Ruined – Annabelle Anders

Present day… “Mom! Can you help me bring down this box?” I yell as I’m hauling yet another box from the attic of my parents’ house. I love them, but they sure love to keep everything. “Give me a second, I’m making lunch!” she calls back. Liam enters the attic, sweat trickling down his face and groans. “I’ve been through BUDs and countless schools with some of the toughest instructors and they have nothing on your mother.” I laugh and shrug. He’s not wrong. My mother is crazy, brilliant, and likes things in order, exactly like me. Lord knows it doesn’t come from my father who can’t organize a thing. “She had to manage my father.” “And you. You’re a handful.” He’s stupid, amazing, but stupid. “You should talk.” “Oh, I know I’m a mess, but what does it say about you?” “Me?” He grins.

“You married me.” “That I did. God help me. And I let you knock me up.” Liam looks at my belly. “How is the baby?” “Good,” I reassure him. Each trip he asks and tries to tell me how I need to take it easy. Not sure how much easier I can take it when I don’t move. I reach down into the box, noting it’s yet another box of old books. “She has so many old books up here.

I’m not sure why she has kept them all.” “Because she’s also a hoarder.” “She’s not a hoarder.” He lifts up some VHS tapes from a box. “No? And what, my love, is she watching these on?” I get up and walk over to another section of very old appliances and show him the VCR. “This?” “So she likes old things that probably don’t work?” “She likes my father.” He laughs. “And what about you? Is this a glimpse into our married life?” I walk over to my extremely attractive husband, wishing I could wrap my arms around him fully, but my belly stops us. “Maybe. Would you hate me if it was?” His grin is playful.

“I could never hate you.” “Good to know.” “However, I will tell you there is not a single part of me that’s excited about you turning our house into this.” “Noted.” I lean up and kiss him. “Now, move boxes while I keep sorting.” He walks me back over to the chair I was in for the last two hours and stretch. I’m only seven months pregnant, but you’d swear I was nine. I’m so big and uncomfortable. Liam didn’t give me hell about this because my parents are moving to Virginia Beach to help with the kids while he goes back into the field in a few months.

Liam hefts another box up into his strong arms. “You know, I pictured our honeymoon a bit more . romantic.” “I’m sure you did, but Arkansas has its charms.” “It does?” “Well, it has my parents and they’re watching Aara each morning so we can sleep in.” He raises one brow. “And they say married life changes couples.” I stick my tongue out to which he replies with blowing me a kiss before walking downstairs. I sort the box of books into different piles. Some will be donated, others tossed, and Mom says she wants to keep anything with a love story.

A lot of these books are covered in dust, clearly not touched or read in a long time, but, I know how my mother is about books so I take my time. As I start to dig deeper into box number five, I come across a black leather-bound book with nothing on the spine. It’s old. Extremely old and there’s no title page. I flip another, being extra cautious because the pages feel like they could turn to dust if I rub them too hard. I turn another and notice it’s not a book, but it’s a diary. The name written on the page is Naomi Gilcrest. Now I’m intrigued. It’s definitely not my mother’s writing so I start to read. Just as I lean back my mother pops her head in.

“Natalie?” “Mom, look what I found.” She walks over, looking at it. “Ah, I see you found your great, great, great, great, great grandmother Naomi’s journal.” “That’s a mouthful.” Mom chuckles. “I know, and I may be off and need to add a few more onto that, but you get the point. It’s old and Naomi’s diary is . well, great.” “You’ve read it?” She nods. “Your father’s grandma gave it to me when we had just started dating.

She said her,” she pauses and then shakes her head. “However many grandmothers back it was for her had an amazing story. She told me about how detailed and intriguing her story was.” “Really?” My mother’s smile is bright. “Oh, filled with mystery and drama, like all the good ones are.” “Why haven’t you ever told me about this?” “I forgot it was up here, honestly. You know, if I remember, her life was quite a bit like yours in some ways.” I scrunch my nose. “Drama with other women and a bad ex?” Mom laughs. “Well, yes, but I mean her love story.

Naomi was a woman that struggled through life. She didn’t have it easy, especially when it came to men.” “We must not be the same then since I have Liam.” “Yes, love, you do, but you didn’t always, and neither did she. Her first husband, Arthur, wasn’t great and left her a widow.” I smile, touching the cover of the book lovingly. “So she was strong at a time that women were considered weak.” “From all that I remember, yes. She then . well, you know Lee, now that I think of it, she’s a lot like you overall.

Not just your story but also who you are and all you’ve endured.” I open the book again, touching the ink from so long ago. “Then she must have been fantastic.” “She probably was.” “I’d like to read it,” I tell her. She looks around. “Why don’t you head down now and get some lunch. Maybe you want to take a . nap.” Mom winks.

“You know, with that diary . ” I catch on and shake my head. “Is that what you did when you napped when I was little?” “Darling, when you have a good book, you’ll do just about anything to finish it. I napped, took very long showers, and did a lot of time at the grocery store to get reading in.” All her secrets being exposed. “Well, then I may just do that now. I’d like to learn about her struggles.” Mom kisses my cheek. “And let me know if her love story was as happy as yours in the end.” I think about my husband and smile.

“I will, but there’s only one Liam and he’s mine.” But I’d like to see if Naomi had anything like my love story. Chapter One November 1828, Milton Cottage, Dorset, England Mrs. Naomi Gilcrest studied the minuscule radish in her hand and shaking her head, tucked it into her apron. Although it was nearing the end of October, only a handful of her crops were coming to fruition. Resting on her haunches, she arched her back and then perused her garden. She had not been raised for this life, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. She would not. Because neither had she expected that she would marry a man like Arthur, one who loved her so passionately. If only he’d purchased the seeds when she asked, they could have planted sooner.

She grimaced and then smiled to herself. In one particular instance, she and Arthur had managed to plant early enough. Her hand automatically settled on her swollen belly. Very early. Too early. She had not been able to smile about it when she’d first missed her course. In fact, she’d been horrified. She’d met Arthur at the first ball of the season, along with several other members of his regiment, when luck had shone down on London allowing an abundance of eligible young officers to attend the Season’s affairs. Gentlemen wearing colors were simply irresistible and more than one young lady fell into a fit of vapors upon an unexpected introduction or request to dance. These bachelors had embodied all that was courageous, brave, and honorable, making attempts to resist them futile.

More than one respectable debutante had emerged from the season… ruined. And Naomi, even at the ripe age of twenty-four, had been just as susceptible as the younger ladies coming out. Arthur had gained an introduction immediately upon spying her at the Willoughby Ball and he began to court her in earnest after only a few weeks. Despite her parents’ disapproval and rumors of his roguish reputation, she’d been unable to resist. Even now, her situation was by no means ideal. Despite her marriage, she’d lost the support of her family and many of her friends. Two weeks after Naomi informed Arthur of her—their—predicament, he’d stolen her away to Gretna Green in the middle of the night. The journey had been harrowing but also exciting and adventurous. After a rushed ceremony at the anvil, Arthur had brought her to Milton Cottage, the small property bequeathed to him as the second son of the late Earl of Tempest. As a result, she’d lost almost everything she’d known but was now married and expecting a child.

As she’d oft found herself doing of late, she rubbed her belly. Less than four months away, sometime in February, or perhaps late in January, they would be a family. She stared across the field and around the small property that had become her home and realized the sunlight had turned a shade of gold unique to autumn. It lent an almost timeless quality to the trees, the listing stable, and the house. A breeze blew a strand of hair across her face and she brushed it away. A second, stronger gust sent a handful of fallen leaves swirling across the dirt and caused the trim falling off the roof of the porch to creak rhythmically. Unfortunately, the same uniform that had drawn Naomi to Arthur was the reason she had been left behind alone to deal not only with impending motherhood but an estate that was very much in need of repair. But those few months before he’d been called away—they had been magical, dreamlike. The trim groaned and then made a loud snapping sound before it fell to the ground causing her to jump. She inhaled a calming breath and reached down to pull another radish—this one even smaller than the last.

When Arthur’s soldier’s pay arrived, if it ever arrived, she could pay someone to help her out with repairs. Although Milton Cottage suffered from years of neglect, she wanted it to feel like home to Arthur when he returned. He’d promised he would be back in time for Christmas and already she was imagining spending their first holiday together. She’d been compelled by his impending return to make little changes that would hopefully make a difference. She’d located a chest of wellpreserved fabric in the attic and was slowly replacing the drapes on all of the windows. Meanwhile, her maid had polished so much wood that Naomi wouldn’t be surprised if the house perpetually smelled of lemons now. The lemon oil, however, was a great improvement on the musty odor that had been ever-present when Arthur had brought her here. A second piece of trim chose that moment to chime in with its own creaking sound but Naomi ignored it. She had so very much to be grateful for.

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