Elise Herrin pushed through the door of the cabin, carrying the basket of things she had bought in town.
“Pa? Are you in here?” she called out.
She hated working in town, knowing that her father was home all alone with no one to care for him.
She left in the morning, before the sun came up, and came home an hour before lunchtime, more or less. It was the best schedule she could get working at the general store.
The owner, Mr. Watson didn’t mind that she arrived so early to help him clean the place from top to bottom. Every day she would sweep and mop everything, help organize the shelves, stock new items that had come in, and then she would take care of the morning customers.
When she got home, she was already tired, and only half the day was gone, but she always made sure that she maintained her energy for her father.
“I’m in here, Elise. How was your day?” her father called from the parlor.
“It was fine. It’s not half over yet.” Elise set her basket down and walked over the hardwood floors to her father.
Their parlor was simple but comfortable. It had four chairs that her father had made himself, a fireplace that was currently empty because it wasn’t too cold, and it was a waste of wood to burn when it wasn’t necessary.
“Sit with me for a bit.” Her father patted the arm of the chair next to him.
Elise sat down, grateful for the moment of rest before the rest of the day.
“Pa, you look pale. Are you all right?” Her father had been more and more sickly over the last couple of months. Elise had noticed that he was declining, and despite her best efforts, he didn’t seem to be improving. She didn’t like to see him in this state.
She remembered the strong man who had cared for her over the years, giving her a loving, safe home after her mother died. Elise’s heart ached slightly when she thought of her mother and imagined the days when they could have been all together.
She blamed herself for her mother dying. Dying in childbirth was something that could happen to anyone. But the thought that she had caused her mother’s death still haunted her.
“I’m fine. I’m just feeling a little under the weather today.” Her father reached out and took her hand.
His hand was frail and weak. It made Elise think of something fragile that she didn’t want to break.
“You don’t look fine. Pa …” Elise trailed off. She didn’t want to say what they were both thinking.
“Don’t worry, Elise. I know what is happening. I am not worried about me. I am just worried about you.”
Elise’s throat constricted. “I don’t want to lose you, Pa.”
“I know, but it is the way of life. If I had cared better for myself when I was young or had you when I was younger …” he trailed off, sadness etched in his features.
Elise’s father was quite a bit older than her. Even though she was only twenty, he was more than sixty, and on top of that, his health had declined so quickly over the last year, it had taken them both by surprise.
“You still have time left, Pa. I am not giving up on you.” Elise forced a smile.
“You’d be the only one. You know, sometimes I still wonder what happened to Ronan.” Her father shook his head slightly, and Elise’s stomach turned.
Every time her father brought up Ronan, and it was often, she felt anger coursing through her.
The young man had put hope into her father’s heart. Her father had given Ronan a place to live, and in exchange, he had left in the middle of the night, never returning even to say thank you to her father for his hospitality.
“You shouldn’t worry about Ronan. I hope that wherever he is, he feels bad for what he did.”
“You shouldn’t be so harsh with him. We never know why people do what they do, and more than that, what they are going through that might cause them to do something. He may have had his reasons for leaving.”
Elise shook her head. “I think he deserves a thrashing. You are too kind, Pa.”
“Maybe so, but in this life, that is necessary. How can you expect to make connections if you aren’t kind and give people the benefit of the doubt?”
Elise stood with a smile and patted her father’s arm kindly. “I am going to get you something to eat, and then we can talk more, all right? Do you have a preference of what you would like to eat?”
“No. Anything you make is lovely.” Her father grinned, and Elise laughed. Her cooking was edible, but it certainly wasn’t spectacular, in her opinion.
She had learned to cook from her father, who didn’t know how to cook well himself. Everything she cooked was rather debatable when it came to how delicious it was.
She headed to the kitchen and went about making her father a meal. Eating was important to keep his health up, even though most of the time, he refused to eat much.
When she finished preparing the food, she took it to her father, carefully setting it on the small table beside him.
“Thank you. Aren’t you going to eat with me?”
“Sure. I’ll go get my food now.”
Elise went and got herself something and then returned. The two of them sat in the parlor, talking and eating, sharing precious time with one another.
Elise knew that her time with her father was coming to an end, and she wanted to enjoy every minute she had left with him before it was too late.
The rest of the day passed quite uneventfully, and by the time evening was nearing, Elise had taken her father for a walk, washed the clothes, cleaned the house, and made something for supper.
She was surprised when her father didn’t move to get into bed once the sun started to set.
“Do you want help getting to your room? I am about to go and do the milking.”
Her father shook his head softly. “You do too much for me.”
“That’s not true. I enjoy doing things for you.”
“I know that you enjoy it, but you are managing everything, the animals, the farm, the cooking … goodness, I can’t even think of everything that you do.”
“It’s okay, Pa. I really don’t mind.”
“Elise, I need to ask you something. What are you going to do when I die?”
“I don’t want to think about that, Pa. It’s not necessary.”
“It is necessary. I really don’t know how long I have left, and I hate the idea of you being left behind all alone.”
“I will figure it out.”
“I have a sister in California. Remember when you were little we went and visited her once? Your aunt, Lena?”
“I kind of remember. I don’t really remember a lot, though. I was pretty young when we went.”
“You’re right, but still, I would feel better if you had a plan. I don’t want you living here all alone.”
“I’ll think about it. But California is so far away.”
“I know. But you would be happier in the long run not being alone.” Her father’s eyes burned with concern.
“We can talk about it later, all right? I don’t plan on losing you any time soon. I want to think about getting you better and having years together.”
“I know you do, child, and I do too. But we need to think about things logically. I know my body. I know how I feel. I am running out of time, and what I want before I go is to make sure you will manage alone.”
“Pa, I will manage. I may not like it, but I do know that it is a possibility.”
Her father shook his head. “I need to know that you will be all right.”
Elise forced a smile and leaned down, giving her father a half-hug. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Take your time.” Her father’s smile was tired. Elise was starting to doubt whether she could nurse her father back to health. She was starting to feel as if things would never be back to normal. She was just as terrified of being alone as her father was of her being alone.
But she didn’t want him to feel badly or for him to think that she was expecting him to die. She planned on working on his health as long as she could, then she would accept defeat when there was no other option.
Elise lit a lamp and walked across the yard to the small barn that her father had built years before. She opened the rough wooden door and slipped into the barn, taking her milking stool and pail from their places by the wall.
She hung the lantern on a nail outside the stall, filled a ration of feed, and put it in front of the cow, who lowed softly and put her head into the stanchion obediently. Elise hummed softly as she sat next to the warm cow and began to milk. It was comforting to hear the sounds of the milk streams in the pail and the munching cow.
By the time she had finished with the milking and the other chores in the barn, she headed back to the house, exhausted and ready to rest for the night. She hummed a tune while she worked as her mind worked through the things she had spoken about with her father.
She was going to figure things out with her father the next day. She knew that her father was worried, but she was more worried. If only their time together could extend a little longer.
Ronan Haldeman leaned against the counter of the saloon. He hated saloons. They were loud, full of smoke and strong smells. He didn’t understand how some of the men practically lived in this place. They spent their days smoking and drinking.
He, on the other hand, had a half-full glass of whiskey he hadn’t touched yet, and he was more interested in the conversation going on around him than dimming his consciousness with the powerful brew.
Bounty hunting wasn’t an easy job. In fact, it wasn’t even a real job, not a recognized one anyway. Anyone could technically catch a criminal on a wanted poster and turn them in for the bounty.
The offices that sent out the notices would pay for the bounty, and it could line one’s pockets if they were good enough at it.
Ronan was lucky that he had been good at bounty hunting since he was only seventeen years old.
He still remembered his first bounty and how good it felt to take that criminal into town and receive his reward. It was a small reward, granted, but it was his first real money, and that made it special.
“You can’t just show up here and ask questions,” the man behind the counter said. “People don’t react well to that sort of thing.”
“Come on; I just need a little information.” Ronan tried his best to look convincing, but it was clear that the man wasn’t interested, even when Ronan hinted that he was willing to pay for whatever information he found.
“I have real customers to serve, so I suggest that you take your drink and finish it or get out.” The man narrowed his eyes.
“What was your name? Andrew? I’ll be back soon; maybe then I will find someone who wants to help me out.”
Andrew shrugged. “You can try, but no guarantees. People aren’t keen on your type here, Mister.”
Ronan smirked and shoved his half-empty glass over towards the edge of the counter before turning to go. One of the reasons it was necessary to stay in a town for several days was because it took time to get to know people. It took time to gain their trust.
Faircrag, Texas, was a town that Ronan visited often, and he knew a good number of people there. But the man who tended the saloon had changed. Andrew was someone new that he had never met before. He didn’t know how to convince him to give him the information he needed, but Ronan was certain he would find a way. He always did.
“Don’t you want to stay and have a few more drinks?” A woman’s voice made Ronan turn. The young woman standing in front of him looked well dressed, kind even. But he shook his head in disinterest. If she was at the saloon, seeking a man to get to know, she was clearly not his type of company.
“No, thank you.” Ronan stepped past her. Even if she had been the perfect woman, he still wouldn’t have been interested in her. He had no interest in that sort of thing anymore. It had only taken him one terrible experience to convince him that marriage, relationships, and anything that had to do with either of those were a terrible idea. He remembered Veronica and the lesson he’d learned from her quite clearly.
When he got out of the saloon to the cool air of the street, he took in a few big breaths. He stared up at the sky for a second. The light of the full moon cast a silver glow over everything. The shadows and light were almost as bright as daylight.
He ran a hand through his hair and then headed a couple of buildings down the street toward the hotel. When he arrived, he stepped inside. Mack was there, counting money behind the counter. As soon as he spotted Ronan, he grinned.
“How did the interrogation at the saloon go?” he asked.
“Well, not so good. I didn’t get anywhere yet. You were right about Andrew. He isn’t exactly forthcoming with information.”
“No, he’s not. He really likes his secrets and likes to know he can trust someone before talking to them. He knows me a bit better. The next time you go searching for information, you should take me along. I also have heard he hates bounty hunters. I’m thinking he might have been into some bad doings sometime back.”
Mack was a big man; he stood a bit taller than Ronan, even though in most crowds, Ronan was considered tall.
“That isn’t a terrible idea.” Ronan shrugged and then pulled up a tall chair and sat down across the counter from Mack.
“How was business today?”
“Decent. It’s always better when there are plenty of people like you, people willing to spend on a hotel on their way through town. My mother is starting to get worried about not earning enough from the place. She has been talking about turning my grandfather’s old house into a boarding house.”
“It might not be a terrible idea. I’ll stay around another week before I have to move on. I’ll pay you the tab when I leave, or if you need it, I can pay now.”
“No, whenever you leave is fine.” Mack finished counting the money and placed it safely back in its box. “So, what’s the plan for this latest criminal you are tracking?”
“Nothing super different. He just seems to be harder to track regarding clues. No one seems to know him or where he is from. But I’m sure with a bit more time, and the more Andrew trusts me, I’ll find what I need.”
“I hope so. Even though you get paid for the criminals, you are still doing everyone in this town and surrounding areas a favor.”
“I try. Besides, it’s nice to get paid. I’m not sure I would be cut out for a normal job.” Ronan didn’t add that he didn’t exactly have the education or the past to have a normal job.
Mack’s father had owned the hotel and left it to him when he died. Mack made a good hotel manager. He took great care of the place, and half the people who stayed there came for the people and not only for the actual place to stay.
“You know, if you ever want to work in a hotel, I’ll give you somewhere to work.”
Ronan shook his head with a grin. “No, thank you. I’m good. If I were to find a job, it would not be at a hotel. No offense.”
“None taken. I love my job, but it’s not for everyone.” Mack grinned.
“Do you want to go to the diner down the street and get something to eat?” Ronan had eaten at the hotel since he had arrived in Faircrag for three meals a day, and he was ready for a change of pace.
“You know what? That actually sounds like a decent idea. Let me tell Maria.” Mack disappeared into the back. Maria was the woman who helped him run the place and who also took care of things whenever Mack stepped out.
Ronan tapped his foot as he waited, taking in the changes Mack had made around the place. He had redone the windows and added another section to the dining area. The windows were larger, and the glass was clear. Ronan was glad that Mack didn’t really like saloons any more than he did. Most hotels or boarding houses he stayed at were connected to a saloon.
Mack came back with a light coat on and an eager look on his face.
“Okay, let’s go. Maria says she’s got everything under control. Not that there are many people here tonight to take care of.”
“You’re lucky, you know. To have a business that is already established and that you can leave and come back to.”
“I am. My father did me a real favor by getting the hotel up and running.” Mack’s eyes filled with sadness. “I miss him, though. Things aren’t the same without him.”
Ronan nodded. He couldn’t relate to missing a parent. His parents had left him in front of an orphanage when he was a child. There was a man he did think about that had filled the role of a father in his life for a short time, but he didn’t like to talk about that man.
“I’m sure he would be proud of what you have done with the place. It’s nearly grown twice its size, and you have plenty of business.”
“I know. I always try to do my best with the hotel. I would like to think that I am growing my father’s legacy.” Mack stuffed his hands into his coat pockets and led the way down the street to the simple little diner. Two older ladies in town ran the diner. They were sisters and never had any children. It was both what they loved to do and also how they served the community.
Mack had told Ronan that there was never someone hungry who couldn’t depend on a free meal from the sisters at the diner.
When they arrived, Ronan was almost surprised to find it was open. It was pretty late and almost time for dinner time to be over. He pushed through the door and saw two other tables with people at them, enjoying a hot meal.
He and Mack sat down at a table near the back. They ordered their food and then talked while they waited for it to come.
“So, how long are you planning on staying in town this time?” Mack asked.
“I don’t know. I plan to get the rest of the info I need for this criminal I’m looking for. He’s been a hard one to track down.”
“What was his name again?” Mack asked.
Ronan pulled out a crumpled poster from his pocket. He spread it down across the table, pushing out the wrinkles the best he could. “Hank Bowen.” He has a decent bounty on his head. I think he’ll be worth it.”
“I would say he would be worth it. But are you sure the information you are looking for is here in town?”
“I honestly don’t know. I’ve been tracking him for a while, and it’s led me here. I was hoping I could get a clue about where he’s gone or where he’s staying.”
Mack smiled. “I’ll try to ask around for you. Maybe I can find something since I know people here better than you do.”
“I hope so. If I don’t find Hank soon, I’ll have to go after someone else. It isn’t worth it to follow a trail for too long when it’s gone cold. Then it just costs me money instead of earning it.”
“Enough about your job.” Mack set his hands flat on the table as if he meant business and wanted to discuss something important. “Tell me about you. Have you found a woman yet? Someone you want to marry and settle down with?”
“No. You know that I am not a family man.” Ronan made a defeated gesture. He had told Mack about his incident with Veronica. Ronan was sure that Mack remembered, but Mack seemed convinced that a woman and family were something everyone should strive toward.
Besides the terrible experience with Veronica, Ronan had his own parents to look back on. They hadn’t exactly instilled a love for marriage in him. He couldn’t even remember them. They had abandoned him, and it was hard to imagine they would have done that if marriage and family life had been something wonderful.
“Everyone is a family man. You know, my father used to say that he wasn’t a family man.”
“Your father was definitely a family man.” Ronan knew as much from the stories Mack told about his father.
“I know. I just hope you can find someone to make you happy one day. You deserve it. Especially after what happened with Veronica.”
“Don’t get your hopes up.” Ronan shook his head. He wasn’t going to be finding anyone soon. He was certain of that because marriage and love were not things that he was ever going to let himself fall to.
“A Long Way to Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Elise Herrin has been raised by her loving father ever since she lost her mother tragically as a baby. After his unexpected death, she is left all alone in the world with no one but an aunt she barely knows in California. To honor one of her father’s last wishes, she decides to travel out west to live with her aunt. However, everything is about to change forever when an old friend shows up out of nowhere offering to travel with her for protection. Soon, painful memories and powerful feelings that she has been trying to repress for a long time will begin to resurface, with him back in her life. Will she be able to get past her anger and even give him a chance to win her heart?
Ronan Haldeman enjoys working as a bounty hunter, having dreamed of bringing justice to the world since forever. In the back of his mind, though, he has always regretted how he left the home of the man who took him in when he had nowhere else to go. He never meant to hurt Mr. Herrin or his daughter when he vanished into the night with no explanation. The moment he runs into Elise at her father’s funeral, he knows he needs to keep her safe on her journey to California…he owes her father that much. The only problem is, Elise wants nothing to do with him and Ronan doesn’t know if he can even claim a second chance. As they travel together and old feelings are reawakened, will he be able to earn back her trust?
After a series of unfortunate events that place them in unexpected peril, Ronan is more determined than ever to protect Elise. When a criminal from his past gets entwined in their journey and further endangers Elise, he becomes more desperate than ever. Will Ronan be able to save the woman who has come to mean everything to him? Will their history push them even further apart or could their growing feelings turn into true love at last?
“A Long Way to Love” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.