Emma stacked the last of the freshly cleaned dishes on the counter. Now, it was time to enjoy the evening with her father. Sometimes, her father would take her out for an evening stroll. But, sometimes, he wasn’t feeling well enough to stroll, so she would go by herself, even though he said it was too dangerous.
Tonight, Emma slid open the window in the living room and leaned out into the open air. The wind whipped her hair into her face as the temperature dropped for the night. The city was alive at this hour with horses trotting up and down the streets and folks calling out to one another. She pulled herself back inside and turned to her father, who was carefully reading the newspaper.
“I love fall. I feel alive again every time it comes around,” Emma commented cheerfully.
“As opposed to not feeling alive?” her father asked, peeking over the paper.
Emma laughed. “You know what I mean. Sometimes, in the summer, it gets so muggy in here that I can’t breathe.”
Her father nodded and closed his paper with a snap, scratching his slowly appearing bald spot. He laid the paper down on the table and heaved himself to his feet. “Are you ready?”
“Of course!” Emma said, jovially offering the heavy man her arm.
“Are you sure you don’t need a shawl or something to keep you warm? I wouldn’t want you feeling too alive.”
Emma laughed. “No, I won’t die from a short walk out in the cold. Let’s go!”
Emma pulled the front door open and led her father down their three front steps. “Which way should we go today?” her father asked.
As Emma was about to answer, a horse trotted over to them. When Emma looked up at its rider, her stomach sank. It was the local constable with his ever-present mustache, and she knew that whatever he had to say to them wouldn’t be something she wanted to hear. They hadn’t had any run-ins with him before, but everyone knew who he was.
She pointed right and started dragging her father in that direction, but the constable called out to them. “Hold on right there, Carsons!” he called, dismounting his horse quickly. “We need to have a little chat.”
“I suppose we have to go back,” Emma’s father whispered.
“We could make a run for it,” Emma suggested. She knew that she could outrun the pudgy constable any day. Hopefully, they would be able to sneak into a back alley before the constable could get on his horse and catch them.
“I haven’t finished reading my paper yet. I’d rather not.”
Emma turned around and stayed by her father’s side as they approached the man. “I need to chat with you, Mr. James Carson, if you please.”
“I’d prefer a nice evening stroll, but as you seem determined to take that away from me, I suppose there’s not much I can do. Let’s go inside then.”
Emma’s father took out the keys he had just pocketed and opened the door to their living room. Emma followed the two men inside. Instead of busying herself in the kitchen, where the constable probably expected her to stay, Emma took a seat by the front door and eyed the constable, hoping to make him nervous about coming around their house and ruining the nice New Orleans night.
“James Carson,” the constable said again, taking a seat across from the big man.
“Jim is what my friends call me,” her father said.
“Ah, Jim, nice to meet you.”
“You’re not one of my friends,” Emma’s father countered.
The constable looked perplexed until her father burst out laughing.
“I’m just joking. You go ahead and call me Jim, James, or Big Jim. I’ll answer to them all. Now, what’s your name.”
“I’m Constable Paul Newbury,” the man said, carefully extracting a pad of paper and a pencil. “I’m here to ask you a few questions.”
“Are you planning to take long?” Emma asked. “We were going to enjoy the evening together, and you coming in here to ask my father all sorts of questions doesn’t constitute enjoyment.”
“Well, I, oh, I’m sorry to interrupt your evening, but I do have some important questions. They’re for your father, though, so you can go about your evening as you like, Miss.”
Emma pursed her lips and shook her head. “My father doesn’t have anything to hide from me. If you’ve got questions for him, I’d better stay.”
Emma could tell that the constable wasn’t comfortable with the way she was addressing him, but frankly, she didn’t care much for the constable. He might have a badge on his uniform, but that didn’t make him any better than them.
“Jim,” the constable said, looking at his small pad. “Well, it appears that the robbery committed at one of the wealthy estates on 22nd Street is closer to being solved, and I wondered if you would know anything that would help us?”
“I’ve just been reading about it in the paper, so I know a good deal. What would you have me tell you?”
The constable waved away the paper that Emma’s father was unfolding. “No, nothing printed in the paper is new to me. However, we have some evidence that you were involved. What do you have to say about that?”
“I would say what evidence is that?”
The constable produced a piece of cloth which Emma peered at closely. She recognized it immediately as belonging to her father, but she was sure he hadn’t been involved in any recent crimes.
“What do you have to say about this?”
“It looks like a nice hankie, but I wasn’t involved. Although I assume if I were involved, my answer would be the same.”
Emma wanted to shush her father. Sometimes, he amused himself too much, but she didn’t have the patience for the constable that evening.
“I suppose it would. We found some evidence at the scene that indicates your gang was there.”
“Oh, well, that doesn’t matter to me. I don’t associate with them anymore.”
“You don’t associate with your friends anymore?” The constable stared at her father before scribbling something on his notepad.
“That’s correct. I may have been involved in a few heists back in my day, but I’m retired now.”
The constable stared at him curiously. “I hope you’re enjoying your retirement. Now please, tell me your whereabouts on the evening of the crime.”
“Well, when did the robbery take place? I’m sure I have an alibi.”
“It took place last evening between 10:00 at night and 5:00 am this morning.”
James Carson nodded. “Yes, I was sleeping during that time.”
“Can you prove it?”
“Can you stop bothering him?” Emma asked, rising to her feet. “He told you he wasn’t there, and you have no proof that he was. Now, please, let us be.” She shooed him like she had the annoying mouse that scampered into the kitchen a few days ago. Nothing connected the handkerchief to her father except her own knowledge that it had been his.
The constable rose to his feet. “Well, this could be a woman’s handkerchief as well as a man’s. Does it look familiar to you?”
He peered at her closely, but Emma kept her face from betraying anything. “I’ve asked you kindly to leave our house. I would appreciate you abiding by my request.”
“I’ll come back. I’ll have more proof. Don’t think that you’re just getting away with something here.” The constable threatened as he made his way out the door, looking at her father and her. Emma slammed the door behind him and crossed her arms.
“I can’t believe he had the nerve to come in here accusing you of a crime.”
Her father carefully pulled out the newspaper and flipped to the page where he had been reading. “I suppose we shouldn’t push our luck by trying to take a walk again now. I suspect that constable might come back to find more proof. Even if he can’t connect me to this crime, he might be able to make the connection to others.”
“He wouldn’t dare!”
“He might,” her father said. Emma settled onto the far end of the sofa and watched her father calmly turning the pages of his newspaper. He was so calm about everything, while Emma was annoyed that he had been so kind to the constable.
“What’s on your mind?” her father finally asked, folding his paper down. “I can feel you staring holes through this.”
Emma shook her head. “It’s like they can’t understand that you’ve moved on. They don’t want to accept that you’re an upstanding citizen. That other constable has been visiting you repeatedly, and now, they have someone new on the case.”
“Interesting that you should bring it up. I’ve been thinking on the same.”
“You have? Are you going to do something about it?”
“Probably not what you would like me to do about it.”
Emma studied her father’s gray hair. He still had a few splotches of black scattered throughout, and even though he was starting to get old, she wasn’t sure she could ever think of him that way.
“Come here,” her father beckoned to her, and Emma slid across the expanse of the couch between them until she was sitting right next to him. Their nighttime routine felt familiar and comfortable. Some people might think it was strange that a former gang leader would know the first thing about a lady’s hair, but without her mother there, her father had learned a few things.
Emma turned her back to her father and began pulling out the pins that held her blonde bun in place. The motion was comforting, and Emma fell silent as her bun slowly fell into a long braid down her back. Finally, her father pulled off the tie and threaded his fingers through her hair until it was a wavy mess.
Emma accepted the handful of pins and stood.
“Don’t go anywhere just yet,” her father said. “I’ve been thinking that it doesn’t matter where I live or what I do; the law force has it in their minds that I’m guilty. As you know, I’ve done my fair share of crimes back in the day, but they don’t care that I’ve stopped. So to them, it’s just important to catch me on something.”
“It doesn’t matter. They can’t arrest you for something that happened years ago.”
“They might be able to. You know how many unsolved crimes I have been involved in. The Domino Gang has done a lot, as you know.” Her father was serious, something rare for him. “I’m less worried about myself and more worried about you.”
Her father held up his hand. “Let me speak. I’m worried that someone may be able to convince the law enforcement to go after you for the part you took in several of our crimes. I can’t have you put in jail. That would break my heart.”
Emma waved it away. “You could just break me out. Banks have to be harder to break into than jails are.”
“That’s not the problem,” her father said. “The problem is that I won’t always be around. You know that my heart has recently given me a bit of trouble. I can’t stand the thought that I could pass away and leave you with nobody to protect you.”
“I don’t need protection.”
“I want you to get married.”
Emma’s jaw dropped open because her father had never said anything like that to her ever before. Getting married was . . . not something she ever wanted to do. She didn’t need a man to run her life. She was enjoying it just fine without one.
“Emma, please hear me out. I can already see the gears in your brain going into motion. I don’t want the men after me to start hassling you. You saw how he was looking at you by the end of our conversation. I think you could find a fine husband out west and be safe from all of this.”
“You want to send me away?” Emma tried to swallow around the lump in her throat, but it seemed determined to stay there, making it hard for her to breathe.
“It’s not that I don’t want you with me, but I want you safe. I’m not saying you have to get married right now. I’m just saying that perhaps you put your information in one of those services for the newspapers out west and see who responds to your ad.”
“Or if anyone does,” Emma muttered.
“Oh, you’ll have responses,” her father assured her. “That I know. You don’t have to accept the first one you receive either. I’m just saying that you should try. Emma, I want you to be safe. Once the constable has started leaving me alone, I’ll follow you. I just don’t want him to follow the both of us.”
Emma knew that she would never marry a stranger, but she didn’t want to argue with her father. She would put the ad in the paper, and nothing would come of it. Or if she did get a letter, maybe she would just hide it away and pretend it had never arrived.
“Fine, I’ll put an ad in the paper, but I’m not going to marry just anyone.”
“I would hope not. I suspect that you’ll be able to sort through and pick someone who will be a good match. I’m not kicking you out of the house just yet.”
Her father might be attempting to joke, but Emma didn’t feel like she could smile. Her father wanted her to marry and leave him, but she didn’t think that was possible. He needed her just as much as she needed him.
Thomas took his time taking the saddle off his horse and setting him free in the pasture. He wasn’t quite ready to enter his parents’ house and face them for dinner. He wished that he could enjoy a regular family dinner like most others in the small Oregon town, but he couldn’t.
“Now, you be a good girl while I’m in there, okay? If I holler for help, you break through this fence and rescue me, you hear?”
His horse trotted away, happily perusing its choice of grass. Thomas stared after her for a minute before turning toward the house. There was no putting it off now. He would have to enter the house.
Thomas straightened his collar and approached the steps. He could hear his mother and father’s voices inside the house, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying. He pasted a smile on his face, sent up a prayer that this evening would go well, then pushed the front door open without knocking.
“Hello, Thomas!” his father greeted him heartily. He stood up from the couch where his Bible was open. His blue eyes mirrored Thomas’s own.
Thomas hugged his father, a man just as tall as he was. Many people had said they would never be confused as father and son, looking alike in everything except hair color. Thomas’s was dark blonde while his father’s had turned gray over the years.
Thomas approached his mother and kissed her on the cheek.
“How are both of you today?” he asked, some of his trepidation disappearing when neither one of them brought up the sore subject right away.
“Today has been an excellent day,” his mother answered. She was buttering some bread and placing it on a tray. Thomas leaned against the counter and watched the familiar action.
“Have you started your canning?” Thomas asked, looking at the empty glass jars lined up on the counter.
“Well, I got the jars out. They’ve gotten dusty, even though they were closed up. Cleaning them out took most of the day, so I guess I’ll start boiling and canning tomorrow.”
Thomas nodded, avoiding looking at his father. “Well, whatever you made tonight smells good,” he said.
“Sit down, both of you. It’s time to eat.”
Thomas took his place at the table. He didn’t always eat at his parents’ house, but when he did, he took this same seat, the one he had sat in his whole childhood. His mother placed several dishes on the table, and Thomas nosed into each one. They were eating chicken breasts, spinach, butterbeans, and bread.
Thomas’s stomach rumbled as his father sat down at the head of the table.
His father held out a hand on either side, and Thomas took his father’s, automatically bowing his head as he prayed.
He echoed his father’s amen, then grabbed a couple of rolls. “Thank you, Mother. This looks great.”
“Your mother’s cooking is always great.”
Thomas focused on serving himself some spinach as he tried to decide if his father’s remark was negative or not. He could never tell if he was trying to put him in his place or something else.
Thomas remained quiet as he began eating, but his father quickly drew him into a conversation. “How is your horse breeding business going?”
Thomas smiled. He could talk about horse breeding all day long, long past when others tired of the conversation. But then, he remembered where he was and tempered down his answer. “It’s been going well.”
“There was a chain of horses passing through town last week. Did you buy any?”
Thomas shook his head. “They were too underfed. I didn’t want to take on the task of bulking them up. They might prove not to be good breeders, plus the owner couldn’t tell me anything about their lineage, which leads me to think they might have been stolen.”
“At least you still have your conscience,” his father muttered.
Thomas frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He tried to keep his voice low and even, but his anger grew slowly.
“I’m just saying that you turned away from the family profession and got into a profession that isn’t always the noblest. It’s good to see that you still retain some of the things we taught you.”
Thomas’s mother remained silent, but his temper wouldn’t allow him to listen to his father’s remarks. “Just because I chose not to become a pastor like you doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person.” This wasn’t the first time they had discussed the matter, but Thomas felt like his father would never accept that Thomas wanted to do something else with his life other than preach. He had always envisioned his son following in his footsteps and couldn’t accept that he’d decided to take a different path.
“I never said you were a bad person. Those words never came out of my mouth.”
“But I can still see what you’re thinking.”
“Now, son, it’s impossible for you to know what I’m thinking. That would call for you to understand the operation of my mind, and you’re not God.”
Thomas gritted his teeth together. His father could preach in any place at any time of day, and he looked like he was revving up for a good sermon.
“I’m not sure why you have to get so upset over me asking how your business is going,” Thomas Sr. continued. “Would you rather I avoid the topic altogether and not ask you anything about your horses?”
“Yes,” Thomas responded.
“Well, I’ll see if I can do that. I just didn’t want you to think I wasn’t interested in your business and what you’re doing simply because I don’t ask about it.”
Thomas shoved butterbeans into his mouth so he wouldn’t have to answer. Why was his father so impossible? He didn’t want to stew on it, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say either. His mind turned their conversation in circles as he tried to see where it had gone wrong.
“Well, I have a surprise for both of you,” his mother said, standing and moving back into the kitchen. Thomas knew exactly what his mother’s surprises consisted of, and he hoped this one would be apple pie, though he wouldn’t mind pecan.
“Apple pie!” his mother exclaimed, returning with a steaming dish.
Thomas’s mouth watered. “Thank you, mother,” he said.
She smiled as she began to slice the pie.
“The girls made so many pies today that I didn’t think it would harm anything to take one home,” Thomas’s mother said as she served him a large slice.
Thomas grabbed onto the excuse to change the topic of conversation. “What were the church volunteers making pies for?”
“We’re going to do a bake sale tomorrow. Don’t you remember, Thomas? We’re trying to raise some money to repair the church’s roof. So we’re going to be selling the pies all day tomorrow. Some of the ladies made cookies as well.”
Thomas faintly remembered his mother mentioning something about the volunteer opportunity, but he hadn’t paid much attention. His mother was always volunteering for one thing or another. She used to try to convince him to help too, but recently, she hadn’t been asking him to join in every volunteer opportunity.
“That’s excellent! If they all taste as good as this one, I’ll have to buy one for sure,” Thomas said amiably as he shoved another bite of the warm, flaky crust into his mouth. He closed his eyes to savor the flavor.
When he opened them, his father was looking directly at him. “Are you sure you want to buy a pie if the money goes to benefit the church?”
Thomas rolled his head back. Here he went again, somehow turning the conversation onto Thomas and how he had dared pick a profession different from the one his father had. Thomas took a deep breath and leveled his eyes at his father.
“What is that supposed to mean? I come to church every week just like I always have. Just because I decided to breed horses doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God. Because I still do, but I just . . .” Thomas couldn’t bring himself to explain why he didn’t feel qualified to be a pastor. He had never been able to make anyone else understand, and he didn’t think that would change now.
“You just what?” his father asked, leaning back in his chair.
Thomas’s mother started to say something, but then, she snapped her mouth shut, probably remembering that church rule about always respecting your husband.
“It just wasn’t the right fit for me, and if you’re going to argue with me about it every time I come over, then maybe I shouldn’t come over anymore.” The pie didn’t taste as sweet, and Thomas pushed away his half-finished piece.
He stood up and paced away from the table, not leaving the house but so frustrated that he couldn’t sit still anymore.
“Junior!” his father stood from the table, leaving his pie there. “Let’s sit down and have a civil conversation.”
Thomas took a deep breath, then another. This was just a family dinner. He only ate with his parents once a week. Surely he could keep it together long enough to finish his pie. Then, he could go back to his ranch and focus on his horses.
The talk seemed to help, so Thomas returned to the table and sat down. His father settled into his seat as well. Thomas’s mother reached across the table and placed a hand on Thomas’s. She then reached over to Thomas’s father and put a hand on him as well.
“God makes us all different for a reason,” she said. “We should celebrate our differences.”
Thomas didn’t feel like doing much celebrating at the moment, but he turned his hand over and clasped his mother’s. He had been planning to tell his parents that he was considering getting married, but now he didn’t feel like it was the right opportunity anymore.
He remained silent as he finished his pie. The utensils clanked against the plates as his mother gathered them and placed them by the basin to be washed.
“It’s hot in here,” Thomas said, heading for the front porch. The cool evening air washed over him, and the dangling clouds in the sky promised rain soon. Maybe that would give him a good excuse to leave now, rather than staying around for another hour or two.
Thomas heard his father’s heavy footsteps on the porch next to him, and he placed a hand on Thomas’s shoulder.
“Son, I love you very much, and I just want what’s best for you.”
Thomas had heard that line a million times, so he nodded, accepted that his father believed it was true, and stared at the clouds.
“I should probably head home soon,” he said, pointing at them. “I don’t want to get caught in the rain.”
“It does smell like a good storm is coming. Well, if you want to go ahead and leave, why don’t you come inside and say goodbye to your mother?” Thomas heard the resignation in his father’s tone. Thomas knew he had entered this night resolved not to argue. He wondered if his father had as well. Maybe the disagreements between the two of them were just inevitable. Thomas would have to accept that they would never see eye to eye.
“Have a safe trip home!” his mother said as she embraced him.
“I love you,” Thomas whispered in her ear, and she stood on her toes to kiss his cheek. Thomas shook his father’s hand, then left the house. The moment he leaned against the fence and began calling to Dancer, he felt free once again. He had gotten through another family dinner, and the arguing hadn’t been too bad, not considering everything.
Thomas saddled his mare. “Come on, let’s get a move on. Can you smell the rain? It’s coming soon.”
Thomas was right. Not two minutes down the road, a few fat drops hit him in the face. Thomas leaned closer to his horse’s neck and let her lead the way. She was just as familiar with it as he was.
“Let’s get home,” Thomas muttered to his horse, bending his head against the rain. But as his horse trotted down the road, Thomas thought about the letter he had seen in the paper. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. The woman had seemed so genuine from even a few short lines. Plus, she knew how to cook. Still, thinking about it and actually writing to the woman were two completely different things.
“Escaping Her Troubled Past” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
When a lawman and a reporter start asking questions about her father’s shady past, Emma is determined to protect him. Yet he insists that Emma should start a new life, somewhere his past can’t follow her. In spite of the great risk she takes by moving to Oregon to marry a total stranger, Emma decides to roll the dice of life. Will she regret following her father’s advice when she finally meets her husband-to-be though?
Could this man turn out to be Emma’s hope for a fairytale ending instead?
Despite growing up under his father’s constant pressure to become a preacher like him, Thomas has stood his ground and followed his dream of raising horses. However, when he confesses his intention to marry a woman he has never met before, his father’s disapproval is even worse than he expected. How will Thomas manage to live the life he wants without being judged at every turn?
If only he had foreseen how Emma’s charm would change his fate forever…
While sparkles of love start appearing between Emma and Thomas, long-held secrets threaten to ruin their future. Sooner or later, Emma’s past catches up to her, along with the hidden truth about her family’s old dealings. Will their emotions be strong enough to withstand the obstacles that are mounting against them?
“Escaping Her Troubled Past” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.