1870: Houston, Texas
Cassidy Pine had just heard the worst news of her life.
Her eyes filled with tears as she rushed out of her family’s small log cabin on the outskirts of town. The nine-year-old stumbled on the doorstep like she always did, nearly toppling over. But she righted herself just in time as she raced down the road.
“Cassidy, come back here!”
But the young girl refused to turn around.
She couldn’t believe that her parents would do this to her. How could they think that leaving Houston was a good idea? And not just Houston. They were leaving the state of Texas and moving all the way across America to the East Coast. She had never known that she could hate a place so much before even visiting it.
Of course, she had never even been outside of this town.
It was home. What more could she possibly want out of a place? She loved the dusty roads and the summer storms. The dry heat that the folks in town complained about always made her grin. Cassidy knew the streets in Houston, for there were only six. Four roads were leading out of the town and her house sat right between two of them.
But she moved away from all of it now to head down the dusty road. She was barefoot, but that didn’t matter. Her parents had hardly been able to afford her boots over the winter and she had already outgrown them. Spending most of the year sunburned and barefoot, Cassidy had quickly learned to enjoy feeling the dirt beneath her feet. It made it easier for her to run, whether she was racing her brother and sister or now hurrying to the house just west of her own.
It stood straight, unlike her family’s roof, and was a little bigger. There was actual glass in the windows and it always smelled like fresh bread.
She gulped in a breath as she prayed that he was there. Someone had to be able to help her through this mess that her parents had made.
“Your father has been working very hard over the last couple of years,” her mother had explained just a few minutes ago. Tiffany Pine had sat her three children down in the kitchen and stood beside her husband to explain the situation. “He has made a few deals and his business is growing. It’s growing so big that it won’t fit in Houston.”
That had made Cassidy giggle alongside her twin sister, Anjelica. Beside them sat Robert Jr. while he just sucked his thumb. He was almost three and still didn’t talk much.
“So, we’re moving!” their father had cried out excitedly. His thick red hair was curling around his collar and badly needed a haircut. The man always made an excuse when their mother was clipping everyone’s hair to get out of it, complaining that it didn’t matter. “We’re leaving Houston and moving to New York City! Isn’t that great?”
All the laughter had died inside Cassidy. Looking at her parents, she had seen their bright, hopeful smiles, as though they weren’t ruining her life. Houston was everything to her. Why would she ever want to leave?
Immediately, her sister had jumped to her feet and started asking questions. She was the loudest of the three, always curious and wanting to know everything.
Whereas Cassidy had sat there, stumped for several minutes as she tried to decide if this was just a terrible, horrible dream. She had even pinched herself in the hopes of waking up. But that didn’t happen.
“Well?” her mother had asked her. “Cassidy? Aren’t you excited? There’ll be schools and libraries there. We even get to take a train all the way there like you’ve always wanted.”
She shook her head. “I hate trains! I don’t want to go. Do we have to leave Houston? I don’t want to. I never said that I would leave!”
Her parents had shared a look of surprise as though they thought she would be thrilled to leave her home. It was small and crooked and kept all the hot air in summer, she knew, but she loved this place. No one owned the land around them since one couldn’t do much and the roads were right there. That meant she had a lot of room to play around among the bushes and scraggly trees. To Cassidy it was perfect.
Upon hearing her complaints, her mother and father tried to point out all the fun and the good things that would come from leaving home. She heard all of them, shaking her head. None of it mattered anymore if she couldn’t come back here.
Then Cassidy thought of a brilliant idea.
“Let me stay! Please? I can stay here in the house! I’ll cook and clean and do everything. Or maybe the Mortensons will take me in, and I can live with them. Please?” she had begged. “I’ll come and visit you when school is over. Or…Or I can live with the pastor and his wife. Can I, please?”
But they refused.
Eventually, their patience grew thin and they scolded her for being so defiant. They even tried to send her to her room. That was when Cassidy ran for the door.
Her parents might not listen, but she knew someone who would.
She hurried to the next house with her heart hammering. Rubbing her cheeks with her fists, the nine-year-old sniffled hard and tried to catch her breath once she arrived. Her lungs felt as though they were on fire.
Knocking on the door, Cassidy mumbled. “Come on, come on….”
It finally opened to reveal just the person she had been hoping to find. Her eyes widened hopefully as Levi Mortenson smiled at her and then hesitated upon seeing her tear-streaked face.
At thirteen-years-old, Levi was almost as tall as her father. He had a wiry build with arms as thin as string beans that she liked to tease him about. His brown hair was always a mess that often hid his hazel eyes. The one thing that never changed, and the one thing she liked most about him, was that crooked smile of his.
“Cass?” he asked with a frown. “What’s wrong?”
She thought she would be able to act grown-up about this once she reached him. They were both growing up and she was always worried that he might think he was too old to be friends with her. Now, her bottom lip wobbled as she looked up at him.
“My parents are making me move away. I don’t want to go!”
Eyes widening, he stared at her for a minute before he shook his head. Levi glanced inside his home before stepping out onto the porch with her. The pants he wore were too short and he was barefoot as well. The door closed behind him so that it was just the two of them together.
“What do you mean?” he asked her. “You can’t leave Houston. Where would you even be going?”
She wrinkled her nose. That made it tickle, however, and so she hurriedly rubbed it.
Her legs were still shaking from the fastest run in her life. Cassidy inhaled deeply before plopping down on the porch. She leaned against a post as Levi copied her. They sat cross-legged facing one another with their knees touching.
“Well?” Levi demanded.
“New York,” Cassidy admitted fretfully. “They want to go east to the city! Of course, Anjelica wants to go. Remember when our teacher talked about it? My sister wanted to go right then! But now we’re really going. My father says we have to because of his work.”
It was Levi’s turn to make a face. “You can work anywhere! That’s a dumb reason.”
Of course, he would see things her way.
An only child, Levi had lived nearby for all of their lives. He would walk the girls to school with his mother since Cassidy’s parents were always working together to patch roofs and fix up the homestead. Levi was clever like his mother, and also funny. He had shown her how to jump high, catch lightning bugs, and even how to draw silly faces in the dirt. Sometimes, she felt certain that they could even reach each other’s minds because of what good friends they were.
Her shoulders slumped as a wave of relief washed over her, bringing the comfort her family had refused to provide her. “I know, it’s just not fair” Cassidy moaned. She put her head in her hands and her hands on her knees. “What am I supposed to do? They’re making me go with them and they said that we leave in two days.”
She glanced up to see his eyes widen in surprise. He stared at her for a minute, clearly as amazed as she was. It helped Cassidy to breathe easy knowing she wasn’t the only one upset about this.
Robert didn’t care and Anjelica was excited. Their parents had never even mentioned wanting to move. It felt like her whole family had betrayed her.
“But…” Levi squinted, which meant he was trying to think hard. “What about you? Do they even need you with them? Maybe you could ask them if you could stay here in Houston.”
Shrugging, she shook her head. “I already tried asking them that. They said no.”
He frowned. “What about if you stay with me? My mom loves you. She would let you stay here with us.”
“I tried that, too,” she explained miserably.
The tears were threatening to fall again. She could feel her eyes itching, waiting impatiently for something to happen. Cassidy sniffled and wished she could be braver than she actually was. It would be sad to leave, but she found that she was scared as well. Scared of a new place with a new home and everything else that was new. And she wouldn’t have Levi there.
Levi sighed before tapping his fingers on her knee.
“I’m sorry,” he told her. “But maybe…maybe it won’t work out for them. Maybe you’ll be back here by harvest. Don’t you think? It’s only April now. You can tell your parents what a rotten place New York City is. Maybe they just need to see the city to know how awful it is. That could happen.”
Perhaps, Cassidy considered, but the harvest felt very far away.
“I don’t care. You won’t be there,” she mumbled. A tear made its way down her cheek before she could catch it. Cassidy hurriedly wiped it away. Then a hiccup escaped when she tried to say something else.
That made Levi grin. Sobering up, he sighed and glanced around. “I know. I’ll be right here for the rest of my life, I think. Which means you can always come back someday. When you’re older, when we’re both older. Besides, we’ll always be friends.”
“Promise?” she demanded.
“I promise. Or maybe I’ll come and visit when I’m older,” he added suddenly. She could see the light in his eyes shining as an idea came to mind. “Yeah, that’s it! I’ll come to the city, all right? We’ll be there, and then…then I’ll rescue you and bring you back here.”
She paused to consider this idea. Her heart pounded loudly in her chest as she thought about this. He was talking about years from now, after all, and that was a lot longer than she could even imagine.
“Maybe. But I could get in trouble. Father says girls can’t travel on their own,” she said pointedly. “He said they can only travel with family.”
Levi shrugged that off with ease. “All right, then we’ll get married! I’ll come to the city on a train, marry you, and then bring you back here! Mother was just talking about us getting married someday again. Marrying is dumb but I would marry you, I think.”
Marriage sounded strange, but less so with him.
Eyes widening, Cassidy studied her best friend’s face for a minute just to make sure that he was being honest. She tilted her head to the side and then she could see the truth. She gave him a smile and nodded.
They looked in the direction of her house to see Anjelica waving at her with both arms. The young girl had her auburn hair pulled back and had taken the time to put her boots on. She had never liked going barefoot.
Cassidy groaned. “I have to go.”
“Will I see you before you move?” Levi asked as they grudgingly stood up.
She hesitated, not certain of the answer. Her parents had started talking about packing and all the work they needed to get done. Would she be able to escape them? “I don’t know…” Cassidy gaped at him as she wondered if this would be the last time she would see her best friend. Quickly, she tried to memorize his face.
“Let me get you something,” he said before suddenly running inside.
Cassidy glanced at her sister, who had put her hands on her hips, and then she turned back to the door. What was he doing? She didn’t remember leaving anything of hers at his house since she had last visited. Shifting her weight impatiently, she waited another good minute before Levi breathlessly returned.
“Here!” he announced.
That’s when he thrust forward his hand and showed her something he held between two fingers. Her eyes widened as she realized that it was a ring. The band was made of thin gold that grew even thinner as a shiny white stone rested in the middle. When he tilted it, the stone sparkled with all the colors of the rainbow in the sunlight.
“Ooh,” Cassidy murmured. “It’s beautiful.”
“Now it’s yours,” Levi informed her. “Take it and hold onto it. That way it can be a promise that we’ll see each other again. Maybe in the harvest or maybe in a few years. All right?”
She accepted the ring carefully before throwing her arms around him. “Thank you! I will wear this forever.” Cassidy closed her eyes to try and enjoy this last minute with Levi. He smelled like bread and grass.
When Anjelica yelled for her again, she forced herself to step away. Waving to Levi, she hoped that she would see him again soon.
1875: Houston Texas
There was new pain in Levi’s body that he had never experienced before.
It made him not want to wake up. The darkness he swam in was peaceful and had kept the miserable thoughts away for a long time. He felt as though he had been there forever. The past seemed to fade away bit by bit.
Everything was peaceful so long as he stayed there.
But his body resisted. Levi groaned silently as he felt himself rising from wherever he was. The world was waiting for him and he couldn’t stay away any longer. He could tell this was happening as he felt pain seeping into his bones.
His body was bruised. He knew that much, at least, as the throbbing started and continued to grow. Lying on his back, Levi could tell that his shoulders were terribly sore. He tried to wiggle his toes and regretted it. Every breath made him feel as though needles were poking through his lungs.
The next groan was loud as it escaped his mouth. Levi didn’t open his eyes yet, but he could tell that he was conscious now, and still within the world. He wasn’t dead like he had started to assume in the darkness. His eyelids were heavy as he tried to gather the strength to open his eyes.
His eyelids fluttered open. He had never realized that the world was so bright. Squinting, Levi tried to orient himself. His heart thudded loudly in his chest to remind him that he was still alive. Wincing, he could tell a headache was coming on. It was as if every part of his body was determined to make him pay for being alive.
A soft hand brushed against his shoulder before making his way down to his right hand. Though his skin felt sensitive, Levi appreciated the touch. Someone was there for him.
“Mama,” he started to say before he took on the hard task of moving his gaze from the ceiling to his right side.
Levi expected to find his mother right there. Anne Mortenson Boone had brown hair and blue eyes with a heart-shaped face and a smile that was always there to support him and welcome him home. He had seen it every day of his life, eager to find her open arms after collecting scabby knees and a dirty face.
But it wasn’t her.
Instead, it was Henry Boone, his stepfather.
The man had come into his life nearly four years ago and married his mother once Anne had felt she had sufficiently moved on. His birth father, Timothy Mortenson, had left for California when Levi was barely five years old. The two of them had waited for years just to hear from him when they learned he’d died in a gun fight. By the time he was ten, his mother had stopped talking about his father.
Mr. Boone was a tall, wiry man with bushy eyebrows and thick graying hair. The man had grown up in Montana before making his way down south to Texas to build himself a successful ranch on the edge of town. He had always been friendly with Anne and it seemed only natural for them to finally marry and then move onto the ranch.
They had been happy together, the three of them. Levi and Henry got along great with their cheerful spirits and love of hard work in the open air. Anne tended to the house and always teased that the two of them were closer than she was to either man. It had been exciting to have a bigger home and a lot of land to explore. Everything had gone well until last year.
It took a second for Levi to remember.
Sometimes this still happened in the mornings when he rose and expected to see his mother baking in the kitchen or singing around the house. She had always been there for him growing up.
The heartbreak always came back when he thought of her last days lying sick in bed with tuberculosis.
She had slowly died from the inside out. It had hurt him more every day, sending him on his knees to pray at night that her trials might be made easy. He had kept expecting her to get better and heal. But then one evening he couldn’t wake her up and Henry told him that it was finally over.
“Hey, Levi,” Henry said soberly as he saw the tears welling up in Levi’s eyes. “I know.”
Taking a deep breath, Levi tried to tell himself to be calm and to stop being sad. The last year had been the hardest in his life without his mother there. He had shed more than enough tears over his loss.
He closed his eyes and then asked, “What did I do this time?”
A dry chuckle escaped Henry. The man squeezed Levi’s hand before grunting. “You’re going to be fine, Levi. What’s the last thing you remember?”
It took him a minute to set aside the pain of his mother’s loss. Grasping for reality, he sorted through his memories. This wouldn’t be the first time he had woken up in his bed after doing something foolish.
When he was eight years old, he had climbed a tree to try and see into town. He had only made it up two branches before falling on his arm and breaking it. Then, when he was ten and playing in town while his mother ran errands, he had tried racing someone’s horse that he untied. That had been a bad idea and he had spent most of the summer in bed. Though Levi had learned from his mistakes and hadn’t broken any more bones since then.
But this time, either it was this morning or yesterday or even a while ago, Levi remembered something dragging him through the dirt. He could still taste the dust on his tongue.
The blanket he was lying under was soft as it covered his bare torso. But his right hand rested on top of it while Henry patted it.
“A horse,” he said and then paused, frowning. He turned to his stepfather and asked, “My horse?”
Henry shook his head twice. “No, it’s that colt you were training. I told you it was going to be trouble, Levi. That animal has the devil in him. I don’t even know what happened. One second you were on its back and the next you weren’t. The rope was tied around your arm and he was dragging you along.”
The memory came to him now. Marie, the mayor’s daughter, knew how good he was at training horses. She had just purchased a colt from Mexico and had agreed to pay him to train the animal so she wouldn’t have to do it.
He groaned. “There’s no devil in that horse. He was just spooked, I think. But I’m fine, Henry. I’m talking, aren’t I?”
As though to remind him that he was wrong, a stabbing pain stretched its way down his back. When the colt had taken off with him on its back, he had only been able to hang on for a minute before gravity won over.
“You nearly lost your arm,” Henry told him sternly. “Doc Tarin wanted to cut it off but I said we would wait and see. Thought you wouldn’t like waking up without it. I’m just glad that we had rain so that it washed the blood away. It was an ugly sight, Levi. I think you’re going to be right here for a little while.”
Levi didn’t know what his stepfather was talking about. He didn’t feel that bad. Aching and weak, but surely it had been worse in the past.
His eyes glanced down at the hand that Henry had been holding a minute ago. If a rope had wrapped around it, there wasn’t any sign of it now. There were a few scratches and scrapes, but he didn’t know why his stepfather was talking about blood. Maybe the man was growing senile at fifty years old.
Just as Levi opened his mouth to tell this to his stepfather, Henry leaned over and pulled back the blanket to reveal his other arm.
He had forgotten he had two.
Eyes widening, Levi looked at the thick bandage that covered the majority of his hand. He could just barely see his fingers sticking out of it at the other end. There was some wrapping between his thumb and forefinger, then the cloth wound up his arm all the way to his shoulder. He shifted and then winced as he realized there were some bandages on his chest as well.
“Oh,” he managed to say finally.
Perhaps this was a little more serious than he had expected. Levi huffed and tried to relax. He leaned his head back so he would stop looking at the bandages. They made him anxious and he hated that feeling in his stomach. Taking a slow and measured breath, he tried to think of something to say to stay calm.
Henry sat there beside him in a chair as though to let him know he was not alone. He patted his uninjured hand as Levi tried to pull his emotions together.
It didn’t look good. A bandage that thick wouldn’t mean anything good. Thinking about what Henry had said regarding how the doctor wanted to cut his arm off didn’t leave a welcome feeling in his stomach, either. His insides churned uneasily.
A few deep breaths later, Levi managed to bury that feeling away.
“All right. It’s fine. I’m fine. I’ll just…Is the bandage tight?” he asked suddenly as he realized something. “I can’t…Henry, I can’t feel my arm.”
“What?” his stepfather straightened up in his seat with a frown. “What do you mean? What about your fingers?”
The panic returned as Levi tried to move his fingers. He stared them down, but nothing happened. Levi started to sit up in an attempt to see better but stopped when the pain in his back doubled. It blinded him for a minute. Squeezing his eyes shut, he laid back against the pillow.
“I can’t… I can’t move them,” Levi muttered. “Henry?”
“Stay here,” the man told him as he stood up. “I’ll bring Doc back. You’re going to be just fine, all right, Levi? Stay put and stay calm. He’ll be here before you know it. Just stay calm.”
Then Henry was gone and Levi was alone.
He wrestled with his emotions for several minutes. A few tears escaped before he could rein in his fear. Levi let out a shaky breath after telling himself to be still. Taking slow, measured breaths could help him out. That was what he did whenever he was about to do something like racing or wrestling around Houston.
“I’m fine. It’s fine,” he told himself in the quiet room.
Then he thought of something that his mother had told him once. He couldn’t place the time or reason, but he remembered being upset about an injury and not having his father there to help him.
“I know you’re hurting,” she had said. “But the pain never stays for long. It’s just like night when it gets dark and scary; the sun will always come back in the morning. I wish I could take away your pain, but know that I love you. Love can help heal anything, Levi. It heals the heart and the soul and the body, too.”
Love? Levi liked folks well enough. People were friendly and he had a knack for getting along with everyone. He loved Houston but he wasn’t sure about the love he had for anyone besides his family.
Then, unbidden, a young redhead appeared in his mind.
His body relaxed as he thought of Cassidy Pine. The young girl came to mind frequently though he usually tried to push thoughts of her away. After all, it had been years since she had left town with her family. How could he have forgotten about her? They used to go on adventures all the time, running around and making up games.
Wincing over a sharp pain that tightened his left shoulder, he glanced down at the bandages on his arm.
A sheepish smile slipped across his lips as he recalled the last time they had talked with one another. Cassidy had come to him in tears about her family moving. He had hoped to see her again before she left, but that wasn’t to be. Instead, she left and the cabin they used to live in had not been touched since.
She had the greenest eyes that he had ever seen. They were a bold color, as bright as emeralds. He could still picture them perfectly, glistening with tears when they had parted ways.
“I want to give Cassidy the ring you promised me,” he remembered telling his mother that day after explaining his friend was moving away. “Can I?”
Anne had been at the kitchen, hands deep in bread dough. “The family ring? Levi, I don’t know. You’re both just children. I told you about how I want it for when you get married someday.”
“Then I’ll marry her.” The idea was so simple then, like everything else in his life. “You said so, remember? I want to, anyway. Cassidy is the only girl I like. It’ll remind her of me and make her want to come back here. Please, Mama?”
How had Levi forgotten that bit? He replayed that day in his mind over and over again. Though he and Cassidy had written religiously for a year or so after her move, their contact had started to wane. He didn’t remember how it had happened, only that he hadn’t received a letter from her in about three years.
She still had his ring. He remembered telling Cassidy he would marry her.
Levi was optimistic but part of him knew that he would never see the young lady again. She would be about fourteen now, around the age that he had been when he saw her last. Most likely Cassidy had a busy life in the city and had put her childhood behind her.
And yet he allowed himself to cling to a sliver of hope. Did he even have anything more to lose? Levi sighed as he relaxed. There was enough aching in his body to distract him for the moment in the quiet room.
To help him get through it, Levi focused his thoughts on Cassidy Pine. She gave him the strength he needed to pull himself through. Tomorrow would be better, he told himself. Another day closer to marrying that sweet redhead.
“Leaving Her Heart Behind” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Cassidy Pine never wanted to follow her parents to New York, and deep down has always longed to return to her hometown in Texas. Hoping to find the happiness she once enjoyed as a child again, she starts exchanging letters with Levi, a childhood friend she had loved as a girl. Desperate to escape a marriage her parents are planning for her, she decides to take control of her life and board a train back home… to Levi. When she is snatched from the station by strange men though, Cassidy suddenly finds herself kidnapped, in the middle of nowhere, with no idea of what is going on. Will she ever be reunited with the man who has always had a piece of her heart?
Levi Boone has had some hard years in Houston, but he has finally gotten comfortable at his stepfather’s ranch… despite some recent financial troubles. When his old friend Cassidy writes to tell him she is returning to their hometown, he feels like a glimmer of light has appeared in his life. Full of excitement, he heads to the train station early to surprise her, but fate plays a cruel game on him when she is kidnapped right before his eyes. There is only one thing to do now… rescue her. What will he be willing to do to save the woman he never once stopped thinking about, through all the years they spent apart?
Cassidy and Levi are thrown into danger, unlike anything they have faced before in their lives. They will need to work as one, crossing uncharted territory, if they have any hope of evading the kidnappers. Yet saving Cassidy might not be enough to solve all of their problems… Though powerful feelings grow inside them, will they ever feel safe again? Will Cassidy and Levi be able to save each other and live happily ever after at last?
“Leaving Her Heart Behind” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.