Mother Before Wife (The Compound #2)

mother before wife

by Melissa Brown

 

 

Kindle Edition

 

Copyright © 2016 by Melissa Brown

All Rights Reserved

 

 

Mother Before Wife

Copyright © 2016 Melissa Brown

 

Edited and Formatted by

Pam Berehulke

Bulletproof Editing

 

Cover design by

Regina Wamba

Mae I Design and Photography

 

 

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the above author of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

 

 

For my husband, Chris, who has always supported my dreams.

Thanks for being my rock, sweetheart.

I love you.

 

Chapter 1

“The Prophet will give you to the man to whom you belong.”

—The Prophet, Clarence Black

 

Aspen

The sweat building upon my brow as I stood at the threshold of my new home was evidence of my trepidation.

We stood in the baking sun, surrounded by boxes of belongings from our former home with Lehi Cluff. My three children stood close to me, Susan clutching the thick cotton fabric of my yellow dress as Beatrice repeatedly begged to ring the bell.

When I allowed my youngest to press her finger to the white doorbell, I inhaled deeply, chewing on my bottom lip and willing my pounding heart to calm.

The Prophet has led you here, Aspen, and there’s no going back
.
This is your home now. Embrace it.

“They’re here! They’re here!”

The excitement in the children’s voices raised behind the thick paneled door made me sigh with relief. We were wanted. We were welcome.

Ruthie, my oldest daughter, turned to me and smiled. “Mama, I think this is where we belong.”

“You’re just saying that because of
who
he is.” There was a slight bite to my words.

My Ruthie, ever impressionable and devout, was pleased to have vacated the home of Lehi and move on to the immense brick home of my new husband-to-be. She was so similar to her mother, who was I to correct her? If I was being honest, there was a part of me that shared in her excitement.

When the Prophet selected a new husband for me, he’d debated sending me to Texas, to the growing FLDS compound hundreds of miles away. Instead, he’d moved us just a few short miles to the other side of our compound called Short Creek in Colorado City, Arizona. In fact, the home was mere steps from the proposed location of our new temple. And I was betrothed to a special man within our community.

Paul Black was the younger brother of our Prophet, and a high-ranking member of the priesthood of our congregation, part of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I’d never met him and knew almost nothing about him, but had seen him in congregation from time to time. And tomorrow afternoon, he would be my husband.

Upon my marriage to Paul Black, my children’s blood would change to his, their name to his as well, and Lehi Cluff would become nothing but a memory. This was what was taught to me by my Prophet.

And that is just fine with me.

As nervous as I was to meet our new family and adjust to the expectations of our home, it was my idea to leave the house of my original husband. I had no desire to be linked to Lehi in celestial marriage for all eternity because deep within my gut, I knew his soul was rotten to the core.

Lehi had killed a man and made it look like a suicide. He’d beaten my sister wife Brinley within an inch of her life. And he’d done it all with a smug expression on his aged face, as if he were untouchable, as if no one would ever punish him for his horrendous actions.

And perhaps they wouldn’t. The moment I found the notes he and his first wife, Leandra, had forged, proving his crime, I knew my days were numbered within his family.

I would be forever grateful to the Prophet for saving me from that home and marriage. So very grateful to the man I’ve honored and respected since I could open my mouth to repeat his holy words. I could only hope that I would honor him sufficiently by binding myself to his brother and bringing new life into our community.

The door swung open, revealing a tall, sturdy woman with a face full of freckles and a wide smile. She beckoned my children indoors before folding me into her arms, smelling faintly of fresh citrus.

“Welcome, my dear Aspen. We’re so happy you’ve joined our family.”

Surprised and relieved at the warm welcome, I felt my lips twitch. “Thank you, um . . .”

“Oh my, I’ve lost my manners. I’m Flora, Paul’s first wife. Come, let’s get you settled.”

Flora turned to lead me down the long foyer of the expansive home. The boisterous sounds of children echoed from the other side of the house, and I could hear my Beatrice’s distinctive cackle. It gave me peace to hear her being embraced by her new brothers and sisters.

Flora led me to a kitchen twice the size of what I was used to. Four ovens, three sinks, two islands, and dozens of cabinets. Four sister wives scurried from their stations in the kitchen to greet me as I stepped onto the ceramic tile.

Smiles, smiles. So many smiles.

I’d never been a smiler. My mother used to tease me that I was her only daughter with a permanent scowl on my face. I couldn’t argue; for the most part, it had always been true. I was a thinker, a puzzle solver, and a woman engrossed in my faith. My brain was too occupied for silly jokes and useless gossip that women my age occupied themselves with. Having said that, just because I didn’t engage in gossip didn’t mean I wasn’t fully informed.
I am.

As Flora introduced each of the wives, they greeted me with hugs and welcomed me into their home.

“I’ll do my best to remember all of you,” I said, but I lied. I’d already memorized them.

Pennie was thin, almost too thin. Her braid swung well below her waist, and her deep-set brown eyes looked tired.

Marianne was tiny, only a few inches taller than my eight-year-old, Ruthie. The woman’s frame was slight and her eyes a deep shade of green. Her belly was swollen, and I estimated she was in her third trimester of pregnancy.

Sarah was tall with chocolate-brown hair, deep eyes, and thick eyebrows. Of all the wives in the kitchen, she was the most soft-spoken. When she introduced herself, she glanced away, struggling to make eye contact. Shyness didn’t bother or offend me. I had a feeling Sarah and I would get along just fine.

And finally, JoAnna was a rosy-cheeked redhead with pale skin and icy blue eyes. I estimated that she was the youngest of the wives, probably about eighteen years old.

Her features were a bit more severe than the other wives’, with a sloping nose, thin lips, and adjoining eyebrows.
Poor thing
.

JoAnna giggled behind her hand. “We’re just the tip of the iceberg.”

“Oh, so I’ll be wife number . . .” I widened my eyes, waiting for the answer.

“Fourteen,” Flora said, beaming.

Clearly she was proud of the status her husband brought to her and her fellow sister wives. Being the brother of the Prophet and a respected member of the priesthood, it was no surprise that he would be rewarded with more than a dozen wives.

“Lovely.” I glanced around, following the laughter from the children. “And how many little ones?”

“Fifty-two,” Flora said.

It was clear to me that my first wife preferred to be the mouthpiece of the family. That pleased me. I preferred to follow the leadership of a confident first wife.

In Lehi’s home, I was the sixth wife, so being number fourteen didn’t bother me. My goal was simple—to live in a devout home in which my sister wives and I were treated with kindness and respect. I wanted to give myself completely to my husband and form a friendship with him. Knowing Paul had thirteen other wives, I wasn’t silly enough to believe that we would have anything beyond that. And that was all right.

Love led to disaster, fueled by confusion, miscommunication, and flared tempers. My dearest Brinley was evidence of that.

Our life was never for her. I’d felt it in my bones, and even though I pushed her to follow the principles of our faith, to embrace all that our way of life had to offer her, it was no use. Brinley’s heart was stolen outside the compound by a man named Porter.

Despite her sweetheart’s role as an apostate, an outsider who would eventually burn in hell for leaving our people, I forced myself to bend my belief system to deliver her to him. It was the only way she’d be safe from Lehi’s vengeance. I could only hope that she wouldn’t regret the choices she made.

Flora patted my arm. “Come, let’s sit. We’ve prepared a snack for your arrival.”

“That’s so kind,” I said, and I meant it. Despite my serious demeanor, I did appreciate the kindness my sister wives were showing me. I was grateful to be welcomed with such genuine goodwill.

The large walnut table was square with four chairs on each side. I slid into the sturdy wooden chair Flora indicated and placed my hands in my lap as six additional women joined us, shaking my hand, offering their names and taking a seat. Half of them were pregnant. I rubbed my flat stomach, knowing my womb was empty, but hoping to join them within the year.

Flora and the other wives poured milk and passed plates of small, freshly baked cookies. The shortbread cookie was still warm as I placed it to my lips.
Delicious
.

“You’ll meet the other wives this evening,” Flora said. “They work outside the home.”

As I contemplated which cookie I would devour next, I was startled by the distinctive sound of a cell phone ringing. My heart pounded as I quickly checked my pockets, remembering the phone Porter had given me a week prior.

No, that’s impossible. That’s buried inside your luggage.

“Sarah,” Flora said, her tone mildly chiding. “Not at the table, dear.”

“I apologize.” Sarah’s cheeks grew pink as she retrieved a phone from the pocket of her mint-green dress, pressing the screen before placing it back in her pocket.

“You—” I stopped, but Flora urged me to continue by raising her eyebrows and tipping her head in my direction. “You have phones?”

JoAnna giggled again. “Yes, don’t you?”

I shook my head, pursing my lips. “Elder Cluff doesn’t allow cell phones in his home.”

Flora cleared her throat. “Our husband is . . .” She hesitated, and I knew exactly what that meant. She was crafting her delivery to be sensitive toward Lehi. If she only knew he was undeserving of such subtlety. “Well, he’s very—”

“May I interrupt?” I asked.

Flora cleared her throat again and nodded, looking dreadfully uncomfortable with the turn our conversation had taken.

“I requested to leave my family. It was a difficult decision, but the right one for me and for my children. I have no loyalty to Elder Cluff.”

Flora raised her chin. “I think you’ll find that Paul is a gentle and sweet man. We all feel very lucky to have been given to him.”

“And we
all
have phones. I’m sure Paul will give you one soon,” Marianne added before gulping down half her glass of milk and wiping her lips with a napkin.

“That sounds nice,” I said hesitantly.

“Just don’t use it during meals,” Flora added, raising one eyebrow across the table at Sarah.

I laughed quietly to myself, appreciating Flora’s dry sense of humor, and studied Sarah, waiting for resentment to crawl across her features.

But that didn’t happen. She accepted her mild scolding with ease, taking a bite of her shortbread and resuming conversation with the group. I’d expected an underlying tension amongst Elder Black’s wives, but I wasn’t sensing anything. Not yet, anyway.

Perhaps I will fit in just fine.

• • •

Night fell, and after settling my girls into their new rooms and tucking them into their beds, I retreated to the bedroom Flora and the other wives had prepared for me. I still hadn’t met Paul, and wondered if I would before our wedding ceremony the following afternoon.

Just in case he might pay me a visit, I lay atop the covers, still in my dress, long underwear, and shoes. I would be most embarrassed if he found me in my nightgown. Mortified, really. The last thing I wanted was to make a negative first impression on my new husband. I needed to begin this marriage with the utmost modesty.

Trying to relax, I noted idly how the feather pillow smelled of lavender. I’d always loved that soothing scent.

My mind raced with the events of the day as I attempted to fall into a dreamless sleep, but my brain would have none of that. There was so much to process—the numerous wives, the cordial state of the home, the possibilities that lay ahead for my future with Paul.

A slight knock at the door interrupted my whirling thoughts. I jumped to my feet, smoothing my hair down before opening the door. It was him.

“Oh.” He wrinkled his nose. “I didn’t mean to wake you, but I wanted to introduce myself.”

His voice was soft and kind, unassuming yet strong. Paul Black towered over me as he stood in the darkened hallway. His hair was the color of wheat and his eyes a dark shade of indigo. His cheekbones were prominent, his nose slim. He was handsome in every sense of the word.

“It’s no trouble,” I said, attempting to assure him. “I was awake.”

“Oh, that’s a relief. Would hate to start this on the wrong foot.” He offered a half smile and raised his hand toward the inside of my bedroom. “May I?”

“Um, I—”

“No, nothing like that. There’s plenty of time for that after tomorrow,” he said, quickly correcting himself. “I just wanted to talk. We can go to the common room, if you prefer.”

“No, that’s all right.” I stepped back into the room. “Of course, come in.”

Paul dipped his head slightly to clear the door frame and followed me into the room. His hands immediately disappeared within the pockets of his trousers, which I assumed was to again assure me that he had no intention of requesting physical love from me just yet. He was dressed in a crisp white cotton oxford shirt and a sky-blue sweater vest.

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