Her bonnet was hardly holding in her hair anymore, so she didn’t bother trying to keep it on when the wind picked up again. She had more precious cargo to grasp onto. As the slight woman gazed up from the edge of the forest toward the picture-perfect ranch house, snow swirled around the mountaintops in the distance, though there was none on the ground where she stood.
The baby in her basket wailed.
“Shh, shh, my love. You’ll be warm soon. I promise. I hope,” she said, more to calm herself than the baby. It was hard to look at the child, knowing what she was about to do.
After checking that no one was around to watch, she dashed for the house. The wind whistled in her ears as she ran past the corral. The grazing horses watched her with their big eyes as the woman tried to find a spot by the front door protected from cold gusts.
“You’ll be safe here, sweet thing. Safer than I can keep you.” Tears choked the woman’s voice as she pulled the blanket tight around her child’s tiny shoulders, making sure the note she’d written wasn’t going to fly away. Looking around to make sure the coast was clear, she kissed the baby’s forehead and turned to make a run for it before she could regret her choice.
Tears streamed down her face; the woman who had just made the decision that no parent should have to take ran back across the field, desperate to get to the safety of tree cover. Her chest heaved as she turned to look at the house.
Where she stood was too far to hear her baby crying, but the woman was sure the wails were being carried by the wind straight to her ears. Her instincts told her to keep running, lest her heart break once and for all in her chest, but stubbornness kept her standing in place.
Her feet weren’t going to move an inch until she saw someone come for her baby. Then, and only then, would she allow herself to tear away. As it stood, her circumstances were too dangerous for a child. It was better to know her baby was safe, even if she would never get to see her girl again.
“She’s coming along nicely!” Lizzy shouted to David, who circled the corral with their latest mare.
“Should be able to get a saddle on her tomorrow,” David replied.
“Give it another day. I know Mr. Chelton wants to get his hands on her as soon as possible, but I don’t like to rush,” Lizzy decided.
David tipped his hat to her on his next gallop round. “Anything you say, boss. There’s a reason you’re the best in the business.”
“I have to take care of some errands in town. You going to be all right for the afternoon?” Lizzy asked.
“Of course. Tell Sarah at the general store I say hello!”
Lizzy promised she would and even managed to avoid teasing David about his growing obsession with Sarah Gellman. She was a prim and proper girl who managed the ledgers at the general store. David was a freewheeling rancher turned horse trainer who couldn’t hold a fork properly to save his life.
They couldn’t have been more different, but Lizzy thought there was hope for David yet. He was almost as good at training horses as she was, so surely he could learn a thing or two about etiquette with time and patience.
As she rode back to the ranch house, Lizzy turned back to the corral, thinking she’d heard David say something else, but he wasn’t looking at her. The wind was strong that day, funneling straight through the mountains into the valley where her ranch lay nestled. Thankfully, the strong spring breeze was swiftly pushing the clouds away, revealing the bright Colorado sun.
Slowly, the house appeared over the hilltop. As always, when she came over that ridge, Lizzy took a moment to appreciate the beauty of the place she’d made her home. Leaving Texas had been no easy decision, but it was not one she regretted for a moment. There, in Colorado, she was free to be herself without the past hanging over her, taking her back to painful memories with every turn.
In Grove County, no dust was in the air, and her head was clear. The ranch house stood tall, though the green she’d had it painted two years earlier made it blend in with the evergreen trees in the distance. The pine beams holding up the majestic porch that wrapped around the entire house allowed her to look over her entire empire, so to speak.
As many people had pointed out to her since she took over Grove Ranch, she was the only female ranch owner and manager in the entire county and quite possibly the whole territory. Unlike most women, she’d been given the tools to take on such a position from a very young age. Growing up on her father’s cattle ranch in Texas, Lizzy found out early on that she had a knack with horses. By the time she was a teenager, she was almost as talented a trainer as her father was.
The memory of her father’s ranch was bittersweet, and Lizzy didn’t like to linger long on those recollections. She was here now, thanks to her father’s (albeit distant) support, and since the age of nineteen, Lizzy had been running her own world.
Not long after taking over Grove Ranch, she’d gotten a reputation in the county for her training and taming skills. Soon, any skepticism the local cowboys had felt regarding her gender melted away, leaving room for nothing but admiration. Now, people came from all over the territory to purchase horses from her.
The path to town was on the other side of the house, but Lizzy needed to go back for her money. While there, she thought she might as well check to see if Mrs. Arthur had baked anything sweet in the morning to quiet the rumbling of her stomach.
Mrs. Arthur was the only other person she shared the house with, as the rest of the ranch hands took over the bunkhouse. When she’d first purchased the property from the builder’s son (who’d decided ranching wasn’t the life for him after five disastrous seasons), Lizzy thought she might lose her mind rattling around in a big house like that. With Mrs. Arthur by her side, however, the place felt like home.
Together, they managed the running of the house, but Mrs. Arthur tackled most of the cooking. The older woman had been there since the early days of Grove Ranch, so she knew the ins and outs of the place better than Lizzy ever would, most likely.
“I’ll be back soon,” Lizzy told her horse, Mirabelle, before hitching her up outside the house.
Once Mirabelle was safely hitched, Lizzy went to bound up the steps, but something stopped her dead in her tracks. Once again, she heard the sound of someone calling to her, only now it didn’t sound anything like David whatsoever. Now … it sounded like a baby.
She pushed back a lock of her black hair that had come loose from the braid she always wore. The wind swirled again, making the cries sound like they were coming from the house.
Carefully, she started walking up the steps, listening keenly for the sound of the crying. Sometimes, the wails of mountain cats could sound almost human-like. This, however, was not the sound of a cat.
It was a baby, after all, and the baby was sitting right at her front door, of all places.
Stunned, Lizzy dropped to her knees to see if the infant was all right. It was sitting right there, wrapped tight in a blanket and snuggly fit into a basket. The baby squirmed when Lizzy pulled the blue and white knit blanket aside, but nothing appeared to be wrong. When she let the child hold onto her pinkie finger, the crying seemed to stop magically.
“Where did you come from? Did your mother or father come to call on me and somehow forget you here by the door? That would be very silly of them, wouldn’t it?” Lizzy said to the baby, knowing that none of her words would be understood. The child gurgled in response.
Tucked in the side of the basket, Lizzy managed to find a note. Sure that it would explain when the child’s parents would return for it, she opened it, letting the baby keep hold of her pinky.
Protect her with your strength, for this child carries the weight of two worlds on tiny shoulders. The bond of family will reveal itself in time. Trust your instincts, and love will guide the way.
Lizzy had to read the note twice before deciding it wasn’t her fault she couldn’t make heads or tails of it. The bond of family will reveal itself in time? What was that supposed to mean?
Rescuing her finger, Lizzy left the baby for a moment to scan the area for people.
“Hello?” she called out. The wind blew her voice right back at her.
As far as she could tell, there was not a soul around. Whoever had left that baby was either inside the house somewhere, or far away. Just before turning back to the child, Lizzy thought she saw a figure to the right of the house by the forest leading to the Utah border. However, when she squinted to get a closer look, there was nothing but tree trunks swaying in the wind.
“Well, I don’t know why you were left in the cold, but we’d better get you inside, don’t you think?” Lizzy asked, proceeding to talk to the baby as she would an adult. Having grown up with no younger siblings, she had no experience with children. She couldn’t tell if the baby in her arms was a year old or only a few months.
The house was quiet when Lizzy got inside.
“Hello? Mrs. Arthur?”
No response came. An eerie feeling sent goosebumps flying down Lizzy’s arms. Setting the basket down, she picked up the baby, trying not to fixate on how strange it felt to feel a living thing squirming around in her arms like that. She was used to bringing foals into the world, but nothing as tiny and delicate as a human.
Panic starting to set in, Lizzy picked up her pace as she ran to the kitchen. Still, there was no Mrs. Arthur. On the table were sweet buns the cook had likely made in the morning, but everything else had been cleaned up.
“Hello!” she shouted one last time, so loud the baby started screaming too. “I’m sure if we both start crying, someone’s bound to come to our rescue.”
Only no one did come. Lizzy’s mind raced. What was she supposed to do? None of the ranch hands would know what to do, and though she technically had a more feminine touch than they possessed, she was still completely in the dark as to what to do with a baby. At the age of twenty-three, many might assume she already had a family of her own, but looks could be deceiving.
Mrs. Arthur was the only person who would be able to help properly. Beyond that, Lizzy could only think of taking the child into town and asking around if anyone was missing a baby.
The more she pondered the idea, however, the more she realized how purposeful the abandoning of the baby probably was. There had been no note left explaining that someone would be back. Lizzy had read stories about children being abandoned, and everything about the situation she’d found herself in was too deliberate to be a mistake.
Grove Ranch was not an easy place to get to. She’d ensured there were plenty of signs leading from town for those trying to find her, but the ride was not easy. No one was likely to simply stumble upon the ranch. Whoever had brought this baby to her had done it on purpose.
The infant started crying again. Lizzy sat down in the parlor and started bouncing the child on her knee, but that didn’t seem to do anything, and neither did patting it on the back. Finally, a certain smell met her nose, and Lizzy realized what had happened.
“Ah. You’ve soiled yourself, haven’t you? Well now … what are we going to do about that?”
The baby’s scrunched-up screaming face was the only response she got.
“Where are you, Mrs. Arthur?” Lizzy said to the air before hoisting the child up again and heading back to the kitchen.
After putting the baby down on the table, ensuring it couldn’t easily throw itself off the platform, Lizzy started to pace around and think.
Linens. She needed linens if she was going to do anything about the baby’s soiled underthings. If she’d had her way, she wouldn’t do anything about it, but not only did that seem cruel to her, but it also seemed like the only way to get it to stop crying.
Rushing to the linen cupboard in the hall, Lizzy pulled out her clothes used during her time of the month. After returning to the kitchen, she laid one down and, putting the child on top, Lizzy gingerly peeled away the sweet dress it was wearing.
There, underneath, was indeed a dirty flat diaper pinned together around the child’s waist.
“I’ll have you cleaned up in no time, you … whatever I’m supposed to call you.”
Improvising as best she could, Lizzy took the diaper off, cleaned up the baby, and replaced the diaper with one fashioned from the pastry cloth. Once she got it all pinned up again, she was fairly proud of herself.
On top of that, she’d learned that it was a baby girl. Something about that revelation pulled at Lizzy’s heartstrings, and she inexplicably started to see something of herself in the little girl. They both had dark hair, though the baby’s eyes were brown, unlike Lizzy’s bright green ones.
“Who left you here? And why? You seem like a perfectly good baby to me, but I’m no expert.”
Entranced, Lizzy stroked the soft hair on the baby’s head in pure awe at its softness. For a moment, the infant girl stopped crying as Lizzy smiled down at her, playing with her impossibly tiny fingers and even smaller toes. When the baby started crying again, however, Lizzy’s daze ended abruptly.
What to do with the dirty linens now was beyond her. Thinking quickly, she bundled them up, took them out the back door, and abandoned them by the stoop. Better outside than in, she figured.
The baby girl was still crying when she got back inside, louder than ever now. Lizzy sighed.
“What? What do you want? I just cleaned and changed you. I’ve wrapped you back up in your blanket. What more can I do? I wish your mother were here, too, but that’s something neither of us can do anything about. Are you hungry?”
Lizzy’s words hung in the air. Of course, the baby was probably hungry. She knew enough about children to know that was something they frequently cried about.
“Milk! All right, I can get you some milk. And I’ll … I’ll warm it up. That’s what needs to be done, right? Warm but not too warm.” Somehow, narrating her work helped to calm Lizzy.
She laughed at herself lightly as she dashed to the pantry to find the rest of that morning’s milk. She could order around twenty men like she’d been born doing it, but in the face of a sobbing baby, she’d been turned into a frantic, frazzled mess. If any ranch hands could see her then, they would have laughed, too.
As soon as she got the milk into the pot and got it warming over the coals, she thought about how she would get it into the crying baby’s mouth. Maybe she could spoon it in or use a dropper like she did with foals from time to time. In the end, a spoon seemed to be the easiest solution.
“Maybe this will stop you from crying,” Lizzy said optimistically, pulling up a chair and setting the pot down a safe distance from the baby.
It took some maneuvering to get the child propped up in her arms and still enough to feed. The first teaspoon Lizzy filled with milk ended up on her lap, but she wasn’t the type to complain. Ranch life was messy, baby or no baby. Finally, she managed to get most of a spoonful into the child’s mouth.
For a moment, the crying stopped, and Lizzy thanked God for her natural maternal instincts. A second later, the baby coughed up the spoonful of milk, landing right in Lizzy’s face. The crying started up again shortly after.
“All right. So you didn’t like that. I admit it. I wouldn’t like milk for lunch much either, but I’ve got some bad news for you. I’m afraid babies your age aren’t supposed to have anything except milk for a while. I think, anyway. I have no idea how old you are, but you certainly can’t chew anything. You’re supposed to have breast milk and nothing …”
Lizzy trailed off, her thoughts racing. Babies were supposed to have breast milk, not cow’s milk … right? In the back of her mind, she had a vague memory of her father reading about a study that babies separated from their mothers didn’t live very long without a wet nurse.
“Well, between Mrs. Arthur and I, there’s certainly no wet nurse living here, so I’m not exactly sure why you were left with us.”
That was it. She would have to take the wailing baby to town and see if someone there knew a young mother who could handle the feeding. Otherwise, the sweet young thing wasn’t going to live long. Only, the ride to town was long, and Lizzy wasn’t sure she’d be able to manage it with a screaming baby.
This child was demanding to be fed now, and Lizzy would have to figure something out. Strangely enough, another memory of home sprung up, leaving Lizzy wondering if the answer was right in that kitchen. As if compelled by something larger than herself, Lizzy wandered over to the small shelf of cookbooks that stood in the corner.
There, she took out the small green book her mother had sent her away with when she’d first left Texas. It was written in German, but her mother’s scrawled translations lined the margins. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Lizzy remembered always having to skip over one of the recipes because it was only relevant to babies.
Sure enough, there on one of the back pages were instructions for how to make the closest thing to mother’s milk. Cow’s milk, baking soda, wheat, malt flour, and a small amount of sugar were the listed ingredients, along with a warning not to heat the mixture too high.
Lizzy managed to wrap an old apron around herself tightly enough that she could carry the baby with her as she scurried around the kitchen. Carefully and studiously, she measured out the exact amounts of each ingredient and took great care to make it exactly as her mother’s translation instructed her to.
Once she was done, she nervously sat down again, readying herself to be spat on once more if the baby didn’t agree with the meal. To Lizzy’s great delight, however, the first spoonful went in without protest, followed by a second and a third, until the baby had slurped it all up.
“Aren’t you a good little girl? A hungry little girl, I should say. You must be tired now. I know I am.” Lizzy leaned back in the chair, letting herself rest as she patted the baby’s back.
Finally, the crying stopped. In the moment of quiet, Lizzy remembered that Mrs. Arthur had said she’d be going out of town to see some family. Soon, she’d be back, and Lizzy wouldn’t be on her own anymore. Soon, Lizzy found herself humming a tune her father used to sing to her. A strange, warm feeling came over her as she looked out the window and sang.
The sun was setting behind the mountains. Any hope of making it to town for errands was gone, but Lizzy didn’t seem to mind. There was something wholly fulfilling about sitting there with the strange baby in her arms. If she imagined herself from the outside, it was a strange image indeed. From where she sat, however, Lizzy felt as though she was in the most natural place in the world.
I hope this letter finds you well. Things have been quiet at home, or so I’m told. Michael has been caring for the farm while I travel for work. I don’t know if she had time to write to you, but your sister got married to one Garth Leroy last month. It was a joyful affair. She and Garth left on some kind of trip shortly after, and I haven’t heard from them since.
Now that the war’s over, do you think you’ll be coming back to Utah? We could use some help on the farm. Or, if it interests you more, you could join me in my business. We’re always looking for strong young men to join up, so to speak. You can write back to me at the enclosed address.
Let me know how you are when you get this. Kindly,
James read the letter three times before he could make sense of his uncle’s scrawling handwriting. Even if he couldn’t make out every word, James could tell something was wrong. It didn’t matter if his uncle was insisting that everything was fine. It clearly wasn’t.
His sister had gotten married? That was the first surprise. She wrote to him frequently, twice a week, sometimes, or even more when she knew he was off to the battlefield. He hadn’t heard from her in over a month. Could it have something to do with her new marriage?
Tearing through his old papers, James searched for older letters from his sister, scouring them for any hint of a courtship or mention of someone named Garth. There was plenty of news about their cousin Michael and his new wife and how the changing seasons were affecting the crops, but nothing about a potential husband for her.
James got the feeling someone was watching him, even though he was squarely alone in his barracks office at Fort Popham. His sister, Sylvia, surely would have told him she was getting married. Hearing the news from his uncle could only mean that Sylvia wasn’t pleased with the arrangement. Or that she was being silenced for some reason.
And why had Uncle Robert not heard from her in so long? Where had her new husband, Garth Leroy, dragged her off to? It was also strange that his Uncle Robert was asking for help with the farm or, alternatively, his “business.” What business he was in, exactly, had always eluded James. In the end, it seemed like it was better not to ask.
None of that mattered. What was important was his sister’s well-being.
The bell rang for dinner, but James ignored it. As a major, such obligations were optional, and he was in no mood for company. In fact, he was beginning to wonder if his time with the army was coming to an end altogether.
Looking at the address included with the letter only brought more confusion to James. Grove County, Colorado. That was a ways away from where he, his sister, and uncle had called home in Utah. What kind of business was his uncle doing there, and where was Sylvia?
James stood abruptly and started to pace around the cold, sparse office. There wasn’t much in the way of decoration besides the everchanging map of the country that hung above his desk. Besides that, there was a window that overlooked the Kennebeck River. It was a far cry from the mountains of Utah but not a bad view altogether.
The war had been over for a year, and James was starting to feel steadily less called to duty. During the battle years, he’d quickly risen through the ranks of the Union Army, fueled by his desire to end the tyranny of slavery. Now, however, his superiors were only interested in acquiring new territories, even when it meant slaughtering the people who’d been living there for countless generations.
The mystery that his sister’s disappearance presented, however, was a very real call to action. His sister was the only piece of his parents he still had. After their mother and father had passed away from cholera, Uncle Robert had taken them to live on his farm before leaving them eventually to pursue his obscure second career.
It had been a strange upbringing. He and Sylvia were always made to feel different, though, on the surface, all their immediate survival needs were met. They never went hungry or cold, though the siblings keenly felt the distinct lack of love in the household. Sylvia and James’ cousin, Michael, rarely spoke, making him poor company (though he was a good farmer, by all standards). Leaving to join the army was an easy choice, even if Utah Territory was never part of the conflict.
A knock on the door made James jump slightly.
“Yes, come in.”
“Good evening, Major Remington. I was told you’d be taking your dinner in your office,” the eager-to-please cook announced with a deferential nod of his head. The tray he was presenting held a bowl of beans and pork mush that James would not have qualified as food if there hadn’t been a spoon next to it.
“Thank you, yes. You can put it down on the desk.”
“It’s getting dark now. Would you like me to light the fire for you, sir?” the cook offered. Before James could answer the question, the boy was already on his knees by the hearth.
“I can light the fire myself; that’s all right.”
“Are you sure? I hear we’re going to get a storm tonight. You know what they say about March coming in like a lion and leaving like a lamb? Well, I think it needs to be rewritten because this has been as blustery an April as I’ve ever seen.”
“I’m very sure,” James replied, in a sharper tone than he usually liked to use.
The boy nodded again and stood at attention to give the customary salute before leaving James in peace finally.
Once he was alone, James lit a candle. The cook was right. It was getting darker, but James was more awake than ever. He read and reread his uncle’s fractured letter, tearing his mind apart to think of where he might have heard the name “Garth Leroy” before.
He’d long ago made his peace with leaving his sister in Utah. She’d encouraged him to go, but now the pull to see her again was stronger than he could fight. He couldn’t believe he didn’t even know the man Sylvia had married.
Finding his uncle was the key to figuring out where Sylvia had disappeared. Going back to the map behind his desk, James held up the candle and traced a finger along the route from where he stood in Maine all the way to where his uncle’s letter had come from: Grove County, Colorado.
It was closer to Utah than he’d originally thought. It would be no easy journey, but James was already dreaming of the open road. He’d be able to get a train out to Chicago at least, and then he’d have to find a horse or join a stagecoach. James didn’t like the idea of riding in one of those cramped carriages with a crying baby and too many people.
No, just a horse and the clear sky would suit him well. If he changed horses strategically along the way, he could get to Grove County in a week. Hopefully, by then there would be some word about Sylvia’s whereabouts.
James’ candle flickered dangerously close to the map, and he took a quick step back. In his hurry, he bumped into the desk. When he put his hand out to steady himself, his fingers went straight into the lukewarm mush that was supposed to be his dinner.
“Ugh!” he exclaimed, shaking the mess off his hand.
Minutes later, James was penning his resignation letter. After so many years in service, it was no easy letter to write. He thought back to the stories he used to hear about his great-great-grandfather, who fought in the Revolutionary War. Tales of that same military glory and battles for independence were what made James want to join up in the first place.
He had early memories of sitting by the fire and listening to his father retell the same stories repeatedly, detailing how his grandfather’s militia had pushed back the British with surprise attacks in the middle of the night. It was those same stories that he went on to tell his father when he lay on his sickbed, getting weaker and weaker by the day.
James had long dreamed of telling his future sons of his victories in battle. Now, the battles he had been a part of kept him up at night. He and all the men he’d fought with over the years had witnessed horrible atrocities that could never be forgotten. James had never asked for leave, so this resignation would be a surprise to his superiors, but he was well within his rights.
Once he was done writing, James sat back in his seat. The only light in his room was the dying candle. Not only had the sun set on the day, but also on this era of his life.
What was going to come next, he wasn’t sure. He’d always thought he’d get married and start a family at some point, but now that seemed impossibly far away. At thirty-two, he was hardly too old to marry and handsome enough, or so he’d been told. James was taller than most, and his time with the army had given him broad shoulders to go along with his bad dreams.
After years of isolation from the rest of the world, including female companionship, James wasn’t sure how to talk to women anymore. None of that mattered yet. Finding his sister and making sure she was all right was his first order of business.
Three days later, James was on a train headed from Maine to Illinois. The Lieutenant General had seemed unsurprised by his resignation. Considering his contributions and dedication to the service over the years, his request was immediately granted, and they waived the usual two-month notice period.
Given the circumstances, James’ colleagues understood his concerns over his sister’s whereabouts. It was even suggested that he enlist the help of some local men in Utah to help find her, but James desperately hoped he wouldn’t have to do that.
He was still clinging to the dream that when he found his uncle in Colorado, Sylvia would be right by his side. If all went well, he’d meet her husband, Garth, and they’d get along well. Maybe she was just so in love that she forgot to write to James for a month or so.
This explanation still didn’t cover why Uncle Robert didn’t know where Sylvia was, but he was getting older, James reminded himself. Maybe Uncle Robert hadn’t been home in so long that he was getting confused.
A knock on the cabin’s door shook James back to attention.
“Do you mind if I sit here? Every other seat is full.” The man speaking was about ten years younger than James, or so he guessed. The brightness in his eyes hadn’t yet been dulled by the cruelty of time. If he were honest, James would have preferred to have the cabin to himself, but he couldn’t rightly hoard it.
“Of course, of course. Come in.” James considered requesting quiet from the man, but he decided better of it. He would have to get used to normal civilization again sooner or later, so he might as well start now.
“Thank you. I didn’t think such an early train would be so busy! I had to pack up just about my whole life, so I ended up running late. My name is Gerald Buckler,” he said, holding out his hand with a cheerful grin.
Trying to shake off his military sternness, James greeted the man politely. “James Remington. Nice to meet you. What, uh … where are you headed?”
The question came out garbled. James had never been very good at small talk, and now it felt like speaking another language entirely.
“To Pittsburg. I’m headed out there to get married,” Gerald offered easily. His round face exploded into dimples when he revealed his business in Pittsburg.
“Married. That’s wonderful news. Who’s the lucky girl?”
Gerald had barely sat down by the time he cascaded into his story. “We met on this very train! About six months ago, I was traveling for work. You see, I’m a salesman, so I’m never in one place for long. Chelsea – that’s her name. She was going to visit some family, and we ended up in the same car.”
James smiled and nodded, amused by the way Gerald had presumably told this story over and over, to the point where it was now a well-rehearsed tale. There were stories from the battlefield that James had once prepared in the same way, but now they felt tainted.
“We didn’t say much to each other at first, but then she realized she’d dropped her necklace somewhere. Of course, I agreed to help, and the two of us, along with her chaperone, scoured the place for hours. Eventually, I was the one who found it, and I’m endlessly glad that I did.”
“Where was it?” James asked, knowing the question was expected.
“You’ll never guess. The necklace had been on her person the entire time, just not where it was supposed to be. The clasp had come loose and then gotten caught on the back of her shawl!”
Though he didn’t think the finding was half as remarkable as Gerald seemed to think it was, he was still interested in listening. Conversation in the barracks mostly surrounded complaints of the rats, while conversations with politicians and government officials were nothing but heartless and dull. At least Gerald had some soul to him.
“That’s remarkable. So you were able to give it back to her, and from there …”
Gerald shrugged, his eyes glassy. “From there, we talked. We talked the whole way to Pittsburg, and it only took about ten minutes before I knew I was in love. We could chat for hours about everything we have in common, but it’s the things we don’t that I find the most fascinating. Before we parted ways, she gave me her address so that we could stay in touch.”
“And you’ve been writing to her ever since?”
“Well, the course of true love never did run smooth. There was a terrible storm in Pittsburg that day, and the slip of paper with her address on it fell out of my pocket and right into a puddle. You can imagine my disappointment.”
Now, James really did find himself on the edge of his seat. “What did you do? Were you able to dry it out and read the address?”
Gerald pursed his lips and shook his head sadly. James’ heart dropped, and he had to remind himself that there was a happy ending to all this.
“No. It was illegible. I thought I was going to die right then and there. I didn’t even have her last name, so I couldn’t look her up. I was beside myself. Could hardly get any work done while I was there!”
“How did you find her again?”
“I didn’t. I managed to find her chaperone. Or, rather, she found me. When I hadn’t called on Chelsea after meeting on the train, she tracked me down at the paper. I thought she was an angel sent to me!”
James chuckled. “Maybe she was.”
“Truly. I’m grateful to God even now. I’m sure you can make out what happened from there. I had to leave for home before I could see Chelsea again, but we wrote to each other feverishly. I sent letters daily, and so did she.”
“When did you propose?”
“Last month. Also in a letter. We haven’t seen each other even once since the day we met on the train.”
James felt his jaw drop open. Of everything Gerald had shared with him in the mere minutes they’d spent in the same cabin, this was the most shocking.
“Not once? But you’re … you’re sure you love her,” he checked, hardly believing what he was hearing. He was in no position to be handing out love advice, but as far as he was concerned, developing those kinds of feelings required more eye contact than a letter could offer.
“Oh, I’ve never been as sure of anything else in my whole life. I feel it in my bones. Her spirit travels to me through her words. I don’t need to see her to know the breadth of my love for her. Haven’t you ever had that feeling?”
James shifted in his seat and looked out the window. The hills were steadily getting flatter, and the clouds were moving over the sun. It looked like they were headed straight into a rain cloud. He wished he could just continue staring out the window and worrying about his sister in peace, but Gerald would not take kindly to being ignored.
“I, uh … I suppose I have. It’s been a while.”
“Ahah! I knew it. You look like you’ve lived a very full life, and what’s a full life without love? Tell me about her.”
“Not much to tell,” James replied. He coughed and preceded to clear his throat, trying to buy himself time to think up what to say. “You know the old story. I, uh … I was courting the local schoolteacher when the war broke out. She thought I’d been killed, so by the time the war ended … well, she’d married someone else. Not as happy a story as yours, I’m afraid.”
Gerald shook his head in disbelief, his eyes full of pity. James felt slightly guilty for spinning such a tale, but it seemed less shameful than admitting he’d never been in love before. Besides, it wasn’t a complete lie. He’d fancied the schoolteacher, Miss Bower, and she had married someone else before the end of the war.
They’d never courted, however. In fact, James had never told her how he felt about her. He’d thought about writing to her plenty of times while the bullets volleyed overhead, but he never had. Now, years later, he could see that he’d never been in love with her. Not true love, at any rate.
“I’m sorry to hear that. You’ll love again. I’m sure of it!” Gerald assured him.
James nodded and looked back out the window, unsure if he would ever find what Chelsea and Gerald shared. Maybe, if he opened his heart, it would find him and allow him to be the sociable young man he used to be.
Shadows flitted between the trees outside, and James was struck with an image of his sister running through the forest, branches pulling at her skin and skirt. In his mind, Sylvia turned to face him. He was so close that he could almost reach out and touch her tear-streaked cheeks.
“Help me,” she whispered.
The train hit a bump in the tracks, shaking the image out of James’ head. He blinked a few times to make sure of where he was. Clutching to the wood of the seat under him, James tried to assure himself that it was nothing more than his imagination running wild. Yes, the picture of his sister’s face had been all too real, almost like the visions he had at night of battles gone by.
This was nothing like those memories. He had no idea where Sylvia was and couldn’t assume she was running through the woods, lost … even if that’s what his nightmares told him.
“A Winter Baby on Her Doorway” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
In the rugged landscape of Colorado, Lizzy Cooper, the fiercely independent owner of the esteemed Blacktrail Ranch, finds herself entangled in a twist of fate when an abandoned baby is left at her doorstep. Haunted by the tragic loss of her fiancé, Lizzy’s closed heart begins to crack open as she navigates the challenges of caring for the child. Little does she know that this infant’s arrival will intertwine her destiny with retired Major James Remington, a mysterious yet charming man, seeking answers about his missing sister.
Can this unexpected gift ultimately free her of her self-imposed solitude?
James Remington, a stalwart soldier seeking solace from his own demons, finds himself at Lizzy’s ranch during his quest to locate his sister. Initially taken aback by Lizzy’s beauty and strength, James soon gets entrapped in a web of mystery and danger when he realizes the baby’s connection to his own family. As he grapples with growing emotions and unwavering determination, James is compelled to protect both Lizzy and the child, forging an unexpected bond amidst the chaos of his quest.
Could it be fate that brought them together?
United by a common goal to unravel the mystery surrounding the abandoned baby and locate James’ missing sister, Lizzy and James embark on a perilous journey through the untamed wilderness. As they confront outlaws and face imminent danger, their mutual admiration evolves into something deeper. Will they be able to discover that their love has the power to heal even the deepest wounds of the past or will they be doomed to lose their loved ones?
“A Winter Baby on Her Doorway” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.