En Route to Buffalo Ridge, Washington State
The knocking on her compartment door brought Beatrice Hart up from her seat. Sliding the door open, she peered out at the worried face of a young woman.
“Are you the nurse?” she asked.
Funny how word of her profession had run through the train like wildfire, Beatrice thought. She couldn’t even recall having mentioned it to anyone. Perhaps it was her habit of wearing her dainty pocket watch pinned upside down to her lapel that had given it away.
She regarded the timepiece now at a glance and saw it was only three in the afternoon. They wouldn’t reach their destination, a small, northerly town in Washington State, until early evening.
So, she smiled and nodded. “I am,” she said. “What can I help you with?”
“It’s Freddie,” the young woman said, dragging a child of no more than three years out from behind her. “He’s awful sick.”
“Bring him in,” Beatrice said. She stepped aside and let the woman in with little Freddie. Then she looked up and down the corridor before closing the door. The sight of the child had made her wonder where her eight-year-old nephew was. He and the friends he had made on this weeks-long journey had asked for some coins to buy lemonade in the dining car. That had been about two hours ago. What was he up to?
But there was no time to ponder Ross’s whereabouts now when she was faced with a new patient.
Freddie was a sallow-skinned child with a mop of thin, brown hair that lay limply on his round head. Lifting him onto her bunk, Beatrice smiled at him.
“Hello, Freddie,” she said. “My name is Nurse Bea. Can you tell me what the trouble is?”
There was a sheen on his skin that she didn’t like. He was looking green. Laying a hand on his forehead, Beatrice felt how cold he was to the touch. The sheen on his skin was not from heat but from something else.
The little boy had something red around his mouth. It seemed as though someone had hastily tried to wipe it away, leaving a faint pink smudge. Beatrice leaned in and smelled the child’s breath. It was sweet. Sickly so, with the hint of highly processed sugar.
Ah, Beatrice knew this illness well.
Looking the child over a little more, she noticed that the small fists were closed around something that the child was holding onto so tightly his knuckles were white. She thought she knew what she would find there.
But as she opened her mouth to speak to the woman, the little boy slammed one fist over his mouth, his eyes opening wide as saucers.
Without hesitation, Beatrice picked the child up, pulled the window open, and shoved his head outside the train. The scenery ran by at speed and the noise of the child vomiting, again and again, filled the compartment. Luckily, the sickly rancid odor of the expulsion only drifted in briefly before the speeding wind removed it.
“My baby!” the woman squealed and tried to grab him back.
Beatrice held the child in one arm and held the woman back with the other. This was one of the perks of being a bit on the tall side for a woman. It meant she had reach.
“Please, listen to me, Mrs.…?”
“Waterman,” the woman said, looking irate and frantic. “Waterman! Let my child go!”
“I will do no such thing,” Beatrice said. “He is currently vomiting up the sweets he has eaten, and it’s a good thing, too. That much sugar is not healthy for a young boy! He’ll have rotten teeth if he keeps this up, not to mention how sick it could make him. Now, calm yourself. The instant he’s done, we will bring him back in, and you can have your darling Freddie back. But do us all a favor and keep him out of the sweets.”
Mrs. Waterman’s expression grew grave. “That little rascal!” she exclaimed, her cheeks turning a rosy red. “I thought he was a little too quiet. Been rummaging through my bags, I’ll bet. Those sweets were for his grandma up in Lakeville. She doesn’t have much that’s sweet up there, and he’s eaten them. Oh, I’m gonna tan his hide!”
Beatrice admired the mother’s bravado but shook her head. “I think Freddie will have a bad enough day without the beating. He’s likely to feel rotten until tomorrow, at the least. I can, however, give you a tincture of milk thistle and slippery elm that might help with his stomach, get it to settle.”
She drew the child’s head back in. He was a mess. The best thing about the train moving at speed was that most of the sticky vomit had blown away. Beatrice could only hope no one down the train had had their window open. There was no guarantee that they wouldn’t have escaped Freddie’s evacuation.
Still, one worry at a time.
Beatrice had access to a basin and jug in her compartment, and she used a wet washcloth to clean the boy up. Then she gave his mother the tincture bottle and sent them on their way. As she turned from closing the door on their backs, a few coins clinking in her pocket for the tincture, she saw where Freddie had inadvertently stuck two butterscotch hardboiled sweets to her window frame.
Life was certainly not without its ironies.
Picking up the letters she had discarded when the knock came on the door, Beatrice settled herself back to read them again.
The first was a letter from her new employer, a doctor by the name of Mortimer. He had been thrilled to hear through the medical grapevine that she was thinking of moving out West. He needed a nurse in his practice, and she would be there just in time for the pre-Christmas and Christmas rushes. That would help him immensely.
It seemed odd that there was a town that had specific times of the year when it was more likely that people would be sick, but she was not one to argue without having the facts. From his letter, Dr. Mortimer seemed kind, thoughtful, and caring. All the things she looked for in a physician. After a couple of years working at hospitals in Chicago and for a short time in Boston as well, Beatrice could appreciate a nice doctor when she found one.
The next letter was from her brother Jonah. It was short to the point of being a note and not a letter at all. She had written to his last known address, him being a miner or something up there in the hills and not having a fixed address or some such nonsense. This was his reply to her letter informing him of their grandmother’s death. She had been all the family they’d had left apart from his son, Ross, whom he never saw now. Her death had been a blow to Beatrice, who had nursed her through her last days.
I am so sorry to read about Grandma’s death. I know we will both miss her. Please give Ross my love.
All the best,
With the derisive snort that seemed to accompany this anemic letter each time she came across it, Beatrice moved on to the last letter in her little stash. This one was intriguing mostly because she didn’t know the author from a bar of soap. If she were to walk right into him outside the door to her compartment, she would never know it unless he introduced himself.
And that alone held her interest.
This letter had arrived in response to one she had sent to Dr. Mortimer enquiring about accommodations for herself and Ross when they reached the little town of Buffalo Ridge. From all accounts, and she hadn’t been able to dig up too many, there weren’t a lot of options.
Dr. Mortimer had a family, a wife and three boys and two girls, so his house was full to bursting, and so he’d put the question to the preacher, a man named Burnes. Preacher Burnes had suggested the sheriff put them up, and this letter was from the sheriff himself to her offering her room in his house.
Miss Beatrice Hart,
I am writing to you today at the request of Preacher Burnes and Dr. Mortimer to offer you and your nephew a place to stay while you are in Buffalo Ridge. It is a small town, some might say hardly a town at all, and there are few places that have space, especially at this time of the year when people flood back into town to visit relatives.
Anyway, after the passing of my wife, the house mostly stands empty. I am one man and hardly able to fill all the rooms I have available. You and Ross will be most welcome to stay here. I would just ask that you help me clean and maintain the place while you are here.
I look forward to your reply.
Sheriff Leonard Summers.
It wasn’t much, and it was quite reserved, but Beatrice felt certain that the hand that had penned it in a neat, if clipped, style was one to be trusted. He was the sheriff, after all, and both the local preacher and Dr. Mortimer, of whom she had heard good things, vouched for him. Still, she was a teeny-weeny bit nervous about meeting him.
She thought it might be something to do with him losing his wife. The way he’d written the words, she could almost feel his pain. It seemed so palpable and oddly fresh.
Oh, heavens! She wasn’t about to step into the house of a recently departed woman, was she? Oh well, it was too late to wonder about that now.
Another knock on the door. Good grief, was she to get no rest?
Beatrice rose and once again slid the door open. This time, however, the people standing in front of her were not patients. One was her nephew, Ross, looking outraged, and Mr. Cornwall, the train conductor. He was a tall, beefy man, and he had Ross by the scruff of his neck.
“Miss Hart!” he bellowed. “Your nephew….”
“Won’t you come in?” she asked, stepping back, feeling all the ears in the compartments on each side of hers tuning in to listen to this little piece of theater.
Mr. Cornwall pursed his lips but thrust Ross in through the door and followed. Beatrice closed it behind them.
“What seems to be the problem?” she asked.
Mr. Cornwall looked livid. There was a thick vein standing out on the side of his neck, and he appeared ready to spit.
“Your nephew and the other delinquents he has been hanging around with on my train, just stole a whole tray of jam tarts from the kitchen!”
Beatrice took in Ross’s disheveled appearance and the smear of jam on his cheek so far back it was almost in his hairline. How had he gotten it there?
“Ah,” she said and shot her nephew a look that told him he was in deep, deep trouble. “I see. I am terribly sorry for Ross’s bad behavior. I’ve never known him to be so rascally before. It must be the change in scenery. Please, how much do I owe for the tarts?”
The conductor seemed to deflate in the face of her calm, steady demeanor. She hadn’t so much as raised her voice and had remained completely calm even though her insides were burning with associated shame. How could Ross have done this? He should know better! Hadn’t she raised him to a higher standard than this? It grated on her nerves, and she longed to be rid of the conductor so that she could let the boy know just how deep a hole he’d dug for himself.
“I…” Mr. Cornwall began and then stopped. He seemed to do some arithmetic in his head and then gave her a figure. Beatrice suspected there was a little added onto the price for his involvement but paid it, nonetheless. The sooner he left, the sooner she could get Ross packed up, told off, and off the train. They were almost at their destination according to the map she’d bought along with their tickets.
As she closed the door on Mr. Cornwall’s back, she rounded on her nephew and was struck by how much like his father he was. With dark hair that hung in unruly strands and flopped in his eyes no matter what she did, he was the spitting image of Jonah at that age. Except for his eyes, which he had inherited from his poor mother, who had died bringing him into the world.
Sighing, Beatrice steeled herself for a long, rambling explanation. The child, like his father, was a gifted storyteller and was known to embellish his exploits rather liberally. She had finally caught on one day when he went too far and included a dragon in his retelling of what he’d been up to.
“So, what happened?” she asked.
“We were famished, like knights returning from a long campaign abroad,” he said, raising his hand into the air as though he held a mighty sword aloft. “We had been saving babies and finding lost treasures down the bottom end of the train and, well, it was hard work. We worked up a mighty thirst, which is when I came to see you for the money for the lemonade.”
“Right,” she said, crossing her arms across her chest. “And then?”
“Well, we bought the lemonade but were now hungry too. And on the chalkboard, it said there would be jam tarts later. We couldn’t wait and, well, Sonny, he knew where the kitchens were. It was our sworn duty to find sustenance to fuel us for the rest of our honorable and noble quest.”
A headache was starting to form on Beatrice’s left temple where, as a child, she had been hit by a stone. It always seemed to ache when she was faced with an overwhelming situation.
Seeing her rubbing her head, Ross trailed off. He looked around as though for more inspiration, but none was forthcoming.
“Sorry,” he said.
Beatrice sat back on the bed and held her head in her hands. “I know you are,” she said. “But this casual relationship you have with honesty and knowing right from wrong has got to stop. Okay? I won’t be able to bail you out of trouble every time you do this in the future. In fact, I don’t feel highly motivated to even try because you never seem to learn.”
Now Ross was on his knees in front of her, his eyes large and liquid blue as though they were pools she could dive into. “I’m really sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t think.”
“That’s the problem, Ross. You so often don’t think.”
“I’ll do better,” he said.
Beatrice sighed and patted his cheek, seeing that her words had touched him deeply. The problem was that they always touched him deeply, and yet he carried on regardless. Perhaps Jonah being back in his life soon would change all that.
Just then, they heard a bell ringing, and as with each stop on the line, Mr. Cornwall walked by the door yelling, “Next stop Buffalo Ridge, Lakeville, and Sutherland Mines.”
“That’s our stop,” Beatrice said. “Quick, we’d better finish packing up.”
For the next few minutes, Ross and Beatrice hurried around their compartment, picking up their belongings that had scattered themselves around the place and packing them into their bags once more.
As the train pulled into the station, they had time for one last inspection of the compartment before they opened their door and stepped out into the early evening.
The air was warm and fragrant with a million flower scents, and clouds were loitering around the peaks of the nearby mountains. Beatrice turned in a circle, taking it all in. The station was rough, hardly more than a platform. A number of people were milling about getting on and off the train. Raising her eyes beyond that, she saw a bright new world.
“Well, it sure isn’t Chicago,” Ross said.
“You’ve got that right,” Beatrice agreed.
“Is someone coming to meet us?” Ross asked.
“Yes,” Beatrice said, her nerves now twanging in her chest. She only hoped the newly bereaved sheriff would remember to fetch them. Looking around the platform, Beatrice was not reassured as none of the men seemed to be sporting sheriff’s badges.
“It’s okay,” she said, noticing Ross’s worried look. “We’ll just wait. He’s probably been delayed.”
“I hope not for too long,” Ross said. “Those clouds look like rain.”
Buffalo Ridge, Washington State
Sheriff Leonard Summers fingered the collar of his shirt and wished for September to arrive. It was hot, a kind of stifling humidity that made it impossible to be truly dry. It was just the time of year and the mine’s location that it was such an unpleasant place to be visiting.
The Coleman Gold Mine was up in the hills just outside Buffalo Ridge’s extended farming territory, which technically put it out of his jurisdiction. Except when he was invited in. As he had been today.
And so, at the urging of the messenger who had brought the invitation to him at a flat run, Leo had put aside his planned duties for the day and ridden up the hill to the mine. It stood in a most unfortunate place where sheer cliff faces hemmed in on three sides of the natural cave that was the entrance to the mine. With a flat plateau stretching out to a dip that ran gently downhill through the forest and open grass patches, the mine was starved for decent airflow.
With the sun’s rays bouncing off the cliffs all day, making the rocks hot to the touch, the settlement of tents, lean-tos, and official mine buildings cooked all day and radiated the heat at night. These conditions seemed to have made the miners wiry, hardy, and gaunt, for the most part. There were exceptions, and he was looking at them in this stuffy, small office.
With two tiny windows set in opposite walls, there was little hope of a strong enough breeze getting in to move the well-lived-in air around. He wished they would open a door, but that didn’t seem in the cards.
“Is anyone going to tell me why I’m here?” he asked when the silence had dragged on to painful proportions.
In front of him sat the mine manager, a decent enough fellow named Garrett Lewis, and his second-in-command, a shifty little guy who’d been introduced as Freddie Lemon. They’d spent the last five minutes staring at him as though not quite sure what to do with him now that they had him there.
“We should have waited for Marshal Warren to get back,” Freddie said, his eyes darting around the room as though he expected the man to pop out of a filing cabinet. “He will be rather upset at our lack of discretion.” This last was said to Garrett but not softly enough for Leo’s keen hearing to miss it.
“We can’t wait that long,” Garrett said. “I’ll smooth it over with the marshal.” He turned his attention back to Leo and smiled. “I’m sorry we dragged you up here, but we’ve had an incident that needs to be handled with great care.”
Ah, so it was one of those situations. Leo nodded. He knew how these cases typically went. “I’ll do what I can if someone would care to tell me what that incident was.”
Garrett’s foul homemade roll-up of a cigarette gave off an unpleasant odor as he gave it a last puff and then stubbed it out in a tin cup. Leo hoped he didn’t drink from it, too. The mere thought had his gorge up, and he swallowed thickly.
Freddie Lemon eyed him unhappily, hovering behind the desk and to the right as though Garrett was a pirate and Freddie his parrot.
“The reason we got you up here is, well, it’s a little embarrassing and will cause quite a lot of trouble if the owners find out about it,” Garrett said. “Unless we can handle this here and now quietly, heads could roll. You take my meaning?”
At this, Leo became concerned that he was being drawn into something underhanded or, even worse, illegal. But before leaping to conclusions, he decided to hear the shift boss out. He gave the smallest nod that was possible to still call one.
“Good,” Freddie said and shifted to perch on the edge of the desk. Garrett didn’t seem to mind and, in fact, moved some paperwork out of Freddie’s way before starting on his story.
“Recently, about a year ago, the owners started moaning about the quality of the gold and copper coming from this mine,” Garrett said, a note of disbelief in his voice. “We were processing the ore ourselves at that time, not those folks down the hill.”
He was referring to the new refinery that had come into being around the same time they were talking about. It was a large place, filling one valley, that crushed the rock and put it through the chemical process that turned dirt laced with gold into pure gold. He didn’t know much about the procedure itself except that they used cyanide to extract the gold. He’d always thought that was a rather risky thing to do. After all, it was a poison.
He’d investigated a case a couple of years ago where a woman had poisoned her abusive husband to death with the stuff. It helped that it was easy to hide in food and that not much was needed to kill.
“That must have upset you,” Leo said, making notes in his book with a stub of a pencil.
“It sure did, Freddie. We run a tight ship here. I mean, sure, sometimes the men walk out with gold dust in their boots, but that can hardly be helped. It’s all over them with the mining and all. The stones and grit get in everywhere. Those are acceptable losses, but we never skimmed off the top. Not ever. And that is what they were saying, just not in so many words. So, they sent out an expert,” Freddie continued, spitting out the word.
Leo recalled the expert, a small, quiet man who had kept to himself in town and caused no trouble at all. That was so unusual that he’d stuck in Leo’s mind.
“He said there was nothing wrong with the ore itself and that he suspected we were tampering with things,” Freddie finished with a sneer.
“They said we were tampering with the ore and keeping the good stuff, the better quality, for ourselves,” Garrett clarified. “As though we could do something like that. How would we know how to do that? We’re just miners and paper pushers.”
Leo doubted that. He had a feeling that both Freddie and Garrett knew a good deal about refining ore and turning it into a tidy little nest egg.
“Anyway, so they took the refining away from us but left the equipment behind,” Garrett said. “And then they started moaning about the quality again and how they were going to shut us down if the mine didn’t produce a better gold bar.”
“That got us angry, didn’t it, Garrett?” Freddie asked, something like malice flashing in his eyes.
“It sure did,” Garrett said, his beefy face red now with emotion. “We decided it was time we hedged the bets in our favor.”
A moment of silence followed as though they were waiting for Leo to do the math himself. He was quick on the uptake but didn’t let on. It was good if people thought him slow. It was amazing what was let slip in those instances when folks forgot that he was the sheriff, that he was bright, and that allowing him to put two and two together didn’t always work out for them. He waited, looking expectantly at the two mine employees.
“We took some of the ore and processed it ourselves,” Garrett said, beginning to fiddle with his cigarette box on his desk. It was a squat metal thing that he could pick up and turn on a corner, so a new side lay flush with the desk. “That’s what Freddie is trying to explain here. We wanted a safety net, so to speak.”
“Proof that the mine is fine and producing well,” Freddie said.
“So that all these men don’t lose their jobs,” Garrett said.
It was like watching a fight, with each participant having a turn to throw a punch.
“Alright,” he said. “And what happened then?”
“We made some bars,” Garrett said. “And we tested them. There’s nothing wrong with the mine.”
“Good,” Leo said.
“Yeah, so, the problem was what to do with the bars? You see, we didn’t want to send them to the owners because then we would lose our proof,” Freddie said. “We need them should they come knocking to shut us down.”
“So we put them in this safe right here,” Garrett said, pointing to the large black safe that sat like a squat, heavy toad in the corner of the room. “And that’s where they’ve been for last year or so.”
“Right, and how often do you make another bar?” Leo asked.
Garrett and Freddie regarded each other.
“About once a month,” Garrett said. “We’ve made about fifteen bars in total. It’s all in Freddie’s ledger. Show him, Freddie.”
A slim notebook was handed over, and Leo opened it to find precise notes written in a clean, clear hand. It recorded the weight of the crushed ore, the whole process of how the gold was extracted, and the final weight of the bar made. All there, written down as though the two men had expected an audit at some time. Perhaps, they were just trying to keep things on the up and up and protect the miners from losing their jobs.
For a second there, Leo had suspected Garrett and Freddie of being underhanded and setting a nice little pension aside for themselves. After all, no one knew about this little side action they had going on. Except…
“Did you two do the crushing and refining yourselves?” Leo asked.
Freddie and Garrett shook their heads.
“It’s not a two-man job,” Freddie said. “It takes a good deal of work. We used the old crew who used to do the work. Only we let them put in overtime for it so they would get paid for their efforts.”
“We explained a good deal of what was going on so they would understand that they needed to keep quiet about it,” Garrett said. “We chose the men who take a great deal of pride in their work, not just any of the bunch.”
“Okay,” Leo said. So, they’d been thinking about wagging tongues, knowing that keeping bars on the premises was risky. It was time to shake this up a little, though. “I’m guessing that despite all this, some of the bars went missing?”
Once again, Garrett and Freddie exchanged looks. Then, as one organism, they nodded.
“About five of them. I counted them this morning when I got in,” Garrett said. “It’s payday, and I had to get the wages ready. When I opened the safe, I saw that the pile was looking a little low. So, I counted them.”
Leo gestured to the safe. “Mind if I take a look?”
“Be our guest,” Garrett said. “It opens with a code that only Freddie and I know.”
“Is that right,” Leo said more as a comment than a question. He was studying the safe carefully. The dial seemed in good repair, as did the safe’s body itself. The handle was firmly attached and didn’t budge when he gave it a gentle but firm jiggle.
Moving around the side of the safe, Leo inspected the rest of it, taking it in. So far, there was nothing out of the ordinary, which to his mind, meant it hadn’t been forced open. “Who knows about the bars being in the safe?” he asked when he was done inspecting the safe and had taken his seat again.
“Well, that’s a tough one,” Garrett admitted, pulling another roll-up from the cigarette box on his desk. He offered one to Leo, who refused with a polite shake of his head. He’d never liked the smell of tobacco, no matter what they did to it. “Officially, just me and Freddie, but….”
“But the men aren’t dumb, and they know there’s really nowhere else to keep it,” Freddie said.
“Right,” Leo said, making a note in his own notebook. “Before this morning, when did you last open the safe?”
Garrett could answer this instantly. “Yesterday,” he said. “In the morning. I had to take out the cash box to give Giles Meyer some cash to head into town with. He’s my messenger, runs errands. We were out of coffee and milk. It’s one of the perks that we supply for the men, and when that runs out, there are riots.”
“The men sure do love their cup of Joe,” Freddie said with a chuckle.
“Alright, so the gold had to be taken sometime between when you opened the safe yesterday and this morning,” Leo said. Then he tapped his pencil against this top lip, thinking. “Have all the men on shift come in today? I mean, no one’s missing?”
This took some checking, but eventually, they established that there were five men missing from their shift. Two were sick and holed up in their tents and lean-tos, one was in town after an accident the night before had left him with a broken finger, and the other two were simply missing.
Leo was willing to bet that his guilty party would turn out to be one of those two men. He was also willing to bet that unless the thief was a total idiot, he would have skipped town last night and be far off in some town across the Canadian border where no one had even heard of Buffalo Ridge or the Coleman Gold Mine.
“I’ll search for them,” Leo said, putting his notebook in his pocket. “But I think you might have to face the possibility that your gold and the thief might be out of the area. If that’s the case, I’ll pass this one to Marshal Warren, and he can take it further.”
They thanked him, even though they looked upset at his candor.
The sun was beginning to sink into the far hills when Leo was back on his horse and heading into town. It had been a long day, and he was looking forward to throwing something in the skillet and turning in.
It was only as his thoughts slid toward home that he recalled the visitors who were supposed to be arriving that afternoon. With a nagging feeling that he was already late to meet them at the station, Leo pulled out his pocket watch and confirmed it. The train would be pulling into the station in about ten minutes if it was running on time. That meant he would be about an hour late to pick up the nurse and her nephew.
He spurred his horse on, heading down the dirt track through the forest to the town.
It would never do to try to pick up two people and their luggage with nothing but his horse, so he was forced to stop by his house on the way. Luckily, it wasn’t far out of the way, and the buggy he had bought when he first got married was still in good repair. He hitched the horse that had belonged to his wife Sarah to the harness, letting his own horse, now flecked with foam and tired, cool down in the paddock with hay and water, and then he was off to the station.
The train station was shared by the towns in the area and the local mines, of which four were close by. This meant that the station stood out on a flat piece of land in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the station master’s house and the coal and water depot near it.
His tardiness was not a good thing at all. It was a terrible first impression, and he knew that those counted. All he could do was hope Miss Beatrice Hart wasn’t the kind of woman who couldn’t be reasoned with. She had seemed quite level-headed from her letter to him, and he only hoped she could forgive him for this lapse that was truly not of his making.
He was rehearsing a speech to explain his tardiness as he pulled up to the station, tied off the horse to a post, and ran up to the platform.
It was mostly deserted, and since the sun had set behind the hills and only the last glow of its brilliance still lit the sky, the station had resorted to oil lamps to light passengers’ way. Looking around, he didn’t see the nurse and her nephew anywhere. Where could they be?
She was a level-headed woman and probably wanted to get the boy settled before it was late. That would mean she would search for another way into town.
Turning, Leo rushed back down the steps and into the yard in front of the station. There were carts and buggies there for hire, waiting in the flickering light of the lamps. It seemed more than one train had come in that evening, and people were milling about negotiating transport to the various towns in the area.
Leo spotted one of his friends there, a burly man named Bernie Wilder. And standing in front of him, surrounded by baggage, were a young woman and a boy. Hurrying over, Leo waved to Bernie.
“Ah, hey, Leo!” Bernie said, smiling. “I think I found your house guests.”
Leo had told Bernie all about this little development in his life as they shared their weekly drink in the Nugget, the local saloon.
“I think you just might have,” Leo agreed. “Hello, are you Miss Beatrice Hart?”
The woman regarded him with her dark eyes and nodded. “And you are Sheriff Summers?”
He nodded and showed her the badge pinned to his lapel. He had expected her to scowl or to be angry, but instead, she looked quite relieved and even cracked a smile.
It was, in that moment, as her whole face lit up, that Leo saw something exceptional in her. It was a light that shone through as the smile touched and then inhabited eyes that were like good dark chocolate with oddly golden flecks, reflecting the lamp light. He didn’t know what to do or say but stood staring into the depths of those remarkable eyes.
“Leo! Leo!” came a cry that pulled him from his reverie.
“Excuse me, ” he mumbled to Miss Hart and turned, wondering who could be calling him. The voice was very familiar, but he couldn’t believe he had heard right. She shouldn’t be here.
And then he saw her, running down the steps of the platform, her hair wild, a valise clasped in her hand. It was Maggie, his younger sister.
“Once Upon a Blissful Christmas” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Beatrice sets out on a journey in the West to find her missing brother, relying on her nursing skills to survive. Upon arriving in a small mining town, she accepts the kind sheriff’s accommodation offer, hoping he will assist her in her search. But the longer she stays in his house, the more she realizes there is one thing she couldn’t imagine finding: love.
A series of secrets and mysteries unravel, shattering her faith and leaving her with only one person to trust…
When Sheriff Leonard Summers loses his wife in a tragic shootout, he struggles to move on. Although his search for justice remains unfulfilled, Beatrice’s unexpected arrival turns his world upside down, bringing warmth to his heart. Despite his initial reservations, he can’t help but be drawn to Beatrice’s beauty and determination…
Can Leonard let go of his past and open his heart to love again?
Christmas is just around the corner, and Beatrice and Leonard yearn for happiness together. However, a link between the murder of Leonard’s wife and the disappearance of Beatrice’s brother forces them to reconsider everything they thought they knew. In the midst of so much uncertainty surrounding them, will they be able to have the bright, blessed, and loving festive season they desire?
“Once Upon a Blissful Christmas” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.