James paused on the porch steps that led up to the sheriff’s office. He had been sheriff of Wheatberry, Kansas, for five years now. He still enjoyed the work, but in a different way than he had at first.
A lot had happened since he had received that badge, a lot of painful things that left a man changed forever.
Shaking away his memories, James pushed through the door, walked over to his desk, and sat down with a sigh of pleasure.
“You’re late, as always, boss,” Merrick pointed out as he sat up from the bench he’d been sleeping on.
“It’s something I can do, being boss and all.” James picked up the newspaper on the desk in front of him and began to look for something he hadn’t read yet.
“That’s called taking advantage of authority,” Daniel said, walking into the main office from a little side room where they kept their gear.
“You know, I always wonder how it is that the two of you always manage to be here before me. You both live further away, and I know for a fact that your horses aren’t as fast as mine.” James set the newspaper down and looked at his two deputies.
Many people said you couldn’t work with friends, but that hadn’t applied to Daniel and Merrick. The three of them had slowly become closer over the past five years of working together.
“We just get up when we’re supposed to.” Merrick chuckled.
“Or you don’t have anything to do.” James gave them a glare.
“Tell yourself whatever you want, boss.” Daniel sat down on the bench and flipped through a bundle of wanted posters that had just come in. “Do you think we’ll catch any of these guys?”
James shrugged. “It’s always possible, but this sheriff’s office hasn’t caught a wanted man in more than three years. Not that we have a lot of crime here, and I’m grateful for that.”
Daniel looked at James over the posters. “It must be nice, though, bringing in bad guys and getting paid for it.”
James used to think that way, too, but in the end, he’d decided that he wanted to be more of a family man—at least, he had when Alice had been alive. “I don’t think it’s all it’s cracked up to be.”
“Have you ever tried it?” Merrick had begun to sweep the floors, but he stopped to ponder his question.
“I did.” James didn’t want to say anything else about it. That part of his life was behind him.
The day he had met Alice while he was chasing down a wanted man jumped into his mind. He had been trying to avoid the memories, but there were times when they forced their way into his head and didn’t give him any choice.
James glanced at his pocket watch. It was still early in the morning and he didn’t expect they would have anything that required his attention for the day.
Today, he had something special to keep him busy. “I’m actually going out for a while. I trust the two of you can handle things here?”
James didn’t miss the worried look Daniel and Merrick shared.
“I’ve just got to go and run an errand.” James pushed his chair back and walked with an easy gait to the door.
As he left the sheriff’s office, James smirked. He hated the way his deputies looked at him with pity.
He didn’t need people’s pity. He was sure there were people out there who had a lot worse life than he did. There were certainly people who had lost a whole lot more than he had.
James untied his horse from the hitching post in front of the sheriff’s office and ran his hand down the horse’s neck.
“Come on, boy, let’s go pay her a visit,” he said softly.
He pulled himself up into the saddle and rode off towards the place that called to him—but also the place that made him feel the worst pain of his life.
The ride felt short, even though James knew that it took almost an hour to get there. He sat on his horse for a few moments before dismounting.
Maybe he shouldn’t be doing this. It had been three years now. Maybe it was time to move on.
Even thinking the words sent a pang of pain to James’ heart. How could he think of abandoning her like that?
James tied his horse to a low tree branch and patted his nose. “I’ll be back soon, buddy.”
Walking through the trees, he pushed branches out of the way and attempted to make as little noise as possible. There was no one else out here, but it still felt right to maintain the silence.
He came to the little clearing at last, his chest heaving up and down with labored breathing from the brisk walk he had taken through the brush to get there.
It was a small area, probably not large enough to build a single cabin in, but it was large enough for its purpose. There was only one stone in the clearing: Alice’s.
“Hi, Alice.” James spoke softly. He knew that she couldn’t hear him; she hadn’t been able to hear him for three years now.
James walked over to the large smooth grey stone that marked the top of Alice’s grave. He sat down and leaned up against it, then pulled a small bottle of whiskey from his jacket pocket.
“I know that it’s been a while. The boys were worried about me today.” James took a drink of the whiskey and hissed through his teeth as it burned a path down his throat.
“They think something’s wrong.” James coughed. “Something’s not wrong. Everything‘s wrong.”
James tipped his head back and laughed at nothing. Things were so dismal, so dark.
He didn’t come here often, only on the special days. He couldn’t handle more than that. A stray tear ran down his cheek, and he closed his eyes to let the memories come rushing in.
“We were just talking about you!” the mayor said loudly, reaching his arm out towards James in a welcoming manner.
They were at the town fair and James was immediately suspicious of why the mayor was being so friendly.
As he approached, he caught sight of the person to whom the mayor was talking.
James drew in a quick breath and his heart skipped a beat. A young woman stood there, her light blonde hair tumbling about her shoulders in delicate curls.
Her blue eyes sparkled, and she gave him a wide smile. “Hello, my name’s Alice.”
James couldn’t find the words to answer, so instead he just reached out his hand and took hers.
She giggled nervously and then glanced between James and the mayor.
“James, this is my daughter, and Alice, this is James, the sheriff.”
James’ confusion must have shown on his face.
“She just moved here with her mother, from the city,” the mayor explained. He laughed, giving James a friendly pat on the shoulder. “I’ll leave the two of you, then.”
“I’m sorry about that. Pa is just excited I’m here,” Alice said good-naturedly. She watched her father retreat and then turned back to James as if she was were waiting for him to say something.
“Oh, um, I mean, that’s understandable… that he would be excited.” James adjusted his hat and looked around, searching for anyone he knew who might help him in this situation, but he found no one.
“So, would you like to take a walk?” James felt silly as soon as the words left his mouth. A beautiful girl like Alice must have a dozen guys asking her to walk.
To his surprise and delight, she nodded in agreement. “That sounds nice.”
“So, how long do you plan on staying in Wheatberry?
James smiled at the memory. That day had been the first of many that he had walked Alice around town. He had fallen in love with her like he had with no other.
A light rain began to fall, and James stood up. It was time to go. He looked down at his wife’s grave and ran a hand over the smooth headstone. It didn’t matter how many years passed, he would never forget her or be ready to leave her behind, no matter what other people said.
James took his time walking back to his horse, letting the little sprinkling drops fall over him, washing away a little of the pain that plagued him.
He had chosen to bury Alice here because it had been her favorite spot. He figured she should lay to rest in a place she had enjoyed while she lived.
By the time James reached his horse, he had a sad smile on his face and his tears mingled with the rain on his cheeks.
He climbed back into the saddle and turned toward town. He was going to have to get a change of clothes from his house first, or his deputies would never let him hear the end of it.
“Whoa! Whoa!” A frantic voice made James turn his horse around. For a moment, he couldn’t find the source.
After a few seconds, a wagon came barreling down the hill above him. James touched his spurs to his horse to get him out of the way. Just as he moved off the road, the wagon rushed by.
As it passed, James saw the faces of its riders as if they were in slow motion.
There was a woman beside the man who was pulling back on the reins with all his might. Behind him, a little boy was holding on to the side of the wagon for dear life.
James didn’t need a moment to think before he sprang into action. There was a turn up ahead on this road and if he didn’t stop those horses, the entire family would go over the side of the cliff.
It wasn’t a very high cliff, but it was high enough that someone going at that speed would be seriously injured—or worse.
“Giddy up!” he yelled to his horse, pressing his spurs to the animal’s sides, urging him to go faster.
The faster he went, the closer he came to that curve, along with the family in the wagon. He could sense that he was gaining but wasn’t certain that he would get to the horses in time.
His horse was now almost neck-and-neck with the wagon’s horses. James leaned out and tried to take ahold of their reins, but his hand just didn’t reach.
He put his arm out as far as he possibly could, and his fingers touched the harness, just barely. Then, the curve was right there in front of them.
The look of sheer terror and horror on the man’s face as he reached out and grasped the woman’s hand said it all.
He knew what was about to happen. Everyone did, but there was nothing James could do to stop it.
He turned his horse at the last moment, pulling the animal to a stop. And James watched as the family, the wagon, and their two horses flew over the cliff and down to the ground below.
Their cries filled the air, echoing through the valley, and then everything was silent, except the sound of gravel and rocks as they trickled down the edge of the cliff.
A horse squealed as it thrashed below in its harness. James scrambled down from his horse and raced toward the cliffside. He had to get down there.
When he did, would he find anyone alive?
James tried to keep his balance while he climbed down the steep embankment. He grabbed at the branches of the bushes that jutted out from between the rocks to keep upright as he slid the last few feet to the bottom.
The horses were in a horrific tangle of odd angles and twisted legs. One horse still moved, but it was obvious that he was grievously injured. The wagon had lost two of its wheels on the way down and it, too, had suffered irreparable damage. The canopy on the back was tangled in the belongings of the family, which were strewn along the sides of the embankment.
The man and the woman had ended up close to each other. James could immediately see that the man was dead. He wasn’t moving a muscle, and his skin looked much too pale.
His hand was still clutching the woman’s, as if she could have kept him in this life should she have held on hard enough.
The woman’s eyes were closed, but James had hope for her. Even from a slight distance, he could see her chest rising and falling.
James rushed to her side and felt her neck. There was a steady beat there. It was hard to find, but it was steady.
James breathed a sigh of relief. He had no idea what had happened to the little boy and he knew that the man was dead, but he felt as if he had somehow cheated death, with the woman alive.
Her eyes suddenly flew open and her free hand reached out and grabbed James by the arm.
James jumped a little, startled by the sudden movement. He tried to lift the wagon that was partially over the woman’s waist, but it was no use. It was too heavy for one man to lift.
“Help! Somebody, help me!” James yelled at the top of his lungs. His heart felt heavy, as he knew no one would come. There wouldn’t be anyone out in the rain on this back road.
He pushed his shoulder against the wagon and heaved with all of his strength, using every fiber of his body.
The woman reached out once more. “Stop.” Her voice was raspy, and he could hear the pain in that one word. Reluctantly, he knelt down beside her, stopping his efforts to move the wagon.
“I’ll go get help. Just hold on, and I’ll be right back.” James tried to keep his voice steady. The ride back to town would take more than forty minutes. It was unlikely this woman could survive the time it would take to bring help back to her.
“No, listen…” The woman sucked in long, shaky breaths as she tried to speak.
James began to stand up. He needed to try. He had to find someone to help him save this woman.
“Find my son. Take care of my son.” The woman’s eyes were full of fear and desperation. “Promise me you’ll watch over my son.”
“I’m going to get you out of here.” James squeezed the woman’s hand as he removed it from his arm.
“Merrill, Illinois. That’s where she’s from. My sister, she can take care of him, you have to find my—” The woman began to gasp.
“Find who? Who’s your sister?” James shook the woman’s hand, begging her to finish telling him what to do.
It didn’t matter how much James willed her to come back; he knew she was gone. Her hand went limp as she took one last shallow breath, and then her eyes stared up, empty, into the raining sky.
James gently closed her blank eyes and then fell back into the mud. He didn’t care that he was drenched and muddy. He didn’t care about anything. How had he allowed this to happen? The thunder roared as if it were angry, and he looked up into the falling rain.
It had only been minutes before that they were alive and well, racing down the road with two horses out of control.
He remembered the boy as an afterthought, a ray of hope that maybe something from this nightmare could be saved.
James stood up from the wreckage and began to search nearby. He thought about calling for the boy, but realized he didn’t even know the child’s name.
He kicked at a clump of grass in frustration. What if the boy was trapped under the wagon and James was wasting his time looking when he should be going for help?
The woods weren’t exactly a safe place at night, and it didn’t matter that James was the sheriff.
A whimpering cry turned James around so fast he nearly tumbled into the mud once more.
There, a few feet away, stood the little boy from earlier, shaking as tears streamed down his face.
“Mama? Where’s my mama?” His lower lip trembled, and more tears fell down his round little cheeks.
James guessed him to be six or seven. He hadn’t been around a lot of children, though, so he couldn’t be certain.
“What’s your name, boy?” James asked in a gruff voice.
“J-Joey.” The little boy wiped at his tears with the back of his hand, leaving a muddy streak across his skin.
It was then that James noticed the blood.
He wasn’t sure how badly, but the boy was injured, too.
“Where’s my papa?” the boy said, his voice breaking.
James felt as if his own heart were breaking in two. He crossed the space between them in a few steps and scooped the little boy up into his arms, holding Joey close to his chest.
“Your ma and pa are gone, buddy. Let’s get you into town.”
“I want my mama!” the boy cried, kicking and thrashing as James carried him up to where his horse was waiting at the top of the cliff.
It was one of those times when James was grateful for the training he had invested in the animal.
It was a difficult thing to mount his horse with Joey crying and screaming for his parents while he flailed around.
As James urged his horse forward, Joey seemed to give in to his fate. His little arms wrapped tightly around James’s neck and he sobbed, long and hard, until his little body went limp and silent against James in sleep.
James found himself frequently checking to see if Joey was still alive. Fortunately, the boy continued to breathe easily the entire ride to town. Soon, they were in front of the doctor’s clinic and James jumped down, rushing up to the door.
“Doc? Doc, are you here?” he called.
The doctor appeared a few seconds later, a panicked look on his weathered, old face.
“What’s going on? You hurt?”
The doctor paused when he spotted Joey in James’ arms.
“Well, what do we have here?” The doctor hurried over and began to examine Joey’s legs.
“I was out above the river, over on Green Pass road. A family in a wagon got into a bad accident. They went over the side of the cliff on the corner above the mill.”
“Where are his parents?” James could tell by the look in the doctor’s eyes that he already knew their fate, but he shook his head to confirm it anyway.
“Poor lad. Here, bring him this way so I can get a proper look at him.”
James complied and carried the boy over to the examination table, where he laid Joey down.
It took a minute to detach the boy’s arms from his neck, but he managed to get Joey on the table without waking him up.
The doctor brought back a few clean, wet cloths and began cleaning Joey’s arms and legs one by one, looking for injuries.
“He’s out cold from all the emotions of it. Was he there when his parents died?”
“No child should have to see that. He’s too young.” The doctor shook his head back and forth and clucked his tongue.
He adjusted his glasses and then began to apply a brown-colored liquid to Joey’s cuts.
There were several of them, but they didn’t seem to be too deep, which was a relief to James.
“There we are; we’re all set. What are you going to do with him?” The doctor looked up at James with a worried expression.
“I don’t know. You reckon they have any place over at the orphanage?”
“Last I heard, they already have children sleeping on the floor. You could send him there… poor lad.” The doctor shook his head once more.
James groaned. “I can’t send him some place that he’ll be miserable. I promised his mother I’d look after him until we could find his kin.”
The doctor shrugged his shoulders and adjusted his glasses. “Sounds like you should take him to your place, then. Maybe you could use the company.”
“I don’t know how to take care of children, doc. I’ve never done that before.”
The doctor gave a slow smile. “I think you’ll find that caring for the boy will be the easy part. He saw a pretty terrible thing. You’re probably the closest thing to a person he trusts right now. Would be downright cold-hearted to throw him out someplace else.”
James groaned and lowered himself into a chair. “No one said anything about throwing him out. It’s just… I don’t have any experience with children.”
He didn’t say the rest of what he was thinking. He and Alice had always talked about having a family, but with her, James had buried that dream.
He wasn’t sure he wanted to have that experience alone. In a way, it felt like a betrayal. But at the same time, he could identify with the boy’s loss. He had just seen his family die right in front of him.
“Okay, doc, I’ll keep him for now. But his family will be here soon to take him, anyway.”
“I hope so, the boy could use family about now.” The doctor ran a hand through his graying hair.
“What do I do with him? Like, to care for him and whatnot?”
“Keep him warm. Feed him. Talk to him. Have him help you around the farm. He’s not a newborn; I’m sure he’ll let you know what he needs. Children are very resilient.” The doctor had a mischievous sparkle in his eyes. “You’re about to go on an adventure, Mr. Sheriff.”
James groaned inwardly as he reluctantly scooped Joey up. He had no idea how he was going to handle a child who he had never met before all on his own.
He took the boy to the sheriff’s office. He couldn’t go home yet, and he had to let the deputies know what had happened.
James couldn’t just leave Joey’s parents out there at the bottom of that cliff. Somebody would have to clean it up and give the couple a proper burial.
Alice slipped into his mind. If only he had been given the chance to go with her—the way that the husband and wife had died. But then, he and Alice hadn’t had children yet.
James shook his head, trying to clear such thoughts, and pushed his way through the door to the sheriff’s department.
“You’re back. We were beginning to think something had—” Daniel paused mid-sentence. “Who’s that, and what happened? Where did you find a kid?”
James motioned for Daniel to open the door to their empty jail cell. It was the only place with a bed, and James wasn’t yet ready to wake Joey up.
He gave a sigh of relief as he managed to get the little boy settled into the cot without waking him. Carefully, he covered Joey with a blanket and stood for a moment looking at the child’s delicate face and curly hair.
He and Daniel tiptoed out of the cell and, once they were at a safe distance, Daniel started with his questions again, just as James had expected. “What’s going on? What are you doing with a little boy, and why is he all bandaged up? And why do you look like you’ve been wallowing with the hogs?”
“There was an accident up on Green Pass road.” James went on to explain to Daniel everything that had happened.
His deputy sat and listened, nodding his head in sympathy until James finished.
“That’s terrible. He’s going to be devastated when he wakes up.”
James nodded in agreement. “I hope he rests a long time. I’m not even sure how I ended up with him, and I certainly don’t know how to care for children.”
“Well, you will certainly be getting an education, then. My mother always said—”
“Not now, Daniel.” James cut his friend off. “I’m sure that your mother could have written an instruction book for this situation, but I don’t need instructions right now. I need a solution.”
He pulled out a small piece of paper and a pen and began writing.
When he was done, he held the note out to Daniel. “Run this over to the post office and tell them to send this as a telegram to the sheriff in Merrill, Illinois. It’s of the utmost importance.”
Daniel nodded, his eyes scanning the piece of paper as he hurried out of the office.
James watched him go with concern. He wondered how long it would take for news of the accident to reach Joey’s relatives. Did the woman’s sister even read the newspaper? Or would the sheriff there know who she and her husband might be? Would anyone know this family hadn’t made it to their destination, several states away?
James sighed, resting his head on his desk. How had a bad day turned even worse? He felt exhausted and wished he were at home in bed.
Lyla balanced the large basket of laundry on her hip. Her body ached in every single place imaginable, and she was already picturing what it would be like to sink into bed that night.
She was used to hard work; she’d been doing it for the last several years. But even so, it hadn’t gotten any less tiring.
She set the basket on the floor of the tiny room that she called home. She’d been living here for the past eleven months, ever since her uncle had told her that it was time for her to get married.
Of course, she knew he was right. All women got married, eventually, whether they liked it or not.
Lyla sighed. She was no exception. Had anyone asked her if that was what she wanted? Did anyone care if she was capable of supporting herself? No. They had their expectations of her, both family members and strangers. Not that she had much family left.
Lyla began folding the clothes and humming a tune to herself. She kept up with all her laundry orders, no matter how long it took to complete them.
When she wasn’t washing other people’s laundry, she was tending to the hotel restaurant and cleaning rooms, in exchange for room, board, and a tiny salary that was hardly worth mentioning.
Lyla paused her work and let her eyes fall on the few possessions she could call her own. Besides the bed and the tiny table with the wash basin, the room only held a few changes of clothes, her hairbrush, and her diary.
People might think it was grim or poor, but for Lyla, fewer things meant less work to take care of them. Besides, she soon wouldn’t need to worry about being poor or working.
Keith’s overconfident grin and his gold pocket watch filled her mind as she closed her eyelids.
The banker would not have been her first choice for a husband, in an ideal world, but Lyla didn’t live in an ideal world.
He was wealthy, fairly young, and wanted to marry her, and that was about as much standard as she could possibly afford to have.
She didn’t love him. She was sure she never would, but that wasn’t what marriage was about, was it?
She had loved someone, once, and it had ended terribly. It had uprooted her entire life and was still wreaking havoc.
Lyla thought of how happy her mother would have been if she had met Keith and knew that Lyla was going to marry him.
She would have been thrilled. Lyla patted a finished stack of folded clothing.
Her parents had warned her about feelings and falling in love. Of course, they had seemed to have plenty of feelings for each other, but they had always assured her that this had happened over time.
Lyla was fairly certain that it wouldn’t matter how much time she spent with Keith—she would never love him the way that people talked about love. He was a brusque sort of man, always businesslike, and he spoke roughly to anyone who he had dealings with.
She wasn’t even sure she knew what love was. What she’d had once hadn’t been the perfect kind of love everyone dreamed of having. If it had been, she wouldn’t have ended up the way she had.
Lyla sighed, finally finished with her task. She took the clean basket of clothes and set them by the door, then headed downstairs.
“Ready for the dinner rush?” Anne asked her. She and Anne had been working together since Lyla had moved into the hotel. They had built their friendship over the hundreds of dirty dishes that needed washing even though it took until late into the night to get the job done.
“Are we ever ready for the dinner rush?” Lyla asked, groaning and twisting her neck in circles. “I already ache all over.”
“No, we’re not, but come on. At least we can suffer together, right?” Anne wrapped her arm through Lyla’s and the two went into the kitchen. The one bright side of the dinner rush was that they got to eat something before and after their work was done.
There were two heaping plates of hot food waiting for them in the kitchen. The cook slipped two freshly baked biscuits on top of all the other delicious-looking things waiting for them.
“Eat up, girls. Tonight is going to be a long one, and you need to be ready to work hard,” Cook said with a grin.
Lyla looked outside and realized he was right. Friday nights were always the worst.
She sat down and dug into the food, savoring every flavor-filled bite. There was a reason that the hotel restaurant always had someone eating there.
Their food was unique and second to none. Every human being could appreciate a meal out once in a while, and Cook made it so that no one could afford not to come to his restaurant.
That wasn’t his real name, of course, but Lyla didn’t know if anyone knew his real name. Ever since she had started working there, everyone had called him Cook.
He turned the simplest dishes into delicacies and he always seemed to be cooking. She wondered if he ever did anything else, even when he was off work.
Lyla thought she couldn’t possibly hold another bite, but she still ran her finger over her plate to gather any last morsel. She could imagine her mother scolding her for that behavior. It wasn’t an especially lady-like thing to do.
The thought made her smile as she wiped her finger across the plate once more and then popped it into her mouth.
She had lived under her parent’s disappointment for far too long. Sadness washed over her for a moment. In reality, she missed them. She was pretty sure that any child missed their parents when they died, no matter how much they had fought while they were alive.
“Come on, Lyla, our first customers are here,” Anne said with a grin as she bustled through the kitchen with a tray laden with filled water glasses.
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” Lyla had no idea how Anne mustered so much enthusiasm for their job when she disliked it just as much as Lyla. Or maybe even more.
She plastered a smile on her face and tied an apron over her dress. There were no two ways about it—she had tables to tend to and she was going to do a good job, no matter how she felt about it.
Lyla laid her head onto the counter and turned her head to face Anne. “I don’t think it’s possible to get any more exhausted than this.”
Anne groaned. “Let’s see how possible it is after finishing all those dishes in the back.”
Lyla followed Anne’s gaze. There were stacks upon stacks of dirty plates, pans, bowls, and every other type of dish that was used in a restaurant just waiting on the back counter next to the sink.
It was impossible for them to keep up with the dishes as they were dirtied and wait all the tables, so at the end of the night there was always a mountain-load for them to take care of before they could go home.
“Hey, at least you won’t have to do this for the rest of your life. A rich banker will probably give you a ton of servants to do everything for you, maybe even brush your hair,” Anne pointed out with a smirk.
“I’m sure one day you will find some handsome man to sweep you off your feet and rescue you from your dish-washing nightmare. Who knows? Maybe marrying Keith will be the worst decision of my life.”
Anne shook her head. “Quiet down before someone hears you. You can’t possibly mean that. Keith is clearly in love with you, and besides, he’s so rich you won’t have to work a day in your life.” Anne turned her head a little more to the side. “In fact, why are you still working? Hasn’t Keith offered to pay your way until the wedding?”
Lyla clamped her jaw. “Yes, he did. But I don’t need him to. Let’s just say I’m taking advantage of my freedom while I still have some.”
Anne raised her eyebrows. “You’re using your freedom to wash stacks upon stacks of dirty dishes from strangers when you’re so exhausted that you could drop? I will never understand you.”
Lyla giggled. “When I am married and have lots of time on my hands, maybe I’ll stop in and help you with the dishes every once and a while.”
“That’s not likely. I doubt Keith is going to let his pretty wife volunteer dishwashing services at a hotel for free when she has her very own servants.”
“Come on. Let’s get to work on those or we’re going to be up all night.”
Anne nodded and the two girls pulled themselves up from their chairs and hurried over to the dishes, to begin the process of preparing them for the next day.
While they worked, Lyla thought about Anne’s words. Of course she knew that being married to Keith wouldn’t be the same as her last eleven months on her own. But would he control how she spent her free time or who she was friends with?
The thought made her shiver. She would become one of those wives that was just a pretty face to look at during a business dinner, with no life of her own.
She fought back tears as she scrubbed away a bit of stubborn bacon grease.
Somehow, the task of washing dishes while Anne told jokes Lyla had already heard during the day suddenly seemed like the absolute best thing that she could possibly be doing.
She didn’t long for her bed so badly, and she didn’t think about how much she ached. Instead, she tried to appreciate every plate she washed and laughed extra hard whenever Anne got to the funny parts.
But despite how much Lyla wanted to hang onto the moment, it slipped away, and soon she was trudging up the stairs in a dark hotel, toward her little room with the creaky bed and the cracked wash basin.
Nobody could stop the days from rushing by, no matter how much they wanted to.
She could wish that she had a different life. She could dream of princes and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, but she knew that those were just fantasies.
She was stuck in the real world, where men left you alone and crying not two days after they had asked you to marry them. She lived in a world where women married because if they didn’t, they would be considered the lowest of the low. And she lived in a world of noisy city life and the drudgery of work day after day.
Lyla flopped down onto her bed and let herself relax slowly, giving her muscles time to adjust to her new position. She stared up at the simple wooden roof above her.
Where would she be sleeping four months from now? Would she remember this place when she was there? Would she like it better? Or would she wish she could come back to her days of poverty and pain?
Lyla rubbed her hands over her arms and shivered from the cold. She jumped up, dressed for bed, and slipped between the covers, snuggling down under the blankets.
She was alone in this world. She didn’t expect that to ever change. She was going to marry Keith, but she was going to stick to herself. She wasn’t going to let him control every tiny detail of her life and she was going to find a way to enjoy herself, sometimes.
With her determinations at the front of her mind, Lyla slowly let herself relax enough to sleep.
She tossed and turned in her creaky bed while disturbing dreams haunted her sleep. They reminded her of the miserable future she was about to trap herself into and the terrible past that had pushed her to that decision.
Finally, Lyla couldn’t take it any longer. Before dawn showed its face, she slipped out of bed, dressed for the day, and prepared herself for the workday ahead.
“A Treasure Brought by Fate” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lyla has built a stable future for herself, away from the rest of her family. But when her sister dies tragically in a dreadful accident, she has to go west and pick up her nephew, the only survivor. And even though her plan for inexplicable reasons is to avoid being in close contact with him, she will find herself moved by the sheriff asking her to reconsider and let the boy stay with him instead. Soon enough Lyla will become confused by her conflicting emotions, but will she find the courage to face secrets from the past and eventually follow her heart?
James, the local sheriff of Wheatberry, has forgotten what happiness means since his wife died in an unexpected manner. But when he suddenly witnesses a horrifying accident, he is quick to run to an orphaned little boy’s aid. All the more, what he would never expect is that he would end up loving and becoming attached to him. When the boy’s aunt – a beautiful troubled woman – arrives in town, he will do his best to convince her to let him raise the child. Will he succeed in changing her mind and finally creating the loving family he never had the chance to make?
Just when Lyla and James come closer and start trusting and loving each other more and more, ghosts from their past will arrive to haunt them… Will this dreadful situation tear the couple apart? How much are the heroes willing to sacrifice so as not to give up on each other?
“A Treasure Brought by Fate” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.