Clara set the pot of water to boil on the stove. It was past dinner time, but she always prepared dinner late because Mark rarely, if ever, got home on time.
He would be angry if it was cold, but he would also be angry if there wasn’t any dinner started. It was a constant challenge to figure out what time was the right time to get dinner going.
She hummed a tune as she moved swiftly around the kitchen. Her son sat at the kitchen table, practicing his letters in the simple workbook she had bought for him.
He wasn’t old enough that she had to send him to school yet, but he loved learning. He almost knew the whole alphabet and Clara couldn’t be prouder that he could almost count to twenty all by himself.
A thumping and thudding at the pathway that led to their door made her aware that her husband was almost home.
She tidied herself, checked the food one more time and then knelt down beside Tommy. “Tommy, go to your room and finish your letters, okay? You can take this lamp. I’ll come and get you later if you can come back to the table.”
Tommy nodded, his big brown eyes full of maturity that was much older than his age. Clara waited nervously for her son to disappear into his room before she opened the door of the townhouse.
He’d had the necessity to grow up much too early. He was only four, nearly five, and already he knew things that many adults didn’t.
Her husband was arriving at the doorway. He walked with a sway to his step and was singing some song that Clara had heard played in town. He was drunk, she was sure of it.
He had never laid a hand on her, but he wasn’t always patient with her and Tommy when he came home drunk. Tommy was a sensitive boy and Clara did everything she could to protect him, even from his own father.
“Where’s the boy?” Mark’s voice was thick with the effects of whiskey.
“He’s already in his room. Come in and sit down. Dinner will be ready in a moment.” Clara tucked her shoulder under her husband’s arm in a supportive way. She led him into the kitchen and helped him to sit down. She set a cup of steaming coffee in front of him. “Where did you get the money for the whiskey?”
She hadn’t wanted to ask, but she knew as well as she had thought Mark knew that they hadn’t sold much produce this year. Money was tight, especially with so many expenses. She just didn’t understand where he had gotten the money to be buying the whiskey that he had consumed.
She knew for a fact that the men at the saloon would no longer put it on a tab for him. They all knew too well that he didn’t pay punctually, if ever. It was an embarrassment to be known as the family who wasn’t able to pay on tab, but that was the way it was. Cash up front or nothing to take home. Yet another reason why they should be extra careful with the little money they did manage to make on their small farm on the outskirts of Lindsey, Missouri.
“Always so many questions. Why can’t you just be happy that we have a little money?” Mark shook his head as he spoke, looking at Clara as if he was disappointed in her.
“What do you mean? Happy that you’ve come home drunk once again and I don’t know if we have the money to buy necessities for our child?”
Mark stuffed his hand in his pocket and seemed to be trying to pull something from it. After a few moments of struggle, he produced a small leather purse. Clara knew it was where he put his money when he had been paid.
He plopped it down on the table and a little merry jingle sounded through the still kitchen.
“What is that?”
“Money, of course. Don’t call your husband selfish before you’ve seen what he’s brought for you. There is plenty there to buy whatever we need.” Mark shook his head again.
“I don’t understand. You haven’t taken anything to sell for more than a week.” Clara’s eyebrows knitted together. This wasn’t the first time that this had happened. She hated it every single time that it did. Her husband never offered an explanation and she wasn’t really expecting one this time either.
“You know, you always have so many questions. Do you want to go out there and figure out how to get the money that we need? I didn’t think so.”
“That’s enough.” Mark interrupted the last of what Clara was about to say. “Just take it and use it for what you need, or I’ll just use it to buy what I want. Take your pick.”
Clara reached out and reluctantly took the money. A sense of wrong and guilt overtook her. She hated doing this. She hated that it was unexplainable where the extra money came from. She knew how much people paid for the vegetables and milk they sold.
She knew that the quantities of money that her husband brought home was much more than that.
She wondered where he got it. She knew he had a brother who he spent time with. She had only met Darius a few times, and she had never felt very comfortable with him around.
The man made her feel as if something bad was about to happen whenever he was around. She had done her best to keep him away from Tommy and their family. There was something about the way he talked and the way he interacted with Tommy that made her feel very uncomfortable.
“You could say thank you, you know. A man works outside for his family all day and doesn’t even get a word of gratitude. I do a bit of work in town when I can get it and that’s all you need to know.”
“Thank you,” Clara said reluctantly. “I do appreciate you providing for us,” she added with a sigh.
“Well, it’s not very enthusiastic, but it’s better than nothing, I suppose. Now you see why I had to go out to celebrate. There’s never any celebration here for what I bring home.”
Clara set a bowl of chicken and vegetable stew in front of Mark. She indeed saw no reason for him to go to the saloon and get himself drunk. But she kept her mouth closed. She had learned that it was better not to argue than to end up in a yelling match with Mark.
“I’m going to go check on Tommy.” She excused herself from the kitchen quickly before Mark could stop her. Whenever Tommy was out of her sight, she was always worried about him.
Tommy was special. He wasn’t like other children. He had been born with one of his legs shorter than the other and it had been a difficulty from the day he had learned to walk.
She slipped into his room to find him sitting there, on the edge of his seat. His little blonde head was bent over his paper, writing away.
“Look, mama, I think I did it right!” he exclaimed.
Clara leaned over him to inspect his work. It didn’t matter that the letters were bent in funny shapes or that it was hard to read. She saw beautiful effort and care that her young son had put so much work into.
“It’s lovely, Tommy.”
He beamed up at her. “I’m going to write more. When I go to school, no one will even want to laugh at me. Maybe I can help them with their letters too.”
Clara gave a little chuckle and tousled his hair. He was so innocent, thinking so well of the children who had already caused him heartache in his short life. She wasn’t going to tell him differently now. It wasn’t worth it.
“Keep practicing. I am sure you will be the best in your class. I’ll bring you some soup in a bit, okay?”
“Is papa home?” Tommy’s question made Clara pause at the doorway.
“He’s home, but he’s tired tonight. You can see him in the morning.”
“Okay,” Tommy looked disappointed. “Tell him goodnight for me.”
“I will, son. I’ll be back soon. You’re doing a great job at your writing.” Clara leaned down and gave Tommy a kiss on the forehead.
She hurried back to the kitchen. This was not what she had imagined when she had been young and searching for a man to marry. She had thought that she and Mark would be happy forever, with many children to raise and love together. But that had not been the case.
The first year or so had been lovely, like something out of her dreams. Then they had tried for children.
They had suffered such difficulties to get pregnant with Tommy that the day she had found out she really was expecting had been one of the happiest days of hers and Mark’s life.
Then when he was born, they had still been the family she had dreamed of. Mark had sometimes brought home more money than made sense and there were times when he was grumpy and short with her. But Clara had brushed it off, attributing it to him being tired after a long day in the fields or after some incident with the cows in the barn.
When little Tommy had started to try and take his first steps, she had been overjoyed until she’d realized what others would soon see. He had fallen over time and again and struggled to learn to walk because his legs were not the same length.
The deformity in his leg didn’t change anything for her. She loved him just the same and knew that he would grow up to be a handsome, strong man, capable of anything as long as he believed in himself.
But Mark hadn’t seen it that way. He had gone on and on about how their child’s life was ruined and how something must be wrong with Clara to birth a damaged child. He had decided that he didn’t want to risk having another child with her for fear it might have the same deformity as little Tommy.
At first, it had killed Clara inside. She had been so intent on building their family together. But as the months wore on and Mark began to show his true character more and more, she realized that it was actually a blessing in disguise from God.
Having more children would have only complicated a situation that no woman would ever want to be in.
Mark had become more and more resentful toward Tommy. The normal problems that came with having a child all got blamed on his deformity. It became a mission for Clara to protect Tommy from any hurt feelings or terrible things that his father might say.
She didn’t want Tommy’s character to be tainted by his father’s bad one. She worked day and night to keep him innocent and kind, just like he had been born. He was also intelligent, and she knew that he was probably more aware than she wanted him to be. But he was blessed with a pure and sweet personality.
He was so forgiving to everyone, including his father, that he saw Mark in no ill light.
“Is this all you made for supper?” Mark looked up at her, interrupting her thoughts and her reminiscing.
“Y-yes. Would you like some more?”
“No,” Mark grunted. “I’m going off to bed. My head is ready to split in two.”
Mark stood and pushed his bowl back, trudging off to his room. Clara dished up another bowl of soup and took it to Tommy before she went about cleaning the kitchen.
She loved having a clean space to work with in the morning. She couldn’t stand it when she woke up to towers of dirty dishes and no place to prepare a meal in. When everything was clean and in its place, she stood in the doorway, looking with pride at the work she had done.
Today had been another long and exhausting day. She deserved to lay down and rest. She went to Tommy’s room and made sure that he was tucked neatly into his bed before she went to her own room that she shared with Mark.
He was already filling the small room with his loud snores. She knew that she would have to be up early in the morning to take care of the chores. There was no way that Mark would be waking up before noon.
She didn’t mind, though. In fact, she had already accepted that she needed to be up before the sun every single morning.
She brushed out her hair and changed into her night dress before slipping into bed as quietly as possible. She closed her eyes and sent up a prayer to God for the strength to go through another day the next day.
Sleep didn’t take long to carry her away. It never did. Clara couldn’t remember a night when she wasn’t tired enough to sleep through anything. The snoring was loud, but it couldn’t keep her awake.
Clara scrubbed the last spot on the floor and then sat back and surveyed her work with pride. She loved a clean house. There was nothing like putting away the last item and cleaning up the last smudge and having a clean place to work and live in.
“Mama look!” Tommy scampered lopsidedly across the floor in his bare feet, holding a picture out in front of him.
“What is it?”
“I finished my picture!”
Clara dried her hands on her apron and peered down at his picture. It was done with the handwriting of any four-year-old, yet she could tell it was a picture of her, Mark, and Tommy holding hands near a river. It was done with charcoal; Tommy knew that they didn’t have the money for extra pencils.
“Do you really think so? I made it for pa.”
“I’ll give it to him when he gets home tonight, or maybe you can.” Clara patted her son’s head.
To her surprise, her husband had been gone early that morning before dawn. She had been so tired she hadn’t even heard him leave. It was very unlike him to leave so early, especially when he had been drinking the night before. She had expected him to sleep until noon at least, as he usually did after a late night at the saloon.
Clara didn’t like it. He rarely acted sporadically like this, and it was often around these times that he brought extra money home. Maybe he had found a job in town. She just didn’t understand why he was so secretive about it if he had. It seemed to her that he should be proud of any job he had found and would want his family to know about it. But he had become very secretive about what it was he was doing to earn the money, especially in the last year or so, and that was what made Clara uneasy.
“Come on, Tommy, let’s get you some lunch,” she said with a sigh. Clara sat Tommy down at the table and went about preparing him something to eat.
She pulled out some freshly baked bread and cut two thick slices of it. She put some slices of fresh cheese onto that and put a few thin bits of salt pork with the cheese. She put it all together to make a sandwich.
She set it on a plate, cut it into quarters, and poured a glass of cooled milk that she had gotten from the cows that morning.
Once the meal was prepared, she put it on the table and watched as Tommy dug in with vigor. He had never been a picky eater and for that she was thankful.
A knock at the door surprised her. Mark never knocked, so she was fairly certain it wasn’t him.
Clara opened the door with caution and was surprised to find the sheriff standing there with one of his deputies, both with grim looks on their faces.
“Ma’am?” he tipped his hat in her direction. He didn’t look angry or friendly, just right in between as if he couldn’t decide which he should be toward her.
Clara found it strange. The sheriff had never been cold or off toward her before. In fact, he was one of the people who greeted her quite warmly whenever she took eggs from their chickens into town.
“Sheriff? What can I do for you today?” she asked pleasantly. “Please come in and sit down. I just made a bit of lunch for Tommy. Can I get you something cold to drink?”
“Um, No thank you. We need to talk to you about something that took place in town this morning.” The sheriff and the deputy exchanged glances and Clara felt herself getting more and more nervous by the second.
“This morning? What happened?”
The sheriff looked past her at Tommy, who was staring with wide eyes as he chewed his sandwich slowly.
“Could you step outside ma’am? I think it would be best if we spoke alone.”
“Sure,” Clara answered. She looked back at Tommy. “I’ll be right back in a moment, Tommy, okay?” She waited until he nodded and stepped outside, closing the door behind her.
The sheriff cleared his throat and shuffled his feet as if he were unsure how to begin. “There was a robbery at the bank this morning. Someone reported it to us before the robbers could finish. There was no choice but to use force to stop them. Some of the men were killed.”
Relief washed over Clara. “Oh, well thank goodness you could stop them. They were bandits and surely, they deserved whatever came to them. I’m sure you did what you had to do. All of the townspeople appreciate you protecting them,” she said. For a moment, she thought something might have happened with her parents in town, or some other terrible thing that would warrant the sheriff appearing on her doorstep.
“Mrs. Blakely, do you know if your husband was involved in any suspicious activity in the last couple of months or in the time that you have been married to him?”
“What do you mean, sir? You can wait around and ask him when he gets home. He left early this morning, I’m not sure when he will be back. He didn’t say anything to me before he left but he mentioned he was working in town last night.”
“Ma’am, I’m not sure what the best way to tell you this is, but your husband is dead.”
Clara’s world began to spin as she heard the sheriff’s words. How could her husband be dead? A million different emotions hit her all at once. A thousand different memories.
She thought of the first moment she had met Mark. The whirlwind of months when they had fallen in love and decided to get married. How their lives had become what they were today.
She was relieved and devastated and confused all at once. The door behind her opened and Tommy’s little hand pulled at her skirts. “Mama, why is the sheriff here?” he asked, his innocent little voice poking its way inside her brain which was already full of things to think about.
“Sweetheart, wait inside for me, okay? I’m trying to figure that out.”
Clara was grateful for the fact that she had taught her son to be obedient first and ask questions later. He stepped back into the house, despite the looming questions in his eyes.
“I don’t understand. He was here last night. How can he be… gone?”
“Ma’am, this morning at the bank robbery, several of the bandits were killed-”
“Oh, goodness. Was Mark killed in the bank robbery? I thought you said only bandits were killed? How many other civilians died?”
“Mrs. Blakely, your husband was not a civilian.”
It took Clara a moment to realize what they were saying, and then realization dawned on her. “Wait, are you saying? Are you saying that my husband was one of the… robbers?”
“I know it’s not easy to hear, but we believe your husband has been working with this particular group of men for a while now. They have been responsible for countless robberies and counts of mischief over the last several years.”
Clara shook her head, “No… That can’t be. I know my husband wasn’t perfect. Goodness, he was nowhere near perfect. But a criminal? I don’t believe it!” Clara’s lips shook and her hands felt clammy. How could this be happening? If what they were saying was true, it meant so many things; bad things for her and for Tommy.
It meant that she had been a party to something terrible all of these years. Even though her mind wanted to fight against it, there was a tiny part of her heart that believed what the sheriff was saying.
“While you are telling me that you had no knowledge of your husband’s affairs, I have no way of knowing if that is true.” The sheriff leveled her with a serious stare.
“You think I helped him? How could you even accuse me of such a thing? Why would I ever steal from people here in my own town? I would never allow such a thing. If only I had known…Oh, goodness Mark, what did you get yourself into?”
Clara was talking to herself while as well as the sheriff and his deputy while she tried to catch her grip on reality.
“I have a feeling that you may be innocent. You have been nothing but an upstanding citizen. Your husband, on the other hand, had been in contact with and has had been seen with some very questionable characters. His involvement in this robbery only cements my belief that he has been living this life for quite some time. Did he never bring home unexplained money or income above your means?”
Clara’s heart stopped for a moment… the extra money. That money that she had questions and doubted for years, even last night. She had been right, but it didn’t feel good to be right. Now she only wished that she could have been wrong.
“I- I suppose he did bring extra money home sometimes.”
“He did?” the sheriff took a step forward as if he was very interested in this new information. “Tell me, did you never ask where that money came from?”
“Of course, I did, every single time. He would never tell me though. I guess in the end I thought he made it through gambling or maybe his family had given it to him. Mark wasn’t the sort of man that made his affairs clear to me.” Clara was feeling so much guilt and shame. “He told me last night that he had a job in town but not to ask him about it again.”
How had she accepted the money from him? How had she allowed him to manipulate her so? She should have demanded an explanation about how he came upon it. She should have demanded to know what was going on. But instead, she had landed both her and her son in a terrible predicament by accepting and even enjoying her ignorance in the face of need.
“Look, ma’am. We haven’t told the town officially yet. But there were civilians there when this all took place. It won’t be long before the entire town knows of your involvement with these crimes.”
“But I wasn’t involved,” Clara practically shrieked. “You have to believe me.”
“I do believe you, ma’am. I just hope the rest of the town will. Your husband helped rob many of their livelihoods and their hard work. It isn’t something people take lightly. We’ll let you know when we have more details and when you can have his body for burial.”
Clara nodded numbly, then spoke as the sheriff turned to go. “Do you know when that will be?”
The sheriff shook his head, a look of sadness in his eyes. “A day or so. It won’t be long.”
This time, Clara didn’t stop the sheriff or the deputy as they retreated off her porch and down the path back toward town.
She felt as if her entire body and mind was numb. She made her way back to the kitchen in a kind of a daze.
“Mama?” Tommy’s voice snapped her back to reality, if not for only a moment.
“What is it, son?”
“Who were those men? Is pa back yet?”
Clara shook her head and her throat filled with a lump. She personally might not feel much emotion about her husband’s death but knowing that she would have to explain his eternal absence to her son tore her apart.
“Tommy, your father had an accident in town and-”
“He’s not coming back, is he.” Tommy’s eyes were full of truth and understanding and Clara knew that he knew what really had happened to his father. Maybe he didn’t understand all the details, but he understood enough to know his father was dead and not coming back.
“We’re going to be okay, Tommy. I know it’s just you and me now, but we are going to be okay, I promise.”
Tommy’s eyes filled with tears and he leaned into Clara. She kneeled down, held him tight, and rocked him back and forth.
“I’m gonna miss pa. I wish he was coming home. He never got to see my picture.” His tears turned to sobs until they were shaking his little body like the wind shook a twig.
“I know sweetheart, I know. I miss him too.” Clara was surprised to realize that she really did miss the idea of Mark coming home.
Maybe it was that she was remembering times when she had been in love with him, planning to die in love with him. And now, here he was, dead, and she was there wondering why she didn’t hurt more.
She’d loved him, in a special way. She had cared for him, stuck by him, and every once in a while, they’d shared a laugh.
But now, that was all gone. She was stuck in a world where her husband had been a bandit, plundering livelihoods and hard work of others. She was here where the townspeople would undoubtedly blame her and her son. He had left them a legacy that would undoubtedly cause them much hardship.
She had a son who she had to find a way to support and love and take care of all alone. Even though her husband had been full of faults, he had always cared for them, rain or shine, no matter what.
Now that she thought of the way he had done that, she almost felt repulsed. She had been living off others’ pain. The money he would bring home that saved them from poverty so many times had been brought in by the poverty and suffering of others. How was she going to live with herself knowing that?
She was beginning to think that she wouldn’t be able to. She loved her son though, and she was determined to take care of him and protect him no matter what. If she had to go on, she would, if not for herself, then for Tommy.
Maybe there had been some terrible misunderstanding and Mark had just been at the bank to get some money and had been assumed to be one of the robbers.
Maybe, he hadn’t actually been a criminal at all but had died a hero and would be remembered throughout generations as the town grew.
But even as her mind concocted beautiful scenarios where this was all a misunderstanding, she knew that it was all true.
She was the wife of a criminal. A criminal who had stolen and trashed their own neighbor’s homes. A criminal who had most likely even killed people.
She was going to have a lot of work cut out for her if she wanted any chance for her and Tommy to live a semblance of a normal life ever again.
“Salvation for the Wounded Hearts” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Clara had always imagined a blissful future for herself. Her road ahead is forever changed, though, when her beloved husband is killed in a disastrous robbery. As if that wasn’t enough, she will soon have to face another horrible truth: the fact that he was living a double life as a vicious criminal. Grappling with loneliness, as well as the upbringing of her disabled son, she feels completely desolated. Under the pressure of everyone treating her as an outcast, Clara will have to make a bold decision: travel west to become a mail order bride. Will leaving for the unknown help her escape misery?
Andrew never got over the terrible loss of his dearest wife. Spiraling into despair over the last three years, he leads a sheltered life in a ranch in Texas, along with his only son. When his best friend realizes that Andrew has completely given up on himself and his child, he is determined to take matters into his own hands: behind his back, he answers a Mail Order bride ad for a widow with an only son. Will Andrew reject this secretly taken initiative or will he seize this opportunity and finally leave the sorrowful events behind?
With Clara’s arrival in Texas, they will quickly realise they share something common: their hearts are both shattered in million pieces. Will they be able to work through their critical differences and let their trauma go? Or will they never manage to get away from their wounded past?
“Salvation for the Wounded Hearts” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.