“Vic! Victoria! Victoria Pearson Clark, just where are you going?”
“Into town, Aunt Sophie. I need—um—I need some silk thread to match that new fabric we bought last week. And buttons. And—um—a packet of rickrack to go with the whole shebang.”
“Wait a minute. You stop right there, girl.”
Victoria’s dash to freedom was forestalled as the older woman, still drying one of the pretty Blue Willow plates that had been used for dinner and was freshly washed, moved with her usually stately pace from kitchen to parlor. Her niece, just itching to flee, got halted short with one boot actually on the threshold.
“What kind of fool do you take me for, Vic? You’re no more interested in getting that new gown sewn than the man in the moon would be, coming down to earth. So, I repeat, just where are you slipping off to when I need you to do some chores here around the house?”
It was an ancient argument, one that had been going on between the two of them since time immemorial. Or, at least, since Sophie had arrived here at Whistle Creek, Texas, from her home in Boston, a dozen years ago, to help run her brother’s household and raise his motherless daughters.
Vickie sighed. “What exactly did you need help with, Auntie?”
“Don’t slouch, dear. You have a lovely figure as long as you stand straight and tall. Well, the laundry is dry, for one thing. I could use some help getting everything off the line and folded.”
“Ooooh.” The sound was halfway between a groan and a whine. It certainly didn’t become a young lady of her nineteen years. “Can’t Jessie help? I really want to—”
“Your sister is already picking string beans in the garden. Please come along, Vic; four hands will make light work. Then you can be off to Lord knows where.”
The Lord knew, all right. She wanted to hurry out to the stable where Petunia, her favorite mare, awaited her. Then she would be off to Whistle Creek, for an errand completely unrelated to such silly, frivolous things as furbelows and fabric.
But patience was an inbred characteristic, and she would call upon it now as she had so many times in the past. Also, from childhood she had proven to be a biddable girl, willingly taking on whatever was demanded of her whether or not it suited her schedule and ability.
“And besides, am I to assume that you were planning on a town visit, dressed like that?” her aunt continued.
“Well, why not? I’m not about to go kneel before the Queen.”
Miffed, Vickie stomped flat-footed (which she knew, as another bone of contention, that Miss Sophie hated) into the kitchen. What was wrong with what she was wearing? If there was one major criticism directed upon her, it pertained to her manner of dress. It didn’t fit the family’s lifestyle.
She cast a disgusted look downward as she unpinned and folded dry towels from the back yard clothesline, at what seemed a perfectly serviceable divided riding skirt made of lightweight wool and her plain blue cotton shirtwaist.
Oh. Well. Upon closer examination, she spied a tear in the hem of one leg that left threads trailing. And a rather unsightly spot of horse drool upon the sleeve of her top, as a remnant of an earlier visit to the corral. Maybe she ought to change into something a bit more appropriate before she went hightailing it off to Whistle Creek.
Struggling with the weight and length of a double bed sheet, Vickie mumbled under her breath.
More time to be wasted when there were important things she needed to do.
“What’s that, Vic?” her aunt asked serenely, from the iron post where she was tightening a line.
“Nothing. Nothing at all. There, you monster, you.”
“I would have helped with the larger things, you know.”
“I know. But you gotta show ’em who’s boss.”
Before she could begin to pick up a wicker basket stuffed full of the sweet-smelling laundry, Vickie was nearly tripped by the thin black cat twining itself around both her ankles.
“Oh, Daisy girl, you must be hungry again.” She stooped to apply plenty of caresses to the animal’s shining fur and was happily purred at in return. “Let’s go see what we can find in the kitchen, shall we?”
“I declare, Vickie.” Her aunt, pegging a clothes pin to connect the tail of a flannel shirt with free space on a line, watched with disapproval. “You’ve got her terribly spoiled. There are plenty of mice and moles around for her to catch.”
“And she does a good job at that, Aunt Sophie. But she’s feeding six babies, remember? She’s bound to be starving.” Grinning, the girl set off, with her feline friend following close behind.
After raiding the pantry for some leftover roast beef and a dish of cream for the appreciative cat, Vickie skipped up the stairs, changed into something similar but less disreputable, and stopped by her father’s bedroom to check in. He had been considering a move to the first floor where he might be more involved in the running of his ranch, but that was yet to come. As if conceding to the inevitable would point out the limits set by his physical disabilities.
So the decision had not been finalized.
He was asleep, praises be; no need to hang around playing handmaiden to his needs. Perhaps she shouldn’t feel so put upon, simply helping out and spending time with him once in a while, but his temperament was just so darned ornery! She wondered how Aunt Sophie had managed to endure her brother’s behavior all these years. Although it was true that his mood had deteriorated more lately, given the increasing amount of pain wracking his body.
“All clear,” she reported in, meeting the woman in the front hall.
“Ah. A good rest will help, you’ll see. He might even be able to get up for supper.”
“Don’t count on it, Auntie. That bottle of laudanum looks to be half-empty.”
With a sigh, Sophie tucked a stray tendril of thick gray hair back into its knot. She was energetic, cheerful, and adaptable; almost a polar opposite to Riley, who had seemed so disoriented and bewildered after the loss of his wife that Sophie, delighted to be needed, had come flying all the way across country from Boston, via the fastest train possible, to manage the house and children.
Now the Yellowstar Ranch had become her home, and she ruled everyone and everything on it with care and consideration.
“Well, at least you look more decent for being out in public,” she said, inspecting her niece’s outfit with approval.
Vickie, now that the chance to get away was finally in sight, laughed. “Oh, you and your Boston manners. Nobody cares what I look like, believe me.”
“Ah, but I do, dear. And so should you.”
The throw of both arms around her aunt’s sturdy shoulders enveloped her in an affectionate hug. “Well, maybe someday I will. Need anything from town?”
“No, but thanks for asking. Don’t be gone long.”
Pausing again, she stifled a sigh. “Uh-huh?”
“Well, it’s just that—dear, I don’t begrudge you your freedom. I never have. But you really ought to pay more attention to things needing to be done here at the ranch, before you—”
“Oh, I know I’m a sluggard and a dullard and the most spoiled rotten layabout you’ve ever seen. But I’ll reform, I promise. And now I really must be on my way!” Blowing a kiss that represented freedom, she was finally able to dash off.
The Yellowstar was a thriving concern of some 50,000 acres, established in the Texas Hill Country west of San Antonio. With the aid of its part-time owner, his sister, a capable foreman named Tom Prentiss, his wife Lydia, and six cowboys employed in various capacities, day-to-day operations were carried off with only a rare hitch.
Because sometimes his erratic state of health allowed him enough respite from pain to work, and sometimes it didn’t, Riley Clark did the best he could. He’d been thrown from a wild-eyed bronc about ten years ago, and bones that should have healed, and muscles that should have knit, simply—hadn’t. At least not well, and certainly not well enough to return to those days of harem-scarem activity. Hence the sickroom. Hence the laudanum. Hence, in a pinch, a bottle of good corn whiskey.
An introspective, farsighted young woman, Vickie often looked ahead to her future. What would happen to the daily routine of the ranch, and her father’s care, should Aunt Sophie ever decide to depart? She had already learned that what one takes for granted can be changed by the drop of a pin, in an instant. Just look at the tragic death of her mother, for instance, and the accident that had befallen her father.
And the everyday misery through which she had been living during the past year.
At any rate, she was young and pretty. That wasn’t a question or a guess, because her mirror told her that, with her flyaway cornsilk-colored hair, steady blue-gray eyes, and slim mermaid’s figure (minus the tail), she might be even more than pretty. Halfway beautiful, in fact. Based partially on that, she had other plans in mind.
As much as she loved her father, even in his understandably disagreeable phases, she had no desire to serve as caregiver till the end of time. Nor, she suspected, did her sister, Jessica. Although neither had brought up the subject for discussion.
Because Victoria Clark had a secret stuffed up her cotton sleeve. One that she had been carrying around for quite a while, whose substance she had not revealed to another single, solitary living soul. She had kept that secret hugged close to her heart, to take out and dream over during black nights of despair, to use as bright shining guidance during difficult patches.
She was on her way now, astride her beautiful mare, Petunia (whose color of mane and tail matched her own flossy hair), to check on that secret, to follow up with the initiative she had taken so long ago, to see if some resolution might finally have come to pass.
Heart scald, heartache, heartbreak—why did so many emotions dealing with sorrow and grief lead back to the heart, and not to the head? Surely the brain must be just as much as fault, with its determination to remember a few joys and a million points of sadness.
“This is the day, Petunia,” she told the horse, as they jogged along. “I feel it in my bones. Don’t you agree?”
Petunia’s head shake, and jingle of bit, could be taken for either yea or nay.
Undeterred, Vickie pressed on. “I know. It’s a lucky day. It has to be. After all this time I’ve waited…”
While the ranch was of medium size, as ranches went in those parts, it spread westward, over the knolls and plains of scenic Hill Country, and swallowed up some of the many little waterways. Vestigo River provided sustenance for thirsty stock and wildlife, held a number of prolific fishing holes, and trailed a whole line of weeping willow, birch, and quaking aspen along its meandering length.
The advantage to this arrangement was the fact that little lay between the Yellowstar and town, except something the locals considered a road, and a few small scattered farms. Thus, Vickie and her congenial mare arrived at the outskirts of Whistle Creek within a half-hour or so.
It was a small but thriving metropolis, inhabited by a thousand souls or so—depending upon day and season. Main Street stretched for some four rather disjointed blocks, with business establishments set into haphazard positions like someone’s mouthful of very uneven teeth. Steps up and steps down, wooden walkways here and no wooden walkways there, the bank’s impressive brick front sticking proudly out from the row, the billiard saloon tucked (rightfully so) back out of sight.
Vickie, being quite used to this rather charming oddity after a lifetime of adaptation, headed straight for the post office, where Oak Street intersected with Main.
“Well, h’lo, there, Vic,” she was greeted in usual friendly fashion by the postmaster, Grenelle Hubbs. “Mighty fine day out there, ain’t it?”
“Sure is, Mr. Hubbs. I had some errands to run in town, so I came over to pick up our mail.”
“You betcha, honey. Wait just a minute.”
She could hardly contain her excitement while the older man made his way to the back wall filled with cubbyholes. Today. It had to be today. She’d been patient for so long. Surreptitiously she crossed the fingers hidden by folds of her riding skirt.
“Here you go.” As he handed a fistful of correspondence over the counter, he peered at her through his rather dusty spectacles. “You make this trip pretty regular, don’tcha, Vic? You lookin’ for somethin’ special to be delivered?”
“Nooo…not a’tall. It just works out that way. Thanks. H’lo to Mrs. Hubbs.”
Quickly she skittered outside, before he could engage her in more meaningless conversation, and hauled up to an iron bench placed invitingly in the shade of a half-grown sycamore. Plopping down, without regard for possible bird droppings, she hastily sorted through a couple of thin folded newspapers, several envelopes addressed to her aunt from Boston friends, and two business letters for her father.
That was it. Nothing else.
Deeply disappointed, almost to the point of tears, Vickie slumped against the back of the bench and searched for her handkerchief. A fine spectacle she would be making of herself, weeping in public for all the town to see. She wished Petunia were standing next to her, instead of tethered at the hitching rail, that she might blubber out her distress into the mare’s handy mane.
“I was so sure,” she whispered. “I was so sure today was the day.”
“Hey, Vic,” Melvin Hurdish, of Hurdish Haberdashery, waved and tipped his fashionable hat as he strolled past.
She responded with a limp wrist. “H’lo, sir.”
Lyle Kant, holder of Kant Feed and Grain, approached from the opposite direction. “Mornin’, Miss Clark. How’s your pa these days?”
“Fair to middlin’, Mr. Kant. Fair to middlin’. And yourself?”
“Doin’ right well, thanks. Gotta run, a shipment is comin’ in from San Antonio.”
Valentine DeMarco emerged from the office of the Whistle Creek Clarion, a weekly newspaper which he owned, managed, and printed, all by his lonesome. A tall, rather bony specimen (Aunt Sophie always claimed the boy rushed around so much that he didn’t get enough to eat), his face lit up when he spied Vickie sitting disconsolately on her bench, and he loped toward her.
With the name foisted upon him by his unwise parents, and the less-than-masculine appearance and attitude he presented, poor Valentine had unwittingly served as the butt of many a joke and many a prankster since his arrival here two years ago. Vickie was, for the most part, a timid and retiring young lady. But she had gotten her dander up at his mistreatment by some of the town’s rougher crowd, and she had taken on his championship with a surprising fierceness.
No one, but no one, could ever question Victoria Clark’s loyalty to her few friends.
Now he was mostly left alone. Vickie’s determined support of him and his enterprise (and, through her, the Clark family) was partially responsible. The remainder was due to his unflappable good nature and affection for most of the human race, deserving or not.
“Hey, didja hear the news?”
She sighed. Couldn’t he see how upset she was? That she needed comforting and a little coddling, rather than being forced to participate in some guessing game?
“No, I surely did not. What is it?”
Vickie wouldn’t dream of questioning anything he might want to tell her. He was the newspaper editor, after all, with access to every telegram being sent or received, and town news racing along right under his fingertips.
“Stage comin’ in shortly.”
“Uh-huh.” Were she a true southern belle, she would have flirted a “Fiddle-dee-dee” right at his long, rather horsey face. But she simply wasn’t in the mood. “And?”
“Got us four soldiers returnin’ from the War, on another leg of their journey to get home. Thought maybe I’d talk to ’em, find out their names, where they’re goin’, what kinda experiences they had, and what they all went through.”
“Good heavens, Val.” Feeling a flash of irritation she folded the mail together and stuffed everything into a pouch, ready for transport home. “Those poor fellows are more likely to want a comfortable bed and sleep, than to talk to a reporter. Can’t you at least wait till morning, after they’ve had a chance to rest up?”
He shrugged. “May’s well get their story right off the bat. B’sides, the town fathers have already reserved rooms for ’em at the Whistle Creek Hotel. With some time gone by since Lee surrendered at Appomattox in April, these boys have got a lotta catchin’ up to do with the rest of the world.”
Curious, she looked up. “Even with the last battle being fought right here in Texas, near Brownsville, the war was finished up several months ago. Why has it taken so long for these soldiers to make their way home?”
“A little somethin’ called prison, honeybun.” He had settled one boot upon the edge of the seat, with one leg bent at the knee, so that he resembled nothing so much as a stork standing at rest. “In fact, one of these fellers lives roundabout, from what I heard.”
Did her heart suddenly stop beating? Or was it about to pound its way right out of her breast?
Meanwhile, her mouth had gone completely dry. “Roundabout?”
“Ahuh. ’Course, I only been settled in town less than a lifetime, so I don’t know the man. But you might be familiar with the name. Marsden. Sam Marsden.”
If she felt that the brightness of this late August day had abruptly turned as dark as the cloak of night, with little speckles of glitter floating around, she could hardly be blamed. Her head, with its feminine version of a Stetson clapped upon loose-gathered hair, seemed to be separating from her body, only to drift away somewhere, unattached, and a great roaring sounded in her ears.
Was she going to faint? Nonsense! She had never fainted in her life, and she wasn’t about to start now. But wasn’t that what all good little southern belles did on a regular basis, just to prove their femininity?
Feeling dizzied, she managed to speak. “I know—I know the—family…”
“Yeah? Well, he’s been outta circulation a long time. Some place called Rock Island, in the State of Illinois.” He shivered just a little. “As bad for Confederate troops taken captive as Andersonville was for the boys in blue.”
“Dunno. Reckon we’ll find out soon enough. Bound to be some excitement; people are already gatherin’. Hey, you wanna c’mon over to the hotel, have some dinner with me till the stage rolls in?”
“Huh. Dinner? Stage?”
Puzzled, he reached down to tuck a forefinger under her chin. “Hey, where’d you go, Vic? You off in some dream world somewhere? What’s wrong?”
She didn’t dare even brush a furtive tear from her lashes. Pull yourself together, girl, or the whole world will know, thanks to your supportive but oh so gossipy friend.
“Playin’ mum, huh? No answer for a free meal?”
As she swallowed, her throat actually hurt, as if she were coming down with some sort of catarrh. “Thank you, Val, but I really haven’t—haven’t much appetite.”
“Then come keep me company, if nothin’ else. It does my reputation good if I’m seen with a pretty girl once in a while.” He gave her one of his charming, wheedling grins.
And she managed a thin upward smile in return. Valentine was a dear man. On a regular basis he tried courting her, and the attempts continued despite the fact that he simply could not touch a heart that had already been stolen away.
“Of course I’ll keep you company. Aunt Sophie knows that I’ll be returning home directly, and she would be quite happy to see me safely in your care. Dinner, you say?”
“Yep. At the hotel; best food in town.” He extended an arm to provide escort, and continued chatting comfortably away as they proceeded across and down the street.
Her heart could not be touched by Valentine, or by any other, since she had been claimed by Sam Marsden, the man to whom she was secretly betrothed. She had heard nothing from him during this last year of bloodshed, and had feared him dead.
He was alive. He was on his way home, at last. In fact, according to the newspaperman, he was almost here. And a team of wild horses couldn’t drag her away from Whistle Creek with the stagecoach due at any hour.
“An Endless Love to Remember” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Vickie Clark has always been a devoted daughter, however, an uneventful daily routine in her family’s ranch was not exactly the life she desired for herself. In an hopeful attempt to escape her miserable reality, she secretly gets engaged to her childhood friend. To her misfortune, when he decides to join the Civil War, Vickie will start fighting her own lonely battle. Having not heard from him for two years, she assumes the worst has happened. To her surprise, he comes back, but not the same man… Which dreadful event made him change his avowal of love for her?
Sam Madsen had been a joyful and outgoing man before joining the war. The atrocities he saw on the battlefield, though, turned him into an entirely different person. He is now suffering from a memory loss and barely remembers Vickie or his deep feelings for her. While being extremely confused, trying to recall any possible detail of his past, his father sneakily announces his ambitious plan: his intention to marry his son to Vicki’s older sister, Jess. How will Sam deal with this unforeseen request?
While Vickie is trying to discover the real reason behind Sam’s apparent betrayal, Jess starts finding the idea of becoming his wife appealing. Will Vickie manage to prevent this unwanted arranged marriage? Or will she end up accepting her harsh fate?
“An Endless Love to Remember” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.