Going into town was always exhausting for Clara Wells.
She liked the people and she liked the shops, but she didn’t like how overwhelming it always felt to her. There were always people who were taking up the sidewalk space with children and then they had their horses in the way on the street. It lacked the peace and quiet she enjoyed back home on the ranch. Most of the time on her errands there, she couldn’t hear her own thoughts.
Carrying her basket, she started down the lane.
Her eyes followed one person to another. She saw the mayor going to the barbershop with his wife on his arm. Then the couple that owned the haberdashery were standing outside their office whispering to one another in the ear. The stagecoach driver was preparing his horses beside a young couple with interlocked arms.
Or perhaps this was what bothered her.
Wrinkling her nose, Clara ducked her head. There were too many people in town and too many of them were standing very close to one another.
Yet she always went to town alone. Her mother and sister had taken over running their ranch, so they hardly left the property. She didn’t blame them for she didn’t wish to do that either.
But someone needed to purchase more flour and it had been decided that it would be her.
“Clara? Clara! It’s you!”
A familiar shrill voice rang out from the general store. She hardly had to look up before Matilda Jorgensen had scrambled down the steps to reach her side. The wide-eyed woman wore a wide grin on her face, beaming as she arrived. She stepped forward to squeeze Clara tightly before taking a step back.
“Look at you.” Matilda chuckled. “You haven’t changed one bit. It’s been months, Clara dear. Months.”
“I’ve hardly changed throughout the years,” she reminded her old friend.
“Well, I have,” Matilda said as she tilted her chin up. “At least, everyone says that I have. Don’t you think? Being married certainly makes me feel as though I’ve changed. It’s unlike anything we could have dreamed of, you know. Being married.”
Clara forced a smile.
They had been friends for most of their childhood. Polar opposites, but no one else had wanted to be their friends. Matilda was noisy and no one wanted to be friendly with the town cripple. Everyone had treated them like lepers until they were older and couldn’t be ignored any longer. But where Clara had never forgotten her earlier struggles, Matilda had.
“You sound happy,” Clara offered when she didn’t know what else to say.
A laugh escaped the other woman’s lips. Her hair was pinned up high and she was wearing a brand new dress in a lovely style. There was lace on the sleeves and hardly a smudge of dirt to be found. It made Clara feel sheepish for not having tried harder to avoid the puddles that morning.
“I am!” Matilda swung her hips cheerfully. “Thomas is the best thing that has ever happened to me. He’s such a darling. Being married to the mayor’s son has its perks. I had never thought of that, you know.”
Clara’s lips twitched almost into a smile, for she had heard that line before. “Wonderful.”
“Oh, and then there’s little Tommy. You haven’t met him yet, have you? Thomas is tending to him this morning. He said I should take some time to shop. So I came to the general store for some vegetables. I would have considered getting a new dress, but I don’t think I need one. My family, that’s all I need.”
She had forgotten how much Matilda liked to talk. “Oh?”
While she eyed the clearly new dress, her friend continued to talk at her for several minutes. Clara was patient, nodding along without having to say a word.
Matilda really had been fortunate.
Thomas Richardson had been tossed off a horse four years ago that had taken away part of his hearing and part of his nose. The once handsome young man was left disfigured. Most of the girls could hardly stand to look at him. But Matilda was a determined young lady who wanted to be married. So she began to visit Thomas while he healed. By the time he was back on his feet, the two of them were married.
And now, she lived with the mayor’s family on the largest ranch in Colorado.
The young wife and mother continued to express how happy she was with her new life. She really was cheerful and kind, even if she had a tendency to brag. Clara listened politely to Matilda talk about how her life had changed as her thoughts wandered.
She had everything. A home, a complete family, and a promising future ahead of her.
It was hard not to be jealous. The last couple of years had been particularly difficult for Clara and her family. When her father passed away, he left the three women struggling to keep the ranch functioning and thriving. Even now, they were hardly managing.
She shifted her weight, wincing at the stab of pain in her hip. It always seemed to bother her. Either she was walking with a limp or she was standing awkwardly. Folks who had known her all her life still stared at her when she moved and she hated it. Standing around in pain wasn’t any more fun.
Clara nodded, managing a shy smile. She wanted to have the courage to tell Matilda she had to move along.
Her stomach churned at the idea of being rude. She couldn’t think of anything to say. So she stood there, waiting and wishing she could continue on her way. The sun beamed down warmly on them as it continued to rise. Clara glanced at the general store just behind Matilda, knowing how close she was.
At last, Matilda squealed and suddenly wrapped her in a hug. “It was so good to see you. I’m glad we could catch up with one another. You really must come to visit me sometime. But I had best get home. My precious baby will be very impatient. Bye, Clara.”
And then she was alone again.
She shook off the conversation, trying not to be envious of Matilda’s happiness. The young woman surely deserved such a life.
If only she was brave enough to do something more with her life. Though she dreamed, she wasn’t sure she would know how to move forward. So it was easier to stay where she was.
It just left Clara wondering if anything would ever change. Or would it remain the same where she went to bed every night wondering if they might lose the family ranch that day or the next? She hadn’t slept well in a long time. Though she could recall being happy with her family, those days seemed to be long behind them. All they had now was a lot of work and responsibilities on their hands.
Like her errands.
Knowing how her mother would be frustrated by her lengthy trip into Haven Springs, Clara hastened inside.
She nodded to the shopkeeper, Mr. Owens, before ducking her head down the next aisle. Running the errands was always her job in town whether or not she liked it. Though she didn’t enjoy being around people often, there was something enjoyable about wandering the shops to explore their fares.
Once her arms were full of the items she needed, she made her way over to the front counter. She had thread, flour, sugar, oats, honey, and oil. Quickly, Clara looked everything over as Mr. Owens started to sort through the items. Hopefully she wasn’t missing anything. Then her eyes caught sight of the nearby candy sticks sitting on the counter.
She loved peppermint.
Perhaps there would be enough left over for a single stick. She could enjoy it on her walk back to the ranch. That would distract her from the heat and cheer her up. Clara forced herself to look away after a moment, trying not to get her hopes up.
“Five dollars and eighty-six cents,” Mr. Owens announced after showing her the receipt.
That couldn’t be right. Clara gulped as she peered down at the prices that he had listed for her. Everything appeared correct, but the final tally was not what it should have been.
All she had brought was four dollars.
A bead of perspiration dripped down her forehead as she turned back to her groceries with the realization that she would have to put something away. If the prices were right, then it was too much, and she couldn’t afford it.
Clara wondered what she was supposed to tell her mother and sister. Studying the items on the table, she debated on whether she should put back the oats or the honey.
“Well?” Mr. Owens asked her impatiently. “I haven’t got all day. There are other customers here, Miss Wells.”
Looking over her shoulder, she realized he was right. The couple she had seen outside earlier by the stagecoach were behind her and waiting for their turn. Clara swallowed hard as she turned back around.
“I know,” she stammered. “I’m sorry. I just…”
Her heart beat loudly in her chest. This was horribly humiliating. They didn’t have five or more dollars to spare. But they needed all of these items. Clara panicked as she tried to think of something to do.
“Can I…?” Finally she pushed away the oats and the honey. She couldn’t decide which one to go without, so Clara decided she wouldn’t take either of them.
The shopkeeper gave her an odd look before he crossed the items off her receipt. The cost was lowered as expected. Sighing in relief, Carla quickly offered the proper amount. There would be no peppermint stick. And no oats or honey.
“Here’s another receipt for you,” Mr. Owens told her after their transaction was completed.
He brought forth another piece of paper. Confused, she held her newly purchased items in her arms as she peered at it. Clara read it over. There were a few items that looked to be typical purchases that anyone in town might make, such as salt and cornmeal. But then there were specific items like a few tools that were necessary for a ranch. Then at the bottom of the page, she saw her father’s signature.
The shopkeeper nodded. “Your father left a hefty tab behind. This is one of five. It’s the cheapest one there is, with the total being eighty-three dollars and twelve cents.”
Clara’s mouth dropped open as she stared at him. She tried to think quickly to make sense of this. Her father had made many of his purchases in credit with the hopes of being able to pay them back once he sold a certain number of cattle. Except in the last two years he was alive, they had not brought in the money that they had been hoping to make.
“Are you, um, sure?” she stammered.
Her mouth turned dry. There was no way that her family had the money to spare. Eighty-three dollars was a small fortune to them at this point. How were they supposed to find that money?
Mr. Owens pursed his lips before nodding. The receipt was laid on the table as he patted it. “I allowed for a few extra months because of his passing. But they were due before his death and they are still due now. They have to be paid. Soon,” he added sternly. He gave her a hard look as she swallowed hard.
She could feel her heart sinking into her stomach.
“Yes, sir,” she managed as she fixed her grasp on her new items. He had allowed her to purchase those, so at least she could take that with her. Except she didn’t have the money to pay off those old purchases. “I’ll… we will… All right.”
“Soon!” he called after her as she hurried out the door with her head hung low in shame.
She had heard the tension in Mr. Owens’ voice. He wouldn’t give them much longer to pay off what they owed. If they didn’t, they would never be allowed back in the store for any other purchases. Or worse, Mr. Owens might have them arrested for theft.
A shudder ran down her spine.
Her father had been a good man, a wonderful person who took care of everyone around him. But financials had never been something he excelled at, especially in the later years. He had come back from fighting the war a lot quieter and a lot sicker. Though her family had hoped that he would heal with enough time, it had never been enough. He had passed away and left his women struggling to make ends meet.
It was beginning to feel as though these struggles might never end.
Clara started down the road with the hopes of making it out of town without having to talk to anyone else. All she wanted was to be left alone.
But a door creaked open when she limped her way down the lane, and someone waved to her.
The older gentleman, Mr. Robert Dillards, made his way over. He was tall and gaunt with stick thin legs and a hawk nose he kept in the air when he said her name.
“Miss Clara Wells. What a delight.”
They hadn’t ever talked before that she could recall. He was the banker in town, but that was all she knew of him. Just about everyone did business with the man. He was busy and always wore sophisticated suits. But none of that meant anything to her now as she simply wished to be making her way home.
“Sir,” she mumbled with a nod. “Hello.”
“I’m glad to have found you. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to reach you and your family. You see, there’s a matter of business that needs to be discussed,” he explained.
Her brow furrowed as she looked at him. “Business?” she asked him hesitantly. “What kind?”
Pulling at his suit collar, the man straightened his suit and inspected his cufflinks before answering her. “A loan, to be exact. Your father took it out shortly before his death. I’m sure you know that a grace period is permitted after a death. But I’m afraid that time is up and payments are due. Or rather, they are overdue.”
Clara’s mouth hung open. Another debt?
They had just paid off the one at the haberdashery, which had taken them a couple of months. Then there were still payments owed to the blacksmith at his forge, a property lien, and now these two that she was just now hearing about.
Though she left her sister, Amy, in charge of the bookkeeping, no one had mentioned the debt at the general store or the loan from the bank.
“Are you sure?” Clara mustered all of her courage to ask him. She blinked away the sweat beginning to make its way down her face. “I… we didn’t… There’s no record that we… I mean, well, really?”
He offered her a sympathetic nod, though his words didn’t match the apologetic smile. “Trust me, we didn’t just misplace one thousand dollars. We gave it to your father with the expectation that it would be paid back. Fair, don’t you think? You have a month to begin submitting these payments. Otherwise, I would have to take aggressive action against your family.”
She inhaled sharply. That did not sound good.
Before she could ask what he meant by that, the man answered her to say, “Without the loan being paid back, then I’ll have to tell the authorities. The proceedings would be simple and of course, rather fast,” he tutted. “The bank would have to take your house. That means the ranch. What a disappointment, don’t you think?”
A disappointment hardly covered the horrendous disaster that would cause. Clara nearly stopped breathing when he told her that. Suddenly, she felt rather light-headed and struggled to remain attentive. She tried to find something to say, wishing that it had been her mother or sister who were addressed with these debts. None of it made any sense to her.
“I see. I’ll talk to my mother,” Clara managed.
The man eyed her for a good minute before slowly nodding. “See that you do. Your time is almost up.” Then he turned around to go back to his bank.
When he was no longer looking her way, the first thing Clara did was shudder. The second thing was to start moving again. She moved as quickly as she could, ignoring how heavy her arms were, to get out of town. There was no way she could handle a third person coming to her about a debt.
One thousand and eighty-three dollars and twelve cents. Plus the twelve dollars for the blacksmith and the thirty-nine for the property lien that had to deal with a well on the edge of their ranch.
The numbers kept adding up. Clara wondered if they would stop or if something else might arise. Even if it did, she doubted that they could pay it.
She hastened home while trying to ignore the ache in her hips and the fear in her heart. They were hardly making enough to get by, let alone pay off her late father’s debt.
What were they going to do?
It was a cool morning in Wyoming as he stepped off the train.
Walter Oscarson looked around as he hefted his pack up higher onto his shoulders. Working on the train tracks always allowed for beautiful scenery. Most of his work so far had been centered closer to the cities.
But now he was farther west. Into the Wild West.
He could hardly believe it. Soaking in the view, he wondered if this was the place that folks talked about and wrote songs for. There was something about the wilderness that hardly looked real. It was untouched by civilization, thriving with potential.
Footsteps stomped over in his direction.
Then there was a whistle. He turned to see Micah standing on the top steps of the train compartment. The older man crossed his arms and gave him a look.
“Well?” he asked. “You’re really doing it?”
Another head popped up from the open door. This time it was Micah’s younger cousin, James. He was hardly sixteen years old and was covered in soot. He gave Walter a toothy grin but said nothing, waiting to hear what Walter might say.
He didn’t feel the need to answer Micah. After all, it wasn’t his business. Walter reluctantly wondered why the man even bothered to ask. He hadn’t cared about anything that happened on the train unless it somehow benefited him.
“Yes.” Walter pursed his lips. “Yeah, I’m going. It’s what William would have wanted.”
“William is dead,” Micah reminded him. “There’s nothing you can do about it.”
Shrugging, Walter forced himself to meet Micah’s gaze. The two of them had often been at odds with one another. Most likely it was because of the way they had met first on the tracks. Walter had been given a task when he first started with the company five years ago. Micah had come up, saying he was in the wrong place. It had quickly turned into an argument that escalated into a boxing match.
Eventually, it ended with Micah lying flat on his back with a bloody face. His nose had never healed properly, and the bitterness had only continued to grow. The man with the graying beard and sour mood was always looking for an excuse to antagonize Walter in the hopes that they would have another match.
But Walter hadn’t wanted to lose his job and had promised not to fight again. Besides, it had been too easy to beat the other man. It was hardly fair.
“I know,” he agreed at last. Then he turned away with a shrug. “But at least I can say I tried to do right by the man. He was a good one. He didn’t deserve his end and I want to do what I can for him.”
Micah scoffed before turning back toward the door. Finding Jonah there, he scowled and muttered something as he pushed the man aside.
“Good bye, Walter! Come back and work with us when you’re done,” the younger man cried out.
Waving a hand behind him, Walter started walking away from the train.
The day was warm already. He wiped his brow and then ran his hand across the scar by his ear. It had healed just fine, but the skin remained a little rough there.
His pack was heavier than usual with the few belongings that William had left behind after his accident. William Toolson was an older man who had helped train and mentor Walter on the railroads. The past couple of years had been difficult with the hard work, long hours, and constant grit found under the nails and nose. But William’s friendship had made him hopeful for a future down the line. They had talked about their time in the war, about their plans for their future, and what it might be like to live out in the West.
Except now William would never have the chance.
They had left him behind in Michigan, burying him in a shallow plot right before moving on to their next destination. It had been a tragic accident that had left him dead with two other workers losing their arms. They had been taken off to town when that happened, and Walter had no idea if Larry and McDougal had survived.
Walter hoped so. But he didn’t know what sort of lives they would be left with once they recovered.
Working the railroads was not an easy job. Long hours with hard labor. Everything had smelled like iron and coal for years. And the fistfight with Micah had not been the only one he was a part of.
But he tried. Just like he was trying to do right by his old friend. Walter shifted the weight of his pack as he walked. This was a small town, much smaller than any of the others that included train stations.
He recalled vaguely passing through this town once before, but wasn’t sure if he had actually walked through the streets.
Or rather, the only street. There were perhaps eight buildings with a well at the very end of the lane. None of the buildings had signs and there was no one out in the street. Slowing down, Walter looked around while he wondered if he may have made a mistake.
Colorado was the place that he needed to go. It was south of Wyoming, but there weren’t any trains headed into that particular territory. So he had supposed it would make most sense to jump off here and then take a horse the rest of the way. His plan depended on that animal.
He hadn’t thought it would be hard to find one.
Scratching his head, he considered his options. The train whistle blew as it headed out of the station, leaving him behind in this two-bit town.
Even if it didn’t have a name, surely there had to be someone willing to sell him a horse. That was his only option now as the train left the station to continue its journey west.
That had been his plan as well. There was nothing left in Virginia for him any longer, and he had nothing to look forward to in the future.
He would have stayed forever if it wasn’t for William.
There was the soft crinkle of paper as Walter pulled out a folded letter that he had been holding onto after sorting through his friend’s belongings. He had done so before anyone else could, not wanting anyone to steal from him.
William hadn’t had any family, but surely there had been someone who cared for him.
“It’s a good life we have,” the older man used to tell him. “No one to worry about but yourself. It’s better that way.”
There had been a worn out Bible with family names written in there. It included a photograph of what had to be a younger William with his family some twenty years past. There had been a change of clothes, some tools, a piece of gold, and then a few letters.
It was the letters that had caught his eye.
There were three letters. Two of them had been sent to William from someone else, a man by the name of John Wells from Colorado. The third had been a letter from William that had not been sent. From the looks of it, the man had been holding onto the note for sometime with the dirty creases and fingerprints on there. Already sealed shut, he didn’t want to open it because it was meant for someone else.
He was going to just send it through the mail. Most likely, the other man still lived there in Colorado. But for some reason he had decided that wasn’t enough.
Instead, he had to go there himself. That way, he could tell John Wells the news about his old friend in person. They could talk about what a good man he was, and it would make up for the memorial service no one had time for during the burial. It was a far way to go to meet a stranger, but Walter couldn’t get the idea out of his mind.
“But he’s dead,” Jonah had pointed out when he overheard Walter telling their boss that he would be leaving at the next station. “What does that matter?”
Shrugging, Walter had glanced at their boss. The man was not happy, for he had already lost enough help and it was hard to keep men for very long. “It would have mattered to William. So it matters to me.”
“This is a good job,” their boss pointed out with his arms crossed. “I can’t guarantee anything if you come back to us. Are you really going to leave a guaranteed role like this to return some dead man’s gear? He didn’t have much.”
“No,” Walter admitted. “And neither do I. All I’ve got is my integrity. And I intend to use that.”
Jonah’s eyes had widened. But their boss had just scoffed. He had proceeded to mutter something under his breath.
“Well?” Walter had taken a step forward. He had quit and was asking for his final pay. It wasn’t rare for a man to lose out on a few dollars for leaving early, but he wasn’t about to let that happen.
Their boss was a small pudgy man who was balding in two different spots on his head. He might have had some control and power over the others, but he instinctively took a step back from Walter’s large figure.
“Fine,” he squeaked. “Fine. I’ll go get that for you. Forty dollars, was it?”
“Fifty,” Walter corrected him.
The man made a face but turned away quickly without any further arguing. Crossing his arms, Walter had waited right there for his pay before going off to pack up his few belongings. The final two days had still been spent working hard because of the job he had committed to.
And now there he was, in the middle of a small and nameless town with hardly anything to his name.
He made his way into the street and went through the first door. The woman in the small general store talked eagerly. He found himself trapped in the store too uncomfortable to excuse himself until she finally pointed to the building beside her. Old Man Thompson, it seemed, could use the extra cash and had an extra pack horse that could be put to use.
“Sure, I’ll sell you my pack animal,” Old Man Thompson agreed. He eyed Walter thoughtfully. “Yeah, he’ll fit you.”
Walter shifted his weight on his feet, frowning at the mention. He was a good height with a few inches over six feet. Then his shoulders were broad and he knew he had big hands and feet. Most of his childhood had been spent with slumped shoulders as he tried to hide his size. But it had been useful for his battalion in lifting cannons and useful in lifting supplies for the trains. Working on the rails had nearly made him forget. But the doors were low here and he had had to stoop through to meet Old Man Thompson.
“Thanks,” he mumbled finally.
It only took them an hour to walk to the man’s small farm. Out in the pasture was a pack horse munching on the hay. Walter listened to Old Man Thompson who explained what the horse, Patrick, could be like. A little particular but otherwise a good animal for traveling with. Walter paid him thirty dollars as requested, and then went on his way with his new horse.
Pulling out his compass, Walter glanced at the sun high in the sky and started on his journey.
Soon the town was far behind him. It was a new world for him as he left his life back there. There were hills and mountains and valleys and rivers. In the sunlight, everything seemed to sparkle. He knew Virginia could be beautiful, but Wyoming was a place all on its own. His eyes and ears were open on the journey.
Alone in the peace and quiet, Walter found himself enjoying the journey.
It was easy to see why people were coming west. So much of the land appeared to still be untouched by humankind. When he stopped at a river to drink, a deer stood right beside him as well without fear. There were noises at night when he slept. It was a low humming that helped him sleep deeper than his old bunk on the train. Though he meant to move quickly, Walter found himself taking his time.
He liked the West more than he thought he would.
The plan had been for a short trip before he made his way back East to take another job. He didn’t have much left in the way of savings, after all, and wasn’t sure he’d be able to find any work. Besides, he didn’t have a home there.
And yet, Walter realized, he didn’t have a home anywhere else.
“A Promise To End Her Heartbreak” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Ever since her father’s passing, Clara has been struggling to survive alongside her mother and sister. The three of them are unable to settle the debts that are starting to weigh them down but Clara desperately tries to avoid marrying a stranger in order to save their ranch. After a terrible accident, she is left with a disability, and ever since, she’s kept to herself, fearing that no one will truly love her. Her life will soon take a strange turn though when a handsome man shows up on her doorstep, looking for her father. When Clara bravely reveals the situation her family’s in, he offers to help them in exchange for shelter. However, she might gain more than a simple ranch hand after all… As much as Clara tries hard to remind everyone that she has a voice, she ends up feeling like a fool for dreaming of a happy ending. Will she give in to her fate or will she accept the stranger’s help and finally show him what lies deeper in her heart?
Walter never had anything to his name, nor had he hoped for much. His life fell into pieces when he lost his family and his home, and was left feeling alone and desperate to find work. As if his life was not already a tragedy in the making, he witnesses a dear friend lose his life and as a final act of kindness, he decides to deliver a letter he found in his friend’s possession. To his surprise, he finds more than he expected… Three women in need! Through a lie of omission, he ends up staying on the ranch to help the kind-hearted Clara and her destitute family. Walter is spinning a web of lies too thick for anyone to escape, in order to get what he wants… Will he be brave enough to come clean to Clara before it’s too late and eventually heal the wounds of his past, as well as her heart?
Though Walter and Clara wish to help each other through their struggles, they must learn to see each other for who they truly are. As the debts and troubles grow, the trust between them will be thrown into disarray and the two of them will have to find a way to unfold their complicated feelings… Can their love survive the lies threatening to destroy it?
“A Promise To End Her Heartbreak” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.