God was punishing her.
It was the only logical conclusion. Madeline Donovan had done the unthinkable, and now she had to pay.
Sister Margaret had warned her time and again, but she hadn’t believed.
Well, today she was a believer.
A bead of sweat slid down her spine as she took another painful step, wincing as the blister that had formed on her pinky toe half a mile back rubbed against the strap of her four-inch-heeled sandal.
Of course, she could take the shoes off, but then she’d be forced to walk barefoot on a deserted highway in the dark. Seeing as she was on the Lord’s bad side, keeping the heels on was the safe bet.
The wind whipped, swirling around her like a mini tornado as another car zipped past at eighty miles per hour. Stupid Southern-belle curls, long transformed into a tangled heap, flew into her face and blinded her. She pressed closer to the bushes lining the two-lane road. Best not to tempt fate by walking too closely to motor vehicles.
Her dress caught on a wayward branch and she ripped it free. The sound of the tearing fabric seemed to echo down the highway. She sighed with satisfaction. The damned thing’s destruction was the only bright spot in an otherwise miserable day.
Off in the not-too-distant horizon, peeking through the trees like a beacon of hope, a red neon sign blazed in the night sky. The word BAR blinked, winking at her, making her mouth water, urging her on. She’d been following the sign since her car broke down, and it got closer with every anguished step.
Tightening her grip on the small purse, her fingers dug into the tiny crystal beads. She had fifty bucks. More than enough to plant her ass on a stool and get drunk. Maybe not the smartest choice, given her situation, but she’d stopped caring about smart the second she’d pulled out of that parking lot.
All-too-vivid images of this afternoon filled her mind while sweat, already dampening her temples from the humidity and the long walk, trickled down her hairline.
What had she done?
This morning she’d had no idea she would take this kind of drastic measure. There’d been no sense of impending doom, no inner knowledge of what was to come. All she’d woken up with was an upset stomach and the complete certainty of where the day would end.
It hadn’t included walking down a dark, unknown highway in the dead of night.
Now look at her: one act of desperate panic and she was stranded in the middle of Illinois farmland. Well, punishment or not, she would make it to that bar.
With her gaze trained on the red sign, she took another determined, torturous step toward salvation.