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PROMISES IN THE DARK
by Stephanie Tyler

Genre: General Romantic Suspense, Romantic Suspense

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Some people might consider this place hell, but Olivia Strohm knew it wasn’t. No, Kambia was far from it, and since she’d been to hell on earth twice already, she considered herself something of an expert.
 
It was nearly dark, but the heat wasn’t retreating. Wouldn’t.
 
She wrapped the rag around her hair and rubbed another cloth over her neck. She took a long drink of water because her body demanded it, even though she’d long grown used to ignoring most of her body’s needs in exchange for freedom. She had work to do, and that superseded anything else.
 
She hadn’t needed much money here. No, with her services, she’d been able to barter for the more important staples, like food and clothes and places to stay. This house was hidden behind two others, abandoned long ago. But the women she’d met had hustled her back there and helped her settle in without question.
 
Later that first night, they came back. Shy. With questions, with medical problems, some she could help with and some she couldn’t. There was a clinic twenty miles away that she could refer some of them to. For women like Dahia, who’d lost her child to typhoid two months earlier, Olivia had to be the one to reiterate to her after an exam that more children were impossible, just like the midwife had.
 
Sometimes, she felt as if she did more harm than good, but Dahia brought her cassava and bread later as a thank you.
 
For the last two days, there had been ripples of gossip in the small village that a pregnant woman was looking for help and running from an important man who followed, intent on taking her back.
 
Olivia had run too, and she’d learned that no man was that important.
 
In the past months, she’d killed several men—on purpose—and in the aftermath, struggled with her conscience. Wondered if she could even function back in the real world, and decided no.
 
She was safer here. Alone, with no real ties. And even though the local women insisted that she shouldn’t get  involved with the pregnant woman heading her way, that the men who ran the human trafficking ring would take her away and lock her up—or worse—she didn’t listen. Told them her home was open to give shelter to whoever needed it.
 
She’d survived so much already—she would not let the threat of a random stranger take her down or destroy her will.
 
Outside the small, three-room house, she heard a rustle in the bushes. It could be an animal... or it could be a woman, too frightened to come inside.
 
She’d left a candle burning outside—a signal, Ama once told her. Ama, the angel who’d helped her for a month after she’d escaped and taught her some of the ways to survive this harsh place.
 
Ama, who had not deserved what had happened to her.
 
The lump rose in her throat but she pushed it down ruthlessly. No, not now.
 
She grabbed a heavy iron skillet before she stepped outside onto the creaky porch and stared out, unable to see anything but shadows.
 
“Come, come,” she said, her voice low and urgent in the dark. She repeated herself in Krio as well, kam naya, to encourage the woman to come forward.
 
You can’t save them all. But you can help some.
 
Those words from her first year of residency rang in her ears more often than she’d like to admit.
 
And so she waited, impatiently shifting from one foot to the other, fighting not to let her nerves get the better of her.
 
But it wasn’t a woman who came forward. No, it was the outline of a man. She saw the fatigues and the guns and thought it might be one of the soldiers coming to try to close down her makeshift office.
 
She would have to pay—or close up and move. Or possibly fight for her life.
 
She tightened her hand around the cold handle of the skillet held behind her back and waited for the bark of an order.
 
But this man stepped into the light with his hands in view, free of weapons. Blond. Blue-eyed. Face of an angel and the devil mixed, and the throb in her belly overrode the sudden, sharp fear.
 
She was being rescued. And that was the worst thing that could happen to her now.