This is a scene from a serial novel in progress. At this stage in the novel, Elsa has taken the identity of a dead friend, Edwina. She has fled Ontario to accept an offer of marriage from a man she’s never met, a miner in the Crowsnest Pass. Staying at the local boarding house, Elsa is waiting for the traveling minister to arrive and perform the wedding ceremony. That’s when she meets an unexpected boarding house guest: Frank MacLeod, the wealthy son of her Ontario employer.

If you’d like to read the whole mess, look here.

Having Frank in the house is like having an itch right in the centre of my back, where I can’t reach to scratch. For the first day I tried to pretend he wasn’t here, but the questions kept scraping at my skin. What happened after I left? What did they do with Edwina’s… body? Was there a funeral? And did Mr. MacLeod at least look contrite, even for one moment?

Then I remembered that I wasn’t here as myself. What must he think when he hears Janina call my name — Edwina’s name — across the house? What if he mistakenly calls me the wrong thing, and gives me away?

By the third day, I don’t care. I don’t care if he shouts my true name from the top of the blasted mountain. I have to know. I’ll corner him, I decide. Keep watch quietly from the kitchen entrance after dinner. And when he rises, I’ll approach.

As it turns out, he corners me, first.

I’m in the upper hallway with a rag in one hand and a bucket of water in the other when he steps from the doorway behind me and lays a hand on my shoulder. I stop so abruptly, water sloshes over my feet before I can set down the bucket. He’s so close the I instinctively lean against the wall as I turn toward him. And that leaves me staring up, into his eyes.

There was a mountain cat in a cage last week, in the middle of the village. One of the trappers had got him, and decided to show him off, I suppose, rather than kill the creature straight away. That cat was locked in a cell barely bigger than itself, yet it still managed to pace, twisting its body around and hissing at all who approached. Its eyes half-slitted, yellow and dangerous.

The same look Mr. MacLeod wears as he puts one arm on the wall above my head and leans over me.

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