The sound of the rooster crowing echoed across the foggy morning as Mina rushed to the kitchen. The house was still dark and quiet, but it wouldn’t stay that way for long. The first order of business was getting the stove started.
After that, she lost track of time. A soft shuffling near the kitchen made her turn. Jonah was standing there, his brown hair tousled and a mess. He grinned at her, hugging himself.
“Sure is. Are you excited about your first day of school?”
Jonah shrugged. He’d been talking about school ever since his sixth birthday two weeks ago, but now he didn’t look so convinced.
“Maybe I should wait until next year to go.”
“No, you are going today. You’re going to love it. It will be fun. Don’t worry.”
Jonah looked down at his feet, worrying his lip with his teeth.
“What if they don’t like me?” he asked softly.
“They are going to love you. You just be yourself. You don’t have to be friends with everyone, Jonah. As long as you find one or two little boys or girls who want to be your friend, that’s all it takes.
She was relieved he was starting school. Leaving him at the shop with her father for the morning was stressful for everyone. He would enjoy school more, and would also be able to start learning for his future. She remembered her school days. They hadn’t lasted as long as she thought they would. She’d been thrust into raising a baby at fifteen when her mother passed away and left them with a newborn baby, Jonah.
She wouldn’t change having Jonah in their lives. He was a bright joy since the day he’d arrived, and she continued to think of him that way.
Jonah walked to the table and climbed up into his chair. She smiled as she watched. He grew a little bigger and a little more capable every single day. A shadow crossed the doorway.
She frowned as she watched the retreating figure continue and heard the front door open and close. It seemed Rowan was getting a late start today. He was usually out of the house before breakfast, sometimes a little after she got up. She had no idea what he did for breakfast because she’d never seen him in the kitchen preparing anything.
He’d been living in their house for two weeks. Her father thought that the money from him renting a room in their home would help offset their debts. She wasn’t opposed to it. Jonah had slept in her room for most of her life, despite having his own room, so making that change official wasn’t difficult.
She didn’t know much about Rowan, though, except that he was incredibly handsome and very mysterious. He always kept to himself, and whenever she saw him, he was always perfectly put together. Sometimes she wondered if he spent more time than she did getting ready in the morning.
When she was done feeding Jonah, she got him dressed. She wanted him to make a good impression at school. The idea of him not finding friends made her heartache, but she couldn’t show him that. She had to show him that she was confident he would do well in school.
She put on a new jacket she’d bought just for this day and combed his hair down. A stubborn little bunch stuck up at the back of his head. She did her best to slick it down, then took his hand.
“Yup.” He seemed a little more ready to face his new daily routine now that they were on their way. When they got to the little schoolhouse, Mina was pretty sure she was more nervous than Jonah was.
She stopped in the doorway and waited for the teacher to spot them. She turned around and her face lit up with a big smile. Mina had spoken with her the day before, letting her know Jonah would start classes today.
“I’m so glad you came!” the teacher gushed. “You can call me Mrs. Carmela.” Mrs. Carmela turned her attention to Jonah. “Are you ready to learn today? I know we only have about two months before Christmas, but that should give us enough time to at least start your reading and writing.”
“I’m ready.” Jonah’s voice shook and his cheeks blushed pink when he spoke with Mrs. Carmela.
“I’ll come pick you up this afternoon, okay?” Mina’s heart squeezed as she knelt and gave Jonah a quick hug. Even though she was his older sister, it often felt like she was his mother. She’d had the responsibility of caring for him since the day he was born. It was no different now. She shared in all of his victories and losses.
“Don’t worry, we’ll have a wonderful time.” Mrs. Carmela gave her a soft smile and a nod of reassurance. The schoolroom was suddenly stifling, and Mina rushed out, fighting the emotions threatening to overtake her.
She was going to have to try extra hard to focus on work at the seamstress shop. It was a part-time job. She worked for a few hours in the morning to help out with their family finances, something that wasn’t working out so well lately.
She let herself into the shop, and found her way to her little sewing station, gearing up for a day of small stitches and sore fingers. She hoped everything would go well with Jonah, but she wouldn’t know until that afternoon.
Mina frowned at the empty mercantile store. She had around an hour before she had to go and pick up Jonah from school. The walk from the seamstress shop was quite a ways. It took her close to half an hour to get there. Thankfully, the school was closer.
“Pa?” It was uncommon for the store to be left alone this way.
“He’s not here,” a deep voice caught her off guard. Rowan was standing behind the counter.
Mina squirmed uncomfortably.
“Oh, I…um, do you need help?”
“No. He said he’d be back soon. I’m taking care of the store in the meantime. Do you need anything?” Rowan’s eyes met hers. The way he looked at her felt like he could read everything she was thinking.
“No, I should, uh, get back to work. I’ll be back later when my father is here.” She felt silly. There was no reason for Rowan to make her nervous, and yet he did. His brown eyes and hair that fell into his forehead didn’t help. It was easy to look at him, and that was embarrassing in itself. She let herself out of the mercantile and hurried down the street toward the schoolhouse. She’d wait the extra time until Jonah was ready to go.
She wasn’t going to hang around the mercantile with Rowan. The last time she’d allowed herself to follow those feelings toward someone, it ended in heartbreak. Every once in a while, she’d still see Colin around town, in the street, or in the distance. It felt like someone driving a knife into her heart every time, reminding her she hadn’t been good enough for him.
She wasn’t about to do that again with Rowan, no matter how good-looking he was. When she got to the schoolhouse, she found a spot under a shady tree to wait. She was a ball of nerves waiting to find out how Jonah’s day at school had been.
Rowan set a large sack of flour on the countertop for the woman in front of him. He wasn’t used to running the store, though he didn’t mind doing Mr. Finch the favor.
He’d rented a room, as well as a workspace behind the mercantile from the Finch’s and it came in handy, so he was interested in maintaining a good relationship with them. At first, he felt bad for being the reason Jonah vacated his bedroom, but Mr. Finch reassured him it wasn’t a problem. Seeing how hard both Mr. Finch and his daughter worked put things into perspective.
He tried to stay out of their way as much as possible, so as not to be a nuisance, so they probably didn’t even know how much he noticed. Every morning when he slipped out of the house, he noticed that Mina would already be up, making breakfast for her little brother. Mr. Finch would already be out of the house, opening the store.
He’d learned that Mrs. Finch died right after childbirth nearly six years ago. He knew the pain of losing a parent. It was terrible that Mina had already gone through that at such a young age.
A lonely ache ran through him. He missed his father, who had passed when he was thirteen, and his mother, who had just died a few months ago. Both of them had been huge forces in his life, and they’d never be forgotten. If only the world were not a cruel place.
Mr. Finch walked through the front door of the mercantile. He covered his mouth with a handkerchief as he gave a couple of dry coughs. Rowan hadn’t said anything, but in the past few days, he’d noticed Mr. Finch being a little less than healthy. He wondered if Mina had noticed. It wasn’t his place to tell them how to do things or to worry about Mr. Finch’s health, but a part of him couldn’t help it.
He gave the woman buying things her change and a smile. Mr. Finch joined him behind the counter.
“Of course. Do you need any more help?”
“No, it’s fine. You’ve done plenty.”
He’d barely finished talking when Mina rushed into the store. She was at least two heads shorter than him, with wavy brown hair tied back with a dark blue ribbon. He immediately noticed her bright smile and patient gaze were missing. Instead, her eyes spit fire, and her nose scrunched in fury. Jonah, her little brother, was with her, though she said something quietly to him and he gravitated toward the corner of the mercantile where a few toys were displayed.
“Pa, have you spoken to Mr. Simmons lately?” She barely spared Rowan a glance. He wasn’t sure if he made her uncomfortable, or if she was simply too distracted to bother.
She set a letter on the counter. Her cheeks were flushed and her hands were practically shaking. Concern for her touched him. Something bad must have happened to make her react so strongly. He retreated through the door to the shop so he could still hear, but wouldn’t be intruding on their conversation.
“What’s going on with Mr. Simmons?”
Rowan heard the rustle of paper as one of them opened the letter.
“He’s charging the loan early, all of it. We have until Christmas, or he’s taking the store as collateral.” Her voice shook, and Rowan’s heart tightened a bit more. He’d seen from his time with the family that they struggled for everything they had.
They were also good people, and it didn’t seem that they deserved such bad luck.
“That can’t be right. We had an agreement until February of next year with a bit of increased interest.” Mr. Finch sounded confused.
“It says in the letter he has the right to change the terms. What are we going to do?”
“We’ll just have to work harder.” Her father sighed. A part of Rowan wanted to go in there and offer comfort of some sort, but he couldn’t think of how that would help.
“But that amount of money…” This time, he was sure he heard her voice shake a bit. He remembered how his mother used to worry about money, and their future, back before she’d met his stepfather. Once she’d remarried, they were stable enough, and even well off. Worrying about money to continue one’s existence was not a nice fate.
“We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry, Mina.” Mr. Finch’s tone was stern, but interrupted by a few rough coughs. It seemed to change how Mina saw things, based on her next words.
“Are you okay? You’ve been coughing more lately. You’re right. We’ll figure it out. Miss Weathers will give me more time at the shop. I’ll ask her if I can go in the afternoons after I bring Jonah back from school.”
“You can’t do that.” Mr. Finch brushed over her concern for his health.
“I can, Pa. It’s the most logical solution. I’ll be able to bring in double what I am right now, and maybe if things go well…” She paused, but Rowan couldn’t see her expression. “I’ll talk with her tomorrow.”
“You work too hard as it is.” Mr. Finch sounded so tired. He must not want Mina working at all, but Rowan could see how it was one of their only choices in the situation. He could only hope that his payment toward rent would help the situation in some way.
“It won’t be forever, Pa; just for a while.”
“All right then. Go on and take Jonah home. Maybe Mr. Simmons will change his mind if I talk to him.”
“Maybe.” She didn’t sound at all convinced. Rowan had no idea who Mr. Simmons was, but he sounded like a miserable man to be putting a family out on Christmas. He could only hope that the Finch family did come up with some way out of their money troubles.
Rowan sat on the edge of his bed. He’d spent the day working on one of his first big furniture orders in town. He was hoping that the payment would prove helpful with his expenses in the upcoming months.
However, working this way was new to him. He’d always worked back in the city, but it had been a couple of months since he’d spent the whole day doing so, and his muscles weren’t quite back to normal.
He took off his boots and changed his shirt, then laid back on the little bed in his shared room. He looked over at the table where he had a few materials to write letters. Buying them had been a waste of a dollar, but he’d been struck by a moment of weakness.
Living alone was a miserable existence. Not having anyone who cared about him, or who depended on hearing from him, was heartbreaking in a way. He missed the days when he knew his mother would always be at home waiting for him to return, wanting to know he was safe. It was strange knowing no one in the world cared whether he succeeded or failed.
Despite the lonely ache in his chest, he was not interested in relationships. He knew many people would give him the advice of striking up a relationship with some young woman who would consider herself lucky to have him in their life.
He did not share that sentiment. He saw the way his mother had suffered when she lost her husband. Then, when his stepfather lost his mother, the same suffering was mirrored, only slightly different.
If he did marry, or find someone he wanted to share his life with, how could he guarantee he’d never leave them alone? And a child? The world was a terrible place. He hated the idea of giving someone hope only for it to be ripped away by the cruel intentions of fate.
Thirst overwhelmed him. He typically steered clear of the kitchen, and the house in general, getting most of his meals at the diner or buying bread and cheese from the bakery to make a simple meal with. He always brought water to his room when the others were not home, but tonight he’d forgotten. The sun had already set, and it was dark in the house and very quiet. He opened his door and looked down the dark hall.
For a moment, he thought he was the only one in the house, but when he got to the kitchen, he spotted Mina. Her slender back was bent ever so slightly, as if from exhaustion, and her hair had worked its way out to fan her face in a mess of disorderliness. She was washing up. Her tiny hands were ducked into a large basin of soap water, scrubbing plates harder than necessary by the light of a candle.
He knew her father and Jonah were both already asleep. He hadn’t been aware that she normally stayed up this late.
“I…I’m sorry. I just came for some water,” he stuttered. He’d intended to warn her of his entrance, but it seemed that he’d done the opposite when she jumped and turned to face him. The sight of her there caught him a little off his game.
She spun around, her blue eyes going wide. Her lips made a slight ‘o’ shape, and after a second, the worry on her face relaxed.
“Oh, Rowan.” She took a moment, most likely gathering her wits after being startled. “Of course. Help yourself.” She nodded to a large pot on the stove. “I just boiled it a bit ago, so it’s probably still hot.”
He hesitated only a second longer before stepping further into the kitchen. He had always kept himself away from women. He had become so used to the idea of being alone that he’d ignored the other sex completely. Now that he was around Mina, his nerves and blundering ways were coming back, and he hated being nervous or uncertain around anyone.
She got him a cup and held it out to him. As he took it, his fingers brushed hers, sending a little buzz through his arm.
“Thank you.” He stared at her through hooded lids. She was beautiful, with the lamplight dancing against her milky skin. Her eyebrows were pulled together in worry, and she looked deep in thought. “Everything all right?” Whatever was bothering her, he wanted it to go away.
Her expression of vulnerability disappeared, and a polite smile replaced it.
“Yes, everything’s fine. Just thinking about some things.”
He wanted to press on the topic, tell her that he’d heard the conversation earlier and that he was willing to help if possible, but the words all got stuck in his throat. He shouldn’t be offering friendship, or help when he had no business doing so. He was simply renting space from her family, and that was it. Whoever Mr. Simmons was, he was certain he didn’t like the man for the unneeded stress he’d caused for this family. An awkward silence hung in the kitchen. Mina watched him as if expecting him to leave but was too polite to say so.
He cleared his throat and held the cup up. “Thank you for the water.” When she gave him another polite nod, he retreated from the kitchen, feeling awful that he hadn’t said more. He had his own things to worry about, like finding clients for his furniture before he ran out of money. And by the looks of it, he might have to worry about a different place to set up his business if the Finchs really were to lose their mercantile.
“Her Heart’s Christmas Miracle” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Mina Finch’s world gets shattered when a bitter old man threatens to seize her family’s mercantile, their home, and their hopes for a joyful Christmas. Desperate to save her beloved little brother and her ailing father’s livelihood, she embarks on a quest to secure more time to repay the loan. Little does she know that an unexpected ally, the handsome stranger Rowan, will become a pivotal figure in her fight to preserve the spirit of Christmas and perhaps open her heart to love.
Will Mina’s relentless endeavors pave the way for a heartwarming Christmas celebration for everyone?
Rowan Langley, a man with no family who has known loneliness all too well, arrives in a western town, hoping to start anew. He never imagined he’d be in a position to help Mina and her family in their time of need. As he grows closer to Mina, he grapples with his own reluctance towards forming relationships. In their pursuit of justice and the chance for a brighter Christmas, he discovers that love may be waiting for him where he least expects it.
Can Rowan find the strength to protect the woman he’s grown to love and uncover the truth that could change their lives forever?
Together, Mina and Rowan face the challenge of a lifetime, not only to save their beloved mercantile but also to mend the wounds of the past that transformed the bitter old man who haunts their Christmas. Will their love for each other be the key to unlocking a brighter future, or will the ghosts of the past prove too formidable to conquer?
“Her Heart’s Christmas Miracle” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.