Aaron Field is a farmer. He’s sworn off parties and bonfires, and being more concerned with losing his farm than anything else, he has little time for church. When his field is hired by the church for a Guy Fawkes night bonfire, Aaron is ill prepared for the feisty Welsh woman who steps onto his land and into his heart.
Meaghan Knight is a farmer’s daughter. It’s her job to make sure the church’s bonfire party runs smoothly, and if that means ironing out the kinks in surly Farmer Field then that’s what she’ll do. When she finds out what’s really behind his attitude, she feels ill prepared to face his history, his family, and the danger.
As Aaron and Meghan join forces, they discover an evil so demonic it threatens not only the farm, but their lives, as well. Meghan knows God can prevail, but first she has to convince Aaron not to give up.
Saturday’s child might be possessed…
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? Psalm 22:1
Was he cursed? Could it simply be a string of bad luck, or was there something else, some darker force at work? Something or someone was determined to take his home and land. It had been one crisis after another. Now Aaron Field was at his wits end and tied up in so much legal red tape that he couldn’t see a way out. How was he meant to find a quarter of a million pounds by the end of the financial year to prevent his stepmother selling the farm to her development company?
Aaron pushed a hand through his hair, his fingers touching the jagged scar above his right eye, before he tugged his flat cap back over his head. His wife hadn’t believed in luck or curses—said they were pagan—but then Aaron didn’t exactly believe in God the same full-on-change-your-life-way that his wife had either.
Not that he was an atheist. After all, he was English, and England was a Christian country the last time he’d checked.
In his mind, God existed.
He’d attended church most of his life—until just a few years ago—and knew without a doubt that God was real. His heart, however, remained untouched.
And naturally, if a man believed in a Supreme Being who was totally good, there had to be an exact opposite, a being who was pure evil—the devil—who, no doubt, had his own followers. They may not attend services on a Sunday in pretty churches, but they were there.
Aaron stood by the farm gate, slid both hands in his pockets, and surveyed the empty land. When his old school friend, Pastor Jack Chambers, had first broached the subject of using the farm for the traditional bonfire and firework display on November fifth, Aaron agreed as a favour. But the more he thought about it, the more it seemed like something his stepmother would hate, which was altogether a better reason for doing it.
At least the organization would take his mind off things. Or he hoped it would. Sorrow filled him. Everything he, Dad, Grandad, and Great-Grandad had worked for would be gone in a few short months. Four to be precise. He sighed. All the more reason to do some good with it now. Go out with the proverbial bang. Well, literal bang in this case.
He had just over a week before his land would be overrun for the evening by hundreds of people from Headley Cross Baptist, eating, drinking, enjoying themselves, and probably churning the grass to a sea of mud. Especially if it rained. It was bound to rain. The South of England got more than its fair share of rain in the autumn. Would they go ahead in the rain or call the celebrations off? Would they pay him in the event of a cancellation?
Sure, it was no more than a token payment, but he needed the money. Needed every penny he could lay his hands on.
He shuffled his feet. That made him sound like a penny pinching miser. A scrooge of the nth degree. Far from it. There was a time when he enjoyed a party as much as the next man. There simply wasn’t anything to celebrate anymore. Not since Nancy…
Enough, Aaron. She’s gone. No amount of wishing will bring her back. Or Dad. That life is over. Best come to terms with it quickly.
Quickly? That was a joke. It had been three years now. He was stuck in a rut. He couldn’t go backwards and couldn’t go forwards, either. His father’s death had been something he knew would happen at some point. Children bury their parents. It’s a fact of life. And he knew from growing up on a farm all too well how things lived and died. There was no getting away from it. Especially at the rate he was losing the sheep. Almost every week one turned up having been mauled by some wild animal.
So, yes, he knew about death first hand. What he hadn’t anticipated was the fact his father would die so suddenly at the age of fifty-nine. Or that it would be followed by the devastating loss of his young wife so soon afterwards. It had shaken him to the core.
He’d gone from being Aaron Field the farmer’s son, to Aaron Field the farmer—just like the card game of happy families he’d played as a kid with his brother and sister. Not that he believed in happy families any longer. Not since his mother had died giving birth to his baby sister, and everything changed. His father had remarried his step-aunt when Leah was six months old. Tanis gave a whole new meaning to the term wicked stepmother.
For the brief years of his own marriage, things had looked up and Aaron had hoped it would last. But it hadn’t. Nancy’s death had only cemented his impression that no one lived happily ever after.
He pulled his train of thought back to the matter in hand—getting the grounds in order for such a large crowd. November the fifth, Bonfire Night—a very British tradition going back to 1605 when a terrorist plot to assassinate King James was thwarted, the success of which was celebrated by Royal decree every year since.
Aaron eased his shoulders under his wax jacket. He turned, climbed back into the tractor cab, and released the brake. He headed up to the north field to finish the plowing. He derived immense satisfaction from plowing—keeping his furrows straight and even. It focused the mind and took his thoughts away from places he didn’t want them to go.
At the halfway point across the field, the phone vibrated. He yanked the handbrake and pulled the mobile from his pocket. He scowled when he didn’t recognize the number. Probably another telesales agent wanting to pitch insurance he didn’t need. He’d love to have just five minutes alone with whoever decided selling mobile phone numbers was a good idea.
“Hello.” He tried not to snap down the phone, but so help him if this was another unwanted call whoever it was would get short shrift.
“Hello, could I speak to Farmer Field please?”
He winced at the name and the underlying laughter in the Welsh lilt. Obviously, she thought ‘Farmer Field’ was hysterically funny—just like everyone else did. Except him.
“Hi. My name is Meaghan Knight. I’m ringing from Headley Baptist about the bonfire next week.”
“Oh, right. Hello.” He assumed he’d be dealing with Jack, not some chit of a girl. But Jack was probably busy with pastoral stuff. “What can I do for you, Miss Knight?”
“I was wondering if it would be possible for me to come over and talk with you in person. Take a look at the field; make the arrangements, and so on. I appreciate the fact you’re busy, so thought I’d ring first, rather than just descend on you.”
Her lilting voice washed over him like a fresh spring breeze. Like sunshine following rain, or the first daffodil peeking through the ground after a long hard winter. He wanted her to say something else just to hear her speak.
“Are you still there?”
“Yes, I am. Sorry, my mind wandered for a moment. When were you thinking of coming?”
“How about now?”
How about no? The thought formed before Aaron could stop it. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind not to vocalize. Cute accent or not, he had a lot to get done, but he wasn’t going to be rude. After all, she’d rung to ask before she came. And he’d get to hear her accent in person. “All right, I can do that. You know where the farm is?”
“Yes. Pastor Jack gave me a map.”
“OK. I’m in the north field finishing the plowing.”
“I’ll find you. I’m not sure how long it’ll take me to drive out there as I don’t know the area well yet. See you soon.”
The phone clicked off and Aaron slid the handset back into his jacket. So much for getting this finished before dark. What’s the betting she’ll appear in high heels and a suit skirt? He shook his head, a faint smile teasing his lips at the image of a petite blonde, hair in a bun, short skirt and heels, struggling over the stile and up the hill to where he was going to suggest they build the bonfire.
Slamming the tractor back into gear, Aaron chugged across the field, keeping the furrow straight. He prided himself on his work. The farm was his life. He hadn’t time for anything else and hadn’t had a day off since the funeral three years ago.
Actually the farm was his whole life. And now it was ending. He had no idea what to do with his days when it changed. Nothing he, Isaac or Leah could do about it. Not that his brother or sister had any interest in what went on here anymore. They’d moved out after Dad died, got a flat in town together, and didn’t look back.
Fifty minutes later, he finished another furrow, and turned to start again. He paused, his attention caught by a figure standing at the gate. Black hair pulled into twin plaits lying across her shoulders, green jacket over black jeans and green Wellington boots. It could only be one person.
Guiding the tractor to a stop, Aaron turned off the engine and jumped down. He wiped his hands on his brown corduroy pants and walked over to her. “Miss Knight?”
“That’s right. Are you Mr. Field?” A broad smile lit up a pair of sparking brown eyes. Her cool hand shook his warm clammy one. Her voice was even more delicious in real life and she was nothing like what he’d pictured. She was cute.
He didn’t have time for cute.
“Yes, I am.” He looked at the path behind her. No car. “Did you walk up?”
She nodded, her plaits bouncing on either side of her head. “I did. Someone called Hal gave me directions. It’s a nice day, and the air here is wonderful. Clean and fresh. It reminds me of home.”
“Let me unhook the plow, and I’ll drive you back down. The field I want to use is right by the barn. Can you open the gate for me?”
“Sure.” She slid her hands into her pockets and leaned against the gate. Her brown eyes followed his movements as he released the attachment and restarted the tractor. As he headed to the gate, she swung it open and stood to one side. He tipped his cap to her and waited while she shut the gate behind him.
He leaned across the seat and opened the door. He held out a hand to help her up, raising an eyebrow when she leapt in unaided, her beaming smile making his stomach lurch. “Not your first tractor then.”
For crying out loud, man. She’s not the first woman to cross your path. Can you not think of anything sensible to say? She’ll think you’re a complete country clod.
“I grew up on a farm in Wales.” Meaghan raised her voice over the engine sounds. “Mainly sheep, along with a few ducks, geese, and horses and bit of everything else.”
Aaron nodded. “So what brings you to the city?”
“I want to work in the church. I’m doing an apprenticeship at Headley Cross Baptist.”
“A what?” He swallowed hard. “You’re a preacher?”
She laughed. “No. Da would have a blue fit and go up in smoke if I dared get up in a pulpit and preach. ‘Only a man can give voice to the word of God, Meggie, and don’t you forget it’.” She grinned as she impersonated her father. “I’m learning other stuff—children’s work, ladies ministry, evangelism—that kind of thing.”
“I see.” Meggie…the name suited her. Everything about her radiated goodness and beauty, and part of him couldn’t get enough of her, longed to know her better. But he didn’t need a religious do-gooder trying to bring him back to the church. Been there, done that and heaven forbid he start…
Aaron pulled his thoughts up short. He wasn’t about to start praying to a Deity he no longer had faith in, no matter how engrained it was in him. He suddenly realized Meaghan was speaking to him and he had no idea what she’d said. “Sorry?”
“I said I hadn’t seen you in church.”
“I don’t go. There’s too much work here and all that.”
“Oh.” The disappointment was evident in her voice.
He nodded brusquely. “I’m doing this as a favour for Jack. We went to school together. It was this or no bonfire, so…”
Meaghan nodded. “Yeah—apparently last year’s event was a big hit. They reckon this one will be, too.”
Aaron took his gaze off the path and glanced at her. “Perhaps. I stopped going to the Bonfire Night festivities years ago. It’s a silly tradition, if you think about it.”
“Why’s that?” She twisted in her seat, her interest coming across in her voice.
“Everyone knows Guy Fawkes was ‘hung, drawn and quartered’ for his part in the gunpowder plot, not burnt at the stake, so why sling the guy on a bonfire each year? Witches were burnt. Being hung, drawn and quartered was reserved for those committing treason.”
She nodded. “True. And they don’t even use that as a punishment for treason, these days.” She paused. “Though it is fun actually building the guy. We used to make one with Da’s old clothes and stuff it with newspaper, before traipsing around the streets asking for money. We’d have sparklers around a bonfire, eat jacket potatoes and hot dogs out of paper serviettes, with hot tomato soup in those thick paper cups, and watch the fireworks in the local park.”
“We went to the school bonfire, but nothing else.” He shoved away his feelings. Bonfires meant something else as he was growing up. He had vague memories tucked away in the dark recesses of his mind that he didn’t want tapped.
“Here we are.” He parked the tractor and leapt out. Trotting around the other side, he yanked open the door and offered her a hand.
This time she took it. “Thank you.”
Not prepared for the way her cool touch warmed him or the way his heart pounded, he almost let go. Just as well he didn’t, or she would have fallen hard. And he didn’t want to spoil her pretty face with cuts and scrapes.
Meaghan looked around as she let go of his hand. “This field here?”
Aaron nodded, moving over to the gate. Best keep this businesslike; it was safer, and anyway, where did the thought even come from that a relationship with Meaghan could be anything other than business? “Yeah. I’ll leave the gate open on the night. There’s a slight incline, but it levels out half way. It’s far enough from the main road not to cause a problem with visibility. The smoke won’t drift over to the animals, so they won’t get spooked. There’s also plenty of room for fireworks—the correct distance and all that. I checked the health and safety regulations online.”
She nodded. “Good. I brought the paperwork with me. It’s in the car. May I wander up the field, have a proper look?”
“Of course.” Aaron opened the gate for her. “How many people are you expecting?”
“Last year we had three hundred turn up. If they all come again and bring a friend, it could be upwards of six hundred.” She smiled at him. “Plus last year was wonderful, so word of mouth and so on, should increase the numbers.”
“What are you charging to get in?”
Aaron’s eyebrows shot up. Surely he misheard her. Something like this would cost a fortune. “Nothing?”
“Church members are asked to make a donation per family via a marked envelope in the offering on Sunday, but we can’t charge guests or non-members. Kind of defeats the whole evangelism point of the exercise.”
“It’s a free firework event with gospel talk.”
“So they’re not paying to get preached at.”
Meaghan looked at him. Was that hurt in her eyes? “We’re not going to preach at them at all. Short gospel talk, that’s all. Ten minutes if that. Pastor Jack is doing it—assuming he’s not in the delivery suite with Cassie. She’s due around the tenth of November.” She pulled her gaze away and cast it around the field. “Can we fence off the fire? Or at least an area for the fireworks?”
Aaron studied her carefully. Did she take him for a complete fool or had Jack coached her in what to say? “Of course. I’ll mark off the top of the field for the fireworks and put a cordon around the fire. Shouldn’t take too long as it’ll only be a temporary fence. Figured a simple one made from sticks and string. I assume the kids will be supervised by their parents?”
She nodded, her braids bouncing. Did she have any idea how young having her hair in bunches made her look? Or maybe she was young and he was older than his thirty-two years made him feel.
“Of course they will be. Thank you, Mr. Field. I figured we’d set the fireworks first and then light the fire while that’s going on, so it’s burning by the time people head back to it. Where can they park?”
“There’s a field to the left of the main gate where you came in.”
“That’s great.” She turned around in a circle, looking upwards. “I bet you have the most amazing view of the stars out here. No city lights to interfere.”
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never looked.”
“Seriously?” Surprise filled those gorgeous eyes of hers.
“Seriously.” He shifted his gaze before he got lost in hers. “Anyway, let me show you the outbuildings Jack wanted to use.”
Aaron headed out of the field, shutting the gate behind them. Their feet crunched on the well-worn gravel that covered the ground. Two huge open-sided barns stood either side of the yard. “That one sets up well as a cook house. Plenty of room for barbecues, stoves, and so on. This one can seat plenty on chairs and haystacks.”
“Can we set up a PA system?”
Aaron nodded. “Yes. I can hook that up easily.”
She smiled. Such a beautiful smile, he reckoned she had men falling at her feet. Then shoved aside the stab of what he assumed was jealousy. Just because he was destined to be alone, didn’t mean that applied to the rest of the world.
“Thanks so much, Mr. Field. You’re a real blessing.”
“Oh, I’m far from that, Miss Knight,” Aaron said, allowing his brusqueness to show.
“Please, call me Meggie. Miss Knight makes me sound so old. All my friends call me Meggie.”
Aaron held her gaze. Friends… “All right, Meggie. I’m Aaron.” Her name rolled off his tongue. He could get used to saying it. If only things were different.
“We needed somewhere, Aaron, and the Lord provided you and your farm at the right time.”
He shifted his feet, not prepared for the way his name sounded in her adorable Welsh accent. Chills ran up his arms and down his spine and he barely knew the girl. In any event, he didn’t buy into the whole “Lord provided” thing. God wanted no part of him or his farm—a massive run of bad luck proved that. “Aye, well. Will you be needing anything else?”
Again, that beaming smile and slight toss of her head sent his senses reeling. “No. I’ll let you get back to your plowing. Thank you ever so much for your time.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll walk you over to your car, and you can give me those papers. I’ll give them to Jack when I’m in town tomorrow.”
“Sure, thank you. Or you can drop them into the church office. I’ll be there all day. Will it be all right if the team starts building the bonfire on Friday the fourth? The cooking team will need to start around two or three on the Saturday, with people arriving from five-thirty for a six o’clock start.”
Aaron walked with her, amazed at how fast she spoke and how musical her voice was. He couldn’t help but wonder what kind of figure her coat hid. He inwardly shook his head. She had to be just out of school. Not going there. “Yeah, that’s fine. I can spare a couple of farm hands to help build if not enough people turn up to help. Where’s the wood coming from?”
“We have some, well rather a lot of, wooden pallets that we are storing in garages for now. But figured we could get more from somewhere. There’s a tree in the manse garden that Pastor’s been talking about felling for a while now. He’ll probably get that done so we can use it.”
“Wet or green wood won’t burn. It takes a year at least for it to dry out enough. I’ve a couple of felled trees and wood pile here that I use for the boiler. If you need extra wood, you can use some of mine. So long as your people let me know when they’re coming, they can store all the wood in the red barn.”
“Thanks.” They reached her car and Meggie unlocked the door. She reached in for the folder lying on the passenger seat and handed it to him. “Here you go. Well, thanks again. I’ll be in touch.”
“Sure.” He stiffened as footsteps crunched over the gravel towards him.
“Aaron, might I have a word? Hello, who are you?”
He forced a smile. “This is Tanis Field, my stepmother. Tanis, this is Miss Knight, from the church.”
Meggie held out a hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
“And you.” The handshake was long and firm. Too firm, from what Aaron could see. Tanis’s long fingers plucked a hair from Meggie’s coat. “You have a letter coming. I hope it’s not bad news.”
Meggie laughed. “Oh, I don’t believe in superstitious things like that.”
Before Tanis could do or say anything else offensive, Aaron helped Meggie into her car. “I’ll be in touch. Have a safe ride back to town.” He clutched the folder to his chest and raised a hand as she drove off. “What do you want, Tanis? Or were you just snooping as usual?”
“I thought I asked you repeatedly to call me Mum?”
He looked at her thin, straight figure, black hair scraped back off her face, posh clothes, dripping jewelry and the permanent cigarette in her right hand. “You’re not my mother, Tanis.”
She nodded curtly. “What did Miss Knight want? Have you finally hired a lawyer you think can defeat me?”
“I told you, Miss Knight is one of the church workers. She came to arrange the bonfire party for November fifth.” He tore his gaze from the dark eyes before they took him in and swallowed him whole.
A large crow perched on the gate post, cawing loudly. The hair on the back of his neck rose, and his whole body prickled. But this time out of fear, not for any imagined attraction he might have felt earlier. Tanis had always given him the creeps. Even as a little boy he’d tried to avoid her. Not that it was possible. She had this uncanny ability to know what he was thinking, sometimes almost before he did. Nothing got past her, and it was almost impossible to say no to her.
“Do you know anything about her?” Tanis asked, blowing smoke in his direction.
The less Tanis knew, the better. A desire to protect Meggie flooded him. He didn’t want another unexplainable accident on his conscience. There had been far too many of those...Paul lost an arm in a combine harvester accident. Rick got injured after a hay rake fell on him. And Roland just disappeared. No trace of him was ever found. Never mind the spate of animal mutilations.
Health and safety could find nothing wrong with the way Aaron ran things, but it was more than enough to make him uncomfortable. Especially as it was only people who crossed Tanis or those she didn’t like, who succumbed to accidents.
“I’ve only just met her. Jack sent her.”
“I think it’s a mistake letting the church up here.” Tanis grabbed his arm; her touch burned through his thick jacket, and sent a bolt of alarm through him.
He shook her off. “Yeah, well, it’s not up to you, is it?”
“Until the end of the tax year in March, the farm is mine, and I’ll thank you to remember that. Now, if you don’t mind, I have a field to finish plowing and a farm to run.” He took several long strides.
“You’re wasting your time. I’m planning a dozen houses on that field alone, at least. If not more.” Her voice and footsteps followed him.
Aaron stopped dead and spun on his heel. “Like I said. The farm, and all its land, is mine until the end of March. Up until that date, I will run it as I normally do. Plowing, planting, and growing crops, along with milking the few cows we have.”
Tanis smirked. She dropped the cigarette butt at his feet and trod on it. “Sure thing, Aaron.”
Aaron followed her every move until the office door slammed behind her. Tanis oozed darkness and something almost evil. So different from Meggie. He may have just met her, but she radiated warmth and life.
He looked heavenward. Where do I even begin to find the two hundred and fifty grand Tanis wants for the farm? A miracle would be nice about now. Might even go to church again if—
Don’t tempt God, Aaron. You never know if He’ll take the bait and call you on your promises. Normally his father’s face frowned at him about now, but this time the face was framed by black bunches and had bright brown eyes and an adorable Welsh lilt.