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She was in a wagon! Turning to stare at the man who sat beside her, Sharon felt the blood drain from her face. “Matthew?” She whispered. Refusing to acknowledge her, he sat there, his grip tightening on the reins and a muscle working furiously in his jaw. Sharon sank back against her seat, barely able to believe what was happening to her —how and why he found her. It didn't make any sense that he would come looking for her when it was obvious that he was interested in Gretchen. And considering the fact that she ran off on the day of their wedding, she imagined that her action would have caused him to despise her and choose to leave her alone! Nothing made sense —not Matthew and definitely not his decision to come back for her. Frustrated, she considered the possibility of jumping out of the wagon in yet another desperate attempt to get away, but she was quickly reminded of her pregnant state and the great damage such a foolish act could cause. Unsure of what to do, she focused her attention on the path before them until they were driving in through the gates of the farm. Pulling to a halt before the building, her gaze followed Matthew around the wagon until he was standing by her side. Without the slightest word to her, he reached up suddenly, his arms curling around her waist as he lifted her off of the wagon and placed her on her wobbly feet on the ground. Once she was settled on the ground, he grabbed her arm, evoking a soft yelp from her lips as he began dragging her along. She followed —mostly because she wasn't presented with a different option— wincing as he led her up the front stairs, the door slamming against the wall as he pushed it open. She stumbled into the building, her vision blurring slightly as tears filled her eyes. “Sharon?!” She barely saw Nana Lois's as Matthew dragged her along, causing her to trip over nothing on the narrow staircase. She fell forward, his grip tightening on her arm, digging holes in her flesh as he steadied her. She bit down on her lower lip to keep from crying from the pain and instead focused on maintaining her footing as he led her up the remaining stairs and finally into the room. Slamming the door shut behind them, he released his grip on her arm and turned fully to her, eyes blazing with fury. Holding her aching arm to her chest, she rubbed the spot he had just released in a failed attempt to ease the pain that was now shooting up her arm muscles. Tears burned her eyes. “Do you know why I brought you back here, Sharon?” Anger laced every word. Raising her gaze to him, Sharon felt her own anger well up from the depths of her belly; no, she did not know his reason for practically dragging her back here, neither did she give a rat's ass! She could have finally been free from all the liars in her life if he hadn't come back for her! She could have run off to Centerville and started a new life with her child if he hadn't shown up in the station to practically kidnap her and drag her back here against her will! What on earth did he want with her now?! Did he think he could force her down that altar to marry him?! Did he think she was going to continue to play the fool in his love affair with Gretchen?! Furious, she dropped her arm and turned fully to him. “No! And frankly, I don't care! I don't care for you or your love affair with Gretchen!” He gritted his teeth. “Gretchen has nothing to do with this!” “No?” She stepped forward. “Did you honestly think you could keep your affair a secret forever?! Did you think I wouldn't find out?! Did you think—” “That is enough of your madness!” He roared, stopping the flow of her words. “No Matthew, it's enough of yours! I have had it with you and this sham of a marriage! It's over!” Stepping around, she made to walk away, but something firm took hold of her wrist, forcing her to turn back around. Matthew stood there, anger clouding his features as he glared at her. “No, Sharon,” his venomous whisper sent a cold chill down her spine. “You are going nowhere,” She opened her mouth to protest but the look in his eyes silenced her. “Not until the child is born,” he said, his gaze falling to her stomach. Wincing, she placed her free hand over her stomach in a failed attempt to conceal what she thought had been a well-kept secret for several weeks. The thought of him knowing of her unborn child filled her with unspeakable dread. Slowly, his gaze traveled back to her face, anger still burning in his eyes. “I will keep you under locks and keys and bloody chains if I have to!” He spat, leaning forward so that his lips were only inches from hers, his warm breath washing over her face as he whispered, “and when that child is born, I will escort you off of my property.” Releasing his grip on her wrist suddenly, Sharon stumbled back in complete shock, her widened eyelids trailing his movements until he was disappearing through the door and slamming it shut behind him. * Matthew's pillow was a victim of yet another one of his punch, his mind plaguing him with memories of his conversation with Sharon. “Your love affair with Gretchen!” Growling, he punched his pillow yet again, fighting the urge to turn his fist to the wall or to storm back into Sharon's room and yell in her face. He wanted to shake her! To shake some darn sense into her stubborn skull; how could he be in love with Gretchen when he had walked away from everything for Sharon?! He turned down his father's offer to pay his debt in exchange for his divorcing her! He asked her to marry him again, for goodness sake! He stood on that altar, waiting aimlessly for her, for heaven's sake! What in the world was wrong with her?! But Matthew knew better than to think Sharon had left him because she thought he was still in love with Gretchen. He knew the truth; she left him because he had no money. She left him because like him, his father must have made the same offer for divorce to her. But unlike him, she had accepted the offer. He was no fool! He might have been foolish enough to fall for her, but he wasn't foolish enough to believe her lies anymore. Sitting upright on the bed, he ran his hands down his face, furious. And to think she had the nerves to try to lay the blame at his feet! To think she stood there and accused him of infidelity! To think she so cruelly used his past relationship against him! He growled, springing to his feet. She had accused him of being unfaithful —an accusation that was not accompanied with any evidence. Yet, she had been the one to accept three thousand dollars from his father in exchange for leaving him. Three thousand dollars! That was the value she placed on the love he thought they shared —a love that had now come to an end. Sharon let out a low growl, turning sharply from the door through which Matthew had disappeared. She flung herself on the bed and buried her face in her pillow just as her tears began to flow freely down her cheeks. How dare he?! She thought, her heart thumping loudly in her chest. Anger coursed through every vein in her body with alarming speed, causing her head to pound as she considered Matthew's decision to drag her back here like a mere servant; his cruel decision to keep her trapped here like a prisoner! Slamming her fists against the mattress, she growled into her pillow. Matthew was exactly like her father; he wanted nothing but to control. He didn't insist on keeping her trapped because he loved her, he wanted her here because he needed her to bear his child. Then, he was going to get rid of her! He would most likely toss her over to the highest bidder! God only knew who that was going to be —perhaps Jenkins; perhaps once Matthew was finished with her, he would hand her over to Jenkins to do as he pleased?! The lying bastard! She fumed, furious. Only a few weeks ago, he confessed to being in love with her and she had been stupid enough to believe his lies. She had been dumb enough to think she meant more to him than a piece of property to be possessed or traded with. She would be expected to go with her new possessor and do his bidding. Shoving herself off of the bed, Sharon straightened and shook her head violently; she was done! She was done being the stake on the gambling table! She was done being used by others! And she was especially done doing what Matthew wanted! She might have allowed herself to be dragged into this ridiculous marriage in the first place, but she was not going to be forced to stay in the marriage. She turned to the door and yanked, realizing as she did that it was locked. Horrified, she tried again, but it adamantly remained shut before her. It was then she lost it. She snapped; her, as well as every ounce of self control she imagined she still possessed in that moment. Yanking furiously at the knob, Sharon kicked and punched the door to no avail. But she didn't stop. Nothing seemed capable of stopping her from assaulting the door; not the pain that sliced through her arm muscles as she stood pounding, or her bruised knuckles that left tiny stains of blood on the white door. “Matthew!” She called, pounding with vengeance on the barrier that stood before her. “You monster!” She yelled, crying aloud. “Monster, Monster!” Desperation urged her on, every limb in her body desperately fighting to be set free of the prison she had been sentenced to by Matthew. But the door stood stubbornly shut. Exhausted, she crumbled to a heap of grief on the wooden floors, burying her face in her palms. “Sharon,” Nana Lois said, her soothing voice breaking through Sharon’s frantic mind. Glancing up, Sharon was disappointed to find that the door was still locked and that Nana Lois only spoke from the other end. Shaking her head, she made another feeble attempt at breaking down the door. “Oh Sharon, dear child, please don't hurt yourself.” Nana urged, but Sharon thought it was already too late; she was hurt, damaged even. She was damaged by the same people who confessed to loving her. “Why is he doing...” Her lips barely formed the words as she leaned back against the closed door, trembling with grief. “Why is he doing this? Why is he keeping me here?!” “He's hurt,” Nana sighed loudly. “I'm hurt!” She tried to yell but found that she was too exhausted to do so. “Oh child,” Nana's solemn whisper drifted to her. “You are both hurt.” Shaking her head furiously, Sharon nearly laughed at the insinuation of Matthew being hurt —how could he possibly be hurt when he was so busy hurting her? Wasn't she the one who was lied to? Wasn't she the one who was brought back here against her will? Wasn't she the one who was being held prisoner with no possibility of escape? The very thought made her head pound; she needed to escape. She needed to get out from under Matthew's control. Collapsing heavily against the door, she closed her eyes and tried to regulate her breathing. She needed to breathe and to think, and to not give in to her crippling emotions. If she was going to get out of here, she was going to be strong and crying or hurting herself was not going to help the situation. Raising her fist before her, she scanned her bruised knuckles. Thankfully, they weren't bruised too badly, but she imagined they would need to get cleaned up. “There, there, beautiful.” Nana Lois called, gaining Sharon's attention once more. “I'm sure we will have everything sorted out tomorrow. You two only need to sleep on all that took place today. Perhaps then you can discuss this?” She scoffed. “Discuss? I don't think so, Nana. I'm not having a conversation with that man —never!” “Sharon...” Shaking her head, she did not wish to carry on with the conversation. “Don't try to defend him, Nana,” she said. There was neither an explanation nor a defense for Matthew's actions. Not only had he lied about being in love with her, he had used her to try to gain his inheritance and when that failed, he used her to try to get back with Gretchen. “I think you both misunderstand each other. I'm not sure what's going on, but I know he loves you. His entire world is you.” She shook her head once more, worsening her headache. “His entire world is Gretchen. And the only reason he came back for me was because he found out I was pregnant.” She rubbed her throbbing temple. “He's angry.” “No, I'm the one who's angry! He lied to me! He has done nothing but use me. First it was for his inheritance, and then it was for Gretchen.” “Sharon, I'm afraid that's incorrect.” “I heard him myself, Nana! I heard him say he was in love with Gretchen. He brought me back for his child. Once he has that, he'll throw me out on the streets. Or perhaps he might toss me over to the next gambler, who knows?” “Listen, Matthew—” “No!” She rose to her feet. She had heard enough about Matthew, and it only helped to heighten her raw nerves. What she needed was some time to think of a means of escaping his prison. Wiping her tears, she smoothed her skirt and straightened. “Matthew might be many things but he doesn't own me and he most definitely will not take my child away. He'll have to kill me first.” Nana Lois sat patiently, her grip tightening around the cup of coffee in her hands as she listened to Matthew's heavy footsteps make their way down the stairs that morning. Raising the cup to her lips, she took a sip of the searing liquid, hoping it would aid in getting rid of her mounting headache brought on by her lack of sleep through the night. Indeed, it had been impossible to do anything but sit all evening, the events of that day replaying over and over again in her head as she tried and failed to make sense of it. Neither Sharon's decision to run off leaving Matthew at the altar, nor Matthew's decision to lock Sharon up in a room, made any sense to her. But Nana knew she had to do something. She simply could not sit still and let those two stubborn children let their anger stand between the love she knew they had for each other. She would talk to them, and even if she truly didn't believe they'd listen, she wasn't going to give up until they both saw reason. Rising to her feet just as Matthew reached the foot of the stairs, she turned to him. “Matthew,” she began cautiously as his tired hazel eyes drifted to her. “Good morning, Nana,” he grumbled, offering a curt nod before stepping further into the kitchen. “I'll be in the barn if you need me.” Stepping forward just as he made to walk past her, Nana blocked his path. “You should eat,” she said, frowning at the sight of the sacks underneath his eyes. “And maybe get some rest.” He shook his head. “Can't rest. I need to get back to work.” “Matthew,” she said, knowing full well that he was only trying to get away from Sharon and the pain her actions the day before caused him; the pain that dimmed his eyes and caused his shoulders to sag. “You should talk to her.” “There's nothing more to say,” he gritted his teeth, his fingers curling into fists. “Will you hand me the keys to her room?” She raised a brow, fully expecting him to turn down her request. But he was visibly too exhausted to argue as he buried his hand in his pocket and brought out a key, before placing it in her outstretched hand. Once that was done, he turned from her and made to walk past once more. Still, rather than let him go, she shifted further to the side, blocking his path. Releasing a low growl, he threw his hands in the air. “For god's sake, Nana, what else would you have me do?! At first you wanted us to go on that lousy date by the lake that not only saw me falling head over my stupid heels in love with a traitor, I was dumb enough to ask her to marry me again! I was stupid enough to plan a wedding, foolish enough to stand on that altar!” He yelled, his face turning crimson. “I have nothing to say to her!” “There's plenty to say, Matthew! For one, you could tell her how you feel; tell her you're in love with her. Poor child has already been through so much with her father. You can't possibly blame her for doubting your feelings for her. Perhaps she was unsure? Perhaps she's insecure? Convince her, Matt. Help her understand you're in love with her.” Standing still before her, he watched her for several seconds, saying nothing. She stood, wondering if he had even heard a word she said, when he finally shook his head. “I can't tell her I'm in love with her, Nana,” he whispered, before stepping forward and gently maneuvering his way past her. Nana Lois listened to him make his way to the back door, frustrated to say the least. Turning around sharply, she called after him, “Oh for goodness sake, why?!” He paused, his fingers poised over the doorknob. She stood staring at his rigid form, wanting nothing but to shake some sense into him —into the two people who were so stubborn and determined to hold on to their anger, that it seemed to her they valued their anger much more than they valued each other. “Because that would be a lie,” he finally said, before making his way out of the building. 4 ~*~ Sharon stared at the ground outside, mentally calculating the distance between it and her window and the possibility of jumping down without breaking a limb. And each time, the answer remained the same; it was impossible. Yet, the window was the only possible escape from her prison! She needed to get out, and she needed to get out today if she was going to catch the stage to Centerville. Groaning in frustration, she turned from the window and faced the door, a frown claiming her face. She had already tried getting past the door the evening before, and not only had it proven to be a futile endeavor, it had left her bruised. It would seem that she was to remain trapped until Matthew deemed it fit to release her, and according to him, that was only going to happen when the child was born. The nerves on him —She hissed, stalking over to the vanity and settling on a chair. She stared at her image in the mirror, her eyes sunken from weeping through the night. Her head still ached and her stomach churned. She was a terrible mess. Just as the thought drifted through her mind, the sound of the locks giving way drifted to her. Turning sharply to the door, she mentally prepared herself for yet another confrontation with Matthew. For all she knew, he was here to ensure that his little prisoner had stayed put through the night. It would no doubt please him to find that she was indeed still her, held captive against her will. Her fingers curled into fists just as the door was pushed open and a dark figure entered. Immediately, a tired sigh drifted from her lips at the sight of Nana Lois; she was nearly relieved to see the older housekeeper, even if she knew she hadn't seen the last of Matthew. “Sharon, may I please come in?” Nana Lois asked. Too exhausted to speak, Sharon nodded instead and watched as Nana Lois crossed the room to the bed where she settled on the edge. “I don't suppose you slept either.” She shrugged. “Sharon, we need to talk.” It was the last thing Sharon wanted to do, but she didn't think Nana Lois was going to let her decline either. “Very well, Nana.” She sighed. “Good, because I think it's time you and Matthew stop acting like silly little teenagers and sort this whole mess out.” “Well, Matthew can start by letting me out of this prison.” She said, bitterness lacing every word. “I do not wish to remain married to a man who only wants to use me for his benefits. First it was for his inheritance, and once he realized that he had no inheritance, he tried to use me to get back with Gretchen. Matthew is nothing but a selfish bastard and I'm sick of it!” She half yelled. “You're wrong about the inheritance and Gretchen.” “But I'm not, Nana! I'm not wrong. I saw them kiss and I heard him tell her he loves her. I also heard Mr. Steiner tell Matthew that his purpose for getting married to me was of no effect because his grandfather left him nothing in the will. Mr. Steiner offered to help Matthew pay off his debt if he agreed to divorce me. For all I know, Matthew agreed to his father's terms, even if he tried to cover everything up by asking me to marry him again! For all I know, it was all in his plan to not only get Gretchen back, but to get his father to pay off his debt.” Pushing back the tears that threatened to fall from her eyes, Sharon glanced down at her fingers that sat trembling in her lap. Everything had been a lie; their marriage and the love he once professed. Silence settled between them, and Sharon was thankful for it. For the life of her, she could no longer speak. She was both emotionally and physically drained. “Listen, child,” Nana Lois finally spoke. “Mr. Steiner did offer Matthew money in exchange for divorcing you.” She swallowed, tears filling her eyes. “I know, I heard them that morning, I—” “Matthew turned him down.” Jerking her head upright, Sharon stared at the Nana Lois, shocked. Yet, unbelieving of what it was she was hearing. “He was about to lose everything; his farmhands, his farm, and months worth of labor because he loved you. He still does.” She shook her head in disagreement. “He didn't lose it, so he must have agreed—” “He didn't lose it because his mother pitched in. While Elle Steiner is not exactly a likeable woman, she loves her children. But Matthew wouldn't even take the money without forcing his mother to turn it into a loan. Although, I don't see the point of it seeing as she's never going to demand payment from him.” She shrugged, turning fully to face Sharon. “Matthew turned down his father's offer even before his mother offered to help. He was willing to give everything up for you.” Guilt began to wash over Sharon, slowing her heartbeat. It didn't make any sense —Matthew, his decision to turn down his father's proposal, nothing made sense. If he loved her, why did he confess to loving Gretchen? “And Gretchen?” “What about her?” Nana frowned. “I heard him tell her he was still in love with her. They were seated on the porch with Gretchen in his arms only a few weeks to our wedding. How can he love us both?” “He doesn't. He loves you, Sharon. It's true he loved Gretchen once, but I'm not even sure he loved her as much as he loves you.” “How would you know?” “Because Gretchen only turned down his proposal because Matthew decided to become a farmer. She made him choose between her and his farm. When it came down to Gretchen, he chose his farm. When it came down to his farm, he chose you.” Shaking her head as Nana's words began to sink in, Sharon could hardly believe any of it. Yet, she couldn't push away the thought that she was wrong, and that she had made a terrible mistake. “Are you sure?” She managed, dread filling her as she watched in horror as Nana Lois affirmed her worst fears; she was the monster, not Matthew.

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