“It’s three o’clock!” Lottie announced to her audience with a clap of her hands. “Clean your blackboards and gather your coats. I will see all of you tomorrow.”
She scanned her classroom as chaos erupted. Immediately the children were laughing and shouting, scrambling around their desks and each other. There was so much noise that she could hardly distinguish one voice from another.
Skirting back around to her desk, Lottie chuckled as she rubbed her hands together. It had been a long day. But it had also been satisfying. Lottie waved as her students started to file out the door. The Henderson twins waved back to her, and so did Jane and her three other siblings. They all looked so alike that some days she couldn’t quite recall who was who. She smiled, ransacking her mind for the names.
Leslie, Taylor, and Ruth. That’s right. Next week, Lottie told herself, she would be able to tell them all apart.
“This is for you.” Little Brian Davis broke from the group to give her a sprig of lavender. The stem was broken, but it still looked lovely. He handed it over as she beamed.
“Thank you, Brian. That is terribly sweet of you.”
“You’re welcome.” The boy stuck out his big grin, incidentally showing off a smear of dirt on his neck below his ear. “Emily Anne said these are your favorite.”
Chuckling, she nodded. “Indeed, she is correct. They are.” Lottie paused him before he could leave. “Do you know where your sister is today? It’s been too long since I saw my dear friend.”
The boy laughed. “You saw her on Sunday at church! I remember.”
Lottie couldn’t help grinning as well. Indeed, it had been at their church when she had last seen Emily Anne. Everyone had a busy life, which meant she only got to spend time with Emily Anne once a week or so. It had been two weeks now since the two of them had spoken for more than a minute.
“Why don’t you sit outside for a moment?” she invited the boy. “I’ll walk with you, and we can go find her together.”
He nodded obediently and went to sit on the front step. The door remained open so she could keep a close eye on Brian. He was a cute little child, even if Emily Anne was always complaining about having to watch out for him. That ruddy grin of his was too precious. She could hardly take her eyes off him. His hair fluttered in the wind as he sat. He needed a haircut.
Lottie smiled as she shook her head. He was such a darling. All the children were. She reluctantly turned back to her desk to tidy up once everyone was out. It was a clean little school, a place of learning, and fun. The older children arrived early every morning to tidy the room before she arrived, but she tried to make sure they didn’t have too much work on their hands most mornings.
That’s why when Lottie noticed something in her drawers wasn’t hers, she assumed it was one of her student’s belongings. Perhaps Charity’s lettering board or Nathaniel’s drawings. The folded up piece of paper sat perfectly on top of her spare pencils as though it had always been there. A thickly folded over piece of paper tied up with string. Except she knew with certainty that it had not been there yesterday.
“What are you?” she mused curiously as she pulled it out.
Eyeing it carefully, Lottie searched for any clues of who it might belong to. There was no name on the outside. It was a perfect square folded inward, stamped with a sprig of lavender. Her favorite flower. Her heart skipped a beat.
She glanced outside to where Brian was sitting on the front step. The little boy was playing with his lunch sack, probably looking for any crumbs to munch on until suppertime.
Perhaps it wasn’t him. Perhaps it was someone else. She turned back to the note and decided to open it. There was only one way to find the answer. Humming to herself, she set the lavender aside, and then untied the string that kept it all bound. Four corners came apart and opened to reveal a note inside.
It was filled with little lavender flower bits that poured out as she opened it. Their sweet scent wafted up, and she couldn’t help smiling.
Her name was written carefully across the page.
Inhaling deeply, she realized her suspicions were correct. This note was another secret admirer note sent to her. She suppressed a squeal of delight.
And yet it made no sense. Once again, someone had sneaked into the school to deliver this to her. It didn’t seem possible. Lottie glanced around in amazement, for she had no idea how this had gotten into her desk. It couldn’t be any of the children, for they all struggled with their spelling. So it was an adult. Some grown man pursuing her in a desperately romantic manner.
She wished she knew how this was possible. Already Lottie had asked the children about seeing anyone coming or going when a bouquet of flowers and candies appeared with her name on them.
The children had been ecstatic when she shared her sweets, but no one had an answer for her regarding who had brought such a lovely gift. No one had stood out to any of the children.
“‘Charlotte Wright is always bright. A beautiful sight. You make my heart light.’” She read the little poem out loud.
It was very simple, nothing like Shakespeare. But she couldn’t stop smiling. Someone had written a poem just for her. Lottie shook her head as she put a hand over her mouth. This made her want to melt with giddiness.
Whoever her secret admirer was, they were only proving to be more charming and thoughtful. Somehow they kept on surprising her. Lottie felt her heart skip a beat as she studied the rest of the note.
Such letters and trinkets had started three months ago out of nowhere. Each one sent a thrill through her heart. She’d only heard of such lovely ideas in the books she read. Now it happened to her in real life.
It was the stuff of fairy tales, all this romance, and mystery.
Then she gasped at the final line she had nearly missed, for it was buried under the little flowers. Lottie hurriedly brushed them away. “‘I’ve waited long enough, and I hope you feel the same way. I want to reveal my true self to you. I would like to meet you face-to-face if you would like to meet me?’”
Her mouth hung open for another moment in surprise.
She could feel her heart pounding in her chest. Her secret admirer wanted to introduce himself. The world grew a little lighter while she stared at the words in disbelief.
For a moment, she couldn’t even breathe. It took a moment for her to inhale, gasping as she brought air back into her lungs. But the strange and happy sensation trickling through her body remained.
The note pressed against her bosom. Lavender flowers flitted down her dress. “He wants to meet,” she murmured to herself in amazement. “Oh my!”
A warm blush reached up over her cheeks as a giggle escaped her lips. She felt like a little girl being gifted with something wonderful. And yet she felt like a woman at the same time, a woman who was bound for something greater than the life she already had. The excitement was almost too much. Lottie wanted to shout from the rooftops about her good fortune.
Though there had been a few beaus in the last couple of years, none of them brought such excitement. They were charming and complimentary, but none of them were this clever nor this dedicated. And she knew in their sleepy little town of Charlesland that she didn’t want to just settle with a fine man. She wanted someone wonderful.
She liked to think she deserved it. Her father was the mayor, after all.
Lottie gasped. “Whatever will I tell him?”
That was a question she had been avoiding for some time. But now that her secret admirer wanted to meet, Lottie wondered. Shaking her head, she set the note down and knew it was time to leave. Perhaps she could visit her father in town.
She sorted through her desk again to see what she wanted to take home for the evening. There was the book she read when the children played, and a few notes that she wanted to keep in mind for tomorrow’s class. She held back a giggle as she bundled up her things and then stepped outside.
“Oh!” Lottie stepped back when she realized she had nearly stepped on the boy sitting on her step. She had almost forgotten about him. “Brian, of course. Close the door, will you? I’m sorry, I must hurry. Well, let’s get you on your way, and then I must hurry. Come along.”
Carrying her books and papers close to her chest, Lottie started down the street. Brian had short chubby legs, so she had to keep reminding herself to slow down. That’s when she realized she most definitely had to talk to Emily Anne, now more than ever before. She was so eager that it was difficult to restrain herself from running down the lane. They turned a corner onto the main street, and she wondered where her dearest friend might be that day.
Until a voice called out to her. “Lottie!”
She stopped so quickly that Brian ran right into her skirts. He fumbled for his footing, mumbling under his breath. But he was all right. Lottie patted his head as she looked around before finding her dear friend stepping right out of the mercantile.
“Emily Anne!” Lottie cried out in return, enthusiasm clear in her voice as she hurried over. “It’s been too long!”
They ran right into each other to share a tight hug. Laughing, they stepped back and fixed the items in their arms.
Emily Anne was a darling young woman only two weeks younger than Lottie. But otherwise, that was the only thing they appeared to have in common. Whereas Lottie was a petite brunette, Emily Anne was tall with the finest head of corn silk hair in all of the town. She was also covered in freckles and had the widest grin Lottie had ever seen.
“I was just coming to look for Brian.” Emily chuckled as she gave her brother a look. Then the blonde turned back to Lottie. “And I was hoping to run into you! Your curls are just so perfect today, Lottie. How did teaching go today?”
Inhaling deeply, Lottie couldn’t stop the wide grin from returning to her face. She looped her free arm with Emily Anne’s and squealed. It was hard to decide where to start talking. “I have so much to tell you! Let us walk as we talk, shall we? It will help us look marvelously busy.”
Her friend gave her a look, smiling before nodding. “All right, let’s. You look ready to burst. What is it? What’s going on? Brian, don’t walk so close. We’re having some girl talk now.”
The two of them chuckled as the boy groaned before scampering on ahead. He found a stick and then began to drag it around in the dirt. Any momentary disappointment quickly disappeared as he grew distracted.
“Well?” Emily Anne demanded in a low tone the moment no one else was in hearing distance. “What is it?”
Lottie squealed again, unable to help herself. Her heart was still hammering hard within her chest. She pulled the note out of the book where she had put it for safety. “Read this! Immediately. You won’t believe it.”
“Your secret admirer?”
“Read it,” she demanded, unable to keep the grin off her face.
Her friend obeyed, gasping three times before finishing the note to look at Lottie. “Your secret admirer sent another note – and he wants to meet? Lottie! A poem, too! What does this mean? Oh! What are you going to do? It’s about time you two met. But the expectations! I don’t know what to think. It’s just so thrilling!”
Lottie nodded, grateful to have a friend that understood her so well. “I know!”
“I have never heard of anything so romantic before!” Emily Anne skimmed the note before giving it back to her.
She put it into the book so she wouldn’t lose it. “I know!”
“Then what are you going to do?”
Inhaling deeply, Lottie bit her lip and shrugged as she glanced back at the street. “I don’t know.” She made a face. “I don’t know. If I meet him, what if he’s not who I think he is? If he’s not who I want him to be? But then if I don’t meet him … I may lose my chance forever.”
Her friend nodded as she let out a slow breath. She fanned herself as she started to speak. “This is quite the puzzle. You know, it must be someone in town. What if you could figure it out before meeting him? Who do you think is your secret admirer?”
This very question had haunted her for the last three months. It sometimes kept her awake at night. And at church on Sundays, she would crane her neck around the room as she tried to guess who it might be. There were so many potential ideas.
“Well, it could be any of the gentlemen who have courted me before.” Lottie sighed. She considered that before shaking her head. “Poor fools. That would be rather disappointing.”
There was Robert Dunlap, who was overeager and so attentive that she had felt like he was mothering her during their courtship. She had let that go on longer than intended.
After him came William Lyles, who was a cowboy on her father’s ranch. A good young man, though a little wild. Her father had not approved of him, however, so that had not lasted long.
Then there was Thomas and Timmy Peters, who were brothers. Different times, but they had both been boring gentlemen. Too dull for her taste. Though the end of her courtship with Timmy had been cut short before she had a chance to even tell him.
Emily Anne nodded thoughtfully once Lottie finished sorting through her list. “I suppose. What about the boys you haven’t courted? Who have you turned down?” She started suddenly to give Lottie a wide-eyed look. “What if it’s someone older? Farmer Henry?”
The very idea made Lottie stop and laugh. “What! Of course not. Goodness no.”
Farmer Henry was practically her father’s age. He liked to look at all the young ladies in church but could never actually talk to them. So he would just stare.
Everyone knew he was a little strange but meant well.
As did her family. They were one of the reasons that she had not courted that much, in her opinion, or had very good luck. Though her brother and uncle stayed on the ranch, she traveled into town daily alongside her grandfather, who came to play cards, and her father, who came to work.
Mayor Nathan Wright was a good man and wanted the best for her. His office was just a little further down the street. As her doting father, he had given her everything he possibly could. She had more than she could ever want. A life on a successful horse ranch, a housekeeper to keep the house, a happy family life with her gentlemen, and now a role as the town schoolteacher since Mrs. Jackson stopped teaching a few years ago.
Lottie sighed as she shook her head. No one in her family knew about the secret admirer. She hadn’t wanted to tell them yet. Most likely, they would not take too kindly to it.
“I don’t have a clue who it might be.” She could worry about her family later. But it most assuredly was not that farmer. Though she did wonder for a moment about the older men in her community. Perhaps one of them was so daring. “It could be … well, I don’t know. There aren’t many more possibilities, are there?”
Her friend shook her head. “Most definitely not. Oh! And where would you meet him?” Emily Anne nudged her head toward the book, where the letter was stored for safekeeping. “The restaurant? A store? Surely somewhere public. And yet surely not too public.”
“Oh yes, I hadn’t even thought of that,” Lottie realized with a sharp intake of breath. She had to reply, though she didn’t know what she would say. “What would I do without you, Emily Anne? My heavens! Yes, it would have to be somewhere special … oh, but I’m sure whoever he is that he’s a good man.” She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to picture him. “He’ll be as handsome as he is earnest. As strong as he is romantic. I’m sure of it.”
He had to be. The gifts were too kind, too sweet. There were flowers and long sweet letters written just for her. He was romantic and responsible. She could surmise that from everything he had given her and done for her.
And yet he had never told her who he was. Lottie sighed, wondering why someone so good had chosen to communicate with her in such a manner.
“What would you do,” Emily Anne inhaled loudly, “if he just walked up to you right now?”
Lottie turned to stare at her for thinking of such an idea. “He wouldn’t! Would he? Oh, I don’t even know! Well, I … I suppose I would adore him instantly.”
They giggled as she shivered with excitement. This was much more interesting than anything that had ever happened in Charlesland. Nothing like this had ever happened to her in all her life. She could hardly believe anything so thrilling had come her way.
Only she and Emily Anne knew of the letters. No one else.
Every time she had fallen in love or stepped into romance before, her family demanded a place. But it was hard to enjoy love with her brother, father, uncle, and grandfather grilling the poor gentleman. None of them usually lasted long after such an encounter. The last one, Timmy, had been grilled by her brother’s best friend and the town deputy, Heath. That particular courtship had ended that very night.
Lottie pursed her lips as she furrowed her brow at the memories. “I cannot tell my father yet,” she announced firmly. It would have to wait even longer than she supposed. Pouting, she shook her head. “This mystery must be solved. Only once I have met this mysterious beau of mine can I move on with my life.”
“And fall in love?” Emily Anne asked, hopefully.
A giggle escaped her lips as she nodded. “And fall in love,” Lottie agreed.
Shifting the hat on his head, Heathcliff Jackson glanced around the ranch and attempted to ignore his impatience.
There was the nearby ranch house. It was rather small and not well kept. Then a barn and a storage cabin beside it. Nearby those buildings were fences to contain the horses and another one for the cattle. The land dipped down into the valley filled with short trees for a little bit of shade all along the river’s edge. It was a dazzling sight of blues and greens and browns.
Everything looked great out there. Except that several of the cattle were missing. The valley looked sparse without them there. It almost appeared too green.
“It happened again,” Farmer Henry growled as he gestured around. “Twenty more cattle! That’s almost half my herd I’ve lost now. Half! It don’t make no sense. I looked everywhere, Deputy. Everywhere, but they’re all gone.”
The man ranted on for another couple of minutes before quieting down long enough for Heath to ask him his questions.
“What about your fence?” Heath demanded as he gestured around them. “Any breaks?”
Farmer Henry was an older man with some strange habits. He always smelled of mold and chewed tobacco. Though he was awkward and apprehensive around the ladies in town, the man was more than eager to talk to the men.
“They’re my cattle!” He huffed, kicking a nearby hay bale. “What are these thieves thinking? I need them to keep a living! It’s got to be five of them. Ten! A whole gang of them. Dang rustlers! You get them, Deputy, or I will! I’ll get rid of them all!”
“Keep the gun in its holster, please.” Heath shook his head, putting a hand out to the man as he tried to contain his irritation. “I heard you, Henry, all right? Now, are there any more details you’d like to share? Or I’ll be on my way.”
Farmer Henry growled again to show off his under bite. He reminded Heath of an old dog at that moment. “Those rustlers better get what’s coming to them! Next time, they won’t find me asleep in my bed. They’ll find my rifle right under their noses! That’s what! They’ll find my rifle and my gun and – and my dogs right at them!”
“Right.” Heath cleared his throat as he straightened his hat on his head. “Thank you for your time, Henry. I’m going to take a look alongside your property, you hear? Just along the fence and property line for clues. If I find anything of notice, I’ll let you know. But don’t go shooting anything that moves.”
“We’ll see,” the man snarled.
“I mean it,” Heath added sternly. Then he gave the man a nod and whistled to his horse, which trotted over from the trail between the three buildings. Heath climbed onto his horse and heard Henry mutter under his breath before heading over to his house.
Once on their own, Heath nudged his animal toward the nearest fence. There was work for him to do. He thought long and hard as he stared down toward the ground.
This was becoming a bigger problem. Warily he glanced around the property and wondered what was going on. He had to have missed something the first time he visited the man, but he couldn’t miss any clues this time.
Farmer Henry had lost twenty of his cattle twice over in two months. He wasn’t the first one to lose some cattle to a gang of rustlers. This had been going on for a little while now, people in town losing their cows. Ranchers and farmers would lose a couple of cows that were just noticeable enough without having any idea where they had gone.
Once in a while, someone decided to cause trouble around town. But not like this.
Whatever was happening now was something brand new. As he studied the wooden fence and the wiring, Heath tried to figure out how such trouble could be happening again. If he couldn’t keep the cows safe in town, then he wasn’t certain how he could keep the people safe.
Perhaps he was missing something.
Except he didn’t know what that could be. Heath sorted through the details that he knew as he and his horse walked along the edge of Farmer Henry’s property to look for any broken wires or ruined fencing. Something to show that someone had managed to lead cattle away in another direction. Perhaps there was a clue for him to find somewhere along the way.
He knew he had sharp eyes, but nothing new appeared during his property study. Heath straightened up as he reached the front of the property where the gate was closed. It was always closed. Farmer Henry only left his property once or twice a week, and he rarely had any visitors.
Only a few men in town ever cared to visit him. Heath considered them, but it didn’t seem likely.
After all, one of them was himself. And he most definitely was not part of a gang of rustlers. Then there was his boss, Marshal Tom Goodwin, who couldn’t possibly be causing any such trouble either since he was the man of the law. Besides the two of them, Henry’s guests included Mayor Wright, who liked to keep an eye on the people in his town, along with Pastor McNeill, who did the same.
Four men looking out for those they felt responsible for who visited Henry.
Heath shook his head in frustration. He wasn’t used to having this kind of trouble in solving his cases. Usually, there were clues or people who confessed. He wasn’t sure he had anything for this case.
Grudgingly he bent down to unlock the gate. There was nothing more he could do there. He and his horse headed down the lane to return to town. Talking to Farmer Henry and looking around the property was all that he could do to help. Now it was time to head back to town and let his boss know.
Besides, Heath wanted to make sure he wrote everything down and didn’t miss any details. The sooner it was written on paper, the better. Heath nudged his horse to a trot as they headed back into town and reached the jailhouse.
“There you are,” Tom boomed cheerfully when he opened the door and walked in. The older man grinned beneath his handlebar mustache as he rested his boots on his desk while sorting through a couple of papers in his lap. “Uh, oh. No grin there. What is it now? No clues again?”
Heath hung his hat up with a reluctant nod. He didn’t like coming back without good news. The sensation left an itch he couldn’t scratch. “I’m afraid so. There has to be something I’m missing, but I don’t know what. Are you sure you don’t want to take another look?”
The marshall shook his head. “I did that this morning, and I trust your eagle eyes. A third look over the scene won’t change what we both know. No clues.” He tutted before dropping his legs to the ground with a loud thud. “I know we’ll find something. No one is that good. Write down your report, and then we need to be on our way.”
“On our way?” Heath frowned. “I just sat down. What’s going on?”
Tom wrinkled his nose. “The mayor wants to talk to us. I want that report written first, though, so I’m already delaying us longer than he asked. Get that written, and then we’ll head down to the mayor’s office.”
Heath stifled a groan at the notion. “Yes, sir.” He sighed and picked up his pen. Writing reports was far from his favorite part of the job, but talking matters over with the mayor had to be at the very bottom of the list.
For five years, he had been the deputy for Charlesland. He liked the work very much, for it was hard but good and honest. This was just the way that he had been raised. During those last five years, he’d managed to build a reputation in the territory for being diligent, a sharp thinker, and easy to approach.
There had been a couple of cases in the last couple of years where folks even requested his services as opposed to Tom. Heath thought nothing of it, of course. Tom was a sharp man, but he could be more intimidating than some folks in town were comfortable around. And Heath thought perhaps he might be better at keeping secrets.
He remembered an old conversation with Mr. Davis the other month at the restaurant where the man had suggested he consider becoming the next town marshall. Charlesland would be taking the vote soon.
Just the thought of that had made Heath chuckle. It was a ridiculous idea since Tom wasn’t planning to step down or retire yet. Besides, Heath was more than happy to spend a few more years working for the man before even considering running against his friend. Tom had taught him a lot, and he appreciated it. On top of that, being a deputy was good enough for him. He was content with the role and the work, though he was pleased that there were people in town that thought so highly of him.
After growing up as a bit of a troublemaker around town, Heath was proud that he had been able to achieve something so respectable.
He sighed, glancing through his report before setting the pen down. “All right.” Heath shook his hand free of its cramped position as he gave Tom a smile through gritted teeth.
“Done writing?” the man asked him. When he nodded, Tom stood up and walked over to review the newly inked report. He fiddled with his mustache as he read. “Hmm. Not much different than the other three reports. Twenty or so cattle, nothing damaged, disappeared during the night, and no bloodshed. It’s the bitter pickle in the barrel that gives you the most trouble. And we have quite a bitter pickle here.”
Tom always had a way of speaking that sounded a little strange, but it always made Heath grin. Somehow, he thought the notion made sense. The marshal’s thick Louisiana accent just added to his strength of character.
Standing up, Heath ruffled his hair. “You’ve got that right. I don’t know what I could be missing here, Tom. These rustlers appear to know everything already. They know about the cattle, about the property owners …”
“And they have an uncanny knowledge of the properties themselves,” Tom finished for him with a heavy sigh. “Tell me about it. This isn’t looking too good for us, I’m afraid. But I’m sure we’ll figure it out. Our answer is somewhere in these reports. I just know it, Heath. We’ll get to the bottom of this. But until then, we had best see what Mayor Wright wants from us.”
He had almost forgotten about their appointment.
Taking a deep breath, Heath nodded. There was no time like the present to get the hard things in life over with. He grabbed his hat off its peg and put it back on his head. “Let’s get this over with, then.”
It made Tom chuckle. “That’s the spirit.”
The pair headed out, locking up the jail before they headed across the street and two buildings over. There was the courthouse and then the mayor’s office. As they walked, Heath started brushing his shirt. There wasn’t any time to wash up, but he wanted to at least try to look presentable.
“Hello, Tom. Heath,” Mayor Nathanial Wright welcomed them into his office. “Come, take a seat.”
The man had silver hair and sharp dark eyes. He was a stern and imposing figure in town. Not only did he run Charlesland well for the many years he had been in charge, but he also owned the most successful ranch in the nearby territories. As long as one was on the man’s good side, then things could go well for them.
There were several reasons why Heath wanted to stay on the man’s good side. Besides being a smart choice, Mayor Wright had been the one to recommend and help him secure his position as deputy.
“Let’s set the small talk aside,” the man boomed in his deep voice. He took his chair and clasped his hands together. “We’ve been having trouble in town, and I want this taken care of as quickly as possible. So tell me. What do we know so far?”
“Fair question,” Tom nodded. “We are just as concerned as you are, Mayor. We are doing our best to handle it. Heath here has taken charge of the case, so he’ll be able to give you the updates.”
A knot formed in Heath’s stomach. He cleared his throat noisily, thinking quickly since he hadn’t expected to be put on the spot like that. But he scolded himself for such a thought. He had asked for the case when the first rustlers had hit their town. If he could bring that to an end, it would be impressive. Everyone would know how good he was at his job and how much he cared. Everyone included the Mayor and a certain young lady.
His voice cracked when he spoke up. “Right, right. That’s …” Heath cleared his throat again as he moved to the edge of his seat. A droplet of sweat ran down his spine. “Right, it’s my case, sir. I take full responsibility. I-I understand your concern and feel the same.”
“We both do,” Tom added assuredly.
“Then why isn’t the case solved?” the mayor asked them pointedly. He was a demanding man who only had time for the very best. Though Heath’s family was close to the Wrights, the mayor had never grown less intimidating. The man was only soft around his daughter, Charlotte.
Heath tried to stay focused and not think about Lottie. “It is. I mean, it almost is. We’re really close. Farmer Henry lost twenty more heads last night. There are all the signs that it’s the same rustlers. No one can keep causing this type of trouble without leaving behind clues.”
“Such as?” The mayor requested.
“Such as …” Heath hesitated as he glanced over at Tom. The man nodded to him but said nothing. It wasn’t his place to carry Heath to success. They both knew that. Heath swallowed once more. “It’s got all the same markings, sir. That’s all I can say at this time. But I swear we’re close,” he added in earnest.
It still didn’t do much to comfort the mayor. “Well.” The man stared at his hands. “I can’t say I’m not disappointed. This has been going on for too long. All of your work reflects on my image as the mayor, and you both know how serious I am about serving our neighbors. I expect to see results soon, do you understand?”
“Of course, Mayor.” Tom stood as the mayor stood. Heath hurriedly followed. The marshal patted Heath on the back. “He’s young, sir, and I know he’s a little slow now. I’m not satisfied with the progress myself, but I’m keeping a close eye on our deputy. We’ll let you know the moment any progress has been made. I give you that promise.”
Mayor Wright studied the two men with a furrowed brow. “I believe you. And I appreciate your time. Tom, if I could keep you for another minute? I’d like to talk to you about your upcoming campaign.”
The two older men stayed around in the mayor’s office, but Heath quickly made his way out of there. He was grateful for the escape. It was too stuffy and hot in that room.
Stepping into the sunlight, he took a deep breath of fresh air. Tugging at his shirt, Heath shook his head in disbelief.
“That was a disaster,” he muttered under his breath. Not one moment of that meeting had gone the way he expected. But then again, he didn’t know how else that meeting could have gone.
He tried to set that meeting aside. It was over, and there was nothing he could do about it. Maybe he could go back over his reports to see if he had missed anything. But first, an early dinner down at the restaurant sounded like a good idea.
A full stomach always helped him think clearly. That gave him hope for a pleasant evening. He had just headed down the lane, staring at his boots, when he looked up. To his pleasant surprise, a familiar brunette came heading in his direction.
Lottie Wright was the finest looking young lady in all of Texas.
Her dark hair and rosy cheeks made her stand out everywhere she went. On top of that, she always looked genteel with her starched little bonnets and dresses, plus that fine manner of speaking. Though she was trouble for him through and through with her cheerful demeanor and her bright spirit, he couldn’t resist quickening his step in her direction.
When she glanced up, she looked at him with her big brown eyes. Immediately he forgot all about his evening plans as a different kind of thrill ran down his spine in delight.
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Lottie Wright is the prized mayor’s daughter and the town’s school teacher, who has been living a cheerful but sheltered life. All she ever wanted is to meet a promising young man to fall in love with. To her surprise, a secret admirer gives her hope for the first time that true love actually exists. Little did she know that her world would soon fall apart and her priorities would change drastically as her brother gets unexpectedly kidnapped. Based on the rustlers’ demand, she has to be the one delivering the ransom money. Against her will, though, deputy Heath decides to accompany her to this dangerous mission. Will she find the courage to bridge her differences with the one man in town she doesn’t like, in order to save her only brother?
As the deputy in Charlesland, Heath Jackson is really passionate about his role while at the same time he takes care of his parents. Ever since his older sister passed away in a horrible accident, his parents have been in a constant depressed state which has seriously concerned him. What brightens his day is the girl of his dreams and his best friend’s little sister, Lottie, however, he hasn’t been able to express his love for her sincerely. Unbeknownst to them, fate and ruthless criminals will finally bring them closer together. Will he be able to save his friend and protect Lottie during this risky quest? Will he declare his true feelings to the woman he loves?
When it all comes to a terrifying clash, lives are hanging on a ledge, while both Lottie and Heath will be forced to admit what they really mean to each other. Will the opportunity ever come for them to be together? Will Lottie ultimately choose a romance with her secret admirer or with her childhood nemesis?
“A Perilous Road to her Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.