolt from the room and run to the nearest bathroom; they had two since the house was so big. That meant she didn't have to worry about the stairs.

"I don't like that," Nick, who had also noticed the change in his sister, set down his fork, "She's coming down with something." Before anyone had a chance to say anything a knock came at the door. Nick went to answer it and was surprised to see Alexander on the other end. He was even more surprised when the man said he'd gotten up that morning with the strongest feeling that someone was telling him to go to the Barkley's home and check on Audra.

"Tell me I'm going crazy," Alexander said as he stepped inside, "You won't be the first."

Nick's only answer was to nod in the direction of the downstairs bathroom and say, "She not feeling well this morning. You're taking a chance coming here and visiting."

The moment Alexander heard the words he just knew what was going on, but he wanted to hear from Audra whether or not he was right or wrong. "I'll take my chances. I'll wait in the parlor." He headed for the parlor while Nick, who was eyeing him with wonder, went to tell Audra she had company.

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"When my brother knocked on that bathroom door," Audra turned to her daughter, "I just knew what he wanted. I don't know how I knew, but I did. I also felt strongly that I was indeed carrying a child inside of me," She paused and looked with love upon her husband, "I don't know how I kept my voice so calm, but I told Nick to let your father know I'd be there once I was able to stand up without having to kneel back down." When Audra fell back into silence, Alexander began speaking
again.

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Alexander was standing by the fireplace when Audra walked in. She didn't say a word as she walked up in front of the fireplace and stood next to him, though she looked into the fireplace. Very carefully, he laid his hand upon her shoulder, a gesture that Audra was again eternally grateful for. He was always gentle with her. Because her family was in the dining room eating, they kept their voices low, not wanting anyone to over hear their conversation.

"Nick says you're not feeling well," Alexander gazed with genuine concern at her.

"No, I'm not. I threw up first thing this morning and the smell of breakfast is making me sick," She lowered her voice even more, "I haven't had that time of the month either. I think," she said as she turned her head and looked up into his face needing to see that he'd not change his mind once he heard the actual words, "I think I'm going to have a baby."

Alexander would have taken her into his arms and assured her everything would be all right, but unfortunately Nick, who had only returned to the dining room long enough to tell the family they had company, had returned and heard her last words. His explosion sounded throughout the house. "You think what!" Audra and Alexander whirled around, but before they had a chance to say anything Nick had crossed the room and had sent his one fist across Alexander face and the other one into his abdomen. Audra screamed and dropped down to where Alexander was lying on the floor doubled up in pain, making sure she was between the only man she could accept as the father of the child inside her and her irate brother.

Nick's bellowing and Audra's scream brought everyone else in the house running. Naturally, Victoria demanded to know what the problem was; something that Nick was more than willing to tell her. Everyone looked shocked as they looked on Audra holding Alexander in her arms. Both Audra and Alexander looked a bit defiant. No one had to ask if what Nick had said was true; they knew it was.

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"Your grandmother took Audra into another room to talk to her, but only after making your uncles swear not to lay another hand on me," Alexander grinned from ear to ear, "But that doesn't mean they didn't lay into me in other ways. Brother Nick's was the loudest when it came to what he thought of me and Brother Jarrod's was the most serious. Your Uncle Heath didn't say much," Alexander smiled, "At least not then. He did give me a piece of his mind later, in private, as did Gene, who seemed to forget the no more hitting bit. By the way, your Uncle Gene hits about as hard as your Uncle Nick did. I dare say if it weren't for Heath I'd have suffered more than one broken rib. Anyway, since your mother has never played the part of a loose woman, and we had never said a word about what Miles Garrett did, there was no question as to whom your father was. By the time noon rolled around Heath had ridden into Stockton, gotten the preacher and his wife, and brought them back to the ranch. They didn't have to ask why we were marrying without a formal wedding; they weren't blind. The way your Uncle Nick kept glaring at me and eyeing the rifles, they would have had to be pure stupid not to know. It was months, no, I think close to a year before Nick and your other uncles saw fit to forgive me for what I had done to their sister. It was all right though; I knew they not only didn't know the truth about the situation, but that they only acted out of love for your mother. The only reason your Uncle Heath and Uncle Gene know anything is because they accidently overheard us talking after your Uncle Nick's funeral. After coming out of shock, they told us they'd keep our secret. After all, so many years had passed why say anything?"

"So, Grandma Barkley and Uncle Jarrod never knew either?" Candace only vaguely remembered her Uncle Jarrod as he'd died from heart problems when she was only ten.

Audra spoke up, "Jarrod never knew, but my mother, once we were alone, demanded that I tell her the whole story." Audra then chuckled as she said, "Your grandmother was one very intelligent woman and knew her children well. I told her everything. She didn't agree with the way we had handled things, but she understood. She thought we should tell my brothers, but at the time I just couldn't handle what I thought their reactions might be. Seeing how the idea upset me so, and she was concerned for the child I carried, mother promised to keep our secret."

Candace stood up and ran to her father, hugging him for all she was worth telling him that if, by some wild chance, Mr. Garrett had actually fathered her, she would pray for the rest of her life never to be told that fact. As far as she was concerned, Alexander Leech was the only man to have ever had her mother. That brought a lump to her father's throat and a smile to her mother's face.

Once her daughter was again sitting down, Audra turned to Candace. "We want you to understand we only tell you now so you will understand one thing…what Mr. Wilson tried to do to you, would have done had your father and brother not gotten to you when they did, is not your fault. We speak from experience, not just from opinion. It's not right the way society blames the woman when something like this happens. I'm sure there are those who do indeed entice men and then try to say they didn't. Only truth is, those numbers are small compared to the innocent ones. I hope you understand." Then, due to some afterthought, Audra and Alexander told her that if she wanted she could confide in her husband, but only him. After all, it wasn't good for couples to have secrets from each other.

Epilogue

Candace understood Audra and Alexander very well. After her husband returned, Candace pulled him aside and told him everything. She had to hide a chuckle as the man exploded and asked if someone could invent time travel so he could wring Mr. Garrett's neck before he hung himself. The couple then became involved in efforts to help young girls who were not so fortunate to have an Alexander in their lives, telling people never to assume they had all the facts and that they had no right to judge these women so harshly. Audra and Alexander were their strongest allies. Over the years, their efforts stretched from one end of California to the other. In fact, by the time their children laid Candace and her husband to rest, they had taken over five hundred unwed mothers into their own home and helped place hundreds, if not thousands, of babies into loving, caring homes.