“Maggie, aren’t you excited? You’ve said hardly a word all day.”
Maggie Kelly looked up at her sister in surprise, pausing with her sewing needle in mid-air in front of her. “That’s not true. We’ve been talking all day about the social this coming Saturday.”
Her sister, Anna, set her own sewing down, impatiently, her slender hands cradling the fine lace she was basting to a shirtwaist pooling around her fingers. “I have been the one talking, not you.” Her hazel eyes seemed troubled as she tucked several long strands of her baby-fine blonde hair back behind her ear. She looked hot, her forehead shiny with beads of perspiration. With a start, Maggie realized how long they’d been hard at work without rest and wondered how much she mirrored her sister’s image, right down to the dark smudges under the eyes denoting too many long hours of late.
“Time for a rest,” Maggie said, tucking her needle into a pincushion, looking with dismay at what seemed like miles of fabric waiting to be stitched. “This can wait.”
“You say that every time you work on your wedding dress, then lay it aside for something else. I should think a bride would be more eager to complete her trousseau. You have barely begun and the ceremony is only two months away.”
“You have many complaints about me today, dear sister,” Maggie said, her mouth quirking up in a half-smile as she rose to lay the dress across her worktable. “First I do not talk enough, and then I do not sew enough. If I were to do one, I could not possibly excel at the other. Which should I choose?”
“You choose neither, judging from your work,” Anna said with a gentle shake of her head.
“I do the best I can…I am not Mother…”
The sisters stared at each other for a long moment before both sighed without speaking. Neither of them was the seamstress their mother had once been. Truly, this endless sewing was not something either of them excelled at.
“We are passable,” Anna said finally and stood to hug her sister. Maggie glanced away, seeing their image reflected in the tall mirror in the corner of the room. They were as alike as two peas in a pod, despite the two years’ difference in age. Her own hair might be tidier than her sister’s, staying neatly pinned to the top of her head, but it was the same golden hue of the morning sun flooding through the windows. Maggie’s eyes held a troubled sadness though, a look that was fast becoming all too familiar.
“Yes we are passable,” Maggie agreed finally and forced a smile. “Shall we see if we can perhaps snitch a sweet while father’s back is turned?”
“More like as not he will offer us one,” Anna replied with a laugh. “Father knows how much you love them.”
“As though you do not snitch peppermints at every opportunity…”
The girls laughed, linking arms as they left the workroom and stepped into the store which was their father’s pride and joy.
The mercantile was nearly deserted, the only customer an old farmer leaning on the counter and passing the time of day with their father over a weathered checkerboard set up on the counter between them. Anna made for the candy display, pausing to kiss her father with a laugh before fetching her peppermint. Maggie hesitated, looking critically around the store, seeing dust and cobwebs in the corner, yet one more task awaiting her attention.
The store had many such tasks. Not that they were overburdened with merchandise. There had been a time when every shelf, every crate, and barrel had been positively overflowing with goods. Everything from dry goods to farm implements was sold at the Kelly Mercantile.
Lately though, the shelves had taken on a rather empty look. Business had not been good, and it showed. Her father simply hadn’t had the means to order more stock and what was there held little appeal. She poked at the table next to the door to the workroom, seeing the dull patterns of fabrics that she had seen for too long upon the table. What they needed were new patterns, calico, and gingham in fresh and pretty colors to engage the senses. Even the ribbon counter seemed pathetically empty, with not so much as a trace of red ribbon left, and very little blue.
Yet he expects us to make the clothes for the ladies of the town when we have such a meager selection of goods to work with. Was it any wonder there were rumors of people taking their shopping downriver, to Benton Valley?
If they would but wait, Maggie thought as she straightened a bolt of fabric, replacing it neatly upon the pile with the others. Once she was married she would be able to do so much for the tiny store. Her betrothed was quite well to do. Surely he wouldn’t mind helping them to freshen things up and restock the place. With fresh goods available, the customers would be sure to return.
It was a thought which had become more and more familiar of late. The problem was, it was her father’s thought, not her own. It was he who had encouraged this engagement, pointing out the many advantages of marrying so well.
“But I do not love him!” she had protested when the match was first proposed.
Her father had scoffed at her fancies, pointing out how love was a conceit for storybooks. On the frontier, a woman had to accept that life was not always how one would wish it to be. One must endure, and make the best of a situation, whatever it might be.
This too she had heard far too often since her family had traveled to Oregon only a few years before. These words had justified every night the family went to bed hungry, or shivered in the cold all through that first winter when the house had not been finished in time, and again after the stroke which had nearly taken her mother’s life.
Endure. Make the best of things.
All the peppermints in the world couldn’t make those words any sweeter.
Speaking of which…
Anna was leaning over the checkerboard now with the others, offering suggestions no doubt as she sucked on her candy. Maggie shook her head and went to fetch her own treat just as there came a violent shout from the street outside.
Four heads turned simultaneously toward the door. While the sounds of revelry from the nearby saloon were somewhat common after dark, it was much too early in the day for that kind of commotion. The group stood frozen until her father spoke first. “I expect someone was surprised by somethin’.”
As far as explanations went, it was logical enough, except there came another shout, followed by another. A feminine scream added to the melee, as did the thundering of feet past their door. Through the dusty windows, Maggie could just make out the rushing of figures. It seemed the entire town was heading past on their way to somewhere in a hurry.
Maggie’s own feet carried her to the door. Dimly aware the others were following she ignored them as she stepped outside onto the boardwalk that ran the length of the street. A child racing past nearly sent her into the street. She caught at the youngster’s sleeve, bringing him up short. “Thomas, what’s going on out here?”
The lad’s freckled face was flushed and sweaty. “I saw ‘um out at King’s Bridge crossing the river and ran home fast as I could to let Ma know and now I’m on my way back. I wanta’ see ‘em when they come into town.”
“Them?” Maggie asked, her eyes lifting in alarm to the street. But with so many people hurrying hither and yon it was near impossible to see the feed store down the street through the rising clouds of dust, much less anyone coming up the old mill road into the town. “Who’s ‘them’?” she asked, feeling an uneasy clenching of her stomach. Surely the boy didn’t mean the Indians were causing trouble? But the Klamath tribes nearby had been peaceable…
“The soldiers! They came back.”
With that the boy tore free and took off running, his spindly legs driving up dust to add to the cloud covering the street. Maggie coughed as she straightened up, and pulled a handkerchief out to cover her nose until things could settle some.
“Maggie, what’s going on?” Anna asked from beside her, white-faced and concerned as shadowy figures moved in the street.
“It would be easier to see if this dratted drought would give way. All we see anymore is dust!” her father grumbled from behind them, the farmer with him grunting his assent.
“I aim to find out. Tommy Watkins said something about soldiers. You don’t think they mean from the war between the states…” Maggie turned toward the street with new interest. The words she caught from passersby seemed to confirm this thought. Since they’d gotten word the war was over, the entire town had been waiting in keen anticipation for their boys to come home. No one had expected them so soon.
“I’m going to find out…” Maggie said suddenly and ignoring her sister’s and father’s shouts behind her, she stepped off the boardwalk, joining the dusty parade in the street.
It truly had a holiday feel, people laughing and talking to one another. The air cleared somewhat as they reached the edge of town and the thick pine forest that surrounded the community stretching along both sides of the road. Pine needles underfoot tamed the dust, giving a sudden clarity to the group gathered there.
Maggie recognized every person there. It was impossible not to, living in a town the size of Sky’s Edge, Oregon. Truly the community nestled against the sky. Just beyond the trees, the road wound up into the Cascade Mountains proper. On the other end of town, the road meandered into the valley where several ranches nestled. To Maggie, it seemed a funny place to live, nestled between two worlds.
That the travelers approached from this way meant whoever they were, they’d likely come from the coast. Much like she had, they would have come from San Francisco by ship up to Portland, and then out to here. Though why anyone would want to travel to the End-of-the-World, Oregon, she had no idea. And where they would have come from before San Francisco was anybody’s guess.
Better than taking the overland trail though, she thought with a shudder. She’d heard stories of the famed Oregon Trail. From what she’d heard, you were more likely to die of dysentery than make it to the end. Of course, had her father not been set on building a store in the wilderness they likely would have traveled overland as well. But to bring the goods to stock the store had required a ship to take them here, and still, they’d traveled for days by mule train to reach this remote place.
The crowd seemed restless. Around her people murmured whether there had been truth in the boy’s statement. It was too early for them to be back or would be if they’d come across the plains. But by ship…it would have been a crazy extravagance…
Her musings were cut short by a cheer. Maggie stood on tiptoe to see, bumping solidly into a matron who gave her an evil look. Undaunted she pressed forward until somehow, miraculously she found herself right in the front line as the first of the soldiers came into sight.
There were only a dozen or so of them, young men with sad and tragic eyes despite the bright smiles that lit up their tired faces. They walked easily, straight and tall, still in the uniforms they’d worn in the fight, though travel-stained and more worn than when they’d set out forever ago. She remembered them leaving, her heart breaking at how few returned.
More are still coming. These are only the first, she told herself, heart in her mouth as these lean and muscled figures came near enough that she might touch them as they passed.
Maggie fell back, giving room to those who screamed and threw their arms around each figure in turn, sobbing their joy even as those around them begged for information, giving names of those not yet returned, quiet hopefulness dying as they turned away, shuddering at the news that some of their own would not be returning.
Feeling somber and out of place, not knowing these young men she’d met maybe once such a short time before they left, Maggie considered heading back when her attention was arrested by a single figure with black hair tousled over his forehead who stood somewhat apart from the rest. He seemed to be looking for someone. For a moment their eyes met, and she was captivated by the sharp intensity of his gaze, so blue that his gaze made her think of the sky over the mountains on a sunny day. She had seen that look before, though she could not place where.
For a long moment, they stared at one another. “Welcome home, sir,” she said for she noted the insignia which marked him as an officer, though she had no knowledge what rank was designated by such a mark.
His voice matched his gaze, strong and sure. He lifted his hat, offering a short bow before turning away. She felt the loss immediately and wondered who he was even as he made his way through the crowd, heading not for the town but a turning that would take him away from the humble collections of buildings nestled within the forest. He was instead heading out to the ranches nestled in the valley.
Maggie watched him go, thinking it would be a long walk before he was home again and wishing she had the means to offer him a ride to where he wished to go. Only because he looked tired, she told herself, knowing full well it was a lie.
In truth, for a man with a gaze such as that, she would have happily walked with him, if only to get to know him better.
She was halfway back to the mercantile before she remembered her betrothed and thought to wonder where he had been when all the soldiers had come home.
Four years. It had been four years since Cliff Pierce had been home.
In four years, things hadn’t seemed to have changed at all, as though Sky’s Edge, Oregon had dropped out of his imagination to appear in the forest before him. Sure, things weren’t as lush and green as he remembered, but the mind had a funny way of adding color to things, he supposed. The townsfolk were much the same. It warmed his heart to see his companions welcomed, pulled into waiting arms as they were wept over by mothers and lovers.
Soon, he told himself, as he craned his neck to look through the crowd for that one particular face. It was hard to be patient when he could have been here three days ago, but it hadn’t seemed fair though, to ride when most of his traveling companions had not had the funds for horses when they’d gotten off the ship. The trip home had been expensive, but such was the impatience to get back home that many had found it worth the dent in their savings. Besides, he’d enjoyed the camaraderie of being with the men he’d come to hold closer than brothers in their time on the battlefield. To walk like this, through the quiet forest without having to worry about a sudden rain of bullets had been near-miraculous and downright healing to the soul.
He only needed one thing more to make this journey complete. Only he couldn’t seem to find her.
Cliff stood a little apart from the rest, frowning as he turned to regard his fellow companions. It seemed everyone had found someone they were looking for with the exception of himself. Of course, it was entirely likely she hadn’t heard they were back yet. Her father’s ranch lay outside the town, on the other side of the valley. It would take time for the messengers, very likely sent by now, to reach there, and even longer for her to make her way out to Sky’s Edge.
He turned back to the road, so preoccupied with the thought of meeting the object of his affection halfway, that he found himself staring rather rudely at a woman who had apparently just come up from the town. Disconcerted, he wasn’t entirely sure what to do initially. His gaze had been on more distant things, and he hadn’t been truly looking at her. She didn’t know this though, leaving him in the awkward position of wondering if he ought to apologize for his overly familiar gaze. Especially given the gentle blush upon her cheeks, as she lifted one hand to fuss at herself, tucking a strand of the whitest blonde hair he’d ever seen, back behind her ear.
“Welcome home, sir,” she said with a smile, her tone merry and bright. He caught his breath as her eyes met his, and he saw the obvious intelligence tinged with a hint of what looked like mischief there.
Do I know her?
It seemed impossible to forget one such as she. He lifted his hat and bowed shortly as good manners dictated. “Thank you.”
Was she there to meet a sweetheart? For some reason, the thought disappointed him, and left him unsettled, even as he continued up the road into the town itself. He shook his head to clear it, as he found himself reminded of a different lady, one with sober blue eyes the color of the sea. Surely by now, she would be on the way. Surely he would not walk far before she would overtake him on her horse.
As he neared the town it felt deserted. The entire place must have emptied out behind him, come to welcome the soldiers back. It was the calm before the storm, and for a moment he felt uneasy. Empty buildings could hold so much, snipers, enemies lying in wait…
He shook himself. The war is over. The danger is past.
Cliff had been having to remind himself of this often. Too often. He shook his head. Never had he felt so weary…a horse maybe. The others were home now. Hiring a mount at the local livery stable would simplify matters entirely.
The stable was empty, but several horses milled about in the corral meaning there were plenty of animals available for hire. Frustrated and feeling more than a little impatient to be on his way, Cliff stuck his head in the feed store next door, hoping against hope that someone might be able to set him on his way. The building here too was devoid of life. In the distance, Cliff heard music, drums and fife, the rousing cadence of a song sung often during the war.
Sensing an impromptu parade in the making and more than ready to get out of town before he got pulled into some kind of hero’s welcome, Cliff returned next door and grabbed a rope from the barn. Catching a horse was the matter of a moment, and the tack room yielded a saddle and bridle easy enough. He was just adjusting the girth when he heard a step behind him.
“Now hold it right there, stranger. We don’t appreciate horse thieves in this here town!”
Cliff dropped, reaching for his weapon, and came up on the other side of the horse, using the animal as a shield, his pistol aimed at the laughing face of a man it took him a minute to recognize.
“Alfie?” Cliff lowered the gun slowly. “If it weren’t for that red hair of yours, I would have shot you!”
The other man only laughed, reaching out a hand to take Cliff’s in his own. “Welcome home, Cliff. Thought it was you when I saw you skulking around my store.”
“Skulking?” Cliff ducked under the horse’s head and came up on the left side again to finish the saddling of the animal. “I’m looking for someone to rent me a horse in this here town so I can get home. Didn’t see anyone so thought I’d help myself and settle up later. Figured your dad wouldn’t mind.”
Alf’s smile faded a touch, adding a grim look to his already lean face. “Pa died about three years back. The place is mine now. I run things a little different. Pa was…soft.”
“I’m right sorry to hear he’s gone. He was a good man. I knew he was letting things go for a while there before I left. Seemed like he wasn’t able to keep up with the place. Looks good now though,” he said with an appreciative glance at the sturdy barn and the feed store beyond. “The place looks bigger.”
“Added onto it last year. Built me a house at the edge of town too. You ought to come out once you get settled. I’d like to have you to dinner and hear all about the war.”
“You never went?” Cliff asked in surprise. Alfred Wright appeared to be fit enough, his arms well-muscled, his frame lean. He leaned easily against the fence as Cliff finished with the saddle.
“Was going to, then Pa started going downhill about the time everyone else left, so I stayed. Good thing I did too. Town might have gone to ruin with only doddering old men to run it. No vision for the future.”
“I noticed several new buildings. I didn’t remember that mercantile up the street.”
“The Kelly family moved in not long before you left. I suppose you don’t remember them. Gonna marry the eldest daughter later this summer.”
“Congratulations are in order then.” Cliff offered his hand, which Alf took in surprise.
“I suppose so.”
Alf’s handshake seemed almost half-hearted. Cliff looked at his old friend in surprise, seeing for the first time the lines of dissatisfaction around his mouth, the way the other man’s eyes narrowed. He’d hardened, in the way some men did after they’d been on the battlefield too long. Something had changed here, that wasn’t altogether pleasant.
Cliff drew back uneasily. “It was good to see you, Alf. What do I owe you for the horse?”
Alf waved his hand. “Just take it. You can send Hank back with it later when he has a chance. I expect it’s going to be a slow day for business. The town looks as though it’s going to erupt into an old-fashioned homecoming celebration by nightfall.”
“Maybe the town can use something to celebrate,” Cliff said with a laugh. “God only knows the men returning home could. Myself included. On that note…” he swung up into the saddle, “…I expect we’ll be back later to join in. I have my own reunion to get to.”
Alf seemed about to say something but only compressed his lips a little tighter, lifting his hand in a half-wave as Cliff wheeled the horse about and sent the animal trotting down the valley road.
Once free of the town, Cliff found himself breathing easier. The trees thinned as he came down out of the hills. In no time at all, he was riding down the winding road into the valley, where ranchland stretched as far as the eye could see. Home. This was truly home. No, not as green as he remembered, but the curve of these hills, the mountains in the distance…this was the view he’d held in his mind’s eye for four long years. To his right stretched the long fenceline of the Double Bar B. Six miles further on would be Sky Park, the Pendleton spread.
Laura. His childhood sweetheart.
He gave his mount a solid kick to send the animal along at a faster clip.
Home. He was so close he could taste it.
The road before him lay empty. Shouldn’t she have started for the town by now?
He found himself thinking of the absolute silence he’d felt from her for the past several months. He’d attributed it to the rarity in mail finding him, especially as he’d taken on several special assignments, once he’d been made an officer. He hadn’t stayed in one place for very long the last year of the war. Though he’d gotten plenty of letters from the man he’d hired to oversee the ranch while he was away. But even Hank had been strangely silent on the subject of town gossip of late. The last letter he’d gotten had been solely about the needs of the ranch, focusing instead on several questions he’d needed to have answered before spring regarding some changes to the property. Now as Cliff rode along he questioned whether or not he’d fallen into a strange conspiracy, and even found himself including the strange look Alf had given him as part of it.
But surely someone would have told him if had something happened to the girl he’d planned on proposing to…wouldn’t they?
Frowning, Cliff urged the horse into a flat out gallop, trying to ignore the way his mouth had gone dry the way it had before every battle. Though for the life of him, he couldn’t imagine why he felt very much as if he’d just left one war behind for the sake of another.
The horse skidded to a stop, sending up a cloud of dust enough to make Cliff cough as he leaped down from the animal and looped the reins around the hitching post. He heard the door bang open and shut on the porch before he could see clearly who came running out. When the dust cleared he found himself looking not at his intended but rather into the eyes of a weaselly little man he’d never liked much.
What the man lacked in stature he made up for in attitude. He drew himself up, his round cheeks puffing out importantly as he hooked his thumbs in his vest pockets and positively strutted like one of the peacocks Cliff had seen out in New Orleans.
“That’s Mister Nott to you, Cliff. This is my spread now.”
Jared offered a gap-toothed grin with this speech, giving an all the more ludicrous appearance to the man, rivaling the slicked-back hair oiled to a high shine and the dandy boots with nary a speck of dirt on them.
“You bought Sky Park?” Cliff asked, his eyebrows climbing halfway to his forehead as he couldn’t imagine Mr. Pemberton parting with the place.
“Better’n that. I married his daughter right afore he took ill. His heart.” The last two words were delivered with a mock sympathy, completely overshadowed by the man’s obvious delight in delivering the news.
“You married Anna Beth?” Cliff frowned as he tried to work the math in his head. Laura’s little sister couldn’t be more than twelve.
“He married me, Cliff. Welcome home.”
Laura Pendleton no…Laura Nott stood on the front porch every bit as beautiful as Cliff remembered her. Her dark brown hair waved softly back from her face.
“Laura…” Cliff fumbled for his hat, sweeping it off as was proper in the presence of a lady as he drank in the sight of her. His Laura…no…not his Laura anymore…stared at him in almost angry defiance, arms crossed as though waiting for an explosion.
The word felt strange on his tongue. He fumbled his way around the syllables and fought to come up with something to add to the pronouncement but honestly came up blank. Her face had carried him through what felt like a thousand battlefields, and it could well have belonged to a stranger now the way she was looking at him with a sort of angry dislike.
“You’re married,” he finally said again when the silence between them lengthened.
“Need some help with the word, old man? I think I’ve got me a dictionary somewhere in the house.” Jared jerked his thumb toward the front door, his dark eyes bright with a sick sort of amusement usually reserved for baiting bears.
“You might try reading it sometime,” Cliff muttered.
“Boys…” Laura shook her head. “I should have wrote to you, Cliff, but I hardly knew what to say…”
“You might have started with the fact that you weren’t waiting for me any longer,” Cliff snapped, thinking of the passionate phrases of her earlier letters, the ones she’d sent not long after he’d left. “We were as much as engaged.” Maybe that wasn’t true for her, but he’d believed it and passionately, through too many battles.
“And I didn’t know when, if ever, you were going to return,” she shot back, lifting her chin angrily.
Jared put his arm around her, pulling his wife against him roughly, in a proprietary way that set Cliff’s teeth on edge. Laura seemed not so much enamored as annoyed as she pushed him away, stepping toward the edge of the porch. “Oh for goodness sake, you’re being childish. Why don’t you come up, Cliff? I’m sure we’d love to hear about your adventures. I imagine you could do with a cool drink in all this dust.”
A muscle twitched in Cliff’s jaw. “Thank you, but I don’t believe that would be necessary.” Or even a good idea, he finished the thought silently. Honestly, the quicker he was shed of her the better. He thought he’d known her. How many times had he struggled to pen the letters he’d sent to her, opening himself to her in a way he’d never opened himself to anyone? All those letters…
Letters. He hated the word now. He had two dozen letters tucked in his belt, written in her best handwriting on thin blue paper that smelled of lilac. Letters that had talked of their future, the one they were building together. What was that now but so many pretty words? He stared at her, seeing her as though for the first time. When had her eyes become so cold and cruel? When had the lines formed around her mouth in a perpetual pout, a look of angry unhappiness marring her pretty face? She was no longer beautiful to him and he found that startling.
“I expect I should head back home,” he said finally, looking for a polite way to end this farce. Woodenly, Cliff reached up to replace his hat.
“Hank will be glad to see you,” Laura said, her tone every bit as hard and cold as his own. Was that a little emphasis on the name Hank? Meaning that no one else was glad to see him home? Jared merely grunted, for once with nothing to say.
The scar on Cliff’s chin throbbed as he turned away to grab the reins of his mount. His entire body ached from the rigid way he was holding himself as he put a foot in the stirrup and mounted in one swift movement. The horse pranced sideways as he settled in the saddle. Cliff found himself facing the blushing bride and her husband on the porch who were watching with dispassionate eyes, Laura’s hand raised in a wave that might have been called uninterested.
Cliff gathered up the reins to pull the horse around but paused, his eyes searching Laura’s face. “How long you been married anyway?” The question surprised him, as did the way he found himself holding his breath, waiting for the answer, not sure he wanted to know after all.
Laura lifted her chin somewhat, her dark eyes meeting his square. “Five months.”
She should have had the grace to look awkward or even embarrassed. Cliff set his jaw, trying to ignore the way his heart pounded in his ears. “Five months.” He ground out the words as a challenge. “You said nothing.”
“What was there to say?” Jared broke in, his tone peevish. Cliff got the distinct impression that he’d gotten bored with the entire conversation. He’d done his gloating, he’d proven himself the winner and now rubbing salt in the wound was no longer fun.
“My heart changed course, Cliff.” Laura put an arm around her husband, resting her head upon Jared’s shoulder even though he was shorter than her and the pose looked awkward and uncomfortable.
Jared snickered. “Like a river,” he said, though there was nothing funny about it.
Cliff stared at him. “Rivers don’t change course without good reason.” Usually, it involved bad soil.
Jared grinned. “So you say.”
Cliff growled under his breath. He felt her eyes on him as he wheeled the horse around. Never had he been so desperate to leave a place…and he’d been at Antietam.
Women! He was done with them.
Cliff rode at a hard gallop all the way home, trying not to think about the way her letters had stopped coming, but Hank’s hadn’t. Trying not to think about how easily he’d been deceived. He felt a fool and called himself every variation of the word he could think before he even reached the gates that marked the edge of his property. It was like finding the only safe harbor in a storm.
Only here, off the main road and traveling up the drive to the homestead, did Cliff allow the lathered animal to rest, bringing him down to a walk for the last mile. After all, it wasn’t the horse’s fault his mood was so black. The animal seemed grateful for the rest and plodded along, giving Cliff ample time to examine the fence line to his right and the empty stretches of land beyond.
Dang, but it was dry.
He’d been ignoring the landscape for too long. The walk back he’d paid more attention to those around him than the road at his feet. There’d been one man, sorely injured at the last battle that the others were taking turns carrying on a litter slung between them for the last several miles. No one had wanted to leave the man behind. Cliff had taken a longer turn than the others, feeling particularly responsible for Robbie given they’d been in the same unit and not far from one another when the shell had exploded which had taken the man’s foot. For a long stretch, he’d been managing on his crutches but the journey had been arduous.
Now, without the distraction of the men or even the thoughts of his own homecoming to intrude, Cliff saw the brown, dry grass that should have been lush this early in the year. For the first time, he was coming to realize just how serious a matter the drought Hank hinted at in the last letter truly was. He paused on a small rise, standing in the stirrups to search the barren hills for cattle, but saw nothing save the wheeling of a pair of turkey vultures in the clearest blue sky he ever did see. Not a trace of a cloud anywhere.
Something felt fiercely wrong. Something that went past the casual duplicity of a conniving woman. There was something in the arid breeze, something in the unrelenting sun that beat the dirt and pulled the last of the moisture away like a wick.
“Well, horse, you going to tell me how long it’s been like this?” he asked, settling back deep in the saddle and kicking the reluctant animal back into a ground eating lope.
The horse had no answer for him, nor did he expect one. Ahead he saw the house and outbuildings. The answer, he had no doubt, lay there. He desperately hoped so.
“Embraced in Love’s Melody” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Maggie Kelly has decided to settle for something less than a fairytale love to help her beloved family financially. However, her world is about to come crashing down, when she finds out that her husband-to-be will not keep his promise. Shocked by the unexpected turn of events, she is rather reluctant to get involved with another potential suitor, but she has no other choice. Although she finds Cliff Pierce insufferable, she agrees to proceed with a marriage of convenience, wondering if she will ever be truly happy and find real love. Is she ready to face all her fears, while struggling to discover Cliff’s tender side?
Cliff Pierce has been gone for years, fighting in the war, while a handful of letters from his beautiful fiancée have left him with a promise of love and faithfulness. To his bitter disappointment, she claims that the distance made her heart change course and she has married another man. Broken and resentful, he settles for a marriage of convenience to take his mind off heartbreak and betrayal. Never did he expect, however, that a strong bond would be created between him and Maggie and he would soon bring himself to hope that she feels the same. Will he eventually get the one thing he has always dreamt of? Will he trust his heart and let go of his trauma in order to fully devote himself to her?
Jilted and lost, Maggie and Cliff meet under trying circumstances, convinced there is nothing so fraught with danger and pain as entrusting one’s heart to another. Having both seen up close how fickle love is, will they dare to take a leap into the unknown? Is their love true enough to thaw their hearts and help them overcome the wounds that threaten to keep them from happiness?
“Embraced in Love’s Melody” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.